The Ruffled Crow

Animation, Art, and Other Shiny Things

My Digital Evolution – Killing the Cable – Part 3

[part 1 – the why] [part 2 – the software][part 4 – the build][part 5 – epilogue]

Part 3: The Hardware

After spending the last couple weeks working with the various software I’ll be using on my HTPC (Home Theater PC) I’ve come to the conclusion that there probably isn’t one overarching, integrated package that’ll do everything I want. That said, the WAF (Wife Acceptability Factor) should still be high if I set it up right. More on that when I get everything onto the 10-foot interface.

Perhaps even more important than the software will be the hardware. I could have the most sophisticated and beautious interface that catalogued everything and could even anticipate my next program choice (how did it know I wanted to watch Beach Babe Sumo Wrestling?), but if it stutters, buffers, and has poor quality video and audio then what’s the point?

Fortunately hardware capable of doing high end video is pretty much the norm these days and, as hardware has a tendancy to become, it’s cheap.

As noted in an earlier part to this series, I could go super cheap and get a netbook or the like, but I’ve decided to build my own. Having been a computer builder professionally and built all my systems for 20 years one would think that this was a no-brainer, however I really would’ve preferred to let someone else do the work as I’ve been out of the biz for a few years (an eon in computer time) and it is really kind of a pain in the butt.

Using 6 months of cable tv as a cost benchmark, around $750, let’s look at what we can cobble together.

CPU: Intel i3-530 (2.93Ghz)

Pretty much on the low end of the new generation of Intel procs. I looked at the i5 and i7 series and really couldn’t see what they could do in my HTPC that the i3 couldn’t. I won’t be playing EverQuest on it, (as cool it would be to play my game on a 50 inch screen, I really don’t think Aunt Bee would be particularly enthusiastic to watch me run around and kill monsters versus watching the new episode of Hot in Cleveland…) and video/audio file preparation will be done on my desktop before transfer onto the HTPC.

What’s nice about the i3-530 is that it handles HD video on chip and, since no 3d gaming, will more than adequately handle spitting out HD video to the big screen. It also is low power which means lower heat output and that means lower overall power requirements for the machine as a whole.

Mainboard: ASUS P7H55 M-Pro

I don’t know how many machines I’ve built using ASUS MBs, but add this one to the pile. I looked at the Gigabyte H55M-UD2H too and would have little problem using one of them either.

The main requirements here was an HDMI output (to the tv) and spdif out (to the audio system) that will do 5.1 surround. This board will actually do 7.1 sound, so I’m covered there. It will also take the i5 and i7 chips in case I feel the need to upgrade the CPU some time in the future. It maxes at 16M RAM and has more USB ports than a cathouse cyborg.

RAM: Corsair or Crucial 2 x 2G PC3-10600

Two of them, two gigs each, dual channel, twice as much as I need. Now add those twins I knew in high school and…. wait… never mind.

As long as it’s dual-channel DDR3 either brand is good as both are top notch RAM manufacturers. The MB runs PC3-10600 or 8500, but I’ll shoot for the faster stuff.

Power Supply: Nexus Value 430

I looked at the FSP Zen fanless PS but am a little leery of fanless power supplies still. On the fanned side, the Nexus has excellent reviews for it’s quietude and reliability. With a controlled fan it’s possible that the fan won’t even be running at times, anyways.

Hard Drive: Western Digital 1Tb Caviar Green

I have built with literally hundreds of WD Caviar drives. The first HDD I ever bought was a Caviar 200M. Overall they’re great – unless you have the 1600. This 1.6G drive was instantly recognizable for 2 reasons; the bright blue stripe on the label, and the loud click it made as it died. The 1600 came preinstalled with the ‘click-of-death’ which was very odd as the rest of the caviar line were troopers.

Anyways, the 1Tb Green is reported to be super quiet and low power. The WD10EARS runs about 65 bucks but only spins at 5400rpm, the EVDS spinds at 7200 but runs about 80. A tough call as the EARS will be fast enough initially, but down the road I may shift some file processing to it and a 7200 won’t get as bogged down.

Blue-Ray/DVD: None

We currently have a 6-DVD 5.1 surround upconverter. It’s not Blu-ray, but I don’t feel a huge need for BR yet. When I do, it will be a cheap and easy upgrade to this box.

Case: Antec Fusion

Decently reviewed case with a nice look. It has a front display for show titles, progress, and the like, though I understand the VFD software can be a bit wacky. The cool factor is strong with this one, so is the price…

Remote/Keyboard: nMedia HTPCKB w/ Remote or Firefly/Adesso wkb-3000ub

The nMedia and Adesso keyboards are identical, but the Adesso comes sans remote, which I would replace with the Firefly remote.

For pure usability, these two items are extremely important and will have a huge impact on the WAF. If Aunt Bee has issues with the remote it won’t matter what is under the HTPC’s hood.

The Firefly remote looks to be programmable, uses RF, and has a nice button layout – better than most MCE remotes.

The keyboard(s) are also RF and includes a trackball on the top right corner. The real kicker for me was the left-click button along the top right corner edge and a scroll wheel on the left corner edge. There are also a good number of media control buttons that I assume are somewhat programmable.

[next up: Assembly]

[UPDATE: Just ordered the parts. Changed 1 item and added 1 more. All items were ordered from Newegg.com. Here is the price breakout:

  • i3-530- $115
  • Asus P7H55 M-Pro – $90
  • Corsair XMS3 PC3-10600 (2x2g) – $90
  • Nexus Value 430 P/S – $80
  • WD 1tb Green EARS HDD – $70
  • Antec Fusion Black Case – $140
  • Adesso WKB-3000ub – $60
  • (diff) Logitech Harmony 550 refurb remote – $50
  • (add) Rodewell RMS HDA5000 amplified antenna – $30
  • Shipping – $20

Total comes to $745, just shy of my projected 750 buck budget and I got a better remote and a decent HD antenna as well!

[part 4 – the build]

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2 responses to “My Digital Evolution – Killing the Cable – Part 3

  1. balladeer August 15, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Interesting blog! I think it will be worth the wait between posts that you warned us about at the forum.

  2. sacredcalf August 15, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Thank much, Balladeer! I’ll do me best to keep it that way.

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