Many consumers don't consider a HTPC build because they believe it may be too difficult...
Build an HTPC in less than 1 hour, no sweat...
Most of the time, the only tools necessary are; brain, 2 hands, and a screw driver –sometimes you don’t even need the screwdriver.
Building a PC or media center is actually quite easy and can be done by even the most nontechnical users in only a few hours.
Computers bought off-the-shelf cannot compete with these monster machines.
Bottom line? You get less for your money and are not even aware of it.
Building a HTPC is the best way to get maximum results for your investment and to maximize performance.
The purpose built computer is faster, quieter, and often better looking than any retail computer available.
Custom HTPC building and custom computer building is the only way to go!
HTPC Build Setup and Instructions (including HTPC video):
We go through the basic steps here and then will answer questions through a Q and A section below.
How to Build HTPC for your home theater system:
Here is the empty HTPC build case that we will use. You will need to know what type of HTPC build case you have: Is it ATX? Mini ITX or Micro ATX?
ATX is the largest motherboard with the most connection options and real estate. This is the full size option and has the most features of the other boards (all else being equal)
Micro ATX is slightly smaller that ATX.
Mini ITX is the smallest. The supplied holes in the HTPC case will determine the type of motherboard you can choose.
When ordering make sure to get a HTPC case and motherboard that are like kind. Resellers usually display these facts very clearly in the product descriptions.
This is an old PC case that will be used in a Home Theater. The main things different about a Home Theater PC are:
1. The case (sometimes)
2. The Graphics card (can use same as PC)
3. The sound card and Digital to Analog Converters (often an interface box)(can use same as PC)
The other components are the same as a regular PC. The differences of the case, graphics card, and audio cards can also be used in a standard PC case.
You only need to use an HTPC case if you plan to have the case visible or on your audio equipment rack or cabinet.
This HTPC will be used sitting on the floor next to the equipment rack so the standard tower is fine to use as well.
The HTPC case should come with a set of inserts for mounting the motherboard.
The case I used here had slots that the back of the inserts slid into.
You set the motherboard on top of the the brass inserts. These brass inserts hold the motherboard away from the sheet metal of the case to prevent shorting.
The screws go through the hole in the board and into the brass inserts holding the board in place.
The Mother Board is Very Important - Get a good one!
Make sure to buy a motherboard that has all the connections that you will need.
Check your existing components, mice, keyboard, external hard drives, firewire devices, etc.
The motherboard will have these specs available from the site when you purchase.
Be sure to read the manual regarding your motherboard, setup, procedures, etc. There are a few options on each motherboard that may be a little bit different.
Again, not complicated here - they usually work if you just plug them in but some options such as using dual channel memory may need to be "enabled" in the motherboard BIOS.
Next use the supplied screws that came with your HTPC case and mount the motherboard to the case.
Make sure all of your holes line up and that you are using exactly the right amount of brass inserts that the board has holes. (you don't want an extra insert to short out on the back of the board)
There should be only one brass insert for each screw hole.
Carefully set the motherboard into position.
Now start inserting the screws into the brass inserts. ~ Only use brass inserts in places where there are holes on the motherboard.
Make sure that you get all of the screws.
Slide the PSU or power supply into its slot and fasten the screws on outside of the PC case.
The PSU come with the supplied screws. Route the wires to lay outside and away from the motherboard. The leads are usually long enough to just fold over the edge.
HTPC Build Video Instructional
Here are the instructions of how to do a CPU install. This is easy, so don't let it intimidate you;
• Lift the bar clamp on the motherboard CPU slot. This is a clamping bar that holds the CPU in place once it is dropped into position.
• If you need to install your CPU right now make note of the triangle marks on both the motherboard CPU slot and on the back of the CPU.
• Line these triangles up in the same place. Carefully set the CPU into the holes. It should drop right into place. ~~ Do not push it in or slide it around laterally as you may bend the pins.
• When you are confident the pins are inside the holes clamp the CPU bar back down.
• Then gently tug up on the processor to be sure that it is seated and clamped into position.
• Use the supplied thermal grease and put a thin layer over the whole processor back plate. Scrape the paste thin (and flat) with an old credit card. You only want a thin layer of paste, enough to cover the letters on the backing plate.
• Place the CPU cooler onto the CPU processor as per the supplied instructions that come with the cooler.
There is a clamp that is specific to your motherboard with the cooler.
Many coolers can accommodate both AMD and Intel processors. The cooler we show here can be used with both.
• Clamp the CPU cooler down to the motherboard.
• Plug the CPU cooler fan wire into "cpu fan" on the motherboard and route the wire away from the processor and fan. Use small zip ties to keep it in place if necessary. The wires will match the plug on the board. You can't mess this up.
