Build or buy a pre-built HTPC like one from Assassin? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 106 Old 01-05-2014, 06:03 PM - Thread Starter
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A friend of my wife's recently was describing everything he could do with his HTPC and now I want one. I've upgraded components in PCs over the years but never built one from scratch so I'm a little concerned about whether I can do it right. I think between reading and posting for advice here I can get the components selected and confirmed to be compatible but I'm not as sure about getting it assembled and running properly for the best HTPC performance.

Is an HTPC pretty straightforward for a first-time PC builder? Would I be better off purchasing one from someone like Assassin? I know there's a big cost savings to build on my own but let's put budget aside for now.

I'm looking for the following:

Play movies and TV shows from a digital library in my main HT and on 2 other TV's in the house
Tune clear-QAM channels from FiOS and send them to my basement TV (I have cable boxes at the two other displays)
Netflix streaming
Possibly switch from using iTunes to manage my music but not absolutely needed
BR drive for ripping content I own and occasional playback (ripping software recommendation? I own all the physical media I'm planning to rip)
I don't need a small form factor and prefer the case to look like a traditional AV component
I'm open to having the storage drives either in the case or going with a NAS.
From what I've read I'd likely go with Windows 7 and either XBMC or Plex. I have Macs at home but don't need to stick with OSX for this


Any advice on this would be really helpful.
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post #2 of 106 Old 01-05-2014, 06:10 PM
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I am sure others will echo this but the hardware part of the HTPC is only about 5-10% of your time and effort (assuming things go well and there are no issues of course). There is a considerable amount of time needed to setup your HTPC.

Good luck with your dive into HTPC and welcome!
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post #3 of 106 Old 01-05-2014, 06:49 PM - Thread Starter
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I thought I might get a post from you smile.gif

I'm pretty software savvy so I'm less concerned with figuring it out but how much time are we talking roughly, not including ripping and dealing with the media? I'm going to have to do that regardless.

If I read your website correctly I can get an Assassin HTPC which basically ready to load media into, correct?
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post #4 of 106 Old 01-05-2014, 06:54 PM
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Yes
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post #5 of 106 Old 01-05-2014, 07:18 PM - Thread Starter
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Yes

Yes, what?
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post #6 of 106 Old 01-05-2014, 08:36 PM
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Does FiOS actually have ClearQAM? Can you rely on them keep ClearQAM? Xfinity/Comcast in my area got rid of it in October thanks to the FCC's ruling that all cable channels can now be encrypted.

 

 

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post #7 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 07:50 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StardogChampion View Post

Does FiOS actually have ClearQAM? Can you rely on them keep ClearQAM? Xfinity/Comcast in my area got rid of it in October thanks to the FCC's ruling that all cable channels can now be encrypted.

I don't know. I have an antenna for the one TV that doesn't have a cable box. The ability to get the clear-QAM is a "nice to have" feature but not necessary.
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post #8 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 10:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StardogChampion View Post

Does FiOS actually have ClearQAM? Can you rely on them keep ClearQAM? Xfinity/Comcast in my area got rid of it in October thanks to the FCC's ruling that all cable channels can now be encrypted.

They do have some channels, but it is being phased out. I would not plan to have a long term ClearQAM. It is either ATSC or CableCARD.

As to OP, I say BUILD IT!

IF you have messed around with PC's, it is no different. Same components, same functionality, just different case. This way, if something fails, you will know how to troubleshoot, and fix, rather than relying on warranty to send the whole thing back to the manufacturer.

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 #9 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 10:52 AM
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Building the hardware is the easy part. Setting up the software is much harder IMO. None is beyond doing yourself with some guidance and questions though.

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"Too much is almost enough. Anything in life worth doing is worth overdoing. Moderation is for cowards."
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post #10 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 12:14 PM
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I had never built a computer before building my HTPC last year. And I 100% agree on the hardware being the easy part. Software can take a long time. Took me about 4 or 5 months before I had things the way I really wanted. Then again I'm a perfectionist/tweaker. You'll get better at it though. Had to nuke my WIndows about a month ago because the computer wasn't going to sleep anymore and had it back up in about 12 hours.
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post #11 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 12:23 PM
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I think it's easy for someone who has never built a PC from parts to be intimidated from that process being new to it. This is something that goes away once you do it. In contrast, having installed software before makes the task of setting up a HTPC from a software standpoint seem easier or more comfortable but often it's harder and trickier than people think. That is why you see these feelings often. I understand how the OP feels.

