Guide to Building a HTPC, Workstation and Server - Page 471 - AVS Forum
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post #14101 of 19331 Old 06-23-2010, 01:13 PM - Thread Starter
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Recommended HTPC Systems – June 2010 Edition
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Last Update on July 30, 2010


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Introduction
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Organization of the Contents
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Here is a brief summary of the contents.
  • Peripheral Components and OS: I collected common hardware components used in each system here. OS (Windows only) is also mentioned.
  • Recommended HTPC systems: This longest part is classified into several categories as stated below for convenience.
  • DAS (Direct Attached Storage): If you need more storage space, a quick solution is here.
  • Workstation: A system for (serious) video editing tasks.
  • Server: HD video files occupy lots of storage spaces. So you may need a dedicated media storage server.
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Classification of HTPC Systems
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HTPC systems here are classified into several categories for convenience, according to the following three criteria.

1. Form Factor

A form factor specifies the physical dimensions of a system. Basically it is the motherboard form factor that defines the overall size of a system. There are dozens of standardized form factors. Among them we will be concerned with the following three most popular form factors.
  • Mini-ITX: 170mm x 170mm (6.7″ x 6.7″)
  • MicroATX: 244mm x 244mm (9.6″ x 9.6″)
  • ATX: 305mm x 244mm (12″ x 9.6″)
Here is a picture of a motherboard/case of each form factor, Mini-ITX, microATX, ATX, from left to right, the bottom being an AVR.

(FYI the model number of each motherboard/case in the picture is:
Form Factor Motherboard Case Case Size
Mini-ITX GIGABYTE GA-H55N-USB3 Apex MI-008 W220 x H129 x D300 mm
MicroATX ASRock H55M/USB3 Antec Fusion Remote W445 x H145 x D414 mm
ATX ASUS P7P55D-E PRO Zalman HD503 W450 x H170 x D455 mm
The AV receiver is ONKYO TX-NA807, W435 x H199 x D436 mm. You may wonder why the width of the microATX case is almost the same as that of the ATX case. The reason is simple: the PSU is usually laid flat in a microATX case, while it is laid vertically in an ATX case. As a consequence, a microATX case is usually shorter in height than an ATX case.)

Because of the size, Mini-ITX provides the least expandability (0 or 1 expansion slot), usually 2 memory slots and CPU support is often limited by the cooling performance of a small Mini-ITX system. MicroATX supports up to 4 expansion slots, while ATX supports up to 7 expansion slots. Usually a Mini-ITX/microATX motherboard comes with an integrated graphics so that you may not need a discrete graphic card. An ATX case can usually hold more storage drives than an microATX case, and a microATX case can hold more storage drives than an Mini-ITX case.

2. Performance and Cost

Typical tasks done by a HTPC are
  • Playing back (or watching) media contents including:
    • Non-streamed media such as DVD movies, Blu-ray Disc movies, CDs.
    • Streamed media such as TV (terrestrial, satellite, cable, Internet) and radio.
    • Media files stored locally.
  • Creating media files from various sources, non-streaming or streaming (usually called "ripping" or "recording"), and storing them for later use.
  • Editing, including re-encoding, media files.
Hardware components that are important for each task is:
  • Playing back video: This includes video decode and various post-processing (deinterlacing, rescaling etc.). GPU is the most important for this task (unless you resort to a software playback solution such as ffdshow). A couple of GPUs integrated in motherboard are good. If you want to get the best picture quality, a good mid-range discrete GPU is recommended, however. A high-end card is good for better gaming experience of course, but it rarely improve video playback performance.
  • Ripping: The speed of ripping DVD/BD discs is often limited by the reading speed of the optical disc drive used.
  • Recording: HDTV contents are already encoded (in either MPEG-2 or H.264). So this is relatively easy for any system.
  • Editing and re-encoding video (except for simple cut and join): This is one of the most CPU-intensive tasks. A good quad-core processor is recommended. A trend is that GPU (stream processors) offloads CPU, and several video editing applications already support it (keywords: GPGPU, OpenCL, Microsoft DirectCompute, NVIDIA CUDA, ATI Stream).
In general better performance means costing more.

Performance and cost is the secondary category of the list.

3. CPU-Chipset-GPU Manufacturers

CPU, chipset (in motherboard; controlling various I/O devices and connecting them to CPU/memory) and GPU are the three main hardware components of a system. Intel and AMD are the main suppliers of CPU for PC. Intel and AMD are producing chipsets for its own CPUs and NVIDIA for both. Intel (integrated GPU only), AMD and NVIDIA are the top three GPU manufacturers.

CPU/chipset/GPU manufacturers is the third category of the list.
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Component Selection
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The components selected here are based on my hand-on experience and/or my extensive research. Here are general considerations in choosing components.

CPU
  • Below $60: Intel Celeron E3300 (dual-core) is a nice, cheap processor.
  • $60 to $150: Intel Core i3 530 (dual-core, quad-thread) is an excellent processor with integrated graphics and low power consumption. AMD Athlon II X4 (quad-core) is more powerful in some applications (e.g. video encoding).
  • Over $150: Intel Core i5 and i7 (Lynnfield and Bloomfield; quad-core, octo-thread in i7) are excellent general purpose processor. Phenom II X6 (hexa-core) is good for heavily threaded applications.
Chipset and Motherboard

Intel produces chipsets for its own chips and AMD for its own chips.

Memory

DDR2 vs DDR3: DDR3 SDRAM is the mainstream memory standard and you should choose it unless you have a specific reason to use DDR2.

Capacity, timings, voltage: For normal HTPC usage, 2GB in total is plenty enough (in particular under Windows 7). CAS latency and timings are important for memory-intensive applications, in particular games. However these have little effect on the majority of HTPC-related tasks. So just ignore them. The standard operating voltage of DDR3 SDRAM is 1.5V. Some memory modules require higher voltage than that for better stability. Adjust the memory voltage in BIOS according to the specifications of your memory modules.

Brand: Basically the brand does not matter in performance as the standards are established by JEDEC rigorously. It's not like Intel vs. AMD in CPU. Reliability and overclockability may vary from brand to brand, however.

Graphics and Sound Devices

With the advent of Blu-ray Disc (and HD DVD), HDMI became the standard specifications for transmitting video and audio signals from a player/PC to an AV receiver/display. Right now there are basically three HDMI solutions in PC:
  • ATI Radeon HD 5xxx graphics cards.
  • Intel Core i3/i5 Clarkdale processors (that integrate GPU).
  • NVIDIA ION (iGPU), GeForce 9300 (iGPU), GT 220/240, GTX 4xx
ATI and Intel support HD video playback and HD audio bitstreaming. Clarkdale lacks proper 23.576Hz playback, however. NVIDIA's solution is a bit behind AMD and Intel in that it lacks HD audio bitstreaming.

Here is a summary of audio formats supported by various PC video/audio solutions.
  • Dolby Digital and DTS bitstreams, and stereo LPCM
    • Every motherboard's onboard audio codec (via optical or coaxial S/PDIF connector)
    • Every AMD 760G/780G/785G/790GX/880G/890GX chipset motherboard (via onboard HDMI)
    • All the solutions mentioned below
  • Multichannel LPCM over HDMI
    • Every ION/GeForce 9300/9400 chipset motherboard (via onboard HDMI)
    • Every GeForce 210/GT 220/GT 240/GTX 4xx graphics card
    • Every Radeon HD 4xxx/5xxx graphics card
    • Every Intel G41/G43/G45 chipset motherboard (via onboard HDMI)
    • Every Intel Core i5/i3 (Clarkdale) processor (via an H55/H57 chipset motherboard with onboard HDMI)
  • Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD High Resolution Audio/Master Audio bitstreams
    • Every Radeon HD 5xxx graphics card
    • GeForce GTX 460/GTS 450/GT 440/GT 430 graphics card (with ffdshow Audio Decoder and WinDVD Pro 2010; PowerDVD and TotalMedia Theatre do not support it yet)
    • Every Intel Core i5/i3 (Clarkdale) processor (via an H55/H57 chipset motherboard with onboard HDMI)
  Interface DD/DTS/Stereo LPCM Multichannel LPCM TrueHD/DTS-HD
Every motherboard's onboard audio codec S/PDIF Y N N
AMD 760G/780G/785G/790GX/880G/890GX (iGPU) HDMI Y N N
Radeon HD 4xxx (dGPU) HDMI Y Y N
Radeon HD 5xxx (dGPU) HDMI Y Y Y
ION, GeForce 9300/9400 mGPU (iGPU) HDMI Y Y N
GeForce 210/GT 220/GT 240/GTX 465/470/480 (dGPU) HDMI Y Y N
GeForce GTX 460/GTS 450/GT 440/GT 430 (dGPU) HDMI Y Y Y
Intel G41/G43/G45 (iGPU) HDMI Y Y N
Intel Core i3/i5 (Clarkdale) Processor (iGPU) HDMI Y Y Y
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My Pick of HTPC
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In case you have no idea what to choose (and no time to dig), here are my pick.

MicroATX Mid-Range Intel System
  • CPU: Core i3 530 2.93GHz LGA1156, $113.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: ASRock H55M/USB3 LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset microATX, $95.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $106.
  • Graphics Card (Optional): Sapphire HD 5670 GDDR5 512MB 100287L, $90.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: Corsair VX450W CMPSU-450VX 450W, $65.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Black microATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $140.
  • Total Cost: $651

The system provides the best video/audio playback performance, as well as reasonably good performance/low power consumption in various CPU intensive tasks. You can add the Radeon HD 5670 discrete graphics card if you like.
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post #14103 of 19331 Old 06-23-2010, 01:14 PM - Thread Starter
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Peripheral Components and OS
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A HTPC needs peripheral components (input devices, optical drive, TV tuner, sound card etc.) to be functional besides the core components (CPU, motherboard, memory, graphics card, HDD, PSU and case). The following is a quick list of recommended peripheral components and OS. In the subsequent sections, I will give only core components.