The CPU (processor) should now be ready to go.
HTPC CPU cooler Zalman. This is a very quiet CPU cooler.
Installing the Memory or RAM (random access memory)
The dual channel DDR3 RAM memory modules are to the right.
Push down the white tabs on the motherboard then gently push the memory modules into place.
They should click in when pushed down and the tabs will pop back up locking them in place.
To remove them you push the tabs back down and they will push the memory modules up slightly.
Notice the red DDR3 RAM modules to the right of the Zalman HTPC CPU cooler.
The tabs on the end are what you push down for installation or removal.
Install the HTPC Case Fan:
Next we will install the case fan. Make sure you get a fan that will fit your HTPC cases hole patterns.
This information is available on your case specifications. It will show which fan sizes the case can take.
It should easily slide into position. The screws to into the fan plastic from the back of the case. The fan will plug into the mother board found under "system fan" or "case fan".
The plug on the motherboard and the case fan should be a direct fit.
The HTPC Build - Awesome Video Performance Cards:
This is the ATI Radeon HD 4650 video card. This is a gaming video card that will also work very well for HTPC build performance.
It does have a supplied fan but is pretty quiet and should not be a noise problem.
A gaming video card is a great way to get excellent performance out of your HTPC build. A high quality video card can be as little as $50 or into the hundreds of dollars.
This ATI 4650 card cost around $100 USD.
Locating these cards onto your mother board is a piece of cake. If you are fitting an old card into a new board or a new card into an old motherboard you may not have the input slots that you need for your HTPC build.
But for a new card and new motherboard there will almost certainly be a slot for the video card that you use.
A good way to double check is that the type of card you plan to use (pci express, or pci etc.) are in fact available on the specifications of that motherboard.
Again, new cards almost certainly will not have a problem. The card will just slide into the slot and click in place. When removing the card make sure to release the 'tab' at the end of the slot before pulling on it.
It is best to use a gentle rocking motion when installing and removing the cards for your HTPC build.
Route any wires away from heat producing components using zip ties. You can see two power wires at the bottom left of the photo.
These are PCIe power wires for some audio and video cards. We routed them to the proper location and will leave them there for future upgrades.
All other power wires are zip tied up to the back of the PSU so that they don't fall down onto the motherboard or CPU fan.
A few things to consider with an HTPC build:
If building a 64 bit system you will need a 64 bit operating system.
I used Windows 7 Professional 64 bit for this install. I like it and would recommend it to anyone. Win 7 is a huge improvement over Vista IMO.
You should get a hard drive with at least a 32 MB cache. HD should also be 7200rpm speed minimum (10,000 or 15,000 is even better) or a solid state drive.
Your processor speed will be bottle-necked if your RAM is not up to the task. Use at least 4GB of DDR2 or DDR3 memory.
Get a motherboard that is capable of at least 16GB of RAM memory. DDR3 is the new standard so I would encourage the use of DDR3 over DDR2. But if you are on a budget DDR2 memory is cheaper.
Just remember that you must get a DDR2 motherboard if you wish to use DDR2 memory. Same goes for DDR3... You cannot interchange DDR2 and DDR3 memory on a motherboard and there are no adapters for retrofitting either.
Plug your Power Supply (PSU) cords into the Remaining Components:
Any remaining components that you may have should be plugged in at this time.
Look around the board and see if you are missing any cables that should be plugged in. (you will probably have a few power cables coming out of the PSU that will never be plugged into anything, this is normal) Just make sure you didn't miss anything obvious. Such as...
Power to Hard Drive units, disk drives, floppy, etc.
Plug in the built in case USB cables into the USB system inputs on the board.
Make sure the pins match the cable you are using. Sometimes the connectors on the board may be a two in one type connector. Look for them.
Plug in your Hard drives to the SATA outputs on the motherboard. Use the recommended connector listed in the manual for the type of drive you are using. Some of the faster HD units are 6GB instead of the older 3GB or 1.5GB models.
Here is a pic of the internals after the build was completed.
Q and A: "PC building and the DIY HTPC"
1. What is HTPC? “HTPC” represents: Home Theater Personal Computer, also known as Home Theater PC and Home Theater computer..
HTPC is a computer integrated into a Home Theater for the purposes of playing back stored music, movies, playing games, online computer games and a number of other PC functions.
It can also be used for home automation and basic computer functions.
In short; taking on a HTPC build is a fun and rewarding project.
2. What type of motherboard should I use for my HTPC?
The mother board you choose will depend entirely on the processor you would like to use. AMD processors need specific motherboards to AMD.
Intel processors will need an Intel CPU specific motherboard as well. The motherboard will clearly state the type of processor that can be used with it.
