Guide to Building a HTPC, Workstation and Server - Page 436 - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
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Recommended HTPC Systems – March 2010 Edition
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Last Update on March 18, 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 Zotac H55ITX-A-E Apex MI-008 W220 x H129 x D300 mm
MicroATX GIGABYTE GA-MA785GMT-UD2H Antec Fusion Remote W445 x H145 x D414 mm
ATX ASUS P7P55D-E PRO Zalman HD503 W450 x H170 x D455 mm
The AVR 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 case. 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 to use 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 E3200 and E3300 are nice, cheap dual-core processors.
  • $60 to $150: Intel Core i3 530/540 is a nice processor with integrated graphics. AMD Athlon II X3 (triple-core) and X4 (quad-core) families are more powerful in some applications (in particular HTPC-related).
  • Over $150: Intel Core i5 and i7 (LGA 1156 and LGA 1366) are dominating the high-end segment.
Chipset and Motherboard

Intel produces chipsets for its own chips and AMD for its own chips. NVIDIA used to produce chipsets for both. However with the current trend that critical chipset components are incorporated into the same silicon as the processor, NVIDIA is quitting the desktop chipset business. There are still many nice NVIDIA chipset motherboards and I picked up some of them here.

Memory

DDR2 vs DDR3: DDR3 SDRAM is the latest standard and is expected to be the mainstream by Q2 2010. A couple of decision factors are:
  • The performance increase by going from DDR2 to DDR3 is not that big, 0%-10% depending on the application.
  • DDR3 modules are better reusable in future upgrade (DDR4 SDRAM is coming only in 2012).
  • The total cost of a DDR3 system may be higher than an equivalent DDR2 system by $10 to $30.
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 DDR2 (resp. DDR3) SDRAM is 1.8V (resp. 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 a must to transmit video/audio signals from a player/PC to an AV receiver/display. Right now there are basically two satisfactory HDMI solutions:
  • ATI Radeon HD 5xxx graphics cards.
  • Intel Core i3/i5 Clarkdale processors (that integrate GPU).
They support almost perfect HD video playback and HD audio bitstreaming. (Clarkdale lacks proper 23.576Hz playback, however.) NVIDIA, the other major grahics card manufacturer, is a bit behind AMD and Intel in the HTPC area in that the best audio formats supported is multichannel LPCM.

For your reference, here is a summary of audio formats supported by various PC video/audio solutions.
  • Dolby Digital and DTS bitstreams
    • Every motherboard's onboard audio codec (via optical or coaxial S/PDIF connector)
    • Every GeForce graphics card (actually audio is supplied by the onboard audio codec via an internal cable except for 9300/9400 iGPU, 210, GT 220 and GT 240.)
    • Every AMD 780G/785G/790GX/880G/890GX chipset motherboard
    • All the solutions mentioned below
  • Multichannel LPCM over HDMI
    • Every GeForce 9300 chipset motherboard
    • GeForce GT 220 and GT 240 graphics card
    • Every Radeon HD 4xxx/5xxx graphics card
    • Every Intel Core i5/i3 (Clarkdale) processor
  • Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD High Resolution Audio/Master Audio bitstreams
    • Every Radeon HD 5xxx graphics card
    • Every Intel Core i5/i3 (Clarkdale) processor
  DD/DTS/Stereo LPCM Multichannel LPCM TrueHD/DTS-HD
Every mb's onboard audio codec (S/PDIF) Y N N
AMD 780G/785G/790GX/880G/890GX (iGPU) Y N N
Radeon HD 4xxx (dGPU) Y Y N
Radeon HD 5xxx (dGPU) Y Y Y
GeForce 9300/9400 mGPU (iGPU) Y Y N
GeForce 210, GT 220/240 (dGPU) Y Y N
All the other GeForce cards (dGPU) Y N N
Intel Core i3/i5 (Clarkdale) (iGPU) 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 is my pick.

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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.
  • Antec Multimedia Station Basic Internal IR Receiver and Remote, $22.
  • Antec Multimedia Station Elite Internal IR Receiver with VFD and Remote, $60.
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, $179.
  • Logitech Harmony 700 (A stripped version of Harmony One: up to six devices, non-touch screen), $110.
  • Logitech Harmony 900 (Harmony One + RF capabilities), $250.
  • Logitech Harmony 1100 (3.5ˮ touch screen; RF capabilities), $273.
You may be able to find an older model cheap:
  • Logitech Harmony 880 Advanced Universal Remote, $90.
  • Logitech Harmony 890 Advanced Universal Remote (Harmony 880 + RF capabilities), $158.
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, $60.
  • Gyration Air Music Remote with Compact Keyboard GYR4101CKUS, $112.
or the editions without music library LCD:
  • Gyration Media Center Remote GYR3101US, $86.
  • Gyration Media Center Remote with Compact Keyboard GYR3101CKUS, $121.

