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Very Inexpensive HTPC - if you have time to input

1799 Views 19 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  hinsdale
I am a contributor in the TiVo forum but have only lurked in the HTPC forum so hopefully will not be flamed too harshly (will gladly provide assistance/support for TiVo users if any is needed).

I have read threads for low end HTPC's and am actually wanting to go even more low end (TVPC). I am not in the HDTV market until they are sub
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Not looking for the whole shebang.. picking a single component if you happen to know a good price/location would be great start.

One of the best things to do when looking around for components, is to use www.pricewatch.com and www.resellerratings.com and cross-reference them to find the lowest price from a vendor with a good reputation.

www.tomshardwareguide.com is an excellent place to read up on hardware reviews and infor. As well as www.anandtech.com.

Also a search for username xcel will yield many informative posts on hardware for sure. Check out his FAQ below.

I found a good place for cases and power supplies is www.directron.com.

For other hardware two good sites are www.newegg.com and www.compuplus.com.

I ordered everything I needed for my HTPC from the three sites listed above. If you were able to spend more time figuring shipping and low prices etc, you could possibly save a little more cash than I did.

Also check the 'HTPC meta FAQ' link below for more info on buying.

For your Software Interface, check out http://www.phatphreddy.net/ , one of the mods has put up a great front end using Talisman software. You may need to use Talisman 1.7 with his themes. So try and find that version when you are looking.

IR Control - you would want to check out IRman device from evation(I think) and use Girder software with a remote such as a Pronto. Although using this software it is easy to use any old remote as well. A search on IRMan and Girder will provide more details.
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Check the Best in Class Link out, it's a very exhaustive list of components.

This should answer many of your questions, but feel free to ask questions if you still have any after this


I'd also review some of the latest posts regarding DVD drives and sound cards as supplements to this list (the Toshiba 1402 DVD drive, for instance, may not be available any more). I would also consider posting your HTPC setup plans before purchasing, some may have some better ideas before you spend the money.
I'll second newegg.com, I had some great luck with their products for service and price.
OH, and my pick would be a nVidia nForce 420-D motherboard. which hopefully will be available soon. It will have integrated video, modem, NIC, and great sound unit. And you should be able to keep all of the drivers updated with one download.

A good option for a case would have been an Antec 780B with a custom retro-fit HTPC front faceplate. But the cases are hard to find, and the powerbuy for the faceplate has ended. There are other small desktop cases available however.
If you are looking for cheap, you can't do much better than the Blaster PC as a starting point.


Case, Power supply, motherboard, SB Platinum 5.1, Celeron 400, and more for 140.00.

Use Pricewatch for the DVD drive, Radeon, Ram Memory, Hard Drive, etc.
Thanks bcmagog and hmcgrath, very helpful posts and links!. Im getting a better picture but would like to get even more specific if possible:

Starting with PC cases.

Are these the cheapest destop black cases im likely to find and would you have a recommendation of one over the other:


And motherboard/processor:

is the nVidia nForce 420-D motherboard coming within the next couple weeks? And if so.. what processor to use?

If not are the "best in class" recommendations still the most up to date in far as speed and cost?

If the cheapest solution something like the AMD duron 800 with


MSI K7T Pro 2A,

Abit KT7E


What is the best least expensive CF/HS to use: is the molex still the cheapest? and which one if not?

Im not trying to be bothersome but I know the speed at which things change in the PC hardware market and just am looking for the best/LEAST expensive components people are using so specific recommendations are really appreciated. I trust the forums input on this stuff.
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I looked at these black cases before but was put off by there comment about the 5.25" drives not fitting properly. Has anyone purchased these cases and care to comment on them.

I think I am going to try to paint an antec 788 and see how it comes out....
I know Hinsdale might be a little far from Morton Grove but this is were I go to buy my stuff www.Krex.com (usually at lunch because I work in Glenview only about a block away). I know I can find stuff cheaper on the net but after paying shipping and waiting two weeks I don't think its worth it. Also check out the ECS K7S5A at only 62 bucks! add the AMD athlon 1.33 Ghz for another 107 and you have a great start. You might also want to check out CDW in Vernon hills. All location are just off 94. Good luck and welcome over to the htpc forms.

