I built a new home theater PC to replace the one I built in 2004. I’ve mentioned it a few times, but without any details.
First, why did I do it? If you use a TiVo® or a digital video recorder (DVR) from your cable company or satellite company, you have a basic idea. Now, put it on steroids…
I considered the cable company’s DVR, and even rented one for a while. I quickly ran into trouble with it, as it recorded more shows, needed more space, and started deleting recordings before I had gotten around to watching them. Ouch!
I had my old home theater PC, which I built in 2004 (you can see it at Terry’s Home Theater. It was getting kind of old — the motherboard could not take PCI-E cards, which is the slot required by today’s tuner cards, it could not record digital channnels, and, although I didn’t realize it, the aging of the tuner cards was starting to give fuzzy recordings.
So, I decided it was time to build the new system.
I knew that I would continue using SageTV as my home theater PC software. Therefore, my first step was to decide which tuner card I wanted to use. My choice was the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 Dual Hybrid PCI-E TV Tuner.
I’ve been using Hauppauge PVR-250 and PVR-150 cards in my old home theater PC, so I knew this was the brand I would use. These new cards have one input for RG59/RG6 antenna cable, but that one cable connection drives two internal tuners which can be configured as analog tuners or digital tuners.
I briefly considered buying a computer to use as the base for my home theater PC. However, I had particular desires regarding available slots on the motherboard (one or two PCI slots for my old tuners plus at least three PCI-E slots for the video card and two PCI-E tuner cards. Oh, yeah,and lots of room for hard drives.
That put me in the mode of building my own computer again. So, I went shopping…
There are two basic facets to the shopping — (1) the PC itself and (2) the hardware to make the PC into a home theater PC. There’s a surprisingly large amount of cost in the latter, but it can be done in incremental stages (e.g., one hard drive and one tuner card to start) if you like.
I did most of my shopping at NewEgg.
First, let’s look at the PC hardware I selected and why I picked that hardware. My intent was that this home theater PC would last four years or more, without upgrading.
I also intended for it to be lighter than my previous all-steel Antec case, and to allow me to easily make changes and expansions.
I chose the light-weight Lian Li PC-A71F black aluminum ATX full tower case from NewEgg. This case is extremely easy to work with. No screwdriver was needed to set up the PC, other than a small phillips-head screwdriver for mounting the motherboard.
The case uses thumb screws to hold the removable case sides and to hold the power supply into place. There’s an innovative and effective locking mechanism for PCI and PCI-E cards.
There’s also an effective locking tool-less locking mechanism for CD/DVD drives and an easy-to-use design for installing hard drives. Finally, there’s an internal metal strap to lock the power supply into place. The price was definitely aimed at the enthusiast who makes lots of changes, as the case without power supply was almost as much as a cheap computer. Price: $239.99.
|Lian Li PC-A71F black aluminum ATX full tower case
With Power Supply: No
Power Supply Mounted: Bottom
Motherboard Compatibility: E-ATX / ATX / M-ATX
With Side Panel Window: No
External 5.25″ Drive Bays: 5
External 3.5″ Drive Bays: 1(Uses one 5.25″ Drive Bays)
Internal 3.5″ Drive Bays: 10
Expansion Slots: 7
Interestingly, the Gigabyte motherboard I chose at the end of October has already been rereleased in an improved version. My Gigabyte GA-P55-UD4P motherboard has USB 2.0 and SATA II (3 GB/second) at a price of $170. With the new revision to USB 3.0 and SATA III, the motherboard went up in price by $15. Price: $170.
GIGABYTE GA-P55A-UD4P ATX Intel Motherboard w/ USB 3.0 & SATA 6 Gb/s
CPU Type: Core i7 (LGA1156)/i5 (LGA1156)
Number of Memory Slots: 4, 240pin
Memory Standard: DDR3 2200/1600/1333/1066/80
Support for Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) memory modules
Maximum Memory Supported: 16GB
Channel Supported: Dual Channel
PCI Express 2.0 x16: 1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x16 (PCIEX16) 1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x8 (PCIEX8)
PCI Express x1: 3
PCI Slots: 2
I chose the Intel Core i7-860 processor, running at 2.8GHz. This processor is at the middle of Intel’s Core i7 product line, and is at the "sweet spot" in pricing — meaning it’s slightly more expensive than the less-capable model, and way less inexpensive than the next more-capable model. Price $290.
|Intel Core i7-860 2.8GHz LGA 1156 95W Quad-Core Processor
The CPU Cooler:
I picked the Thermaltake Silent 1156 CLP0552 92mm CPU cooler to replace the standard heatsink and fan that came with the Intel Core i7-860. This monster is doing its job without any complaints. I sure was surprised at its size when I opened the box — it’s a big tower of cooling. Price $30.
|Thermaltake Silent 1156 CLP0552 92mm CPU Cooler For Intel Socket LGA1156
I chose G.Skill Trident 4GB (2x2GB) DDR3 2000 (PC-16000) memory modules to use. G.Skill is not as well known as some of the other memory companies. However, the Gigabyte web site had a table of tested compatible memory, and this one was included. That took out any concern about compatibility issues.
