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This is the most comprehensive and detailed tutorial regarding setup and use of your HTPC.
Assassin’s Simple/Beginner HTPC Buying and Building Guide
This guide is for building a simple & basic home theater PC. This is a great guide for someone building their first HTPC or wanting to build a simple and relatively affordable HTPC. My picks are usually not the absolute cheapest but we try to give relatively affordable “best bang for your buck” using reliable parts.
So if you are looking for that route your may want to look elsewhere.
“Assassin Words of Wisdom: Look for text like this where I will try to add some words of wisdom in and give you some insight drawn from experiences of building and customizing thousands of systems over the past decade.”
If you don’t feel like building one yourself, are too inundated by the amount of information out there, or just want it to work right without any hassles…You can always have our team of professionals build one for you at our store:
And after you build it yourself….You can always opt out of the hundreds of hours of fine tuning and tweaking the software by just downloading our Instant HTPC Software Setup.
If you find this thread helpful, or if it has saved you time and/or money, please spread the word!
*Don’t forget to visit our FAQ page before proceeding!
Assassin Hardware Guide
Table of Contents:
Definition of Parts
32bit vs. 64bit
Assassin HTPC Instant Setup Download
Haali Media Splitter
Shark007 Codec Packshref=”#antivirus”
Microsoft Security Essentials (antivirus)
M.2 & SATA Express Boards
AMD FM2 Motherboards
mSATA & m.2 Cards
11) Hard Drive
Fanless & Silent PSU
13) HTPC Cases
Low Profile CPU Coolers
AC vs. N Explanation
Slim Optical Drives
Full Size Keyboards
USB Adatpers / Receivers
18) HDMI Cables
Basic HTPC Build
Mid-Level HTPC Build
1) WHAT TO EXPECT
Building and owning a HTPC is not for everyone as it takes quite a bit of time to get everything completed. If this time and effort is intimidating then we strongly suggest that you find someone to build and/or setup your HTPC (or ask us!). Our goal at Assassin HTPC is to bring the HTPC market to the masses. We will attempt the impossible feat of keeping everything as simple as possible, but informative enough so everyone can gain value from our guides. Chances are if you don’t understand something and we don’t explain it fully, then its not critical to know. Also, don’t forget you can always Google keywords you might not understand!
Assassin Words of Wisdom: I will mark with an * before their name those products that we highly recommend!
With that being said this is the time allotment that we would expect the beginner to build their first HTPC.
1) Build planning and research:
– 5-10 hours without using this guide
– 1-2 hours if using this guide
2) Hardware Build:
– 2 hours
3) Software Installation:
– 2 hours
4) Software configuration
– 10+++ hours without a guide
– 2-4 hours using our guides located on the rest of this site.
Or Just 10-15 minutes by downloading our Instant HTPC setup
We have recently created and compiled the most comprehensive HTPC setup and configuration illustrated tutorial that you can find. It is located in our blog and we highly recommend that you purchase it if you have decided to build your own HTPC. This guide will be the most important $ that you spend on your build and will take you step by step through setting up, configuring and using your HTPC.
What this HTPC is meant to do:
1. Play 1080p movies in any format
2. Run mediabrowser, XBMC or equivalent
3. Download movies, music, pictures or other data to be played
4. Surf the internet
5. Play music
6. View pictures
7. Connect to a HDTV or AV receiver via HDMI
8. Rip blu-rays to hard drive (with additional bluray drive and software)
9. Watch HULU, Netflix, etc.
10. Play 4K and 3D Movies (with compatible parts/software)
11. Use an optional TV tuner card or device to record TV if you like
12. Bitstream HD audio over HDMI.
13. Stream content
14. Take avantage of dozens of add-ons and plugins available today.
What this PC is not meant to do:
1. Play modern graphics intense games at maximum settings (although you can play most games at moderate settings with some of the integrated GPUs)
2) THE BASICS
Definition of Parts:
In most basic terms, there are 3 basic functional parts to your HTPC.
The Processor, Memory, and Storage.
CPU/Processor (measured in GHz) –> This is the amount of muscle your HTPC has. The beefier the CPU, the more things it can do at once, the faster, etc. Think of it as sheer power. For HTPC’s we don’t need a lot of this to accomplish our goals but we don’t want to short change ourselves either.
Memory (measured in RAM) –> Think of this as your reflexes. How quickly you act / react to changes in the environment.
Storage (measured in GB or TB) –> Think of this as your brain and how much sheer information you can retain at once.
That’s basically it. There are other factors that can help/detract from these things (such as motherboards) but in the most basic terms those are the 3 main parts of a computer.
Things to keep in mind when considering parts:
1) Start with size. How big is the space will determine with size motherboard you need. There are 3 standard sizes of Motherboards. Larger boards are less expensive generally and offer more expansion options. However, they take up substantially more space. In electronics, small size adds extra costs.
For HTPC’s, generally the Micro ATX (M-ATX) or Mini ITX (M-ITX) are the preferred sizes. From this point forward, we’ll try to leave size up to you and just tell you which brand/type of motherboard we prefer and why.
2) Another thing to keep in mind is size of you power supply. You don’t need a 750w gold rated power supply to power 1 hard drive and a processor. Save your money and use it elsewhere and before you buy go to a power supply calculator like the one below. You’ll be surprised at how little power you need for an HTPC (if you follow our instruction!)
3) Brands do make a difference in electronics. I’ve been to several factories where computer components are manufactured and the main difference I’ve seen is the level of quality control. I’ve walked into warehouses and production lines in China that look like they belong in Silicone Valley, and others that look like a 1950’s Space headqarters out of a sci-fi movie.
Assassin Words of Wisdom: “Be wary of dropping a reputable brand for a cheaper unknown one because its a few dollars cheaper and boasts the same specifications. There are many ways to skew speed and performance results etc. and the manufacturers know them all.”
4) The last thing to remember is how many different drives you are going to be connecting or wanting to connect in the future. Each one will take up one SATA slot on your motherboard. So if you are going to have an optical drive, and 4 hard drives inside, make sure you get at least a board with 5 or more Sata port connections to the motherboard (preferably more to leave you with room for expansion). Sata (6) is faster than its older Sata (3) brother and what is preferred if possible!
Now with literally hundreds of thousands of possible combinations out there, we will try to help you sort through the best ones and get you the most machine for your dollar!
3) OPERATING SYSTEMS:
If you are running Linux or Open Elec, etc. Then you should be smart enough to not need our guides.
One day I’ll get around to writing a guide for Mac people. Macs are not known for playing friendly with anything or being easy to install, tweak, or manipulate things. So unless your an advanced Mac User, I would stay with Windows/PC interface.
64 Bit vs. 32 Bit
A quick explanation, 32 bit operating systems are better for older machines with less processing power. They limit the amount of RAM that is recognized (4GB Maximum) and can speed up underpowered machines but can have problems with a lot of HTPC software. So for new builds, stick with the 64 bit versions of operating systems.
*Windows 7 64 bit $100 (or less) (Recommended)
– Allows you to run Windows Media Center (WMC), XBMC and Mediabrowser. Stable with an excellent user interface. Many employers and universities allow you to purchase Win7 at a large discount. Please note that Win 7 Home does not have remote desktop control. Most people don’t need this but if you want it look at some of the other Win 7 products (Pro). Windows 7 Ultimate only adds some minor security features and language packs. So Windows 7 Pro is the best pick for your money!
Another alternative is this family pack which gives you 3 license keys for $99. Google “Windows 7 double install” to learn how to install a full version legitimately with these upgrade discs.
Windows 8.1 64 bit
Windows 8.1 is a much better version than windows 8. It has the start screen brought back and is much more PC friendly unlike the original 8 which was designed to be more tablet-like and 8.1 actually works fairly well as an HTPC operating system.
However its far behind Windows 10 and really adds no benefits that Windows 7 or Windows 10 cannot have.
Windows 7 and Windows 10 are still the best candidates for HTPC (windows 7 for live TV via WMC)
Keep in mind Microsoft will continue to support Windows 7 until 2020 and it literally does everything you need an HTPC to do and does it very well with tons of troubleshooting available. So keep in mind newer might not be better in this case.
Windows 10 brings a bunch of HTPC benefits. Apps like Netflix and Hulu that create a more all-in one interface (rather than browsing to them via web browser). It lakes WMC and some live TV functionality but we have done some work and guides on valid alternatives to WMC. See our Live TV section of our blog.
Assassin Words of Wisdom: “For anyone that does not need Live TV. Windows 10 is the best option in my opinion. If you still need live TV. I would recommend sticking with Windows 7 and WMC unless you want to follow our Windows 10 Live TV guide found on our blog as well.”
