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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

Disclaimer: 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 so if you are looking for that route your may want to look elsewhere.

We feel our picks are relatively affordable and represent the best “bang for your buck” using quality reliable parts.

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:

www.AssassinHTPC.com

 

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*Don’t forget to visit our FAQ page before proceeding!

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Assassin Hardware Guide
Table of Contents:

1) What to Expect

2) The Basics
Definition of Parts
Beginning Considerations

SOFTWARE OVERVIEW

3) Operating System Summary

Linux/OpenElec
Windows 7
Windows 8.1

4) Front End Software Summary
XBMC
Mediabrowser 2.6 & 3.0

5) Codec Summary

LAV Filters
Haali Media Splitter
Shark007 Codec Packshref=”#antivirus”

6) Antivirus, Antimalware, Antispyware Software
Microsoft Security Essentials (antivirus)
Peerblock (antispyware)

HARDWARE OVERVIEW

7) System Builds (CPU & Motherboard)
Haswell Builds (Intel)
Ivy Bridge Builds (Intel)
AMD Trinity Build (AMD)

8) Other Components
SSD
RAM
Hard Drive
Power Supply Unit (PSU)
Computer Case
Cooling Options

Wireless Options
Optical Drive (DVD/Bluray) Options
Input/Control Devices

HDMI Cables
Graphics Cards

9) Mini-ITX Build Suggestions
Motherboards
RAM

Cases
Hard Drives & SSD’s
Coolers
Graphics Cards
Power Supplies

10) Assassin HTPC “Quick and Easy” NewEgg build lists

Basic HTPC Build
Mid-Level HTPC Build

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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!

We 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
1-2 hours using our guides located on the rest of this site.

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.

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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 bluray to hard drive (with additional bluray drive and software)
9. Watch HULU, Netflix, etc.
10. Play 3D Movies (ONLY with compatible processors – Otherwise you will need an additional 3D capable video card)
11. Use an optional TV tuner card or device to record TV if you like
12. Bitstream HD audio over HDMI

What this PC is not meant to do:
1. Play modern graphics intense games at maximum settings (you may be able to play games at moderate settings with some of the integrated GPUs)
2. Use a solid state hard drive (SSD) which is optional (with current prices this is now *almost* a necessity in my opinion but you can indeed build a HTPC without one. A SSD’s performance increase is noticeable and I highly suggest you consider adding one for your OS and Programs) — see below – under “optional parts”

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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.

Beginning Considerations:

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!)

http://www.extreme.outervision.com/psucalculatorlite.jsp

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.  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 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!

The Parts List:

Software Overview: 

3) OPERATING SYSTEMS:

Linux/OpenElec

If you are running Linux or Open Elec, etc.  Then you should be smart enough to not need our guides.

Microsoft Windows

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 Home ($99)
Windows 8.1 Pro ($139)

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, there are still a lot of programmers that have not made the jump yet to a windows 8 friendly version and many customers who can’t stand the interface.  If you are adventurous, don’t mind a lot of troubleshooting, and don’t mind re-learning even the most mundane tasks that will be difficult at first.  A foray in 8.1 might not be off the table and with a couple additional improvements may eventually take over as the HTPC software of the future.

But for now, Windows 7 is still in my opinion the strongest candidate for the HTPC and what I would recommend.

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.

Also Windows 8.1 does not include Media Center which you will have to purchase extra by going to Add Features in your control panel ($9.99 for Pro version).

4) FRONT END SOFTWARE

Typically.  Whichever front end you begin using will end up probably being the one you prefer! Try both XBMC 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!)

Mediabrowser – 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.  However, don’t bother downloading Mediabrowser 2.6 which is the current version as they are about to release Mediabrowser 3.0 which will be a stand alone engine (much like XBMC) and they are concentrating on its release rather than supporting Mediabrowser 2.  There will even be an Mediabrowser 3 integration into XBMC that is being finalized (see our Mediabrowser Guides).

 

XBMC – Free

XBMC is another excellent frontend 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. Free.

Other frontend interface recommendations:

JRiver ($49.99) and Plex ($5 per viewing device).

See our guides on each one for more details.

5) Codec packs (audio/video)

Win7 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 Says: If you are using XBMC as a frontend you do not need to download any codecs or codec packs as they come inlcuded within XBMC’s engine.

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.

Shark007 32 bit
Shark007 64 bit

6) Antivirus, Antimalware, Antispyware Software

Windows Security Essentials – Free with Windows 7
A robust and actually very powerful protection program. This is what I use and I have not had any problems.

Peerblock – Helps protect you when downloading. Antispyware.  (See more in our “downloading” page/section)

7) The Hardware Guide


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There are currently three options/builds that I recommend for a basic/beginner HTPC:

In an effort to keep up with technology we have eliminated Sandy Bridge and Llano’s from our guides.  Keep in mind, the Intel 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).

System Build Guides:

Assassins’ Tip:  For Beginners: If you do not know which one to choose.  Stick with Intel Haswells.