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Input Device
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MCE Remote

A MCE remote is a (usually IR) remote control and a receiver to be attached to the HTPC (internally or externally via USB) that controls Windows Media Center and other front ends/media players at a distant place. Some HTPC cases and TV tuner cards come with a MCE remote. If not, you can buy one.
  • GP-IR01BK Windows Vista MCE Remote Control External IR Receiver and Remote, $24.
  • GP-IR02BK Windows Vista MCE 2 Channel Remote Control External IR Receiver and Remote, $24.
  • Antec Multimedia Station Basic Internal IR Receiver and Remote, $19.
  • Antec Multimedia Station Elite Internal IR Receiver with VFD and Remote, $54.
Universal Remote

If you want to control all entertainment equipments at your home theater room, a universal remote is a must. Your HTPC needs to have an IR receiver (so you first need to have a MCE remote).
  • Logitech Harmony One Advanced Universal Remote, $165.
  • Logitech Harmony 700 (A stripped version of Harmony One: up to six devices, non-touch screen), $110.
  • Logitech Harmony 900 (Harmony One + RF capabilities), $305.
  • Logitech Harmony 1100 (3.5ˮ touch screen; RF capabilities), $284.
You may be able to find an older model (refurbished):
  • Logitech Harmony 880 Advanced Universal Remote, $88.
  • Logitech Harmony 890 Advanced Universal Remote (Harmony 880 + RF capabilities), $145.
The following is a universal remote (PC via RF + three CE devices via IR) with Gyration's MotionSense technology, eliminating the need for a mouse.
  • Gyration Air Music Remote GYR4101US, $52.
  • Gyration Air Music Remote with Compact Keyboard GYR4101CKUS, $112.

Keyboard & Mouse
  • Adesso 2.4 GHz RF Wireless Multimedia/MCE Keyboard with Optical Trackball WKB-3200UB, $52.
  • Logitech diNovo Edge, $147.
  • Logitech diNovo Mini, $120.
So what do you need?

So what do you need (besides a keyboard and a mouse when installing software)? There is no simple answer.
  • If you just want to control a front end remotely, a cheap MCE remote may be enough. But you still need to a keyboard/mouse, for example, to surf the web.
  • Logitech Harmony is good to control lots of CE devices as well as HTPC. But you still need to a keyboard/mouse, for example, to surf the web.
  • If you want to use your HTPC more like a normal PC (e.g. web browsing) without using a keyboard/mouse, Gyration is a good choice. This can also control three other CE devices.
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Optical Disc Drive
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BD Rewriter/BD-ROM/DVD Rewriter
  • LG WH10LS30 Super Multi Blue BD & DVD Rewriter (BD-ROM DL: 8x), $100.
  • LG UH10LS20 Super Multi Blue BD-ROM/DVD Rewriter (BD-ROM DL: 8x), $85.
  • LITE-ON iHOS104 BD/DVD Reader (BD-ROM DL: 4x), $60.
BD Rewriter/BD-ROM/DVD Rewriter - Slim Type
  • Sony Optiarc BD-5730S Slim Type BD & DVD Rewriter (BD-ROM DL: 4x), $187.
  • LG CT21N Slim Type BD-ROM/DVD Rewriter (BD-ROM DL: 6x), $140.
DVD Rewriter
  • LG GH24NS50 Super Multi DVD & CD Rewriter, $23.
DVD Rewriter - Slim Type
  • Sony Optiarc AD-7700S Slim Type DVD & CD Rewriter, $30.
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TV Tuner Card for ATSC/Cable
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Digital+Analog
  • AVerMedia AVerTV Combo G2 PCIe x1 Card, low-profile (White Box or Media Center Upgrade Kit), $75. A dual tuner, one for analog (NTSC/cable), one for digital (ATSC/unencrypted cable).
  • Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 PCIe x1 Card, low-profile (White Box or MC Kit), $103. A dual hybrid tuner. Each tuner can be individually configured as either NTSC/analog cable or ATSC/unencrypted digital cable.
Digital Only
  • AVerMedia AVerTVHD Duet PCIe x1 Card, low-profile (White Box), $58. A dual digital tuner.
  • Silicondust HDHomeRun Networked Device, $131. A dual digital tuner.
Digital Cable Tuner Card
  • Ceton InfiniTV 4 Digital Cable Quad-Tuner PCIe x1 Card, low-profile, $399. A quad digital tuner. EDA is unknown.
  • Silicondust HDHomeRun PRIME Networked Device, $249. A triple digital tuner. Expected this year.
  • Hauppauge WinTV USB Device
These cards enable any PC running Windows 7 Media Center on your local network to watch or record up to four (Ceton; the max number of CableCARD tuners Windows 7 allows)/three (HDHomeRun) live cable channels at once, including premium channels. You just need:
  • Digital cable subscription from a US cable provider
  • Multi-Stream CableCARD (M-Card) available from your cable provider
A limitation on recordings is:
  • A content marked as Copy Freely has no DRM in your recording. It is basically the same as clear QAM contents once decrypted by the M-Card.
  • A content marked as Copy Once can be watched only on the PC where it was recorded and Media Center Extenders like the Xbox 360.
It is up to each cable provider which content is marked as Copy Freely/Copy Once.

References
HD Capturing
  • Hauppauge HD PVR model 01212 USB Device, $176.
This device captures HD video contents, encrypted or unencrypted, via component video (i.e. analog) from a cable or satellite TV set top box in H.264 video with DD or AAC audio. Recordings are naturally DRM-free. You can watch/record one channel at a time with a HD PVR unit and a STB. You will need multiple HD PVR units and multiple STBs to watch/record multiple channels simultaneously.

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Sound Card
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This is purely optional. Necessary hardware for HD digital audio is provided by either the motherboard's onboard audio codec or the HDMI on a graphics card (read Introduction: Component Selection: Graphics and Sound Devices). So you don't need a sound card unless you want:
  • Analog sounds from the PC, possibly with better DAC/preamplifier than an AV receiver, paired with a good amplifier;
  • EAX 5.0 in gaming (over analog, S/PDIF with Dolby Digital Live/DTS Interactive, or HDMI)
Here are a list of a couple of recommended sound cards if you are in the above two cases:
  • ASUS Xonar HDAV1.3 Deluxe PCIe x1 Card, $197. Excellent analog sounds as well as HD audio bitstreaming (with ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre).
  • Auzentech Auzen X-Fi HomeTheater HD PCIe x1 Card, $227. EAX 5.0 support by an X-Fi audio chip; HD audio bitstreaming (with CyberLink PowerDVD).
  • ASUS Xonar Essence ST PCI Card, $184, with ASUS Xonar H6 Multi-Channel Extension Board, $46. The best analog sounds in this class. Note that if you use a commercial BD software player, HD audio will be downsampled as this card lacks PAP unlike Xonar HDAV1.3 Deluxe.
In case you have a system that does not support S/PDIF and you want it, here are cheap S/PDIF solutions:
  • Turtle Beach Audio Advantage Micro USB Sound Card (S/PDIF and stereo analog), $29.
  • DIAMOND XtremeSound XS71 7.1/24 bit PCI Card, $25.
  • DIAMOND XtremeSound XS71DDL 7.1/24 bit PCI Card with Dolby Digital Live, $44. Gamers may find Dolby Digital Live useful to get surround sounds over S/PDIF.
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OS
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  • Windows 7 (any edition). OEM should be enough.

Remarks
  • Vista vs. Windows 7: If you own a license of Vista, do you need Windows 7? The answer depends on your usage.
    • Overall Windows 7 is faster, snappier and lighter.
    • Windows 7 supports better TV integration in Windows Media Center. In particular, if you want to use a Digital Cable Tuner card, Windows 7 is the only choice. If you don't use TV feature of Media Center or don't use Media Center itself, then this does not matter, of course.
    • Only under Windows 7, Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD bitstreaming via ffdshow is supported. (HD audio bitstreaming via PowerDVD, TotalMedia Theatre, and WinDVD works fine under Vista too.)
  • Windows 7 Editions: 7 Home Premium supports full-system backup and restore unlike Vista Home Premium. You can find comparison of Windows 7 editions in this Microsoft web page and Wikipedia.
  • 32 bit vs. 64 bit: Currently the main advantages of Windows 64 bit are: The main disadvantage is:
    • Windows Media Center of Windows 64-bit is a 64-bit application and hence you can't use a couple of useful 32-bit DirectShow filters with its internal video player (e.g. madFlac Decoder, ReClock, ArcSoft Video Decoder, CyberLink Video Decoder). This is not a fatal disadvantage even if you use Windows Media Center as a front end; you can always use an external media player such as Media Player Classic HomeCinema.
  • You may want to subscribe TechNet Standard, $199/per year, if you need to install Windows (including Windows Home Server), Microsoft Office, and/or other Microsoft applications on many (non-productive) machines. The license is valid indefinitely. You can activate a product with the supplied product key even after your subscription expires (up to 10 times per product key; you can obtain 10 retail keys; so 10 x 10 = 100 times activation). You can't download products or obtain product keys after the expiration of your subscription, of course.

Lower-cost components

Higher-cost components

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Brackets
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S/PDIF Bracket

If your motherboard does not have an S/PDIF port in the rear panel, then you can build your own coaxial S/PDIF bracket: buy
from FRONTX and attach it to an empty PCI bracket by drilling a hole.

COM (Serial) Port Bracket

If your motherboard has an internal COM connector, use LPT (Parallel) Port Bracket

If your motherboard has an internal LPT connector, use


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Mini-ITX System
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General Consideration
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Mini-ITX form factor has become popular because of its small footprint. However there are a couple of limitations. It supports at most one expansion slot. So if you decide to add a discrete graphics card, for example, you can't use an internal TV tuner card. A Mini-ITX case is usually very small, hence there is often a space limitation for the CPU cooler, storage drives and PSU. In many cases you can use only a slim-type optical drive and/or a 2.5″ HDD, that are often expensive. If you agree with these limitations, a Mini-ITX system can be not only a good HTPC but also a gaming machine or a video encoding machine by placing a powerful discrete graphics card and/or CPU.

I will give standard HTPC systems for the Intel platform and the AMD platform, a premium HTPC system for the Intel platform, then a gaming HTPC for the Intel platform. Here is a feature comparison chart.

