Tech: Home-theater PC
Time: 9 hours
Why DIY? More choice, prettier end product
Dabbler | | | | | Master
With all the off-the-shelf options for buying a home-theater PC [see PopSci Buyer’s Guide, page 72], why would anyone but a basement-dwelling Linux nerd bother to build one himself? That’s what I wondered as I looked at roughly two grand in raw PC parts scattered around my living room, with only an illustrated guide from Intel to direct me. But here’s the secret about building your own HTPC: It’s easy. Motherboards these days are so clearly labeled and parts are so standardized that, armed with a single Phillips screwdriver, I had the hardware assembled and Windows XP running in the time between dinner and Conan.
Setting up the machine to fulfill its full home-theater destiny—showing and recording TV, playing and burning DVDs and CDs, handling digital music, photos and movies—well, that’s where it got a little sticky. Before everything finally jibed (a week after my initial triumph), there were forgotten audio drivers, wrong tuner-card drivers, several software reinstalls, one full system wiping, and a few cryptic error messages that I’m just chalking up to angry gods.
So why DIY? HTPC hobbyists will say it’s because the “spousal approval factor” is easier when you can choose a brushed aluminum case that matches the living-room carpet and fill it with silent parts. But there’s also the cost savings: RAM and hard drives are so cheap online that you can crank up your specs without paying the premium that PC companies charge for such upgrades. But mostly it’s for bragging rights. Just don’t let anyone else see this article.
HTPC SHOPPING LIST
I chose these parts to build a rock-solid-reliable and near-silent machine for around $2,000—the same as an HP z545-b with comparable specs.
htpcnews.com for forums and reviews.
> Case SilverStone LaScala LC03, sundialmicro.com, $121
> Motherboard Intel D915PBL, zipzoomfly.com, $154
> Processor Intel 2.8GHz Pentium 4 775, newegg.com, $159
> RAM Two sticks of Crucial 512MB PC2-4200, crucial.com, $276
> CPU cooler Zalman CNPS7700-AlCu, quietpcusa.com, $45
> Power supply Zalman 400W ZM400B-APS, zipzoomfly.com, $87
> Hard drive Seagate Barracuda 160GB S-ATA, newegg.com, $115
> Optical drive LG 16X DVD+/â€RW, mwave.com, $76
> Video card ABIT ATI x700 Pro PCI Express, newegg.com, $168
> Tuner card Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500MCE, hauppauge.com, $200
> Wireless card D-Link Xtreme 802.11g PCI, ecost.com, $50
> Card reader In Win 10-in-1 CR-I530-B, iocombo.com, $21
> Case fan AcoustiFan 80mm Noiseless, quietpcusa.com, $17
> OS Windows XP, staples.com, $200
> Software Snapstream BeyondTV and BeyondMedia, snapstream.com, $120
> IR receiver USB-UIRT, pcalchemy.com, $47
> Remote Snapstream Firefly, snapstream.com, $50
> Keyboard/mouse Gyration Ultra GT Compact Keyboard Suite, pcalchemy.com, $100