*=our recommendations

1. *Option 1: Intel Haswell (LGA 1155) with integrated onboard, 3D Video, 1080p, and HD Audio.
2. Option 2: Intel Ivy Bridge (LGA 1155) with integrated onboard 3D video, 1080p and HD Audio
3. Option 3: AMD Trinity 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 Intel Sandy Bridge G620/G530 which uses almost the same amount of power 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. For HTPC I personally don’t see the point of using an underpowered Atom or Zacate when there are better options available for aroudn the same price.  In fact, we refuse to sell or build anything with an Atom or Zacate in them.

*Option 1: (Think V10 Sportscar) – Intel Haswell Build

The Intel Haswell 22nm architecture represents the 4th generation (most recent) Intel technology and the closest thing we have to perfection in the HTPC world.  While gamers are upset over its barely more powerful engine than its Ivy Bridge predecessor and weak overclocking potential.  In terms of HTPC’s the Haswell received all the right upgrades.  Boasting better onboard graphics than the Ivy Bridge from the integrated graphics processor located on the CPU (which can now play a lot of mid-level games and great for post-processing programs like MadVR) as well as several other upgrades including more USB 3.0 ports on most motherboards.  The final feather in its cap to make it the best HTPC choice out there is Intel finally perfected 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!

Haswell CPU Selections:

This list is a few of the options for a Haswell based HTPC and how I view each option:

Option 1: Intel Pentium G3220 3.0 GHz Dual Core – $70

A great budget processor with HD Graphics and a great selection for those with a super tight budget.

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 underclocked 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!

Haswell Motherboard Selection:

There are two variations of motherboard we recommend (H87 & Z87) that are compatible with the Intel Haswell 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.

Unless you know what you are doing.  Stick with the H87 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.

H87 Motherboard Selections:

Asrock H87M – $80

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 H87M Pro 4 – $85

Same as above but with 4 RAM slots instead of 2 and 4x USB 3.0

*ASUS H87M-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

MSI H87-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

H87 Mini-ITX Selections:

Asrock H87m-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 P87I-PLUS  – $115

With 6 total Sata (6) ports, this small board gives you the ability to connect a lot of things to it!

Z87 Motherboard Selections

*Asrock Z87M-Extreme4 - $122

With 4x USB 3.0, an eSATA port, and 6 onboard SATA (6) ports this board has everything you need.

GIGABYTE GA-Z87M - $107

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 Z87 – $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.

z87 Mini-ITX Motherboard Choices

*Gigabyte GA-Z87N - $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.

Asus Z87I – $190

With 6x USB 3.0, dual HDMI, wifi, and 4k ready (space for larger cooler) this motherboard has all the bells and whistles.

Option 2: (Think V8 Sportscar) – Intel Ivy Bridge Build

Ivy Bridge (IVB) 22nm microarchitecture represents the 3rd generation release by Intel. Upgrades over the Sandy Bridge are better graphics from the integrated graphics processor located on the CPU which is at least as good (if not better) than the AMD Llano’s superb integrated graphics for gaming and post-processing programs like MadVR. There are also more PCI-e lanes on most motherboards. Other features include more prevalent use of USB 3.0 headers on the board itself, some motherboards with the well regarded Intel NIC (network interface controller for LAN) onboard, an improved 23.976 refresh rate, and others. CPU performance is about 5-15% improved over Sandy Bridge depending on the benchmark.

Please note that like the Intel Sandy Bridge and Llano you don’t need a separate video or sound card. 3D, 1080p video and HD Audio are now built in to the CPU itself making the need for a discrete video card a thing of the past. [Note that the Ivy Bridge Celerons do not support 3D]

These LGA1155 motherboards are also backwards compatible meaning that you could use a Sandy Bridge CPU with an Ivy Bridge era Motherboard — the main drawback to this approach is you would be limited to the Sandy Bridge’s chipset and wouldn’t get to use all the new features offered by Ivy Bridge.

Ivy Bridge CPU Selections:

This list is a few of the options for an Ivy Bridge HTPC and how I view each option:

Option 1: Ivy Bridge i3-3220 3.3 GHz Dual Core$130

The “base” i3 Ivy Bridge CPU. HD 2500 graphics which will do 3D, 1080p and HD Audio. 55w TDP.

Option 2: Ivy Bridge i3-3220T 2.8 GHz Dual Core$135

The same CPU as the 3220 except that it is slightly underclocked and uses a nice low profile CPU cooler. In real world testing the “T” and “non-T” Intel CPUs use about the same amount of energy for HTPC uses. If you need a low profile CPU cooler in a small mini-ITX case then this is an option to consider. HD 2500 graphics which will do 3D, 1080p and HD Audio. 35w TDP.

*Option 3: Ivy Bridge i3-3225 3.3 GHz Dual Core$145

The same CPU as the above option but bumps up to the HD4000 integrated GPU. For 1080p and 720p you won’t notice much difference in picture quality but for light gaming or use of programs like MadVR this may be a CPU to consider (early tests show the HD4000 to be approximately 20% less than the ATI 6570 in synthetic benchmarks when used for gaming).  3D, 1080p and HD Audio. 55w TDP.

