Should I build or buy - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 68 Old 05-23-2012, 06:11 PM - Thread Starter
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Looking for some advice from individuals that have setup their own systems or bought them complete. I have started to read through Assasins guides and all the information he has. Outstanding information.

Never built a computer before but am into home theater and electronics, I would call myself intermidate in skill.

Going to be building a new house and want this along with my home theater system and Lync 6 whole house audio system to be the focal point.

Why build:
-Good experience
-Stuff that I'm into and is exciting
-Cheaper

My concerns with building:
-Never done it before. Do I have the skills?
-Learning how, setting up computer, troubleshooting etc...
-Lots going on outside of this. Do I have the time? Buildling my house so will be spending most of my free time there. Also, my wife is due about 1 month after we move in?
-Wont have much time after the baby and new house to spend on it so want it to be ready to go.

After re reading my post I think I have answered my own questions and seems like a good idea to buy a turn key option but still want some opinoins.
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post #2 of 68 Old 05-23-2012, 06:23 PM
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good post as i was debating this as well. from what i've learned (today) is that the actual build isn't the hard part, its the software integration that will get you.
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post #3 of 68 Old 05-23-2012, 07:01 PM
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1. cheaper- depends not necessarily. Manufacturers get windows for a lot cheaper than system builders. You just have to put your potential system up against what is available on the market.

2. You are your own tech support - if you put it together and it doesn't work you have to be able to troubleshoot and figure out which component is incompatible or defective.

3. I build all my own systems and enjoy getting exactly what I want, and I think I beat the pre-built price. Oh, and yes I have been bitten by defective components before, don't buy questionable ram.
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post #4 of 68 Old 05-23-2012, 11:22 PM
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Chomps,
Networking is the future, so just make sure you have cat6 pre-wired to all the rooms including kitchen. Current wifi technology can't stream 1080p smoothly.
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post #5 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 02:04 AM
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Honestly, if you're not in to learn about the "making of" an HTPC and have the money to buy an Assassin HTPC, just do that. You might save a couple hundred bucks doing it yourself, but possibly for half the result and twice the frustation, especially with everything you've got going on.
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post #6 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 02:50 AM
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Building one isnt that difficult at all. It CAN be cheaper, or at least higher quality parts for similar money, if you have existing software licenses or are on the unscrupulous side of things with the software you have or use free software like linux. When you include the cost of windows, you can almost always find off the shelf computers cheaper then what you can build yourself for. Outside of cost, the big benefit of building yourself is getting exactly what you want, particularly case wise. In otherwords say you can put together a machine to use as htcp for X amount, in a desktop style case as is most ideal...but you find a few off the shelf computers with same specs for a few dollars less, but they are all normal towers vs the desktop syle you were hoping for....is the cost difference worth going one way or the other? Thats kind of what it comes down to.
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post #7 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 03:37 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chomps82 View Post

Buildling my house so will be spending most of my free time there. Also, my wife is due about 1 month after we move in?

^^^^
Not enough time.
Unless you feel like you want to spend time learning or want to pick it up as a hobby, you should just buy an off-the-shelf PC.
One of the HTPCs I set up was a Gateway desktop into a nice HTPC case. The entire PC was moved from the desktop case as is into a living room styled HTPC case.
You could do that if you wished too, but it will still take time to install software and customize it as you want.
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post #8 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 04:19 AM
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Wow !! What a lot of god posts that are defiantly helping give the op both sides of the coin . That's why I love this forum

@the o.p.

I see very little value or cost savings in anything off the shelf purchased . Several folks have mentioned that store bought is cheaper . That may be true for about the first thirty minutes of ownership . After that you will quickly see that they are not cheaper at all. Not every aspect of a purchase can be weighed in a pure dollar thought process .

1) What motherboard is in that computer ? No name crap that is only designed to last through the warranty period , if that . The same holds true for ramm , psu and most hard drives . Try to get online help with those parts and see where you end up.

2) Better get an extended warranty . That equals more money .

3) Support ? Really ? From who . Anyone who seeks support from an off the shelf vendor quickly wishes he / she had not even picked up the phone about 10 seconds after the call is placed . If you ever get off "hold" . Time is money . You just spent more of it .

