Monday, August 13, 2012

How to build a cheap HTPC (Home Theater Personal Computer System)?

Home theater entertainment system has always been part of American society. It has come a long way from being cathode ray tube to flat screen TV. Back then not everyone could afford it, but today you can find at least one television in every home. Likewise, TV programs used to be free and all over-the-air then. Today, its not. However, these days it use to be that you can't watch your favorite TV shows and movies without shelling out hundreds of dollars of your hard earned money. I know I did about $100 a month. All that changed since the advent of the Internet. The Internet has become so big that today you can find anything and everything you can think of on it that includes your favorite TV shows, movies and more. In fact, very popular websites YouTube, Hulu and others were created for the sole purpose of serving and providing videos of TV programs and movies all through the Internet. Some of these websites charges you to watch TV shows and movies for very small fees compared to 100s of dollars a month for cable services.


video websites
Video Websites

So, it is only logical and a commonsense to totally cancel your cable or satellite services and watch your favorite shows and movies on the Internet. That's just what I did. No more cable or satellite service disconnection or disconnection fees to get the service again, because I can't afford to pay them for the month. In fact, I went one step further. Instead of just purchasing off-the-shelf computer, I built my own Home Theater Personal Computer (HTPC). In this post, I will detail everything I did from choosing the computer components to how I build my HTPC step by step.

Dish Network and DirecTV Companies
Dish Network and DirecTV Companies

All my computer components and/or parts were purchased online at Newegg website. Newegg is one of the best website when it comes to purchasing electronic parts. I would recommend Newegg.com website to anyone. In fact, for $2.95 more you can have your order processed right away. I got my order in 3 days from the day I placed the order. In fact, my wife told me it was a special delivery that a car instead of a UPS truck came and dropped off the boxes.

My NewEgg order sitting on my porch
My NewEgg order sitting on my porch
Yes, I could have gone to my local electronic store like RadioShack, Hhgreg, Bestbuy, circuit city, or Fry Electronics, but they don't always have everything you need and even if they do it will cost a lot more than it would be online. Once a Hhgreg employee told me, "We don't sell video cards. Maybe you should try Best buy or RadioShack." I was shocked because they advertise themselves as an electronic store. So, always check the Internet for your electronic needs first.



Why build a computer?

  1. Cost - Definitely you will find out that it is cheaper to build it yourself than buying off-the-shelf computer. Almost always off-the-shelf computer is bloated with software and hardware that you probably won't need or use. However, you will pay for them. In 2006, I bought a desktop for $690 from Sams Club, but when I tallied up all the parts in the computer, it was about $400.
  2. Easy To Fix - If there is any issue with the computer you will know how to fix it.
  3. Avoid being ripped-off - Most of all you will not be ripped-off by Geek Squad and FireDog when in need of technical assistance.
  4. Very satisfying or It's fun when you have it all running.

Geek Squad and Firedog
Geek Squad and Firedog

The last place I would go for any computer fix would be Geek Squad or Firedog. They are known for ripping their customers off time and time again. But then when you think about it, businesses aren't setup to really solve your problem forever or permanently. If it were the case, all of them companies would've gone out of business long time ago. They only give you so much and so little of whatever they are selling and you have to keep going back and forth wasting your money. Geek Squad and Firedog don't really fix your computer but make it work little better. I know quiet a few people in my family, who have been ripped off before they came to me for help. For instance, my neighbor is very illiterate when it comes to computers and she spent over $500 in Geek Squad service fees and still didn't get her computer fixed until she came to me. There was a faulty SATA cable connecting to her hardrive. Sometime it worked and sometime it didn't. By process of elimination, I was able to locate the problem and I gave her my spare SATA cable for free. She was thrilled her computer worked great from then on. Since then, she never went to Geek Squad or FireDog but come to me for computer fixes. Bottom line they are there to make money not to fix your problem or your computer..


Why do you need computer?