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, $160.
  • LG UH10LS20 Super Multi Blue BD-ROM/DVD Rewriter, $105.
  • LITE-ON iHOS104 BD/DVD Reader, $60.
  • SilverStone TOB02 SST-TOB02 Slim Type BD-ROM/DVD Rewriter, $140.
DVD Rewriter
  • LG GH22NS50 Super Multi DVD & CD Rewriter, $24.
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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. Expected by May 31st.
  • Silicondust HDHomeRun CableCARD Networked Device, $249. A dual digital tuner. Expected this year.
  • Hauppauge?
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)/two (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.
  • 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 or 01219 USB Device, $199.
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:
  • To use analog sound out from PC, and possibly use better DAC/OPAMP on a sound card than on a receiver, in conjunction with a good amplifier;
  • EAX 5.0 in gaming (to output via 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, $200. (Topnotch analog sound as well as HD audio bitstreaming with ArcSoft TotalMedia Theater.)
  • Auzentech Auzen X-Fi HomeTheater HD PCIe x1 Card, $227. (EAX 5.0 support by an X-Fi audio chip; HD audio bitstreaming with a retail copy of CyberLink PowerDVD 9/10 Ultra.)
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), $24.
  • 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 digitally.
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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. A notable improvement of Windows 7 over Vista is 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 you may want to stay with Vista.
  • 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 advantage of Windows 64 bit is the support for more than 4GB memory (although normal HTPC tasks never need more than 4GB memory). Media Center in Windows 64 bit is a 64-bit application and a couple of useful DirectShow filters are not available in 64 bit, however (e.g. madFlac Decoder, ReClock [a must tool for bit-perfect LPCM HD audio], CyberLink Video/SP Decoder [many people consider it as the best MPEG-2 decoder]). Unless you are sure you will take advantage of more than 4GB memory, you may want to stay with 32 bit because of this.



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 several limitations. It supports at most one expansion slot. As almost every Mini-ITX has an integrated GPU (iGPU) and some of them are very good for video playback, this may not be a serious issue. A Mini-ITX case is usually very small, hence there is often a space limitation for the CPU cooler, storage drives and PSU. You have to select components carefully. 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 (as long as the motherboard and the case support them).

I will give a standard HTPC system with iGPU and a gaming HTPC with dGPU for each of the Intel chip-Intel chipset, the Intel chip-NVIDIA chipset, the AMD chip-AMD chipset and the AMD chip-NVIDIA chipset. Here is a feature comparison chart (needs to be updated).

[IMG][/IMG]

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Standard System
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I used here a budget, but well-built case. Alternative Mini-ITX cases are (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 D328 x H96 mm, 150W, $75.
  • Antec ISK 310-150 Mini-ITX, 1 x 5.25″ slim/2 x 2.5″/1 x LP slot, W222 x D328 x H96 mm, 150W, $75.
  • Apex MI-008 Mini-ITX, 1 x 5.25″/2 x 3.5″/1 x FH slot, W220 x D300 x H129 mm, 250W, $40.
  • Apex MI-100BK Mini-ITX, 1 x 5.25″/2 x 3.5″/1 x FH slot, W220 x D300 x H129 mm, 250W, $50.
  • Mini-Box.com M350 Mini-ITX, no 5.25″/2 x 2.5″/no slot, W192 x D210 x H62 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 D276 x H176 mm, 300W, $92.
  • SilverStone Sugo SG06 SST-SG06B Mini-ITX/Mini-DTX, 1 x 5.25″ slim/1 x 3.5″/1 x 2.5″/2 x FH slot, W222 x D286 x H177 mm, 300W, $115.

Intel-Intel (iGPU)

System
  • CPU: Core i3 530 2.93GHz LGA1156, $113.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: ZOTAC H55-ITX WiFi H55ITX-A-E LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset Mini-ATX, $145. An alternative is Intel DH57JG LGA1156 Intel H57 chipset Mini-ATX, $125.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $65.
  • Graphics Card: Intel HD Graphics (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HDD: WD Caviar Blue WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: ATX12V 250W SFX PSU (included in the case): $0.
  • Case: Apex MI-008 Mini-ITX, $40.
  • Total Cost: $428

References
Intel-NVIDIA (iGPU)

System
  • CPU: Pentium Dual-Core E5300 2.60GHz 2MB L2 LGA775, $64.
  • CPU Cooler: SilverStone NT07-775, $20.
  • Motherboard: ZOTAC GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi GF9300-G-E LGA775 GeForce 9300 mGPU Mini-ITX, $126.
  • Memory: A-DATA ADQVE1A16K DDR2-800 2 x 1GB Kit, $42.
  • Graphics Card: GeForce 9300 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HDD: WD Caviar Blue WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: ATX12V 250W SFX PSU (included in the case): $0.
  • Case: Apex MI-008 Mini-ITX, $40.
  • Total Cost: $357

References
AMD-AMD (iGPU)

System
  • CPU: Athlon II X2 240e AD240EHDGQBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $77.
  • CPU Cooler: SilverStone NT07-AM2, $20.
  • Motherboard: J&W MINIX 785G-SP128MB AM2+ AMD 785G chipset Mini-ITX, $155.
  • Memory: Crucial CT2KIT12864AC800 DDR2-800 SO-DIMM 2 x 1GB Kit, $49.
  • Graphics Card: Radeon HD 4200 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: ATX12V 250W SFX PSU (included in the case): $0.
  • Case: Apex MI-008 Mini-ITX, $40.
  • Total Cost: $403


LL
LL
LL
LL
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Gaming System
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The systems here are based on SilverStone SG05 Mini-DTX/Mini-ITX case. The case supports a 2-slot graphics card of up to 9″ length and has a 300W PSU, good enough in most cases.

