A Low-Budget HTPC Build
Part of the reason for the Building a Cheap Media Centre article was to use some of the research I had done leading up to building a media centre for my brother (as a birthday present).
Anyway, I thought it was time to get around to writing up my experience with that build.
This build came in for under £400, I could have shaved more off if I had used the included remote that came with the tuner (but I wanted to be able to wake the machine using it) and had bought cheaper case fans.
Case: Antec NSK 2480
PSU: 380w included in the case
Mobo: Asus M4A78-VM
CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 5050e
Cooler: Stock AMD supplied with CPU
RAM: 2 * Kingston 1gb DDR2 800mhz
HDD: Western Digital Caviar Green 500Gb
DVD: LG GH22NS40 SATA Black
TV Tuner: Hauppauge WinTV Nova-TD 500 (dual tuner)
Keyboard: Nexos 2.4Ghz Wireless Multimedia Keyboard with TouchPad
Remote: Generic Windows MCE IR remote look-a-like
Other: 2 * 120mm Sharkoon 'golfball' case fans
Comments on the Build
I preferred the 2480 case to another option (the Antec Minuet 350) and I was very impressed, it was well made and had good segregation of PSU and motherboard as well as excellent mounting (vertical, on their side) of the HDDs, which had silicon/rubber grommets on the mounts to insulate vibration.
I was worried about using the stock cooler, thinking it would be too noisy, but decided to try it and was pleasantly surprised. I went with the Hauppauge tuner as I have had good experience with them over the years, but my older model seems to be struggling in Win7, not sure who's to blame though. I went with a wireless keyboard as I'm not massively thrilled with my IR one, this was OK but it didn't make me change mine.
The motherboard only came with one SATA cable and due to the placement of the DVD and HDD drives I had to get a SATA power extension to reach the HDD, I bought a kit which had a molex-to-SATA power converter on it and a SATA cable in the end.
I went with the WD drive as I've had good experience with WD and my two 1Tb drives have been excellent, they are extremely quiet. I'd also seen some reports of reliability issues on the Samsungs, which seemed to be the main competition. A colleague of mine had two 500Gb Samsung drives fail in the same week well inside a year (replaced under warranty thankfully).
The Sharkoon fans were expensive, but they are awesome. If money's no object and you want total silence I'd recommend them. There's probably a better balance of noise vs cost out there though.
I went with Windows 7 RC (this was sometime last year) as it was free (for a while) and it uses Windows Media Centre.
I also installed Media Browser (why wouldn't you?).
As with mine, I went with a black theme.
Codec support came courtesy of Shark007's pack.
I also installed DVD Shrink and AnyDVD for ripping DVDs to the HDD.
Apart from finding the lack of SATA cables and the reach of the PSU power a bit short, generally all went smoothly.
Windows 7 was fun to install at first, initially I was using a PATA DVD drive with a SATA HDD and this seems to be a problem. Once installed I was very impressed with 7mc, less so after upgrading mine, but that might be a hardware issue. The biggest problem I had was when I hooked up a spare Belkin USB wireless-N stick my brother had to enable internet access (an N1 Wireless USB Adapter - F5D8051uk - I think). I could not get Win7 to connect to the internet (it connected to the router fine). After a lot of trial and error, plenty of head-scratching, swearing and trawling of the interwebs I found an updated driver fixed it.
Generally a fairly easy build, aside from a few quirks with the hardware/software interface and it was working well when I left it (although they had issues with the strength of their TV signal which caused problems, obviously).