One of the question you really need to ask yourself is this when it comes to building your own PC or HTPC. Why do I need a computer? This question will eventually determine what you need to purchase and what all you want in your computer. If all you want to be able to do with your computer is surf the Internet and check your email, then go ahead buy yourself a off-the-shelf computer. But if you need a computer for watching TV programs or movies in high definition, then more often than not retailers will sell you a $2,000 computer, but you can build your won home theater PC (HTPC) with all the bells and whistle of a $2,000 dollar computer for a lot less. Although they are selling devices solely meant for viewing tv shows and movies on the Internet on your TV such Roku, Boxee Box, Apple TV, Google Television, etc, what people don't realize when it comes to these devices is that they are already pre-programmed to only show certain programs and movies not everything on the Internet. For instance, lately youtube has grown so big and popular, it has many full length movies free and paid. However, as one of my co-worker had complained, Google TV he bought doesn't show all the videos on Youtube. That's because Google already pre-programmed their TV to only display certain videos from their youtube server. You can't change that.

However, all computers have the following components. I will list them in the order of importance. Just as a side note, I would like to tell you that I did research a lot online on the computer parts that I bought, before actually placing the order just to be sure I wasn't going to waste my time and money especially when this is my first build. This post is the result of all the information I gathered in the process.

List of computer components:
  1. Computer Case
  2. Motherboard
  3. Processor
  4. Power Supply
  5. Hardrive
  6. Memory Card
  7. Video Card (optional)
  8. CDROM/DVD
  9. Wireless Network Card (Optional)

Computer Case

Computer Case is one of the main component of a computer. It provides support and holds every other components together. However, they come in two different style - Advanced Technology eXtended (ATX) and Balanced Technology eXtended (BTX). The most popular technology for desktops is ATX. These technologies are collectively called form factor. Form factor or standards ensure that when you go to build a computer every other computer component that you incorporate into your computer will fit together nicely like a zigzaw puzzle. Thus, computer parts manufacturers build components based on ATX or BTX. For instance, if you chose to build an ATX computer, then every computer component that you buy will have to be for ATX - ATX power supply, ATX motherboard, etc. So, I decided to build ATX computer.

For my build, I purchased ATX computer case. Plus, this particular computer case is meant for home theater PC. So, you can set it straight up or lay it flat on its side like a VCR. This is one of the cheapest computer case I could find that met my need.


CoolMaster GLite 360
CoolMaster GLite 360

I bought CoolMaster GLite 360 for $44.00 dollars.



CoolMaster GLite 360
CoolMaster GLite 360

CoolMaster GLite 360
CoolMaster GLite 360

As you can see it has plenty of vents for extra fans that you may want to install later. As part of this build, I also added extra fans. I will be showing you that too later on.



CoolMaster GLite 360 Inside
CoolMaster GLite 360 Inside


Inside the empty computer case, there is not much to see but do notice that the case comes with all the screws and nuts. Plus, the one case fan and connectors for off/on buttons, front panel (audio and USB) and others.



CoolMaster GLite 360 Top
CoolMaster GLite 360 Top
CoolMaster GLite 360 does come with one 120mm case fan. You may find out that you need more case fans. If you do, this computer case has a lots vents where you can install your extra fans.



CoolMaster GLite 360 on its side
CoolMaster GLite 360 on its side

One of the main concern people have of this computer case is that it is filmy or not strong enough. On the contrary, it is very secure and sturdy. Of course it is not meant for you to stand on or place 100 pound furniture. If you try, it will collapse.



Motherboard

Once you have decided on a computer case (in this case ATX), next component to decide on is the motherboard. 

What is motherboard?

In a personal computer, a motherboard is the central printed circuit board in many modern computers and holds many of the crucial components of the system, providing connectors for other peripherals. The motherboard is sometimes alternatively known as the mainboard, system board, planar board or, on Apple computers, the logic board. It is also sometimes casually shortened to mobo (Wikipedia).

