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Quote:
Originally Posted by HTPCat /forum/post/18322237


You can also go to this thread here on AVS http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...71162&page=587

That's a great thread. spent hours in it.


Heh, temps me to build the 20 disk array up on page 401 but don't think I need to go that far ;-) about the third or fourth time I've considered it though, and yes I know I can add drives as time, money and such dictates.


Oh well. Looks like I blew the HDMI port in the Yamaha receiver. I get signals in but can't output to the TV monitor. gosh darn it.
 

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Agreed that thanks are nice.


And appropriate.


And well deserved.


But.


Action$ $peak louder than words.


renethx actually buys many if not most or even all of these components and tests them. Then sells them at a loss. What he brings to all of us is quite unique IMO.


Disclosures: None. I don't know him or benefit from his support any more than the rest of us do. I just hope he never dries up.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by kjgarrison /forum/post/18331315


Agreed that thanks are nice.


And appropriate.


And well deserved.


But.


Action$ $peak louder than words.


renethx actually buys many if not most or even all of these components and tests them. Then sells them at a loss. What he brings to all of us is quite unique IMO.


Disclosures: None. I don't know him or benefit from his support any more than the rest of us do. I just hope he never dries up.

Ya know, I was racking my little brain wondering today who the heck [email protected] dot dot was...as paypal refunded my money today. Yeah, I need glasses...


Anyway. I don't mind pitching in
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Darkhog /forum/post/18323187


Regarding EARS drives -

0) They're fine for Vista or Win7. These OSes understand the Advanced format.

1) Don't use it as your system drive for WHS. If you do, you'll need to run an unsupported tool to fix it (didn't support WHS last I checked).

2) If you're adding the drive to your drive storage pool, make sure that you jumper pins 7-8 before formatting, per the instructions on the drive (WHS is based on WinXP).

3) If you're adding it for some other reason (backup drive), jumper pins 7-8 and make sure it has only one partition. Alternately, don't jumper the pins but create the partitions in a more recent OS (I think that should work).


If you don't do this, you'll suffer a pretty serious performance loss, because the older OS doesn't understand the new hotness of Advanced Drive Format.


The good news about Advanced Drive Format is that I think it will enable pushing past the 2 TB limit.


Regarding RAID, I've heard that Green drives aren't recommended for RAID, as the power management produces more load/unload cycles and can get over stressed in RAID. But you'd have to do more research on that point.

The WDAlign tool is available in two versions from the WD website, one of which is a bootable ISO. This allows you to install the drive, add it to your storage pool, boot to the ISO, and realign the drive to make it play nicely with WHS.


Jumpering the pins is also an "approved" method of correcting the drive, but there is some debate as to which is the preferred method. I've used the WD Align utility with no issues. On a drive that I added to the pool with no data on it (which is not a requirement) it took about 45 sec to run the utility. Drives with lots of data can take several hours.


Just something else to consider
 

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I want to post "Recommended HTPC Systems – March 2010 Edition". Assuming you set "Number of Posts to Show Per Page" to "User Forum Default" (i.e. 30), I would like to begin it with #13081. So...
 

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Discussion Starter · #13,051 ·
 __________________________________________
Recommended HTPC Systems – March 2010 Edition
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Last Update on March 18, 2010
First, a small advertisement:


