Its winter everywhere (except in southern hemisphere). Most of the people are currently curled up in their beds watching movies & TV shows. There’s tonne of legal and illegal content out on the web right now. But, I’m not going to get into legal battle right now. That’s for you guys to decide. Instead, I’m writing a small guide to help you guys with all your HTPC needs. So, here we go.
This is one of the most important things for a HTPC. Now there are two things that we need to look upon :-
- Processor with great processing power.
- Less TDP & heat footprint.
The first thing that came into my mind when I was going to build a HTPC computer was AMD Athlon II X2 250 processor. Its a great processor, 65 W TDP, built on 45 nm architecture & couple it with a motherboard that has ATI 4200 onboard graphics and you’ve got a killer HTPC. This will also bring the cost down. But, this will work only great in Windows where one can utilize the ability of ATI 4200 to decode HD graphics. Take Linux into consideration and all hell breaks loose. I am a great supporter of FOSS idealogy. So, I had to choose the components which worked flawlessly under Linux. ATI has huge headaches with Linux. Only Ubuntu has good support for these. Other distros such as Arch Linux, Fedora etc are not supported by the ATI’s drivers.
This is where Intel comes to our rescue. The new IntelH55 chipset runs flawlessly under Linux. XBMC also supports it, which I intend to use. Its very unfortunate that NVIDIA is leaving the chipset business other wise I would’ve gladly included a NVIDIA motherboard in the configuration. The processor that I chose is Intel Core i3 530. It is an awesome processor. I’m not going to review it right now but you can check out this excellent review by AnandTech. This processor costs Rs. 5500
For motherboard, I went with the MicroATX form factor. The motherboard that I stumbled upon after 30 minutes of research is Biostar H55-HD. This motherboard has a built in HDMI, DVI & VGA port. So you can use which ever you want. Moreover, It also has overclocking ability so you can overclock your awesome Intel Core i3 530 processor to all the way to 4 GHz (with a good PSU offcourse). Here’s the link. The cost of the motherboard is around Rs. 3400
The prices of RAM are dirt cheap now. DDR3 is going around Rs. 2700 for 4 GB. I chose Corsair as it has 10 years warranty and can also be overclocked if the need arises. The price of this 4 GB kit is Rs. 2800.
Hard Disk Drive & Optical drive.:-
Hard drive is a very essential part of a computer. It becomes more important when you consider HTPC. I chose Western Digital Caviar Green 1 TB HDD. It has 64 MB of cache, uses only 6 W of power when running & comes with a 3 year warranty. Here’s the link. The price is Rs. 2900.
For your optical drive needs, stick to a standard SATA drive from Sony or Samsung. Blu-Ray movies are currently expensive in India now. A Hollywood movie is around Rs. 1700 whereas a Hindi movie is around Rs. 700. Price for DVD drive :- Rs. 1100.
Input Devices :-
As we are building a HTPC, it is ultra-important that we stick to a wireless combination of keyboard and mouse. The Logitech CL MK320 do the job well & are also priced superbly. You can get this combo kit for Rs. 1500. Also, they have a 3 year warranty.
Obviously, as we are building a HTPC, we need a monitor that supports full HD resolution. The inclusion of all 3 standards of input will be an added bonus. So, I went for BenQ G2420 HD. This is a superb monitor. Its 24" diagonally, 1920×1080 resolution, 1000:1 contrast ratio and has HDMI, DVI & VGA inputs. Moreover it is superbly priced at Rs. 11600.
This is also one of the most important parts of HTPC. If you guys are going to stick to dedicated graphics card, then I suggest you go for a mid-tower cabinet. But, I went ahead and selected the awesome Cooler Master Elite 100. This cabinet supports both MicroATX & mini-ITX form factor motherboards. It has a bundeled 150 watt SMPS which should be more than enough for our configuration. Check it out.
For an HTPC, we definitely need 5.1 surround sound speakers. There are large variety of speakers available in the market this time. Some are very highly priced. So I striked the balance between cost and performance and went for Logitech Z-506 speakers. They are "bloody awesome". They have a power output of 75 W RMS which is more than sufficient for a living room. They support multiple inputs be it PC, Xbox 360, PS3 or DVD player and even audio input from your AV cable. Go for these ones. They are around Rs. 6500.
So this is our final configuration :-
- Intel Core i3 530
- Biostar H55-HD
- Corsair 4 GB DDR3
- WD Caviar Green 1 TB HDD
- Sony SATA DVD RW
- Logitech CL MK320 combo kit
- BenQ G2420 HD monitor.
- Cooler Master Elite 100 cabinet.
- Logitech Z-506 5.1 speakers.
The total cost of this setup is Rs. 38,300.
I suppose you guys already have Windows 7 Home Premium license. If not either get one or like me, install Linux on it. You can install any GNU/Linux distro. Some of my recommendations are :-
They all support the hardware out of the box. Choose 32-bit if your RAM is less than 4 GB else go for 64-bit. If you’re new to GNU/Linux then stick to either Ubuntu or Linux Mint. If you have prior knowledge of GNU/Linux then go for Fedora 14 or Opensuse 11.3. I chose to install Arch Linux (64-bit).
Also, the best media center software for this setup would undoubtedly be XBMC. This is a superb piece of software which can connect to internet and get all the metadata of your movies, TV shows & music.
Here’s the screenshot of the movie section :-
And, this is the screenshot of the TV show’s section :-
So , try and build this HTPC & please tell me about your experiences. Any suggestions and comments are welcome.
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