Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Choosing Hardware - Windows Media Center HTPC Build - Part 1

Starting series about my HTPC build - Part 1





1. Choose mATX, miniATX, ATX for size of build.

I chose miniITX to fit in specific case

2. Choose CPU - Intel vs AMD
     This will depend on if you want to run onboard graphics or not. I tried AMD integrated graphics and it just seemed to struggle and have stability issues. Once I switched back to Intel the problems went away. I would recommend Core i3 for most people. This will depend greatly on needs. I think the rule for streaming cablecard network tuners to externders is one core per stream. I currently am running Haswell i3 and have Ceton 6 Network tuner (have not tested 6 streams at once to seperate devices as I only use ipad and HTPC). If you are going to be using this as media server as well and need to transcode large files then maybe i5 would be your best bet.

I chose Intel

3. Choose Haswell vs Ivy Bridge if you go down Intel route
     I recommend going to Haswell just for the fact that you get the newer HD graphics. This will depend if you want to run onboard graphics or not. If you are going to put in video card then save money and go with Ivy Bridge.

Update - I just upgraded to i5-4430 with the HD 4600 Graphics (I also upgraded fan to Cooler Master Low Profile to keep it cool). I got it for $100 at Staples from pricematch to Frys. Couldnt resist as I can sell the i3 for $100 on ebay.

Core i3
neweggIntel Core i3-4130 Haswell 3.4GHz LGA 1150 54W Dual-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics 4400 BX80646I34130 
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Intel Core i3-4130 Haswell 3.4GHz LGA 1150 54W Dual-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics 4400 BX80646I34130 - Buy from Amazon




Intel Core i3-4130 Haswell 3.4GHz LGA 1150 54W Dual-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics 4400 BX80646I34130

Intel Core i3-4330 Haswell 3.5GHz LGA 1150 54W Dual-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics 4600 BX80646I34330 - Buy from Amazon

Intel Core i3-4330 Haswell 3.5GHz LGA 1150 54W Dual-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics 4600 BX80646I34330

Intel Core i3-3225 Ivy Bridge 3.3GHz LGA 1155 55W Dual-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics 4000 BX80637I33225 - Buy from Amazon

Intel Core i3-3225 Ivy Bridge 3.3GHz LGA 1155 55W Dual-Core Desktop Processor                                                                                   Intel HD Graphics 4000 BX80637I33225

Core i5

Intel Core i5-4570 Haswell 3.2GHz LGA 1150 84W Quad-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics BX80646I54570 - Buy from Amazon

Intel Core i5-4570 Haswell 3.2GHz LGA 1150 84W Quad-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics BX80646I54570

Intel Core i5-3570K Ivy Bridge 3.4GHz (3.8GHz Turbo) LGA 1155 77W Quad-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics 4000 BX80637I53570K - Buy from Amazon

Intel Core i5-3570K Ivy Bridge 3.4GHz (3.8GHz Turbo) LGA 1155 77W Quad-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics 4000 BX80637I53570K


3. Choose Motherboard
     This is also a toss up. I usually get the best deal I can with at least 4 stars on Newegg. The things I was looking for was adequate SATA ports and at least one SATA III for my SSD. If you are using this as media server and needs lots of SATA ports then you will have to spend more money but worth it so you don't have to worry about PCI Sata adapters.

I chose ASRock B85M-ITX LGA 1150 Intel B85 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 Mini ITX Intel Motherboard - Buy from Amazon

4. Choose PSU
     This will also depend on the number of discs you have and if you will be running video card. Again, I go with the best deal on something that is at least 80 PLUS Bronze Certified.  Modular makes your case tidier and look nicer but are much more expensive.  

I chose 

CORSAIR CX series CX430 430W ATX12V v2.3 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Active PFC Power Supply Amazon

5. Choose RAM
    Ram is expensive right now so if you have old Ram laying around use it. I would get something rated DDR3 1600 that has decent reviews and the best price. The biggest question is amount of ram you need. You can use 4GB and probably be fine unless you are running many tasks at same time. To be safe I went ahead with adding extra 4GB to the 4GB I had laying around.

I chose 4GBx2 = 8GB Total

6. Choose Case
    I have used 3 different HTPC cases and the latest one is the best by far but they all were for slightly different uses.

nMEDIAPC Black Aluminum / Acrylic / Steel HTPC 6000B ATX Media Center / HTPC Case - Buy from Amazon
nMEDIAPC Black Aluminum / Acrylic / Steel HTPC 6000B ATX Media Center / HTPC Case
This one is huge and has lots of space for many HDD's. I also have seperate server now so I didnt need something this big.

SILVERSTONE Black Aluminum skin reinforced plastic front panel, 0.8mm SECC body MILO Series ML03B Micro ATX Media Center / HTPC Case - Buy from Amazon

SILVERSTONE Black Aluminum skin reinforced plastic front panel, 0.8mm SECC body MILO Series ML03B Micro ATX Media Center / HTPC Case


My current case is miniITX (fractal node 304) and is my favorite by far. Its box shaped, has decent depth, but much more functional use of space and looks nice in my media center. It has room for my SSD + 2TB HDD and plenty of fans to keep it cool. THE BIGGEST ADVANTAGE IS ITS DEAD QUIET compared to old case, fans, and video card. Can't stress how quiet it is. 

Fractal Design Node 304 FD-CA-NODE-304-BL Black Aluminum / Steel Mini-ITX Tower Computer Case - Buy from Amazon

Fractal Design Node 304 FD-CA-NODE-304-BL Black Aluminum / Steel Mini-ITX Tower Computer Case


7. Video Card - I chose to use onboard HD 4600 graphics. I have used video cards in the past from NVIDIA and AMD and I ran into driver issues. I think I have excellent video quality, it plays 3D 1080p Bluray perfectly and its silent. I liked my AMD 6450 low profile video card if you want something to start with.

8. OS - I used Windows 7 on previous builds but went ahead with Windows 8 and added WMC on this build. So far I have everything working the way I want it so not updating to 8.1. 

9. Note in my current build I got rid of BluRay drive because there is no place for it in fractal case. I have external BluRay drive in case I want to use it but I ripped all my blurays to my server and haven't missed it at all. I have collection of 3D Bluray's that I use PS3 for to watch. Recently makemkv has released version to rip 3D Bluray so will check that out.

10. Tuner
     To watch tv in WMC you need tuners. There are a couple things to think about when choosing tuners.

  1. Onboard vs External vs Network
  2. Cable TV vs OTA
I have used all 3 and currently I have been sticking with Network tuners because of ability to switch devices on the fly. My absolute favorite is the Silicondust HDHOMERUN Prime. Its the simplest to set up and worked perfectly without an issue for a year. It is limited to 3 tuners so I recently upgraded to Ceton 6 Tuner on the network. Its still a pain to set up and keep it stable like it was in the very beginning. Really hope they improve this. 
  • I WOULD HIGHLY RECOMMEND STICKING WITH HDHOMERUN PRIME Cablecard Tuner 
Buy HDHOMERUN Prime from Amazon here

Buy Ceton InfiniTV 6 ETH from Amazon here

Before network tuners I ran two seperate AverMedia onboard tuners and combined them with OTA antennas. Would highly recommend them as they were perfect without any issues. The trouble I did have was the antennas picking up all channels (PLUS MY WIFE WANTED REAL HOUSEWIVES AND KARDASHIANS). Therefore, I went back to network tuners and paying for cable with cablecard rental. 

If you want network tuners and OTA use the SiliconDust Dual Network tuner that works with OTA. Only 2 tuners, but you can add as many as you want (just add more antennas). 

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