When deciding on which motherboard to buy, you need to consider couple of important points.
  1. Obviously, you need to make sure it is in the right form factor for your build i.e. ATX or BTX. In my case, it is ATX.
  2. Almost always when building your own computer, you will be expanding or extending the capability of your system later on by adding extra hardware. If so, you will need a motherboard that will give you more slots and space for additional hardware - video card, audio card, network card (wireless or wired), etc.
  3. You must also check the motherboard for all the inputs and outputs you want on your system. For instance, since I am going to be mainly using this HTPC for viewing movies and tv shows on my T.V., I made sure it had onboard HDMI output and all the necessary audio outputs. As a side note, all motherboards do come plug and play right out of the box. It comes with onboard video and audio, but they are not the best and will overload system. Thus, the output will be choppy.
  4. While deciding on a motherboard, you also have to consider your selection of a processor or the brain of your computer. Motherboard doesn't support all the processor in the market unfortunately. If it were the case, life would be fantastic. Your choice of motherboard might only support handful of processors. So, you need to also decide on your processor. Usually, the seller of your motherboard will list all the processors it supports and has been tested on it. That should give you some idea of what to look for and buy.
  5. Last but not least, make sure the motherboard has plenty of input connections you need - i.e. if you are mainly going to use SATA cable for all your components' connections, then you need one that has 3 or 4 SATA socket on your motherboard.
BioStar A880G+ Motherboard
BioStar A880G+ Motherboard
For my build, I chose BioStar A880G+ ATX form factor motherboard or Micro ATX mobo for $40.00. For the time being, it supports all of my need. The review for this motherboard was overall positive. Not only that I am a huge fan of AMD Athlon Processors but this motherboard supports it.

My motherboard spec:

General

  • Product Type Motherboard - Micro ATX
  • Chipset Type AMD 880G / AMD SB710
  • Processor Socket Socket AM3
  • Max Processors Qty 1
  • Compatible Processors Phenom II X6,
    Phenom II X3,
    Phenom II X4,
    Sempron,
    Athlon II X4,
    Phenom II X2,
    Athlon II X2,
    Athlon II X3

Memory

  • Max Supported Memory 8 GB
  • Supported RAM Technology DDR3 SDRAM
  • Supported RAM Speed 1333 MHz,
    800 MHz,
    1066 MHz
  • RAM Features Dual channel memory architecture

Graphics

  • Graphics Controller ATI Radeon HD 4250
  • Max Allocated RAM Size 512 MB

Audio

  • Type High Definition Audio (6-channel)
  • Audio Codec Realtek ALC662
  • Compliant Standards High Definition Audio

LAN

  • Network Controller Realtek RTL8111DL
  • Network Interfaces Gigabit Ethernet
  • Modem None

Expansion / Connectivity

  • Expansion Slot(s) 1 x Processor - Socket AM3,
    2 x Memory - DIMM 240-pin,
    2 x PCI,
    1 x PCI Express 2.0 x16
  • Storage Interfaces - connector(s): 4 x 7pin Serial ATA - 4 device(s) - RAID 0 / RAID 1 / RAID 10,
    EIDE - connector(s): 1 x 40pin IDC

Features

  • Hardware Features AMD Cool 'n' Quiet Technology

Miscellaneous

  • Included Accessories I/O back plate
  • Cables Included 2 x Serial ATA cable
  • Software Included Drivers & utilities
  • Compliant Standards RoHS
  • Width 9.6 in
  • Depth 7.9 in  
BioStar A880G+ Motherboard
BioStar A880G+ Motherboard

The reason you need to also look for your processor along with your motherboard is that not only certain processors are supported by your motherboard but also they differ by number of pins or sockets to connect to on your motherboard. So, number of socket on your motherboard must match the number of pins on your choice of processor. You can't just shove the processor into its socket hope that it works. :)


Processor

Next computer component to decide on for your build is the processor as hinted by the motherboard section above.

What is a processor?

The processor also known as central processing unit (CPU) is the hardware within a computer system which carries out the instructions of a computer program by performing the basic arithmetical, logical, and input/output operations of your system. The CPU plays a role somewhat  analogous to the brain in the computer (Wikipedia).

As stated above, literally, it is the brain of your computer. If it burns out or dies, your computer will not work at all, unless you replace it with a new processor. Plus, as mentioned above you must match it with the motherboard that supports it.

Deciding factors for my processor:
  1. I needed a processor with decent speed. So, I don't need to worry about speed.
  2. I never had a single issue with any of my computers running AMD processor. So, I chose a motherboard that supported AMD processor.
  3. I wanted a processor that can also support multi-core applications or operating systems.

