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Evil's HTPC Saga (Now Showing: Episode Five)

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Episode One: Origins

Why build a Home Theatre PC?
Personally, I've been fascinated by the technology and genre of HTPC since I completed my first PC in summer of 2001. My interest, in fact, practically predates the naming of the genre. My first PC was built for a dorm room and included a DVD drive (in this era before software was commonly distributed on DVD, it was solely intended for movie playback) and a S-Video output on my video card. The first PCI card I later installed was even a TV tuner. While that system never grew beyond these humble aspirations, it showed me the great potential in this area.

Determining My HTPC Goals
Before selecting, let alone purchasing, components, I decided to determine what functions I wanted my HTPC to perform, and which I wanted to emphasize. It's worth noting that HTPC has become sort of a catch-all term for computers connected to non-computer audio and/or video equipment, or existing in the living room to serve practically any non-traditional computer purpose, so simply saying "HTPC" may not correctly emphasize one particular individual's intended area(s) of functionality.

I figure it would be useful to rate my goals on a scale of 0-5.
5- This functionality will be my guiding principal in all decisions
4- This functionality is highly important and I would prefer not to sacrifice it
3- This functionality should be present given reasonable compatibility with my other goals
2- If this functionality is present it will probably be used
1- If this functionality is present it may be used
0- This functionality is insignificant

Video features:
*Playing DVD: 4
*Playing Blu-Ray: 3
*Playing HD-DVD: 1
*Playing archived video files at up to 1080p: 5
Audio features:
*High-quality output for external amplifier: 1
*Multi-channel positional output for 5.1/7.1 audio: 3
PVR (Tivo-esque) features:
*Scheduled recording & playback of HD signals: 4
*Time-shifting of "live" TV: 3
*Simultaneous recording & time-shifting: 1
*Viewing and recording a combined total of more than 2 HD channels simultaneously: 0
Storage features:
*Store compressed audio files: 1
*Store uncompressed audio files: 4
*Store compressed video: 4
*Store high-def video: 3
*Read from SD/MMD/Compact Flash etc: 2
"Computing" features:
*Browse web & send/read e-mail: 5
*Archive CDs/DVDs: 3
*Archive Blu-Ray discs: 2
*Archive HD-DVD discs: 1
*Burn DVD (+R, -R, DL): 4
Gaming features:
*Play "classic" video games: 4
*Play "modern" video games: 1
*Play "latest" video games: 0
Network features:
*Playing streaming internet video (Hulu, YouTube): 5
*Play streaming internet/local audio (Pandora): 5
*Play streaming local compressed video: 4
*Play streaming local high-def video: 2
*Serve streaming audio: 1
*Serve streaming video: 0
Aesthetic features:
*Small physical footprint: 5
*Attractive/professional appearance: 4
*Outward appearance indistinguishable from home audio/video components: 0
*Low noise levels: 4
*Low power consumption: 2

You could also create ratings for specific types of connectivity, but a 5 point system is probably overkill for that. There are types of connections you absolutely HAVE to have, those you'd like to have if you can get them, and types you care nothing about (which should only be legacy & highly specialized or proprietary connections).

Selecting Components
With a firm grasp on my goals, I can focus on the following primary goals as I search through the wide range of components available.

*Playing archived video files at up to 1080p
*Browse web & send/read e-mail
*Playing streaming internet video (Hulu, YouTube)
*Play streaming internet/local audio (Pandora)
*Small physical footprint

Since I want a machine that can handle e-mail, Hulu, and Pandora I can rule out commercial PVRs and video-file playback devices. Because I desire a small footprint machine, I can quickly narrow my search to microATX and smaller systems/components. Looking at my "power" requirements, I can eliminate anything smaller than mini ITX as nothing below that seems likely to handle 1080p playback, even from non-DRMed files. Between micro ATX and mini ITX the differences in chipset availability, chassis variety, and expandability is pretty significant. Mini ITX may win in size, but it loses in the other relevant categories.