4) FRONT END SOFTWARE
Typically. Whichever front end you begin using will end up probably being the one you prefer! Try both Kodi and Mediabrowser out at the beginning, and see which one has the options / design you feel most comfortable with (you can always use them both!)
Emby – Free (some paid upgrades)
Excellent front end for your media files. These are actual screenshots from my HTPC after using my paid guides to set it up. The program itself is free. That was the original Mediabrowser that has evolved. Its a very good option for a front end. Has easy setup and a Server + Client/App interface. While not as fully customizeable as Kodi. It does most of the bells and some of the whistles even and is a solid good choice for a beginner without tons of extras and difficult configurations. However it lacks some of the extra add-ons and customizations that make some Kodi and some other options really worth it.
*Kodi – Free
Kodi is another excellent free front end for your HTPC with tons of plugins and capabilities. These are more actual screen shots from one of my test HTPCs after using my paid guides for setup. If can be as highly customized or as generic as you want it. There are as many add-ons as you can imagine, all with varying degrees of value and as many broken as working. But when you get things working, they really work.
Other frontend interface recommendations:
A great choice for audiophiles and people more concerned with their audio libraries than video.
Plex is a great simple interface (think Netflix) that is cross platform so can be used on just about any device. While it doesn’t win awards for beauty, it will for simplicity and ease of use.
See our guides on each one for more details.
If you don’t feel like configuring with tons of details and messing with lots of options. You can always install our Instant Downloadable Setup that will install all of the software and configurations you need to start enjoying your HTPC within minutes. System requirements are below:
5) CODEC PACKS (audio/video)
Codecs are beginning to be a little of a thing of the past. The new front ends (EMBY & KODI specifically) have most of the audio/video codecs included in them now. And Plex transcodes everything so codecs aren’t really need for Plex either. So this is mainly for FYI now.
Windows plays just about every format natively in WMC with the exception of MKV which is critical to HTPC. MKV files are how a lot of media is packaged and shared because it allows smaller file sizes without losing audio/video quality.
To play MKV files you need ONE of the three options listed below.
Assassin Words of Wisdom: If you are using Kodi, Emby, JRiver or Plex as a frontend you should not need to download any codecs or codec packs as they come included within their engine (and Plex transcodes them).
*LAV Media Splitter (Capable of bistreaming HD Audio) *Recommended
Haali media splitter
Simplest option for enabling MKV in WMC. Free.
Shark007 Codec Packs (32 and 64 bit needed). (Includes ffdshow which is capable of bitstreaming HD Audio)
Codecs for all known file types. Needed to play some movies through WMC. Free.
6) ANTIVIRUS, ANTIMALWARE, ANTISPYWARE SOFTWARE
Free with Windows 7
A robust and actually very powerful protection program. This is what I use and I have not had any problems.
Windows 10 has built in security features that you may have to manipulate and mess with a bit to find the settings that work best for you.
Helps protect you when downloading. Antispyware. Has lost some of its effectiveness in the past years but a small download that won’t hurt. (See more in our “downloading” page/section)
THE HARDWARE GUIDE
In an effort to keep up with technology we have eliminated Ivy Bridge, Sandy Bridge,and Llano’s from our guides. Keep in mind, the Intel Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge technology (and AMD Llano) are perfectly capable and highly recommended for HTPC’s as well. Especially as the price points decline because they are represent the older generation of technology (but still very capable). So don’t be afraid if you see a deal on these to snatch them up. I still run my original i3 Ivy Bridge system and its still a great HTPC!
7) PROCESSOR (CPU) SELECTIONS
Assassins Words of Wisdom: “For Beginners: If you do not know which one to choose. Stick with Intel Haswell or Skylake.”
1. *Option 1: Intel Skylake (LGA 1151) with integrated onboard, 3D Video, 4K, 1080p, and HD Audio.
2. Option 2: Intel Haswell (LGA 1155) with integrated onboard 3D video, 4K, 1080p and HD Audio
3. Option 3: AMD A Series Build with integrated onboard 3D video, 1080p and HD Audio
Assassin Tip: Where is the Zacate? The Atom? The answer is I just don’t see the point. You can build an system with a Pentium CPU in it which uses almost the same amount of money with a MUCH better CPU. You also could build a Llano that likewise has many improvements. Both of these options cost about the same or maybe a little more money than the Zacate or Atom processor. For HTPC I personally don’t see the point of using an under powered Atom or Zacate when there are better options available for around the same price. In fact, we flat out refuse to sell or build anything with an Atom or Zacate in them even if a customer wants us to.
*If budget is a key factor. Haswell, Ivy Bridge, even Sandy Bridge older generation processors make great budget and powerful HTPC processors.
*Option 1: Intel SKYLAKE Processor (Think V10 Sportscar):
The Intel Skylake 14nm architecture represents the 6th generation (most recent) Intel technology and improves on the Haswell processor as the 2 closest processors we have to perfection in the HTPC world. Its more powerful graphics engine boasts better capabilities for 4K and like its Haswell predecessor it has received in our mind all the right upgrades for HTPC. Boasting better onboard graphics than the Ivy Bridge from the integrated graphics processor located on the CPU (which can play a lot of mid-level games and great for post-processing programs like MadVR). Its faster processing power gives you more bang for your dollar meaning even the i3 is pretty screaming fast. The final feather in its cap to make it the best HTPC choice is it continues the Haswell success perfecting the 23.976 refresh rate which means the processor refreshes at the same speed as the video so you will never experience a dropped frame (seen as a very small stutter) while your watching your media!
The main negative with the Skylake processor is with its new CPU Socket type (1151 vs. 1150) you have to buy a new motherboard and will want new RAM to go with it (DDR4).
*REMEMBER: Skylake CPU’s don’t come with a heatsink/fan anymore. In a margin boosting move by Intel they stopped shipping them with these to maximize profits.
SKYLAKE CPU Selections:
This list is a few of the options for a Skylake based HTPC and how I view each option:
A great budget processor with HD 510 Graphics and a dual core processor. A great selection for those with a super tight budget. If you want a little bump in graphics up to HD 530 (the same as the i3’s and i5) you can go with the Pentium G4500 (3.5 GHz) for only $90.
*Option 2:i3 6100 Skylake 3.7GHz Dual Core – $130
The “basic” Haswell processor which will do the trick for almost any HTPC with Intel 630 graphics. A great option (probably the best) for the price.
*Option 3: i5 6500 Skylake 3.2 GHz Quad Core – $205
The biggest performance boost you will see is the jump from dual core to quad core (IMO). The i5 6500 while staying at a modest $205 gives you HD 630 graphics and 4 processing cores. While the extra horsepower won’t do anything for better picture quality in terms of movies. It does help with gaming, and just overall horsepower of the processors. There is a 6400 series that is $15 cheaper but only boasts a 2.7 GHz speed.
The “K” designation gives the processor the ability to be overclocked (when coupled with a “Z” series motherboard. This allows gamers or those that might want to use this for future gaming some wiggle room to squeeze out more performance from their HTPC. Its never a bad idea to go with K series if you are going to do gaming. Just make sure you buy a Z series motherboard (as opposed to H).
Quick Comparison Guide:
|G4400 3.3GHz||i3 6100 3.7 GHz||i5 6500 3.2GHz||i5 6600k 3.5GHz|
|New Egg Link:||N82E16819117625||2MN-0004-00002||N82E16819117563||N82E16819117561|
|Series||Pentium||Core i3||Core i5||Core i5|
|Name||Pentium G4400||Core i3-6100||Core i5-6500 6M||Core i5-6600K 6M|
|CPU Socket Type||LGA 1151||LGA 1151||LGA 1151||LGA 1151|
|# of Cores||Dual-Core||Dual-Core||Quad-Core||Quad-Core|
|Memory Types||DDR4 / DDR3L||DDR4 / DDR3L||DDR4 / DDR3L||DDR4 / DDR3L|
|Integrated Graphics||HD Graphics 510||HD Graphics 530||HD Graphics 530||HD Graphics 530|
Why no i7?
Its overkill to be honest. Remember, this guide is for HTPC (for Media purposes only, not gaming), you’ll never use its power as an HTPC so save your money and spend it elsewhere!
Option 2: Intel Haswell Procssor (Think Last years V10 Sportscar):
The Haswell is still a great processor for HTPC. While usually we are starting to not list olde r generation CPU’s. Its still a great processor and if you can get one for a good deal, makes a better bang for your buck than anything else when it comes to HTPC performance. Below is a list is a few of the options for a Haswell based HTPC and how I view each option:
Option 2:i3 4130 Haswell 3.4 GHz Dual Core – $130
The “basic” Haswell processor which will do the trick for almost any HTPC with Intel 4400 graphics.
