Building a Home Theatre PC
August 9, 2007 4:22 AM   Subscribe

My PC is sick. Before I repair it, I want to build a new one to use while I work on it. I'm thinking of a HTPC sort of thing. Something I can use on the desktop in the office if need be, but also small and quiet enough to move to the living room and still powerful enough to run modern 3d games. I don't need the latest, fastest framerates, but it would be nice to have the option of playing some modern first person shooters.

I've got a nice, big HD ready TV, so I'd like HDMI output. My current thinking, at the moment, goes something like this:
microATX motherboard, so:
- Antec Fusion HDPC case
- Abit Fata1ity FI90 HD or Gigabyte GA-G33M-DS2R motherboard
- Intel Core 2 233ghz Conroe Processor.
- 2 gig of RAM
- DVD rewriter,
- Some tuner or other -- ideally one that will grab from cable.
- Windows 2005 Media Center Edition

Questions I'm currently pondering include the following:
- MicroATX -- is it sufficiently stable/flexible, or am I better off going for the bigger board and case?
- Am I skimping on the case/power supply?
- A 2.33Ghz cpu may provide the best bang for the buck, but should I be actually looking for something quieter and less powerful in this context?
- Tuner card recommendations -- for the UK preferably
- Do I need a stand alone Graphics Card or is the onboard stuff fine in this context?
- Media Center 2005 or *spits* Vista?
- Intel or AMD?

Although this may look like many questions, my single overarching question is this: 'Dear Hivemind. Please help me build the best Kick Ass HTPC a man can buy for a sensible price."

posted by PeterMcDermott to Computers & Internet (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The problem is that you're trying to do two conflicting things with this machine.

A HTPC should be as small and quiet as possible: there's nothing more annoying that trying to watch a film at low volume and having the sound drowned out by the noise of the fans. But, you also want a gaming machine with decent framerates which usually requires a large-ish graphics card with whiny fans. If it were me, I'd concentrate on making the PC as quiet as possible and buy an Xbox for gaming.

Quiet PC is an excellent place to find silent (or near-silent) components. Concentrate on minimising fans wherever possible: passively-cooled CPU, low-noise power supply, minimal case fans etc. They also do a silent graphics card which should play most modern games pretty well, but it ain't cheap: £150. Compare that to the price of a 360...
posted by blag at 5:55 AM on August 9, 2007

Silent PC Review knows all. Start with the reference acticles on recommended components and don't pass on the forums, like System Advice (which is overall a better place for your question -- the SPCR forums are full of friendly, helpful and very knowledgeable people.)

There's nothing inherently unstable or inflexible about microATX (well, I guess you could call the likelihood of fewer kinds of connectiors compared to a new ATX mobo inflexible -- but if you don't need whatever the difference is, it doesn't really matter.)

I'd be pretty surprised if the onboard graphics of any motherboard did well against the ludicrous requirements of modern first person shooters. And that board only has VGA-out. I don't know much about tuner cards, but I don't think they tend to have video output. I think you'll need a video card. Make sure you don't get a high-powered one with a shrill little fan.

430W is far from skimping on the power supply -- I'd be comfortable running the system you describe plus a graphics card on a 300W supply.

Don't forget to research hard drives -- they can be a significant noise source. As can optical drives, when in use -- even the SPCR crowd seems unable to identify a model that's consistently quiet (which is why they use software to configure them to spin more slowly.)

HTPC functionality isn't especially CPU bound -- for it, you could easily drop to the Conroe E6420 -- 2.13GHz but still with 4M of L2 -- and I'll bet you'd never notice the difference.

Anyway, the system you describe, along with a cheap passively cooled video card could easily be the basis for a quiet system. Then you replace the Antec Tri-cool fans with Nexus fans running at 5V that you've soft-mounted with rubber washers and zip-ties, elastically suspend your 2.5" laptop drive (or spend a fortune for a solid-state drive), and then you can really go nuts...

But give up on having all of:

can play modern first-person shooters
not crazy expensive

all in the same box.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:56 AM on August 9, 2007

Response by poster: And that board only has VGA-out.

Actually, I was picking those boards because I thought they both had HDMI out. While I've built PC's before, I've never really made intelligent, informed choices regarding my motherboards, and the whole microATX thing seems to make it even more difficult, because you're losing options not adding them.

Silent PC review is a real find though. I'd been checking places like Tom's Hardware, Ars Technica and, but not finding them especially helpful.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:30 PM on August 9, 2007

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