For my ATX build, the processor I chose was AMD Athlon II X3 450 Rana 3.2GHz Socket AM3 95W Triple-Core Desktop
Processor for $70.00.
AMD Athlon II X3 450 Rana 3.2GHz

AMD Athlon II X3 450 Rana 3.2GHz

 AMD Athlon II X3 450 Rana 3.2GHz  cooling fan

AMD Athlon II X3 450 Rana 3.2GHz 

cooling fan

My processor spec:
AMD Series Athlon II X3 
Model ADX450WFGMBOX
CPU Socket Type: Socket AM3 
Core: Rana  
Multi-Core - Triple-Core  
Name: Athlon II X3 450  
Operating Frequency: 3.2GHz  
Hyper Transports: 4000MHz  
L1 Cache: 3 x 128KB  
L2 Cache: 3 x 512KB  
Manufacturing Tech: 45nm 
64 bit Support: Yes 
Hyper-Transport Support:Yes 
Virtualization Technology Support:Yes 
Voltage:0.85V - 1.4V 
Thermal Design Power:95W 
Cooling Device: Heatsink and Fan included.
This processor hasn't crashed or failed in any way shape or form. With recent heat wave, it couple of times needed to be rebooted, but other than that it has been running flawlessly. Now, I can't say the same about Intel Processors. In the past, many of-the-shelf-Intel-computers I bought failed miserably within 2 or 3 years. My personal computer at home has AMD processor and it has been running since 2006 without any crash or burn not even once. I have been dual booting Linux and Windows XP.


Power Supply
  
Next component to look for your build is power supply. Logically, this should be the last if you really think about it. However, this component would be the last one for you to really pay close attention to. Every other components I will be talking about after this is pretty much plug and play and optional.


What is a Power Supply?
  
Power Supply is the device in your computer that converts, routes and regulates alternating current (AC) out of your wall outlet to Direct Current (DC) into your computer. DC is what your computer needs. Without it, your computer will not work at all. In fact, it will smoke your computer components the instant you power your computer with AC power.
 
They come in two different form - modular and non-modular. All that means is modular power supply will not have permanent wire or cable sticking out of the power supply box. You can pick and chose which cables you want coming from your power supply into your devices. Thus, keeps your internal computer space uncluttered and gives you more room to play with. However, non-modular power supply will have all the available cables that you will need from your power supply box. It will be there even if you don't use it. Thus, making the internal computer space very cluttered and messy.

Also, you need to decide on how much power you really need to run your computer. If the computer is going to be used for general use - for surfing or emailing or light use, then 350W power supply should be sufficient as long as you don't start upgrading your computer with additional hardware. Then, you may need a lot more power. Usually, 450W power supply should be plenty of power for your computer to run all of its components. My 2004 off-the-shelf-computer came with 350W power supply and even with that I am able install and run video cards.

For my build, I bought ENERMAX NAXN ENP450AST 450W ATX12V Power Supply for $44.00.

ENERMAX 450W Power Supply
ENERMAX 450W Power Supply
ENERMAX 450W Power Supply
ENERMAX 450W Power Supply
This power supply is non-modular and it definitely provides plenty of power for my computer.
 
 
Memory Card, Video Card, Wireless Network Card, CD/DVD Burner, Hardrive
 

The following computer components I will be talking about is all plug and play except for maybe the wireless network card. When I say plug and play, I mean for the most part you can buy any brands you want and install them in your system and they should and will work flawlessly. You really shouldn't have any problem, unless the hardware itself is malfunctioning.

 
Memory Card 
 
What is a memory Card? 
Memory card is a device when connected to your motherboard it provides memory to run your programs and operating system on. Plus, it provides space for your computer to read and write data to be accessed by the CPU (central processing unit). It is also known as RAM - Random Access Memory.

Usually, you can buy any brand of memory card for your computer and it should work with your motherboard. In rare cases, some memory card may not work for other reasons. However, majority of the memory cards in the market should work flawlessly in your system. Sometimes your motherboard will only be able to support certain amount of memory size and beyond that no memory will be used even if there is plenty of memory. For instance, my home computer has 4 slots for memory card and each memory card is about a Gig. Although I have filled all of my memory card slots, it only sees about 2 Gig of memory space for use. Certainly memory card is not optional. You must have at least minimum amount of memory as required by your system.



Team Elite 4GB
Team Elite 4GB

For my build, I bought Team Elite 4GB - each 2GB. Why did I chose this brand? Well, on Newegg.com they had special. At that time, these DDR3 memory card went for $22.00 as compared to other ones. This was a great deal I couldn't pass on.


