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Dept.: DIY
Tech: Home-theater PC
Cost: $2,006
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.


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.

Visit for forums and reviews.

Total: $2,006