How To HTPC Windows Media Center

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts

B69-0211_main_image001_im Yes, you can go searching around the web and learn how to build your very own PC.  It’s not a difficult process and there are lots of how-to’s out there.  That said, since we deal quite a bit with HTPCs here at The DMZ, I thought it would be good to share with our readers how you too can build your very own HTPC and know exactly what’s going on with your system.

While pre-built systems offer you convenience and ease of setup, building your own PC offers a lot of benefits.  First is the fact that you built it.  There’s pride involved there, especially if it’s your first project.  Second is the ability to upgrade more easily.  Most PCs bought from companies like Dell or HP are a bit locked down.  While upgrades are certainly possible, you typically have to go back to the same company and they tend to charge a good bit of money for them.  With a self-built system, you have a choice in where you buy your parts and can shop around for the best price.

The PC I’m building isn’t going to be an HTPC and this guide isn’t specific to HTPCs anyway.  This will become my new podcasting rig as well as a video encoder for my Media Center where I’ll flip MKV to WTV.  Also, I’m working within a relatively strict budget and everything you see listed came in under $400 shipped.  That said, this machine will pretty much handle most HTPC functions and get you rolling with Media Center or another HTPC software quickly and easily.

I decided that for this build the best thing would be to pick up a barebones kit from Tiger Direct.  They offer some great kits at good prices and it seemed my best option.  One good part about doing this is that a company like TD takes the guess work out of knowing what parts work with which motherboard, CPU, RAM, etc.  It saves a bit of time on research before the build.

The kit I chose split the difference between power and price.  It’s not the fastest machine on the planet but the PC itself came in at only $250.  Not bad for what it’ll be used for.

The Case

TC3J-4042-P-a1 First is the Power Up Black Corporate ATX Mid-Tower Case with 450-Watt Power Supply.  It seems to be a sturdy case that’ll serve the purpose.  Also, I like the fact that it’s a mid-tower as it allows me to easily add hard drives later on.  Something that can be difficult in smaller Micro ATX cases.  As well, the 450 watt power supply should be more than enough unless I plan on adding multiple video cards or an excessive number of peripherals which I don’t.  If you plan on building a gaming powerhouse or running a ton of drives, be sure and do some math to figure out if an included power supply will fit your needs.  (Or use a calculator like this one.)

The Motherboard

M452-6066-03 Next up is the motherboard.  This kit shipped with the MSI 785GTM-E45.  The motherboard and processor are the main things I take into consideration when I choose a kit and this one had everything I wanted.

Detailed Specs:

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts Processor Socket: AMD

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts Processor Interface: Socket AM2+

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts Form Factor:  M-ATX

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts Processors Supported:

  • AMD Athlon
  • AMD Sempron
  • AMD Phenom
  • AMD Phenom II
  • AMD Athlon II

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts Additional Technologies:  AMD Cool ‘n’ Quiet

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts HyperTransport Bus:  2.6GHz

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts Northbridge:   AMD® 785G and SB710 Chipset

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts Southbridge:  SB710

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts Memory Type: DDR2

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts Maximum Memory Supported: 8 GB

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts Channels:  8 Channels

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts Audio Chipset:   Realtek® High-End Audio

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts LAN Type:  10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts RAID Support:  Yes

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts PCI Slots:  2

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts PCI Express X1 Slots: 1

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts PCI Express X16 Slots: 1

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts PS/2 Keyboard Connectors: 1

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts PS/2 Mouse Connectors: 1

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts USB Ports:  4

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts LAN Ports:  1

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s Headers: 6

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts DVI Ports: 1

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts HDMI Ports: 1

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts Length: 24.4cm

PC Building 101: Part 1- The Parts Width:  22.9cm

While the board is lacking in things such as the number of USB ports, it’s going to fill my needs perfectly.  Supporting up to 8GB of RAM means it may be worth it at some point to move to a 64-bit OS though for now I’ll be sticking with x86.  The inclusion of the ATI HD Radeon 4200 video chipset means that you should be able to push full 1080p video out of that HDMI port if you’d want to.  The 4200 also supports Hybrid CrossfireX which means if you add another compatible video card, you’ll get to take advantage of both chips.