Table of Contents
  • Introduction
    • Organization of the Contents
    • Classification of HTPC Systems
      • 1. Form Factor
      • 2. Performance and Cost
      • 3. CPU-Chipset-GPU Manufacturers
    • Component Selection
      • CPU
      • Chipset and Motherboard
      • Memory
      • Graphics and Sound Devices
    • My Pick of HTPC
  • Peripheral Components and OS
    • Input Device
      • MCE Remote
      • Universal Remote
      • Keyboard & Mouse
      • So what do you need?
    • Optical Disc Drive
      • BD Rewriter/BD-ROM/DVD Rewriter
      • DVD Rewriter
    • TV Tuner Card for ATSC/Cable
      • Digital+Analog
      • Digital Only
      • Digital Cable Tuner Card
      • HD Capturing
    • Sound Card
    • OS
    • Brackets
      • S/PDIF Bracket
      • COM (Serial) Port Bracket
      • LPT (Parallel) Port Bracket
  • Mini-ITX System
    • General Consideration
    • Standard System
      • Intel-Intel (iGPU)
      • Intel-NVIDIA (iGPU)
      • AMD-AMD (iGPU)
    • Gaming System
      • Intel-Intel
      • Intel-NVIDIA
      • AMD-AMD
  • MicroATX System
    • General Consideration
    • Low-End System
      • Intel-Intel
      • AMD-AMD (iGPU)
      • AMD-AMD
    • Mid-Range System
      • Intel-Intel (iGPU)
      • Intel-Intel
      • AMD-AMD
    • High-End System
      • Intel-Intel
      • AMD-AMD
    • Premium System
      • Intel-Intel
      • AMD-AMD
  • ATX System
    • General Consideration
    • Low-End System
      • Intel-Intel
      • AMD-AMD (iGPU)
      • AMD-AMD
    • Mid-Range System
      • Intel-Intel (iGPU)
      • Intel-Intel
      • AMD-AMD
      • AMD-NVIDIA
    • High-End System
      • Intel-Intel
      • AMD-AMD
      • AMD-NVIDIA
    • Premium System
      • Intel-Intel (LGA 1156)
        Intel-Intel (LGA 1366)
      • AMD-AMD
      • AMD-NVIDIA
  • DAS (Direct Attached Storage)
    • 5-Drive SATA Enclosure with Built-in Port Multiplier
    • 8-Drive SATA Enclosure with Built-in Port Multiplier
    • 5-Drive SATA Enclosure with Built-in Hardware RAID
    • 8-Drive SATA Enclosure with a RAID Controller Card
    • Other DAS Solutions
  • Workstation
  • Media Storage Server
    • General Consideration
    • System
      • 20 HDD Rack Mount System I
      • 20 HDD Rack Mount System II
      • 15 HDD Tower System
      • Other Tower Cases
 

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Discussion Starter · #13,052 ·
 __________
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.
_________________________
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 FactorMotherboardCaseCase Size
Mini-ITXZotac H55ITX-A-EApex MI-008W220 x H129 x D300 mm
MicroATXGIGABYTE GA-MA785GMT-UD2HAntec Fusion RemoteW445 x H145 x D414 mm
ATXASUS P7P55D-E PROZalman HD503W450 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:
[TD]
  • 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.
_________________ Component Selection ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯

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.
[/TD]
[TD]
  • 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 LPCMMultichannel LPCMTrueHD/DTS-HD
Every mb's onboard audio codec (S/PDIF)YNN
AMD 780G/785G/790GX/880G/890GX (iGPU)YNN
Radeon HD 4xxx (dGPU)YYN
Radeon HD 5xxx (dGPU)YYY
GeForce 9300/9400 mGPU (iGPU)YYN
GeForce 210, GT 220/240 (dGPU)YYN
All the other GeForce cards (dGPU)YNN
Intel Core i3/i5 (Clarkdale) (iGPU)YYY
[/TD]
_____________ My Pick of HTPC ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯

In case you have no idea what to choose (and no time to dig), here is my pick.
  • MicroATX/ATX Mid-Range Intel-Intel System with ATI Graphics Card : the best video/audio playback performance, as well as good performance/low power consumption in various CPU intensive tasks.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13,053 ·
 _________________________
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.
_______________
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.
_________________________
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.

__________
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.
___
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
________
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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Discussion Starter · #13,054 ·
 ______________
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).


 

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Discussion Starter · #13,055 ·
 ______________
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






 

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Discussion Starter · #13,056 ·
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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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Discussion Starter · #13,057 ·
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MicroATX System
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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 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).


 

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Discussion Starter · #13,058 ·
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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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Discussion Starter · #13,059 ·
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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 installedMEI Driver NOT installed
    TotalMedia Theatre 3 PlatinumYesNo
    TotalMedia Theatre 3 Platinum with ReClockYesYes
    PowerDVD 9/10 UltraYesNo
    WinDVD 2010 ProYesYes
    ffdshow Audio DecoderYesYes
  • 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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Discussion Starter · #13,060 ·
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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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