Friday, May 11, 2007

My New Extender HTPC

Last month I finally built a new HTPC for our bar/basement room.
I promised an update nearly three weeks ago and I'm finally getting back to doing it. Part of the delay was due to a bad PSU (power supply). It took some troubleshooting to narrow the problem down to the PSU and then I had to RMA the entire HTPC case since the fan came with the case. Newegg took care of me promptly though so I was back in business within the week.

This new HTPC is being used as a "client HTPC" using BeyondTV Link and Beyond Media. It accesses all of its content from my BeyondTV server PC including live and recorded TV, Video, DVD, Music and other content.

Requirements for this "media" computer:

  1. The PC had to fit into a "living room" environment. It didn't need to be tiny in size, but it did need to look like it belongs in the entertainment center.
  2. I needed to handle HD TV watching. I want it to be powerful enough to handle HD with ease. as well as anything else I threw at it
  3. It needed to be fairly quiet.
I was willing to purchase a PC outright, but knew I would probably end up building one since I had some of the components laying around that could be used inside such as a copy of XP, BTVLink, a quiet DVD/CD R/W drive and a quiet hard drive. Already owning these components meant I would save some upfront money in the build.

I did some research and posted my plans on the snapstream forums. I highly recommend anyone planning to buy or build an HTPC to post their plans on a forum like snapstream, sagetv, avsforums or others to get input from others who have done it before. There are many who have expertise on this subject. These people can many times give you ideas you hadn't thought of, give you advice and save you a bunch of money.

Extender HTPC Components:
HTPC Case: Antec NSK2400

Motherboard: Asus M2NPV-VM

CPU: AMD Athlon 64 3500+ Lima 2.2GHz 512KB L2 Cache Socket AM2 Processor

Memory: Kingston 512MBx2 (1G total) DDR2

Optical Drive: Asus DVD+-R DVD Burner

Hard Drive: WD Caviar SE 160GB SATA 3.0

Build Pictures

Audio Receiver, USBUIRT and Keyboard RF receiver

Motherboard inside the HTPC Case

The finished HTPC case

The HTPC running Beyond Media and JRMC Plugin for music

After using this HTPC for several weeks now I can say I'm very happy with the results. You will notice that I don't have a videocard in this machine. Because the motherboard has an Nvidia 6150 integrated video built-in, there was no need for a separate videocard. The integrated video handles HD with ease. I'm using overlay (not 3d for you BTV users) and have extremely smooth video playback. Using the integrated video save a slot on the board, keeps it quiet and doesn't generate the extra heat that comes with many video cards. I should note that I have this PC networked on a gigabit ethernet (integrated into the motherboard) as I think that is always a wise choice when you are streaming HD from one PC to another.

I mostly use my MX-500 remote control to control everything including powering everthing on and off, as well as navigating the various HTPC stuff. The MX-500 has some great macro functions that make things easy - for instance, I can click the on button and it "wakes" the PC, turns on the TV & Receiver, focuses to BeyondMedia and adjusts the sound on the receiver to a preset volume. I use girder and the usbuirt to interface the MX-500 remote with the HTPC and its software. I also have a nice keyboard that I use occassionally to do PC maintenance and even web browsing once in a while.

I chose 1GB of memory as that seems to be plenty for the HTPC tasks I'm throwing at it. The processor is also keeping up with its HTPC tasks just fine. For a nice summary of the software I have on this machine, see this post. Thanks to everyone on the snapstream forums for the help on this project and especially cmcquistion as he was the one that recommended the excellent motherboard with integrated video.

Future Plans:
1. Buy a larger flat-screen TV for the room.
2. Move the HTPC and receiver to a nice-looking cabinet (it's currently in a junk cabinet from my college days)
3. Add in-ceiling speakers for surround.