Hardrive

What is a hardrive?

A hard disk drive (HDD; also hard drive, hard disk, or disk drive) is a device for storing and retrieving digital information, primarily computer data. It consists of one or more rigid (hence "hard") rapidly rotating discs (platters) coated with magnetic material, and with magnetic heads arranged to write data to the surfaces and read it from them (Wikipedia).


Hardrive is where you store and retrieve your documents and files from. Unlike DDR3 memory card, anything stored on hardrive is saved permanently. Even though your operating system gives you the option of deleting files, your file is not deleted but the link to your file is. When you delete a file, you are only deleting its link to its memory location. However, your file is still stored in your hardrive, but now it is marked as unused.


Again, you should be able to buy any hardrive and it should work with your system as long as it is not faulty. In my case, I was trying to save money. So, I decided to buy a refurbished hardrive. All that means is that it has been used by someone else and the retailer took the hardrive from them, erase everything on it and made sure it works without a problem. It's a lot cheaper that way.
Computer Hardrive
Computer Hardrive
I bought 1 x Refurbished: Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 RFHST380815AS 80GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive for $40.00.

CD/DVD drive

What is CD/DVD drive?
CD/DVD drive is an optical drive to retrieve and/or store data on optical discs like CDs, DVDs, and BDs (Blu-ray discs) which hold much more information than classic portable media options like the floppy disk.
Like the DDR3 memory card, 99.9% of the time you can buy any brand of optical drive and install it into your system. It should work without any problem, unless the drive itself is faulty. So, when I bought my optical drive, I was looking for the ones that were cheaper and will meet my need when it comes to storing and reading data into CD/DVD.

 
 
ASUS 24X DVD Burner
ASUS 24X DVD Burner
For my build, I chose ASUS 24X DVD Burner for $18.00. It has so far worked flawlessly.
ASUS 24X DVD Burner - Bulk 24X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 12X DVD+R DL 24X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 32X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM Black SATA Model DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS - OEM

Video Card


This component is optional. That means you don't really need a video card for your motherboard. Your motherboard already has one embedded on its circuit board. However, its video processing capability is limited. Often times, they will overload the system when processing high definition videos. So, having a video card helps a lot when it comes to processing HD videos as I will show you the difference it makes.

 

What is a video card?

A video card is an expansion card that allows the computer to send graphical information to a video display device such as a monitor or projector. It has its own processor. So, it won't overload your computer processor.
ASUS GT520 0dB, fanless Video or graphics card

ASUS GT520 0dB, fanless Video or graphics card


Since I am building a computer specifically for the purpose of watching movies and TV programs, I bought a video card, ASUS GT520 0dB, fanless graphics card with DirectX®11 with HDMI support for $50.00.
As mentioned above, when you have a video card in your system, it reduces the workload for your processor. Thus, your video viewing experience will be smooth not choppy. Not only that this perticular video card also supports HDMI for upto 1080P resolution.

 

ASUS GT520 GeForce fanless Video Card
ASUS GT520 GeForce fanless Video Card
Like hardrive, CD/DVD burner and memory cards, your choice of video card for your motherboard can be any brand. Only that you have to make sure your motherboard can support or has the right type of expansion or PCI slot for you to install a video card on. In this case, you need PCI Express 2.0x16 slot. 

Wireless Network Card

Last but not least, this last component you may want to install is Wireless Network card.

What is Wireless Network card?

As the name implies, it is a network card for your computer that will connect to your network or LAN wirelessly instead of through CAT5 cable. So, you can get on the Internet or talk to another computer within your LAN network.

Wireless Network card is very handy when your modem is in another part of your house where running a cable all the way from your modem to your computer is not feasible. In my case, it was the case. In fact, my Internet modem is upstair and my HTPC is on the first floor. So, the easiest thing for me to do I decided is to buy a wireless network card.

Not just any wireless network card but a card that will work under Linux operating system, which I will be talking about later on.

After doing reasearch on the Internet, I came across this card that suited my needs. I bought TP-Link PCI Wireless Network Card for $25.00.
TP-Link PCI Wireless Network Card
TP-Link PCI Wireless Network Card
As stated above, one of the main reason I bought this wireless network card was because it is to plug and play on Linux and windows operating systems.