Options 3: i3 4130T Haswell 2.9 GHz Dual Core – $140
The same processor as the above just under clocked to help with heating and coupled with a low profile cooler idea for anyone looking to install in a small case where heatsink/fan clearance might be an issue. Boasts HD 4400 graphics and a must for Mini-ITX cases.
*Options 4:i3 4340 Haswell 3.6 GHz Dual Core – $160
Boasting a better graphics engine then its 4130 counterpart, this comes with HD 4600 graphics capabilities for that extra boost you might need for games (it has no affect on media playback).
Option 5: i5 4570 Haswell 3.2 GHz Quad Core – $200
The i5 Quad core is an excellent HTPC processor when extra power is needed (gaming). Boasting HD 4600 graphics but with quad cores instead of duals the i5 gives you extra umph when you need it.
Option 6: i5 4670k Haswell 3.4 GHz Quad Core – $240
The i5 “k” series is similar to the regular i5 series, excepts its unlocked for overclocking and extra flexibility to be able to fine tune it. A solid selection for anyone that might want to add some gaming to their system.
Why no i7?
Its overkill to be honest. Remember, this guide is for HTPC (for Media purposes only, not gaming), you’ll never use its power as an HTPC so save your money!
Option 3: (Think V8 Sportscar) – AMD FM2 Processor
While AMD processors are great processors in their own right. We’ve just found Intel’s over time to give us less trouble. This may mostly be contributed to having a little more processing power historically and people tend to start using their HTPC’s for a dozen or so things at a time and the extra horsepower comes in handy. But again, this might be user experience related. Some live and die by AMD. However the big upside to them was their onboard graphics years ago which was better than Intel’s however in my opinion Intel has done a tremendous job closing (maybe even surpassing) that gap.
*Now the big benefits of AMD’s is that they are usually cheaper which still holds true. So for an ultra-low budget PC these are still great options.
Some AMD Selections & Comparison Chart:
*A4-7300 Recommended for ultra low budget PC.
|AMD||A4-7300 3.8 GHz||A8 7650K 3.3GHz||A10-7700K 3.4GHz|
|Series||A-Series APU||A-Series APU||A-Series APU|
|CPU Socket Type||Socket FM2||Socket FM2+||Socket FM2+|
|# of Cores||Dual-Core||Quad-Core||Quad-Core|
|Integrated Graphics||AMD Radeon HD 8470D||Radeon R7 series||AMD Radeon R7|
8) Motherboard Selection:
There are two variations of motherboard we recommend (H & Z) that are compatible with the Intel processors. The “H” series of motherboards is the standard series, allowing for all the standard bells and whistles that you might need. It does not allow for overclocking and much customization. The Z series offers overclocking, dual video cards support, as well as a variety of different options better suited for anyone interested in gaming, overclocking, more customization and more options, etc.
Assassin Words of Wisdom: “Unless you know what you are doing and want to overclock for some reason. Stick with the H series and save your money.”
Always remember to check how many RAM (DIMM) slots your motherboard comes and how many onboard SATA ports (preferably 6 or more SATA6 ports) with as there is nothing worse than buying 4 sticks of ram or 1 too many hard drives and realizing you don’t have space to connect them to the motherboard.
Also keep in mind how the SATA ports are oriented. This seems trivial but you’ll thank us later if you are building in tight case. If space might be a concern, you want your SATA ports on your motherboard to face the top of the case, not the side.
What is a M.2 Connection and SATA Express?:
Basically they are faster connections. So you will want your Operating system / SSD to be hooked up to one of these if your motherboard has one of these connectors!
M.2 vs. mSata (top) & SATA EXPRESS vs. SATA 6 (bottom)
Keep in mind, Media doesn’t need super fast drives (in comparison to gaming and some high level graphics programs). Having a drive with 10,000,000 RPM per minute won’t make your movies and TV shows play any smoother than one that spins at 5,400.
SATA Express basically uses the same physical connector as the regular SATA drives, but connects directly into a PCI Express lane rather than SATA bus to boost storage speed. This will take up 2 SATA ports (plus the little SATA Express port that’s nex to them) so keep that in mind. Imagine it as a hardline to PCI-E which is faster than normal SATA.
The M.2 is (or will be) the more common connection we will see. Called M.2 (previously NGFF, for “Next-Generation Form Factor”). Its basically a tiny SSD or card that connects directly to your motherboard.
M.2 is interesting not just because it can speed up storage with PCI Express lanes, but because it can use a whole bunch of different buses too; it stands to replace both mSATA and mini PCI Express, two older standards that have been used for SSDs and Wi-Fi cards in laptops for a while now. Future CPUs and chipsets include native support for M.2 and PCI Express boot drivers.
Assassin Word of Wisdom: important thing to keep in mind is there are 4 different types of M.2 cards. Each one can have different lengths as well so make sure you look They vary based on size mostly. So make sure you measure and get one that fits!
Skylake CPU Motherboards:
H170 Series Selections
*Asrock H170 Pro4 – $85
For $85 this is about as decked out of a motherboard as you can get. With 4 RAM slots and up to 64GB of RAM, 6x Sata, 6x USB 3.0 and 1x M.2, Four graphics output options: D-Sub, DVI-D, HDMI and DisplayPort 1.2 supporting Triple displays and HDMI 2.0 that can do up to 4K. I don’t even think we should adviseusing a different one.
If you want to use your old DDR3 RAM, go for this guys little brother here ASUS H170M-E ($95)
Asus H170M-PLUS – $105
Adds an Sata Express to accompany its M.2 Port and 6x USB 3.0. If you are an ASUS lover this is your best bet for a well priced motherboard.
Mini-ITX – H170 Series Selections
*Asrock H170M-ITX/DL – $90
By far the best Mini ITX board for your money. 4x Sata 6 and 1 mSATA slot. dual lan ports and 6x USB 3.0. At only $90 It was like is was made for HTPC’s.
Gigabyte GA-H170N – WIFI – $119 – Boasting Dual LAN and Wireless onboard with an optical audio out. This board might fit the bill for someone with specific needs. No mSata but 6x SATA connections.
Z170 Series Selections
ASRock Z170M Pro4S – $100
Great entry level option for the price with 4x PCI-E slots, 6x SATA6 connectors, 64GB RAM capacity and an M.2 port.
ASUS Z170M-PLUS – $125
Similar to the AsRock above but the main difference is the addition of a 1x SATA Express.
Can only handle 32GB of RAM (as if thats not enough) but has 3 SATA Express ports for faster transfer speeds of multiple drives.
MINI-TX – Z170 Series Selections
*GIGABYTE GA-Z170N-WIFI – $135
2 RAM slots, with 6x SATA 6 and 2x SATA Express, an Onboard M.2, Onboard, 2 LAN ports, 2x HDMI, 4x USB 3.0, and onboard WIFI and Bluetooth, this board is packed with extra goodies.
ASUS Z170I PRO GAMING – $165
With most of the above but only 4x SATA 6 and 1x SATA Express but the addition of USB 3.1 ports this ASUS board might be your cheapest option to get a mini board and USB 3.1
MSI Gaming Z170I – $165
Similiar to Asus but with 4x USB 3.1 ports.
Haswell CPU Motherboards:
H97 Series Motherboard Selections:
Great priced entry level motherboard. 2 RAM slots, 6 Sata (6) ports, 4x USB 3.0. It has everything you need and nothing you don’t.
Asrock H97M Pro 4 – $85
Same as above but with 4 RAM slots instead of 2 and 4x USB 3.0
*ASUS H97M-E – $100
In our opinion, ASUS makes some of the best HTPC boards out there. Great options and great bios always make it a solid choice. Has 4 RAM and 6 Sata (6) ports and 4xUSB 3.0 and an M.2 Connection
MSI H97-G43 – $100
Known for its durability, the MSI motherboard series is one of the most reliable out there including 6 SATA ports and 4 RAM and 4xUSB 3.0 and an M.2 Connection.
H97 Mini-ITX Selections:
*Gigabyte GA-H97N – $118
Boasting Dual LAN Ports to increase speed and built in wireless and dual HDMI this little motherboard has more options than most cars.
Asrock H97m-ITX – $95
If an eSATA connection is important to you, then this motherboard is your best bet as its the the only H87 series m-itx board including an eSATA connection on the back. However, compared to its ASUS brother that has 6 you only have 4 SATA (6) connections.
Asus H97I-PLUS – $115
With 6 total Sata (6) ports, this small board gives you the ability to connect a lot of things to it!