Intel-Intel

System
  • CPU: Core i5 750 2.66GHz LGA1156, $196.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $35, with Scythe Slip Stream Slim 120 mm Case Fan SY1212SL12M 1600rpm, $9 (the stock fan is too tall for the selected case).
  • 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 Radeon HD 5770 GDDR5 1GB, $160.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): XFX GS-250X-ZDFU GeForce GTS 250 DDR3 1GB, $146.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65. You will need a 12 inch Right Angle SATA to Straight SATA Cable, $2.
  • PSU: ATX12V 300W SFX PSU (included in the case), $0.
  • Case: SilverStone Sugo SG05 SST-SG05B Mini-ITX/Mini-DTX, $92.
  • Total Cost: $804 for ATI, $790 for NVIDIA

Remarks
  • The case supports a slim type optical drive, e.g., SilverStone TOB02 SST-TOB02 Slim Type BD-ROM/DVD Rewriter, $140.
Intel-NVIDIA

System
  • CPU: Core 2 Quad Q9400 2.66GHz 6MB L2 LGA775, $183.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $35, with Scythe Slip Stream Slim 120 mm Case Fan SY1212SL12M 1600rpm, $9 (the stock fan is too tall for the selected case).
  • Motherboard: ZOTAC GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi GF9300-G-E LGA775 GeForce 9300 mGPU Mini-ITX, $126.
  • Memory: A-DATA ADQVE1B16K DDR2-800 2 x 2GB Kit, $83.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 5770 GDDR5 1GB, $160.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): XFX GS-250X-ZDFU GeForce GTS 250 DDR3 1GB, $146.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65. You will need a 12 inch Right Angle SATA to Straight SATA Cable, $2.
  • PSU: ATX12V 300W SFX PSU (included in the case), $0.
  • Case: SilverStone Sugo SG05 SST-SG05B Mini-ITX/Mini-DTX, $92.
  • Total Cost: $755 for ATI, $741 for NVIDIA

Remarks
  • The case supports a slim type optical drive, e.g., SilverStone TOB02 SST-TOB02 Slim Type BD-ROM/DVD Rewriter, $140.
References
AMD-AMD

System
  • CPU: Phenom II X4 905e HD905EOCGIBOX 2.5GHz AM3, $165.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $35, with Scythe Slip Stream Slim 120 mm Case Fan SY1212SL12M 1600rpm, $9 (the stock fan is too tall for the selected case).
  • Motherboard: J&W MINIX 785G-SP128MB AM2+ AMD 785G chipset Mini-ITX, $155.
  • Memory: OCZ OCZ2M8004GK DDR2-800 SO-DIMM 2 x 2GB Kit, $84.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 5770 GDDR5 1GB, $160.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): XFX GS-250X-ZDFU GeForce GTS 250 DDR3 1GB, $146.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65. You will need a 12 inch Right Angle SATA to Straight SATA Cable, $2.
  • PSU: ATX12V 300W SFX PSU (included in the case), $0.
  • Case: SilverStone Sugo SG05 SST-SG05B Mini-ITX/Mini-DTX, $92.
  • Total Cost: $767 for ATI, $753 for NVIDIA

Remarks
  • The case supports a slim type optical drive, e.g., SilverStone TOB02 SST-TOB02 Slim Type BD-ROM/DVD Rewriter, $140.

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MicroATX System
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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 expansion slots of four for many people.

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.
Here is a feature comparison chart (needs to be updated).

[IMG][/IMG]

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Low-End System
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I used here a budget, but well-built low-profile case. Alternative microATX cases are
  • Antec NSK1480 microATX, low-profile, $95.
  • Antec MicroFusion Remote 350 microATX, low-profile, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $175.
  • Lian Li PC-C37B MUSE microATX, low-profile, $144.
  • Lian Li PC-C39 microATX, low-profile, with RF receiver/remote, $180.
  • Moneual MonCaso312 microATX, low-profile, with IR receiver/remote, $220.
  • Moneual MonCaso301 microATX, low-profile, with VFD/IR receiver/remote, $300.
  • Antec NSK2480 microATX, $94.
  • Antec Fusion Remote Black microATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $140.
  • nMEDIAPC HTPC 1000B microATX, $70.
  • nMEDIAPC HTPC 5000B microATX, $60.

Intel-Intel

System
  • CPU: Celeron E3300 2.50GHz 1MB L2 LGA775, $43.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-G41MT-ES2L LGA775 Intel G41 chipset microATX, $58.
  • 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, $50.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): ECS NGT220C-512QZ-F GeForce GT 220 DDR2 512MB low-profile, $52.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: 80 PLUS 350W ATX PSU (included in the case), $0
  • Case: Antec NSK1480 microATX, $115.
  • Total Cost: $396 for ATI, $398 for NVIDIA

Remarks
  • If you prefer DDR2-SDRAM, a recommended motherboard and memory modules are
    • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-G31M-ES2L LGA775 Intel G31 chipset microATX, $50.
    • Memory: A-DATA ADQVE1A16K DDR2-800 2 x 1GB Kit, $42.
AMD-AMD (iGPU)

System
  • CPU: Athlon II X2 240 ADX240OCGQBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $66.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: ASRock M3A785GMH/128M AM3 AMD 785G chipset microATX, $77.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $65.
  • Graphics Card: Radeon HD 4200 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: 80 PLUS 350W ATX PSU (included in the case), $0
  • Case: Antec NSK1480 microATX, $115.
  • Total Cost: $388

Remarks
  • If you prefer DDR2-SDRAM, a recommended motherboard and memory modules are
    • Motherboard: ASRock A785GMH/128M AM2+ AMD 785G chipset microATX, $65.
    • Memory: A-DATA ADQVE1A16K DDR2-800 2 x 1GB Kit, $42.
AMD-AMD

Radeon HD 4200 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: [GIGABYTE GA-MA78LMT-S2H AM3 AMD 760G chipset microATX, $65.
  • 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, $50.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): ECS NGT220C-512QZ-F GeForce GT 220 DDR2 512MB low-profile, $52.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: 80 PLUS 350W ATX PSU (included in the case), $0
  • Case: Antec NSK1480 microATX, $115.
  • Total Cost: $426 for ATI, $428 for NVIDIA

Remarks
  • If you prefer DDR2-SDRAM, a recommended motherboard and memory modules are
    • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-MA78LM-S2H AM3 AMD 760G chipset microATX, $59.
    • Memory: A-DATA ADQVE1A16K DDR2-800 2 x 1GB Kit, $42.

