Building My Silverstone HTPC

The web seems to be full of pages showing people building their own machines, and while this could be considered a bit sad, I did find it useful when researching this project.  So, in the spirit of giving something back, I thought I'd document the assembly of my new HTPC.

I've been running a Shuttle (an XPC Zen) under the TV for three years now, and using GBPVR to record and playback television.  In that time I've become competely addicted to the idea of a 'media centre' [note the UK spelling - yes, I'm in England], and have generally been very pleased with GBPVR.  But, while it does TV very well indeed, its handling of music and image files is a bit clunky.  Also, the Shuttle, being a so-called 'small form factor' machine, only has room for a single expansion card, which is taken up with the Hauppauge TV card, and a single disk drive, so expansion is effectively ruled out.  Also (and this factor should never be underestimated) I wanted to play with a new toy.

The Case

The first thing to do was to chose a case.  Part of my dissatisfaction with the Shuttle was that it didn't sit very well with my other AV kit under the TV.  I wanted something that looked like a piece of hi fi kit.  A fair bit of web searching revealed that you can really spend a lot of money on an HTPC case!  However, part of the point of this project was to do it on a reasonable budget, so I didn't want to spend more that £150 on a case.  I did however, want a VFD in the front - even though I wasn't sure of the real benefits of such a device, it struck me as providing a bit of the 'wow' factor I was after.
Silverstone HTPC case marketing picture

So, some hard Googling produced a shortlist of cases from Antec, Silverstone, Thermaltake and Zalman.  I did in fact decide on the Zalman HD 160+, only to discover that no one had one in stock, and the importers didn't know when they would have any more.  Damn.  So then I went with my second choice, which was the Silverstone LC16M.  This had the right look, was the right size, and about the right price.  In addition, Silverstone do their own range of quiet power supplies, which I assume are fairly well matched to their cases, so I settled for a ST50EF PSU.

Motherboard and Processor

Now, despite the fact that I'm building my own PC here, I'm not really an expert on hardware.  Fortunately (for me if not for him), I've got a mate who is - take a bow, Dave.  He recommended a mini-ATX board with good sound and graphics onboard, to minimise heat and noise from extra expansion cards, and a low power AMD processor.  As this machine will be running a lot of the the time, and I want it to be quiet, low power consumption is a key factor both for electricity bills and the noise generated by cooling fans. Power consumption is becoming a factor in all sorts of environments now, and the chip manufacturers are apparently turning on to this, producing a range of "cool 'n' quiet" CPUs.  I decided on the AMD 4850e, which has an amazingly low thermal envelope of 45 watts, and Dave was able to supply me with this and a Foxconn A7GMX-K motherboard, together with an AK-860SF cooler.

Everything else

Those were all the big decisions - deciding on memory (2 Gb of Corsair), disk (Hitachi HDP725032GLA380), DVD drive (LG) etc was pretty straightforward, along with the all important TV card (Hauppauge PVR 150).

So, having ordered it all up (most of it from the generally excellent, I had to sit and wait, as if for Christmas!