I bought 8GB of RAM for the home theater PC, since I planned to run Windows 7 Professional 64-bit. Even though SageTV uses the 32-bit version of Java, the extra memory will mean that I can run other applications simultaneously with less interference with the HTPC’s recording and playback functions. Price: $250 (2 at $125).
|G.SKILL Trident 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 2000 (PC3 16000) Desktop Memory
Cas Latency: 9
Multi-channel Kit: Dual Channel Kit
Heat Spreader: Yes
Features: Specifically Designed to compatible with Intel Core i5 and Core i7 for Intel P55 motherboard
The Power Supply
We have to have something to supply power to the motherboard and drives. My case did not come with a power supply, so I chose the Antec TruePower TP-750, which is a 750-watt continuous power ATX power supply. Price: $115.
|Antec TruePower New TP-750
750W Continuous Power
ATX12V V2.3 / EPS12V V2.91
SLI Certified CrossFire Ready
80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Active PFC
“compatible with Core i7/Core i5”
The Operating System:
Thank you, Microsoft. NOT!
Microsoft changed the operating system license from the Windows XP days. The "System Builder" Windows 7 license is limited in the license agreement to be applicable only to PC’s being built for resale to unrelated third parties.
I guess this was Microsoft’s solution to enthusiasts who change motherboards and processors — MS thinks a new motherboard and processor equals a new computer and that you need to buy a new copy of Windows. The Retail version of Windows, as opposed to the System Builder version (formerly called the OEM version) is transferable to other PC’s, as long as it is only installed on one PC at a time.
So, to stay legal with the license agreement, by building my own PC I had to purchase the Windows 7 Professional Retail version instead of a System Builder version. This cost me an additional $140 over the System Builder version. Price: $282.
|Microsoft Windows 7 Professional Full
The DVD Burner:
Since I need a DVD drive to install Windows and occasional software, I bought a Samsung Black 22X DVD burner, SATA model SH-S223B. This is an OEM model sold by NewEgg. Price: $37.
The Hard Drives:
I installed one hard drive specifically for the operating system and program software. I installed a second hard drive for the video recording, so I could watch the shows later.
That’s the big purpose of TiVo’s and home theater PC’s — time shifting. I know I want to watch something, but I want to watch it on my own schedule, not when it’s broadcast.
For the boot drive, I chose a Samsung Spinpoint F1 HD753LJ. This is 750GB 7200 RPM SATA drive at 3.0Gb/s throughput. Price: $65.
For my data drive, I chose an Hitachi Deskstar HD32000 IDK/7K. The Hitachi is a 2TB drive (2,000GB) that runs at 7200 RPM and 3.0Gb/s SATA speed. Price: $180.
|SAMSUNG Spinpoint F1 HD753LJ 750GB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5″ Hard Drive -Bare Drive
|HITACHI Deskstar 2TB 3.5″ SATA 3.0Gb/s Internal Hard Drive -Retail
The Video Card
I "cheaped out" on the video card. My requirements were that it have a VGA output, HDMI output and that it be quiet. My choice was a PowerColor AX4350, which is based on the Radeon HD4350 graphics chip with 256MB 64-bit GDDR2.
The card is designed for a PCI-E 2.0 x16 motherboard slot. It also supports CrossFire (ATI’s dual-video-card design for gamers), although I don’t plan that for my home theater PC. Price: $35.
|POWERCOLOR Radeon HD 4350 AX4350 512MD2-H Video Card
Chipset Manufacturer: ATI
Core Clock: 600MHz
Stream Processors: 80
Stream Processing Units Memory Clock: 800MHz
DirectX: DirectX 10.1
OpenGL: OpenGL 2.0
HDMI: 1 x HDMI
D-SUB: 1 x D-SUB
Continue reading about my new home theater pc in What Else Is Needed For A Home Theater PC?