Choosing a micro ATX motherboard was easily the hardest part of the build process so far. I ended up with the BioStar TA790GX XE due to its moderate cost ($95 at NewEgg), 790GX Northbridge (with an onboard integrated GPU that should be powerful enough to handle 1080p and support for Hybrid CrossFire if I choose to upgrade to do some gaming), and the fact that AMD CPUs across most of the mid-range are 25% cheaper than their Intel competitors. My main complaint about this board is that it has 2 PCI slots and only 1 PCI-Express x1 slot, instead of the reverse. It also lacks a rear e-SATA connection and an internal firewire header. However, I could not find any mobo with exactly the features I wanted and the BioStar board was over $50 cheaper than a similar DFI LanParty Jr. board. Wanting a moderately powerful, but inexpensive and preferably low heat / energy efficient CPU, I settled on the AMD Athlon 64 X2 7750 2.7GHz Dual Core ($57 at NewEgg after discount) which had a small die size (65nm), not-excessive thermal power (95W) and more cache than some other chips in the same price range.

Memory was an incredibly easy decision once I found Corsair XMS2 TWIN2X4096-6400C5 2x2GB DDR2 800 for only $20 at NewEgg, after a rebate. And while I considered many different slim microATX enclosures, in the end I went with the Rosewill R379-SM ($50 at NewEgg) as one of the few models in that price range to offer a 300W power supply and also for the convenience/accessibility afforded by the removal drive tray.

With a 250GB HD, SATA DVD-RW DL, and USB 802.11g wireless adapter on-hand, I was able to get my HTPC started for only $232 (after shipping, discounts, sales & rebates). In the next installment I intend to cover assembly, OS selection & installation, and review the components purchased so far, as well as outline my upcoming plans for "Harrison".
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Nice episode !!!

I would only disagree with you in the rating for:

"High-quality output for external amplifier: 1"

I would give at least a 4, but that is just me. Rep+
I realize a number of folks wouldn't want to game as heavily on their HTPCs, and some would be more focused on the audio in/out. I actually have been mentally reserving a PCI slot for a sound card, most likely a Asus Xonar as they're readily available in low-profile form.

The initial assembly is complete, so hopefully I'll get Episode Two out later this week. Thanks for the rep!
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For the most part, I agree with the OP. Now, hopefully, more of the "HTPC" n00bs and lesser knowledgeable about it.. will read this before posting up threads of "What to get for HTPC build? "
Thanks for the positive feedback!

Various issues have been delaying the production of Episode Two. Notably, getting the OS loaded was complicated by the mobo's intermittent refusal to recognize my old USB keyboard. Now, I can't seem to get the display configured to output to my old 27" TV. I'm moving in a couple of weeks and will be more focused on resolving all of these issues after that, as the HTPC will be my only source of TV. At least, in theory...
Episode Two: Trials

Physical Assembly
I've put together many PCs over the years, so in all this is probably about my 10th build or so. Everything was fairly straight-forward, as it often is when you're working with brand new components that have been carefully selected to work together. One minor issue I had was the fact that the Biostar mobo came with a backplate that had some punch-outs I had to remove myself--for the audio ports & HDMI--and then didn't fit quite perfectly. In the end, I simply had to angle the board slightly while positioning it, lifting the "front" of the board while sliding the back through the audio ports, then lowering it to a horizontal position.

The Rosewill case was fairly easy to work with, and the swivel & pull-out drive cage was a real finger saver. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite so kind to one of the power supply wires--after I had loaded my drives I had swiveled it to the vertical position to attach some of the plugs, moving the wires "out of the way" of where I was working, when I jostled the case the cage crashed down, pinching one of the wires. Fortunately, the insulation was only wounded, not severed, so I've resolved to check on it periodically.

I was kind of suprised at how "roomy" the interior of the case was. I had ample space for the Samsung DVD-RW I originally used, and no issues when I switched to the longer LG HD-DVD/Blu-Ray drive. Due to the lack of front-to-back airflow design, I found it quite simple--with my motherboard, anyways--to route excess wires under the un-used area of the drive cage. Clearance for my video card and CPU cooler (both stock and replacement) were also more than sufficient.

OS Installation
Things got interesting when I tried to install Windows XP. I grabbed an old, spare, USB keyboard & mouse I had sitting around and popped in my disk. Which worked fine up until the "Press any key" prompt didn't respond. I'll make a long story short and say that you should NOT try to use old, finicky, USB keyboards to install your OS. PS/2 is preferable, or at the very least get a USB keyboard that was made in the last 5 years.

