Over the past few years, the number of Home Theatre PCs (HTPCs) has grown tremendously as more media are digitalized. Whether it is photos, music, videos, movies, or TV shows, we often save it on our computers instead of CDs or DVDs. So how can an HTPC help you? It will act has a bridge for you to access all of your digital content from another computer or server at home right on your HDTV.
I have built quite a number of these HTPCs, using everything from tiny ITX motherboards all the way up to standard ATX motherboards, but the one I want to discuss today is rather unique. This setup is somewhat challenging in that it is extremely simple! Space is tight, but if planned carefully, this HTPC will be a great addition to your home theatre.
Let’s start with specifications:
|Case||Moneual Moncaso 312 (Black)|
|Case Fans||Scythe Mini Kaze Ultra 40mm x 20mm Silent Mini Fan (SY124020L)|
|Power Supply||Cooler Master GX Series 450W 80+ Bronze (RS450 ACAAD3 US)|
|Motherboard||MSI G41M-P34 775-pin|
|CPU||Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 3.0GHz LGA 775|
|CPU Cooling||Scythe Shuriken Rev.B SCSK-1000|
|Memory||Corsair XMS3 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 1333MHz (PC3-10666) CMX6GX3M2A1333C9|
|Hard Drive||Intel 330 Series – 240GB Solid State Drive, SSDSC2CT240A3K5, SATA 6Gb/s|
|Optical Drive||LG UH12LS29 – 3D Playback & M-Disc Support with LightScribe|
I’ll skip all the details of these parts because if you’re reading this article, you may have an idea already. Instead, I shall jump to the reasoning and concept behind this build.
First off, the most expensive purchase for this set up is the case. The Moneual Moncaso 312B is unique for its low profile, the optical drive being mounted in the center, the large volume control knob, and has the capabilities of mounting a mATX motherboard along with an ATX power supply. Furthermore, it has a built-in IR receiver so you can use the included remote control to access your computer. Overall, this case will blend in well with the rest of your receivers, amplifiers, blu-ray players, etc…
Secondly, this case has been out for a long time, and people have reviewed it a lot. However, I am taking advantage of using popular quality parts of the previous generation in order to maximize the cost-to-performance ratio. The Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 runs fast, stays cool, and if you search for a used one online, it will cost you about $50-60. The reason why you don’t want to buy a new one is because it will come with the OEM heatsink (which you won’t need), and it will cost more. In addition, a lot of users paired this processor with DDR2 memory, but I’ll be using DDR3 memory instead. To top it off, I tossed in a solid-state hard drive, so the thing boots up insanely fast – within 13-15 seconds or so. Again, I’m simply taking advantage of the old and the new to maximize system potential.
Finally, due to the confinement of space inside the case, careful planning is required so that you can have a nice clean case. You will want to plan your cable management and perhaps get a modular power supply to reduce cable clutter for ample air flow to keep temperatures down. The last few tips for building this system would be:
- The Scythe Shuriken Rev. B SCSK-1000 heatsink is worth the cost and fits the case design perfectly. I highly recommend it.
- Try not to use memory with the tall heatsinks because it may interfere with the installation of your optical drive. If the memory is low profile with heatsinks like the ones I’m using, then that is okay.
- LG Blu-ray drives seem to work better than other brands because they are shorter in length. See pictures for the gap between the drive, heatsink, and memory. The length of my drive is 6.75 inches (~17.2cm).
- Install the CPU processor heatsink last, you may have to remove the power supply (but keeping all the cables plugged in), in order to get your hands in there.
- The “Blu-ray Disc” front panel cover should be done second to last, because once you stick it on, you don’t want to have to take that thing off again.
- The three 40mm case fans are tricky. Some people say that they are noisy and not able to pull much air, so it’s not worth the trouble. Personally, I think it would be better to have at least two fans to have a little circulation. Having a little bit of air current is better than nothing – especially if the machine is left on for extended periods of time.
- For the push-button to eject the CD tray… it is kind of a funky design. When I line up my drive, the button isn’t able to reach when depressed. So I cut out a thin piece of rubber and glued it to back side to increase the reach by 1-2mm. That did the trick.
So, how much did all of this cost? In September 2012, the total cost was around $700. Before anyone gets mad at me, please know that the majority of the costs went into the case (~$250) and the solid state drive (~$160). I also know that there are better processors out there – i3, i5, and I’ve even seen i7s built using this case with SLI graphic cards and triple-channel DDR3 memory. Or other types of HTPC that uses nettops or similar smaller profiles with a tiny footprint. Although these other systems definitely run faster, I want to remind folks that this set up is nice in that the case design will fit into your home theatre equipment and not be easily detected as an HTPC. In addition, it’s a fully capable computer so you won’t be concerned with it being under-powered or not having enough memory.
Results of the system:
- The system is using up about 105 watts, and runs relatively cool thanks to the 45nm Wolfdale processor using only 65W at 1333Mhz FSB.
- Processor at idle is about 31-32C (88-90F), and levels at 57-59C (134-138F) under full load when running Prime95 for torture testing.
- The hottest thing in the computer right now is the south bridge, which is around 40-41C (104-106F). It’s not bad, but can be easily fixed.
- I currently have it connected to my home network in order to access all media content from remote servers in my room.
If you have any questions or inputs, please feel free to let me know. It always helps to receive feedback or constructive criticism – so don’t be shy!