That pretty much summarizes the components I bought for building my HTPC. My list of computer components should give you some idea of what you need to buy if you want to build a HTPC of your own.

 

Assembly of computer components

Now we are ready to take all the computer components and put them together assuming you have purchased all the necessary computer components.

One of the things people tend to do right after they receive their electronic equipments is crack open all the boxes and scatter everything around. That creates a mess and you have a good chance of loosing parts or manuals. I have done that before and have lost nuts and parts. We all have that urge but you need take it one step at a time especially when this is your first time.

Before you open your boxes and take your computer components out, you should realize that we build up static electricity in our body when we walk on our carpets through out the day. If you are not careful you could destroy your equipments by passing the static charge on to them. In particular, your processor and motherboard are very vulnerable to static discharges.

What is the solution for static electricity?
First of all, there are a lot of products in the market for such a thing when building your computer. Do you really need it? In my opinion, I really don't think it makes a big difference as long as you find a way to discharge it, before you begin your assembly. For instance, you could touch something that is metal like your computer case. It should help to dissipate the charges off your body.

However, it is very important to discharge static charges, before you start your assembly.

STEPS

1.) Take your computer case and lay it flat on a table or floor. So, that the computer case facing upward and is easily accessible to install your components as the picture below shows. Make sure to take out a bag full of nuts and bolts. Plus, you should also find clips for holding your hardrive and CD/DVD burner in your computer case. The only thing there should be in your computer case is case fan connectors and system on/off, audio and USB connectors.
Computer Case CoolMaster GLite 360
Computer Case CoolMaster GLite 360
 2.) Now, make sure you don't have any static charge in your body by touching something metal in your house right before you move on to the next step. When you are ready, open your motherboard box if you haven't already and just set it in your computer case based on your motherboard instruction manual. Also, when you pick up your motherboard with your hand, try not to touch as best as you can all over your motherboard. You should pick it up with its edges. As mentioned above, if you sticked with the form factor or standard for your build (ATX or BTX), then your motherboard should fit right into your computer case without any issue. The picture below will show you how it should look after you set your motherboard and screwed it onto the computer case itself.
Notice Pre-drilled holes already for your motherboard.
Notice Pre-drilled holes already for your motherboard.

Your computer case comes with screws, nuts and bolts for your motherboard installation. Follow your motherboard instructions carefully and you should be fine.

BioStar A880G + motherboard in computer case
BioStar A880G + motherboard in computer case
BioStar A880G + motherboard in computer case
BioStar A880G + motherboard in computer case
Once the motherboard is properly placed and screwed into your computer case, it should look like the above picture. You could damage your motherboard if you tighten your screws too much. It should be tightly screwed onto your computer case but not too tight.

3.) Again, before you move on to the next step, please make sure you still don't have static charges in your body especially for this step. Now, open your processor box and you should find two things in there - processor itself and its cooling system. They should be in their own packages. 

 AMD Athlon II X3 450 Rana 3.2GHz  cooling fan

AMD Athlon II X3 450 Rana 3.2GHz 

cooling fan

AMD Athlon Rana
AMD Athlon Rana
Here is where you have to pay very close attention to what you are doing. Assuming you have made sure you don't have static charges, take your processor out from its plastic package with your fingers holding it with its edges not its center. Then, locate this yellow triangle in one corner of your processor as shown in the picture above. Also, look at your motherboard. You should see a white square area with a lots of holes or processor socket. That's where you will be placing this processor. However, you need to look for the triangle at the processor socket also. When you go to place your processor into its socket, you need to align the triangle on your processor with the triangle on your motherboard's processor socket. As you are placing the processor in its socket don't push it in. It should easily find its pin holes if you slightly move it around. Once you have it in place, lock it with a mini lever on one side of the processor socket. That should lock the processor in place nice and tight. It is very important you do this right or you may damage your processor and/or your motherboard. Once you have completed this step, your processor on the motherboard should look like the following picture. 

AMD Athlon Rana process on the Motherboad
AMD Athlon Rana process on the Motherboad

Next, remove the processor cooling fan system from its package. It should already be pre-assembled as a single unit. If so, then you should be ready to install it. On the bottom of the cooling fan there should be a grey spot. That is actually cement that is supposed to go on top of the processor. So, it will stick to the processor. Before placing the processor cooling fan, make sure it is being set according to your manual. It goes certain way right on top of your processor such that the clip will latch nice and tight at the end. Once you have completed that step, it should look like the following picture.

