Help me decide on an HTPC configuration

Discussion in 'Computers' started by Colin Dunn, Apr 15, 2006.

  1. Colin Dunn

    Colin Dunn Supporting Actor

    Oct 10, 1998
    Likes Received:
    I am planning the purchase of a home theater PC. There are quite a few choices of different components out there, all with different followings and compatibility issues.

    Though I think I've come up with a good configuration, I'd like to run it past others before I order the hardware.

    What I'm trying to do: Create a multimedia appliance that will combine functions of a DVD player/recorder, media server, DVR, NTSC and ATSC tuners, and gaming PC. I can deal with the complexities of a PC, but I do want it to be stable (as in: it should seldom crash or lock up).

    Ideally, the system should output digital audio ONLY, as most reasonably-priced PC sound cards do not have audiophile-quality analog outputs. My pre/pro does an excellent job of handling PCM, Dolby Digital, and DTS signals, so that is all I want this PC to feed into it.

    And now, the parts list...

    Case: SilverStone SST-LC17-B ($140). This is a black brushed-metal case with two front 5.25" bays, with loading-tray covers. It looks like a piece of high-end HT equipment and accommodates a full ATX motherboard. (I am open to other suggestions but I want a full-metal desktop case that really looks like AV equipment. Though the Antec Sonata is well-regarded, I don't want a mini-tower - it must be a desktop so it blends in with other AV equipment in my rack.)

    Power supply: Not yet decided, but I want a quiet ~500W PSU.

    Sound card: Auzentech HDA-Xplosion ($115). This sound card has Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect, so multi-channel sound from games is converted on-the-fly to an HT-friendly Dolby Digital or DTS bitstream. (I could drop this component if anyone makes a motherboard with integrated audio featuring DD Live and/or DTS Connect and a usable coax/optical digital output.)

    Video card: Either the eVGA 7900GT CO ($320) or the ATI All-In-Wonder X1900 ($440). NVIDIA seems to be the most well-regarded, but the ATI has a built in NTSC tuner. I need a board with 720p or 1080i HDTV out to use with my current projector, and DVI for the future. I want good performance for games but won't pay the ~$700 that the ultra-high-end cards are commanding. Also, I have no intentions to upgrade to an SLI setup in the future.

    ATSC tuner card: Undecided. Reviews say the ATI HDTV Wonder is the most stable / compatible board, but it has no support for satellite HDTV sources (which I don't have anyway). Using the ATI HDTV Wonder would probably influence me toward the ATI video card as well. Other boards supposedly have satellite support but lack Media Center 2005 drivers.

    Motherboard: DFI LANParty UT ($123). A full ATX enthusiast's board with very customizable overclocking settings.

    CPU: AMD Opteron 165 ($325) or 170 ($400). Reports are these dual-core processors overclock to 2.5-2.7GHz with air cooling and minimal fuss, offering Athlon 64 X2 4800+ performance for half the price.

    RAM: G.Skill Extreme Series 2 x 1GB kit ($157). I picked this RAM because it is affordable and has successfully been used with the DFI LANParty UT board and Opteron 165/170 CPUs.

    Hard Drives: Two 300GB 7200RPM SATA drives (about $200-$250), to run in RAID-0. Is any particular brand better than the others? Whatever I buy will have a 16MB buffer for better performance.

    DVD burner: Plextor 16X DVD +/- R/RW burner ($80). I've always been happy with Plextor burners, but am open to other suggestions. The burner should be a black tray-loading model to blend in with the look of the system.

    Keyboard/mouse: Microsoft Remote ZV7-00009 Black IR Wireless Slim 3-in-1 Keyboard ($58). Combines wireless keyboard and mouse functions in one unit. I'm not sure how good it is for games, or if the IR has enough range to be used from the seating position (about 12-15' from the equipment rack).

    OS: Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 ($115). I need an XP license for this box, so might as well get the Media Center version.

    Without a PSU or HDTV tuner, all this came to about $1,675 at newegg. I'm thinking that with the PSU and HDTV card, plus shipping, the project cost will approach $2,000.

    Anyone have suggestions of other components, or ways to reduce the costs of the system?
  2. Dan Mercier

    Dan Mercier Stunt Coordinator

    Aug 24, 1999
    Likes Received:
    Do you think you really need the performance of raid 0?
    I had a machine with raid 0 for the last 2+ years and it finally cratered. My whole problem with it was backing it up or getting any files off the disks after they died. You have to be able to get them in a raid 0 array of the same type (like promise fast track lite or whatever raid bios) in order to use them.
    Ie, drive 2 fails drive 1 is essentially useless with very little chance of recovering any useful data. Keep that in mind giving the performance of today's larger drivers for media encoding it isn't quite necessary. If its cuz you'll be recording multiple high def channels at once you might be better off with a solution that records each channel to a different drive.

    Good luck either way since that machine is very similar to what i was going to build before i resurrected my old one enough to use.

  3. Vivek_IVB

    Vivek_IVB Stunt Coordinator

    Dec 26, 2005
    Likes Received:
    That's a seriously manly CPU; you don't need that for DVDs, NTSC, or ATSC, even with FFDShow. For games, you *might*, based on the particular gaming that you're into. I play UT2K4 on my AMD3200 which is

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