Z97 Motherboard Selections
*Asrock Z97M- OC Forumula – $122
With 4x USB 3.0, an eSATA port, and 6 onboard SATA (6) ports and 1x Sata Express this board has everything you need for gaming, overclocking and more.
GIGABYTE GA-Z97M – $90
A good basic Z series motherboard with extra bells and whistles compared to the H series for not much more cost. Includes 4x USB 3.- and 6 onboard SATA (6)
ASUS GRYPHON Z97 – $165
Loaded with a bunch of motherboard options such as “armor kit” around the components and ready to OC, this things is ready to be configured and pushed to the fullest.
z97 Mini-ITX Motherboard Choices
*Gigabyte GA-Z97N – $135
Boasting dual LAN and Dual HDMI, onboard wi-fi, and 4x USB 3.0. this board packs a lot of options for a small price tag.
Arock Z97M-ITX – $130
A solid motherboard with built in wifi and not a whole lot of special features as compared with the Gigabyte above.
AMD Motherboard Selections (A-Series)
For A Series, most of the processors use either FM2 of FM2+ Chipsets.
We only offer AMD suggestions for those of you that for some reason want AMD (We’re Intel guys).
FM2 (A4 CPU) Recommendations
6x SATA 6, an eSATA, 4 DIMM Slotes and good standard but dependable board.
FM2+ (A6, A8, A10 Recommendations)
GIGABYTE GA-F2A78M-HD2 – $50
4x Sata 6, 2x USB 3.0 and a basic inexpensive motherboard.
*MSI A78M-E35 V2 FM2+ AMD A78 – $60
6x Sata 6, 2x USB 3.0 and a couple extra USB ports than its Gigabyte brother.
Mini ITX Offerings:
MSI A88XI AC V2 FM2+ $100
6x USB and onboard wifi with HDMI, its a solid choice with no many bells and whistles.
9) SOLID STATE DRIVES (SSD)
SSD (solid state drives)
SSD’s have came a long way this year. There are now 1TB and larger SSD drives (if you want to shell out the money) but for the most part the drives are perfect for the operating system and other programs only.
These are not usually used for storage (you will need a second larger hard drive for storage).
Benefits of these drives are:
1. Speed – startup will take only 10-15 seconds, programs will open almost instantly
2. Less noise – they have no moving parts
3. Less (basically no) heat
4. Faster Response within Media Interface / Programs (marginal)
Assassin Words of Widsom: “I want to emphasize that THESE DRIVES ARE BY NO MEANS NECESSARY!!! Although to be honest, you get such a performance difference for a small price…they should be.”
You can still get excellent performance using Samsung, WD Blue drives or other standard hard drives.
Years ago Assassin HTPC was one of the first manufacturers to require their HTPC’s to be built with a SSD for the operating system. Since then, a lot of larger manufacturers have followed.
SSDs have now decreased in price so substantially that you shouldn’t even bother buying anything less than 120GB. And often times smaller ones like 64GB are even more expensive than their 120GB counterparts.
*Assassins Words of wisdom: “Avoid off brand SSD’s like “Silicon Fusion Power” or “TeamPower” or other brands you’ve never heard of like that. You will thank us later for this when your system doesn’t fail to boot after 8 months because the SSD controller died.”
“Technically”, the Larger the SSD size, the faster it is. This is because larger drives tend to have more Cache (which speeds up access time) and also because they will have more NAND chips, which in basic terms can be compared to it having more access points to the information (or RAID 0 if you want to be a little more technical).
If you are choosing the SSD route its because you want even better performance and don’t mind paying extra for it.
Here are my favorite SSDs…
Economy SSD Buys:
Mushkin Enanced Eco 240GB – $80
*Samsung 850 EVO 250GB – $80
Crucial MX200 250GB – $90
Kingston V300 250GB – $95
Premium SSD Buys
Crucial MX200 250GB – $90
*Samsung 850 PRO 256GB – $125
Intel 730 480GB – $300
Samsung 840 – 500GB – $430
Samsung 850 1TB – $330
mSATA CARDS AND m.2 CARDS
If your motherboard has an mSATA connection / M.2 connection below is a list of some of the ones I prefer. Keep in mind you need to double check your board specifications to make sure its compatible.
Kingston 2280 120GB – $82
*Crucial MX200 250GB -$97
Intel 535 240GB – $109
*Samsung 850 500GB – $170
Crucial MX200 500GB – $185
10) RAM (Random Access Memory)
I am a huge fan of G.Skill RAM. It’s a great and reliable RAM to use (although there are certainly many other brands that I’m sure also work well)
“Assassin Words of Wisdom: Make sure that your RAM will fit in your case and that the heatsink isn’t too tall. In fact, you don’t need the fancy “heatsink fins” at all to dissipate heat for an HTPC so even though they look cool (and may help marginally in cooling), all they do is cause problems when trying to fit things into a case and not worth the small performance benefit. So pass on those.”
I recommend 4GB RAM minimum but you can typically find 8GB for almost the same price and knowing you have too much memory is always a good thing for a few extra dollars. You will notice your movies loading faster with 4GB opposed to 2GB which makes the $15 upgrade worthwhile. Just realize that most HTPCs will never use more than 4GB even though even I usually stick in 8GB.
Assassin Words of Wisdom: Have 4x4GB (16GB total) of RAM is faster than having 2x8GB which is in turn faster than 1×16. The more channels you have for RAM…the better!
RAM comes in different speeds. As a general rule of thumb you want to purchase the fastest RAM that your motherboard can accept (without overclocking it – unless you know what you’re doing). You will usually see it listed on your motherboard specs as something like: DDR4 3466+*(*O.C.)/ 3200/ 2933/ 2800/ 2400/ 2133. You want to ignore anything with “O.C.” because that means you can overclock it to get that speed and preferably if your budget allows get the fastest RAM you can. In this example it would be DDR4 3200.
Try not to mix and match RAM as they will rarely have the same speed, timing setup, voltage, etc. and it will typically have a negative affect on performance.
Assassin Words of Wisdom: If you Motherboard has 4 RAM slots and you only have 2 sticks of RAM, read the motherboard book to see which DIMM slots you should put them into. Also, RAM comes in different voltages. The most standard for HTPC Motherboards is 1.5v but some take 1.65v. Make sure you check your motherboard’s specs to see what type it prefers but if you do not know, 1.5v is a good bet.
DDR4 Options (only for Skylake processors)
*G.SKILL Aegis 8GB 2400 – $40
*Corsair Vengence 8GB 3000 – $50
G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3 1600 – $30
Great, “standard height” RAM.
G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3 1600 – $30
If you must have fancy heatsink fins.
These 2 choices are also great RAM. As mentioned make sure you can fit the taller heatsinks into your build. If in doubt go with the “standard height” as there will be no noticeable difference in performance.
Crucial & Kingston are also very competitively priced RAM manufacturers and widely used and highly reviewed.
Extremely low profile RAM that is barely taller than the RAM slots. Quality is excellent despite the plain appearance.
11) HARD DRIVES
In the past, 4TB and larger hard drives had a higher % of failure rate from the start. We’ve seen less of that this year and have seen 4TB drives with the same amount of failure rates as 2 and 3TB drives.
Because of these recent improvements and consistent downward pressure in pricing I would recommend buying either 4TB or 6TB drives.
Here is my current thinking about choosing a hard drive brand for your HTPC or Server:
Assassin Words of Wisdom: “I don’t think you can make generalized statements anymore about the reliability of a particular brand of hard drives (all the mainstream ones at least) or even a particular model of hard drive within that brand. In the past 4 years we have bought tens of thousands of drives and have tried all sorts of models (Samsung F4, EARS, EARX, EADS, Reds, Blacks, etc) and all seem to have different characteristics and even different number of platters within a particular model. I have had some that were noisier than the others as well — again sometimes within a particular model.”
The reason for this is simple: All the hard drive manufacturers change components and firmware frequently. So while one particular “run”, “lot” or “batch” may be particularly unreliable and problematic others will be excellent. (As an aside I also don’t subscribe to the purchasing of drives from different “lots” theory as I think this increases your chance of getting one of these problematic drives). So I think unless you can test hundreds or even thousands of drives and know what is inside each drive (and what firmware they are running) you really cannot make a generalized statement at all. A normal consumer just doesn’t have the sample size to make a statistically significant conclusion. This is complicated by the fact that by time these drives will have failed (1-3 years in most cases for what I think is deemed an “early failure”) they are often not relevant to current options and no longer available for purchase.
So you have to weigh all of these things into consideration when purchasing drives or considering what to use.
I love Green drives (now called Blue drives) and Red drives and Archive Drives (5400 RPM-5900 RPM) for storage especially for HTPC and HTPC software based servers as I think they are usually the best bang for the buck when compared with performance, reliability and failure rate out of the box. And the slow spin speed should “technically” create less heat and noise.
