This article is a general overview on the HTPC components that make an ideal home theater PC. After reading this guide, please check out my latest HTPC component recommendations here.
When planning to assemble and configure a home theater computer, it is difficult to know exactly which components you should choose to meet the performance requirements while keeping the computer energy consumption low and costs at a reasonable level.
This is a guide to build the best home theater PC with optimal components to your needs.
We sat down with a computer expert from a computer store specialized in the home theater PC equipments. The purpose of the discussion was to choose optimal components for living room use.
We did not try to find the best performance or the lowest cost, but an optimal setup that is suitable for any person interested in building a HTPC capable of playing 1080p HD video smoothly. This HTPC build features components that currently costs about $700.
Antec Fusion Remote Black Case
We organized a readers’ poll on the most popular home theater PC case some time ago. The winner, Antec Fusion case, looks like a stereo receiver, so it fits nicely into the living room design. In this build, we choose the black edition, but there is also a silver case available. There are several interesting details included in the case, such as rubber pads to absorb vibration and two 120 mm cooling fans that are able to keep the core duo processor cool without the need for extra ventilation in the case. It also has a built in display and remote control receiver. Instructions could be more detailed, and they can be somewhat confusing. Fortunately, the front of the case is pre-installed so you can build it almost without instructions.
Asus or Gigabyte Micro-ATX Motherboard
ASUS and Gigabyte are probably the best manufacturers of motherboards in the world. In this build, we have selected the micro ATX motherboard, which is based on Intel’s Sandy Bridge chipset. This motherboard has VGA output ports supporting HDMI and DVI output that are needed for the 1080P high-definition movie playback.
80+ Power Supply
Seasonic, Antec and Corsair are excellent brands and produce good quality powers. For example, Antec Earthwatts EA-380 PSU runs cool and quiet. It works well for long periods of nonstop operations, so you will not have any problems leaving your computer on over night. If you want to have a really silent computer, check out Seasonic X-400 passive power supply.
Intel Core i3 Processor
According to our poll on the most popular processor, the winner is the Intel Core i3. It is extremely fast, cool running and low power processor. You can expect it to be more than you really need for a home theater computer use at a low price. This processor has one of the highest performance vs price ratio you can find at the moment. It is also very power efficient, so no additional cooling is needed. Core i3 has built-in Intel HD graphics inside the CPU, so you do not need to spend money or space on the additional graphics card which saves space in the case. It naturally supports Blu-ray and 1080p HD video playback, too.
4GB DDR3 RAM
Some memory cards do not work well with all motherboards and processors, but this memory is approved by Intel for the motherboard. Choose a memory that is being reported by users to work well with the most motherboards and Intel’s latest chipset. We have chosen 4 GB in this guide, but you could do with 2 GB in most situations, as well. However, as the price difference is quite minimal, we recommend taking 4 GB right away.
Green Hard Drive
A 7200 RPM hard drive with a 1TB or 2TB storage is a good choice as you can get it at an affordable price nowadays. For example, the Western Digital Caviar Green hard drive is very quiet, and you will not hear any noise during the data processing. Another one is Samsung that has a good reputation among high definition video makers, so it fits well to the HD movie playback on your computer.
In this guide, we have chosen a Blu-ray optical drive to this system as we want to enjoy watching the latest Blu-ray movies. Samsung and LG have done quite nice work with their Blu-ray drives’ design. They look good and fit well to the case. These BD drives are under $100, so they are great value for your money while ensuring that you take the most out of your brand new home theater PC.
In this building guide we have covered the core components recommended by the computer expert. If you are hesitating which components to choose, by following this guide you will be able to build a very capable system with a reasonable price tag (about $700 without operating system). See the exact component list here.
With regards to the operating system, Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit is the recommended operating system, but if you are more interested in the Linux Media Center, Ubuntu Linux distribution is a good choice, as well.
Click “start here” button to choose optimal components from our 4 example home theater PC builds.