Well the last time I concluded with the Processor options for an HTPC. There have been some recent developments – as it is always expected – a few new processor and motherboard options have been released. Firstly the new AM1 socket is up and coming. Though I’ve not been keeping tabs on such releases, I was lucky to have been requested by a forum member for this option as he was searching high and low to get a motherboard which can run on 19v dc. A very good option for this is the AMD Athlon 5350 APU (Am1 Socket). At this point I’d like to explain that both Intel and AMD have different series of sockets for different series of categories and to go into further detail for Intel – they have the LGA1155, LGA2011,LGA1156, LGA1366, and LGA775, the last 3 of these are at the end of their lifetime, LGA 1155 and LGA2011 are the current versions with further lifetime left. One can always Google details, specifications and description about these sockets their history and the thought behind their development. The motherboards also are available in different sizes like Pico -ITX, Nano ATX, Mini-ITX, Micro ATX, ATX, Ex-ATX.
One can start building a pc or an HTPC around the processor, which is not my way these days and then there’s the motherboard as the primary pick sometimes for various reasons related to quality/offers/longevity of the semiconductors etc. This is where it gets a little troublesome. Unfortunately for the end users if you are greedy about all features then keep dreaming my friends. Unless you pay a premium you won’t get a fully loaded motherboard with high quality components. The motherboard selection can depend on your requirements such as:
- Let’s start with the processor. The motherboard that you choose basically should also be compatible with the processor to begin with.
- If the HTPC is going to be used for only Audio or Video even or you plan to do a bit of browsing etc.
- If you plan to use optical media then the supporting media e.g.: A Bluray with a DTS HD content would need a more paging space when compared to a lossless audio being run using external media.
- If you plan to setup a media PC with all the data in internal storage then you should plan a motherboard with the required support for adding the extra HDDs for media and that includes considering a CPU case that supports that motherboard and the HDDs placement.
- If you plan to make the HTPC a media server of sorts then the extendable features of being able
to connect multiple External drives etc.
- If you are unsure about the future add ons then it always pays to have slew of connections and features.
And the rest are typical of any PC build if not all the above for some.
Moving on to the RAM or colloquially (and also incorrectly) referred to as memory. The factors for the size of RAM to be used depend on the kind of load that you wish you put your PC through. More for an HTPC with more apps or encoding decoding etc. – less if you plan to use it as a bare bone PC of sorts. One more specification you’d want to consider is the FSB – Front side bus which is best matched with the FSB supported by the Motherboard. FSB speed can dramatically affect a computer’s performance. At this point I’d also like to tell you that even the Motherboard also has an FSB limit for the DIMM slots and also do few other components. The faster the FSB is, the faster you can get data to and from your Ram, processor etc. The faster you get data to the processor, the faster your processor can do work on it. Also look for a RAM with good Latency you know those specs. e.g.: 8-8-8-24 or 7-7-7-20 etc. Simply put CAS Latency is the delay time between the moments a memory controller tells the memory module to access a particular memory column on a RAM module, and the moment the data from the given array location is available on the module’s output pins. I guess that’s a lot of info for the RAM to begin with. To tone down the complexity for the beginner just make sure the RAM you purchase has a compatible FSB with the Motherboard and a decent Latency.
The next component that I think that one should consider is the power supply (Face it there are onboard display connections that let you ignore the Graphic card). Power supply options are getting very feature rich and at the same time at a premium pricing. But there are few things to bear in mind before going for a PSU (Power Supply Unit – Also called ‘SMPS’ Switch mode power supply). It basically does the job of converting current from AC to DC. For generic PCs a regular SMPS suffices like the one that costs below ₹ 1000, but once you start looking for premium quality as usual the prices shoot up for the similar wattage. There are Modular SMPS (Detachable cables) and there are some with support software to monitor the power inward and outward and individual connectors. It’s your choice as to how particular you are with power supply. Having said this it is said the cleaner the power supplied the better the sound output from the components. And if you are a serious audiophile you’d be very particular about the qualities of the power supplied like Linear Power Supply units or Battery Supply units (Which I haven’t had the pleasure of working with), which some believe help the quality of the signal especially if the PC is being used for Hi-Fi audio reproduction. Finally it’s best to understand all the options and choose wisely.
Moving to the Graphic card in the setup there are several options. The most basic one is the ‘on board graphic chip’ using which the manufacturers support the motherboard with monitor/TV/Projector connectivity typically from Intel or AMD. Having said this you should also know that a high resolution of 4k (because that’s the maximum resolution commercially being sold now a days) needs not just a decent graphic card but also better associated components. For instance if the said card is coupled with a Celeron (An Intel low budget processor) and a low end 5400 RPM or lower RPM hard drive, it would under perform. All the components play a vital part in giving a good quality video. Modern Intel HD Onboard graphics are pretty decent but I’d always suggest an external or discrete graphic card to watch a movie the size over 10GB. At this point I’d like to point out that HDMI also supports a 5.1/7.1/7.2 on the same cable which would make it less number of cables to be concerned about and a 5.1/7.1 audio stream needs more bandwidth which is not supported by single Co-axial cable. A Toslink optical cable can also be used for a 5.1 audio connectivity. But the same HDMI can handle the multiple channel audio too. For audiophiles, from what I have learnt, is that USB takes precedence sometimes depending on the DAC (Digital to Analog Converter).
And finally to encapsulate all of the above components you need a suitable case/cabinet.
Albeit redundant to say but the case selection also depends on some things like.
- Motherboard size (Micro-Atx, or Atx etc)
- No of Hard disks and the type of HDDs (IDE SATA or SSD)
- Graphic card being used and its size etc.
- And last but not the least to some of my Audiophile friends with deep pockets, the Aesthetics and construction quality.
Well that about wraps up things that come to mind when planning an HTPC and my suggestion is to go slow on the purchases and be careful while assembling, also make sure that the one assembling has grounded him/herself before starting the assembly. Good luck and hope you can share your build on the HFV forum to enlighten readers and forum members with any issues or ideas.