While I’m happy that this kit came with a larger case, I’m also happy that it includes this smaller Micro ATX board if only because should I ever decide to shrink it down to a slimline or smaller HPTC case, that option will be available.  Get a detailed look below:

The Processor

A79-7550-main-la I’m not a chiphead.  Knowing that processor X is better than processor Y and why isn’t something I’ve ever been able to memorize or even completely understand.  What I do know is that my current setup is a Celeron powered laptop and it’s a dog.  That said, I knew I wanted to jump to a dual core and that I wanted better than average speed.  Doing this within a tight budget isn’t easy but I think this’ll do.

The AMD Athlon 64 X2 7550 processor runs at 2.50GHz, has a 3MB cache and an 1800MHz front side bus.  It fits in a socket AM2+  and is dual core.  This should provide more than enough power for what I want to do.  As well, the motherboard with the kit supports faster processors so I can upgrade easily in the future.

The Memory

The barebones kit I picked up from TD only shipped with 2GB and for now, it’ll work.  At some point (hopefully soon) I’m going to jump up to 4GB which is more than enough for this application.  Anything more than that and you’re going to want to move to a 64-bit OS to take advantage of it.  No matter what you’re purposing the system for however, I do recommend 4GB minimum.  Again, I’m running low now but I intend to correct that as quickly as possible.

The Hard Drive

TSD-500AAKS-TD-c This is always and will always be up for debate.  If we’re talking about workstation PC in a small business then you shouldn’t need anything more than 250GB.  HTPC?  Yeah, the sky’s the limit.  Seriously, don’t stop until you run out of money because as you get into it you’ll probably find yourself needing more and more.  For me, the 500GB Western Digital that shipped with the kit is plenty.  I’ve got room for recording hours worth of podcasts, room for creating screencasts and even after that, I’ll have plenty left over.  Depending on your usage, you may need more or less.  Dollar for dollar, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend the Western Digital drives.  I have yet to have one fail on me and the ones in my HTPC have been running basically non-stop for over 2 years now.

Many people won’t think much about the hard drive in their system until they need more space or one crashes on them.  Right at the beginning is when you should be considering it though.  As I stated above, the case wit this particular kit is nice and roomy.  That means that should I decide to repurpose in the future, I have lots of room for drives.  Same thing comes when thinking about your motherboard.  How many SATA headers are you going to need?  It all ties together.

The DVD Burner/Blu-ray Drive

L49-1050-OEM-05 Buying a barebones and sticking to a tighter budget does have it’s downside.  This is one of those cases.  The kit I bought shipped with the LG GH22NS40B DVD Writer.  This again, was a compromise but one I’m willing to make at this time.  It’s a cheap little gadget at only $19.99 but so far it’s relatively quite and with as little as I’ll be using it, a fair deal.  It was important that I have some form of optical media drive that would allow me to burn data and music disks.  Eventually, Blu-ray is in the cards but that’ll come after a RAM upgrade.  If you’re seriously into burning and/or ripping disks though, just save yourself some upgrade time and bang one in there right from the start.

The Conclusion

Will this particular kit give you a top end gaming rig?  Nope.  Is it going to give you a very capable HTPC and general purpose computer?  You bet.  The additional cost I incurred during this build was tied up in a new monitor as well as a CPU fan and thermal paste.  Without the cost of the monitor I would have come in under $300 and would have another TV in my home running a dedicated Media Center.  The build is complete and so far I’m quite happy.  It’s doing everything I need it to do including podcasting, video conversions, Photoshop and myriad other tasks.

Up next is the putting together part of this little tutorial.  That’ll come in a few days.  Unfortunately due to time constraints and needing to be doing four things at once, I didn’t get a chance to take pictures.  Once this PCs tasks are done for the week however, I’ll get it cracked open and show where things go.  Until then, find the rig that’s right for you and get ready to slap it together!

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About the author

Adam Thursby

Adam Thursby is the founder and creator of The Digital Media Zone.