The best thing to do it do some research and reading and make an informed decision if this is an undertaking or challenge you want to accept and take on. If so, there is plenty of information and support to help out.

Assassin guides are an incredible resource to someone starting from basically the beginning.

Sometimes people decide they just do not want to do it, or feel more comfortable paying someone with a higher level of expertise to do it for them. Nothing wrong with that either. The value there is in the free time and hassle you save yourself personally, and also the piece of mind in knowing it's done right.

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post #12 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 12:47 PM - Thread Starter
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I appreciate the responses. I'm going to continue the research and then make a decision. Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment but the idea of building it from scratch sounds like fun.

I'll say this, though, the description of what you get from Assassin is pretty impressive. It's very tempting to throw money at the problem. smile.gif
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post #13 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 12:53 PM
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I have seen this same type of question asked in many forums. I see it in the DIY speaker forum, and also very often in the theater building construction forum. People often wonder if it's worth paying an expert to do something versus doing yourself. The answers are all over the place. I think it comes down to personality types and priorities.

For the person that pays someone else the value is in knowing you get a higher level expertise than yourself and you save yourself the time and frustration of doing it yourself. Other people are adventurous types and the journey is as fun as the end result biggrin.gif No right or wrong answer on this one.

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post #14 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 01:10 PM
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and then there's the middle ground -- getting a barebones PC and finishing it off yourself.
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post #15 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 01:13 PM
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On the original subject of build vs. buy, that mostly depends on the person involved. Sometimes your time is worth more than the money spent so buying a system is the smarter choice. And sometimes you have time to spare and so spending money on something you can do yourself is the waste. In essence;

Time > Money = Buy
Time < Money = Build

Now, having decided to build an HTPC myself a few months ago, I can tell you from firsthand experience that buying and building the hardware is much easier than making the software work. After a few days of research I bought all the components and then built my system in a couple of hours.
That's when the time-sink began. biggrin.gif
It has taken me two months of daily tweaking to get to the point where I am happy with the system as a whole. While true that I might have been happy with the system after about a week of installing and tweaking, it is much, much better with all the extra futzing I've done to get it to work the way I want. Everybody is different though, so keep in mind what you truly want out of the system and then work towards that goal. No matter if you build or buy, if you're not satisfied with the final product then both your money AND time will have been wasted.

Good luck!
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post #16 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 01:37 PM
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RolandOG, I was in the same boat as you about 2 weeks ago. After reading some threads here and after reading Assassins tutorials I finally decided I would try to build my own. What really made me think I could do it though was Assassins guides to setting up the software etc. He really makes it easy with the screen shots and step by step instructions for someone like me, who really has no experience doing anything like this before, to think I can do it. Thanks Assassin and as soon as I get a paypal account access to your guides will be money well spent. And the fact that both my neighbors are computer wizards so if I get stuck I know I can call on them for help.
So this last weekend I ordered my hardware and yesterday went to Micro Center and picked up the mobo and cpu. For you guys who say the hardware part is the easy part that's great, but for someone who has never even looked inside a computer before it's not that easy. I just hope the stuff I picked works together. For instance I don't know what the difference between an oem hdd verses none oem means, so hopefully I won't have issues with the oem ones I bought. Then you have the mobo with headers etc. In the end I bought one that seemed to have more than I needed but truthfully I have no idea.
In the end I decided it would be fun, and more so I chose to build my own because I think it will go a long way to my understanding and knowledge of how computers work. Seriously, when I was in high school I never thought computers would become so prevalent. Shame on me! Not to mention I work construction so I didn't have a whole lotta exposure to computers.
So that's my story. I say if you have the time then go for it. If you fail I think the nice group on avs will be more than happy to help us.
Good luck whichever decision you make.
Personally I'm giddy as hell and am beginning to grow impatient to how long it takes Newegg to ship things! biggrin.gif
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post #17 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 02:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by skidog View Post