Cooling on top of the AMD processor
Cooling on top of the AMD processor

Cooling on top of the AMD processor
Cooling on top of the AMD processor

4.) Next step is simple. We are going to install the memory card. Installing a memory card is not very hard at all. If you notice in the above picture, there are two slots running up and down next the processor cooling fan. Those slots are for your memory cards. Simply, align your memory card with the slot and push it into the slot. When it is in place, you should hear a clicking noise.

Memory Card and motherboard
Memory Card and motherboard


Some motherboard comes with four slots for your memory card. In which case, you could fill up all those slots, but your system will only recognize half of the total memory size.

5.) Next steps are again should be simple - installing your hardrive and CD/DVD ROM. For this step, you should have received tabs or clips for you to install your hardrive and CD/DVD ROM with your computer case.

If you follow their instructions on how to install these hardware, then you shouldn't have any problem installing them. In my case, I had to attach these black tabs on both sides of my hardrive and push it in its slot in the computer case until it clicked. The same goes for your CD/DVD ROM except the tabs are bigger for ROM. On this computer case, there is an extra slot for something else. At this point, I will leave it alone for I have nothing to install in that slot.


Hardrive in a slot
Hardrive in a slot




CD/DVD Writer ROM in a slot
CD/DVD Writer ROM in a slot

6.) Next step is installing your video card only if you bought it for your build. Otherwise you could skip this step and use the integrated video output from motherboard. As mentioned above, almost always any integrated devices on your motherboard is only good for normal or average use. So, your video output from your motherboard will be okay, but if you are expecting to watch 1080p or even 720p resolution video forget it. It won't be able to handle the load and your whole system will be lag or slow down such that your video output will be very very choppy.

Just like installing a your memory card, you need to look for PCI Express slot on your motherboard. Usually, the slot will look little longer and in different color than the other slots. Once you located it, remove the metal piece on your computer case where your video card will expose its output ports. Then, align your video card with the slot and push it in until the tab at one end clicks. Afterward, to hold the video card in place, screw the video card metal piece to the computer case as shown in the picture.


GeForce NVida video card
GeForce NVida video card

GeForce NVida video card
GeForce NVida video card


7.) Next step is also optional. As mentioned above, I was mainly building this computer for watching TV programs and movies on the Internet on my 55in flat screen television. However, my modem and the television are separated by floor and walls such that running CAT5 cable from modem to the HTPC computer was out of the question.

So, the only option I had was to install wireless network card. So, just like you installed your video card you need to find a PCI slot not the PCI Express. There is a difference. It will look like the PCI slot right below my video card as shown in the picture above. Once you found it, remove the computer case metal piece for your network card. Then, align the network card and push it in. However, this slot doesn't have a tab that will click. So, be careful not to push it in too hard expecting a click. Once the wirless network card in place, you need to screw its metal to the computer case to stabilize it.


Wireless Network Card
Wireless Network Card


8.) Next step is installing your power supply. You can't skip this step. This is how your computer gets power to run. Depending on your computer case and power supply form factor, the location for your power supply in your computer case can differ from mine. So, you need to follow your computer case instructions that you got when installing your power supply.

ENERMAX 450W Power Supply
ENERMAX 450W Power Supply

ENERMAX 450W Power Supply
ENERMAX 450W Power Supply


9.) Next step is the last - wiring your computer. I don't want to go into specifics for this step. You have to really follow your instructions. Again, there are times a same motherboard may be slightly different. But I will say this. If your computer case came with SATA cables, use all of them up. SATA cables do make a huge difference when it comes to having less wires cluttering your computer. I used SATA cables for my hardrive and CD/DVD burner and to the motherboard SATA ports. Then, connect them to your power supply.


Computer Wiring
Computer Wiring
However, you need to make these connections. Hardrive needs its data or SATA cable to the motherboard and power from power supply. CD/DVD Burner needs its data or SATA cable to the motherboard and power from power supply. Plus, connect your motherboard to the power supply. Last but not least, your front panel needs to be connected to the motherboard like your USB ports, system on/off and reset button.

