Hardware selected for the Job continued
HTPC Case / Chassis
- Thermaltake DH 104 Home Theater Case
($599.99 USD MSRP)
Possibly one of the finest HTPC cases we have ever seen is the Thermaltake DH 104. It isn't cheap coming in at close to $600, but you'll see why right now.
Featuring a very classy piano mirror coating with aluminum front panel design as well as built-in 7-inch touch screen on the front, it is a sight to be seen.
The built-in touch screen as you can see above is very bright and responds rather well to finger touch. It can be used as a secondary display (connects via USB and VGA) or you can install the software that comes with the DH 104.
Toward the front right of the case are a bunch of easy access controls as well as a small door which reveals audio ports, two USB ports and one FireWire 1349 port. Just one of the small touches of this case is the optical drive door which has a mechanical device in it and when you close your drive tray, it slowly closes with plenty of style.
As you can see above, Thermaltake also packs in a fairly standard IR remote control.
Audio Card (highly recommended for Blu-ray playback!)
- ASUS Xonar HDAV1.3 Deluxe
($239.99 USD at Newegg)
Again, this is not a cheap part for this HTPC system, but it is highly recommended if you are going to be using it for Blu-ray movie playback.
Currently this is the only AV card on the market which gives your PC the capability of playing back real HD audio from Blu-ray discs, just as the studio intended. That's right - the Xonar HDAV1.3 Deluxe allows your PC to bitstream DTS HD / HD-MA and Dolby TrueHD to your amplifier.
In the past, the best a PC has been able to do is downscale to DVD level audio quality. Where is the real enjoyment in that? ASUS did have some issues at first when this product was released onto the market, but with a lot of heart and dedication, ASUS has managed to get Blu-ray HD audio output working fully now and continues to make advancements to the product.
The Xonar HDAV1.3 Deluxe is bundled with a special version of ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre Blu-ray playback software and this must be used to experience the non-downsampled 192kHz Blu-Ray audio goodness. It may later work with other playback software such as CyberLink's PowerDVD, but not at this moment. ASUS pack in all the HDMI 1.3 certified cables you need as well as an additional audio bracket (not pictured here) which allows you to output 7.1 channel analog.
- Thermaltake Toughpower 700-watt Cable Management
($179.99 USD MSRP)
I'm never one to scrimp when it comes to power supplies and for that reason I selected the Thermaltake Toughpower 700-watt PSU with cable management for the job.
It comes with a big sized 140mm cooling fan that spins at 1900 RPM and only generates a noise level of 16 dBA according to Thermaltake and in our tests, we can say that it is basically silent. 700-watts is more power capacity than we actually need, but if you have the budget, it is always better to give yourself some headroom. You might opt for something closer to the 500 - 600-watt range which puts a few pennies back in your pocket, but we wouldn't recommend going any lower.
The other thing we love about this PSU is that it features a modular design, or "cable management" as Thermaltake likes to call it. That means we only need to plug in the power cables that we need for the system and the others can stay in the box. This means less cable clutter inside the case and that is super important when it comes to a desktop HTPC style case like the one we are using.
CPU Cooler and Cooling Fans
- Noctua NH-U12P CPU Cooler and Noctua fans
($59.99 USD at Newegg - not including fans)
For our cooling requirements for this AMD HTPC system, we turned to Noctua, who were more than happy to send on over some cooling equipment.
While for one of the processors that AMD sent us we could have got away with a passive cooling solution (no fan), we opted to use the Noctua NH-U12P CPU cooler which is capable of cooling a whole range of processors, including all AM2+ processors, which is perfect for us.
What we like about this cooler is the quiet factor - with all Noctua products, the Austrian company bundles in two acoustical noise adapters (one blue and one black). If you select the black L.N.A (Low-Noise Adapter) cable, the fan RPM is adjusted down to 1100 RPM or 16.9 dBA. And if you select the blue U.L.N.A (Ultra Low-Noise Adapter), the fan RPM is adjusted down to 900 RPM and just 12.6 dBA.
When playing around with these adapters, be sure to monitor your CPU and case temperature to make sure things are under control.
Keyboard and Mouse
- IOGEAR Long Range Media Center Desktop
($69.95 USD MSRP)
I normally turn to Logitech when it comes to keyboards and mice, but this time around I opted for IOGEAR's Long Range Media Center Desktop combo, with little prior knowledge about the product before buying.
I am pleased to say that I made a good decision when buying this product. In the past, I used a Logitech wireless combo and while I was happy with the actual keyboard and mouse, the range was shocking - anything over a meter or so and the devices crapped out.
One of the big things that IOGEAR is pushing with this product is the range and on their product website they claim its 2.4G wireless bi-directional connectivity USB receiver is able to work at a range of up to 33 feet or a stunning 10 meters. After only a little testing, it was clear that this product from IOGEAR absolutely has it over the old Logitech combo I was using. It worked throughout our lounge and even out of it!
Moreover, the USB receiver is of the nano kind and is really tiny and doesn't stick out from the case much at all, as you can see above. And the Media Center (MCE) hotkeys give you quick access to My TV, My Music, My Video and My Pictures, which is obviously perfect for a HTPC system.
Other bits and pieces
Besides all the parts we have recommended over the last two pages, you will also need to have the following for real Blu-ray HD audio playback:
- All HDMI 1.3 or above cables (ASUS includes them)
- HDCP capable monitor or HDTV
- Modern amplifier / speakers capable of DTS-HD MA and TrueHD