How To: Build a HTPC

I’m a PC enthusiast.  Building your own PC is about as simple as putting together Legos.  I’ve already written about cutting the cord, but something cool you can do to make the transition even easier is building a small, power efficient computer for consuming your media.  Yes, you can get a Roku player, Chromecast, or Apple TV, but I wanted to take it a step further.  I want to be able to record TV shows from my antenna TV, while also having access to every streaming service under the sun.  I also want to do this as cost effectively as possible, so I’m using some old and new parts to get this build done.  Here is my HTPC build (home theatre PC).

The Parts List (and prices):

Processor: AMD Athlon 5350, $32.99.  This is an AM1 socket processor.  It is an APU meaning it is not only the processor, but will handle the graphics rendering as well, so there is no need for a separate graphics card.  It is also a pretty power efficient chip as well.  I want something I can leave on year round and not have to worry about the electricity build.  This APU will allow that.  The other PC I’ve previously built is a beast, so using it as an HTPC could be costly on the power bill.  This chip should easily be able to handle everything I need it to do, and then some.  This processor comes with a small heatsink and the smallest fan I’ve ever seen.

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Motherboard: Biostar AM1MHP, $35.28.  I ultimately went with this micro ATX board because it had all of the connection I needed and wanted for this build.  Pretty basic styff really.  It has an HDMI out connection that also carries audio, so I can hook up this PC directly to the TV with one cord.  Also it has a legacy PCI slot and PCIe slot as well, these will be used for the dual TV tuner/DVR capabilities of this PC.  I would have loved to go with a mini ITX build, but none of the motherboards had the PCI slot, and I didn’t want to be limited to a single tuner.

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Case: Corsair Carbide Air 240, $63.06.  I caught this case on a flash sale on Amazon.  It’s a nice dual chamber cube case.  It’s a nice case, but honestly, I wish I either spent a little more for a more traditional (smaller) HTPC case, as this one is a little bigger than I thought.  Or, I could have gone with a cheaper cube case and saved about $33 on this build.  The money could have been used elsewhere (or I should have built my own case).

Hard Drives: Kingston v300 120GB SSD, $0.00.  Another 500gb HDD from an old PC, $0.00.  Saving some bucks in this catagory.  The SSD will have the OS installed, so boot times will be pretty quick.  The old notebook HDD will work great for storing music, movies, pictures, and recorded TV shows.

RAM: Cost $0.00.  My other PC build has 32 gigs of RAM (4×8).  So I just pulled a stick of the G.Skill Rigjaw X from that build and threw it in here.  RAM prices have spiked since September, so until prices come back down, my main PC will have to make due with 24 gigs.  Doing this however, eliminated compatibility concerns.  When RAM prices come back down, I’ll just buy the same sticks of RAM and throw them in this build (but probably only use 8 gigs).

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Power Supply Unit: Corsair CX430, $18.99.  Originally, I pulled a PSU from a really old build, so the cost here was $0.  The drawback was the internal fan on that old PSU was loud.  Since this is going to be a PC used in the living room, the goal is power efficiency and low sound.  This CX430 is bronze certified and has more than enough juice for this build.  Honestly, I wish I went with a little more expensive model.  This PSU is a lot more quiet than the old unit I was using, but a little more money would have gotten an almost completely silent model.

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TV Tuner/DVR: 2 Cards, ATI TV Wonder 650 PCI $0.00, and ATI TV Wonder 600 PCIe, $10.66 (eBay).  I took the TV Wonder 650 out of an old PC that is used just for 321 Studios software and am giving it new life in this build.  To be able to run a dual tuner/DVR setup, I needed a PCIe card.  Luckily, no many people are buying these cards these days, so I got it on the cheap on eBAY.  It works perfectly too.

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Misc Stuff: Cost $15.00.  I ordered a USB 3 to USB 2 cable adapter, and two 3pin fan splitters (the motherboard doesn’t have enough 3pin connections), and an Edimax wifi adapter.

Operating System: Windows 8.1 Pro with Windows Media Center, $0.00.  I had an extra key laying around.  Also, Windows 10 does not have support for WMC, so using W8.1 not only saves some cash, it allows me to have a very user friendly build with support for DVR functions.  Seriously Microsoft, bring back Window Media Center.

I still want to purchase a Logitech K400 wireless keyboard with built in touchpad, but am waiting to catch a deal on it.

Total Cost so far: $175.98.  Everything was purchased either at Newegg.com, Amazon, Ebay, or taken from old PCs and of course took advantage of sales and mail in rebates.

The Build:

Here are most of the parts laid out.  You’ll want to make sure your body doesn’t have any static when handling these parts, so rubbing your hands on dryer sheets or touching the metal part of the case is a good way to periodically discharge static.

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Step 1: Prep the Motherboard.

Here you will insert the processor, memory, normally the heatsink-the heatsink in this instance was not friendly to being preinstalled.

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Install the CPU:

There is a little triangle in the corner of the AM1 slot on the motherboard and on the CPU indicating the direction to install.

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Don’t bend the pins

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Lift hinge, inserte processor, close hinge

Look for the little triangle in the corner

Look for the little triangle in the corner

Install your RAM

Install your RAM

Step 2: Install Motherboard into Case

Don’t forget to install the rear panel for your motherboard first.  Then install the motherboard.

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Motherboard installed in case

Motherboard installed in case

Step 3: Install your add ons.

In this build, this will be my TV Tuner/DVR cards and the heatsink.  On a normal build, now would be time to install your graphics cards.  Normally I like to install the heatsink when the motherboard is out of th case, but this AM1 heatsink has a weird push pin set up that doesn’t allow that.

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heatsink and tiny fan

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TV Wonder 650 being installed

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TV Wonder 600 being installed

Step 4: Install the Hard Drives

SSD ready

SSD ready

HDD ready

HDD ready

Step 5: Power Supply and Wiring

Now is the time to install the PSU and work on routing the cables for a clean look, but also not obstructing airflow.  Also hook up power to the mobo, cpu, hard drives, install SATA cables, front panel port wiring. etc.

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Old PSU

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Pic of the CX430 PSU which is much more quiet

Step 6:  Install your operating system, update drivers, and make sure everything is working.  Fingers crossed.  If everything works like it should, go back and zip tie cables and tidy of the wiring.  Check your motherboard manual as you may have to change the boot sequence.  I took an old DVD drive and used it temporarily in this build to install Windows.

Congrats, that’s really all there is to building a basic PC.

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Inside of the final build

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Shot of the case

With this build I have a low power PC that allows me to stream everything from the internets.  I am also able to record 2 shows at once from my OTA antenna to watch later.  The PC turns on a couple of mintes before the shows start, record the show, and then enters sleep mode when complete.  Also the channel guide automatically updates.  It’s a pretty quite build, uses very little power, and handles all of my media like a champ.  I’m very happy with this build.  About the only thing I would change is the case.  I could have saved money there (bringing the total under $150), or gone with something smaller.  I’ll probably change this out down the road, whenever I build a new main desktop PC.

It’s amazing how efficient PCs can be.  In this case, I’ve built an awesome DVR that has a low power draw and can do everything streaming devices can do and then a whole lot more.  Sure the cost is a little more than an apple tv or roju, but I can also use this as my download station and even get some work down with Office.  All for a total of $175.98.  Plus, it brings new life back to some old parts that otherwise would have ended up in a land fill.

On my next trip to harbor freight, I’ll pick up a meter to plug this PC in the wall.  I’ve read online power draw at the outlet anywhere from 18 to 30 watts.  It will be interesting to compare this to my other Pixel Collider PC.  I think the power savings alone will make this a pretty quick break even project.

 

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