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The Htpc A Useful Tool

I've finished building my server just recently, and despite running 2 active projects, one rebuild and another involving a Rocketfish, I still feel the need to chuck out more of my money at computers. Not necessarily super high end equipment, and certainly not to upgrade any current machine, unless it's an easy upgrade like SLI. To build the PC I would really want to build, I'd just buy super high end hardware and water cooling for Bloody Bridget, but I have tons of things to buy before that, car, camera, and all the other important stuff.

SO what could I buy for under half a grand? Another server? That would be totally useless, and I would prefer buying additional disks for my server before building another special purpose box. A quad core folding box to do some 24/7 dual-smp crunching? That would be awesome, but my parents are already getting mad about the kilowatts my current rigs are pumping out, so I doubt they would let me run another setup. The only place left for another box is in my AV rack: an HTPC.

I've done some research about the said HTPCs, checked out what kind of rig this type of build needed, and turns out that it perfectly fits my budget. The low cost combined with my uber downclocking skills (AKA the loads of time that I have on my hands) means that with the right components, I could make this into a super energy efficient build. Maybe even quiet too, unlike Annabel which was planned to be but got stuffed in a closet and forgotten.

This thing needs to be cheap, scalable, cheap, flexible, and cheap. Did I mention I needed something cheap? So this is going to be an AMD build. Yes I konw, you Intel fanboys are going to suggest a P35 + Pentium Dual Core config, but I need something that's mATX, and for now, the best mATX media board I've seen in reviews is the 780G from AMD. Besides, I have ZERO experience with AMD, and it would be cool to get some experience with stuff from the other guys, with all that weird obscure stuff, HT frequency and all.

Here is the parts list, not definitive yet.

  • Case: Silverstone Lascala LC-13B. Owning a Silvers has been a dream ever since I'm into computers, and if I have to pick up an HTPC case for a project, this is going to be it. Matches with my TV and all the other components, with slick looks while remaining discreet enough for my dad to accept it in his AV rack.
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H 780G mATX. This motherboard is cheap, yet loaded with HTPC enhancing features, notable the much appreciated Hybrid Crossfire and HDMI audio and video output right on the board. I've read great reviews both online and in print of the 780G and it's kick ass IGP, I'll most likely be testing this out for myself.
  • CPU: Either an Athlon 64 X2 4X00+ or the new 45 watt TDP 4050e. WIth aftermarket cooling amongst the lines of a Thermaltake Duorb, I'm wondering wether or not 20 watts will make a huge difference, specially if I end up underclocking the 4x00+. Is the 4050e just a cherry picked chip with a lower VID? Performance issues? I'm still trying to find reviews, but I'll probably end up buying what comes cheapest, being a used Althon X2 here on OCN.
  • Memory: Whatever comes cheap really. I don't need super kick ass sticks, I might en up buying some stuff from here to save some green. If it can run 800 mhz CAS 4 with a bit of a voltage bump, it's good enough for me.
  • Graphics: Although the experts in magazines say that the IGP alone on the 780G board can run 1080p output over HDMI no problem, it'd be cool to get a budget card for some Hybrid CF action. A 3850 would be cool to fold on, but in case I run out of funds, a 3650 will do just fine.
  • Storage: Since my server already holds all my media downstairs, I don't see the use in cramming tons and tons of disks in this build, which would make the entire thing noisier than it really needs to be. The smallest SATA drive I can find, most likely a 7200.9 80 gig drive, or maybe a quieter laptop HDD with a lower capacity. OS + iTunes won't be demanding very much out of the disk, no need to overdo it.
  • Cooling: As was previously mentionned, I'll probably be grabbing a Goldorb from a local shop, it's plenty cheap and way better than stock. It's also mounted lower than the other cooler I would normally buy for a budget build, a Ninja, hence more likely to fit the lower profile HTPC case. I'll also be grabbing a couple of silent fans, a controller, and that should seal the deal.
So I have a parts list that's cool... but one question remains: is it really worth it?

I've done some research on TV tuners... turns out that most of the HDTV tuners which I've seen only support clear-crypted channels, AKA not the specialized add-on channels. This makes the whole HTPC thing way less attractive. What's the use in having the damned thing if I still have to swtich to my receiver when I want to listen to TV?

Sure, it's a great thing to be able to display pictures on your TV whenever you like, or stream net radio to your entire house, but is it really worth it? I'll be using my HTPC mainly for playback.. in which case, I could just buy a PS3, run Fedora 9 off of it, and read from network, right? Apart from the PS3 not supporting 1080p and only 1080i, where's the problem?

This has me questionning the entire HTPC thing. Sure, it'll be loads of fun to build, and it's one more folding box on my LAN, but the only thing it really replaces in my current home theatre setup is the DVD player, and all the other stuff, video and audio playback from network and all, that's just convenient additions that can be done using other means anyways, like connecting an iPod to the receiver.

Since I'm not paying for this build, I have to convince my client, in occurence my father, that this HTPC will redefine his home entertainment experience... but so far I'm far from the goal.

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