Choosing the Best PC Parts to build a better Media Computer
(home theater personal computer)
What benefits will an HTPC add to your home audio or home theater system?
• Spend more time enjoying music; less time upgrading audio components.
• Spend more time watching movies and less time fighting with an underpowered media server.
• Store music and movies on your home theater computer.
Other Benefits of HTPC’s:
- A computer system that works better for your home theater system.
- research the best computer parts for your home cinema PC here.
- Learn about the different computer equipment you may need and their descriptions.
- First, just a bit of background…
The Definition of CPU or Central Processing Unit and how it relates to your Home Theater PC:
What you need to know;
The CPU is the brains of your PC.
A few years ago I had a theory about CPU’s and Home theater personal computers. I had it all wrong…
I thought that a higher frequency processor was not good for a HTPC.
I was under the impression that the extra heat generated by a powerful processor would create more noise because the fan necessary to keep it cool would create that additional noise.
In some cases they can generate more heat, but…
Often, an extremely powerful CPU will run cooler than a weaker one simply because it does not have to work very hard to perform complex functions. Read about my recent HTPC build using theIntel i5 2500k CPU.
Building my own Computers taught me something;
Since I have begun building my own HTPC’s and computers I have noticed that chip manufacturers are working harder and harder to create chips that are extremely efficient.
They run cool and have loads of horsepower.
So here’s the dilemma; do we build a super high powered PC or HTPC and make it as quiet as feasible? Or, should you build a weak PC and make it as quiet as possible?
I would encourage you to opt for the former and not the latter for two reasons; An upgrade path, and the ability to perform very complex functions with your new PC or HTPC.
The CPU is very important to achieve an enjoyable Home theater experience. No one wants to put up with a lagging PC that cannot carry its own weight. I encourage you to build as fast as a PC or HTPC as you can afford.
The central processing unit –CPU will determine what motherboard you will need for your HTPC.
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2. Find out What does CPU Stand forand what you need to know about PC’s.
3. Learn how to build your own PC orHT-PC build.
4. Which processor is best for you?AMD VS Intel CPU comparison.
5. Why you need the best CPU Fan for your PC.
6. Learn the tricks to choosing andreplacing CPU for your PC.
7. What you need for building A home theater PC that’s better than the rest.
8. If you can build a PC, you can build speakers too.
9. Learn more about building-a-HTPC-or-PC.
10. Computer done? Now you might need some HDMI audio video cables.
11. Need a new Blu ray player?
13. The first steps to build a media center computer.
14. Which is better USB vs Firewire DAC?
Choosing the CPU should be your first step:
Take your time and learn the steps of -how to upgrade CPU, processors, or the HTPC motherboard. Beginning information to build own personal computer?
Choosing a socket type for the CPU and motherboard:
One of the more overlooked points in making a decision on the CPU is the motherboard socket and CPU socket type.
This is important because as newer technologies emerge it is often possible to upgrade specific parts instead of upgrading the entire PC.
Think of it as buying a new Turbo for your Car. You can substantially boost the performance without replacing the entire vehicle. This is beneficial with PC’s to an even greater extent because PC’s tend to have a very poor resale value.
So upgrading them makes a whole lot of sense over replacement.
Just remember, you need to start out with parts worth having in the first place which is why building your own PC makes much more sense than buying an off the shelf PC from your local merchant or mail order computer supplier.
You can hand pick the parts that offer highest performance. And installing them yourself will save you money. PC building is easy; don’t let anyone tell you different. (When in doubt –read)
My advice on CPU socket decisions is to find out what is the latest and greatest CPU whether you prefer AMD or Intel processors.
If you choose an AMD processor then you would want to choose the latest socket of their top flight processor at the time. This may be AM3, AM4, or AM5 as of this writing. Currently, the latest socket is AM3. But there have already been AM2, AM2+ and other older versions that I don’t intend to list.
So the AM3 socket is best for now. Then choose a processor that is affordable yet offers the maximum amount of performance for your dollar.
You may wish to do some research to find out what others think of the different CPU’s within AMD’s line of products.
A four core or six core processor should be almost mandatory over a dual core offering.
The reason I say this is that over the next few years we don’t know how demanding some of the software and video processing may become.
Not only that; as I said, we want a processor that can easily perform everyday functions without breaking a sweat and creating too much heat.
Not sure which CPU is better for you; AMD VS Intel CPU?
Definition Motherboard? –or is that Destination Motherboard?
The motherboard has more to do with the performance that you will be “able” to wring out of your components.
The CPU, RAM, and other parts will only perform at their optimal levels if they are mated with an excellent motherboard.
Generally speaking you get what you pay for here. Do not scrimp on the motherboard. This is also an area where you can make substantial improvements to the parts you already own through overclocking.
Overclocking; Good or Bad?
Some folks are afraid of overclocking; don’t be!
A few hours of reading and you will know enough to give it a shot. Your PC will let you know if it doesn’t like the changes you made.
Just read about it first and learn the different ways your specific processor can be overclocked and the typical performance you can expect.
