Beginner builds a budget HTPC - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 1 Old 01-21-2013, 02:07 PM - Thread Starter
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I just built my first HTPC, and thought I'd share my experiences and the issues I ran into. Hopefully it'll help other newbies out there.

After reading the first few posts in Assassin's thread for beginners, I ordered the following for my new HTPC:
  1. $100 Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
  2. $41 An AMD A4-3400 APU (basically the least powerful CPU I could find that would do the job)
  3. $68 An ECS A75F-M2 motherboard
  4. $60 A micro-ATX media-center-style case
  5. $45 An Antec 380W power supply
  6. $22 2 2GB RAM sticks
  7. $17 A Lite-On DVD Burner (I have no Blu-Ray discs, so DVD is fine for now)
  8. $40 An AverMedia A188 HD dual tuner card
  9. $9 A remote control for Windows Media Center with a joypad to replace a PC mouse
  10. $17 A Rosewill RNX-N150HG USB-attached WiFi adapter (since my home isn't wired for Ethernet)

All the above cost me just north of $400. I already had a keyboard and 250 GB SATA drive left over from other projects so I was all set.

First issue: I didn't notice that the case I'd ordered included a 300W power supply, so I didn't need the Antec.

Luckily, I never opened the power supply box, so Newegg was very good about refunding my money on the Antec. So that mistake only ended up costing me about $15 to ship it back to them, meaning I actually ended up spending slightly under $400.

Second issue: The case and motherboard connectors didn't quite match up.

I've built PC's before, but it'd been about 10 years, so I was way behind on all the changes. Luckily, nothing serious didn't match. Newegg shipped the motherboard with an I/O template for the back panel which replaced the case's default I/O template, so I didn't have an issue there. Also, the case had a Firewire front connector but the motherboard didn't. No big deal; I didn't need Firewire so I just left that unconnected. Conversely, the motherboard had connectors for old-style parallel and serial ports that the case didn't have, but I didn't need those either.

The only other mismatch was with the power LED. The case had the "traditional" 3-pin LED connector with the center pin unused; but the motherboard had an unusual 10-pin DIP header for all the switches and LEDs, and the pins for the power LED were adjacent, so the 3-pin connector just wasn't going to fit. At first I just left this unconnected as well; the PC booted up and ran fine anyway. Eventually, though, I hit upon a better solution: cutting the 3-pin connector in half with diagonal cutters, and pushing each half onto the header separately. My power LED now works.

Third issue: The tuner card fits the case and motherboard fine, but the card's bracket was for a full-height case, not a micro ATX case.

Good news, though: the bracket was merely screwed onto the card, so I removed it easily. However, that left me without a bracket. Luckily, though, my case had a bracket with a DB-9 punch-out. So I punched that out, put the tuner card's F-connector through it, and secured the ersatz bracket with a nut scavenged from a coaxial cable coupler. It looks a little odd, but it keeps the card secure, and who spends any time looking at the backs of PCs?


Once I had everything screwed in and connected, I hooked up a VGA cable (I planned to use HDMI eventually but didn't want any issues during initial setup), powered it up, and was rewarded with the setup menu. I went through all the setup menu options just to familiarize myself with everything, but the only change I made was to put the SATA controller in AHCI mode. I then proceeded to boot up from the Windows installation CD. As Assassin suggested I created a 50GB partition on my hard drive during setup, installed Windows there, then allocated the remaining drive space to another partition for recordings. I restarted the system a time or two to make sure Win 7 was installed and running OK, then once I was satisfied, I shut it down for later.

Fourth issue: Next time I powered it up, it couldn't find the hard drive! eek.gif

That was annoying. The only thing I could do to get it to recognize my hard drive was to switch the SATA controller back to IDE mode. But then my Windows installation was hosed. I had to delete my HD partitions and reload Win 7 from scratch. mad.gif

Then I installed the motherboard drivers. I hadn't ordered my WiFi adapter yet so I brought the PC out to my network router to download updates and activate Win 7.

When I ordered the Rosewill WiFi adapter, I learned from my AverMedia bracket issue and bought a USB-attached adapter instead of a PCI-e one. I installed its driver, selected my WiFi network, and keyed in my interminably long WEP key (I'd set up my home WiFi using WEP vs. the newer protocols to support an older smartphone, and never bothered to change it) and I was online.

Fifth (and first serious) issue: No audio via HDMI.

I actually did all the above using a VGA cable, so I didn't discover this problem for a couple of days. When I did run into it, I was stumped for two days! I tried everything: Installing all the lastest Win 7 updates, updating drivers, updating my motherboard's BIOS, trying Microsoft's HDMI audio driver vs. the motherboard one, unplugging & reconnecting the HDMI cable on both ends; nothing worked. The video was perfect; just no audio.

I was just about to give up and hook up my TV via VGA and analog stereo, when on a hunch I turned my TV off and back on. And then the audio started playing fine! Modern HDTVs are, in effect, computers; apparently like other computers, they just need to be rebooted from time to time.

Sixth issue: Setting up WMC7.

Actually this went rather smoothly; it just wasn't explained very well. The initial setup wizard gets your local channel list from Zap2it.com, which is also the source of the guide info. But there are many low-power TV stations in my area (Dallas/Ft. Worth) that Zap2it doesn't have listings for. Once I got the hang of controlling WMC7 with the remote, I stumbled on the "find more channels" option. This appears to do a more traditional "channel scan." That got me a lot closer, but it still missed a few, and it made a few weird mistakes (listing TV channels on the wrong numbers, etc.) So then came the final phase, of manually adding and editing channels. And you can do this with WMC7 too; you just have to know which channels are missing as well as their RF channel numbers. TVFool.com and Rabbitears.info are good friends, but just being obsessively familiar with your local OTA TV environment helps a lot too.

Zap2it has the wrong info for one major DFW station, CBS 11. The "find more channels" option found the right CBS 11, but that left me with two channel 11's: one with guide info that I couldn't watch, and one that I could watch but with no guide info. Surprisingly, this situation must be rather common, because WMC7 lets you assign the guide for one station to another station with no guide. Even better, if the stations have the same channel number, it gives you the option of merging the two. I took that option and it left me with both a working station and a correct guide.

Another weird thing I noticed is that the WMC7 guide is missing info for a few channels even though the Zap2it.com web site does list guide info for them. Slightly disappointing, but hey, it's free (and I understand I can install add-ons that will retrieve guide info from other sources; I just haven't gotten around to trying that yet).

Seventh issue (not yet resolved; any suggestions?): After going to sleep, the PC always crashed (BSoD) when waking back up.

The good news is that Win 7 seems quite adept at recovering from these crashes. The bad news is that it takes several minutes, which means if the PC wakes up to record a show, I'm going to miss the beginning of the show while the PC restarts. Also, recovery isn't always automatic. Sometimes I had to press the Reset button; other times it'd reboot on its own.

For now I've bypassed the issue by disabling the Suspend feature in the BIOS. But I think this just keeps the PC from sleeping at all, which is OK but wastes power. I'll try to confirm this as I go forward, and will post back as other issues arise and/or get resolved.

Still to do: I'd like to add a second tuner card, not just for more tuners but also because I could use an NTSC composite or S-video input. Again learning from the AverMedia bracket issue, I'll take care to find a card that fits my case, or else buy a USB-attached tuner like the WiFi adapter.
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