4) BLOAT WARE !! My god ,they are so full of it you will spend hours trying to rid your self of it and most likely never will get all of it off . Best thing to do is buy a copy of your own windows and start over . MORE money .

There are tons of web sites that will show you how to build a computer very quickly . You said you have read through Assassin's guides so the part selection teamed up with your expactations is already done for you . Purchase the paid section of the guides and the software side is done also . You will also get a ton of help from what I consider one of the best forums on the subject at hand .

Lastly : If you feel you do not have the time and are just not up to it then why don't you have Assassin build you a custom unit or one of his quality pre builts to suite your needs and get REAL quality for pennies more up front and huge dollar savings in the end !

Sorry for the wall of words .

Good luck and post back
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post #9 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 04:20 AM
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After building a PC for the first time in 1997, I never bought an off the shelf ready made PC again...

Last year, I bought a ready made Netgear NV NAS, and sold it barely three months after...
I built myself a 14T NAS running CentOS 6 on an SSD with an i3 processor and 8G RAM...
I made an approx 75% cost saving from building the NAS myself compared to buying a ready made one in the same performance range...

My advise, don't rush to buy or setup now...

You will have a lot more time after the house is complete and family is settled down...
Only ensure you have the Cat 6 cabling in place...
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post #10 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 04:40 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by balky View Post

...Only ensure you have the Cat 6 cabling in place...

I could not agree more. Since you are buliding and you already intend to include whole home audio, take the extra step to put Cat 6 in (at least to primary locations). Wireless is ok for casual use and can work for streaming most video, but why restrict yourself?
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post #11 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 04:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rjsimmons View Post

I could not agree more. Since you are buliding and you already intend to include whole home audio, take the extra step to put Cat 6 in (at least to primary locations). Wireless is ok for casual use and can work for streaming most video, but why restrict yourself?

Pull at least two runs to each location. Even if you don't attach a jack on one cable you will find yourself wishing you had an extra later. If you don't you'll have to use individual switches.

I ran Gbit to four locations with two drops in three spots and three drops at the TV/HTPC area. All are being used.

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post #12 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 05:08 AM
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build a cheap one to get to know the ins and outs of a HTPC.

Once you get the hang of it, build a nice one for your main HTPC, and use the cheap on e for your bedroom.

If you have a microcenter near you, the parts are cheap enough to do so......
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post #13 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 05:16 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by azula View Post

good post as i was debating this as well. from what i've learned (today) is that the actual build isn't the hard part, its the software integration that will get you.

+1

This very key piece of information is often overlooked by new HTPC users. Whatever you choose this is sage advice. You will spend literally 100 fold more time with the software setup and integration than the hardware build --- especially since you have never done this before.
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post #14 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 05:41 AM
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There are actually three distinct approaches.

1) Build your own hardware and integrate your own software.

2) Buy a pre-made general purpose PC and integrate your own software.

3) Buy a fully integrated, purpose built, HTPC with all software ready to run (such as an Assassin HTPC).

In my view, it is never worthwhile to follow #2 for an htpc. You'll get an inappropriate piece of hardware in a lousy case that is likely noisy, and you'll still have to do all of your own software integration which is the hard, time consuming part of the process. Indeed, doing the software work will be harder, first because you'll have to deal with all the installed bloatware, and second because the hardware won't be as appropriate for the task at hand as it would have been had you chosen proper components. Plus, if you want an SSD for your OS disk (which you should), you'll have to do even more work.

Putting together the hardware is the easy part. Frankly, with improvements in Windows and drivers and especially the adoption of SATA, it's a lot easier than it was ten years ago. So if you're willing to do your own software integration, you should certainly be willing to pick a case you like and build a proper hardware box.

So the real choice is between doing it all yourself, hardware and software, (#1) or buying a "ready-to-use" true HTPC system with the software already installed like an Assassin HTPC (#3). Just cross off #2.