Option 4: Ivy Bridge i5-3450 Ivy Bridge 3.1GHz Quad Core – $195

If you have to have a quad core IVB CPU then this is currently your cheapest choice. Complete overkill for HTPC but the cheapest option currently. HD2500 graphics which will do 3D, 1080p and HD Audio. 77w TDP.

*Option 5: Ivy Bridge i5-3570k Ivy Bridge 3.4GHz Quad Core – $230

This quad core CPU makes the current list due to its excellent iGPU, the HD4000. Preliminary tests show it to be as capable at gaming and post-processing renderers like MadVR as the AMD Llano (early tests show the HD4000 to be approximately 20% less than the ATI 6570 in synthetic benchmarks when used for gaming). Like the other CPUs it can do 3D, 1080p and HD Audio. 77w TDP.

Option 6: Ivy Bridge Celeron G1610 2.6 GHz – $50

If you don’t need 3D or are on a tight budget this is a great CPU to consider. For 1080p and 720p the stripped down graphics are roughly equivalent to the HD2500 with just a few options disabled. 55w TDP. Can utilize DDR3 1333.

Option 7: Ivy Bridge Celeron G1620 2.7 GHz – $60

Similar to the G1610 with a slight uptick in the CPU clock speed and price tag. Otherwise identical to the G1610 listed above.

Ivy Bridge Motherboards

The B75, H77 and Z77 chipsets are currently available for IVB. Of the three choices the H77 has just about everything that you need for HTPC. The Z77 adds dual video card support and the ability to overclock — neither of which are critical for HTPC. All boards now have at least 2 USB 3.0 ports and an onboard USB 3.0 header. Some have PCI-e 3.0 as well. The B75 is your basic chipset but for some users may have everything you need (note B75 has different expansion lanes, no hardware raid, no optical out on most, no eSATA, etc).

B75 Choices

*ASRock B75 – $65

Good entry level option from ASRock with 2 RAM slots, 8 SATA ports. Micro-ATX.

GIGABYTE GA-B75M-D3H – $75

Solid entry level board from Gigabyte. Has 4 RAM slots, 6 SATA ports. Micro-ATX.

ASUS P8B75-M LE – $90

Good entry level from ASUS with 2 RAM slots, 6 SATA ports. Micro-ATX. The ASUS P8B75-M/CSM model is very similar as well but has 4 RAM slots. Micro-ATX. Note: This product has been discountinued but you can still find it online in some stores.

ASRock B75M-ITX – $90

Interesting Mini-ITX option with 2 RAM slots, 4 SATA ports, and an optical out. Mini-ITX.

H77 Choices

ASRock H77M – $70-85

This board is an excellent entry level board. It has 2 RAM slots, 6 SATA ports (2 SATAIII) and optical out. Typical ASRock build quality which is excellent for the price. Micro-ATX.

ASRock H77 Pro4-M – $90

Another excellent board from ASRock. Differences from the above board include 4 RAM slots instead of 2, eSATA, 8 SATA ports instead of 6 (4 SATAIII), optical out and an additional PCI-e lane. Micro-ATX.

GIGABYTE GA-H77M-D3H – $95

A solid board from Gigabyte. 4 RAM slots, 6 SATA ports (2 SATAIII), no optical out. Micro-ATX.

Intel BOXDH77EB – $100-$120

Intel makes a very basic but very stable and solid board. This board has 4 RAM slots, eSATA, 3 PCI-e lanes, optical out but only 4 SATA ports (2 SATAIII). This board also has the integrated Intel NIC which many prefer over the usual Realtek NIC on almost all other boards. Micro-ATX.

*ASUS P8H77-M/CSM – $110

ASUS is making the best motherboard right now and this one is no exception. Excellent build quality, bios and fan control. 4 RAM slots, 6 SATA ports (2 SATAIII) and optical out. This is a well built board but not quite the same “bang for your buck” as some of my other recommendations. Micro-ATX.

H77 Mini-ITX Selections:

ASRock H77M-ITX – $100

A great mini-ITX board. 2 RAM slots, 4 SATA ports (2 SATAIII), eSATA and optical out. Typical ASRock build quality throughout. Mini-ITX.

*ASUS P8H77-I – $100-$110

This ASUS board has 2 RAM slots, 6 SATA ports (2 SATAIII) and optical output. Another solid choice. Mini-ITX.

Z77 Choices

*ASRock Z77 Pro4-M – $110

The best entry level Z77 board for the money. 4 RAM slots, 4 PCI-e lanes, 8 SATA ports (4 SATAIII), eSATA and optical output.

ASRock Z77 Extreme4-M – $130-$140

A really well built board featuring premium gold capacitors and upgraded circuitry. 4 RAM slots, 4 PCI-e lanes, 8 SATA ports (4 SATAIII), eSATA, optical out.