I would gladly purchase a Red drive for the extra warranty alone but probably would only spend an extra $10 or so. When dealing with these large size drives, I would give some extra thought into the length of the manufacturer warranty.
That’s my $.02.
6TB Drives ($35 per TV)
4TB Drives ($32 per TB)
3TB Drives ($30 per TB)
2TB Drives ($55 per TB)
Assassin Words of Wisdom: “Seagate recently had a class action lawsuit filed against them due to failing hard drives at a alarmingly high % rate. I would avoid them if possible. I feel once a company knowingly puts out a bad product I find it hard to trust them in the future.”
WD markets this drive for use in a “NAS Environment”. In my testing real world performance is the exact same as the Green/Blue drives , Blue drives or any other drives for HTPC (although they seem to run about 3 degrees Celsius hotter) . Everything else about these drives is pure marketing and largely not applicable to the HTPC environment (head parking largely not important in Windows OS, TLER not relevant in Windows and software RAID, etc).
However, I do like the 3 year warranty that is offered compared to the 2 year warranty with the Green/Blue drives. My take is that if these drives are $10 more then go with the Red over the Green/Blue for the extra warranty alone. If $20 more it becomes more questionable. At $21 or more I would pass and choose a Green/Blue (or other) drive.
Again, I do NOT recommend a 7200RPM drive for storage or media playback as the 5400-5900RPM drives are cooler and quieter and plenty fast to stream 5+ HD streams simultaneously which is ideal for HTPC.
Assassin Words of Wisom: “As a side note we have now used hundreds of Green/Blue drives with no complaints on performance and almost no failed drives. They are excellent for storage and playback in the HTPC environment.”
12) POWER SUPPLY UNITS (PSU)
Assassin Words of Wisdom: “Don’t put anything that isn’t rated at least 80 Plus certified in your HTPC. In the past there was a big up charge for this certification but now its becoming the standard and you can often find cheaper certified power supplies for the same price as ones that are not.”
I am a huge Seasonic and Antec fan. Always have been. Although this past year due to profit margins I increasingly have been buying Corsairs due to the price however my favorite PSU is still Seasonic overall.
Both are near whisper quiet and have plenty of power for your i3 HTPC which will draw less than 70 total watts even at high load. If you buy a cheaper HTPC case that comes with a PSU I would definitely think about upgrading to a better PSU which will likely have cleaner power, be more efficient and more reliable. The current trend with the “green” PSUs is for the end user to re-use their own power cord (the cable that connects your PSU to the electical outlet). Therefore many of these do NOT come with power cords included. If you need a power cord I will also post a link to a cheap option.
*Corsair CX Series – $40
The Ultimate Budget Power Supply. It comes in 430w, 500w, 600w and 750w and is Bronze certified. We’ve used hundreds and rarely get a dud. Power Cord Included.
Seasonic SI12 380w* – $54
One of my favorite PSUs was the Corsair VX series that is now discontinued. Those PSUs were actually made by SeaSonic. This PSU is basically the exact same thing as the Corsair 450 watt VX. This is a fantastic PSU in addition to any of the three above. Power Cord Included
SILVERSTONE Strider Plus Modular – $80
This PSU comes in 500w and 700w and is a great choice for a HTPC if you are wanting a modular option. A modular PSU is one where you can attach and detach the cables as needed. This leads to decreased clutter and improved airflow which possibly results in lower temps and fan speed/noise. Its build quality is excellent and efficient. Finally, there is a “short cable” option which has even shorter cables.Short cable option for Silverstone modular PSU (completely optional) – $20-$25. Power cord included.
Fanless & Silent PSU’s
Sometimes you want as quiet as a system as possible. We’ve built dozens of systems with these fanless or practically silent PSU’s.
*Seasonic X-Series Fanless Modular – $130-$150
This PSU comes in 400, 460 and 520 watts and is completely fanless which means no moving parts including a fan. Its modular as well. These PSUs are truly a work of art and one of the best PSUs I have ever used. This is for the builder that wants the quietest HTPC possible. Power Cord Included.
PC Power and Cooling Silencer MKIII 400 watt Modular – $90-$110
This awesome modular PSU comes in 500w and 600w and is actually made by Seasonic for PP&C/OCZ and is an absolutely fantastic PSU for around $50 after rebate (or even $70 without a rebate!)
Seasonic Snow Silent Platinum Modular – $170 – $220
With both a 750w and a 1050w you won’t be able to find a much bigger PSU with as low of a decibel rating as this Seasonic.
Mini-ITX PICO EXTERNAL POWER SUPPLY
A pico psu is an ultra small and ultra efficient PSU that can be used in very small HTPC builds where space is at a premium and a large PSU isn’t needed or necessarily even wanted. The basic idea is that the Power Unit is located on the outside of the system (like a laptop cord) and connects via an internal adapter to your motherboard and has minimal amount of power and connections for devices like hard drives, optical drives, etc. It usually can power only a optical drive, and maybe 2 other drives outside of the motherboard and CPU. Some only come with a single power connection but if you purchase sata or molex splitters and extensions you can quickly and easily connect multiple devices.
These PSUs are not for the novice and not for the person who doesn’t like to tinker to get all the connections just right. I have used the following combinations on multiple builds and can 100% guarantee that they are compatible and work very well together. Make sure to purchase the appropriate splitters and extensions depending on your specific HTPC. To use a PICO PSU you need 2 pieces:
(choose 1 of these 2 options):
Option 1 (2 parts – PSU & External Brick)):
PICO PSU 120 Watt Wide Input – $48
This is one of the most efficient and highest quality Pico PSUs that I have used. I like that it is 120 Watts which gives me a little more room should I decide to add devices or change my HTPC setup. The “wide input” allows you to use laptop adapters which are much more common and thus more affordable.
External Brick PSU (many other choices available online)
HQRP 120 watt “UL” Adapter – $20
Option 2 (2 parts):
PICO PSU 90 Watt Ultra Efficient – $35
This is a relatively new Pico PSU that is ultra low wattage when idle and ultra efficient. A great choice for most basic builds.
External Brick PSU (many other choices available online)
Premium 110w peak AC/DC adapter – $36
13) HTPC CASES
Cases are completely personal choice. What will fit in your setup as far as dimensions are concerned? What type of aesthetics do you prefer? What specific functions do you need it to have? How much space inside for growth and additional hard drives? How much money do you want to spend? These are all questions that only you can answer.
In keeping with the theme of this thread these are a few good reliable cases that I have used in the past that I have had good results with (In no particular order). If you are unsure of where to start. Measure your cavity you are wanting a space for. Give about 2″ on each side and buy a big of a case that will fit that cavity.
Also, if you are a beginner, stick with Silverstone. They have never let me down and are amazing for the money they cost. Lian Li and Fractal Design also have some really good looking cases but they are typically a bit more than Silverstones.
*While we haven’t had experience one way or the other with most case companies, we can verify that Silverstone has always had exceptional customer service for us.
I’ve seperated cases into 4 Categories:
- Standard Size Cases (Can handle 1-2 3.5″ hard drives and an SSD)
- Large Size Cases (Can handle 5 or more 3.5″ hard drives)
- Mini Cases (can handle only 2.5″ drives)
- Touchscreen Cases (have a touchscreen on the front)
Micro-ATX HTPC Desktop Style – NMedia 6000B – $80
A good solid case. The weakest part of this case is the front door as it is a little flimsy. However, most people either leave it up or down the whole time. I think if you want to achieve the “HTPC component look” on a budget then this one is hard to beat for the price.
*Micro-ATX HTPC Desktop Style – Silverstone GD05b-USB3.0 – $95-$110
Tried and tested it can hold 2 hard drives + an SSD (if you use a velcro mount) and runs very cool.
*Micro-ATX HTPC Desktop Style – Silverstone GD04b-USB3.0 – $100-$115
Similar to the GD05B with the exception that the front of the case is aluminum instead of plastic that looks aluminium. The major difference is it also has a metal piece that attaches to the optical drive tray for a clean look that completely hides the optical drive. This can be tricky to install sometimes to get it to match flush with the case. Otherwise the look is almost identical to the GD05B.
*Micro-Atx HTPC Desktop Sytle Skinny – Silverstone ML03B – $75
When vertical space is a problem, this little case can fit 2 hard drives an optical drive, and a SSD into a thin space. Make sure you purchase the right size power supply (SFX) such as this Silverstone one.