There's a cheaper, and faster, mobo for the Athlon, the ECS K7S5A. It had great revies on www.anandtech.com and www.tomshardware.com. Be aware that on a recent thread concerning the nForce, Xcel reported some issues with his ECS k7S5A, though.

The Molex is not the cheapest cooler around, nor does it cool all that well, but it's more then enough for Durons. OTH, have you noticed that the slower Athlons are selling for almost the same price as Durons?. The Noise Control Silverado is very good ("cooling/noise ratio"), but it's not cheap. You may be able to get away with a slower fan speed if you stick to an AthlonXP (Palomino core), these produce less heat than Thunderbirds (again, they do cost more).

I assume you'll be using Svideo out? If so, your desktop won't look any good, and the hardware MPEG2 decoders are reputed as having better Svideo than the current cards. I don't know how good is the Svideo on the Radeons (VE and All-inWonder, though this one is expensive) but these are probably your best choice. When you upgrade to HDTV, you can connect them via VGA.

For IR the Airboard is popular with the members of this forum. Search the posts on it and the "IRMan approach" too.
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I would be wary of the ECS K7S5a....I suspect quality problems on this board. I have been working on one for 3 days (off an on)now trying to get it to stay stable. Just look at the sheer number of posts from users having difficulties here..


It took me two days to get a bios flash utility from someone on this forum because ECS and this forums download site where having problems or just completely swamped.

If you are willing to work at it I am sure you can make it work but in this case I am afraid to say you get what you pay for..I am going to look for another motherboard to use with my Tbird.

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I am a newbie I assure you, so I can only tell you what I've experienced and learned from this forum. I own the MSI K7T Turbo motherboard with the athlon 1.2; I had our computer tech look it over, and his opinion of the MSI board was quite high (in fact, he had planned to purchase one based on his experience with it).

I do know that some members have had configuration difficulties with the VIA chipset on various sound cards and apps. I am way too new to give advice on this, however. I do know that the latest 4 in 1 drivers supposedly fix many, if not all, of these problems. Most of us who have purchased the VIA chipset have done so armed with this knowledge but also mindful of the tremendous value of these MB/CPU combos.

I would also say that my athlon runs very warm, and my HTPC is probably a little noiser than I'd like due to this, but I don't know if the same is true for the Duron you're looking at (probably not, would be my guess). Of course, for $35 on pricewatch for the Duron right now, it's hard to go wrong with it.
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I don't know about anyone else but I have been running this board ( K7S5A ) for about a week now strait without shutting it down once. Not one hiccup! I am also using windows xp so your experience with it might vary. I did no tweaking nothing just installed xp and the video drivers. The only real problem I have heard of with xp has to do with the Floppy drive which I don't even install anymore, I haven't used one in over 2 years now. I also pointed him towards a store in his area which does take returns with only a 15 % restocking fee.

"""I would be wary of the ECS K7S5a....I suspect quality problems on this board. I have been working on one for 3 days (off an on)now trying to get it to stay stable. Just look at the sheer number of posts from users having difficulties here.."""

In what way is your board not stable?

"""It took me two days to get a bios flash utility from someone on this forum because ECS and this forums download site where having problems or just completely swamped."""

Why did you need to flash your bios? I would only recommend it if you have a real problem.

"""If you are willing to work at it I am sure you can make it work but in this case I am afraid to say you get what you pay for..I am going to look for another motherboard to use with my Tbird."""

The reason this board is cheap has to do with the fact that there is only one chip used in the chipset instead of two cutting the cost by a very large margin.
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I have an ECS board I bought from Comp USA (Needed a cheap mobo QUICK as a back up) It SUCKS. Do NOT buy one. Im UNDERCLOCKING my CPU and it STILL sucks ass. The USB ports suck, it hard freezes often.
The nForce is -- alas -- vaporware thus far. No one knows when a good motherboard with it is going to ship. But, the next best choice for lotsa features and not a lotta money is the Soyo Dragon Plus (with the Via KT266a chipset), which hasn't shipped yet either -- at least as of Sunday.