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Mid-Range System
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Intel-Intel (iGPU)

System
  • CPU: Core i3 530 2.93GHz LGA1156, $113.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $35.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-H55M-UD2H LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset microATX, $92. An alternative is ASUS P7H55-M PRO LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset microATX, $110. If you want USB 3.0, go with GIGABYTE GA-H57M-USB3 LGA1156 Intel H57 chipset microATX, $120, or ASUS P7H55D-M EVO LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset microATX, $125.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card: Intel HD Graphics (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: Corsair VX450W CMPSU-450VX 450W, $65. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 400W EES400AWT, $61.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Black microATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $140.
  • Total Cost: $615

Remarks
  • Installing the Intel MEI (Management Engine Interface) Driver is essential to get HD audio bitstreaming via iGPU. Here is a summary of HD audio bitstreaming capability with various players:
      MEI Driver installed MEI Driver NOT installed
    TotalMedia Theatre 3 Platinum Yes No
    TotalMedia Theatre 3 Platinum with ReClock Yes Yes
    PowerDVD 9/10 Ultra Yes No
    WinDVD 2010 Pro Yes Yes
    ffdshow Audio Decoder Yes Yes
  • You should avoid ASRock and BIOSTAR H55 motherboards for HD audio bitstreaming via iGPU with TotalMedia Theatre 3 Platinum and PowerDVD 9/10 Ultra as you cannot install the Intel MEI Driver in these motherboards for some reason.
Intel-Intel

System
  • CPU: Core i3 530 2.93GHz LGA1156, $113.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $35.
  • Motherboard: ASRock H55M Pro LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset microATX, $90. If you want USB 3.0, go with GIGABYTE GA-H57M-USB3 LGA1156 Intel H57 chipset microATX, $120, or ASUS P7H55D-M EVO LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset microATX, $125.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Sapphire HD 5670 512GB GDDR5, $90. An alternative is HIS H567Q512 Radeon HD 5670 GDDR5 512MB, $95.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): ASUS ENGT240/DI/512MD5/A GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 512MB, $100.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: Corsair VX450W CMPSU-450VX 450W, $65. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 400W EES400AWT, $61.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Black microATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $140.
  • Total Cost: $703 for ATI, $713 for NVIDIA

AMD-AMD

System
  • CPU: Athlon II X4 630 ADX630WFGIBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $100.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $35.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-MA785GMT-UD2H AM3 AMD 785G chipset microATX, $80. If you want USB 3.0, choose GIGABYTE GA-785GMT-USB3 AM3 AMD 785G chipset microATX, $95, or the upcoming GIGABYTE GA-880GMA-UD2H AM3 AMD 880G chipset microATX (also supports SATA 6.0Gbps).
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Sapphire HD 5670 512GB GDDR5, $90. An alternative is HIS H567Q512 Radeon HD 5670 GDDR5 512MB, $95.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): ASUS ENGT240/DI/512MD5/A GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 512MB, $100.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: Corsair VX450W CMPSU-450VX 450W, $65. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 400W EES400AWT, $61.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Black microATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $140.
  • Total Cost: $680 for ATI, $690 for NVIDIA

Remarks
  • If you prefer DDR2-SDRAM, a recommended motherboard and memory modules are
    • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-MA785GM-US2H AM2+ AMD 785G chipset microATX, $80.
    • Memory: A-DATA ADQVE1B16K DDR2-800 2 x 2GB Kit, $83.

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High-End System
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Intel-Intel

System
  • CPU: Core i5 750 2.66GHz LGA1156, $196.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $35.
  • Motherboard: ASRock H55M Pro LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset microATX, $90. If you want USB 3.0, go with GIGABYTE GA-H57M-USB3 LGA1156 Intel H57 chipset microATX, $120, or ASUS P7H55D-M EVO LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset microATX, $125.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 5770 GDDR5 1GB, $160.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): XFX GS-250X-ZDFU GeForce GTS 250 DDR3 1GB, $146.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: Corsair VX550W CMPSU-550VX 550W, $80. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 500W EES500AWT, $71.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Black microATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $140.
  • Total Cost: $871 for ATI, $857 for NVIDIA

AMD-AMD

System
  • CPU: Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition HDZ955FBGIBOX 3.2GHz AM3, $165.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $35.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-MA785GMT-UD2H AM3 AMD 785G chipset microATX, $80. If you want USB 3.0, choose GIGABYTE GA-785GMT-USB3 AM3 AMD 785G chipset microATX, $95, or the upcoming GIGABYTE GA-880GMA-UD2H AM3 AMD 880G chipset microATX (also supports SATA 6.0Gbps).
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 5770 GDDR5 1GB, $160.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): XFX GS-250X-ZDFU GeForce GTS 250 DDR3 1GB, $146.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: Corsair VX550W CMPSU-550VX 550W, $80. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 500W EES500AWT, $71.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Black microATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $140.
  • Total Cost: $830 for ATI, $816 for NVIDIA

Remarks
  • If you prefer DDR2-SDRAM, a recommended motherboard and memory modules are
    • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-MA785GM-US2H AM2+ AMD 785G chipset microATX, $80.
    • Memory: A-DATA ADQVE1B16K DDR2-800 2 x 2GB Kit, $83.