Once all the necessary connections are made, the only thing to do is put the computer case lid back on and turn the system on. But you probably won't see anything on your TV screen. That's because you don't have any operating system installed yet. Read the next section.

My HTPC
MY HTPC
 


Operating System

UPDATE: I have since moved away from GeeXbox and running Fedora OS. It is way better than any Linux Media Center....

I am sure a lot of you thought, "When is he going to get to the operating system?" Remember, my goal is to build a computer cheap as possible and so, you guess it right. I did not purchase any system from anyone not even from Microsoft - Microsoft media center especially when there are system for free.

The only other alternative is Linux. Last 4 to 6 years Linux operating system (OS) has really come full speed ahead with Microsoft if not better. So, having used Linux for the last 4 years, I decided to download Linux Media Center. There are many to choose from. However, after spending sometime researching, I found a Linux media center that really fit my need. In fact, it was designed just for viewing tv programs and movies. The Linux media center I am talking about is GeeXbox. It is based on XBMC, which is free and open source (GPL) software media player and entertainment hub for digital media. Although they have XBMC for Windows and Mac, you have to have Windows or Mac which means you will have to buy them. As for as GeeXbox, you don't. It's free. :)

GeeXbox Media Center
GeeXbox Media Center


GeeXbox Media Center is one of the simplest Linux Media center out there. However, it is packed with many options and features. In fact, once you have installed GeeXbox and with few settings, you will be up and running.

First, you need to download their OS and burn it on a CD. You can choose 32bit or 64bit. I would go with 32bit for now.

Here is their download link - http://www.geexbox.org/download/

Then, you can test run your CD live without installing the system to see what works and don't work.

When you first boot GeeXbox, you will come to a main menu screen.

GeeXbox - Main Menu
The menu screen is so easy to understand, you will be clicking away as soon as it starts up. But before you start watching your programs, you need to setup few things.

For one thing, if you have wireless network card like I do, then you have to setup its internet access. If your Internet connection is wired, it will most likely auto connect.

Go to Programs --> GeeXbox Network configuration --> You will see the screen below.

GeeXbox Network Configuration
GeeXbox Network Configuration
Under Network tab, set your network to WLAN for wireless LAN, Network adapter to wlan0, SSID to your LAN SSDI, Network security to your LAN Network security setting and Passphrase to your LAN WEP password if you have one. Then, highlight OK button and enter. At this time, GeeXbox will go out and try to make connection.

Meanwhile, lets go ahead setup your audio.

Go to the main menu. Then, go to System and System setting again. At which point, you will see the following screen. Since I only have a video card, my audio is only going to be coming out from my HDMI Video Output. Therefore, I have to tell GeeXbox, where to direct my audio to.

GeeXbox - Audio Output Setting
GeeXbox - Audio Output Setting
Under Audio Output tab, set your Audio Output to HDMI, Audio output device to NDA NVidia hdmi, Passthrough output device to HDA NVidia hdmi and you can ignore the rest of the settings. Now, you probably wondered why I didn't mention speaker configuration setting. Well, it is depended on your computer system audio output configuration. If you only have 4.1 output from your computer system, then no matter what you set your GeeXbox configuration to it will only output 4.1. You could set it to 7.1, but you will only get 4.1. You decide.

After you have successfully set your audio and wireless Internet access, now you have to add your video add-ons much like a channel.

Just go to main menu and videos. Then, click on video addons selection. It will give you a list of addons such as youtube, etc. When you select and enter youtube for instance, it will give you more options and one is install. Just click on it to install it. Once it is done, escape to menu main again. Once there go to videos, there you will see Youtube listed. Now click on it. This addon serves you youtube videos and there are other addons too.

This GeeXbox has more features and options, which I have yet to run through.

GeeXBox cost me nothing.

Their website is www.geexbox.org.

If GeeXBox doesn't work for you, then try Fedora 16 linux operating system. :)

So, there you have it. Your own HTPC system.

Enjoy!!!

Thanks for visiting my blog.

1 comment:

diamondgeeks said...

Very nicely written post it contains useful information for me about the way to use the Home theater system and the installation of the computer.Now you make it easy for me to understand and implement the concept. Thank you for the post.