XP installed, my torrent of Windows 7 finally finished, so I quickly installed that instead. I've been using it since, and have only minor complaints, most of which aren't relevant to the OS or HTPC use. I will say, the Realtek audio driver I found was somewhat of a hassle to configure, and still likes to complain that this isn't the OS it was designed for, but it is functional (at least, for my 5.1 analog, directly connected Z-5500s). I may be installing the Win 7 release candidate soon, simply for the longer license.

Component-by-component reviews
CASE: Rosewill R379-SM MicroATX {manu} {NewEgg}
Overall: 7/10
* clever drive cage
* decent outward appearance
* low cost
* moderately powerful supply (to date... may be tested soon)
* drive cage operation isn't fluid (sticks slightly each time)
* optical drive "eject" button is mostly obstructed when drive is ejected
* stock case fan was loud
* power supply only has 1 SATA power plug (somewhat offset by 2x 4-pin molex)
* lacks fit and finish: if pushed too far, reset button gets stuck & "side" panel sticks slightly
Summary: For some applications you may not be getting in and out of the case frequently, and you may not be removing optical discs on a daily basis. If so, and you're willing to compromise aesthetics for price, this is a great case for you. On the other hand, if you're intensely focused on making your HTPC a showcase, you aren't concerned with minimizing cost, you expect to frequently be changing components over the life of the computer, and/or you just don't plan on ripping your discs to your hard drive but do plan on playing a lot of them, this is probably not the case for you.

MOTHERBOARD: Biostar TA790GX-XE MicroATX AM2/AM2+ {manu} {NewEgg}
Overall: 9/10
* works great
* myriad of bios settings, including option to run in Hybrid Crossfire with on-board as primary
* supports RAID-5 (which I hope to use soon)
* no on-board firewire header (vanity issue, not like I currently have a practical use for this)
* backplate had punch-outs I had to do myself, and minor fittment issues
Summary: Great motherboard, would highly recommend to anyone planning to overclock or use RAID-5. For general HTPC use, though, you might save yourself $20~$30 and go with a 780G board.

PROCESSOR/CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 7750 BE Kuma AM2+ {manu} {NewEgg}
Overall: 8/10
* fairly powerful, loads Win 7 quickly & rips HD-DVD in reasonable time (yet to test Blu-Ray... will do that tonight)
* runs moderately warm
* included CPU fan fairly noisy at speed
Summary: Good CPU, not really what I would use if I had to do it over again. I would either go with a 45W dual-core, or if I was going to go 95W I'd get 3 or 4 cores. As someone aptly described it elsewhere, the load we're putting on a HTPC is usually minimal & constant. You can either give that to a dual-core, which will have to open the throttle a bit more, or a quad-core, which will be put under about half the strain. Choosing a 95W dual-core was a bone-headed, noob, move. (Unless I ever do get around to using this as a gaming PC.)

MEMORY/RAM: Corsair XMS DDR2 800 (PC-6400) 2x2GB {manu} {NewEgg}
Overall: 10/10
* Corsair XMS relaiblity, quality, warranty and fit & finish
* had to pay money
Summary: Corsair XMS RAM has yet to dissapoint me, and I've been using it on various systems for over 5 years. In fact, I have some sticks which are themselves over 5 years old.

Overall: 9/10
* plays Blu-Rays
* plays HD-DVD
* burns CD-R, CD-RW, DVD+R, DVD-R, DVD+RW, DVD-RW (incl. DL)
* includes HD-DVD/Blu-Ray playback software
* bundled software doesn't alow for analong 5.1 audio signal without upgrade
Summary: If you are looking for a Blu-Ray playback drive, this should be your first option. The few $$ you will save with cheaper options means you will lose one or more of the following: HD-DVD playback, DVD-burning, bundled software. The only reasons to do this would be: 1) You'll never rip movies to your hard drive, so you'll never consider purchasing HD-DVDs for bargain basement (cheaper than USED standard def DVD) prices; 2) You never ever want to back up your data or transfer it with a cheap/disposable optical disc; 3) You already have Blu-Ray/HD-DVD playback software, so you're buying the OEM version of this drive instead. Another valid excuse is that you found a Blu-Ray burner for $50-$120 more and you can't wait to start burning $30 discs.