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Premium System
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Intel-Intel

System
  • CPU: Core i7 860 2.80GHz LGA1156, $284. A cheaper alternative is Core i5 750 2.66GHz LGA1156, $196.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $35.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-P55M-UD4 LGA1156 Intel P55 chipset microATX, $140.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Radeon HD 5850 GDDR5 1GB, $300; two of this card for CrossFireX, $600. An alternative is Radeon HD 5870 GDDR5 1GB, $400.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): GeForce GTX 275 DDR3 896MB, $255; two of this card for SLI, $510. An alternative is GeForce GTX 285, $320 or GeForce GTX 295, $525.
  • HDD: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G2R5 80GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $240.
  • PSU: Enermax MODU82+ II 625W EMD625AWT II, $121. An alternative is Seasonic M12D 850W, $185.
  • 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: $1735 for non-CrossFireX, $2035 for CrossFireX; $1690 for non-SLI, $1945 for SLI.

AMD-AMD

System
  • CPU: Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition HDZ965FBGIBOX 3.4GHz AM3, $185.
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master 風神鍛 (Geminii S) RR-CCH-PBU1-GP, $35.
  • Motherboard: DFI LANPARTY JR 790GX-M3H5 AM3 AMD 790GX chipset microATX, $135.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Radeon HD 5850 GDDR5 1GB, $300; two of this card for CrossFireX, $600. An alternative is Radeon HD 5870 GDDR5 1GB, $400.
  • HDD: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G2R5 80GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $240.
  • PSU: Enermax MODU82+ II 625W EMD625AWT II, $121. An alternative is Seasonic M12D 850W, $185.
  • 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: $1631 for non-CrossFireX, $1931 for CrossFireX.


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ATX System
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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
    • 1 x PCIe x1 and 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 SATA ports (I mean not blocked by a large graphics card) is a norm.

Here is a feature comparison chart (needs to be updated).

[IMG][/IMG]

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Low-End System
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The case selected here is just one example. Here are a list of well-built ATX cases. All SilverStone cases except for LC16M and GD01 can hold a graphics card of any length 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.
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.
  • Thermaltake DH101 VF7001BNS ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $198.
  • Thermaltake DH202 VJ80011N2Z ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote & card reader, $240.
Intel-Intel

System
  • CPU: Celeron E3300 2.50GHz 1MB L2 LGA775, $43.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: ASRock P43DE3 LGA775 DDR3 Intel P43 chipset ATX, $75. An alternative is GIGABYTE GA-EP43T-UD3L LGA775 Intel P43 chipset ATX, $86.
  • 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, $50.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): ECS NGT220C-512QZ-F GeForce GT 220 DDR2 512MB low-profile, $52.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: Corsair VX450W CMPSU-450VX 450W, $65. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 400W EES400AWT, $61.
  • Case: SilverStone Lascala LC10-E SST-LC10B-E ATX, $109.
  • Total Cost: $472 for ATI, $474 for NVIDIA

Remarks
  • If you prefer DDR2-SDRAM, a recommended motherboard and memory modules are
    • Motherboard: ASRock P43DE LGA775 Intel P43 chipset ATX, $68. An alternative is GIGABYTE GA-EP43-UD3L LGA775 Intel P43 chipset ATX, $66.
    • Memory: A-DATA ADQVE1A16K DDR2-800 2 x 1GB Kit, $42.
AMD-AMD (iGPU)

System
  • CPU: Athlon II X2 240 ADX240OCGQBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $66.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-MA785GT-UD3H AM3 AMD 785G chipset ATX, $85.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $65.
  • Graphics Card: Radeon HD 4200 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: Corsair VX450W CMPSU-450VX 450W, $65. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 400W EES400AWT, $61.
  • Case: SilverStone Lascala LC10-E SST-LC10B-E ATX, $109.
  • Total Cost: $455

Remarks
  • If you prefer DDR2-SDRAM, a recommended motherboard and memory modules are
    • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-MA785G-UD3H AM2+ AMD 785G chipset ATX, $85.
    • Memory: A-DATA ADQVE1A16K DDR2-800 2 x 1GB Kit, $42.
AMD-AMD

Radeon HD 4200 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: GIGABYTE GA-MA770T-UD3P AM3 AMD 770 chipset ATX, $82.
  • 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, $50.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): ECS NGT220C-512QZ-F GeForce GT 220 DDR2 512MB low-profile, $52.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: Corsair VX450W CMPSU-450VX 450W, $65. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 400W EES400AWT, $61.
  • Case: SilverStone Lascala LC10-E SST-LC10B-E ATX, $109.
  • Total Cost: $502 for ATI, $504 for NVIDIA

Remarks
  • If you prefer DDR2-SDRAM, a recommended motherboard and memory modules are
    • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-MA770-UD3 AM2+ AMD 770 chipset ATX, $75.
    • Memory: A-DATA ADQVE1A16K DDR2-800 2 x 1GB Kit, $42.

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post #13064 of 19525 Old 03-18-2010, 08:55 AM - Thread Starter
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Mid-Range System
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Intel-Intel (iGPU)

System
  • CPU: Core i3 530 2.93GHz LGA1156, $113.
  • CPU Cooler: Xigmatek NEPARTAK S983F, $30. If you cannot find it, choose Xigmatek NEPARTAK S983, $30, along with Xigmatek Crossbow ACK-I5361, $9.
  • Motherboard: MSI H55-GD65 LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset ATX, $135. If you want USB 3.0, choose GIGABYTE GA-H55-USB3 LGA1156 Intel H55 chipset ATX, $140 (then you will lose a PCI Express x4 slot).
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card: Intel HD Graphics (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: Corsair VX550W CMPSU-550VX 550W, $80. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 500W EES500AWT, $71.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Max ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $174.
  • Total Cost: $702

