Recommended HTPC hardware

Power

Because hardware changes fast it is difficult to make a list of recommendations that will last more than a couple of weeks. But people keeps asking, so here’s a quick list of some good equipment if you want to build yourself a home theatre computer.

Cabinet
The expensive but perfect:
mCubed HFX

The cheaper one:
Silverstone LC03 (review)

Power supply
Silverstone ST30NF (review)

TV-Card
Hauppauge PVR-500

Screen card
Nvidia GeForce 6600GT (review)
Note
I don’t know if this card fits in any of the cabinets recommended here. My main message is: choose a Nvidia GeForce 6600GT that is as silent as possible but still will fit into the case you choose.

CPU
As powerful AMD Athlon 64 as you can afford. The AMD processors has a “cool’n quiet” technology that makes them perfect for HTPCs. Lately people have also started using Pentium M processors in HTPCs. The selection of mainboards that support the Pentium M is not big, but this processor is perfect for a silent computer for your living room.

Memory
at least 512 MB (preferably 1 GIG)

Disk
As large as possible. Cool. Quiet. In general the seagate Barracuda 7200 disks has been quite good. The best qolution is to mount the disk in a 5 1/4″ bay in a special silencer to avoid vibrations. The Nexus DiskTwin is a good choice.

Fans and coolers
Zalman has a good selection of silent coolers and fans

Complete systems
Hush Technologies has fanless HTPC systems
In Norway a company caled Vendur can deliver complete fanless systems
For small media servers Mini-ITX.com is a good source
Niveus media has some beautiful and expensive systems
Voodoo Media Centers are also worth a look

But these things change fast and you should always do a bit of research before buying. Some good resources:
HTPC News
Good Media Center Blogs
AVS Forum

Recommended HTPC hardware

19 thoughts on “Recommended HTPC hardware

  1. Marius says:

    I would buy ATI instead of nVidia. IMHO ATI delivers the best image-quality.
    I have an ATI X700 pro with Thermaltake Schooner (passiv cooler) and the core stays right above 30 degrees (sometimes as low as 23) on idle and max 40 on load.

  2. Børge says:

    But you forgot motherboards…. Essential when building a silent HTPC. With or without fans… stock fans tend to make a lot of noise, on the other hand some chipsets make a lot of heat…

  3. Max says:

    The Silverstone ST30NF is NOT a good PSU. If looking around, you will find a lot of ppl having trouble with this one on quite “simlpe” configs.

    A config like this requires fans. No fan in PSU would often req more fans in the housing. It can be better, and also more stable, to get a really good PSU with fan — e.g. from MIST og Seasonic.

    At the moment there are coming new Nvidia-based boards into the same segment as the 6600GT, with even better functionality when it comes to video. But, as for image quality, the ATI Radeon X1600 could be a better alternative than a 6600GT.

    Seagate Barracuda kinda *was* good. Now there are sevral. E.g. Samsung Spinpoint-series can be very good. Also, some companies have CE-drives based on their standarddrives. These can be somewhat more quiet and make less heat. Thus, the seek-time is often not as good. Using 2,5″ drives can also be an good idea if you don’t need too much capacity — low noise, less vibes. The 2,5″ SATA-drives uses the same connectors for data and power as standard 3,5″ SATA-drives.

    I agree on the Zalman’s, but quite many of these are so huge they don’t fit on some motherboards, or goes outside the motherboard and might “crash” with the housing, PSU etc.

  4. As for motherboards I agree. Find one with no fans. The north bridge cooling can be horribly noisy on some cards.

    Or, buy one with a fan and replace it with passive cooling from Zalman.

  5. Regarding the Silverstone ST30NF. I have three of those and no problems.

    In my monster HTPC I have huge amounts of disks and actually run two Silverstone PSUs on the same computer. One for the MB, GPU and boot disk. The other one powers the DVD player and all the other disks.

    In the other box I run one Silverstone to power a computer with two disks, a DVD player, an old GeForce 4800, a couple of TV cards, a SCSI card and a USB / FW card.

    But yes, you need very good air flow and ventilation in the housing.

  6. Marius, I dont agree with you here.. Geforce with full Purevideo support igive a picturequality which is alot better than what ATI has to offer at the moment.

