A few months ago, I took the step and started building an HTPC (Home Theater PC) to watch/record TV and access the internet. For years, I used to do this on my desktop PC that was plugged into a 19″ LCD monitor. Now, I have the need to watch TV (and connect on to the Internet) on a larger television screen.
So, with existing parts and new ones, I started to put the HTPC together:
- Intel Pentium 4 Duo running at 3.2 Ghz
- ECS G31T-M(1.0) LGA 775 Intel G31 Micro ATX Intel Motherboard
- Corsair 2x2Gb PC2-6400 DDR 800 RAM
- ASUS EAH3450/DI/256M ATI Radeon HD 3450 Low Profile Video Card
- Western Digital WD6400AAKS WD Caviar SE16 SATA Internal Hard Drive – 640 Mb
- Seagate Barracuda® 7200.11 SATA Internal Hard Drive ST31500341AS – 1 TB
- Rosewill RCR-IC001 40-in-1 USB 2.0 3.5″ Internal Card Reader w/ USB port
- CORSAIR CMPSU-400CX 400W ATX12V V2.2 80 PLUS Certified
- VisionTek ATI TV Wonder HD 650 Combo PCI Express
- Old firewire PCI card
- Old Logitech Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
- Old LG DVD/CD RW drive
- Old black mini-tower Antec case
For the most part, this setup works pretty well:
- Re-using old PC parts is one of my main goal. It’s my way of “recycling”.
- The setup is quiet. The Corsair Power Supply is whisper quiet. The Q-fan control on the Rosewill HSF kept the CPU fan noise down too. There’s no fan on the video card.
- The PCIe 16x video card is more than capable of handling YouTube and Hulu videos, as well as videos played using VLC player.
- The VisionTek’s TV Tuner comes with ATI Catalyst Media Center that lets me record live TV to mpeg, Divx, and H.264 codecs. It’s more liberating than Windows Media Center’s “dvrms” propreitary format!
- I got a good deal for the Seagate 1TB drive for $90!
- Also took advantage of the dropping RAM prices. I maxed out to 4G for $30!
- The Rosewill all-in-one card reader is useful when Ineed to sneaker net files around using CF and SD cards.
- Since I’m connected to the network via a Linksys wireless repeater, I can start experimenting with streaming-anywhere apps like Orb.
However, I still have a few kinks to work out:
- I couldn’t get the ATI TV tuner card to work with Windows Media Center 2005. It’s not a big deal, but it would be nice to have the option to use WMCE.
- It’s having a hard time keeping up with 1080p HDTV playback. I’m suspecting it’s the CPU fault (see below).
- The Intel CPU (given by Matt) is an “experimental” test CPU. It’s a dual-core Prescott chip, but it has a tiny 200 Mhz BUS! This is an obvious performance bottleneck.
- The TV tuner is not able to control my satellite dish because the DishNetwork set top box remote is RF based. I’m sure someone out there has a gadget to interoperate IR and RF.
The beauty of a PC is the upgradability:
- Get a better wireless keyboard/mouse combo. I need them small and have more range.
- Get a new CPU with a bigger bus. Perhaps upgrade my other PC to a Quad, and use the Dual in the HTPC.
- Upgrade to 64-bit Windows 7 Media Center. Hopefully ATI will update their drivers to support it.
- Get a Blu-Ray Disc drive. However, with the unstable flux of Sony’s BD firmware revisions, I doubt I’ll get into this any time soon.
I enjoy putting a PC together, much like playing with a giant jigzaw puzzle. With this one, I learned that a custom made HTPC is not so easy to build on a budget. It takes time and patience, and a lot of experimentation. Other HTPC enthusiasts will attest to that.