Intel-Intel

System
  • CPU: Core i3 530 2.93GHz LGA1156, $113.
  • CPU Cooler: Xigmatek NEPARTAK S983F, $30. If you cannot find it, choose Xigmatek NEPARTAK S983, $30, along with Xigmatek Crossbow ACK-I5361, $9.
  • Motherboard: ASRock P55 Extreme LGA1156 Intel P55 chipset ATX, $140.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Sapphire HD 5670 512GB GDDR5, $90. An alternative is HIS H567Q512 Radeon HD 5670 GDDR5 512MB, $95.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): ASUS ENGT240/DI/512MD5/A GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 512MB, $100.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: Corsair VX550W CMPSU-550VX 550W, $80. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 500W EES500AWT, $71.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Max ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $174.
  • Total Cost: $797 for ATI, $807 for NVIDIA

AMD-AMD

System
  • CPU: Athlon II X4 630 ADX630WFGIBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $100.
  • CPU Cooler: Xigmatek NEPARTAK S983, $30.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-890GPA-UD3H AM3 AMD 890GX chipset ATX, $121.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Sapphire HD 5670 512GB GDDR5, $90. An alternative is HIS H567Q512 Radeon HD 5670 GDDR5 512MB, $95.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): ASUS ENGT240/DI/512MD5/A GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 512MB, $100.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: Corsair VX550W CMPSU-550VX 550W, $80. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 500W EES500AWT, $71.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Max ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $174.
  • Total Cost: $765 for ATI, $775 for NVIDIA.

AMD-NVIDIA

System
  • CPU: Athlon II X4 630 ADX630WFGIBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $100.
  • CPU Cooler: Xigmatek NEPARTAK S983, $30.
  • Motherboard: MSI NF750-G55 AM3 nForce 750a SLI MCP ATX, $94.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Sapphire HD 5670 512GB GDDR5, $90. An alternative is HIS H567Q512 Radeon HD 5670 GDDR5 512MB, $95.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): ASUS ENGT240/DI/512MD5/A GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 512MB, $100.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: Corsair VX550W CMPSU-550VX 550W, $80. An alternative is Enermax ECO80+ 500W EES500AWT, $71.
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Max ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $174.
  • Total Cost: $738 for ATI, $748 for NVIDIA.

Remarks
  • nForce 750a SLI is an SLI x8 version of the GeForce 8200 mGPU (so it supports multichannel PCM over HDMI).

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High-End System
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Intel-Intel

System
  • CPU: Core i5 750 2.66GHz LGA1156, $196.
  • CPU Cooler: Zalman CNPS9500A LED, $47, with Zalman ZM-CS5B Clip Kit for Socket 1156/775, $3 (necessary to attach the cooler to the LGA1156 socket).
  • Motherboard: ASRock P55 Extreme LGA1156 Intel P55 chipset ATX, $140.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 5770 GDDR5 1GB, $160.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): XFX GS-250X-ZDFU GeForce GTS 250 DDR3 1GB, $146.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: Enermax MODU82+ II 625W EMD625AWT II, $121. A cheaper alternative is Corsair TX650W CMPSU-650TX 650W, $90, or Enermax ECO80+ 620W EES620AWT, $91.
  • Case: Zalman HD503 ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $222.
  • Total Cost: $1059 for ATI, $1045 for NVIDIA

AMD-AMD

System
  • CPU: Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition HDZ955FBGIBOX 3.2GHz AM3, $165.
  • CPU Cooler: Zalman CNPS9500A LED, $47.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-890GPA-UD3H AM3 AMD 890GX chipset ATX, $121.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 5770 GDDR5 1GB, $160.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): XFX GS-250X-ZDFU GeForce GTS 250 DDR3 1GB, $146.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: Enermax MODU82+ II 625W EMD625AWT II, $121. A cheaper alternative is Corsair TX650W CMPSU-650TX 650W, $90, or Enermax ECO80+ 620W EES620AWT, $91.
  • Case: Zalman HD503 ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $222.
  • Total Cost: $1006 for ATI, $992 for NVIDIA

AMD-NVIDIA

System
  • CPU: Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition HDZ955FBGIBOX 3.2GHz AM3, $165.
  • CPU Cooler: Zalman CNPS9500A LED, $47.
  • Motherboard: MSI NF750-G55 AM3 nForce 750a SLI MCP ATX, $94.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 5770 GDDR5 1GB, $160.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): XFX GS-250X-ZDFU GeForce GTS 250 DDR3 1GB, $146.
  • HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • PSU: Enermax MODU82+ II 625W EMD625AWT II, $121. A cheaper alternative is Corsair TX650W CMPSU-650TX 650W, $90, or Enermax ECO80+ 620W EES620AWT, $91.
  • Case: Zalman HD503 ATX, with LCD/IR receiver/remote, $222.
  • Total Cost: $979 for ATI, $965 for NVIDIA

Remarks
  • nForce 750a SLI is an SLI x8 version of the GeForce 8200 mGPU (so it supports multichannel PCM over HDMI).

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Premium System
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Intel-Intel (LGA 1156)

System
  • CPU: Core i7 860 2.80GHz LGA1156, $284.
  • CPU Cooler: Xigmatek Dark Knight-S1283V, $45, with Xigmatek Crossbow ACK-I5361, $9 (necessary to attach the cooler to the LGA1156 socket).
  • Motherboard: ASUS P7P55D-E PRO LGA1156 Intel P55 chipset ATX, $185. An alternative is GIGABYTE GA-P55A-UD4P LGA1156 Intel P55 chipset ATX, $180. Both support USB 3.0 and SATA 6.0Gbps.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Radeon HD 5850 GDDR5 1GB, $300; two of this card for CrossFireX, $600. An alternative is Radeon HD 5870 GDDR5 1GB, $400.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): GeForce GTX 275 DDR3 896MB, $255; two of this card for SLI, $510. An alternative is GeForce GTX 285, $320 or GeForce GTX 295, $525.
  • HDD: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G2R5 80GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $240.
  • PSU: Seasonic M12D 850W, $185. An alternative is Antec Signature 850 850W, $205.
  • Case: Thermaltake DH104 VH4001BNS ATX, with 7 touch screen/IR receiver/remote, $499. 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: $1852 for non-CrossFireX, $2152 for CrossFireX; $1807 for non-SLI, $2062 for SLI.