VIDEO CARD: ATI Radeon HD3470 256MB GDDR3 PCI-e x16 {manu} {eBay}
Overall: 5/10
* works
* cheap
* fastest Hybrid Crossfire capable (currently) GPU
* noisy
* model delivered didn't have low-profile hanger as picture indicated, full-height instead
* funky dual Display Port output (came with adapters which are heavy & incompatible with DVI-VGA adapters)
Summary: Even at $27 (incl S&H) this wasn't really a good buy, and I wouldn't get one again. When I finally purchase a HDTV or large LCD monitor to use, and I try to do some gaming, I may appreciate this card more, but currently it's just another source of heat and noise.

CPU COOLER: Cooler Master RR-CCH-P912-GP {manu} {NewEgg}
Overall: 9/10
* fairly well constructed
* as advertised, fits in slim case (approx. same height as retail OEM cooler)
* not entirely quiet
* didn't have free shipping when I bought mine!
Summary: Good product, moves a fair bit of air and keep things cool. Not quite as silent as they would like you to believe, but probably the best possible cooler for a slim case.

CASE FAN (REPLACEMENT): Arctic Cooling ACF8PWM 80mm {manu} {NewEgg}
Overall: 9/10
* neat pass-through PWM feature
* pretty quiet
* pricey for an 80mm fan that can only be mounted one way
* didn't have free shipping when I bought mine!
Summary: Good fan, neat (if unneccesarily complex) mounting set-up. Like the PWM pass through. Would have been 5/5 if only had been cheaper... $5.00 maybe.

VGA TO S-VIDEO CONVERTER: KWorld PlusTV PCTOTV Converter {manu} {NewEgg}
Overall: 6/10
* relatively low cost for product of this type
* power from USB is convenient
* only works with 1 resolution on my current TV
* loses settings (brightness, vertical size, etc.) whenever it loses signal or power (have to disable power-saving feature in OS)
Summary: Could have purchased an HD 2400 Pro (passively cooled, S-Video, DVI & VGA out, Hybrid Crossfire compatible) for the same amount of money. NewEgg has since stopped carrying them.
Still, this product does what I need for now, and is hopefully only a short-term solution that I will be able to sell to someone on CraigsList for $30 when I upgrade to something that supports HDMI.
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Empty case

Mobo, CPU & stock cooler

Close-up of the hard drive mounting. Note the use of "pins" on the HD cage, "clipped" into the screw holes on the HD.

Drive cage fits.

How it looks from the outside (holding flap open).

Optical drive "pass through" mechanism close up

Fully loaded (pre-graphics card).

Graphics card fits, though front panel audio wire routing needs work.

Aftermarket coolers + 20 oz. reference cylinder for sizing (+ clutter).

Comparison of stock HS to Cooler Master.

Xonar D1 added.

Showing how wires are pressed out of way of airflow, including into the space below the drive cage.

Current interior, with LG GGC-H20L, Radeon HD 3470, Abit PCI-e x1 802.11g AirPace wi-fi, Asus Xonar D1 and KWorld Xpert PVR883 (I think--doesn't work, no drivers avail for Vista/Win7, moved it in to test fitment).
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I'd like to know how this is the first post, this looks awesome. I just added up the totals on newegg with a 1TB Green drive and its like $400. Nice. Rep for you sir.
I just purchased a Samsung T260 (not the HD with the built in tuner
-but I got it used for $275
) today! I'll def. be posting a follow up shortly to show off that and the upgraded internals: Athlon X2 5050e, Sapphire HD 4550 & Hauppauge HVR-2250.

I'm pretty pleased with the hardware at this point. Everything is installed & working in Windows 7 RC, so of course the only hardware I'm looking to upgrade is my hard drive.
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Episode Three: Tranquility*

OS, Sidegrades, and Swaps
With the release of the Win 7 release candidate (beta 7100), I decided to try a switch to the 32-bit version. I was also trying to resolve strange behavior with my Asus Xonar D1 drivers. In the end, I'm pleased with the slight changes to WMC and my driver issues were resolved!

Having had enough with the oddities of my ATI/Dell HD 3470--funky outputs, no bracket, nosiy fan--I purchased a passively cooled Sapphire HD 4550. The card was inexpensive, from a manufacturer with a pretty good reputation, and had the exact opposite of all the things that annoyed me about the other card. I lost a few tenths of points in my Win 7 graphics score, but nothing I think I'm too likely to notice.