For you guys who say the hardware part is the easy part that's great, but for someone who has never even looked inside a computer before it's not that easy. I just hope the stuff I picked works together. For instance I don't know what the difference between an oem hdd verses none oem means, so hopefully I won't have issues with the oem ones I bought. Then you have the mobo with headers etc. In the end I bought one that seemed to have more than I needed but truthfully I have no idea.
In the end I decided it would be fun, and more so I chose to build my own because I think it will go a long way to my understanding and knowledge of how computers work.

Just take your time when putting things together and you will be fine. I am pretty certain that 99% of the cables will only plug in a certain way, so don't force anything. The majority of components you put in will also only have 1 place where they can go without forcing something, for example if your RAM is not going in properly, chances are its backwards, flip it around and try again. With it being winter and there being a lot of static electricity around, take care to use precaution against it. I just built mine over the weekend, and have not built a PC in about 6 years. I was definitely nervous, and had an "oh sh*t" moment when it did not power on. Easy fix though, a cable was not seated properly. Overall though I am glad I built it, and am looking forward to spending a lot of time using it.

For the OP, I would say build it. There are a ton of resources out there from picking components to match whatever your budget is, to tutorials on how to put everything together. I am sure to spend a bunch of time on the software aspect of my HTPC in the coming weeks, but i enjoy having projects to work on, so looking forward to it. As already mentioned multiple times, Assassins guides are incredibly helpful, I used one last night to check my BIOS settings. If you get questions ask away on here, I have had some pretty basic questions but never been made to feel stupid by any of the posters. Good luck, it will be worth it when you can sit back, call up your movie library and say to yourself "I built that"
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post #18 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 03:15 PM
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Youtube has a bunch of videos too. Sometimes a video is worth a thousand words. If you search out your exact components, assuming they are popular I am sure you can get a video showing you how to to it.

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post #19 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 04:20 PM
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You do realize your responses here are weighed towards the "Build it yourself" due to the nature of this forum?
Add in that at some point just about everyone was at the point you are; unsure if they could finish the task
and overwhelmed by process.

None of your requirements are beyond what Assassin's guides (or one of his turn key systems) could deliver.
You might be in a stronger position to fix any issues that come up if you built ,as you're more intimately with
the program.

There is a certain reward that comes from your wife bragging to her friends about the Home Theater her Husband built. biggrin.gif
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post #20 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 04:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by abcdefghi View Post

it will be worth it when you can sit back, call up your movie library and say to yourself "I built that"

Quote:
Originally Posted by tomandbeth View Post

There is a certain reward that comes from your wife bragging to her friends about the Home Theater her Husband built. biggrin.gif

QFTT.

I am happy that whatever route you choose I (and my team) can help you get there. That was the sole purpose of why I started the little hobby business Assassin HTPC.
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post #21 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 05:27 PM - Thread Starter
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Well, I'm pretty certain that I'm going to build it myself because I think it would be fun and a good learning experience. I'm going to put together a parts list of what I want and see what the price comes out to. My time is valuable so if the final DIY price is not far off a comparable Assassin option then I could see switching to pre-built.

As for my wife bragging, you don't know my wife smile.gif She's a mechanical engineer so building an HTPC isn't going to impress her.
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post #22 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 07:03 PM - Thread Starter
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Out of curiosity, how much should a typical HTPC run, including all software required? Assume 1 SSD for the OS and 2 3TB drives for storage. A ballpark is all I'm looking for so I have an idea.
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post #23 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 07:09 PM
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700 or less for i3, mobo/ ram, ssd, 2 3tb, win7 and a cheapo case
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post #24 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 07:23 PM - Thread Starter
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Hmmm. I have over-spec'd my first pass. I also have it set up with a Synology NAS so that's not helping. I'll post up what I've got listed so far and hopefully someone can tell me where I can cut cost.
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post #25 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 07:32 PM
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Simple answer: You don't need to build it yourself. Honestly, any $300 box from Best Buy will work, as long as it has an HDMI port to connect to your tv you're good to go.

