The Building of a HTPC – First Thoughts

The film that started this was Without Warning (1980), one of the first Alien rip-off’s and probably the one that inspired Predator. (Seriously, the plot lines to both are so similar in places any denial that one part-inspired the other is absurd.)

Though Without Warning is not what most would call a “good film” it is a favourite of mine and one I remember seeing for the first time with surprising clarity. Later I would purchase the same copy I originally viewed at the video store from which I viewed it, and I owned it for many years. Later still I purchased a laserdisc edition that caught a serious case of disk-rot and ended up in land-fill somewhere.

Then I was left with no home version of the film, and this is how it stayed.

The re-release of this film on US region coded Blu-ray made me think about buying a region 1 player. I realised this would mean yet another player under the TV (making it four); so I discarded this idea pretty quickly. This left two options: either buy one of the excessively priced multi-region players or build my own.

It became clear very quickly that building a player would be no more expensive than buying one (the players really are that expensive) and would include many options a shop bought player couldn’t compete with.

A HTPC (Home Theatre Personal Computer) is just a home computer optimised for viewing video, so as such it is still capable of doing all the other things a PC is so good at.

For some time I mulled over the idea, making lists of components and changing items on the list as other options came to mind. I knew that much of what I was considering would rely on the case and the practical issues of whether the case would fit under the TV and what components would fit in it.

When it comes to computer components the world is a dizzying one, thousands of different types and styles of cases fill the market. I probably looked through over a thousand cases, this included finding homepages and downloading installation manuals to plan out the project, but I never settled on any of them.

The breakthrough came when Paul Hill, a man I’ve known all my life, turned up with a couple of old computers he’d been given. Neither were in a usable state but they did allow me to more easily visualise what I had in mind. In fact the one case would have been my choice; if I were able to install my chosen motherboard in it.

So I started by doing an image search using this case as a starting point, and a whole new approach to finding what I was after opened up to me.

It took some time but eventually I found the Silverstone range of cases. These aren’t cheap, and some of the reviews to them are anything but kind, but they seemed to be in the right direction and a little more searching and I found the Silverstone LC17. 

  

Now I had chosen a case I could start on finalising the motherboard. Originally I had pencilled in an MSI A88XI AC, which is an FM2+ slot machine for AMD processors, but after taking a closer look at the last computer I built I decided on an Asus board instead.

My other desktop had been built to edit 1080p video so was built for stability as well as power. The Asus board I used for it, an Asus M5A78L-M/USB3, had served me extremely well so it seemed wise to me to keep with the brand, so finally I decided on an Asus A85XM-A.

From here the choice of processor was simple and I opted for an AMD A10-6800K, which should have about as much power to it as the player should need.

So the final line up of components looks something like this:

  • Asus A85XM-A
  • AMD A10-6800K
  • Corsair Vengeance DDR3-2133 2x4Gb
  • Silverstone LC17 Case
  • Silverstone Strider ST55F-G PSU

Salvaged from the computers my friend had brought around for me was a nearly new Samsung 360Gb SATA hard drive that I decided to use as the OS drive as well as a DVD Rewriter should I need to put off buying a Blu-Ray Rewriter for another month (as this build has become an expensive one). I already have a single 2Tb drive that is ready to use as well as a couple of external drives I’ll transfer into the case.

These items were ordered 1st April and the date quoted for delivery is Saturday 4th.

Before that I need to look at my finances and decide whether I can get a Solid State Drive for the operating system before the components arrive, the 360Gb hard drive would do, but obviously the speed the SSD would inject into the system would be worth the £50 or so a 120Gb SSD would cost.

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