I've been tinkering with the idea of HTPC for some while now but I think I'd really like to do it - if nothing else, it's a fascinating subject
What I'd like:
I'd like to put my DVD collection onto instant-access and playable via a nice front end. Eventually, it must eventually be available across a range of devices, such as Smart TV, Android tablets as well as the HTPC itself, but that is for the future. I was thinking of converting most of the DVD's to mp4's using Handbrake or something similar since mostly I;m just interested in the main feature.
What I have now:
A large DVD collection but no BluRays because almost all of the stuff I;m interested in isn't on BluRay yet and most of it probably never will be.
A rather elderly PC with an Asus M2V-MX SE motherboard, 4Gb RAM, a 7200 320Gb hard-drive,a DVD ROM drive (IDE!) Athlon 64 X2 4200 processor and an old GeForce 8600GT graphics card. The case is ancient with only a couple of hard-drive bays, is fairly large and an ugly beige! The PSU is a fairly good Thermaltake 500W though (as originally I planned some major upgrades which never happened)
As I see it, about the cheapest route would be to upgrade the graphics card to something like a Radeon 6xxxx and add a large second hard drive and make a start. This is inexpensive and gives me time to see if this is what I really want to do, as well as getting a handle on things like XMBC or Media Browser. However, the processor I have now was entry level years ago so I suspect it's really going to struggle with Handbrake. Obviously I'd need a bit of kit so that XBMC can be used with a remote control, but that's really quite cheap. The current motherboard does have space for two SATA-II drives, of which the curreny system drive is one with Windows 7
I could also swap the case for something much nicer looking - I particularly like the Fractal Design small towers like the Arc or Define. The next question has bearing on the case.
The next option is to modernise - replacing the motherboard and processor although retaining the power supply and system drive. Obviously I;d need some RAM and probably a new DVD drive as I doubt any mobos are going to suport IDE! If I did this, would you recommend a discrete graphics card (as above) in which case I could go with a lower grade processor such as a Pentium or even Celeron? Or simply go for something like an Ivy Bridge i3? Plus, of course as before a large new hard drive.
Would it be better to have a case capable of multiple hard-drives and simply add more large drives as needed, or once I use up the single large hard drive to consider a NAS? Personally I would lean towards a HTPC plus a NAS, not least because the NAS can be left running all the time when I would be using other devices and don't want to fire up the HTPC itself. For the NAS I have been considering something like one of the Antec towers plus drive cages. It might even be possible to use my existing motherboard and Athlon as a base for that since the processing requirements are trivial and I could add a Supermicro card so that the board could manage up to ten drives. I could probably also use the Thermaltake PSU I have and buy a new one for the HTPC itself at that point. However, the Athlon isn;t particularly power efficient, and requires a fan so it might be better to instead go for an integrated CPU motherboard which woul dbe quiter and use less power. There are evidently plenty of choices for software.
At the moment I can stretch to kitting out with a modernised HTPC . An SDD is obviously highly desirable but would depend on how much is left after the other costs and evidently not possible with the current motherboard as it has only two SATA ports and they are only II's anyway.
I should add, the main useage of the PC is just everyday browsing and so forth. I don't play games.
Sorry to twitter on so, I hope you'll excuse this. I haven't linked to any specific hardware as entry level is much the same. I'm also in the UK by the way!
Addendum: another option for the NAS is simply a commercial one. In the past I disregarded this as anything beyond a four bay unit becomes extortionately expensive. However, with 3 and 4Tb drives becoming sensibly priced it is a viable option. One assumes that hard-drives will continue to get larger in the next few years.