EDIT - by the way, there was a long thread here recently that perfectly illustrates this reality by a poster who thought he would save money by buying a pre-made box and turn it into an HTPC. Turns out it's noisy, he can't install proper quiet cooling fans in the box, it won't hold the number of hard disks he wanted, and as far as I can tell it's turning out to be totally unsuitable for what he wanted to do. It doesn't save money to buy something that doesn't do what you want or need. He would have saved a lot of time and aggravation, and probably in the end money, and ended up with a lot nicer unit, if he'd just built it from scratch in the first place. As the famous "budget HTPC" thread here has illustrated, you can spend about as much or as little as you want, from $300 to $1000 and up in building an HTPC. You can start with a $29 case or a $1000 case; you can use an i7 or a Celeron. You get to pick something that works for you, but if you do a little homework first, you'll know that when you're done it will work.
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post #15 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 06:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zon2020 View Post

EDIT - by the way, there was a long thread here recently that perfectly illustrates this reality by a poster who thought he would save money by buying a pre-made box and turn it into an HTPC.

That thread makes a good read... Don't forget the secondary threads that were tied to it such as the TV tuner and cabinet mod.

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post #16 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 09:50 AM
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I would normally say build your own. But, if your wife is due a month from now, assuming this is your first child. You won't have time not so much to play with the system, not even to watch TV. Between the feedings and changings at night and assuming you are still going to work in the morning.... you may have to wait for a while, until the baby is a little more independant to play with this.

So, like others have said, have the builder put the cables in the walls. Don't forget the good old coax, as well, in case you decide later not to go with a home made IPTV set up, then a cable company can just connect their stuff to your existing coax network, instead of running new cables.

If you lay cables now, you will have time to build your HTPC in the next few years, and then learn how to set it up and play with it, and then expand it to the whole house coverage.

Our system went from HTPC with a single tuner at a tube TV in 1998, to a whole house system with 5 flat panel HD TV's all interconnected through media center extenders on the home network and one main HTPC with 8 tuners and quad core CPU with a 12 Tb RAID 5 library of movies, music, pictures, videos, and TV content.

It just takes time to get big. Don't just go big from the get go, you will get your self into a lot of expensive problems.

Take baby steps, something you will learn very soon. :-) Congrats.

6 TV's in the house on FiOS and we only pay $4.99/month to connect them all!!! Power to the CableCard and WMC7!!!
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post #17 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 10:23 AM
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I often think when people say that building will be cheaper they are thinking from the perspective of already owning a copy of Win 7, hard drives, optical drives, a tuner, remote, possibly a case, fans, etc.

I can't remember a user saying they could build an adequately powerful pc under $XXX.xx and it included cable tuners or a satellite capture device. They also tend to leave out software you will likely want, such as TMT5, PowerDVD, DVD Fab, and AnyDVD.

A number of well known companies (HP, Acer, etc) are selling G620 Sandy Bridge based desktop pcs in the $320-$350, which is probably cheaper than you could buy Windows and all the components for. Even adding a Hauppauge dual usb cablecard tuner and replacing the DVD drive with a bluray one would keep it around $500.

But you need to ask yourself - are you ok with the case? Will you have room to grow in terms of drive bays and pci slots? Is the power supply adequate? Will the fans be quiet enough for you? Does the NIC support WOL/gigabit speeds?

It could work out great for you, but these are the kinds of problems that make setting up an htpc problematic.

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post #18 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 10:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pittsoccer33 View Post

I often think when people say that building will be cheaper they are thinking from the perspective of already owning a copy of Win 7, hard drives, optical drives, a tuner, remote, possibly a case, fans, etc.

I can't remember a user saying they could build an adequately powerful pc under $XXX.xx and it included cable tuners or a satellite capture device.

A number of well known companies (HP, Acer, etc) are selling G620 Sandy Bridge based desktop pcs in the $320-$350, which is probably cheaper than you could buy Windows and all the components for. Even adding a Hauppauge dual usb cablecard tuner and replacing the DVD drive with a bluray one would keep it around $500.

But you need to ask yourself - are you ok with the case? Will you have room to grow in terms of drive bays and pci slots? Is the power supply adequate? Will the fans be quiet enough for you? Does the NIC support WOL/gigabit speeds?

It could work out great for you, but these are the kinds of problems that make setting up an htpc problematic.

Is bios locked or limited? Do they use proprietary parts and connections? Do they use quality parts and if so what parts? Will it be full of bloatware and registry changes from bloatware? Will I have to re-install the OS because of the bloatware? Will the company reliably update drivers for the hardware if/when needed?

And more.
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post #19 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 10:40 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pittsoccer33 View Post

I often think when people say that building will be cheaper they are thinking from the perspective of already owning a copy of Win 7, hard drives, optical drives, a tuner, remote, possibly a case, fans, etc.