Long answer: Every other post in this thread. biggrin.gif
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post #26 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 07:36 PM - Thread Starter
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Okay, here's the first pass I put together. Any advice on where I could save would be appreciated. Forgive me if I've made some dumb selections; I'm a Noob! With the NAS the total for below is ~ $2,000. $1,640 without the Synology enclosure.

HTPC
Processor: Intel core i5-4670K Quad-Core 3.4 GHZ 6 MB Cache (BX80646I54670K) http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CO8TBOW/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_1?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER
Motherboard: ASRock LGA 1150 Z87 DDR3 Quad CrossFireX and Quad SLI/SATA3 and USB 3.0/A&GbE/ATX Extreme 4 http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CZXYH8G/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=A3JJ6E432635IP
Case: Silverstone Tek GD08B http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007X8TQYI/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_2?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER
RAM: CORSAIR Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820233255
OS SSD: Samsung Electronics 840 EVO-Series 120GB 2.5-Inch SATA III Single Unit Version Internal Solid State Drive MZ-7TE120BW http://www.amazon.com/Samsung-Electronics-EVO-Series-2-5-Inch-MZ-7TE120BW/dp/B00E3W15P0/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1389059682&sr=8-6&keywords=samsung+840+pro+SSD
Power Supply: Seasonic 450w 80 Plus Gold http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00918MQ8G/ref=ox_sc_act_title_4?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER
Optical Drive LG Bluray writer http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007YWMCA8/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_2?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=A1H9NMCPZH97BO
Heatsink/Fan: Cooler Master GeminII S524 http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005SEZBXY/ref=ox_sc_act_title_3?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER
Case Fan: Noctua NF-S12B 120x25mm Ultra Low Noise - 500/700 RPM http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00276D13I/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_10?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=A21UKLVMUAO7H3
OS: Windows 7 Pro 64 bit http://www.amazon.com/Windows-Professional-64bit-System-Builder/dp/B004Q0T0LU/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1389059482&sr=8-2&keywords=windows+7
Keyboard: Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard with Built-in Mousepad K400R http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00ENZRP0G/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_1?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER

NAS
Synology DiskStation 2-Bay NAS DS214 http://www.amazon.com/Synology-DiskStation-Diskless-Attached-DS214/dp/B00FY6DV3S/ref=sr_1_5?s=pc&ie=UTF8&qid=1389058949&sr=1-5
(2) WD 3TB SATA III 7200 RPM 64MB Black (WD3003FZEX) http://www.amazon.com/Western-Digital-Cache-Desktop-WD3003FZEX/dp/B00FJRS5OW/ref=sr_1_1?s=pc&ie=UTF8&qid=1389056067&sr=1-1

I currently have about 80 bluray's, 125 DVD's and 45 TV DVD season sets. I'm unsure how much space I'll need and will definitely want room to grow.
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post #27 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 08:44 PM
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You really don't need a "K" chip because you wont be overclocking - try this http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819116896

Since you wont be overclocking you wont need a Z87 board either - try this http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157384

Corsair Vengeance RAM is awesome for overclocked gaming machines - try this http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231425

Total savings $193

The rest of your build looks pretty good (to me anyway). I think you're still going a little overkill but hey, "build it once...build it for life" -right?

I have a media library a bit larger than yours and I'm using about 11 TB right now.

Blu-ray TV series are the worst storage killers. I just finished ripping 22 episodes of the series ROME @ about 15GB each
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post #28 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 09:04 PM
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My personal opinion is that the HTPC is very pricey. The one I just built (thread here) cost about half what your build is going to cost and it's got MORE than enough power to do everything you mentioned wanting to do. As for the NAS, that's a wee bit trickier. To put this in perspective, I currently have three NAS units. Two 8-bay QNAPs (one backs up the other) and one 4-bay Netgear ReadyNAS (which is a redundant backup of the truly important files like family photos and tax files). I'm also looking to purchase another 4-bay NAS to keep off-site as yet ANOTHER backup. Now, I may be a wee-bit more paranoid than most, but there's a reason. I once had a computer die that contained a (then) lifetime's worth of work that was completely irreplaceable. Since then, I've made sure to live by the old Navy Seal code of, "If it can fail, it will. If you can lose it, it’s already lost. Two is one and one is none." What I'm trying to say is, you will never, EVER have enough storage for all your files, or enough backups of your files. If all your files reside on a single drie (or NAS) then a single mishap could destroy everything you thought was safe.