  • HD Video (GPU)
    • MPEG-2: Full hardware acceleration of MPEG-2 decoding.
    • VC-1: Full hardware acceleration of VC-1 decoding.
    • H.264/MPEG-4 AVC: Full hardware acceleration of H.264/MPEG-4 AVC decoding.
    • 23.976Hz Refresh Rate: Support for the 23.976Hz refresh rate.
    • VA Deinterlacing: Vector Adaptive Deinterlacing or an equivalent for HD and SD interlaced video contents.
    • MPEG-4 MVC: Full hardware acceleration of MPEG-4 MVC (Blu-ray 3D codec) decoding.
    • HDMI 1.4a: Support for the mandatory 3D video format structures by HDMI 1.4a.
  • HDMI Audio (GPU): This indicates supported audio formats over HDMI from the GPU.
  • S/PDIF Audio (MB)
    • S/PDIF Connector: This indicates the existence of an S/PDIF connector (optical or coaxial) on the rear panel of the motherboard.
    • DDL or DTSI: DDL is Dolby Digital Live, DTSI is DTS Interactive. These technologies encode multichannel LPCM sent to the audio codec of the motherboard into Dolby Digital or DTS in real time. A convenient tool to get surround sounds from games over S/PDIF.
  • Analog Audio (MB)
    • Number of Channels: The supported number of channels of analog audio from the audio codec of the motherboard.
    • Content Protection: Support for Protected Audio Path. If this exists, you may get full quality lossless analog audio from Blu-ray Disc movies when you use a (not necessarily every) commercial Blu-ray Disc software player.
  • Other Features (MB)
    • SATA 2.0: The number of SATA 2.0 (3Gbps) internal connectors.
    • eSATA 2.0: The number of eSATA 3Gbps connectors on the real panel.
    • USB 3.0: The number of USB 3.0 connectors on the rear panel if exists.
    • IEEE 1394: Support for IEEE 1394 (aka FireWire).
  • Power Consumption (DC): The DC power draw of the total system excluding PSU. The AC power draw from the wall is (DC power draw)/(efficiency of the PSU).
    • Idle: At idle.
    • BD Playback: At BD movie (an ISO stored in the internal HDD) playback by PowerDVD 10 Ultra.
    • CPU Load: At Prime95 (Small FFTs).
    • GPU Load: At FurMark (Stress Test).
    • CPU+GPU Load: At Prime95 (Small FFTs) and FurMark (Stress Test) simultaneously.
There are several nice Mini-ITX cases. For example, (LP = low profile, FH = full height)
  • Antec ISK 300-150 Mini-ITX, 1 x 5.25″ slim/2 x 2.5″/1 x LP slot, W222 x H96 x D328 mm, 150W, $75.
  • Antec ISK 310-150 Mini-ITX, 1 x 5.25″ slim/2 x 2.5″/1 x LP slot, W222 x H96 x D328 mm, 150W, $75.
  • Apex MI-008 Mini-ITX, 1 x 5.25″/2 x 3.5″/1 x FH slot, W220 x H129 x D300 mm, 250W, $40.
  • Apex MI-100BK Mini-ITX, 1 x 5.25″/2 x 3.5″/1 x FH slot, W220 x H129 x D300 mm, 250W, $50.
  • Mini-Box.com M350 Mini-ITX, no 5.25″/2 x 2.5″/no slot, W192 x H62 x D210 mm, $40, with Mini-Box.com picoPSU-150-XT + 102W Adapter Power Kit, $70.
  • SilverStone Sugo SG05 SST-SG05B Mini-ITX/Mini-DTX, 1 x 5.25″ slim/1 x 3.5″/1 x 2.5″/2 x FH slot, W222 x H176 x D276 mm, 300W, $92.
  • SilverStone Sugo SG07 SST-SG07B Mini-ITX/Mini-DTX, 1 x 5.25″ slim/1 x 3.5″/2 x 2.5″/2 x FH slot, W222 x H190 x D350 mm, 600W, $115.

I will use Antec ISK 310-150 in the standard and premium systems below.
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Standard System
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Intel (iGPU)

System
  • CPU: Core i3 530 2.93GHz LGA1156, $113.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-H55N-USB3 LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset Mini-ITX, $101. An alternative is Intel DH57JG LGA1156 Intel H57 chipset Mini-ATX, $110.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $57.
  • Graphics Card: Intel HD Graphics (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HDD: Seagate Momentus 7200.4 ST9500420AS 500GB SATA 3.0Gbps mobile 7200 RPM, $68.
  • PSU: FlexATX 150W PSU (included in the case), $0.
  • Case: Antec ISK 310-150 Mini-ITX, $77.
  • Total Cost: $416

References
Intel

System
  • CPU: Celeron E3300 2.50GHz 1MB L2 LGA775, $43. A better alternative is Pentium Dual-Core E5400 2.70GHz 2MB L2 LGA775, $64.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: ZOTAC G41-ITX G41ITX-A-E LGA775 Intel G41 chipset Mini-ITX, $80.
  • Memory: A-DATA AD2U800B1G5-DRH DDR2-800 2 x 1GB Kit, $45.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): PowerColor AX5450 512MK3-SH Radeon HD 5450 GDDR3 512MB, $45, with PowerColor LC668-N DVI+HDMI LP DVI + HDMI Low Profile Bracket, $7. A better alternative is Sapphire HD 5570 1GB DDR3 HDMI 100293L, $87.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): ECS NGT220C-512QZ-F GeForce GT 220 DDR2 512MB low-profile, $52.
  • HDD: Seagate Momentus 7200.4 ST9500420AS 500GB SATA 3.0Gbps mobile 7200 RPM, $68.
  • PSU: FlexATX 150W PSU (included in the case), $0.
  • Case: Antec ISK 310-150 Mini-ITX, $77.
  • Total Cost: $365 for ATI, $365 for NVIDIA

Intel-NVIDIA (iGPU)

System
  • CPU: Celeron E3300 2.50GHz 1MB L2 LGA775, $43. A better alternative is Pentium Dual-Core E5400 2.70GHz 2MB L2 LGA775, $64.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: ZOTAC GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi GF9300-K-E LGA775 GeForce 9300 mGPU Mini-ITX, $133.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $57.
  • Graphics Card: GeForce 9300 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HDD: Seagate Momentus 7200.4 ST9500420AS 500GB SATA 3.0Gbps mobile 7200 RPM, $68.
  • PSU: FlexATX 150W PSU (included in the case), $0.
  • Case: Antec ISK 310-150 Mini-ITX, $77.
  • Total Cost: $378

References
Intel Atom-NVIDIA (iGPU)

System
  • CPU: Intel Atom 330 1.60GHz 2-Core 4-Thread 1MB L2 (included in the motherboard), $0.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: ASRock A330ION Intel Atom 330 and NVIDIA ION chipset Mini-ITX, $143.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-10600CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1333 2 x 1GB Kit, $52.
  • Graphics Card: GeForce 9300 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HDD: Seagate Momentus 7200.4 ST9500420AS 500GB SATA 3.0Gbps mobile 7200 RPM, $68.
  • PSU: FlexATX 150W PSU (included in the case), $0.
  • Case: Antec ISK 310-150 Mini-ITX, $77.
  • Total Cost: $340

Remarks
  • The system is essentially the same as the Intel-NVIDIA (iGPU) system with Celeron E3300 replaced by Atom 330. Hence its graphics capability is identical. The CPU is weaker and slower, but good enough for the basic HTPC tasks (video playback through DXVA, navigating Windows Media Center etc.). Here is a performance comparison between Atom 330 and Pentium Dual-Core E2200 2.2GHz 1MB L2 (close to Celeron E3300). An advantage is lower power consumption, by ~15W at idle and video playback, which results in ~$15 saving per year if the system runs 24/7.
AMD (iGPU)

System
  • CPU: Athlon II X2 240 ADX240OCGQBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $57.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: J&W MINIX 785G-SP128MB AM2+ AMD 785G/SB710 chipset Mini-ITX, $158 (available at Amazon.com Marketplace).
  • Memory: Crucial CT2KIT12864AC800 DDR2-800 SO-DIMM 2 x 1GB Kit, $49.
  • Graphics Card: Radeon HD 4200 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HDD: Seagate Momentus 7200.4 ST9500420AS 500GB SATA 3.0Gbps mobile 7200 RPM, $68.
  • PSU: FlexATX 150W PSU (included in the case), $0.
  • Case: Antec ISK 310-150 Mini-ITX, $77.
  • Total Cost: $409


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The system as small as possible without performance compromise is:

Intel

System
  • CPU: Core i3-530 2.93GHz LGA1156, $113.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-H55N-USB3 LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset Mini-ITX, $101.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $106.
  • Graphics Card: Sapphire HD 5570 1GB DDR3 HDMI 100293L, $87.
  • HDD: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G2R5 80GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $220. A better alternative is OCZ Vertex 2 OCZSSD2-2VTX100G 100GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $325.
  • PSU: FlexATX 150W PSU (included in the case), $0.
  • Case: Antec ISK 310-150 Mini-ITX, $77.
  • Total Cost: $704


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The systems here are based on SilverStone SG07 Mini-DTX/Mini-ITX case. The case supports a 2-slot graphics card of up to 12.2″ length and has a 600W PSU, good enough in most cases.

Intel

System
  • CPU: Core i5-750 2.66GHz LGA1156, $196.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $28.
  • Motherboard: DFI LANPARTY MI P55-T36 LGA1156 Intel P55 chipset Mini-ATX, $140.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Sapphire HD 5850 GDDR5 1GB 100282-3SR, $300.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): GeForce GTX 470, for example EVGA 012-P3-1470-AR, $320.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: ATX12V 600W SFX PSU (included in the case), $0.
  • Case: SilverStone Sugo SG07 SST-SG07B Mini-ITX/Mini-DTX, $200.
  • Total Cost: $1011 for ATI, $1031 for NVIDIA

Remarks
  • DFI LANPARTY MI P55-T36 is the only LGA1156 Mini-ITX motherboard that can hold a large CPU cooler! Practically all the recent H55 Mini-ITX motherboards support only the stock CPU cooler, so none of them is suitable for a Lynnfield processor.
  • You can use virtually any graphics card with this case. Typical graphics cards better than the above are
    • Sapphire Toxic HD 5850 GDDR5 1GB 100282TXSR, $330.
    • Sapphire HD 5870 GDDR5 1GB 100281-3SR, $410.
    • ASUS MATRIX 5870/2DIS/2GD5, $482.
    • Sapphire HD 5970 GDDR5 2GB 100280SR, $647.
    • Sapphire HD 5970 GDDR5 4GB 100280-4GSR, $1,090.
    • GeForce GTX 480, $499.