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Option 3: (Think V8 Sportscar) – AMD Trinity Build

The Trinity APU is AMD’s second generation of integrated graphics into their CPU. In comparison to other integrated options the Trinity has better integrated graphics but a weaker CPU. This is a good option for those of you who want to do some light gaming with the integrated GPU or use post-rendering programs such as Madvr. The main improvement over the first generation AMD Llano is an even better and faster integrated GPU (but only marginally improved CPU performance). Please note that this is a new socket for AMD and is NOT backwards compatible with the AMD Llano. Also note that I do not recommend the 100w TDP Trinity CPUs as they are simply too hot and inefficient and I think there are much better options for HTPC. Some Trinity CPUs can do 3D (A8 and A10). All can do 1080p and bitstreaming of HD Audio without the need for a separate graphics card.

AMD Trinity CPU Options

CPU Option 1: A6-5400K 3.6 GHz 65w Dual Core: $75

This is the lowest option that I recommend for this platform. The CPU on the less expensive A4 is simply too anemic and the small increase in price for the A6 is money well spent.

CPU Option 2: A8-5500 3.2 GHz 65w Quad Core: $105

This is  AMD’s “quad core” 65w TDP option which is comparable to the lower end Intel i3 GPUs. Improved CPU performance over the A6.

*CPU Option 3: A10-5700 3.4 GHz 65w Quad Core: $125

This is another “quad core” 65w TDP option from AMD. Slightly increased CPU strength and price from the A8.

CPU Option 4: A10-5800K 3.8 GHz 100W Quad Core: $130

Perhaps the most powerful CPU that Trinity has to offer. Runs much hotter than the 65W versions so I recommend using a quality CPU cooler, case and underclocking this CPU.

AMD Trinity Motherboard Options

For Trinity there are 3 chipset options to choose from. For HTPC the A55 option is the cheapest but also most barren. There are no SATAIII (6GB/sec) ports and no USB 3.0. The A75 is what I recommend for most HTPC users which has six SATAIII ports and adds USB 3.0. The A85x adds crossfire support (for gaming) and an additional 2 SATAIII ports which in my opinion for most HTPC users is not worth the added cost. In my opinion the Trinity platform should really not be used for the  gaming enthusiast but instead for the casual gamer making the A85x chipset an imperfect choice for a casual gaming HTPC.

A55 Recommendations

MSI FM2-A55-E33 – $50

This is about the cheapest motherboard you can get for Trinity at this time. If you are using only older mechanical drives (i.e. not using a SSD) and don’t need USB 3.0 then this is a board to consider. Otherwise I think the A75 chipset is a better option for HTPC. Has 4 SATAII and USB 2.0. Again, as mentioned above no SATAIII and no USB 3.0. Micro-ATX.

A75 Recommendations

MSI FM2-A75MA-E35 – $60

A good entry level board from MSI with 2 RAM slots, six SATAIII, USB 3.0. Micro-ATX.

*ASRock FM2A75Pro4-M – $75

Another solid board with more features including 4 RAM slots, five SATAIII, USB 3.0, eSATA, optical output, CIR header. Typical ASRock construction and great value for the money. Micro-ATX.

Gigabyte GA-F2A75M-D3H – $90

4 RAM slots, six SATAIII, USB 3.0, Optical output make this well constructed board a contender. Micro-ATX.

A85X Recommendations

ASUS F2A85-M/CSM – $110

A good option if you need additional SATA ports of crossfire capability (although as mentioned above if you are a gamer you are better served with a discrete GPU). 4 RAM slots, USB 3.0, eSATA, optical output. Typical ASUS quality throughout.

===========================================

8) OTHER COMPONENTS:

Solid State Drives (SSD)

SSD (solid state drives)

These drives are for the operating system and other programs ONLY. These are not 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 heat

I want to emphasize that THESE DRIVES ARE BY NO MEANS NECESSARY!!! You will get excellent performance using the Samsung Green drive or other standard hard drives. These are for the user who wants to build the best.

In the past I had recommended at least 60-64GB of storage (you can possibly get by with 32GB of storage but Win7 will take up almost the entire drive by itself once all the updates are downloaded and installed). However, SSDs have now decreased in price substantially and you can often find a 120-128GB drive for under $100.

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…

120-128GB SSDs

*Samsung 840 Series 120GB SATAIII $90-$130

Plextor M5S 128GB SATAIII - $110

Crucial M4 128GB SATAIII – $100-$125

Intel 330 Series 120GB SATAIII – $105 – $135

60-64GB SSDs

Samsung 830 Series 64GB SATAIII – $80

Plextor M5S 64GB SATAIII – $50

*Crucial M4 64GB SATAIII – $77

Intel 330 Series 60GB SATAIII – $50 – $80

RAM (Random Access Memory)

I am a huge fan of G.Skill RAM. So far it has been 100% compatible with every Gigabyte, Asrock and ASUS board that I have used and after hundreds of builds we rarely have DOA’s. It’s a great and reliable RAM to use (although there are certainly many other brands that I’m sure also work well)

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 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.

