Building a Home Theater PC? What to Do First

Plan on Building a home theater PC the right way? Do a bit of homework first:

What do you need your home theater computer to do?

Will it just store music?

Or will it store music, movies and other data?

What are your playback options?

What gear will this HTPC be connected to?

In short; how do you plan to use it?


How to prepare and decide what you may need when Building a Home Theater PC:

building a home theater pc

• Digital input and output on the motherboard

o This could be a fiber optic (Toslink) or RCA digital input and output

• Gaming video card expansion

o Usually a PCIe 2.0×16 slot

• Firewire connection; for a high quality D/A converter

• Up to date socket for CPU

o Get the latest socket type for more upgrade options

• Up to date sockets for RAM

o The latest DDR3, DDR4 or whatever is the latest RAM type

Most of these provisions will be part of your motherboard.

Get the best motherboard you can afford that offers a solution to all of these problems. If in doubt; spend more on the motherboard.

The Digital Audio Input and Output:

This is a little bit unusual, but getting digital music into and out of the HTPC motherboard is necessary in some situations.

You may wish to stream other digital sources into your HTPC before sending out to your receiver or surround processor.

You may not need it but these inputs/outputs are included on the better motherboards so just make sure you have them.

The HTPC video card –onboard graphics or external graphics?

There are a few ways to look at the video card on an HTPC. If you have gamers in the house that are likely to use the HTPC to play games you will need to get a good PCIe video card.

If you are just playing Blu Ray videos and DVD’s then a good built in video card that is included on a high quality motherboard will do the trick just fine.

One way you can find out is by getting a high quality motherboard and just trying out the on-board graphics. See how they do; then upgrade to a PCIe gaming graphics card if you need to.

Firewire DAC (digital to analog converter) Connection:

Firewire connection is the best way to attach your digital HTPC sources to your home theater.

There is one box that you should attach with a firewire connection; The DAC (digital to analog converter) coming out of your PC. Use a quality DAC with a firewire connection to get all audio out of the HTPC.

At the high end I like the Weiss DAC 202 –this is a fire-wire DAC for high quality 2 channel audio.

More budget oriented, but still providing excellent sound quality is the ECHO Audiofire 2, 4, or 8. If you opt for an Audiofire 8 you could even use the HTPC to perform your digital speaker crossovers and output through the ECHO Audiofire 8 firewire DAC.

I use this DAC on my HTPC and it works excellent.

Up to date sockets for CPU:

Whatever processor type whether AMD or Intel you decide to use make sure to get the latest socket type. For Intel; they tend to change their socket every 2 years.

AMD holds onto their socket dyes quite a bit longer and AMD tends to be backward compatible. So if you get a new AM3 socket processor it is likely to work fine in your old AM2+ socket.

But older AM2 processors won’t necessarily work in a newer AM3 motherboard.

The processor is backward compatible, not the motherboard; because it is the CPU that determines compatibility.

With Intel sockets; they often don’t even use the same pin patterns; so swapping out different socket types of Intel CPU’s isn’t likely to ever work even if building a home theater PC from scratch.

Up to Date RAM for Building a Home Theater PC:

Get the most up to date type of RAM.

Also, make sure that the other components of your HTPC are able to use the latest RAM.

This may be DDR3 RAM or DDR4 or whatever. Just make sure it is the latest type of RAM.

Understanding RAM is important to wrenching the best performance from your HTPC build.

“RAM” stands for Random Access Memory -and it is responsible for much of the speed that your computer will have; or lack thereof.

RAM speed is measured in megahertz.

The higher the MHz speed the RAM is rated at, the faster it can operate. A set of RAM that operates at 1600MHz will be faster than RAM with a speed of 800MHz. (all else being equal –see below)

RAM latency –this is listed as CAS latency.

You may see CAS latency of 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9.

Latency means that there is a delay before the RAM starts to store or release the data. The lower the number, the less time it takes to respond.

So, you may have some extremely fast RAM of say 1600MHz but with a latency of 10 -it may not be any faster than a RAM speed of 1200 but with a CAS latency of 5.

The 1600MHz RAM is much faster but its CAS latency may be longer which is where the slower RAM makes up some ground.

You can get the best of both worlds.

Buy RAM with both high speed, and low latency; just know that this stuff is not cheap.

You get what you pay for here; excellent RAM is worth the cost.

Building a Home Theater PC is a simple and fun process but it will take a little bit of homework to find the right setup for you.

I could tell you exactly what to get but this would take much of the fun out of it.

I also think that it is important to learn how these parts work together and how you should choose them. Nothing will do this better than to learn about it yourself.

Keep reading through these pages and you will get a handle on it too.

You can learn all you need to know in a few hours of research and then build a media center computer that your whole family can enjoy.

Other Related Articles from Building a Home Theater PC:

Best CPU Fan

Best Home Theater System

Building A HTPC

HTPC Build helper page – How to Assemble the Parts

Return to HTPC from: Building a Home Theater PC

Return to Home Speaker from: Building a Home Theater PC