Both are Socket A motherboards for Duron and Athlon. For now, you should buy a Duron of say 800MHz that you will throw away later in your HD setup. This way processor will be like $30-40, mobo will be about $170 (when it ships), 256MB RAM will be about $30.


Immediately after installation I could not boot..No video. Reset Cmos and I could boot...OK no problem no I am up an running.

Loaded WinME and seemed to be ok, but I would blue screen with every restart. When I set the CPU to 100Mhz instead of 133mhz it ran ok so the recommendation by the forum was to get the latest BIOS. (No heat problems or Power)

This didn't help either. It turns out that you can not use ECS' IDE drivers with ME.

I think I am finally stable at 133/133 with the 1.4 Tbird but here's what I had to do..

1. Reset CMOS

2. Update bios to latest

3. Do not use ECS drivers for IDE.

4. Install AGP 1.07 from ECS

5. Install new ATI Beta driver for Radeon 32MB DDR (LE). The current production version would lockup on restarts.

6. Could not use my IOMagic Hurricane sound card..locked up on restarts again.

7. SBLive seems ok as of last night

Today I'll try to add the IOMagic PC VCR adapter and see what fun awaits me...

Now I am no expert, but I can work my way through these issues, but in hindsight I wish I spent a little more for another board. I've loaded up an ASUS A7A266 and the ASUS CUSL2-C with barely a hiccup.

I've read of others having no issues with this board at all, but if you look at the forum I mentioned above there are tens of thousands of post from people with issues versus under a hundred for the other vendors....


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Another good motherboard to research is the Epox 8KHA+. It also uses the newest KT266A chipset. I have an 8K7A which uses AMD northbridge and VIA 686B southbridge, which may be the only bad thing about this board. The best thing about these + motherbaords with RAID is that you get four master IDE headers out of the deal. Only two are best suited for CD or DVD drives, but for instance on my system I have two Hard drives, a CDRW, and a DVD all hooked up on their own IDE channel.

The KT266A and the nForce chipsets are the front runners for speed and stability in the AMD platform. The KT266A has a big edge because it is out already, but I suggested the nForce because it comes integrated with very decent components. This will most likely offer the opportunity to grab a very nice system for the least amount of money.
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Hi Hinsdale:

___I to want to welcome you to the HT computer forum side of the fence as well. You may find what most of us have found in that you can currently receive what many consider to be the best value for your entertainment dollar hands down! Also, over a thousand posts in ~ 6 months? You are on a record pace … I also drive past your home on an almost daily basis on the way out to Braidwood, IL. myself.

___In any case, the ECS K7S5A can be the fastest and most rewarding board at any price or can be your worst nightmare. I am seeing it for just $55.00 - $57.00 via Pricewatch but quality control is not in this boards vocabulary given the many sporadic results reported over at OCWorkbench in particular. Having burned up (2) 1.4 GHz T-Birds on the darn thing is enough to deter me from recommending it to all given the latest released MSI 6380 and the Asus A7V133 are both running high frequency T-Birds w/ similar quiet air-cooled cooling solutions with no problems to date. This is just the last problem I had with this board. Wait until you install XP and it does not pick up std. PC setup until you bang F5/F6 for a while … HQ Intel inside boards simply don’t have these issues that I have run into but the costs may sway you to look elsewhere. Anther problem with all AMD solutions is that the cooling solutions needed are a bit extreme and this even includes the just released XP Palomino’s w/ ~ 20% less thermal output vs. their older siblings in the T-Birds. Even with the drop in thermal output, most here will drive these newer CPU’s to even higher frequencies thus removing the thermal advantage they have over the (T-Bird’s) at their stock clocks, I am sure ;) Case heat removal is now the big issue w/ both the T-Bird/Palomino’s as well as P4’s IMO … As for the older KT133/266 MSI and Asus T-Bird/Palomino based boards, they have some HTPC compatibility issues vs. the I815 (PIII’s) and I850’s (P4’s) to date. I won’t discuss the I845 (P4) until it receives a HQ DDR based memory controller and hopefully in a dual controller format as well. If you are a tweaker to some extent, you can make the VIA KT266’s and 133’s work properly but there is no guarantee for future compatibility as well as still having some issues with today’s HTPC HW. The SiS735 based ECS K7S5A on the other hand worked with all the HTPC HW I could throw at except for the burned up CPU’s and minor problems w/ quick fixes to date … If you do consider a P4 based board, please only consider those w/ the socket 478 configuration given the upgrade path is so much shorter with the earlier released socket 423 varieties as to make me cringe at a 423’s purchase. I see many others have already heeded this advice and they have probably given you enough info to read for a month already …