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General Consideration
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A microATX system is perhaps the most popular form factor in HTPC because it generally costs less and is smaller than ATX, yet has enough number of expansion slots of 4.

I will give a low-end system, a mid-range system, a high-end system and a premium system for each of Intel chip-Intel chipset and AMD chip-AMD chipset. Basic distinctions are:
  • Low-end system: provides reasonably good video playback performance at a low cost.
  • Mid-range system: provides the best video playback performance without compromise.
  • High-end system: should be able to handle other HTPC-related tasks such as video re-encoding and games with reasonably good performance.
  • Premium system: is intended to be the best (but not too expensive) overall system available today.
I set the following criteria for expansion slots:
  • Low-end:
    • 1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 for a 2-slot graphics card
    • 1 x PCIe x1 for a sound card or a TV tuner
  • Mid-range and high-end:
    • 1 x PCIe 2.0 x8 (or higher) for a 2-slot graphics card
    • 1 x PCIe x4 (or higher) for HBA
    • 1 x PCIe x1 for a sound card or a TV tuner
  • Premium system:
    • 2 x PCIe 2.0 x8 (or higher) for dual 2-slot graphics (CrossFireX and/or SLI)
Here is a feature comparison chart.

  • HD Video (GPU)
    • MPEG-2: Full hardware acceleration of MPEG-2 decoding.
    • VC-1: Full hardware acceleration of VC-1 decoding.
    • H.264/MPEG-4 AVC: Full hardware acceleration of H.264/MPEG-4 AVC decoding.
    • 23.976Hz Refresh Rate: Support for the 23.976Hz refresh rate.
    • VA Deinterlacing: Vector Adaptive Deinterlacing or an equivalent for HD and SD interlaced video contents.
    • MPEG-4 MVC: Full hardware acceleration of MPEG-4 MVC (Blu-ray 3D codec) decoding.
    • HDMI 1.4a: Support for the mandatory 3D video format structures by HDMI 1.4a.
  • HDMI Audio (GPU): This indicates supported audio formats over HDMI from the GPU.
  • S/PDIF Audio (MB)
    • S/PDIF Connector: This indicates the existence of an S/PDIF connector (optical or coaxial) on the rear panel of the motherboard.
    • DDL or DTSI: DDL is Dolby Digital Live, DTSI is DTS Interactive. These technologies encode multichannel LPCM sent to the audio codec of the motherboard into Dolby Digital or DTS in real time. A convenient tool to get surround sounds from games over S/PDIF.
  • Analog Audio (MB)
    • Number of Channels: The supported number of channels of analog audio from the audio codec of the motherboard.
    • Content Protection: Support for Protected Audio Path. If this exists, you may get full quality lossless analog audio from Blu-ray Disc movies when you use a (not necessarily every) commercial Blu-ray Disc software player.
  • Other Features (MB)
    • SATA 3.0: The number of SATA 3.0 (6Gbps) internal connectors.
    • USB 3.0: The number of USB 3.0 connectors on the rear panel if exists.
    • IEEE 1394: Support for IEEE 1394 (aka FireWire).
  • Video Encoding (CPU)
    • Frame per Second: x264 HD Benchmark 3.0 Render Speed (Pass 2).
    • Power per Frame: The AC power draw of the total system to encode a frame in the above benchmark. The value depends on PSU's efficiency, which depends on various factors. So take it as a rough estimate.
  • Power Consumption (DC): The DC power draw of the total system excluding PSU. The AC power draw from the wall is (DC power draw)/(efficiency of the PSU).
    • Idle: At idle.
    • BD Playback: At BD movie (an ISO stored in the internal HDD) playback by PowerDVD 10 Ultra.
    • CPU Load: At Prime95 (Small FFTs).
    • GPU Load: At FurMark (Stress Test).
    • CPU+GPU Load: At Prime95 (Small FFTs) and FurMark (Stress Test) simultaneously.
There are many good microATX cases. For example,
  • Antec NSK1480 microATX, low-profile, $107.
  • Antec MicroFusion Remote 350 microATX, low-profile, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $100.
  • Antec NSK2480 microATX, $115.
  • Antec Fusion Remote Black microATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $140.
  • Lian Li PC-C37B MUSE microATX, low-profile, $128.
  • Lian Li PC-C39 microATX, low-profile, with RF receiver/remote, $170.
  • Moneual MonCaso312 microATX, low-profile, with IR receiver/remote, $240.
  • nMEDIAPC HTPC 1080P microATX, low-profile, $70.
  • nMEDIAPC HTPC 1000B microATX, $70.
  • nMEDIAPC HTPC 5000B microATX, $60.
  • LUXA2 LM200 microATX, with VFD/IR receiver/remote, $320.
  • LUXA2 LM200 Touch microATX, with 7 touch screen/IR receiver/remote, $510.

I will use Antec MicroFusion Remote 350 in the low-end systems, Antec Fusion Remote Black in the mid-range and high-end systems, and LUXA2 LM200 in the premium systems below.
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Low-End System
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Intel

System
  • CPU: Celeron E3300 2.50GHz 1MB L2 LGA775, $43. A better alternative is Pentium Dual-Core E5400 2.70GHz 2MB L2 LGA775, $64.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: ASUS P5G41C-M LGA775 Intel G41 chipset microATX, $59.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $65. The motherboard also supports two sticks of DDR2 SDRAM modules ("C" = Combo) that are ~$20 cheaper. If you are going to buy new memory modules, I recommend DDR3 SDRAM (reusable in future upgrades).
  • Graphics Card (ATI): PowerColor AX5450 512MK3-SH Radeon HD 5450 GDDR3 512MB, $45, with PowerColor LC668-N DVI+HDMI LP DVI + HDMI Low Profile Bracket, $7. A better alternative is Sapphire HD 5570 1GB DDR3 HDMI 100293L, $87.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): ECS NGT220C-512QZ-F GeForce GT 220 DDR2 512MB low-profile, $52.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: 80 PLUS 350W ATX PSU (included in the case), $0
  • Case: Antec MicroFusion Remote 350 microATX, low-profile, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $100.
  • Total Cost: $361 for ATI, $361 for NVIDIA

AMD (iGPU)

System
  • CPU: Athlon II X2 240 ADX240OCGQBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $57.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: ASRock 880GMH/USB3 AM3 AMD 880G/SB710 chipset microATX, $85. An alternative is GIGABYTE GA-880GMA-UD2H AM3 AMD 880G/SB850 chipset microATX, $95 (supporting SATA 6Gbps and IEEE 1394).
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $65.
  • Graphics Card: Radeon HD 4250 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: 80 PLUS 350W ATX PSU (included in the case), $0
  • Case: Antec MicroFusion Remote 350 microATX, low-profile, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $100.
  • Total Cost: $349

AMD

Radeon HD 4250 does not support multichannel LPCM/Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD (HRA and MA) over HDMI. If you want them, you have to add a discrete graphics card. Here is an example of such a system.

System
  • CPU: Athlon II X2 240 ADX240OCGQBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $66.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: ASUS M4A78L-M AM2+ AMD 760G/SB710 chipset microATX, $59.
  • Memory: A-DATA AD2U800B1G5-DRH DDR2-800 2 x 1GB Kit, $45.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): PowerColor AX5450 512MK3-SH Radeon HD 5450 GDDR3 512MB, $45, with PowerColor LC668-N DVI+HDMI LP DVI + HDMI Low Profile Bracket, $7. A better alternative is Sapphire HD 5570 1GB DDR3 HDMI 100293L, $87.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): ECS NGT220C-512QZ-F GeForce GT 220 DDR2 512MB low-profile, $52.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: 80 PLUS 350W ATX PSU (included in the case), $0
  • Case: Antec MicroFusion Remote 350 microATX, low-profile, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $100.
  • Total Cost: $355 for ATI, $355 for NVIDIA


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Mid-Range System
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Intel (iGPU)

System
  • CPU: Core i3 530 2.93GHz LGA1156, $113.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: ASRock H55M/USB3 LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset microATX, $95. An alternative is ASUS P7H55D-M EVO LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset microATX, $115, or GIGABYTE GA-H57M-USB3 LGA1156 Intel H57 chipset microATX, $118.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $106.
  • Graphics Card: Intel HD Graphics (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: Corsair VX450W CMPSU-450VX 450W, $65. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ II 400W EES400AWT II, $57.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Black microATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $140.
  • Total Cost: $561

Intel

System
  • CPU: Core i3 530 2.93GHz LGA1156, $113.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: ASRock H55M Pro LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset microATX, $95.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $106.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Sapphire HD 5670 GDDR5 512MB 100287L, $90. An alternative is HIS H567Q512 Radeon HD 5670 GDDR5 512MB, $95.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): EVGA 01G-P3-1235 GeForce GT 240 DDR3 1GB, $100.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: Corsair VX450W CMPSU-450VX 450W, $65. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ II 400W EES400AWT II, $57.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Black microATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $140.
  • Total Cost: $651 for ATI, $661 for NVIDIA

AMD

System
  • CPU: Athlon II X4 635 ADX635WFGIBOX 2.9GHz AM3, $100.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $28.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-880GMA-UD2H AM3 AMD 880G/SB850 chipset microATX, $95.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $106.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Sapphire HD 5670 GDDR5 512MB 100287L, $90. An alternative is HIS H567Q512 Radeon HD 5670 GDDR5 512MB, $95.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): EVGA 01G-P3-1235 GeForce GT 240 DDR3 1GB, $100.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: Corsair VX450W CMPSU-450VX 450W, $65. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ II 400W EES400AWT II, $57.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Black microATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $140.
  • Total Cost: $666 for ATI, $676 for NVIDIA


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High-End System
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Intel

System
  • CPU: Core i5-750 2.66GHz LGA1156, $196.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $28.
  • Motherboard: MSI H57M-ED65 LGA1156 Intel H57 chipset microATX, $155.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): MSI R5770 Hawk Radeon HD 5770 GDDR5 1GB, $180.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): GeForce GTX 460 768MB, for example EVGA 768-P3-1360-TR, $200. A better alternative is GeForce GTX 460 1GB, $230.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: Corsair VX550W CMPSU-550VX 550W, $80. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 500W EES500AWT, $85.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Black microATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $140.
  • Total Cost: $926 for ATI, $946 for NVIDIA

