The first thing you should do when you are building an HTPC is looking around for old components. You are a guru .. you probably have spare materials from an old PC right ? Quite honestly the old dusty components might be perfect for a HTPC especially with our demands we really don't need to have extremely expensive gear.
In my case I stumbled into an old Athlon XP 2000+ processor, perfect ! Although a little on the low amount .. 256MB DDR 333 memory was in one of my drawers .. that's reasonable enough though to run a media center PC. If we want to record stuff .. I'd definitely need more memory. But for now this is sufficient as I'm building a "playback" box.
Inside another drawer I found a crummy old 80 GB HD, it's quite silent and for our purpose it offers more than enough space. From one of our older reviews I found a fanless 350 Watts PSU which of course is en excellent option to include for a silent design. Cool .. I'm already half way there folks and did not spend anything at all.
I now browse through our Guru3D price watch pages and seek the best prices for the other components that I need.
With the budget in mind I choose the NFORCE2 mainboard firstly as we are bound to the CPU socket of that older Athlon XP 2000+, but the second reason I want it is that it really still is a pretty fast platform, but more importantly, it's delivers excellent sound thanks to NVIDIA's Soundstorm integration. So that saves money as we do not need a soundcard, 50 bucks .. Also the NFORCE2 mainboard simply is fantastic when it comes to performance and connectivity. We have 100Mbit/s Ethernet, can connect multiple HD's and optical drives, USB 2.0, FireWire .. it's perfect for the HTPC we're building today.
The graphics card .. we could go as low as a GeForce 6200 or we could opt for a mainboard with integrated solutions as for DVD/XVID/DIVX playback it is sufficient. But quite honestly we saved a stackload of money on the components we had lying around. So for 120 USD you can pick up a GeForce 6600 GT which enables you with the luxury you could also play games at this system. More importantly .. it offers purevideo en/decoding functionality. Now I already stated that we might want to playback HD files with this system also. With the current processor this would not be possible. We'd need a Athlon XP 3200+ at minimum if we want to decode high definition streams with the CPU. The GeForce 6600 GT has a nicely working feature, it can decode HD streams with the GPU. You will need to chip in 20 bucks to buy PureVideo software though, but that's a good investment and you'll be able to playback HD streams up-to 1920x1200 interlaced (progressive unfortunately is a tad too much).
Of course for the casing I went for the Mozart from Thermaltake. It's the more expensive Media LAB version (VC4001SNS). I say more expensive because this version entails a a remote control and really cool VFD panel to make this HTPC look like an angel. And yes, rather important is that this 4001 kit comes with a remote control .. all MCE functions are easily accessible from your couch.
So with the parts I had lying around and with what we bought I spent only 450 USD. Should we not have had the processor, memory and HD lying around .. I would have made different choices for the CPU and mainboard though. Of course AMD64 would have been the answer here. But hey .. this saved me money for sure and the end result would become a HTPC capable of all the things I want it to do. You can choose whatever you prefer of course and easily stay below the 1000 USD.
Right, let's dig deep into the Thermaltake's Mozart casing.
Thermaltake Flare Board Thermaltake's take on a gaming keybpad results in the Flare Board, a 44-Key, USB plug & play, keypad with a comfortable layout tailored for games. It's easy to use, but it feels a little mushy and we wish the LED's lit more of the keypad and less of the desk.
ThermalTake Mozart With Media Lab Today we are entering the mysterious world of the HTPC .. the Home Theater PC. A PC that has been built for the sole purpose of playing back music, movies and or media files, basically a multimedia center. And that is not an easy mission, as everybody has different goals, budgets and tasks for such a PC. Essentially this is a review about the Thermaltake Mozart. Look at the choices and building part of the HTPC as an additional bonus in this review.
ThermalTake PurePower PST520W ATX PSU Thermaltake has taken moddable PSU's to the next level ... and in a very clever way, I must add. The PSU we will be testing today is a truly hefty SLI/Crossfire ready piece of gear. It carries the label "Pure Power P.S.T. Series" and this model comes with a 520 Watt rating.
Thermaltake Tai-Chi Super Tower Case Thermaltake recently released a new PC case. Targeted at the high-end and enthusiast consumer with a diminutive amount of money to spare, Thermaltake offers a new series of PC ATX/BTX ready casings. It's widely compatible with all mainboards and has a certain balanced feel to it. It's huge, it's heavy, it's impressive, it's beautiful and it's called the Tai Chi.