Micro ATX HTPC Desktop Style Skinny- hec Black Steel with 300 watt PSU – $50-$60
This is another very solid case and PSU for around $50. Although its not as pretty as some others like the Silverstone ML03 its a great price and very easy to work in and comes with a power supply already which is like an extra $20-$30 (albeit not an amazing one but it does the job). This case has been used in multiple builds in this thread with good results. Holds 2 hard drives and 1 optical drive. (Note that with some motherboards the RAM slots may be directly below the optical drive and the tall “Ripjaws” like RAM may not fit. So purchasing standard height RAM is advised. Performance will be identical)
Micro ATX HTPC Desktop Style – Fractal Design Node 605 – $160
A sleek black case with 4 internal hard drive capacity and a front firewire option. Great choise if you want a 4 drive server.
*Mini-ITX HTPC Cube Style – Lian Li PCQ03 – $60
This case uses a mini-itx motherboard but is an attractive alternative to a full tower. Capable of holding 2 HD’s if you have a square space to fit in this might be the perfect case for you.
Micro ATX HTPC Cube Style – Thermaltake CORE V21 – $60
A little edgier with mesh style front grill and a see through side and top, the Thermaltake is perfect for gaming hybrid HTPC’s at a cheap price tag. Capable of holding three 3.5″ drives
Micro-ATX or Full ATX Midtower Case – Antec Three Hundred Two – $70
This is my all time favorite midtower ATX case for the money. It is extremely well built and well thought out. The PSU is actually on the bottom of the case which improves cable management. There is a channel on the backside of the case to hide many of your cable which helps keep it clean. It has 3 5.25″ and 6 3.5″ bays as well as an area on the bottom to mount a 2.5″ SSD. So this case could hypothetically house an SSD, 1 Bluray drive and up to 8 hard drives if you converted the 5.25″ bays to 3.5″ bays. I love the aesthetics of this case as well. This is an update to the Antec Three Hundred. Usb 3.0, tool-less design, side facing drive cage, external fan control and improved cable routing are just a few of the upgraded features. Make sure your motherboard has a USB 3.0 header to use the front panel usb ports.
Full ATX Desktop Style – Silverstone SST-GD07B – $140 This case is somewhat similar to the case above except that it has a front that can lock if you are needing to keep your buttons and drives locked away. Different mounting options in that it accepts five 3.5″ hard drives, two 2.5″ SSD drives and four 5.25″ drives natively. You could easily change 1 or more of the 5.25″ bays into 3.5″ bays giving you eight or nine hard drives total. Has three included 120mm fans as well with the option for up to five.
Full ATX Desktop Style – Silverstone SST-GD08B – $155 This case could easily double as a HTPC and HTPC server if you are looking for a HTPC with a lot of internal storage possibilities. Can fit a full sized ATX or micro-ATX motherboard. Can house up to eight 3.5″ hard drives, two 2.5″ SSDs as well as two 5.25″ external drive bays. Choose a motherboard with USB 3.0 headers to be able to utilize USB 3.0 on the front of the case. Comes with three 120mm fans with ability to fit up to five. This case is very large so make sure you have room if you are putting it in your AV rack.
*Full ATX Desktop Style– Silverstone LC-10 – $140 Probably my favorite all around larger case. With the ability to hold 7 Hard drives you can fit a ton of storage in this and people will ask you all the time “That is a computer!?”
Mini Case Options (mini-itx):
APEX MI-008 or Rosewill RS-MI-01 each with 250 watt PSU – $50
These are basically identical cases so pick whichever one you think looks better. They have room for one full sized optical drive and one 3.5″ hard drive (or two 3.5″ drives with adapters — or —one 3.5″ and one 2.5″ drive with adapters. Again, do not use RAM with a large heatsink if you are installing a 3.5″ hard drive as it will not fit (buy RAM with the “regular” heatsink instead).
APEX MI-008 Black Steel Mini-ITX with 250 watt PSU – $50
Rosewill RS-MI-01 BK Mini ITX Tower with 250 watt PSU – $50
If you go with either of the 2 cases above one thing I definitely recommend is a quality 120mm fan which can be easily installed on the side for additional cooling. You also can install a 2nd 3.5″ drive in this location as well as seen above.
Antec ISK 300-150 – $80
(built in 150 watt PSU which is plenty). This is another very small case that has been used by many with good results.
Habey EMC-600B -$65 – small, made of aluminum, and comes in black and silver. Comes with Power supply and space for 2x 2.25″ HD. Please note it requres a thin mini-itx board.
Habey EMC-800B – $70 – another great small case. Has room for a slim optical drive and 1×3.5″ drive and 1x 2.25″ drive. Also requires a thin mini-itx board.
Realan E-I5 mini-ITX HTPC – $80-$100
A great compact case with power supply. Great for a small case where an optical drive is not needed.Has room for up to 2 hard/ssd drives.
Realan E-I7 mini-ITX HTPC – $100 – $120
Similar to the case above but includes an additional slim slot loading optical bay. Power supply included. Has room for up to 2 hard/SSD drives.
Antec ISK 300-150 – $80 (built in 150 watt PSU which is plenty)
This case cannot use a 3.5″ hard drive. Plan accordingly.
There is a random need for a touchscreen. This is mostly when your HTPC/Server is in a room that your not able to get a monitor to. If you think you need a touchscreen on your case and it would be cool. I assure you the novelty wears of after a short period of time and you are left with a very expensive screen that you turn of because its bright and gets annoying when you are trying to watch movies.
However, if you have a need for a touchscreen case. The best one we’ve ever used is below (and we’ve built dozens with this one). It comes in black or silver and can hold 10 hard drives, an optical drive and a full ATX motherboard and has a pull out motherboard tray. This is one of the only cases where after a year you are still enamored and in awe with how cool it is and being able to fully duplicate the display actually serves a tremendous purpose for some applications.
OrigenAE 12.1″ Touchscreen Case – $1250
14) CPU COOLERS/FANS
With some new processors not coming with a stock fan. CPU Fans and coolers have suddenly became very important add on to system builds.
So if you buy a Skylake processor. You WILL need a CPU heatsink/fan to go with it!
I’ve always been a fan of low profile coolers, I don’t think for HTPC purposes you need a giant tower in the middle of your case. I think a low profile, efficient and quiet fan will do the job perfectly.
I AM a big fan of CPU coolers with fans. You can go with a completely passive CPU cooler but I like the security of knowing that I have a little air moving around the CPU in what can be an otherwise cramped HTPC case. That way heat is never a concern in the back of my mind. These are some of my favorites.
Keep in mind when selecting an aftermarket heatsink and fan you should do some extra research to make sure they are compatible and will fit correclty on your motherboard because sometimes even just the orientation of them can cause issues.
“Assassin Words of Wisdom: Remember that the general rule of thumbs with fans is the smaller it is the louder it is. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a small mini-itx case that is super quiet. But generally speaking, the bigger the fan, the more air it moves, the slower (and quieter) it can spin. You might have to pay up to get the same performance vs. noise ration on smaller heatsinks and fans.
Also, keep in mind some CPU’s and heatsinks are only rated to be able to cool certain powered processors. These ratings are in watts (w). So make sure you don’t choose a heatsink that can only handle a 40w processor and try to have it cool a 65w processor. This is really only important for the mini-itx heatsinks below as our other selections can cool anything you throw at them.
Below are some of our favorites (all are recommended!)
Noctua NH-C14 – $85 –
Overall the best heatsink/fan we’ve ever used. With a dual fan or single fan option (for low profile) this heatsink/fan is totally quiet and amazing. You can run your computer in an oven on the sun with this thing.
Prolimatech Samuel 17 – $45 (Heatsink only)
Samuel 17 was the Bible passage for David and Goliath (small heatsink vs. big heat). Aside from the ingenious name this heatsink is a really nice little unit. Couple this with a corresponding 120mm Noctua fan ($20) and you’ve got a very low profile, amazing cooling system. We’ve even tested it without the fan and it cooled just fine (although we wouldn’t recommended that).
Scythe Big Shuriken – $45
Make sure that your RAM will be able to fit under this cooler is low for small cases but wide.
*Noctua NH-L9i – $45
The greatest little heatsink and fan we’ve ever used. Simple install (just remember to install before installing/screwing down the motherboard), great cooling, low profile, practically zero noise. This little unit never ceases to amaze us. If we could recommend only 1, this would be it.
Deepcool Gabriel – $40
Not a bad little unit with 4 heat pipes and compatible with most mini-itx through atx builds. Can handle anything you throw its way. Setup is a bit tricky and you may be able to hear the fan under heavy loads (like when gaming).
Raijintek Pallas Black – $40
We used this fan a couple times when Notcua’s were on backorder. It performed surprisingly well and wasn’t too loud.