I also traded my 7750 for a 5050e with a friend who was building a new system. Well, I was building him a new system and the 7750 was a better fit for his needs and both CPUs were the same price...
In the end it worked out pretty well for both of us, I think. My system runs quieter (cooler) and not significantly slower, generally proving I wasn't making use of the headroom provided by the 7750.

Final Components
Coming soon.

Component-by-component reviews
PROCESSOR/CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 5050e Brisbane AM2 {manu} {NewEgg}
Overall: 9/10
* fairly powerful, loads Win 7 quickly
* cool & quiet
* could be more powerful
Summary: The best CPU available for my application until 65W quad-cores (Phenom II X4 905e) hit the shelves... or at least the web shelves of reputable sellers online.

VIDEO CARD: Sapphire Radeon HD4550 512MB GDDR3 PCI-e x16 {manu} {NewEgg}
Overall: 8/10
* works
* cheap
* silent
* could be more powerful
Summary: Unless (until?) ATI/AMD decide to release a passively cooled, half-height card based on the same 40nm process used for the 4770, or I decide I no longer care about noise, this seems to be the best card for my particular HTPC application.

TV TUNER: Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 Dual Tuner 1213 PCI-e x1 w/ Media Center Kit {manu} {NewEgg}
Overall: 9/10
* great selection of features: half-height, dual-tuner, hardware encoding, FM tuner
* included remote & IR receiver
* no included FM antenna
* apparently can't be used to tune to both cable and OTA channels without re-configuring each time one wants to switch between the two
Summary: This card was easy to install and works great. The included remote has a high quality feel and is a good size. Some of the buttons are smaller than I'd like, and a backlight would have been awesome but certainly cost prohibitive. I have had some recordings fail due to weak signal strength at the appointed time, but I feel this is far more likely a product of my inexpensive antenna than the tuner. I would definitely recommend this tuner to others and have been very pleased so far. I only hope Hauppague continues to innovate and can release a version (or better yet, add support through a driver update) to make recording & viewing from cable & OTA possible with one card.

MONITOR/DISPLAY: Samsung T260 25.5" 1920x1200 HDMI Widescreen {manu} {NewEgg}
Overall: 8/10
* high def
* good quality
* nice looking cabinet
* could be bigger
* could be an actual TV with remotes and a tuner (like a T260HD)
Summary: While I really like this monitor, and it is approximately the same size as the TV it replaced, it's somewhat disappointing as a full-time HDTV. I'm planning to try some gaming on it soon to get a better feel for it's capabilities, but if I could afford a larger, true 1080p LCD TV, I would probably be happy to upgrade today.

More Pictures

Ta-da! Bottom left is the old monitor, E70Fb which was used in conjuction with the 27" Philips standard def TV (not pictured).

The T260, RF keyboard, media center remote and Logitech Z-5500 control pod.

The "tower" in it's natural, profusely corded habitat. The boxes on top are for the keyboard and media center remote.

The belly of the beast.

Stack of cards show how crowded things are getting. I'm going to pull the old NTSC tuner from the bottom slot... eventually.

The back. From top to bottom: power, wireless USB adapter, RF keyboard receiver, IR remote receiver, DVI (HDMI cord is on order), coaxial ATSC, and the optical audio cable.

A not-so-great attempt to show how bright and clean the monitor is.
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wow not much comments on the great build. SFF with gaming capability pretty awesome. Can you tell me how do you enjoy the 4550 video card? Have you do any gaming at 1080p?
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Can you describe the HD recording process? That's what I really want an HTPC for. Could you explain
- source ie. satellite/cable/HD or SD
- how you're connecting it
- what kind of quality you get

I dabbled a bit with the PVR-150 for analog TV broadcast and it was very poor quality. Ideally I would want a "transparent" capture device between a set-top box that decodes the signal, along the HDCP signal path that captures and outputs to the display. As far as I know, no such thing exists except in a professional setting for thousands of dollars. There doesn't seem to be a consumer product that allows you to stay in the digital domain in all parts of the video path.
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Originally Posted by lilraver018 View Post
wow not much comments on the great build. SFF with gaming capability pretty awesome. Can you tell me how do you enjoy the 4550 video card? Have you do any gaming at 1080p?
I enjoy that it's silent, cool, and has a great mix of outputs. I haven't tried any 1080 (or 1920x1200) gaming with it, but I may bench the system soon on some of the Source-engine games.


