November 21, 2009

HTPC Project: The Build

Filed under: HTPC, Tech — Chris @ 3:15 pm

The HTPC is purchased, assembled, and installed. Our cable service has been cancelled and we are streaming the Project Runway finale even as I write this. This is the first in a series of posts I’ll write about the whole process of putting the thing together. Today, I’m going to focus on the hardware components and the process of assembling the PC.

Here is the final list of the components I actually purchased.

  • Motherboard: ASUS M3N78-VM Micro-ATX (includes on-board GeForce 8200 graphics, VIA VT1708B sound, and Realtek 8211CL Ethernet) Price: $75
  • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 5200 2.7GHz 65W Dual-Core Price: $61
  • Heat sink: Thermaltake CL-P0296 18dBA CPU Cooler Price: $30
  • Memory: Patriot Viper 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 800 SDRAM Price: $82
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Black (includes remote control) Price: $140
  • Power supply: Antec EarthWatts EA380 380W Price: $45
  • Hard drive: Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7200rpm Price: $80
  • Optical drive: Sony Optiarc AD-7240S-0B SATA DVD+RW Price: $28
  • Keyboard: IOGEAR GKM561R Wireless Keyboard with Trackball Price: $55

There are only minor differences from my preliminary list. I upgraded to 4GB RAM, because I just felt like I ought to. I added a power supply, because I was under the misapprehension that the Fusion case included one and it didn’t (this mistake set back the project by a full week). I added a heat sink, because the stock CPU fan is annoyingly loud at peak (although peaks should be rare under normal usage). And I swapped the Samsung IDE DVD+RW drive for a Sony SATA drive (see below).

The total cost, including tax and shipping (but excluding the re-stocking and re-shipping fees for a few mis-steps, about which more below) was $630.

The assembly went remarkably smoothly, about two hours total. Here’s the pile of parts, ready to be assembled into a computer:

Pile of Stuff

And here’s the empty case, ready to be filled with cool stuff:

Empty Case

The case is surprisingly big and heavy, about the size of a regular desktop PC or a stereo receiver. Here’s the case full of cool stuff:

Full Case
Notice that the Fusion case has a “three chamber” design, where the power supply, the motherboard, and the hard disks are isolated from one another to improve cooling. The hard drives are mounted in funny brackets with silicon grommets to reduce the noise from vibration.

The only real problems I had with the build were:

  • I initially wired up the system power incorrectly, leading to a few minutes of genuine sinking-heart panic when I first pressed the power button and was met with silence. The problem was my utter failure to correctly read this pin diagrams (the connections run in parallel, not across):

    This took about 10 seconds to fix, once I realized my mistake.

  • The motherboard was a little snug in its compartment, leaving the IDE port difficult to access, especially after everything else was hooked up. With a bit of determination and dexterous fingers, I probably could have gotten the DVD drive plugged in, but instead I took a hit on the re-stocking fee and ordered a SATA replacement drive. (SATA is better anyway, right? For some reason?)
  • I didn’t notice in the pile of miscellaneous cables I had amassed or read the case manual closely enough to look for the 24-pin power cable extension with a special dongle for hooking up the front panel LCD screen (which also serves at the remote control’s IR receiver). This led to a fair amount of frustration and wasted time trying to get the LCD screen and remote control to work, as you might imagine. I only figured this out after an 11th hour Google search had not turned up an off-hand comment in a user review by “RG”at This took about 2 minutes to fix once I realized my mistake.
  • The first heat sink I bought did not fit in the case; it was too tall. It did not even occur to me to check the dimensions before ordering—I just chose the cheapest quiet cooler I could find.

Here’s the finished HTPC, nestled on it’s shelf with the stereo receiver:

HTPC, completed

Note that the LCD display is lit but displaying no useful information. More on that next post.



  1. I hope you’ll be writing about your experiences with this on an ongoing basis. I have visions of leaving cable and going with some kind of streaming device to the TV (with all DVDs streamable from a hard drive somewhere), and I’m always interested in hearing/reading about how that transition works for other people.

    I’m basically calling you out on this – “This is the first in a series of posts I’ll write about the whole process of putting the thing together.”

    Comment by Andy — February 26, 2010 @ 10:01 pm

  2. Andy, you got me. I really do have a second and a third and maybe a fourth post on my “to do” list, but I’ve been very distracted with pretending to work on my thesis. Stay tuned!

    Comment by Chris — February 28, 2010 @ 10:20 am

  3. Just wanted to let you know that you weren’t documenting this project in vain. People are interested! (Or at least person is interested)

    Comment by Andy — March 2, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

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