AMD

System
  • CPU: Phenom II X6 1055T HDT55TFBGRBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $199.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $28.
  • Motherboard: MSI 890GXM-G65 AM3 AMD 890GX/SB850 chipset microATX, $122.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): MSI R5770 Hawk Radeon HD 5770 GDDR5 1GB, $180.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): GeForce GTX 460 768MB, for example EVGA 768-P3-1360-TR, $200. A better alternative is GeForce GTX 460 1GB, $230.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: Corsair VX550W CMPSU-550VX 550W, $80. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 500W EES500AWT, $85.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Black microATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $140.
  • Total Cost: $896 for ATI, $916 for NVIDIA


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Intel (LGA 1156)

System
  • CPU: Core i7-860 2.80GHz LGA1156, $284.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $28.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-P55M-UD4 LGA1156 Intel P55 chipset microATX, $146.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Sapphire HD 5850 GDDR5 1GB 100282-3SR, $300; two of this card for CrossFireX, $600.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): GeForce GTX 470, for example EVGA 012-P3-1470-AR, $320; two of this card for SLI, $640.
  • HDD: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G2R5 80GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $220. A better alternative is OCZ Vertex 2 OCZSSD2-2VTX100G 100GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $325.
  • PSU: Enermax MODU87+ 700W EMG700AWT, $181.
  • Case: LUXA2 LM200 Touch microATX, with 7 touch screen/IR receiver/remote, $510. If you don't need or don't like a touch screen, choose LUXA2 LM200 microATX, with VFD/IR receiver/remote, $320.
  • Total Cost: $1774 for non-CrossFireX, $2074 for CrossFireX; $1794 for non-SLI, $2114 for SLI.

Intel (LGA 1366)

System
  • Core i7-930 2.80GHz LGA1366, $294.
  • Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $28.
  • Motherboard: ASUS Rampage III GENE LGA1366 Intel X58 chipsets microATX, $235.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9T-6GBNQ DDR3-1600 3 x 2GB Kit, $160.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Sapphire HD 5850 GDDR5 1GB 100282-3SR, $300; two of this card for CrossFireX, $600.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): GeForce GTX 470, for example EVGA 012-P3-1470-AR, $320; two of this card for SLI, $640.
  • HDD: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G2R5 80GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $220. A better alternative is OCZ Vertex 2 OCZSSD2-2VTX100G 100GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $325.
  • PSU: Enermax MODU87+ 700W EMG700AWT, $181.
  • Case: LUXA2 LM200 Touch microATX, with 7 touch screen/IR receiver/remote, $510. If you don't need or don't like a touch screen, choose LUXA2 LM200 microATX, with VFD/IR receiver/remote, $320.
  • Total Cost: $1918 for non-CrossFireX, $2218 for CrossFireX; $1938 for non-SLI, $2258 for SLI.

AMD

System
  • CPU: Phenom II X6 1090T 'Black Edition' HDT90ZFBGRBOX 3.2GHz AM3, $295.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $28.
  • Motherboard: MSI 890GXM-G65 AM3 AMD 890GX/SB850 chipset microATX, $122.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $106.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Sapphire HD 5850 GDDR5 1GB 100282-3SR, $300; two of this card for CrossFireX, $600.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): GeForce GTX 470, for example EVGA 012-P3-1470-AR, $320.
  • HDD: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G2R5 80GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $220. A better alternative is OCZ Vertex 2 OCZSSD2-2VTX100G 100GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $325.
  • PSU: Enermax MODU87+ 700W EMG700AWT, $181.
  • Case: LUXA2 LM200 Touch microATX, with 7 touch screen/IR receiver/remote, $510. If you don't need or don't like a touch screen, choose LUXA2 LM200 microATX, with VFD/IR receiver/remote, $320.
  • Total Cost: $1761 for non-CrossFireX, $2061 for CrossFireX; $1781 for NVIDIA


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post #14113 of 19331 Old 06-23-2010, 01:16 PM - Thread Starter
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General Consideration
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The ATX form factor supports up to seven expansion slots (vs. four in microATX) and a larger ATX case can usually hold more storage drives. Moreover motherboard manufacturers tend to implement better CPU power circuitry and cooling solution for MOSFET/chipset in ATX motherboards than microATX motherboards.

I will give a low-end system, a mid-range system, a high-end system and a premium system for each of Intel chip-Intel chipset, AMD chip-AMD chipset and AMD chip-NVIDIA chipset. Basic distinctions are:
  • Low-end system: provides reasonably good video playback performance at a low cost.
  • Mid-range system: provides the best video playback performance without compromise.
  • High-end system: should be able to handle other HTPC-related tasks such as video re-encoding and games with reasonably good performance.
  • Premium system: is intended to be the best (but not too expensive) overall system available today.
As the expandability is an distinguishing feature of the ATX form factor, I set the following criteria: the motherboard should have
  • Low-end:
    • 1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 for a 2-slot graphics card
    • 3 x PCIe x1 for HBA, a sound card and a TV tuner
  • Mid-range and high-end:
    • 1 x PCIe 2.0 x8 for a 2-slot graphics card
    • 1 x PCIe x8 for HBA
    • 2 x PCIe x1 for a sound card and a TV tuner
  • Premium system:
    • 2 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (or x8) for dual 2-slot graphics (CrossFireX and/or SLI)
    • 1 x PCIe x1 for a sound card/TV tuner
    • 1 x PCIe x4 for a sound card/TV tuner/HBA
But a few systems do not meet this criteria (simply because there is no good motherboard). In addition, fully usable 6 or more internal SATA ports is a norm.

Here is a feature comparison chart.

  • HD Video (GPU)
    • MPEG-2: Full hardware acceleration of MPEG-2 decoding.
    • VC-1: Full hardware acceleration of VC-1 decoding.
    • H.264/MPEG-4 AVC: Full hardware acceleration of H.264/MPEG-4 AVC decoding.
    • 23.976Hz Refresh Rate: Support for the 23.976Hz refresh rate.
    • VA Deinterlacing: Vector Adaptive Deinterlacing or an equivalent for HD and SD interlaced video contents.
    • MPEG-4 MVC: Full hardware acceleration of MPEG-4 MVC (Blu-ray 3D codec) decoding.
    • HDMI 1.4a: Support for the mandatory 3D video format structures by HDMI 1.4a.
  • HDMI Audio (GPU): This indicates supported audio formats over HDMI from the GPU.
  • S/PDIF Audio (MB)
    • S/PDIF Connector: This indicates the existence of an S/PDIF connector (optical or coaxial) on the rear panel of the motherboard.
    • DDL or DTSI: DDL is Dolby Digital Live, DTSI is DTS Interactive. These technologies encode multichannel LPCM sent to the audio codec of the motherboard into Dolby Digital or DTS in real time. A convenient tool to get surround sounds from games over S/PDIF.
  • Analog Audio (MB)
    • Number of Channels: The supported number of channels of analog audio from the audio codec of the motherboard.
    • Content Protection: Support for Protected Audio Path. If this exists, you may get full quality lossless analog audio from Blu-ray Disc movies when you use a (not necessarily every) commercial Blu-ray Disc software player.
  • Other Features (MB)
    • SATA 3.0: The number of SATA 3.0 (6Gbps) internal connectors.
    • USB 3.0: The number of USB 3.0 connectors on the rear panel if exists.
    • IEEE 1394: Support for IEEE 1394 (aka FireWire).
  • Video Encoding (CPU)
    • Frame per Second: x264 HD Benchmark 3.0 Render Speed (Pass 2).
    • Power per Frame: The AC power draw of the total system to encode a frame in the above benchmark. The value depends on PSU's efficiency, which depends on various factors. So take it as a rough estimate.
  • Power Consumption (DC): The DC power draw of the total system excluding PSU. The AC power draw from the wall is (DC power draw)/(efficiency of the PSU).
    • Idle: At idle.
    • BD Playback: At BD movie (an ISO stored in the internal HDD) playback by PowerDVD 10 Ultra.
    • CPU Load: At Prime95 (Small FFTs).
    • GPU Load: At FurMark (Stress Test).
    • CPU+GPU Load: At Prime95 (Small FFTs) and FurMark (Stress Test) simultaneously.
There are many good ATX cases. Here is a list of well-built ATX cases. All SilverStone cases except for LC16M and GD01, Antec Fusion Remote Max, and Thermaltake DH103/DH104 can hold a graphics card of any length possibly by removing a HDD cage.

Without LCD/VFD/IR receiver/remote:
  • SilverStone Lascala LC10-E SST-LC10B-E ATX, $109.
  • SilverStone Lascala LC13-E SST-LC13B-E ATX, $120.
  • SilverStone Lascala LC17 SST-LC17B ATX, $120.
  • SilverStone Lascala LC20 SST-LC20B ATX, $129.
  • SilverStone Lascala GD01 SST-GD01B-R ATX, with card reader, $135.
  • nMEDIAPC HTPC 2000B ATX, with card reader, $92.
  • nMEDIAPC HTPC 6000B ATX, with card reader, $80.
  • Zalman HD501 ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $145.
With LCD/VFD/IR receiver/remote:
  • SilverStone Lascala LC10-MX SST-LC10B-MX ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $179.
  • SilverStone Lascala LC16M-R SST-LC16B-MR ATX, with VFD/IR receiver/remote & card reader, $236.
  • SilverStone Lascala LC20M SST-LC20B-M ATX, with VFD/IR receiver/remote, $179.
  • SilverStone Lascala GD01MX SST-GD01B-MXR ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote & card reader, $236.
  • SilverStone Crown CW02 SST-CW02B-MXR ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote & card reader, $359.
  • Antec Fusion Remote Max ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $174.
  • Zalman HD503 ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $225.
  • Thermaltake DH101 VF7001BNS ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $198.
  • Thermaltake DH202 VJ80011N2Z ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote & card reader, $240.
  • Thermaltake DH103 VH3001BNS ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $257.
  • Thermaltake DH104 VH4001BNS ATX, with 7 touch screen/IR receiver/remote, $500.
Note that the cases used in the recommendation list are just examples. You should choose a case that suits your needs.
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Low-End System
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Intel