I can't remember a user saying they could build an adequately powerful pc under $XXX.xx and it included cable tuners or a satellite capture device. They also tend to leave out software you will likely want, such as TMT5, PowerDVD, DVD Fab, and AnyDVD.

A number of well known companies (HP, Acer, etc) are selling G620 Sandy Bridge based desktop pcs in the $320-$350, which is probably cheaper than you could buy Windows and all the components for. Even adding a Hauppauge dual usb cablecard tuner and replacing the DVD drive with a bluray one would keep it around $500.

But you need to ask yourself - are you ok with the case? Will you have room to grow in terms of drive bays and pci slots? Is the power supply adequate? Will the fans be quiet enough for you? Does the NIC support WOL/gigabit speeds?

It could work out great for you, but these are the kinds of problems that make setting up an htpc problematic.

I have yet to see a remotely suitable off-the-shelf pc that came in a remotely suitable case for an htpc (unless you intend to hide it in a closet). To me, that makes it a total non-starter. Second, I won't build one without an SSD as an OS drive, and I haven't seen that in an off-the-shelf pc yet either (although I assume that's only a matter of time).

Notice that I didn't say it would be cheaper than what can be purchased. You can buy some really cheap boxes. But then you still need to buy those tuners and software so that's a wash and isn't a reason not to build your own. I said in building one you get more appropriate components that will more properly satisfy the desired purpose and without all the bloatware.

I think the conversion from a cheap general purpose mid-tower off-the-shelf pc to a suitable htpc is frought with enough problems (and expense) that I consider it a very poor approach and one that should be discarded. And that's even considering the considerable Windows license cost advantage those mfgs enjoy.
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post #20 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 11:16 AM
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My first personal computer was a Gateway 2000 I bought when I went to college. It was slightly higher end at the time, with a dvd drive and tv output (I figured that would be a show stopper in the dorm - most people still had tapes!).

Over time I got comfortable working on PCs by adding more hard drives, newer video card, more ram, sound card w/ digital out and then finally a tuner card. Have you done any of those things before? Thats the sort of work that made me feel confident enough to fully build a computer.

When I wanted to get into HD I knew that my 2.4ghz Pentium 4 was not going to cut it. Some of the other components were ok, but my cpu/mobo/ram were at the end of the line, along with the proprietary case.

That was when I built my first PC. Connecting everything was easy since I had done it all before - except the case LEDs and buttons to the motherboard. That was pretty intimidating at first. I was also very worried about making sure the bios was set up to boot from the proper drive and all that jazz. I think two or three hours on a Saturday afternoon was all the time I spent on it.

You want to know whats really going to take up your time? Making your media play. Codec and container interactions will drive you up a wall while you're learning. Sometimes you will hear sound and see a blank screen with a VC1 mkv. After you think you've fixed it, you will lose DTS audio. Then after you think you fixed that your files will only play Dolby in stereo, not surround. After troubleshooting that Live TV will throw you error messages.

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post #21 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 11:42 AM
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Just built my first pc. Followed instructions on the internet and it worked out well. Followed assasin's guide to setup the bios, windows, and wmc and xbmc. The build was pretty easy but yeah, getting everything to work software-wise can be a pain.

You won't save much...if any, money building your own unless you have a lot of spare parts you can use. You will end up with a system that uses higher quality components, I don't know if this impacts the speed or usability but it'll probably impact the reliability.

If you have the cash available, and considering how much work you're going to be putting in on the house and the new arrival to your family (congrats by the way) it might be easier to just buy a prebuilt pc geared towards htpc duties, with all the software loaded and configured.

Also, if you want to build your own, I would recommend using a normal pc case over a htpc case. I actually got a normal case cause my laptop died so I needed a PC for normal pc use and for HTPC. You will have much more room to work with in a normal pc which I thought was really helpful on my first build.

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post #22 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 12:01 PM
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Originally Posted by wyen78 View Post

Also, if you want to build your own, I would recommend using a normal pc case over a htpc case. I actually got a normal case cause my laptop died so I needed a PC for normal pc use and for HTPC. You will have much more room to work with in a normal pc which I thought was really helpful on my first build.