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).  As of today that speed is usually 1600.  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.

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, DDR3 1600 speed with 1.5v is a good bet.

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.

Other Options

Samsung Low Profile Low Voltage 4GB DDR3-1600 – $20-$30

Extremely low profile RAM that is barely taller than the RAM slots. Quality is excellent despite the plain appearance.

AMD Trinity RAM

The Trinity platform can accept DDR3-1866 RAM without overclocking and the integrated GPU benefits from this speed so whenever possible purchase this speed over DDR3-1600 (although the latter works very well also).

Kingston HyperX 2x2GB (4GB) DDR3-1866 – $28

Crucial Ballistix 2x2GB (4GB) DDR3-1866 – $24

 

Hard Drive

While SSDs aren’t mandatory I highly recommend them for the OS and programs for your HTPC. The performance upgrade is substantial especially with loading large libraries or media guides. For storage and playback I recommend 3TB drive(s). As of now they are the sweet spot for the money spent.  4TB have become much more reliable in the past year as they initially had some stability problems and the price has come down drastically out of the clouds.  Personally I’d go with a 3TB or 4TB and never waste my money buying anything below a 2TB drive.

Here is my current thinking about choosing a hard drive for your HTPC or Server:

Assassin Tip: Just to expand my thought process a little more…

I don’t think you can make generalized statements anymore about the reliability of a particular brand of hard drives or even a particular model of hard drive within that brand. I have tried all sorts of different drives (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 have had excellent luck with Green (5400 RPM) drives but haven’t had bad luck with Red or Black (7200 RPM) drives either.

I love Green drives and Red drives (5400 RPM) for storage especially for HTPC and HTPCsoftware based servers as I think they are usually the best bang for the buck. I would gladly purchase a red drive for the extra warranty alone but probably would only spend an extra $10 or so.  I also am not opposed to the Seagate or Toshiba 3TB drives as they are excellent for the money even though they are a 7200RPM (they are relatively quiet. I have used many).

That’s my $.02.

4TB Drives ($45 per TB)

WD Green 4TB EZRX - $180

Seagate Desktop HDD - $180

3TB Drives ($40 per TB)

Seagate Barracuda 7200 3TB Drive - $120

Toshiba 7200 3TB Drive – $120

WE Green WE30EZRX - $130

2TB Drives ($45 per TB)

WD Green WD20EARS 2TB Drive – $90

WD Green WD20EARX 2TB Drive$90

Seagate Barracuda Green 2TB 5900 RPM – $100-

Additionally I also like the Seagate 5900RPM drives. Even though they are listed as slightly faster than the WD and Samsung for HTPC purposes they are all about the same in real world use.

WD Red WD20EFRX 2TB 5400 RPM – $110

WD markets this drive for use in a “NAS Environment”. In my testing real world performance is the exact same as the Green drives for HTPC (although they seem to run about 3 degrees celcius 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 drives. My take is that if these drives are $10 more then go with the Red over the Green for the extra warranty alone. If $20 more it becomes more questionable. At $21 or more I would pass and choose a Green (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 Says: As a side note we have now used hundreds of Green drives with no complaints on performance and almost no failed drives. They are excellent for storage and playback in the HTPC environment.

Power Supply Unit (PSU)

SeaSonic, Antec or Other $30-$80

I am a huge Seasonic and Antec fan. I increasingly have been migrating to the Antec Greenwatts 380 watt and Antec Neo (made by Seasonic) 400 watt PSU 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.
Antec Greenwatts 380 watt – $30 with rebate Power cord not included.
6 foot power cord (if needed):
Antec Neo Eco 400W – $54 Similar to the above PSU but with a large fan for cooling. Great if you are worried about heat. Power cord not included.
SeaSonic 380 Watts – $54 Power cord IS included.
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.
SILVERSTONE Strider Plus 500W Modular – $80 Power cord included.
This PSU 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
Amazon
Newegg
PC Power and Cooling Silencer MKIII 400 watt Modular – $50-$70
This awesome modular PSU 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 X-Series Fanless 400 watt Modular – $130-$150
This PSU 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.

Cases – Variable

Cases are completely personal choice. What will fit in your setup as far as dimensions are concerned? What type of asthetics do you prefer? What specific functions do you need it to have?  How much space inside for growth? 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).

Micro-ATX HTPC Component Style – NMedia 5000B – $60
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 Component Style – Silverstone GD05b-USB3.0 – $95-$110

Alternatively Silverstone has released a new USB 3.0 version of this case as well. If you choose this case make sure your motherboard has USB 3.0 headers or you will not be able to connect the front ports on the case to the motherboard.

Newegg
Amazon

Micro-ATX HTPC Component 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 like aluminum. Its also has a metal piece that attaches to the optical drive 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. If you choose this case make sure your motherboard has USB 3.0 headers or you will not be able to connect the front ports on the case to the motherboard.

