Building an HTPC (part 3)
Check out part one and part two
Hardware Round-up and Costs
A quick run through of the final hardware setup (new items in bold):
- ATX motherboard (Asus A7N8X-X Socket A/462 - £54 back in 2003)
- Sound card (from an even older machine)
- Processor (AMD "Barton" Athlon XP 2500+ 1.8Ghz - £66 back in 2003)
- RAM (512Mb Crucial 184-pin DIMM - £54 back in 2003)
- Graphics card (Asus Nvidia FX 6200 with TV-out - £24.67)
- TV Tuner (Hauppauge Nova T 500 Dual Tuner - £49.99)
- Remote (Microsoft MCE 2005 Remote and IR receiver - £19.96)
- Wireless Keyboard (Microsoft IR Media Keyboard - £23.48)
- DVI cable (£2.49)
- HTPC case (to fit ATX mobo) - Silverstone LC17 - £65.67
- Quiet CPU fan - Zalman CNPS7000B-CU - £17.63
- Large HDD - WD Caviar 400Gb - £54.64
- Case fans, one 92mm Antec TriCool, one 80mm Antec TriCool - £3.87 + £3.99 (didn't need the 80mm)
- AnyDVD €49/£37
- Fanless PSU - Silverstone ST30NF £71.09
- ATX 24-pin to 20-pin converter cable £0.99
- 2 * Zalman Fanmate 2 fan controllers for case fans - 3.99 ea
Total spent (not including original hardware): £383.46 (plus postage, so probably around £420)
A quick round-up of the suppliers I used and how I found them.
Ebuyer - cheap prices, good service.
Amazon - not much needed to say, not always the cheapest, good service
Overclockers - I've used them before, cheap and great service.
Cablestar - a company I found which also sells on eBay, I have bought several sorts of cables from them, they have a good range a great prices
After Hours - they were the cheapest for my case, but aside from confirming my order I didn't hear anything from them for a week, I had seen a couple of negative reviews and when I first contacted them I didn't hear anything back, only when I requested to cancel my order did they respond, then I got my delivery confirmed.
Novatech - not the cheapest on many parts, but good service and quick delivery.
Micro Direct - cheapest place I found my fanless PSU, fast delivery, no problems (no confirmation it had been sent though).
Quiet PC - again, not the cheapest, although they stock a range of parts few other equal, good service.
I was looking for a PVR which would give me expandability and easier access to my content, all in one place. It also had to match up to a shop bought PVR, it had to be easy to use, reliable, not draw too much power and, above all, be silent in operation. I'm reasonably happy. The machine still isn't silent, with the CPU cooler and HDD still generating a bit of noise, and a fair racket when playing DVDs, but as the machine is located at my head height and about three feet from me that's understandable, if it were in a normal living room environment you would have trouble telling it was on. I don't find the software particularly easy to use, neither GB-PVR or Media Portal hit the mark for me and the pay-for packages lacked Freeview support (yes, there is a world outside the US). I'm also at a loss as to how I get the machine to sleep, then wake up if it's set to record as a paid device would.
The package that started me thinking about building an HTPC again was Vista's Media Centre, and the two packages I tried didn't measure up. For example, when I installed a USB TV card Vista Media Centre automatically found it, downloaded TV channels and set it up, why don't all of the packages work this way (I'm asking a lot I know)? Plus it has an in-built burn feature (not that I've tested it) for getting shows onto DVD.
Looking back at the hardware, I'm only disappointed by two parts: the keyboard, I'm not massively impressed, it works, but is less than ideal, the mouse takes a lot of getting used to and, in reality, getting a keyboard out all the time is awkward. A regular bluetooth or RF one would probably be better than IR. It was cheap and it does do the job though. The other part is the case. Don't get me wrong, the case if well-built and works well, but it's massive and is, therefore, somewhat ungainly. I think the disappointment was because I saw my built PVR as being the same size as a normal PVR, DVD player, etc. I'm happy enough to hang on to it though.
I did end up buying a lot more hardware than I thought, and spending a lot more money on the project. Looking back I could have bought a pre-built media centre solution for not much more and a PVR for much less, although finding a PVR that saved into a format I could easily burn may have been hard, plus I can play any media format and access the internet all from one machine. I am considering replacing the remaining original components a building a machine capable of running Vista and using Media Centre, although that would probably mean replacing the CPU cooler and graphics card as well.