System
  • CPU: Celeron E3300 2.50GHz 1MB L2 LGA775, $43. A better alternative is Pentium Dual-Core E5400 2.70GHz 2MB L2 LGA775, $64.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-EP43T-UD3L LGA775 Intel P43 chipset ATX, $80. An alternative is GIGABYTE GA-EP43T-USB3 LGA775 Intel P43 chipset ATX, $87 (supporting USB 3.0).
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $65.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): PowerColor AX5450 512MK3-SH Radeon HD 5450 GDDR3 512MB, $45.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): ECS NGT220C-512QZ-F GeForce GT 220 DDR2 512MB low-profile, $52.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: Corsair VX450W CMPSU-450VX 450W, $65. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ II 400W EES400AWT II, $57.
  • Case: SilverStone Lascala LC10-E SST-LC10B-E ATX, $109.
  • Total Cost: $449 for ATI, $456 for NVIDIA

AMD (iGPU)

System
  • CPU: Athlon II X2 240 ADX240OCGQBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $57.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-880GA-UD3H AM3 AMD 880G/SB850 chipset ATX, $98.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $65.
  • Graphics Card: Radeon HD 4250 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: Corsair VX450W CMPSU-450VX 450W, $65. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ II 400W EES400AWT II, $57.
  • Case: SilverStone Lascala LC10-E SST-LC10B-E ATX, $109.
  • Total Cost: $436

AMD

Radeon HD 4250 does not support multichannel LPCM/Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD (HRA and MA) over HDMI. If you want them, you have to add a discrete graphics card. Here is an example of such a system.

System
  • CPU: Athlon II X2 240 ADX240OCGQBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $57.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: ASRock 770 Extreme3 AM3 AMD 770/SB710 chipset ATX, $75. An alternative is GIGABYTE GA-770T-USB3 AM3 AMD 770/SB710 chipset ATX, $80 (supporting IEEE 1394, but not supporting SATA 6Gbps).
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $65.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): PowerColor AX5450 512MK3-SH Radeon HD 5450 GDDR3 512MB, $45.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): ECS NGT220C-512QZ-F GeForce GT 220 DDR2 512MB low-profile, $52.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: Corsair VX450W CMPSU-450VX 450W, $65. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ II 400W EES400AWT II, $57.
  • Case: SilverStone Lascala LC10-E SST-LC10B-E ATX, $109.
  • Total Cost: $458 for ATI, $465 for NVIDIA


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Mid-Range System
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Intel (iGPU)

System
  • CPU: Core i3 530 2.93GHz LGA1156, $113.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: ASRock H55 Extreme3 LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset ATX, $110. An alternative is GIGABYTE GA-H55-USB3 LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset ATX, $119 (not supporting SATA 6Gbps).
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $106.
  • Graphics Card: Intel HD Graphics (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: Corsair VX550W CMPSU-550VX 550W, $80. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 500W EES500AWT, $85.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Max ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $174.
  • Total Cost: $625

Intel

System
  • CPU: Core i3 530 2.93GHz LGA1156, $113.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: MSI P55A-G55 LGA1156 Intel P55 chipset ATX, $125 (this is a great deal considering that it supports USB 3.0, SATA 6Gbps and dual PCI Express 2.0 x8 [CrossFireX]). An alternative is ASUS P7P55D-E LGA1156 Intel P55 chipset ATX, $144 (PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots are x16 and x4; supports IEEE 1394).
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $106.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Sapphire HD 5670 GDDR5 512MB 100287L, $90. An alternative is HIS H567Q512 Radeon HD 5670 GDDR5 512MB, $95.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): EVGA 01G-P3-1235 GeForce GT 240 DDR3 1GB, $100.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: Corsair VX550W CMPSU-550VX 550W, $80. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 500W EES500AWT, $85.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Max ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $174.
  • Total Cost: $730 for ATI, $740 for NVIDIA

AMD

System
  • CPU: Athlon II X4 635 ADX635WFGIBOX 2.9GHz AM3, $100.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $28.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-890GPA-UD3H AM3 AMD 890GX/SB850 chipset ATX, $128. A cheaper alternative is ASRock 880G Extreme3 AM3 AMD 880G/SB850 chipset ATX, $110 (still supporting dual PCI Express 2.0 x8 despite AMD 880G chipset).
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $106.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Sapphire HD 5670 GDDR5 512MB 100287L, $90. An alternative is HIS H567Q512 Radeon HD 5670 GDDR5 512MB, $95.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): EVGA 01G-P3-1235 GeForce GT 240 DDR3 1GB, $100.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: Corsair VX550W CMPSU-550VX 550W, $80. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 500W EES500AWT, $85.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Max ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $174.
  • Total Cost: $748 for ATI, $758 for NVIDIA.


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High-End System
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Intel

System
  • CPU: Core i5-750 2.66GHz LGA1156, $196.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $28.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-P55A-UD4P LGA1156 Intel P55 chipset ATX, $175. An alternative is ASRock P55 Deluxe3 LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset ATX, $170, ASUS P7P55D-E PRO LGA1156 Intel P55 chipset ATX, $180, or MSI P55A-GD65 LGA1156 Intel P55 chipset ATX, $170.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $106.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): MSI R5770 Hawk Radeon HD 5770 GDDR5 1GB, $180.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): GeForce GTX 460 768MB, for example EVGA 768-P3-1360-TR, $200. A better alternative is GeForce GTX 460 1GB, $230.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: Corsair TX650W CMPSU-650TX 650W, $90. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 620W EES620AWT, $95.
  • Case: Zalman HD503 ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $225.
  • Total Cost: $1041 for ATI, $1061 for NVIDIA[

AMD

System
  • CPU: Phenom II X6 1055T HDT55TFBGRBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $199.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $28.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-890GPA-UD3H AM3 AMD 890GX/SB850 chipset ATX, $128. An alternative is ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 AM3 AMD 890GX/SB850 chipset ATX, $140.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $106.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): MSI R5770 Hawk Radeon HD 5770 GDDR5 1GB, $180.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): GeForce GTX 460 768MB, for example EVGA 768-P3-1360-TR, $200. A better alternative is GeForce GTX 460 1GB, $230.
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • PSU: Corsair TX650W CMPSU-650TX 650W, $90. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 620W EES620AWT, $95.
  • Case: Zalman HD503 ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $225.
  • Total Cost: $997 for ATI, $1017 for NVIDIA[


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Premium System
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Intel (LGA 1156)

System
  • CPU: Core i7-860 2.80GHz LGA1156, $284.
  • CPU Cooler: Xigmatek Dark Knight-S1283V, $45, with Xigmatek Crossbow ACK-I5361, $8 (necessary to attach the cooler to the LGA1156 socket).
  • Motherboard: ASRock P55 Deluxe3 LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset ATX, $170. An alternative is ASUS P7P55D-E PRO LGA1156 Intel P55 chipset ATX, $180.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $106.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Sapphire HD 5850 GDDR5 1GB 100282-3SR, $300; two of this card for CrossFireX, $600.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): GeForce GTX 470, for example EVGA 012-P3-1470-AR, $320; two of this card for SLI, $640.
  • HDD: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G2R5 80GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $220. A better alternative is OCZ Vertex 2 OCZSSD2-2VTX100G 100GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $325.
  • PSU: Enermax MODU87+ 700W EMG700AWT, $181.
  • Case: Thermaltake DH104 VH4001BNS ATX, with 7” touch screen/IR receiver/remote, $500. If you don't need or don't like a touch screen, choose Thermaltake DH103 VH3001BNS ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $257 or SilverStone Crown CW02 SST-CW02S-MXR ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $359.
  • Total Cost: $1813 for non-CrossFireX, $2113 for CrossFireX; $1833 for non-SLI, $2153 for SLI.

Intel (LGA 1366)

System
  • CPU: Core i7-930 2.80GHz LGA1366, $294.
  • CPU Cooler: Xigmatek Dark Knight-S1283V, $45.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-X58A-UD3R LGA1366 Intel X58 chipsets ATX, $210. An alternative is ASUS P6X58D-E LGA1366 Intel X58 chipsets ATX, $229.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9T-6GBNQ DDR3-1600 3 x 2GB Kit, $160.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Sapphire HD 5850 GDDR5 1GB 100282-3SR, $300; two of this card for CrossFireX, $600.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): GeForce GTX 470, for example EVGA 012-P3-1470-AR, $320; two of this card for SLI, $640.
  • HDD: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G2R5 80GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $220. A better alternative is OCZ Vertex 2 OCZSSD2-2VTX100G 100GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $325.
  • PSU: Enermax MODU87+ 700W EMG700AWT, $181.
  • Case: Thermaltake DH104 VH4001BNS ATX, with 7” touch screen/IR receiver/remote, $500. If you don't need or don't like a touch screen, choose Thermaltake DH103 VH3001BNS ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $257 or SilverStone Crown CW02 SST-CW02S-MXR ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $359.
  • Total Cost: $1896 for non-CrossFireX, $2196 for CrossFireX; $1916 for non-SLI, $2236 for SLI.

AMD

System
  • CPU: Phenom II X6 1090T 'Black Edition' HDT90ZFBGRBOX 3.2GHz AM3, $295.
  • CPU Cooler: Xigmatek Dark Knight-S1283V, $45, with Enzotech Type-X AM2 Retention Modules, $4, and four nuts (necessary to attach the cooler in the correct orientation).
  • Motherboard: MSI 890FXA-GD70 AM3 AMD 890FX/SB850 chipset ATX, $200. An alternative is GIGABYTE GA-890FXA-UD5 AM3 AMD 890FX/SB850 chipset ATX, $180.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $106.
  • Graphics Card: Sapphire HD 5850 GDDR5 1GB 100282-3SR, $300; two of this card for CrossFireX, $600.
  • HDD: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G2R5 80GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $220. A better alternative is OCZ Vertex 2 OCZSSD2-2VTX100G 100GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $325.
  • PSU: Enermax MODU87+ 700W EMG700AWT, $181.
  • Case: Thermaltake DH104 VH4001BNS ATX, with 7” touch screen/IR receiver/remote, $500. If you don't need or don't like a touch screen, choose Thermaltake DH103 VH3001BNS ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $245 or SilverStone Crown CW02 SST-CW02S-MXR ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $359.
  • Total Cost: $1850 for non-CrossFireX, $2150 for CrossFireX.