Newegg
Amazon

Micro ATX HTPC Component Style – 
hec Black 0.7mm Thickness Steel with 300 watt PSU
 – $50-$60

This is another very solid case and PSU for around $50. Although its not as pretty its a great price and very easy to work in.  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 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.

Mini-ITX 
Antec ISK 300-150
 – $80
 (built in 150 watt PSU which is plenty)
This case cannot use a 3.5″ hard drive. Plan accordingly.


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.


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. Use a motherboard with a USB 3.0 header to be able to use the case’s USB 3.0 ports. This case is also very large so make sure you have room if you are putting it in your AV rack.


 

Mini-ITX Case Options (There are more choices in our Mini-ITX Hardware Section)

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.

CPU Coolers

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. These are some of my favorites.  Again, this is completely optional. The stock cpu fan gets the job done and is relatively quiet (and free!).  Still doubt the stock CPU cooler’s quietness? Watch this video for more proof.  Keep in mind when selecting an aftermarket heatsink and fan because fitting them in can often times cause issues.

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 CPU we’ve ever used.  With dual fan or single fan option (for low profile) this heatsink/fan is totally quiet and amazing.

Prolimatech Samuel 17 - $35 (Heatsink only) – 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 (not recommended).

Scythe Big Shuriken – $45
Make sure that your RAM will be able to fit under this cooler.

 

Assassin Says: 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 cooler: 

In some of the smaller mini-ITX cases a low profile CPU cooler is essential. These are a few of my favorites:

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.

Wireless Options

A must have if you can’t hard wire your HTPC to your network (although always try to hard-wire!)

These are a few of my favorites…

Dual Band (600Mbps)
TP Link TL-WDN3800 - $33 – PCI-Express Dual Band N600
ASUS USB N53 – $40 – USB Dual Band N600

B/G/N network – Rosewill PCI-Express $20
B/G/N network with high gain antenna – Rosewill PCI-Express $25
USB Option – TP-Link TL-WN722N High Gain About $20. If you are using the mini-ITX build and want to save your internal slot then this is an excellent option.

B/G network only – Rosewill PCI $13

Powerline Adapters
(Powerline adapters use the power outlets in your house to transmit a network signal.  They are generally more reliable than wireless although results can vary with the architecture or your home!)

TP-LINK TL-PA2010 A - $20 – up to 200Mbps
TRENDnet TPL-401E – $50 – up to 500Mbps

 

Optical Drive Options

This is actually optional. It is very easy to load Win7 onto a large flash drive and install it without an optical drive (see my FAQ for more information). However, if you want an optical drive to play CDs/DVDs and even blurays I will list a few options. Please note that playing Blurays will require additional software which you will have to purchase.

Assassin’s Tip: 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. Also many of the drives are actually rebadged 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.

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.
Lite-On Bluray and DVD/CD player – $60
A great basic bluray drive. This is similar to what I use in my HTPC.
Samsung Bluray player and DVD/CD Burner – $75
Probably the best combo drive out right now. Fast transfer times. ***Please note that recent versions of firmware on this drive are blocking usage of this drive to make backup copies of bluray discs. If you are wanting to rip your blurays to your hard drive as a backup copy then consider the next drive instead.
Lite-On Bluray and DVD/CD Burner – $78
Another good drive by Lite-On.
Lite-On Bluray Bluray/DVD/CD Burner – $80
Good basic bluray burner by Lite-On.
Pioneer Bluray/DVD/CD Burner – $100
One of the quietest burners on the market. Good speeds as well.
Lite-On Bluray/DVD/CD Burner – $100-$115
My favorite bluray burner. Rips BR at 12x and is one of the shortest drives available at 17cm depth which helps in many builds where the space between the optical drive and PSU is important.

Input/Control Devices

Assassin’s Tip: Its always a good idea to have a fullsize 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 but I find 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 (I will include a recommendation on this as well).

Full Size Keyboards:

Logitech 400 Fullsize RF Keyboard with Touchpad = $40

Microsoft Desktop 800 2LF = $30

Hausbell 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 out someplace it is more exposed to the air.

iPazzPort Mini Wireless Keyboard w/ IR Remote and Touchpad – $30

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 - $42 with coupon
This is what I use now. The newest revision of the remote listed above this one. Same 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.

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”
 – $14

This is another very popular remote option.

Dell/Gyration M2010 CX071Remote – on ebay for $20-$50
This remote has a few more bells and whistles than some of the others listed. Backlight, RF, built-in mouse, HDTV learning option and a pretty cool music control via the LCD screen. A good choice if you are wanting some of these options. Please see my review for further information and link for software download. Make sure you order the remote AND the RF receiver. My review of the Dell/Gyration

Logitech Harmony One – $150-$190

This is one of the best remotes on the planet for HTPC. 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).

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 on eBay
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, XBMC and others. Search for “HP IR Receiver” at eBay.