Originally Posted by C-bro View Post
Can you describe the HD recording process? That's what I really want an HTPC for. Could you explain
- source ie. satellite/cable/HD or SD
- how you're connecting it
- what kind of quality you get

I dabbled a bit with the PVR-150 for analog TV broadcast and it was very poor quality. Ideally I would want a "transparent" capture device between a set-top box that decodes the signal, along the HDCP signal path that captures and outputs to the display. As far as I know, no such thing exists except in a professional setting for thousands of dollars. There doesn't seem to be a consumer product that allows you to stay in the digital domain in all parts of the video path.
I'm afraid for your sake that I'm not doing anything fancy. I'm recording OTA digital HD broadcasts. It works great for what it is, though. I installed the tuner card, booted up, ran the included software, started Windows Media Center & pointed it at my tuner. A few simple questions later, remembering to connect my HD antenna, and I was able to use the guide in WMC to schedule recordings, jump between live programs on various channels, etc.

The hoops one has to go through for maintaining digital signal while recording HDCP streams from satellite or cable ARE still ridiculous, as far as I know. Personally I think if there were some sort of peer to peer filesharing programs that made those same shows available (sometimes even before they air) without the hassles, well... the premium networks like HBO & Showtime would probably drive paying customers away in torrents.
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Hmm i appreciate the quick response. keep up updated on the build. I plan to build something similar in the future and might use your build a s a reference.
The z5500 speakers, do they play HD audio? Im not too crash hot with the whole audio side of HD. But from my understanding if i wanted HD audio i would need a HD sound card (like your xonar) and a HD amplifier/speaker system.

Also if they dont play HD, do you get better sound with just the xonar, as opposed to the on board sound?
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I went with the Xonar because it was relatively low cost (~$55 after MIR), had a great reputation, and allowed me to connect my speakers by optical digital rather than analog or coaxial digital. It's also been alot easier to set up driver-side in Win7 than the onboard Realtek was. And, while it may just be a figment of my imagination (or a subconscious effort to justify spending $55), they do sound better now.

As it turns out, they also do Dolby Digital onboard, which ... means something. All I know is movies & TV sounds come out of all 5 speakers, plus the subwoofer, and they sound great.
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Episode Four: Finished?!

The "Final" Upgrades
The siren's song of new hardware has been especially fierce over the last few months, and the HTPC has benefited more than any of my other systems. I was able to locate a pair of reasonably priced components for what I figure to be the "optimal" dual hard drive setup, consisting of an adequately large & fast "OS drive" SSD and a high capacity & low power "storage" drive. I relocated my components to what I consider one of the most attractive low-profile cases. I purchased, installed, and configured a retail copy of Windows 7 Home Premium, and loaded it with a number of commercial & freeware applications/plugins/extensions to enhance its out-of-the-box functionality. (I do intend to discuss the software end of things in the next episode, so please check back for that--sooner rather than later!)

Oh, yeah--I also finally got a real TV, a Samsung 46"!

(more) Component-by-component reviews
SOLID STATE DISK: OCZ Summit 60GB Sata II 2.5" SSD {manu} {NewEgg}
Overall: 10/10
* silent
* fast
* soooo small
* pricey, more so now then when I ordered
Summary: I'd been wanting to try an SSD for some time, but I felt like 30GB was insufficient for use with an OS and the number of software programs I tend to install. I have found that I've been installing fewer programs or, at least programs with smaller hard drive footprints, than I had expected. While I could be getting by on a 30GB drive, I'm happy to have the space if I do ever decide to go nuts installing games. The product itself has been more than adequate, providing fast boots & installs as expected. After 1 month of day-to-day use there has been absolutely no apparent slow-down.