This is like some free additional horsepower, and it’s worth getting in most situations.
Also make sure that the motherboard you choose supports overclocking. In general the best motherboards (often the more expensive) do offer overclocking abilities.
Even if you have no plans to overclock get one that supports it.
Your system will generally be more stable if they are overbuilt with the intent of being run harder than minimum or stock settings.
The RAM you intend to use will also be a determining factor for the type of motherboard you get. Once you choose the CPU; now you need to decide the type of RAM you wish to use.
Always opt for the latest type of RAM if it is affordable compared to older RAM types, this may be DDR3 or whatever is the newest style of RAM.
As RAM is phased out it becomes more expensive, so you don’t want to build a PC based on old technology because replacement parts for older slower RAM are likely to be more expensive than newer and faster RAM.
If you can find it DDR1 RAM; it is significantly more expensive than DDR2 or DDR3 RAM. And now even DDR2 RAM has become pricier than the same speed of DDR3 RAM. Get the latest RAM –whatever that may be.
If a new RAM type has just been introduced onto the market it may take some months for the prices to come down, so keep that in mind.
Also make sure the motherboard has the expansion slots that you will or may need. In addition, other features such as on board video, audio, and digital outputs are common things necessary to include on a motherboard.
Again, the higher priced motherboards will include more and better included built in processing and functions; another reason NOT to try and save money on the motherboard. More data for deciding to build a home theater PC, what you need to know first.
Choosing a RAM speed and RAM Latency timings:
Ram speed is measured in MHz or “megahertz”. This is the speed of the RAM, or how fast it can store and release the data ‘for’ the CPU.
Along with speed; is “latency” -which is the time that it takes to begin the process of storing or releasing data once it is given the order to do so…
Latency is like the handling of a sports car, while RAM speed or MHz is like the ability for the car to go extremely fast in one direction at maximum speed.
There are substantial differences in RAM latency and speeds.
Buy RAM with a MHz that is compatible with your motherboard; has maximum speed, and the lowest latency timings while also being affordable.
What to look out for when purchasing RAM;
1. Highest speed
2. Lowest latency timings
3. Most affordable
4. Best reviews and reputation
Understand that RAM will often need some tweaking within BIOS in order to maximize its performance on your PC or HTPC.
Choosing a GPU or Graphics Processing Unit for your Home Theater computer:
This is your graphics card. It can be built into the motherboard, or it can be a separate graphics card that installs into an expansion slot like a PCIe 2.0.
Many HTPC systems will work just fine with a built in graphics card. This will totally depend on a few things; will the HTPC be used for gaming? If so, then a separate graphics card is a better option.
This will also depend on the quality of the built in graphics card of the motherboard.
Again, you generally get what you pay for here, which may be another reason to opt for a better motherboard.
But with some games no on board graphics card is going to get the job done.
I would say for most gamers; none of them use an onboard graphics card.
Nearly all common games would benefit from the additional power of a stand-alone graphics card. This article will not go into detail on choosing a graphics card.
That’s another article for another day.
Just let me say that, I like ATI graphics cards better than other brands, but that could change with each coming year as manufacturers change their product lines.
The Hard Drive -which type and size are best?
The most obvious choice is the drive size, or how much data can be stored on the drive.
This is measured in gigabytes or GB.
But most recently the shift has become into terabyte drives or TB.
The read and write speed are critical factors too as a hard drive can slow down an otherwise fast computer by reading and writing too slowly.
The fastest disc drives will be 7,200 RPM, 10,000 RPM and 15,000 RPM disc drives; the 15,000 will read and write quicker than the other two.
The fastest hard drives on the market are SSD (solid state drives).
Solid State drives; these drives don’t use moving parts and are substantially faster than any of the spinning disc type drives available. They are also more expensive.
Want your own high quality complete surround sound speakers?
Better Case Fans and CPU Fans:
I am giving fans its own section because in a HTPC noise is a critical part of the design and also critical to keep components cool and hence quiet in operation.
It would seem that buying really large fans would make your PC louder. This is not true and not only that I will tell you to get the largest practical fans possible for your application.
Large fans will move more air at lower speeds than small fans. High fans speeds are what create noise. As the air is cut by the blade it creates turbulence; the higher the rate of speed, the louder this turbulence. Fan blade design can be a factor too but I’ll just keep it simple here to avoid discussing specific fan models.
• CPU Fan – I like to use a CPU cooler that can handle a 120mm fan. These fans move slower, provide more CFM (air volume) and create less noise than small, high speed fans. Often, a large fan such as this can be almost silent, especially if combined with a well-designed HTPC case.
• Case Fans – again, bigger is better. I like 120mm fans here as well. There are some 140mm and larger fans that can work very well and provide low noise. But 120mm fans are the most common. If you use multiple case fans it often works best to set both of them to either push or pull. These will double the amount of air entering the case instead of setting up a push pull fan system. You will need a case that has plenty of air inlet/outlet volume in order for the air flow to be maximized.
