Lachlan Smith

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Building a High Performance HTPC

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April 12, 2009

HTPCs are a tricky type of computer to design. because the computer will sit in your living room it has to look good. It's not as though it isn't possible to design a good looking HTPC, look at the PS3, it is a high performance computer that looks good.

The first component to select is the chassis when looks matter. Because I want to move my computer about, I want a small chassis, so I have gone with a low profile one. There were two up for consideration, first I wanted the Antec MicroFusion Remote 350 which looks great. However after consultation with the antec website, wanting a high performance computer, a 350 W power supply may not have been enough for the build after a year, and if I added a BD drive, and an extra HDD, memory after time.

In the end I settled with a Lian Li PC-C37B Muse Black which looks very nice. I then threw in an Antec TP-550 as 550 W is more than enough, and with high-quality components and efficiency should keep very cool at the typical current draw for this computer. Because the computer will be used for video rendering, it could be at 100% for several hours in a row, so it must be able to stay cool inside the small chassis. The Lian Li with it's all aluminium construction should have better cooling characteristics than the all steel Antec previously considered.

From there the rest of the computer falls into place like Lego.

Core i7 920, value based core i7 processor gives biggest bang for buck, and with 8 threads concurrent execution (quad core hyperthreaded) will fly for video rendering.

6GB of RAM at only $178 makse sense. Better to have too much than too little, this helps with future-proofing, afterall we want this PC to last 5 years.

Core i7 CPUs have a new socket, 1366, like the 775 socket it is a pinless ball-grid-array which are easy to put together. There are not many socket 1366 motherboards availiable and are all high-end. I have gone with a DFI LanParty JR-X58-T3EH6 Motherboard which is the microATX version of the DFI LanParty DK-X58-T3EH6 Motherboard. As the case only takes microATX, the JR version of the board it is. Everything is the same, X58 chipset, just a one less PCIEx16, one less PCI, two less SATA ports, and no IEEE1394a.

Becuase the case is low profile, it requires a low profile video card. The ASUS EAH4550 is designed for HTPCs with a HDMI connector as standard. This is a value based ATi Radeon HD 4550 chip, but with a h.264 decoding accelerator present, is more than plenty and will allow for basic gaming, and excellent Aero performance. The card can be run in software Crossfire, supported by the motherboard, so can add a second card later if I want.

Western Digital 1 TB HDD, Pioneer 20x DVD-RW, and Logitech VX Revolution mouse are all standard fixtures. I may upgrade to blu-ray later, but for now I am just sticking with DVD as I have the PS3, and none of my relatives would be able to play a mastered BD disc. I already have a keyboard, monitor(s), TV, and speaker system(s), so no need to worry about these aspects.

Why no Digital Tuner card? I have a pinnacle digital tuner USB stick. While pinnacle, and the software that comes with it sucks, I will be running the beta version of Windows 7 64-bit which supports this device using Microsoft drivers which are about as robust as they get (as opposed to the pinnacle drivers which are below par). The pinnacle stick was bought for playing Wii on my laptop, which sucked due to input lag in the analogue part of the software.

Total price, $1840 AUD, delivered, self assembly.

I will be using beta version of Windows 7 Ultimate, I have Vegas Movie Studio Platnium Pro 9.0 which I have yet to install on anything, and will not be using this computer for office/e-mail (I have a laptop for this).

Tags: 920 Core HTPC i7

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