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Re-build a Home Theater PC (HTPC)

July 26th, 2015

I am a fan of Raspberry Pi and I was using it for pretty long period as HTPC with OpenElec on it. Moreover, Raspberry Pi got a upgrade of the sound card in my setup. You can read it in my previous post. However, every time when there was new software of RPi release, I had to tweak Raspberry and disable some of the features, which were pretty cool (e.g. disabling thumbnails) in order to make RPi faster.

Of course, one of the main reasons for this was quite slow CPU and even overclocking did not help too much. Well, some guys, on HTPC-related forums, suggested to upgrade to Raspberry Pi 2 with higher specs. Well, I did not like this idea 🙁 Maybe because I got used to much to open architecture of PC, where you can put the parts from different vendors or upgrade some of them 🙂

Build a Home Theater PC

PC-based HTPC

So, I started to look back for PC-based HTPC setup and the process began by browsing through eBay and Amazon websites. However, I realized after a while that buying only higher quality HTPC case would cost at least 70 Euro. Well, after that I would have to add the motherboard, CPU etc. The total would be  300 Euro. This option appeared as not very attractive.

The next option was to use a small factor (SFF) PC. You can find them from all well and less known brands like HP, Dell, Lenovo. I my case, I still had an old Asus barebone system in posession 🙂 So, I had only re-build a Home Theater PC (HTPC).

If you choosing SFF PC, just pay attention to available expansion slots (PCI, PCI-E). The reason is that you will want to to put a reasonable video card for decoding video files and some good quality audio card (e.g. M-Audio Audiophile 😉 The last one is a good exception trend – it does not do digital oversampling 😉

My choices & tweaks

I had laying around grids for the ATX power supply,  so I upgraded the original ‘tin’ version of it. You can see the results below 🙂 It should a bit improve the air flow. Probably, the main advantage that such grid will collect less dust and it shoudl be a bit more silent. And of course, the feeling that I improved it 😀

Build a Home Theater PC

For some reason, the heat-sink on the south-bridge was missing, so I put it to reduce the temperature. This issue was also fixed.

As a graphical card, I chose AMD HD5450, which costed ~30 Eur. The good thing is that this card supports hardware playback (decoding) of the following codecs: MPEG2, AVCHD (H.264) and VC1. Probably, it is one of best budget option for HTPC 😉 This card is PCI-Express x16 type. Well, I learnt quite funny thing which looked at the beginning almost crazy.

The motherboard on my Asus barebone system does not support such interface … After spending some time on Internet (even before buying this card), I found that it is possible to install x16 graphics cards into non-x16 slots … very weird :[ But I decided to risk and it appeared that it works well 😀

You can see mine installation below after some modification of PCI-Express slot … Build a Home Theater PC

HTPC sound card

The last thing in setup was to choose a good quality audio card. Good quality is pretty subjective word 🙂 As I mentioned earlier, it should not do digital oversampling. As it appears, there are not so many sound cards which would not do this. Well, but at least this M-Audio Audiophile 24/96 PCI does not oversample the digital signal and it was my choice. I do not think that some sacrifices have to make about this.

Choosing OS for your PC based HTPC

In the reality, the OS for HTPC should perform only few basic functions including HTPC-related playback of different audio or video formats. I did not want to use neither Ubuntu or another “full weight” Linux distribution.
The lighter OS – the better! Such philosophy will limit the requirements for the hardware.

I found that OpenElec have i386 or x64_86 compatible releases for regular PCs. You will find them in generic builds section. At the end, I burnt OpenElec image to USB drive and voilà – my HTPC got aka SSD drive 😀

Enjoy, your freshly re-built HTPC 😉