HDMI Cable(s) – $2-$10 each

.

IMO the only place on earth to ever buy any type of cable is Monoprice.

Their cables are awesome and extremely inexpensive. 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 cables than others.

Assassin’s Tip: Monoprice 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 there as soon as you receive it!

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.

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 – $3.04
6 foot “net jacket” HDMI cable – $6.75
30 foot “redmere” HDMI Cable – $39.62

 Cable Card, TV Tuner Cards and Devices

The cards/devices listed below are popular options on AVS. Use these as a starting point to research these cards as possible options. There are many people on AVS that use tuner cards/devices and more information can be found using the search function.

 Assassin’s tip:  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.

Over The Air Tuner Cards
Hauppauge HVR-2250 (PCIe- $110-130)
AVerMedia A188 Duet (PCIe- $70-90)
*SiliconDust HDHomerun Dual (LAN- $130)

Cable Card Tuner Cards (requires Cable Card)
Hauppauge WinTV DCR2650 Cablecard Tuner (External Dual Tuner – $150)
Ceton InfiniTV 4 Digital Cable Quad-tuner (PCIe – $300)
*SiliconDust HDHomeRun PRIME – Three Digital Network Tuners (LAN – $250)

Graphics/Video Cards

Assassin’s Tips: Unless you are going to do advanced gaming (current high resolution games), a graphics card is not needed an an unnecessary expense.  The on-board graphics on your CPU will max out media settings without breaking a sweat.

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 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!

Assassin’t Tips: 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.

See our Mini-ITX section for single slot graphics cards and graphics cards to fit mini systems.

GIGABYTE GV-R779OC-2GD Radeon HD 7790 2GB  – $140 – Probably the best card you can get under $150.

*GIGABYTE GV-N760OC-2GD REV2.0 GeForce GTX 760 2GB – $260 – A great choice if you don’t want to spend a lot of money but want the option of gaming later.

ASUS R9280X-DC2T-3GD5 Radeon R9 280X - $310 – The new Radeon X series is basically just a rebranding of previous Radeon cards.  However we won’t complain because its still a great performer for around $300.

PowerColor AX7990 6GBD5-M4DHG Radeon HD 7990 – $580 – Although we don’t necessarily like PowerColor – this card at this price is a great deal.

EVGA 04G-P4-2690-KR GeForce GTX 690 - $1,000 – This card is disgusting.  And if you put two in your system.  The real world will seem dull.  But then again at a $1,000 price tag, it should make your bed and brush your teeth for you too.

9) MINI-ITX BUILD RECOMMENDATION

See the other Mini-ITX motherboards and RAM options that I have in throughout this guide in the System build and RAM sections.  Any of these can be used in these cases/psus.

A note on the “t” series Intel CPUs and CPU heatsinks: Some of these builds can take advantage of the much smaller Intel “t” CPU cooler which allows you to use one of the great and very small cases listed in my first 2 choices below. I cannot fully recommend these first 2 cases with the larger stock cooler of the “non-t” series because the CPU cooler literally touches the PSU of both of these cases (note that you CAN use these cases with the stock “non-t” series but the fit will be very tight and cable management will be very important. If you feel you can handle these issues then these cases are an option with those CPUs and CPU heatsinks). Not so with the “t” series and its shorter CPU cooler. The performance is virtually the exact same as their “non-t” counterparts for HTPC. Also carefully choose your RAM and do not use anything with a tall heatsink or heatspreaders like the G.Skill Ripjaws, for example, as its height may interfere with the 3.5″ hard drive. I have listed a few RAM options below that I have tested and that fit in the following 2 cases.

Intel “t series” in Apex MI-008 case with shortened CPU cooler (approximately 38mm height)

Compared to Intel i3 regular CPU cooler (approximately 60mm height)

Mini-ITX Motherboards

Thin Mini-ITX Boards – Some cases are so cramped and small they require a special “thin min-itx”.  If your case doesn’t require one of these, don’t buy them as they are typically a more stripped down version for the same (or higher) price.  Buy the standard Mini-ITX sized.

ECS H61H-G11 Thin Mini-ITX – $75 – basic board from ECS which is not really known widely for manufacturer quality motherboards.  No USB 3.0 and only 2 SATA ports.  But a cheap option for budget people. Takes laptop RAM.

GIGABYTE GA-H77TN – $110 – 4x USB 3.0, 4 x SATA (2x SATA 6) and Ivy bridge compatible makes this a great board choice. Takes laptop RAM.

GIGABYTE GA-B75TN – $120 – 4x USB 3.0, 4 x SATA (2x SATA 6) and another great board by GIGABYTE.  Takes laptop RAM.

Standard Mini-ITX

Asrock H87m-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 P87I-PLUS  – $115 – With 6 total Sata (6) ports, this small board gives you the ability to connect a lot of things to it!

*Gigabyte GA-Z87N - $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.

Asus Z87I – $190 – With 6x USB 3.0, dual HDMI, wifi, and 4k ready (space for larger cooler) this motherboard has all the bells and whistles.