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DAS (Direct Attached Storage)
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If you need more storage space than the one provided by the motherboard and the case, the quickest solution is attach an external HDD enclosure. Possible interfaces are USB 2.0 (60MB/s), IEEE 1394a (50MB/s), PCI (133MB/s), PCI Express x1 (250MB/s), all of which are good enough for home use. If you need lots of drives, you may want to consider a dedicated file server (see Media Storage Server). If you need higher I/O throughput, e.g. for video editing, there are many SATA RAID controller cards with PCI Express x4 (1.0GB/s) or x8 (2.0GB/s) interface. Here are a couple of examples.

5-Drive SATA Enclosure with Built-in Port Multiplier
  • Rosewill RSV-S5 5-drive SATA Port Multiplier Enclosure, $200.
  • SANS DIGITAL TowerRAID TR5M-B 5-drive SATA Port Multiplier Enclosure, $200.

Each of them has a Silicon Image SiI3726 5-port SATA II port multiplier and is bundled with a 2-port SATA PCIe x1 host bus adapter based on Silicon Image SiI3132 supporting port multiplier (FIS-based). You can attach up to two enclosures (10 drives) to one card. Supports RAID 0, 1, 10, 5 in software mode as well as JBOD. Note that SiI3726 needs to be connected to a PM aware SATA port. In general you'd better use the bundled host bus adapter to avoid compatibility issues.

8-Drive SATA Enclosure with Built-in Port Multiplier
  • Rosewill RSV-S8 8-Drive SATA Port Multiplier Enclosure, $300.
  • SANS DIGITAL TowerRAID TR8M-B 8-drive SATA Port Multiplier Enclosure, $300.

Each of them has two Silicon Image SiI3726 5-port SATA II port multipliers and is bundled with a 2-port SATA PCIe x1 host bus adapter based on Silicon Image SiI3132.

5-Drive SATA Enclosure with Built-in RAID Port Multiplier
  • AMS VENUS T5 DS-2350J, $220.

The case has a JMicron JMB393 5-port SATA II port multiplier with RAID function, that supports non-PM aware host. So you can connect it to any eSATA port of your system with decent performance in hardware-accelerated RAID mode.

FYI, Sans Digital claims that when connected to a SATA 6Gbps port, you can expect in RAID 5
  • 180MB/s in write
  • 200MB/s in read
8-Drive SATA Enclosure with a RAID Controller Card
  • SANS DIGITAL TowerRAID TR8X-B 8-drive SAS/SATA to SFF-8088 Enclosure, $415.
  • HighPoint RocketRAID 2322 8-port SATA RAID Controller PCI Express x8 Card, $245.
  • Total Cost: $660.

RocketRAID 2322 uses the same SATA (PCI-X) controller as Supermicro AOC-SAT2-MV8 mentioned in "Media Storage Server" (Marvell 88SX6081). However it lacks a hardware RAID processor. For better performance you should choose a RAID controller card with a hardware RAID processor engine such as
  • HighPoint RocketRAID 4322 8-port SAS/SATA RAID Controller PCI Express x8 Card with IOP348 Processor, $450.
  • Areca ARC-1222x 8-port SAS/SATA RAID Controller PCI Express x8 Card with IOP348 Processor, $483.
  • Adaptec RAID 3085 8-port SAS/SATA RAID Controller PCI Express x8 Card, $595.
  • Adaptec RAID 5085 8-port SAS/SATA RAID Controller PCI Express x8 Card, $760.
Other DAS Solutions

Please check:

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Workstation
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Workstation here is a PC intended for various HTPC-related tasks other than video/audio playback. The CPU and the motherboard chosen here are good enough for the most demanding tasks and future upgrades (4 cores/8 threads, supporting PCI Express 2.0 x16, x16 / x16, x8, x8 / x8, x8, x8, x8 links). The selection of other components depends on the tasks you are going to do. The system below is a consumer-grade high-performance video editing machine.

System
  • CPU: Core i7-860 2.80GHz LGA1156, $284.
  • CPU Cooler: Xigmatek Dark Knight-S1283V, $45, with Xigmatek Crossbow ACK-I5361, $8 (necessary to attach the cooler to the LGA1156 socket).
  • Motherboard: ASUS P7P55 WS SuperComputer LGA1156 Intel P55 and nForce 200 chipsets ATX, $183.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $106.
  • Graphics Card: GeForce GTX 460 1GB, $230.
  • HBA: Adaptec RAID 51645 20-port SAS/SATA RAID Controller PCI Express x8 Card, $1,040.
  • HDD: OCZ Vertex 2 OCZSSD2-2VTX100G 100GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $325.
  • PSU: Enermax REVOLUTION85+ 1050W ERV1050EWT, $247.
  • Case: Chenbro SR109 EATX/ATX, $250.
  • HDD Cage (optional): Chenbro 84H210910-010 5-in-3 Hotswap HDD Cage, $111. The case supports up to 15 HDDs (besides the OS drive) with three cages.
  • Total Cost: $2717 (optional HDD cages and drives for data storage are not included)

Remarks
  • You can even use:
    • CPU: Core i7-930 2.80GHz LGA1366, $294.
    • Motherboard: ASUS P6T6 WS Revolution LGA1366 Intel X58 and nForce 200 chipsets ATX, $320 (supporting PCI Express 2.0 x16, x16, x16 / x16, x16, x8, x8 / x16, x8, x8, x8, x8 links), or ASUS P6T7 WS SuperComputer LGA1366 Intel X58 and dual nForce 200 chipsets ATX, $400 (supporting PCI Express 2.0 x16, x16, x16, x16 / x16, x16, x16, x8, x8 / x16, x16, x8, x8, x8, x8 / x16, x8, x8, x8, x8, x8, x8 links).
    • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9T-6GBNQ DDR3-1600 3 x 2GB Kit, $160.
    if your applications can utilize that expandability.

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Media Storage Server
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General Consideration
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Purpose of a Media Storage Server

The main purposes of the media storage server described here are:
  • Storing/archiving media files (ripped/downloaded/recorded SD & HD video contents/music, photographs etc.) in one centralized place.
  • Streaming media to HTPCs.
  • Possibly serving as a DVR with TV tuners added.
Here are some considerations in building such a system.

Component Selection
  • OS: The intended OS is one of
    1. Windows Vista or 7, x86 or x64, with or without FlexRAID and/or FlexRAID-View
    2. Windows Home Server (WHS), with or without FlexRAID (in place of Folder Duplication)
    3. unRAID (a Linux variant with RAID 4 capability)
    You can also use Linux with software RAID, OpenFiler etc. as long as your hardware components are supported.
  • Case: Currently NORCO NORCO RPC-4220 is the best case for a media storage server. It support 20 HDDs in hot-swap bays and has a backplane with 5 SFF-8087 connectors for better cabling at a relatively cheap price. If you need more storage space, build another server of the same type and store them in a rack such as iStarUSA WO22AB 22U WO Open Frame Rack, ~$300:

  • PSU: Each hard disk drive consumes as low as 5W at idle, but as much as 30W at start-up (depending on each model). So we will need a powerful PSU to start up all the drives at a time. A typical power consumption of a server consisting of twenty HDDs is
    • ~600W at start up
    • ~200W at seek
    • ~150W at idle
  • CPU: We chose a cheap dual-core processor because archiving/streaming/recording is not CPU-intensive.
  • Memory: 2GB is enough for a similar reason.
  • Motherboard: Basic requirements are
    1. Onboard graphics
    2. 2 PCI Express (Gen 1) x4 slots for storage controllers for 16 storage HDDs
    3. 6 onboard SATA ports for additional storage HDDs and the OS HDD.
    4. A Gb LAN (that provides enough bandwidth for streaming HD contents to several HTPC simultaneously)
    5. Proper support for power management, in particular WOL (Wake-On-LAN)
    If you are going to use the server as a DVR, you may want more expansion slots. The motherboard chosen here has enough expansion slots and is reasonably cheap.
  • HBA (host bus adapter): As the number of onboard SATA ports is not enough, we use SATA controller cards. I chose a cheap non-RAID SATA controller PCI Express x4 card, that is enough for our purpose.
  • OS drive: You can use any drive for OS (a USB flash memory for unRAID).
  • Storage drives: 2TB HDD is the current standard drive for large data such as HD videos. Here are a couple of good 2TB SATA 3Gbps HDDs.
Backup

You will need to back up important, irreplaceable data (e.g. personal documents and family photos), perhaps off-site. Building a dedicated backup system is one method (you can use similar hardware components here). A caution to those who consider RAID5: RAID 5 is not a backup strategy, it's about uptime - if a drive fails, you can swap it for a new one to rebuild with no service interruption. You may lose the entire date in the array instantly however if multiple drives fail or if a hardware issue kills the array. FlexRAID and unRAID are better in this point: you can still get data from each non-failed drive.

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System
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First I will give three 15 HDD systems using three different cases. The hardware components inside are more or less identical in the three systems. The 16 SATA ports (for 15 data HDDs and 1 OS HDD) come from:
  • 8 from the onboard SATA ports;
  • 8 from the Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 8-port SATA 2.0 controller PCI Express x4 card.
I chose the GIGABYTE GA-880GA-UD3H AM3 AMD 880G/SB850 chipset ATX motherboard that has 8 SATA ports. If you prefer Intel, I recommend:
  • CPU: Pentium G6950 2.80GHz LGA1156, $87.
  • Motherboard: ASRock H55 Extreme3 LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset ATX, $110. This motherboard also support 8 SATA drives. The 2 SATA ports connected to the Marvell 88SE9123 SATA 3.0 chip may not work reliably under Linux, however.
******

An alternative method is choose an AMD chipset motherboard with iGPU, 1 x PCIe x1 slot, 1 x PCIe x16 slot (actually x4 is enough) and 6 SATA ports and add
  • Rosewill RC-211 2-port SATA 2.0 RAID Controller PCI Express x1 Card, $25.
  • Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 8-port SATA 2.0 Controller PCI Express x4 Card, $98.
You will have
  • 6 from the onboard SATA ports;
  • 2 from the Rosewill RC-211
  • 8 from the Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8.
Note that you can't use an Intel G3x/G4x chipset motherboard because iGPU and the PCI Express x16 slot are mutually exclusive in these older chipsets. Intel H55/H57 does not suffer from this issue (but not every H55/H57 motherboard works this way).