___As for the nForce 420-D or otherwise, until they are in our hands, we simply will not know for sure. I will pick up the latest KT266a’s and/or an nForce’s when the prices drop a bit after their full release as there is still an oversupply of HW available with the economy the way it is. The expensive $145.00 + nForce 420-D’s and KT266a boards should be in the $120.00 or less range not to long after release I am guessing. The nForce’s were listed on a European site just two days ago (I highly doubt you could have actually purchased one from them however …) and for all I know, may be available in Taiwan or Japan today but I cannot find them here in the states just yet. The 266a’s are finally being released but again, at a price that makes me want to wait a few weeks. I would expect to see the Soyo Dragon Plus to reign the king of the low cost boards upon release (low cost is a misnomer w/ $140.00 + prices but with an onboard 10/100 LAN, onboard Cmedia sound w/ AC-3 pass-thru/DTS via S/PDIF using either RCA or Optical, ATA100 + Raid …) for the price. The high end will still more than likely be covered by the Asus or MSI nForce’s or KT266a’s boards with a possibly better feature list with probably an ever so slight increase in build quality to consider …

___As for purchases, be very careful here. Some of the vendors already mentioned in this thread have either very high shipping costs, very poor reseller ratings, or force you to buy garbage HS’s with your new CPU for another pure profit play. In the T-Bird/Palomino CPU arena, the air cooled solution may be your most important decision so please follow the forum as to what works and what doesn’t. The CPU or your very own hearing you save may well be your own ;)

___Anyway, my std. issue answer for most HTPC’ers is that the Intel inside solution works for almost everyone whereas the AMD CPU on whoever’s chipset will work most of the time but expect glitches and or incompatibilities at some point in the build or uses into the future.

___Finally, some of my earlier suggestions are still valid but once the latest boards are in our hands for some serious DVD viewing and DScaler uses, (as well as a game or two ;)) maybe most will have a better feel for what the latest and greatest has to offer … I also want to mention that the latest and greatest does not necessarily make the best HTPC in terms of cost nor user friendliness. What today many would consider to be low performance HW is to me possibly the best and most solid HTPC HW you can purchase. You may very well be interested in getting you feet wet w/ a std. issue I815 chipset and a lowly 700 – 1 GHz PIII which will not only suffice for today’s HTPC uses but can be done relatively inexpensively as well as having literally no compatibility issues to date.

___Good Luck with your HW choices, as they are becoming very numerous indeed.

___Wayne R. Gerdes

___Hunt Club Farms Landscaping Ltd.

___ [email protected]
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EDIT: Was posting this before I saw the advice just posted by xcel (very grateful).. am reviewing now so may have to start over here and continue with my homework. (and I though TiVo hacking was going to be my only hobby)

Well im doing my homework.. I was hoping this wouldnt turn into a new hobby, but many hours of research later Im still not very far along.. even with all the helpful posts.

I would like to run a few things by anyone who can comment:

Im considering going micro-ATX:

Directron FLEX ATX computer case 150W Flex ATX power supply.


Intel® Desktop Board D815EPFV

$105 - can anyone suggest a better/cheaper motherboard for the micro-ATX case?


Suggestions welcome.


Have no idea what i need for the case/processor.. quiet being the emphasis.. suggestions welcome.

ATi Radeon VE 32MB AGP Video Card

$55 Any compatiblity problems i should now about, how bout cooling?

Aureal Vortex SQ1500 PCI sound card 3D w/Digital out, OEM new w/ driver

$10 - thinking I only need the coax digital out if Im using a a/v with DD/DTS decoder.. what would be the benefit of SB live or Zoltrix?

As you can see Im still in need of some direction. All input is welcome. Thanks to those that have been assisting so far.
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