ASRock H77M-ITX – $100
A great mini-ITX board. 2 RAM slots, 4 SATA ports (2 SATAIII), eSATA and optical out. Typical ASRock build quality throughout. Mini-ITX.

*ASUS P8H77-I – $100-$110
This ASUS board has 2 RAM slots, 6 SATA ports (2 SATAIII) and optical output. Another solid choice. Mini-ITX.

ASRock B75M-ITX – $90

Interesting Mini-ITX option with 2 RAM slots, 4 SATA ports, and an optical out. Mini-ITX.

Mini-ITX Case Options: 

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.

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.

Case: Rosewill RC-CIX-01 – $50 (again, build in 150 watt PSU). Also this case allows you to fit a standard 3.5″ hard drive and also a standard DVD drive which is very nice. Tall enough to fit the stock Intel CPU cooler as well. If the above link is discontinued or sold out this is the same case for $10 more.

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.

RAM


Low Profile RAM
Samsung Low Profile Low Voltage 4GB DDR3-1600
 – $20-$30

Extremely low profile RAM that is barely taller than the RAM slots. Quality is excellent despite the plain appearance.

Standard Size RAM
G.Skill 2x2GB (4GB) DDR 1333
 – $47
G.Skill 2x2GB (4GB) DDR 1333 
- $44

Mini-ITX Hard Drives and SSD’s

Hard Drive: If you only have space for one optical drive, try mounting the Hard drive in the space available and see if there is room to mount the SSD with velcro someone on the case (even upside down).

Assassin’s Tip: Don’t have a place to mount your SSD in your case? Use some velcro with adhesive and attach it somewhere out of the way in your case as SSDs are extremely light and do not generate any heat. I have mounted SSDs in all sorts of areas inside the case without any adverse events.


 

Mini-ITX Low Profile CPU Cooler:

In some of the smaller mini-ITX cases a low profile CPU cooler is essential. These are a few of my favorites:

Intel Stock “T-Series” cooler – FREE! With the “T” series CPUs the included low profile cooler is actually very good.

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.

Optional Discrete Video Cards for Non-Gaming (or very light gaming)

Remember to make sure you check your case to see if it has room for a 1x or 2x card!

EVGA GeForce GT 630 1GB – $50-$60
Good basic card for running 1080p, 720p, etc, HD Audio and many Madvr settings. This is basically a re-badged GT 440. Requires a mini-HDMI to HDMI cable. Does not require additional power from your PSU and can be powered from just the motherboard.

Gigabyte GeForce GT 630 1GB – $50-$60
Another good basic card for running 1080p, 720p, etc, HD Audio and many Madvr settings. Another re-badged GT 440. Uses a standard HDMI cable. No additional power from the PSU needed.

HIS Radeon HD 7750 2GB – $85-$105
A great card for running most Madvr settings. No additional PSU power needed.

Gigabyte Radeon HD 7750 2GB – $100
Another card in the 7750 series. Great for Madvr. No additional PSU power needed. A large card.

MSI Radeon HD 7750 2GB – $90-$100
A 7750 series card. Great for Madvr. No additional PSU power needed. Also large.

HIS H779FT1GD 1GB – $140
A 7790 series card. Excellent choice for running Madvr. Large.

MSI R7790-1GD5/OC – $135
A 7790 series card. Excellent choice for running Madvr. Smaller and shorter than many others.

Sapphire ATI Radeon 5450 Fanless 1GB PCI-e – $25 after rebate
A good basic card if on a tight budget. Fanless for noise reduction. Will bitstream HD Audio and 1080p video. Will not do 3D.

HIS ATI Radeon 6570 Fanless 1GB – $65
Good card for use with HD Audio, 1080p and 3D.

Sparkle NVidia GT440 1GB DDR5 – $80
One of the best cards for the money for running 3D. The 440 cards can also run Madvr and LAV cuvid if you are wanting to use those pieces of software to render your video files. One of the few 440 cards with DDR5. Will do HD Audio, 3D and 1080p.

ASUS ENGT430 1GB DDR3 Fanless – $60
A great NVidia card that is also fanless. Can handle some Madvr settings. Will do HD Audio, 3D and 1080p.

Mini-ITX POWER SUPPLY

PICO PSU
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 internal adapter connects to your motherboard and has minimal connections for devices like hard drives, optical drives, etc. 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:
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:
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

10) ASSASSIN HTPC’S “QUICK AND EASY” WISHLISTS:

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’ Build List = $500

Assassin HTPC’s “Mid-Level’ Build List = $700

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!

The Blog: www.AssassinHTPCblog.com

The Store: www.AssassinHTPC.com

©Copyright 2014 by AssassinHTPC. All rights reserved. This guide and its contents are copyrighted by AssassinHTPC.
This may be used for personal use by the purchaser only; users are forbidden to reproduce, republish, redistribute or resell material from this guide without the permission of AssassinHTPC.
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