3. How do I know what type of RAM to use with my motherboard when doing the HTPC build?
a. The motherboard information can be located one of two ways.
Do a search online with your specific model number (found on the motherboard itself) or when purchasing a new board it will clearly indicate the type of memory that can be used whether DDR2, DDR3, dual channel etc.
The latest and more expensive motherboards will have all the bells and whistles and are a great way to invest some of your extra PC building dollars.
Components like CPU’s can always be upgraded to a better processor at a later date.
4. How can I keep the noise level low so that I cannot hear the HTPC system during movies or music?
PC noise is can be caused by several issues:
a. The case fan – the bigger and slower rpm models will move the air more quietly. Check the CFM of the fan you need then cross reference with some larger fans. Get a fan that has a slower speed but moves similar CFM of air. Our PC build below uses a 120mm fan that was nearly silent during operation.
b. The CPU fan is a culprit of much noise from the computer. Get a large CPU heat sink such as the one you see below.
This Zalman unit is nearly dead quiet. And it can accommodate both AMD and Intel processors. Don't cut cost on the CPU fan for an HTPC build. CPU fans can be very noisy.
c. PSU or Power supply fans also make noise. Do not use a huge wattage PSU if you do not need it. Use the recommended PSU watts for the motherboard.
In nearly all cases a 650 watt PSU is more than enough to power an HTPC. You may need more if you are stringing 10 hard drives off the power supply. You should be fine with 1 to 5 HD units though.
d. Use a well built case with large inlets and outlets for air. Low air velocity with plenty of CFM (volume) is the key to keeping the db (spl) down from your computer. This will keep it cool without the ‘swooshing’ sounds.
e. You can also use heat sink fanless technology whenever possible. There are several manufacturers that make fan less heat sinks for the CPU, fan less soundcards, video cards etc.
These will often have slightly lower performance numbers than their ‘fan unit’ counterparts but they can be used very effectively if you do your homework.
5. How do I know which components and HTPC software to get so that they will work well with one another?
a. I used this resource; it is a list of known components and their working counterparts. This list is put together and monitored on a regular basis and kept up to date. Usually, within the last 3 months.
b. You can also choose a processor from newegg.com and use their recommended motherboard, processor, memory, etc. Depending on the item you choose will change the other items that their system recommends.
This is also an effective method for how to build home theater PC.
I used this method once and it worked just fine but I don’t have any experience more than that. Newegg seems to have a good reputation though.
6. Can I use a HTPC remote control just like any other remote control device? Yes
7. Is an HTPC build easy? Yes
8. Can a 10 year old child do it? Probably
9. Should I build my next computer? Why not?
I realize that not everyone will want to build a computer even if they have the time and knowledge to do so. In that case we do HTPC build systems for clients that need an assembled unit.
We use only top quality parts and each HTPC is assembled on a case by case basis depending on your needs. Contact us through the form at the bottom of the page for more details.
Problems That we Had that you may encounter:
1. If you are using an old PC case or HTPC case for your HTPC build you may need to cut a hole in the back of the PC case to fit your motherboard output card template.
I used the output template to trace a line on the metal (with a sharpie marker) and used tin snips to cut out the hole. It doesn't look perfect but it held the motherboard output faceplate and worked fine. I'm happy with the results.
It took me about 5 minutes to make the cut and file the burrs off.
Most newer HTPC build cases will have the right motherboard templates (this is the input jack space on the back of the case) available. The old cases may just cause a bit more work to fit properly.
2. When accessing BIOS the keyboard was not working at first.
So I had to plug the keyboard into the USB port that the mouse had been plugged into. (the mouse was working) Then I was able to access the BIOS by hitting the "delete" key.
Make sure to read in your manual which key will access the BIOS on start-up. Otherwise, you will have to start and shut down the computer a few times to read what the screen tells you to do. It is much easier to just read in the manual which key will access the BIOS.
3. On many of the newer motherboards there will be very little changes that you will need to make.
I had to "enable" the keyboard USB adapter and "dual channel memory" on mine. Otherwise, all of the other settings were set to "Auto" which turned out to be the correct settings.
The newer motherboards are basically fool proof.
Take your time, read the manual and you won't have any problems. Even if you screw something up they tell you how to fix it.
This was a really nice HTPC build experience for me! I hope you enjoyed it and try building your own HTPC sometime...
Don't forget these tips - final steps to Home Theater Computer Building:
• Use state of the art DAC (digital to analog converters) and processors to output the digital and analog signals from your HTPC or media center PC. This is the final link to building a HTPC that sounds and looks good on screen.
• Better audio and video and a completely superior entertainment experience.
• High performance using purpose built components and products chosen for your specific setup and needs.
• Lower costs because you only buy the products that you need.