Intel-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, that supports USB 3.0 and SATA 6.0Gbps in full bandwidth.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card (ATI): Radeon HD 5850 GDDR5 1GB, $300; two of this card for CrossFireX, $600. An alternative is Radeon HD 5870 GDDR5 1GB, $400.
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): GeForce GTX 275 DDR3 896MB, $255; two of this card for SLI, $510. An alternative is GeForce GTX 285, $320 or GeForce GTX 295, $525.
  • HDD: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G2R5 80GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $240.
  • PSU: Seasonic M12D 850W, $185. An alternative is Antec Signature 850 850W, $205.
  • Case: Thermaltake DH104 VH4001BNS ATX, with 7 touch screen/IR receiver/remote, $499. 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: $1938 for non-CrossFireX, $2238 for CrossFireX; $1893 for non-SLI, $2148 for SLI.

AMD-AMD

System
  • CPU: Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition HDZ965FBGMBOX 3.4GHz AM3, $185.
  • CPU Cooler: Xigmatek Dark Knight-S1283V, $45, with Enzotech Type-X AM2 Retention Modules, $2, and four nuts (necessary to attach the cooler in the correct orientation).
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE 790FXTA-UD5 AM3 AMD 790FX chipset ATX, $184, that supports USB 3.0 and SATA 6.0Gbps in full bandwidth.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card: Radeon HD 5850 GDDR5 1GB, $300; two of this card for CrossFireX, $600. An alternative is Radeon HD 5870 GDDR5 1GB, $400.
  • HDD: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G2R5 80GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $246.
  • PSU: Seasonic M12D 850W, $185. An alternative is Antec Signature 850 850W, $205.
  • Case: Thermaltake DH104 VH4001BNS ATX, with 7 touch screen/IR receiver/remote, $499. 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: $1745 for non-CrossFireX, $2045 for CrossFireX.

AMD-NVIDIA

System
  • CPU: Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition HDZ965FBGMBOX 3.4GHz AM3, $185.
  • CPU Cooler: Xigmatek Dark Knight-S1283V, $45, with Enzotech Type-X AM2 Retention Modules, $2, and four nuts (necessary to attach the cooler in the correct orientation).
  • Motherboard: MSI NF980-G65 AM3 nForce 980a SLI MCP ATX, $155.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card: GeForce GTX 275 DDR3 896MB, $255; two of this card for SLI, $510. An alternative is GeForce GTX 285, $320 or GeForce GTX 295, $525.
  • HDD: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G2R5 80GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $240.
  • PSU: Seasonic M12D 850W, $185. An alternative is Antec Signature 850 850W, $205.
  • Case: Thermaltake DH104 VH4001BNS ATX, with 7 touch screen/IR receiver/remote, $499. 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: $1671 for non-SLI, $1926 for SLI.

Remarks
  • nForce 980a SLI (rebadged nForce 780a SLI) is nForce 750a SLI + nForce 200 (a PCI Express switch for SLI x16).

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post #13067 of 19525 Old 03-18-2010, 08:56 AM - Thread Starter
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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, $250.
  • Total Cost: $665.

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, $480.
  • 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, $9 (necessary to attach the cooler to the LGA1156 socket).
  • Motherboard: ASUS P7P55 WS SuperComputer LGA1156 Intel P55 and nForce 200 chipsets ATX, $229.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 2GB Kit, $105.
  • Graphics Card: GeForce GTX 260 GDDR3 896MB, $180.
  • HBA: Adaptec RAID 51645 20-port SAS/SATA RAID Controller PCI Express x8 Card, $1,040.
  • HDD: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G2R5 80GB SATA 3.0Gbps SSD, $240.
  • PSU: Seasonic M12D 850W, $185. An alternative is Antec Signature 850 850W, $205.
  • Case: Chenbro SR109 EATX/ATX, $284.
  • HDD Cage (optional): Chenbro 84H210910-010 5-in-3 Hotswap HDD Cage, $99. The case supports up to 15 HDDs (besides the OS drive) with three cages.
  • Total Cost: $2601 (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, $323 (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, $165.
    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 RPC-4020 and NORCO RPC-4220 are the best cases for a media storage server. Both support 20 HDDs in hot-swap bays at a relatively cheap price. The latter has a backplane with 5 SFF-8087 connectors instead of 20 SATA connectors in the former. 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 slots or 2 PCI Express 1.x 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. You can even use a RAID controller PCIe x8 card.
  • HBA (host bus adapter): As the number of onboard SATA ports is not enough, we use SATA controller cards. I chose cheap non-RAID SATA controller PCI-X (compatible with PCI) or PCI Express x4 cards, that are 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 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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20 HDD Rack Mount System I

The first system uses NORCO RPC-4020 case (20 SATA connectors in the backplane) and two 8-port SATA controller PCI-X cards.

