Hardware selected for the Job
- GIGABYTE GA-MA790GP-DS4H
($138.99 USD at Newegg)
We'll start off with probably the most important part of the system and that is the motherboard.
Since we decided to go with an AMD AM2+ processor, the choice was made easier with lesser selection than what is available when it comes to Intel platforms. We went with GIGABYTE's GA-MA790GP-DS4H motherboard which is based around AMD's newish 790GX chipset.
Originally we chose this chipset since it included onboard graphics - ATI Radeon HD3300 graphics with DirectX 10 support to be exact. Not only that, but it also includes 128MB DDR3 1333MHz SidePort memory, meaning you don't have to share your main system memory with the IGP.
We decided to go with a large HTPC case, so we weren't limited to choosing a motherboard with a Micro-ATX form factor or smaller. This means we get a full-sized ATX motherboard with all the bells and whistles that would normally go into a desktop gaming system or the like. The other good news with this board is that it supports all AM2+ processors (including the new Phenom II), even 140-watt types. It has onboard HDMI output, however, we won't be making use of it for this particular build.
- Assortment of AMD AM2+ models
AMD sent us a full assortment of AM2+ processors to play around with and work out which is best for our HTPC.
The top dog that AMD sent us was the 65nm Phenom X4 Quad-Core 9950 which comes clocked at 2.6GHz and has a rated wattage level of a high 140-watts. Next down the line was the 65nm Phenom X3 Triple-Core 8750 which comes clocked at 2.4GHz with one less core and has a rated wattage level of 95-watts. Further down, we have the recently released 65nm Athlon X2 Dual-Core 7750 which comes clocked at 2.7GHz and has a rated wattage level of 95-watts also. And finally we have the 65nm Athlon X2 Dual-Core 4850E which comes clocked at 2.5GHz and has a rated wattage level of just 45-watts.
Which did we end up using? You'll have to read the following pages to find out.
- Corsair TWIN2X4096-6400C4DHX (4GB kit)
($74 USD at Newegg and $39 after $35 Mail-In Rebate)
Since we would not be overclocking the CPU in this HTPC, our decision was to find memory that would run relatively fast at stock, but feature low latency attributes. So basically, what we're after is a very decent pair of memory modules that run fast out of the box.
So, for the memory we went with two sticks of Corsair's 2GB XMS2 PC2-6400 memory with default SPD timings of 4-4-4-12.
What is nice about this particular memory from Corsair is that it also features its Dual-Path Heat Xchange (DHX) technology, which helps keep the memory cool which is also important in our HTPC case as it won't have an extreme amount of airflow inside it in order to keep it quiet.
Hard Disk Drive
- Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB SATA-II
($119.99 USD at Newegg)
We did have thoughts of going with a Solid State drive for the storage with this new HTPC, but that would have added to the cost and with capacity still an issue with SSDs, we opted for a regular hard disk drive.
When it came to selecting a HDD for this HTPC build, there was really only one choice - and that was WD's Caviar Green. We went with a 1TB model, but there are also 750GB, 640GB and 500GB drives available. Since you're probably going to store a lot of music and movies, you'll probably want to go with at least one of these 1TB drives and maybe add extra later.
This drive is perfect for our HTPC needs - it doesn't offer mind blowing performance, but what it does offer is reduced power consumption by up to 40 percent compared to standard desktop drives as well as cooler operation. Measuring the temperature of this drive with the old touch method, we had to double check the system was even turned on - it was that cool and quiet.
Blu-ray Optical Drive
- LITE-ON SATA 4X Blu-ray Disc Triple Writer
($229.99 USD at Newegg)
Our friends over at LITE-ON were good enough to send us on over one of their DH-4B1S Blu-ray SATA optical drives. This particular model is a burner too, and hence costs more.
It is not the fastest model out with a 4x BD read speed and 350ms access time, but it does come with 8MB cache and uses the SATA interface, which we love. IDE ribbon cables, be gone, forever!
If you want to save money and don't require BD burning capability on your HTPC, you can go with a regular Blu-ray drive from LITE-ON which starts at around $85 USD at Newegg.
Graphics Card (optional, but recommended!)
- ASUS EN9600GSO MAGIC/HTDP/512M
($86.24 USD at Buy.com)
As for the graphics card, initially we didn't think we would need to use one, as we thought we could get away with using the onboard IGP on the GIGABYTE 790GX motherboard - but that was not to be. It turns out the ASUS Xonar HDAV1.3 Deluxe doesn't like the AMD 790GX chipset at this stage.
ASUS were friendly enough to kick us on over one of their EN9600GSO MAGIC/HTDP/512M PCI Express 2.0 graphics cards, which is perfect for our AMD HTPC build. It features all the requirements we need such as HDCP compliancy and NVIDIA PureVideo HD technology, as well as a generous 512MB of GDDR2 memory, which is more than most other GeForce 9600 GSO cards.
It won't mean we can play all the latest games on this HTPC with all the settings turned up, but it does feature DX10 and Shader Model 4.0 hardware support as well as PhysX support for some casual gaming when the system is not being used to playback the latest BD. It's not a silent operating card and doesn't include a native HDMI port, but the Glaciator cooler isn't loud and the ASUS Xonar HDAV1.3 Deluxe audio card package comes with a DVI to HDMI adapter cable anyway.
If you are a ATI Radeon fan (and really want to stick with the whole AMD theme), you could go with something like a Radeon 4650 or 4670, which will do the job just as well as this one.