STORAGE HARD DISK: Western Digital 2TB Caviar Green WD20EADS {manu} {NewEgg}
Overall: 9/10
* quiet
* fast enough
* large cost premium compared to 1.5TB models
Summary: Not much to say. I now own the 1TB (desktop) and 2TB (HTPC) Caviar Green and absolutely love them. Sure, they're not as snappy as a 10K RPM Raptor or SSD, but they stack up favorably against any of the older 7200RPM drives I have used in the past. (I don't have much experience with the newer WD Caviar Black / Samsung F3 / Seagate 7200.12 drives to compare to, though).

CASE & PSU: Antec MicroFusion Remote 350 (and integrated LCD) {manu} {NewEgg}
Overall: 7/10
* attractive outer appearance
* good build quality
* trustworthy & seemingly efficient PSU
* insanely cramped, even for a case this size
* questionable layout of internal chambers & cables
* adjusting fan speeds requires opening case
* software for LCD control easy to... not love
Summary: While I don't regret buying this case, there are certainly some mitigating factors in my experience. First, there is no abundance of space in the interior. Installing the motherboard was a challenge because the the 2mm of colored plastic projecting from the audio ports made the motherboard exactly as wide as the available space--no small amount of frustration was experienced before the necessary angle was achieved and the board finally slid into place. Next, it quickly became apparent that there was just barely enough space for the optical drive to fit over the RAM... and in front of the CPU cooler. Speaking of which, there was just barely enough space for the CPU cooler to fit under the top, the cross-piece litterally nudges the fan shroud down, but just misses the fan blades. And the location of the LCD panel, with it's removal required to replace the HDD... the fact that I had to wedge my 2.5" SSD into a tiny smidge of space below the optical drive. With no space to spare, it seems Antec still felt the need to ensure that every cable would reach at least twice as far as it would ever possibly need to, leading to a great challenge in wire management.

On the other hand, the LCD is bright and sharp. The outside appearance is striking and very high-quality. The clever rubber feet help keep it quiet. Once I replaced the stock Tri-Cools with fans that dynamically adjust their speed (3x Arctic Cooling PWM Sharing 80mmx25mm fans), it's essentially silent at ~6 feet away.

Long story longer, it's a good case but it certainly offers its challenges.

HD TV: Samsung 46" 1080p 120Hz LCD LN46B630 {manu} {NewEgg}
Overall: 9/10
* large, clear image
* good color (to my untrained eye)
* great value for this size & feature set
* addt'l features (DLNA) unlockable by manipulating Service Menu
* limited PIP functionality: one input for PIP must be the coaxial/antenna, meaning only ClearQAM cable channels or OTA signals can be used for 1/2 the image
* only supports 60Hz (or below) inputs, despite boasting 120Hz panel response--no 3-D monitor functionality for me!
* limited color adjustment options for some inputs
Summary: Very good TV. It's large, bright & clear, and a joy to watch. The controls are simple & relatively intuitive. A good variety of color adjustment is available for most inputs, however the DVI/HDMI-1 input lacks some options available to HDMI-2 & -3 inputs (and probably 4). Nice integrated USB playback interface. Main gripe is not being able to choose any 2 inputs for PIP and instead being locked in to using the "antenna" as one. There are a huge variety of features for the PIP otherwise, but for whatever reason Samsung didn't seem to think it was important to be able to select which 2 inputs you will be using! If this was fixed by a firmware update, I'd be perfectly content to lose the "hacked" DLNA functionality to be able to side-by-side my HTPC & cable box.
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The cord-crowded interior, once fans had been replaced.

Trying to show how little space the CPU cooler leaves for the ram & video cards.

Fortunately, there was this convenient patch of space for "mounting" my 2.5" SSD. Which reminds me, I need to remember to pick up some removable 3M double-sided tape before I move this around too much.

Beginning to tame the cord mess...

If you look at the back corner of the optical drive, you'll see why I think it would be a bad idea to use RAM with tall heat-spreaders in this case. There just isn't much room to spare.

My best efforts at cord management. I really need some shorter SATA cables, and a better selection of left/right-angled cords at that.

With the Samsung T260 25.5" LCD...

... and after it's hit with the grow ray. (But before I cleared up the slight cable mess in the background).
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TV review posted (2 posts up), finally. Working on a software write-up now, but I still need to tweak some things, and take some screenshots when I get back home. Also intend to write about the ever increasing variety of input peripherals, when time permits.
Nice job. Can you tell me a little more about that case's LCD screen and exactly what it displays.
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