This method is recommended only when you already have such a motherboard. GA-880GA-UD3H supporting 8 SATA ports (with lots of extra features such as USB 3.0) is only ~$100 and there is no reason to buy a cheaper motherboard and add an expensive 2-port SATA controller card.

15 HDD Rack-Mount System

System
  • Case: NORCO RPC-450B Black 4U Server Rack-Mount Chassis, $80.
  • HDD Cage: NORCO Hard Drive Cage for RPC-450, $15. The cage holds five HDDs. The case comes with two of them. So you need to buy only one from iPCDIRECT.
  • HDD Rail: NORCO Hard drive Rails for RPC-CASE, $2. A pair of rails are used to attach a HDD to the cage. You will need five pairs as the case comes with ten pairs. Buy them from iPCDIRECT.
  • HDD Rail: NORCO Hard drive Rails for RPC-CASE, $2.
  • HDD Rail: NORCO Hard drive Rails for RPC-CASE, $2.
  • HDD Rail: NORCO Hard drive Rails for RPC-CASE, $2.
  • HDD Rail: NORCO Hard drive Rails for RPC-CASE, $2.
  • PSU: Corsair TX650W CMPSU-650TX 650W, $90.
  • CPU: Athlon II X2 240e AD240EHDGQBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $69.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock Cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-880GA-UD3H AM3 AMD 880G/SB850 chipset ATX, $98.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $57.
  • Graphics: Radeon HD 4250 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HBA: Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 8-port SATA 2.0 Controller PCI Express x4 Card, $98.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to Four SATA Forward Breakout Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087OCF-05M), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to Four SATA Forward Breakout Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087OCF-05M), $11.
  • OS HDD: Seagate Momentus 7200.4 250GB ST9250410AS SATA 3.0Gbps mobile 7200 RPM, $50.
  • Mounter: Scythe Slot Rafter 2.5 HDD/SSD Mounter, $10 (attaching the 2.5 HDD for OS to an empty expansion slot).
  • Total Cost: $599 (storage drives are not included)

15 HDD Tower System

System
  • Case: Antec Twelve Hundred ATX (12 x 5.25 bay), $145.
  • HDD Cage: Scythe Hard Disk Stabilizer x4 SCY-HDSX4, $9.
  • HDD Cage: Scythe Hard Disk Stabilizer x4 SCY-HDSX4, $9.
  • HDD Cage: Scythe Hard Disk Stabilizer x4 SCY-HDSX4, $9.
  • HDD Cage: Scythe Hard Disk Stabilizer x4 SCY-HDSX4, $9.
  • PSU: Corsair TX650W CMPSU-650TX 650W, $90.
  • CPU: Athlon II X2 240e AD240EHDGQBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $69.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock Cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-880GA-UD3H AM3 AMD 880G/SB850 chipset ATX, $98.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $57.
  • Graphics: Radeon HD 4250 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HBA: Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 8-port SATA 2.0 Controller PCI Express x4 Card, $98.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to Four SATA Forward Breakout Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087OCF-05M), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to Four SATA Forward Breakout Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087OCF-05M), $11.
  • OS HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB ST3500418AS SATA 3.0Gbps 7200 RPM, $42.
  • Total Cost: $657 (storage drives are not included)

15 HDD Tower System with Hot-Swapping

System
  • Case: Cooler Master Centurion 590 RC-590-KKN1-GP ATX (9 x 5.25 bay), $47.
  • HDD Cage: SuperMicro CSE-M35T-1B Mobile Rack, $95.
  • HDD Cage: SuperMicro CSE-M35T-1B Mobile Rack, $95.
  • HDD Cage: SuperMicro CSE-M35T-1B Mobile Rack, $95.
  • PSU: Corsair TX650W CMPSU-650TX 650W, $90.
  • CPU: Athlon II X2 240e AD240EHDGQBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $69.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock Cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-880GA-UD3H AM3 AMD 880G/SB850 chipset ATX, $98.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $57.
  • Graphics: Radeon HD 4250 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HBA: Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 8-port SATA 2.0 Controller PCI Express x4 Card, $98.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to Four SATA Forward Breakout Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087OCF-05M), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to Four SATA Forward Breakout Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087OCF-05M), $11.
  • OS HDD: Seagate Momentus 7200.4 250GB ST9250410AS SATA 3.0Gbps mobile 7200 RPM, $50.
  • Mounter: Scythe Slot Rafter 2.5 HDD/SSD Mounter, $10 (attaching the 2.5 HDD for OS to an empty expansion slot).
  • Total Cost: $826 (storage drives are not included)

20 HDD Rack-Mount System with Hot-Swapping

The 21 SATA ports (for 20 data HDDs and 1 OS HDD) come from:
  • 5 from onboard SATA;
  • 16 from two of AOC-SASLP-MV8.
So the motherboard must have 5 onboard SATA ports, two PCI Express x4 (or higher) slots, and iGPU of course. There are many AMD chipset motherboards that satisfy these conditions. If you prefer Intel, there are not so many, however. Among them I recommend
  • CPU: Pentium G6950 2.80GHz LGA1156, $87.
  • Motherboard: MSI H55-G43 LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset ATX, $95. This motherboard has two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots, one electrically at x16, the other x4.
System
  • Case: NORCO RPC-4220 4U Server Rack-Mount Chassis with 20 Hot Swappable SATA/SAS Drive Bays, $298.
  • PSU: Corsair TX750W CMPSU-750TX 750W, $110.
  • CPU: Athlon II X2 240e AD240EHDGQBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $69.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock Cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-880GA-UD3H AM3 AMD 880G/SB850 chipset ATX, $98.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $57.
  • Graphics: Radeon HD 4250 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HBA: Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 8-port SATA Controller PCI Express x4 Card, $98.
  • HBA: Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 8-port SATA Controller PCI Express x4 Card, $98.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to Four SATA Reverse Breakout Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087OCR-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-4S), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to SFF-8087 Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-D), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to SFF-8087 Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-D), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to SFF-8087 Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-D), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to SFF-8087 Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-D), $11.
  • OS HDD: Seagate Momentus 7200.4 250GB ST9250410AS SATA 3.0Gbps mobile 7200 RPM, $50.
  • Total Cost: $932 (storage drives are not included)

The last two systems hold 24 data HDDs using the upcoming NORCO RPC-4224 rack-mount chassis (expected in August).

24 HDD Rack-Mount System with Hot-Swapping I (Tentative)

The first 24 HDD rack-mount system is based on AMD. The 25 SATA ports (for 24 data HDDs and 1 OS HDD) come from:
  • 16 from two of AOC-SASLP-MV8;
  • 8 from onboard SATA;
  • 1 from onboard IDE, with an IDE controller to SATA 2.0 device adapter.
System
  • Case: NORCO RPC-4224 4U Server Rack-Mount Chassis with 24 Hot Swappable SATA/SAS Drive Bays, $395.
  • PSU: Corsair TX750W CMPSU-750TX 750W, $109.
  • CPU: Athlon II X2 240e AD240EHDGQBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $69.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock Cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-880GA-UD3H AM3 AMD 880G/SB850 chipset ATX, $98.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $57.
  • Graphics: Radeon HD 4250 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HBA: Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 8-port SATA Controller PCI Express x4 Card, $98.
  • HBA: Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 8-port SATA Controller PCI Express x4 Card, $98.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to Four SATA Reverse Breakout Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087OCR-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-4S), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to Four SATA Reverse Breakout Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087OCR-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-4S), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to SFF-8087 Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-D), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to SFF-8087 Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-D), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to SFF-8087 Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-D), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to SFF-8087 Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-D), $11.
  • OS HDD: Seagate Momentus 7200.4 250GB ST9250410AS SATA 3.0Gbps mobile 7200 RPM, $50.
  • Adapter: Koutech ASA120 IDE to SATA II Device Adapter, $20 (connecting the 2.5 HDD for OS to the onboard IDE port).
  • Mounter: Scythe Slot Rafter 2.5 HDD/SSD Mounter, $10 (attaching the 2.5 HDD for OS to an empty expansion slot).
  • Total Cost: $1070 (storage drives are not included)

24 HDD Rack-Mount System with Hot-Swapping II (Tentative)

The second 24 HDD rack-mount system is based on Intel. The 25 SATA ports (for 24 data HDDs and 1 OS HDD) come from:
  • 24 from three of AOC-SASLP-MV8;
  • 1 from onboard SATA
System
  • Case: NORCO RPC-4224 4U Server Rack-Mount Chassis with 24 Hot Swappable SATA/SAS Drive Bays, $395.
  • PSU: Corsair TX750W CMPSU-750TX 750W, $110.
  • CPU: Pentium G6950 2.80GHz LGA1156, $87.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock Cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: Supermicro X8SIL LGA1156 Intel 3400 chipset microATX, $151. An alternative is Supermicro X8SIL-F LGA1156 Intel 3420 chipset microATX with IPMI 2.0, $182, if you want IPMI 2.0.
  • Memory: Kingston KVR1333D3E9SK2/2G DDR3-1333 ECC 2 x 1GB Kit, $61.
  • Graphics: Graphics Core in Nuvoton WPCM150 iBMC Chip, $0.
  • HBA: Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 8-port SATA Controller PCI Express x4 Card, $98.
  • HBA: Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 8-port SATA Controller PCI Express x4 Card, $98.
  • HBA: Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 8-port SATA Controller PCI Express x4 Card, $98.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to SFF-8087 Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-D), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to SFF-8087 Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-D), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to SFF-8087 Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-D), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to SFF-8087 Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-D), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to SFF-8087 Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-D), $11.
  • Cable: 0.5m SFF-8087 to SFF-8087 Cable (e.g. 3ware CBL-SFF8087-05M or Norco C-SFF8087-D), $11.
  • OS HDD: Seagate Momentus 7200.4 250GB ST9250410AS SATA 3.0Gbps mobile 7200 RPM, $50.
  • Mounter: VIZO ARS-260CI Arius CI 2.5 SATA Drive Rack, $26.
  • Total Cost: $1239 (storage drives are not included)


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