In that light, I would strongly counsel you to spend a bit less on the HTPC components and a bit more on the storage solution. In fact, if at all possible, buy a larger NAS and also another, smaller NAS to BACK UP THE FIRST!

Remember, a NAS is redundant, meaning it can survive the failure of one (or more) of it's hard drives. It does not actually back up the data so if the NS dies you may be SooL.

/stepping off soap box
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post #29 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 09:26 PM
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I'm confused, but it's probably just because I'm new.
Why are you getting such a big case for your htpc but it seems you are not putting any hdd's in it, instead it seems you are getting a separate NAS box and putting the hdd's in there. You realize you can fit 8 hdd's in the case you are getting, hence my confusion.
If you don't want the components Dropkick Murphy suggests, you can get a combo deal of the mobo and cpu you chose for 315 bucks from Micro Center.
Other than that welcome to the Noob club! Glad I'm not the only one! biggrin.gif

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post #30 of 106 Old 01-06-2014, 10:14 PM
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Some thoughts based on my own perusal of these boards and my own research/experiences while I ponder the same decision as you but first...

What MGM said (and other folks on other threads) to the nth degree. Back your stuff UP. RAID is *not* a backup solution. Off-site is a little extreme I would say for general needs (esp with the volumes you are talking about for media) but once bitten twice shy. Personally I have a fire/waterproof safe in the garage I throw alternate backup disks into (well... place them... I try not to throw them).

As for the components...

  • if you are not trying to game then the i5 might be an overkill. i3 is sufficient for streaming at 1080p and even 3D if that's your thing. If only the other hand, you want to mess with MadVR because you have SD content (I have a fair amount) then you'll want a graphics card as well (see this table for advice... thanks to ReneTHX).
  • Agreed on the previous poster for the z87... consider an H unless you really want some of the features on the Z. My understanding in the Intel LAN is the way to go because of the way it handles jumbo frames... important for streaming video
  • I would hold off on the aftermarket fans until you get a sense of the noise produced by the stock stuff. Replacing these is not a big deal after the fact but do look up tips on replacing the CPU fan... you want to make sure you clean all the old compound off first! I've used denatured alch and coffee filters (great tip... little if any fibers come off)
  • Some of the after market coolers sit low... just be careful with the RAM you choose. I think the G.Skill ARES might be a good choice... seems to get decent reviews.
  • Windows 7 home premium is probably adequate. As far as I know the only benefit you get from Pro is remote desktop support and, I believe, better support for connecting to corporate VPNs... neither of which you will really need. If you need remote access try VNC.
  • Do you need a bluray writer? No idea what the cost diffs are.

Finally, some thoughts about building yourself... I've built maybe a half dozen machines over the years and never had a serious issue (actually one now that I think about it... see burn in comment below). Just be careful.
  • Do think about your cable layout since that will impact your airflow. If you do end up going with aftermarket fans, think about how your air will flow.
  • If it does not power on to start... don't freak out:-) It's likely to be something simple like badly seated cable or memory.
  • For the love of god, don't get thermal compound on the pins of anything :-) I had a friend do this once and it was HELL figuring out what happened.
  • Burn in your machine. Try something like PassMark. Dunno if this is still generally advised but this kind of stress test, at least in the past, was useful in ferreting out problematic parts. For instance, I had a MB POST just fine when I first turned the thing on but after burning in for a few hours the thing went dark on me... turns out there was a fragile connector in one of the layers of the board.

As Assassin said, the software will be the trickiest part. I did build an HTPC a while back but it was XP Media Center. There were not a lot of options back then so life was simpler :-)
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