    Check this review,

    http://www.neoseeker.com/resourcelink.html?rid=110971

    http://www.nvidia.com/page/purevideo_support.html

    Mike Parker, a GPU Guru at avsforum.com, also recommends the newest Geforce cards. He has previously sold alot of MP-1 mods to add RGBHV output and a cleaner signal to any graffic card.. his current MP-1.3 is recommended for ATI cards, while only a ligth version of his MP mod is needed for Geforce cards. This as these already give a very good picture.. The light version only add RGBHV output.

  7. Benjamin Aker says:

    Concerning HTPC-cabinets:
    If possible, try to get those with support for 80mm fans instead of 60mm (F.ex. Silverstone LC-13) instead of LC03. The availability of silent 80mm fans is much greater than their 60mm counterparts.

    As a good HTPC motherboard, I recommend Asus A8N-VM CSM M-atx, which has built-in Geforce 6150 (supports Purevideo etc) with DVI and VGA, digital sound output, lots of USB/AC97 headers, and of course PCi-ex slots etc.

  8. Hello Eirik!

    I wonder if you could give me a quick answer on about:

    I have a 2,66GHz PC with 512MB RAM. My screen-card is NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4200 with AGP8X and I have Pinnacle tv-card 310i, which need CPU to encode.

    Would it help me if I upgrade my RAM to 1024 or more? I thinking of the fact that my pc is running slow when using the tv-card/MCE from Pinnacle etc?

    Would it help me to run a linux-distro? If so which linux and what software do you recommend?

    And just one more thing! Where on my pc can I find what GHz my RAM is.

  9. More RAM is always good, but I don’t think it would help much on the fact that the video card you use need the CPU to encode video. It would be much better to simply go ahead and buy a Hauppauge or Nvidia card with hardware encoding.

    Encoding video in realtime is very demanding for the CPU. Depending on the capabilities of your screen card and the codecs used you could end up with a situation where your CPU does both the encoding and decoding of video while time shifting. It is very difficult for a system to handle this. Even with lots of RAM available.

    As for linux I don’t think that would help either. I am not an expert on MythTV and Freevo, but I think they also works best with a hardware encoding TV-card.

    The only codec I know of that is fast enough for full time shifting through the CPU is the PICVideo MJpeg codec. The good old PVR-software called ShowShifter supported this. Still, my experience is that you will run into trouble with deinterlacing and other issues when trying to do timeshifting through the CPU.

    The manual of your mainboard will tell you what kind of RAM your MB supports. Regarding the speed of your existing RAM I actually don’t know where you can find if it is 2700, 3000, 3300 etc..

  10. Is it possible to connect a PCI card (Hauppauge 500) to a laptop? any pugins or something that works?
    What tv-card do you recommend for a laptop (pc)? I should be cooping with the new digital tv signals (bakkenettet or Get).

  11. eirikso says:

    No, you can’t connect PCI cards to a lapto. You would have to buy a USB or FireWire based TV-tuner.

    At this point you will not find any tuners that will work with Get, due to their encryption system. The Norwegian digital terrestrial network will be using MPEG4 as the video standard, and right now I don’t know about any TV-cards that will support it.

  12. This is the case:

    I have a desktop with Hauppauge tv-card, but no Win MCE. On my new laptop its MCE, but I don’t have a tv-card! Is there some software that can record and transfer tv-shows etc. from my desktop to my laptop?

  13. eirikso says:

    With BeyondTV and SageTV you have pretty good control of the desktop machine and through your home network you can transfer TV-shows to your Laptop. I don’t know any solutions where you get access more or less directly to the TV-card in your desktop machine.

    Hauppauge have some USB-based tuners that would work well with your laptop. Problem is that the digital tuners I know of only work with Canal Digital and not Get or RiksTV.

  14. Do you know if I can upgrade XP to XP MCE with the cd (Vista Home Premium) that follows the laptop? If so how! Haven’t got the laptop yet, but tomor… later today!

    Have you seen the video demo for Linux MCE? Looks like the media toolbox for what ever media solution out there. Tried it once, but that was not a very easy way to set it up. Think you need to know much before doing that, don’t you think?

    (By the way! Have finished the first chapter in some book by now, check it out at Recaptch hehehe!) ;-)

  15. It is surprising how well this build has lasted over the past years. If you look at htpc processors in 2011, very little has changed in terms of performance requirements when it comes to media center use. However, as the processors get faster, users believe that they require the fastest computers as home theater pcs. So my advice is that go with the low energy consuming CPUs such as AMD E350 or Intel Core i3.

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