“Assassin Words of Wisdom: Personally, my advice is to stay away from most Cooler Master fans. We’ve fallen for the positive reviews online and we’ve found most of them to be cheap plastic and flimsy.”
Low Profile CPU Coolers:
In some of the smaller mini-ITX cases a low profile CPU cooler is essential. These are a few of my favorites:
Be Quiet Shadow Rock LP – $40
I’m including this one because its rated up to 130W, so its a behemoth of a cooler but can still fit on Mini-itx boards and can still be (somewhat) low profile. Its a pain to install however so be ready for a 30 minute grind to get this bad boy on your board.
Silverstone Argon AR-4 – $32
Very low profile and quiet and should have no problems cooling anything up to 65w.
Silverstone NTR7 -11x – $30
Another 65w low profile heatink and fan that is easy to install and easy to use. Not as quiet as some of the other choices but not loud either.
Thermaltake CL-P008-AL09WT-A – $15
I don’t usually recommend Thermaltakes because they feel cheap and flimsy to me most times. And I normally wouldn’t recommend this one. But a $15 price tag is pretty good for what you get for this. If it were $30 I would say no way, but for those on a budget it does do a good job, is low profile, and is pretty quiet.
GELID Solutions Slim Silence i-Plus – $27 Will fit the LGA775/1155/1156 socket. 28mm tall.
SILVERSTONE NT07-1156 – $32 Will actually fit the LGA 1155 and 1156 socket. Has a very nice “silent switch” which manually slows the speed of the fan down. LGA775 version also available. 36.5mm tall.
Titan DC-155A915Z – $15 – One of our best kept secrets that we are finally revealing to the world! Tiny, inexpensive, quiet and packs a cold punch. 30mm tall.
XIGMATEK CAC-D9HH3-U01 -$25 With a higher wattage rating (up to 115w) this low profile cooler can even handle i5’s and i7’s without issues. 44mm tall.
Rosewill RCX-Z775-LP – $10 – At a dirt cheap price tag this a great budget performer however its best value is its size. Good for <65w CPU’s only. The actual Intel stock we’ve found cools better than this but if you are in a space crunch this is a good alternative. 32mm tall.
15) WIRELESS INTERNET OPTIONS
A must have if you can’t hard wire your HTPC to your network (although always try to hard-wire!)
Technology and WIFI adapters have had some advances in the last couple years. The latest technology is AC.
AC is the latest speed (compared with older N and eve older G) and completely backwards compatible with other router speeds. Unfortunately AC while faster doesn’t have as good a distance as the older protocols. So the further you get away the slower the speeds transfer. This is because it transmits in the 5 GHz range. Signals transmitted at 5 GHz don’t travel as well as signal on lower frequencies. For this reason having a 802.11ac WiFi setup that has everything closer the better.
Assassins Words of Wisdom: “Keep in mind you might have to update your Router to an AC router. There has been marked improved performances with people with “N” style wireless adapters just by upgrading their routers to AC.”
AC Type WIFI Adapters
AC Adapters have different speeds associated with them. AC1300 and AC1750 routers use a chip with 802.11ac protocol to transmit at 1300 or 1750 Mbps on their 5GHz band, and a second 802.11n chip to transmit at up to 400Mbps 2.4GHz.
AC1900 routers use a single triband chip, that allows for more data to be transmitted over the 2.4GHz and 5 GHz bands. 600Mbps and 1900Mbps respectively. The end result is a data transfer rate of 1900Mbps between devices that have an AC1900 compliant equipment, under ideal conditions.
Assassins Words of Wisdom: “For many users there will be little real world difference between an AC 1750 and an AC 1900 router. And unless your other devices are equipped to take advantage of the AC1900 protocol you won’t see any difference.”
Up to 1.3 Gbps
Up to 450 Mbps
80,160, 80+80 MHz Channels
20 MHz and 40 MHz Channels
Number of Spatial Stream
Beamforming Mechanism Yes
5 GHz only
2.4 GHz and 5 GHz
*ASUS AC65 (1300) USB Adapter-$65
Largely regarded as the ‘hottest’ AC WIFI adapter currently available at $65 its not the most economical but has been tried and tested by the general public.
*Rosewill RNX-AC1200UB USB Adapter – $30
A great performing adapter for a cheap price tag for someone with a budget.
D-Link Wireless DWA182 USB Adapter – $48
Another USB Adapter wireless made by D-link which is a tested brand with good customer support.
*ASUS AC65 (1300) PCI-E Adapter – $65
The same as the USB adapter just with an internal PCI-E connection.
ASUS AC68 (1900) PCI-E Adapter – $95
with a 1900 connection speed and internal adapter this is the bigger brother of the AC65.
B/G/N Type WIFI Adapters (older)
Powerline adapters use the power outlets in your house to transmit a network signal. They are generally more reliable and consistent than wireless although results can vary with the architecture or your home!
D-Link DHP-701AV 2000Mmps – $95
A great powerline adapter with MIMO (multiple input rather than single) resulting in fast speeds, a 1 touch setup and reliable performance for under $100.
TP-LINK TL-PA8010P – $70
With an outlet pass through and MIMO technology this gives you a slightly better economic alternative to the D-Link.
16) OPTICAL DRIVE OPTIONS
These are actually optional. However, if you want an optical drive to play or rip CDs/DVDs and blurays I will list a few options.
Assassins Words of Wisdom: “Playing Blu-rays directly from the disc require additional software which you will have to purchase (don’t believe the stories of free blu-ray playback…they rarely work or aren’t really free). No operating system including Windows is able to decrypt blu-ray discs by themselves. They need additional software and there are some blu-ray playback programs out there including PowerDVD, Total Media, WinDVD. Most of these also do 3D as well!”
As a general rule I prefer Lite-On as I have had the least amount of trouble with their drives and they just flat out make solid products. As anyone who builds computers knows, there are literally hundreds of different drives on the market. Also drives are incredibly similar and often have dozens that are separated seemingly only by small changes in their model numbers. There are also new drives released every month because of this. Many of the drives are actually re-badged drives from another manufacturer. Because of all of these reasons (and also because I do not have enough money to test these regularly) I may not always keep this section updated.
Standard Sized Optical Drives
Lite-On DVD/CD Burner – $18
A fantastic basic optical drive. Very solid.
ASUS DVD/CD Burner – $20
Good drive. Likely a rebadged Lite-On.
Slim Optical Drives
Assassins Words of Wisdom: “Before buying your slim optical drive make sure you know whether you need a slot load or tray loading drive.”
LG DVD GUB0N Tray Load – $20
LG GS40N Slot Load – $40
17) INPUT / CONTROL DEVICES
Assassin’s Tip: “It’s always a good idea to have a full sized keyboard and mouse laying around. Even if its in a nearby drawer.”
Once you have it setup there are many options you can use to control and navigate it. Don’t forget there are lots of ways to use a smartphone or tablet to control your HTPC as well (see our guides). What you may prefer is largely up to your tastes but I find some of these the cheapest and simplest way to use your HTPC.
If you choose an IR remote control make sure it comes with an IR receiver. Otherwise you will need to purchase one (see below)
Remote Control Input Type
Logitech Harmony 650 – $60
This is one of the best remotes on the planet for HTPC. Controls up to 8 devices. Completely customizable buttons, activity lists, WMC integration, etc. As a recent convert to this remote I highly recommend it as the interface to your HTPC. You will need a USB IR dongle to use this remote and I recommend getting a “HP USB Windows Receiver” from ebay for around $10. This is what I use and I can guarantee its compatibility (its plug and play).
Logitech Harmony 350 – $30
Another great Harmony remote that can control up to 8 devices as well but without some of the bells and whistles such as the LCD screen.
Inteset INT-422 4-in-1 Universal Backlit IR Learning Remote – $25
A great little remote that can be trained to control other devices around the house included Roku and Apple TV and others.
Rosewill Windows Media Center Remote $15-$25
Use this only after you have completed setting up your HTPC with a standard mouse and keyboard.
Media Center remote control with built-in “mouse” – $18
This is another very popular remote option with a built in touchpad mouse.
Full Size Keyboard Input Type:
Logitech 400 Fullsize RF Keyboard with Touchpad = $40
*Microsoft Keyboard with Touchpad = $30
We use this everyday at the shop. Great product, self installing drivers and good usage and 30 foot range.
Mini Keyboard Input Type
*Mini RF Keyboard w/ Touchpad – $20 (Amazon)
You might not win any “cool” points by the look of this thing but its by far the best input device we’ve used. Keep in mind that it does get touchy if the HTPC is about 10 feet or more away and inside of a cabinet. A quick solution to this is running a USB extension cord (included with this) out someplace it is more exposed to the air.