System
  • Case: NORCO RPC-4020 4U EATX/ATX (20 x SATA/SAS drive bay), $280.
  • PSU: Corsair TX750W CMPSU-750TX 750W, $110.
  • CPU: Athlon II X2 240 ADX240OCGQBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $66.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock Cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-MA785GT-UD3H AM3 AMD 785G chipset ATX, $85.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $65.
  • Graphics: Radeon HD 4200 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HBA: Supermicro AOC-SAT2-MV8 8-port SATA Controller PCI-X Card, $96.
  • HBA: Supermicro AOC-SAT2-MV8 8-port SATA Controller PCI-X Card, $96.
  • OS HDD: Western Digital WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • Total Cost: $863 (storage drives are not included)

Remarks
  • Supermicro AOC-SAT2-MV8 is a PCI-X card. However it works fine with a PCI slot and the performance is good enough for WHS or unRAID (this is natural considering the bandwidth of PCI is 133MB/s, higher than most single disks).
  • You may need two Right (Left?)-Angle SATA cables so that one of the Supermicro cards does not interfere with the onboard SATA ports, such as:

20 HDD Rack Mount System II

The second system uses NORCO RPC-4220 case (five SFF-8087 connectors in the backplane) and two 8-port SATA controller PCI Express x4 cards.

System
  • Case: NORCO RPC-4220 4U EATX/ATX (20 x SATA/SAS drive bay), $300.
  • PSU: Corsair TX750W CMPSU-750TX 750W, $110.
  • CPU: Athlon II X2 240 ADX240OCGQBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $66.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock Cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-MA785GT-UD3H AM3 AMD 785G chipset ATX, $85.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $65.
  • Graphics: Radeon HD 4200 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HBA: Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 8-port SATA Controller PCI Express x4 Card, $100.
  • HBA: Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 8-port SATA Controller PCI Express x4 Card, $100.
  • 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: WD Scorpio Black WD3200BEKT 320GB SATA 3.0Gbps mobile 7200 RPM, $74.
  • Total Cost: $955 (storage drives are not included)

Remarks
  • Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 is a PCI Express x4 card so that there should be enough bandwidth even if you go with software RAID.
15 HDD Tower System

In case you prefer or have to use a tower case, here is a 15 HDD tower system.

System
  • Case: Cooler Master Centurion 590 RC-590-KKN1-GP ATX (9 x 5.25 bay), $48.
  • HDD Cage: Athena Power BP-SATA3051B 5-in-3 backplane, $102.
  • HDD Cage: Athena Power BP-SATA3051B 5-in-3 backplane, $102.
  • HDD Cage: Athena Power BP-SATA3051B 5-in-3 backplane, $102.
  • PSU: Corsair TX650W CMPSU-650TX 650W, $90.
  • CPU: Athlon II X2 240 ADX240OCGQBOX 2.8GHz AM3, $66.
  • CPU Cooler: Stock Cooler, $0.
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-MA785GT-UD3H AM3 AMD 785G chipset ATX, $85.
  • Memory: G.SKILL F3-12800CL9D-2GBNQ DDR3-1600 2 x 1GB Kit, $65.
  • Graphics: Radeon HD 4200 (integrated in the chipset), $0.
  • HBA: MonoPrice 2530 2-port SATA RAID Controller PCI Express x1 Card, $14.
  • HBA: MonoPrice 2530 2-port SATA RAID Controller PCI Express x1 Card, $14.
  • HBA: MonoPrice 2530 2-port SATA RAID Controller PCI Express x1 Card, $14.
  • HBA: MonoPrice 2530 2-port SATA RAID Controller PCI Express x1 Card, $14.
  • HBA: MonoPrice 2530 2-port SATA RAID Controller PCI Express x1 Card, $14.
  • OS HDD: WD Caviar Blue WD6400AAKS 640GB SATA 3.0Gbps, $65.
  • Total Cost: $795 (storage drives are not included)

Other Tower Cases

A couple of other tower cases suitable for a server are:
  • 15 HDDs in Hot Swap Bays, $581
    • Chenbro SR109 EATX/ATX, $284.
    • Chenbro 84H210910-010 5-in-3 Hotswap HDD Cage, $99.
    • Chenbro 84H210910-010 5-in-3 Hotswap HDD Cage, $99.
    • Chenbro 84H210910-010 5-in-3 Hotswap HDD Cage, $99.
  • 15 HDDs in Hot Swap Bays, $354
    • Cooler Master Centurion 590 RC-590-KKN1-GP ATX (9 x 5.25 bay), $48.
    • Athena Power BP-SATA3051B 5-in-3 backplane, $102.
    • Athena Power BP-SATA3051B 5-in-3 backplane, $102.
    • Athena Power BP-SATA3051B 5-in-3 backplane, $102.
  • 18 HDDs in Non-Hot Swap Bays, $283
    • Antec Twelve Hundred ATX (12 x 5.25 bay), $145.
    • Lian Li EX-23NB Internal HDD Kit, $23.
    • Lian Li EX-23NB Internal HDD Kit, $23.
    • Lian Li EX-23NB Internal HDD Kit, $23.
    • Lian Li EX-23NB Internal HDD Kit, $23.
    • Lian Li EX-23NB Internal HDD Kit, $23.
    • Lian Li EX-23NB Internal HDD Kit, $23.
  • 20 HDDs in Hot Swap Bays, $553
    • Antec Twelve Hundred ATX (12 x 5.25 bay), $145.
    • Athena Power BP-SATA3051B 5-in-3 backplane, $102.
    • Athena Power BP-SATA3051B 5-in-3 backplane, $102.
    • Athena Power BP-SATA3051B 5-in-3 backplane, $102.
    • Athena Power BP-SATA3051B 5-in-3 backplane, $102.

You can use any combination of the following HBAs:
  • Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 8-port SATA Controller PCI Express x4 Card, $100.
  • Supermicro AOC-SAT2-MV8 8-port SATA Controller PCI-X Card, $96.
  • PROMISE SATA300 TX4 4-port SATA Controller PCI Card, $58.
  • MonoPrice 2530 2-port SATA RAID Controller PCI Express x1 Card, $14.

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