After testing many different components, I have finally found the best hardware for the XBMC media center. This guide will definitely save you time and money, helping you to avoid the same mistakes I did when choosing the optimal components for your first home theater PC build.
*** Please note that this guide is based on the older AMD Llano A6-3500 processor and the matching processor in the new AMD Trinity series is AMD A6-5400K. ***
The objective of this guide is to help you to choose optimal components, particularly for an OpenELEC XBMC Linux-based operating system.
So without further ado, let’s get started.
Before going into details, let’s define the the main requirements for the XBMC hardware. In general, the best hardware for XBMC allows you to have:
While there can be numerous different combinations of HTPC components, you really cannot go wrong with the following core components. Here you can find the list of components used in this guide.
If you want to have a small and stylish case that will fit nicely in your TV cabinet, the Antec ISK 300-150 case is a great choice.
It has a small mini ITX case form factor and it comes with a built-in 150W power supply.
The 80mm tri-speed case fan allows you to lower the fan speed to minimize noise but still generate enough air flow.
If you want to see what other case options are available, you should definitely try this HTPC Case Finder Tool.
The Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) has a big impact on the picture quality and smoothness of video playback.
There are two different platforms that seems to be the most popular among the home theater PC community: AMD Fusion and Intel Sandy Bridge/Ivy Bridge.
For example, based on my tests in practice, I have learned that Intel Core i3 does not have good deinterlacing performance and the picture quality is mediocre compared to AMD Radeon HD graphics.
You can improve the picture quality by getting better, more discrete graphics card such as the GeForce GT 430, but then you’ll add more cost and generate more heat, which requires more cooling (and increases noise levels).
I have been searching for a good compromise for a long time in terms of cost, performance and picture quality. The best processor I have found so far seems to be the AMD Fusion A6-3500, which has three 2.1GHz cores and a very powerful GPU. AMD Fusion is an APU (Accelerated Processing Unit), aimed at providing good performance with low power consumption, and integrating a CPU and a GPU into one chip.
Here is a comparison of the features based on real life test scenarios:
|AMD A6-3500||Intel Core i3-2105|
The key take away points from this comparison is that the AMD A6-3500 has the same power consumption (65W TDP) as the Core i3 and superior graphics capabilities: deinterlacing, scaling and noise reduction. Its processor performance is not as good as the Core i3, but it is more than sufficient for a fast and responsive user interface.
In order to have a compatible motherboard for the Antec ISK 300-150, you should choose a mini ITX motherboard.
The main motherboard manufacturers, Asus, Gigabyte and ASRock, are all good options, so get the A75 chipset mini-ITX that you can find on the cheap.
4GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM memory is a good choice as faster RAM memory will help you to get the most out of the system.
In principle, 2GB of RAM is enough, but as there is not real price difference anymore, you should get 4GB of RAM.
At 1600MHz, the two 2GB DDR3 memory modules are downright fast.
If you want to make sure that the booting and loading times are as fast as possible, you should choose a solid state drive (SSD) over a regular hard drive.
Antec ISK 300-150 case supports two 2.5″ hard drives, so you can always add another 2.5″ HDD to store your media files.
If you need more storage, then you should definitely consider getting a separate Network Attached Storage (NAS).
Next, you should improve your media experience by getting a good remote control, TV tuner and Blu-ray drive. You can find a comprehensive list of XBMC compatible accessories here.
The Motorola NYXBoard Hybrid is the only remote control that is specifically designed for XBMC. It has a keyboard on the backside of the remote, so you do not need a separate keyboard at all.
The NYXBoard has some issues with Windows operating system (wireless connection was occasionally lost due to the hibernation feature), but it works perfectly with Linux. I have been using the NYXBoard for quite some time now with OpenELEC and have been really satisfied with it.
If you wish to watch live TV, you need a TV tuner. I use the Anysee E30 Combo Plus USB TV tuner, but there are many other good alternatives depending on which broadcast technology is being used in your country.
Getting live TV streaming working with XBMC is easier than you might think. Just follow this guide to install Tvheadend TV server.
An optical drive is not necessarily needed to install OpenELEC Linux operating system, but if you plan to watch Blu-ray or DVD movies, you need to get a slim optical drive that is compatible with the selected case.
As a conclusion, the AMD A6-3500 has the best value/performance ratio at the moment, so it will be an ideal APU to run your media center.
Here is the summary of the recommended hardware for XBMC:
|Case||Antec Mini-ITX Case ISK 300-150||$80|
|CPU & GPU||AMD A6-3500 APU with AMD Radeon 6530 HD||$70|
|Motherboard||AMD A75 Mini-ITX Motherboard||$88|
|Hard Drive||60 GB Solid State Drive (SSD)||$70|
|Memory||4GB 1600MHz DDR3 RAM Memory||$25|
If you are interested in getting these components for yourself, you can find the online store links for each component here.
Now that you have chosen the best hardware for your XBMC, let’s proceed with installing and configuring OpenELEC for this AMD A6-3500 build.Learn anything? Please share!