• Northbridge fans and other component fans: Not to sound redundant here but again, use larger fans. On these components a 120mm fan is likely much too large. But try a fan like an 80mm or 60mm to keep the RPM’s to a minimum.
Even with the use of several fans – within a PC case, the PC or HTPC can often be kept nearly silent.
And, this is not a weak and pathetic computer; this is a very powerful, overclocked rig running at a 4GHz Quad core CPU speed.
My gaming HTPC is much more powerful than my work PC. This HTPC is nearly silent from 6 feet away and almost unnoticeable from 12 feet away –which is where my listening chair is. As soon as the music is playing you cannot hear it at all. The larger CPU fans and case fans make a lower tone noise as well. So not only are they lower in level but lower in frequency too which is an added benefit. (It’s harder to hear)
The PSU or Power Supply Unit -Don’t get the wrong one:
All the rage now is extremely high powered PSU’s -dumb idea; as this is one place that you do not want to waste power.
The PSU will draw current from your outlet and the higher the wattage the higher the current draw. Get a PSU that will be adequate for your components with a bit of headroom and upgrade path to spare.
For a high powered CPU, the motherboard, a couple hard drives and a nice video card a 650 watt power supply will get the job done nicely.
Some graphics cards (GPU) will need more power than others, but these are usually high powered gaming units.
If you are running multiple 2Gb memory GPU’s at the same time in crossfire or SLI mode then a 900 to 1100 watt power supply may actually be necessary.
But consumers often buy these and don’t use a fraction of the power they are capable of. Don’t go with wretched excess here; but also make sure you easily cover your minimum power needs.
Too much power is a waste with the PSU; but too little can cause electrical spikes which can damage your computer parts. Calculate exactly what you need and add 30-40% for safety and upgrades. (the most common upgrade that demands more PSU power is a powerful GPU and lots of hard drives.)
RAID configurations for Hard Drive Storage:
Okay now we’re entering the wide world of nerdish HTPC users with this one.
RAIDs are common in servers. But they can make a ton of sense for the home PC user and definitely the HTPC user. Any HTPC would be a good candidate for a RAID array.
RAID 0: is where half the data is stored on one disk and the other half is stored on another disc. If you want to double the read and write speeds of your disc drives this is the one you want. Follow your motherboard manual for installing RAID systems. RAID 0 does not make a copy of all data. So if one drive goes bad; you lose all data. RAID 0 is used to increase the speed of a computers read and write functions. This is most noticeable when booting into the OS – (operating system) or when initially loading programs stored on the discs. (Also with recording data to the discs)
RAID 1: is where a copy of data is stored on two different discs. This is basically used for data backup. It is much more secure than RAID 0 (which ads no security) but it does not add any speed to load/write times like a RAID 0 does.
RAID0+1: is a combination of both RAID 0 and RAID 1. It will need a minimum of 4 Hard Disc drives. Two of them will store half the data on each drive. The other two will serve as mirror copies of the first RAID 0 systems so that the data can still be written at double speed (which is why you need 4 drives).
There are other RAID systems but these are the most widely used and should serve the purposes of the HTPC user the best.
In order to use a RAID system with your HTPC you will need a RAID controller. RAID controllers are included in the motherboard features of most of the better motherboards. Make sure yours includes the RAID controller before buying your motherboard or attempting to set one up. Follow your motherboard manufacturer’s instructions to complete your RAID array.
You do not need to set up a RAID array for a great HTPC build. This is just an option and something to be aware of for the future.
The HTPC Case:
This is where the personal touch comes into plain view. You can use your own tastes to make the HTPC look exactly like you want.
Aside from doing a good job of holding all your components and providing good ventilation the actual needs of a PC case or HTPC case are few.
The HTPC case needs a power button, a place to mount the motherboard, hard drives, and expansion bay access such as your graphics card. Other than that, you could set the bare PC parts out on your carpet and it would not matter much, save for -static electricity and your cat.
But the HTPC case does help with taming noise and basically keeps your sensitive electronics safer than strewn out on the floor ever would.
One problem with all PC cases and HTPC cases is that they tend to collect dirt and dust inside and ‘we’ tend to forget about that.
Keeping your vents and CPU cooler free from dust bunnies should be done every six months at least; some environments much more often than that.
Case cleaning should be done with care so learn before you try. Damage can easily occur from carelessly cleaning a dirty PC case internals.
Put it All Together for the Best HTPC Build Experience:
Building computers is a lot of fun and the HTPC is nothing but a PC that has been optimized for use in a home theater.
I would encourage anyone that needs an HTPC to take the time and learn about building their own.
They really aren’t that difficult to put together and the rewards of knowing the different parts, how they all work, and consequentially how to maximize its performance will save you money; If not on your first project, but on your second, or third or fourth.
Also remember that computers can be fixed. If you accidentally fry a specific component, that part can always be replaced. Often, it can be upgraded too which is always fun.
Build your own HTPC; it’s the right and responsible thing to do!
Next page: HTPC-Software
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