As long as you don't go with an ITX build, there's plenty of room in something like a Silverstone GD04, and a lot of people want it to fit in with their other HT components.
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post #23 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 12:03 PM
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I wouldn't worry too much about the baby aspect of the build. The thing about babies is that once they are born they like to sleep. Just have to be ready to work on the build when the baby lets you.

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post #24 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 12:36 PM
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Build!

Unless you buy a pre-built custom HTPC (read: expensive), then an off-the-shelf solution is going to require just as much software customisation as a self-built one, with the exception perhaps of installing windows.

The actual building of the PC should only take a couple of hours max even for a newbie.
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post #25 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 12:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by assassin View Post

+1

This very key piece of information is often overlooked by new HTPC users. Whatever you choose this is sage advice. You will spend literally 100 fold more time with the software setup and integration than the hardware build --- especially since you have never done this before.

No doubt...anyone wanting to set up a HTPC should be aware that whether it's store bought or home built, getting the software working the way you want will be the trick.

EDIT: guess I should have read to the end...ljo000 kind of said the same thing. Except (and I hate to sound fanboyish, I've not bought anything from him, but I did sign up for the guide), if you look at Assasin's site, the prices are pretty reasonable IMO.
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post #26 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 01:01 PM
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IMO, the decision to build vs buy depends on the case. Just about any PC you can find has HDMI output and can playback blu-ray. You have lots of options for buying a complete PC. But very few of them come in a Home Theater like form factor.

If the form factor and dimension is important, build. If not, buy. Desktop PCs are dirt cheap these days.
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post #27 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 01:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pixelation View Post

IMO, the decision to build vs buy depends on the case. Just about any PC you can find has HDMI output and can playback blu-ray. You have lots of options for buying a complete PC. But very few of them come in a Home Theater like form factor.

If the form factor and dimension is important, build. If not, buy. Desktop PCs are dirt cheap these days.

That is far from the only problem with an off-the-shelf standard pc.

Quite a few other very good reasons for not doing so have already been recounted in this thread.
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post #28 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 01:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Zon2020 View Post

That is far from the only problem with an off-the-shelf standard pc.

Quite a few other very good reasons for not doing so have already been recounted in this thread.

Let's just say, I don't think they are issues.
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post #29 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 03:17 PM
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Regardless of which path you go down you will forever be tinkering with the software side of your HTPC. Driver and software updates always inevitably cause issues or minor changes that need to be fixed. You’ll come across a new or different way of doing things that someone has posted on this or other forums. The benefit to building the HTPC yourself, including the software, is that you’ll have a better idea of where to look when troubleshooting. Following Assassin’s guides I had it useable for the family in around two days. It didn’t do everything that I wanted it to, but over the course of the following two months I’ve been adding on and tweaking to get the full suite of features I’m after, and it runs pretty well now. I think the mistake most people make when building a system is they try to get everything working from the start, and end up taking a shotgun approach. If you do go down the self-build path then create a list of software features and functions, prioritise them and then work through in that order getting each one working right before moving onto the next step.

As for pre-wiring there is some great information in the following forums on this site:

Dedicated Theater Design & Construction
General Home Theater & Media/Game Rooms
Home A/V Distribution

Don't forget that prewiring isn't just about what you plan to do now, but what you may need in ten years time. Even if you don't think you'll need it, prewire for a security system, speakers, video surveillance, cable, satellite, network, IR remotes, projector, etc. You don’t need to have the cables terminated, just in the wall.

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post #30 of 68 Old 05-24-2012, 05:19 PM
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Originally Posted by pixelation View Post

Let's just say, I don't think they are issues.

Yeah you have been recommending that people buy junk for at least 10 months.

http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...5#post20699005

And you still don't really seem to understand the limitations of what "locked bios" means as your only reference was to overclocking.

Here are just a few recent examples and there are many more at avs and obviously many many more elsewhere...

http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...9#post21849599

http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...5#post21912535

http://h30434.www3.hp.com/t5/Desktop...OS/td-p/833339

http://h30434.www3.hp.com/t5/Noteboo...es/td-p/432411

http://h30434.www3.hp.com/t5/Desktop...m/td-p/1230601

http://forums.speedguide.net/showthr...n-t-be-changed

And finally your recommendation that pre-built mass produced PCs are "less stressful" is almost laughable as they can be anything but.
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