Traditionally a home entertainment center is a cluttered mess of wires and
various single-function devices. Television, VCR, DVD, CD, WebTV ®, PlayStation®,
Game Cube®, Nintendo®, MP3 player, TiVo ® recorders, etc. All this takes up space.
Most standard Personal Computers can perform all of the functions that the multitude
of cluttered machines perform, and require just one device.
There are many reasons that it can be invaluable to use a PC as the heart of
a home entertainment center. One is that hardware can be upgraded. Software can
be updated. PCs can also be configured to do a limitless number of tasks. With the
right configuration one can sit on their living room couch and pay the bills and
play an online game, all while never getting out of their comfortable
spot on the couch.
The first thing you need to build a Home Theater PC (HTPC) is a great 3D graphics card. The graphics card should be able to accept video
inputs and outputs since this machine is going to be used for many functions. The
most important thing is that the video card absolutely has to output HDTV signals.
A good card is ATI’s All-in-Wonder 9800 Pro because it was pretty much the only
card in the market that fulfilled the requirements without needing additional hardware
when my reference source was written over a year ago, though I am sure there are
more and better ones out now. The AIW 9800 Pro was built around the wonderfully
amazing Radeon 9800 Pro 128 MB chipset. This provided enough gaming power to run
even the most demanding games. Also, the AIW 9800 Pro provided a
TV recording function, a remote control, HDTV output, and lots of video inputs.
The next major component needed for this HTCP is the hard drive. It is essential
to have the fastest and biggest hard drive available because it will be used to
record television. PC Enthusiast Magazine used The Maxtor DiamondMax9 250GB SATA hard drive for this project. It proved a lot of storage space and had
a 7,200 rpm speed and 8MB of cache. This made it where there would be no glitches
in their recording television.
Low fan noise is important in this system since the HTPC will be used to watch
movies and TV programs. The magazine chose Intel’s Pentium 2.4C processor because
it runs at manageable temperatures at an affordable price. They combined the 2.4C
with the ASUS P4P800 Spingdale-based motherboard.
It is important to select quality dual-channel certified memory due to
the fact that a dual-channel motherboard is being used. The Corsair’s 512MB TwinX4000
memory runs at 500MHz. This will make the system an overclocker’s dream
Although the hard drive is large enough to hold about a weeks worth of TV shows,
you may also want to have a way of archiving
older shows. The pioneer A05 is just the ticket. It can burn DVDs at four speed
and CDs at 16 speed. There are better, faster things out, as my source is a year
old, but this is pretty cheap now.
For sound, the M-Audio Revolution 7.1 will perform the chores nicely. This offers a 24-bit, 192 kHZ output. This is appreciated
when watching movies on DVD. This supports Sensaura, EAX, D3D, and A3D for gaming
but the lack of EAX-HD is a small turnoff. The tradeoff between EAX-HD support
is difficult but most older games don’t yet support EAX-HD.
A wireless solution is wanted for input devices. Logitceh’s MX Duo is a good
choice. It includes a wireless Elite keyboard and the MX700
mouse, which has won awards. It is the only wireless mouse recommended by PC Enthusiast
Magazine for use with 3D games. Another great thing about the MX700 is the ability
to recharge using the base station.
The last thing needed to be decided on is a case to house the HTPC. This is totally
personal preference . The magazine chose a sleek aluminum case made by Ahanix. The
d.Vine5. It is made to look like standard home theater equipment. The only bays
needed here are one for the hard drive and one for the optical drive. The fact that
extra bays are lacking on this particular case is not an issue.
Now that all the parts are decided upon one must actually assemble it all into
a working HTPC.
The first step is mounting the CPU and memory. The usual high-octane aftermarket
fan was not used due to noise levels but the stock Intel fan serves the needs for
this system fine. Once the CPU is mounted correctly the CPU fan can be clamped down
after spreading a bit of Artic Silver III. Plugging in the fan’s power connector
on the motherboard is the next step. After that the memory needs to be installed
onto slots one and three. These are color-coded and allows the board to run dual-channel
Now the motherboard and PSU must be installed. The motherboard is placed into
the case and screwed down once the CPU and memory have been mounted. Although
the d.Vine5 case fits regular sized motherboards, it is unusual in that it requires
a micro-ATX power supply. A 230W micro-ATX PSU is a good choice here. It provides
enough juice to all components but probably knocks out the overclocking.
Once those are installed the DVD and hard drive must be installed. First the
drive bay must be removed from the case. Then both the DiamondMax9 and A05 are screwed
into the drive bay. The stock face plates are removed and an aluminum one is attached
to match the case. The drive bay is then put back into the case and screwed down.
The video and sound cards are the next start. The video card is very easy to
install. Just pull back the AGP lock, slide in the AIQ, and lock it back in place.
Then it needs to be screwed down. The case chosen didn’t come with any thumb screws
which is pretty much standard on high-end cases nowadays. The next step is installing
the Revolution 7.1 into one of the available PCI slots.
Now that all the components are installed the next step is hooking up all the
cables. First connect the IDE cable for the AO5. Next connect the SATA cable for
the Diamond Max9 hard drive. SATA cable connectors are “L” shaped. This makes connecting
the hard drive pretty easy. After that connect the power switch, reset, HD LED,
and power LED cables. Lastly, connect all the power connectors. Since the Maxtor
drive has both standard and molex and SATA power connectors it was decided in this
case not to use the power adapter provided by SATA.
Now the internal work is completed, so the case needs to be closed up. Put the
top on and screw it in. Now you can crack open the MX Duo, plug it into an open
USB port and to the power outlet. The batteries for both the mouse and keyboard
should have been included.
Now it’s ready to be hooked up to your HDTV. Pure awesomeness is the clarity
and now its something you can show off. The TV recorder, powered by ATI’s EazyLook
interface is nice for TV viewing. The live TV function is great fun and works like
a charm. The final step is throwing out all those old single-function devices that
have been cluttering up your home, or better yet sell them on Ebay to pay for
all the pieces of your new entertainment center.
PC Enthusiast Magazine, September 2003