Another great option similiar to the Hausbell above but a little more limited (and the IR Remote is practically worthless).
Lenovo N5902 RF Keyboard and Mouse with Backlight – $55 or without backlight for $35
Great functionality but adds an essential backlight for use in the dark when watching movies. The only drawback to this remote is no function keys which is important to some users but not at all important to others depending on your software needs.
Logitech Dinovo Mini – $100
An awesome little device but a touch pill to swallow at $100. It has tons of functionality and tons of options. If this were $30-$40 I would recommend this above all else.
Flirc Media Center Companion/Adapter – $20-$25
This awesome little device is a IR receiver that can turn ANY IR remote control into a Media Center (WMC/XBMC/Boxee,etc) remote control! You just plug the device into your HTPC, download the software from Flirc and then map HTPC commands to whatever button you want on your remote control.
HP IR Receiver – $10-$20
If you chose a remote control that does not come with an IR receiver then you will need to add one to your HTPC. A great reliable option is the “HP IR Receiver” which you can readily purchase via eBay. I can confirm that these work well with WMC, Kodi and others. Available on eBay also if you search for “HP IR Receiver”.
USB External IR Receiver – $20
Basic USB IR Receiver for use with your IR remote.
18) HDMI Cable(s) – $2-$10 each
Assassin words of Wisdom: “In my opinion, Monoprice.com is the only place to buy cables. Period. However, they do have a slightly higher DOA rate on some things (like their speakers) than other places (its still very low), so always check extensively whatever you purchase as soon as you receive it!
*An asterisk to that point is Monoprice is beginning to sell things through Amazon.com as well and its my belief that they have the same manufacturer (so a lot of amazon branded products are the same as monoprice).
Please DO NOT buy something like Monster cable — you are wasting your money. Digital signal is an “all or none” event. Your TV or AV receiver either receives the 1’s and 0’s that are sent digitally, or it doesn’t. There are no better 1’s or 0’s than others.
Make sure that you order a cable with plenty of length for your cable run. There are numerous people on here that have had no issues with runs of 50 feet or more. However, there have been reports of signals not being able to be sent that long. To fix this, There is new technology out for cables called RedMere that helps in sending HDMI cables over distances greater than 25 feet. Its not needed for anything less than that. Although they are a bit more, if you are running your cables 25+ feet or greater it might be a good idea to chose on of these. And keep in mind some cables have a “source” and a “display” end to them. So which end you plug in does matter!
These are 2 examples of 6 foot HDMI cables that I like at monoprice (the netjacket cable has better looks but functions identically) and a 30 foot cable with Redmere ….
Link for all HDMI cables: http://www.monoprice.com/products/su…02&cp_id=10240
6 foot standard HDMI cable – $3.00
6 foot “net jacket” HDMI cable – $6.00
30 foot “redmere” HDMI Cable – $35.00
19) Cable Card, TV Tuner Cards and Devices
The cards/devices listed below are popular options. Use these as a starting point to do more research on these cards as possible options for capturing over the air tv signals and eliminating your dvr fees.
Assassin’s Words of Wisdom: “In a controlled head to head test of Over The Air broadcast that we performed. The Hauppauge outpeformed both the HD Homerun and AverMedia’s Tuners in terms of numbers of channels they were able to pick up and strength (about 8% more channels and stronger).”
We recommend however the HD Homerun products because their tuners are still very good, and they are network tuners so any windows based computer on your network can access them and watch live TV and they are very simple to setup with great customer support.
Cable Card Tuner Cards (requires Cable Card)
Hauppauge WinTV DCR2650 Cablecard Tuner (External Dual Tuner – $105)
Ceton InfiniTV 4 Digital Cable Quad-tuner (PCIe – $300)
*SiliconDust HDHomeRun PRIME – Three Digital Network Tuners (LAN – $115)
20) Graphics/Video Cards
The Number one question we get asked is “Do I need a graphics card for 4K?”
The short answer is no you do not. Your onboard graphics card can do 4K up to 30 hz which should meet almost everyones needs. If you want “Full” 60 hz 4k then you can add a graphics card like one below that will handle it.
If these numbers don’t mean anything to you. Don’t buy a card. You won’t need it and you’ll be able to watch 4K just fine.
Graphics cards are completely optional and unnecessary for an HTPC. Power hungry, loud, and expensive their very nature goes against what an HTPC is designed for. However, some people do like the ability to have one system that does it all, including advanced gaming. So we’ve included some of what we believe are the best graphics cards for your money. Not the best all around performing. But the best bang for the dollar!
We’ve always offered both AMD and Nvidia options but over the past years we’ve had many more issues with drivers, installations issues and support issues with AMD for NVidia. So its our opinion and perhaps just our prejudice that we prefer NVidia graphics cards.
Assassin’t Words of Wisome “The #1 mistake people make when choosing a graphics card is they choose one that is too long for your case. Our suggestion. Buy the case first, take measurements (remember to stage everything first because hard drives extend past their mounts, etc. and then buy the card (or return the case). There is nothing worse than being on the final steps of your build and realize your graphics card is a half inch too long to fit.”
We’ve given you a general comparison chart for graphics card capabilities below:
EVGA GeForce GTX 950 2GB – $140
A short graphics card in length that still packs some power and allows you to fit it in cases where space is tight!
EVGA GeForce GTX 960 2GB – $180
Another graphics card with both long and short length options (short is just 6.8 inches long) which allows.
ASUS GeForce GTX 970 4GB – $370 (short version)
EVGA GeForect GTX 970 4GB – $370 (long version)
With double the GB of the 960 but at double the cost this graphics card is an amazing bang for its dollar and comes in either a short version or a large version.
EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB – $650
The 980 is a graphics card that blows through games and anything you can throw at it.
ASUS GeForce GTX TITAN 12GB – $1100
The Ultimate graphics card. Tremendous abilities but with a large pricetag. But this beast can do anything you would ever ask it to.
21) BAREBONES SYSTEMS
Barebones systems have become popular in the past couple years. These include basically a tiny footpring, and an motherboard and processor already installed in it. Basically add a SSD, RAM and you’re ready to go.
Keep in mind these are mostly for extenders or “secondary locations” like bedrooms and kitchens etc. that do not need a i5 or faster processor. So for these a pentium will usually do or an i3 should be plenty of horsepower to pull in artwork of large media libraries and play your movies.
Here our our favorites:
Pentium Based Options (not for 4K playback)
ASUS VivoMini PC UN42-M142Z Celeron 2957U – $210
The reason we like this is because it comes with the OS already installed and includes a power supply and a wireless keyboard and mouse. Even though its comes on a 32GB mSATA SSD and 2GB RAM which you will most likely need to upgrade both but you should be able to re-use your windows license saving you $100 if those were your plans. A great little extender.
INTEL NUC NUC5PPYH – $164
The NUC is one of the first tried and true barebones system and still one of the best values out there. Add a regular SSD and some RAM, an OS and your are on your way quickly! Includes Power supply.
MSI CUBI003 – $130
At a very low pricetag (just add mSATA SSD) and a bunch of options including a Broadwell Penitum, white or black case this little box is cheap but still enough horsepower to get you everything you need. Includes Power Supply.
i3 Options (Capable of 4K Playback)
Gigabyte Brix GB-BSi3-6100 – $285
With a Skylake generation i3 processor this little barbones system has some of the latest hardware capabilities and ready for you to finish it off with an m.2 SSD and some RAM. Includes Power Supply.
Intel NUC NUC5i3RYH– $269
Intel Broadwell processor ready for an m.2 card and some SSD. The Intel NUC’s are never a bad choice. And one other cool feature if you have a 3D printer is intel includes a file found here that allows you to create your own custom lids for your NUC.
11) ASSASSIN’S “QUICK AND EASY” NewEgg Build LISTS:
Below are two “quick and easy” wishlists that we’ve created on NewEgg for everyone. If you have absolutely no clue, just buy whats on the list. We’ve built hundreds of systems with the below components so they are all guaranteed to fit (although we are pretty skilled and experienced builders). Costs fluctuate a bit so we’ve estimated delivered pricing below. Remember to add your operating system!
Assassin HTPC’s ‘Basic’ 2016 Build List = $450
i3, 4GB DDR4 RAM, Mini case, 3TB hard drive, DVD drive, 120GB SSD
Assassin HTPC’s “Mid-Level’ 2016 Build List = $885
i5, 8GB DDR4 RAM, Regular Case, 6TB hard drive, Blu-ray drive, 128GB SSD
Enjoy the knowledge and help spread the word!
Both about HTPC’s and Assassin HTPC!
& Please make sure to check out our other guides (over 200+) about how to customize your HTPC!
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