How To: Build An HTPC (With Windows 7)

Chassis And Power Supply

Chassis: nMediaPC HTPC 1000B

AMD’s chassis of choice came from nMediaPC—a vendor with whom we had never worked. The company’s HTPC 1000B isn’t like the loud, expensive touch screen-equipped units that Don recently rounded up. Rather, it’s a compact, svelte, brushed aluminum and steel enclosure priced under $100. For an inexpensive HTPC, we were more than happy to give it a look.

The case has room for micro-ATX motherboards (exactly what we were putting into it), one external 5.25” drive bay, four internal 3.5” drive bays, and four full-profile upgrade slots in the back. Front panel connectivity includes eSATA, high-def audio, a card reader, FireWire, and USB. All of the ports and connectors worked without issue, including eSATA.

We like that the HTPC 1000B has plenty of room around the motherboard to work—connecting headers, plugging in cards, and installing memory is very easy. There’s ample room for the power supply, too. And cable management isn’t an issue, either. We had lots of space around the processor cooler for airflow. Nothing on the front of the chassis shines so brightly as to be distracting, and because the case (and everything in it) was designed for the home theater, it is remarkably quiet.

We didn’t care for the drive mounting options, which put our hard disk under two tiers of steel sheeting—connectors completely out of reach. Also, the case’s lid, while crafted of steel, bends easily and was difficult to re-attach after just a couple of times handling it.

Power Supply: Corsair VX450

When you aren’t driving high-end hardware, picking the right power supply is all about maximizing efficiency by right-sizing the output, as Patrick showed in his story Core 2 Nukes Atom On The Desktop. AMD chose to include Corsair’s VX450 in our Maui machine, and we support that decision. The 450 W PSU is just enough for the hardware we’re recommending without commanding a lot of chassis space, generating much heat, or creating a lot of noise.

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  • aahjnnot
    You seem to have missed the big reason for a media centre (deliberately no capitals as I use MythTV on Linux): it's the network. I have a flat screen TV or computer in almost every room of the house, including wireless laptop access in the garden. That means that anything anyone in the family watches or records from the TV, together with our entire collection of music and movies, is available anywhere at any time with no reason to faff about with physical media. Sure, I don't usually want to watch a movie in the kitchen. But it's great a great place to catch up on yesterday's ski racing, or for my kids to watch their favourite bits from an old DVD.

    You can't get that level of universal access with separate dedicated components in each room - at least in the UK.
  • Anonymous
    Well said aahjnnot!

    Also, there was no mention of the other options - 9300 based MB with C2D 5200, cheaper and plays BluRay perfectly. Or G45 based board, finally Intel does proper IGP.
  • a1exh
    The price point of the HTPC still does not make sense. You still get a better bang-4-buck with a second hand XBOX1 installed with XBMC.

    It is such a shame that the video capabilities of the current generation of consoles is so under utilised.
  • Henrlk
    It's still a long way until you have it all in one spot avaliable to regular customers, i mean with a single remote that can control everything (without having a keyboard at all). People of today barely know what to buy. They have no clue what a graphic card is or what model does what nore how to handle or install them properly. Hardware or software wise All this have to be done avaliable in a extremely simple way. Detailed information "what the product is capable of" to the customer in a very simple way of telling. But still not leaving the one that know what components they want out.

    I think i could do all this, but i dont work for any of these companies and i dont know english to well so i guess this is not what i was suppose to do.
  • disc01
    I think it's about time that there was another look at the htpc.
    How ever it does cost and I feel cannot be done on a budget in order to get the full use of it. To get full use of bluray that sound card used doesnt support full bluray sound, I use a ASUS Xonar for this and it's great I get my sound and video through one cable to my av receiver, this is were the market needts to be going. I have got full bluray play back at 1080p and 96khz sound. also plugins are easy to add into media center to allow games & email or nearly anything else you want to be used from the media center.
  • hairlocks
    I have been using Mythtv since 2001. My current setup with 3 DVB tuners, and a diskless and fanless front since 2004. It still looks like windows media centre is lagging behind.

    The HTPC age has been upon me for the last 8 years.
  • jschoorl
    Hello Chris,

    Although for the most part a great review, I think you miss the essence of this platform, namely it's great audio quality combined with great onboard video quality. You say that you have used your own multi-channel receiver connected to the motherboard’s S/PDIF output. If you use this great motherboard like this, it's just another great motherboard with a few plusses.

    To name one, the 780M chipset comes with an additional 128MB side-port memory. This allows the ATI Radeon HD 3200 access to its own graphics memory, instead of sharing memory with the processor, making the configuration more efficient and strips away loading access to the processor’s memory bus which will have a positive effect on playback of 1080p content.

    The very, very special thing of this board are the audio capabilities. There are effectively 3 different audio codec's on this board. ATI for audio over HDMI. Realtek for the SPDIF (that you have used) and D2Audio for the analog amp or pre amp card. This last one makes the board special and is the reason you want to buy this board. On the board you will find the DAE-3 Digital Amplifier chip from D2Audio (recently taken over by Intersil).

    D2Audio is a very well known chipmaker in the audio space; they make high quality class D digital amplifiers for folks like B&W, Polk, Control 4, Phasetech, Denon, Marantz, etc. This code provides much higher audio quality than traditional PC audio. Signal to Noise Ratio is 105dB or higher, Total Harmonic Distortion is 0.1% or lower. This is similar to fairly expensive Mainstream Amplifiers.

    D2Audio specializes in Class-D amplifiers that achieve remarkable 93% power efficiency. This means that for every 100W of power delivered to the speakers, less than 7W is dissipated by the amplifier. Because of the way audio power is distributed between channels, the overall amplifier thermal dissipation inside the enclosure will typically be below 20W. This compares with the 40% to 50% efficiency of Class-A/B amplifiers which dissipate as much power inside the enclosure as they deliver to the speakers. That's why receivers are so heavy (a very huge cooling block and powerful PSU).

    The 5-channel amplifier with a 100W peak power (at 8Ω or 200W at 4Ω) per channel can draw as much as 500W peak alone from the typical 300W ATX power supply. If such a high power were drawn from the supply in an uncontrolled way, the CPU voltages could not be maintained at correct levels and the system would crash. Having a digital media platform crash every time a loud sequence is played in a movie or game is obviously unacceptable. Fortunately, D2Audio developed real-time power monitoring and management firmware that runs on the embedded DAE-3 DSP to carefully monitor and control the power draw from the ATX power supply. With careful supply loading and local power storage, the system is able to meet the 500W peak amplifier demands delivering outstanding audio, while also protecting the CPU operating voltages.

    If may do a suggestion, pull your speaker cables out of your receiver, including your sub and hook them up to the 5.1 AMP card that came with the board. I think you will be suprised.

    I have used the AMD Maui platform now for almost two months. Especially with Windows 7 it gave an awesome experience. I have sold my HD satelite receiver, my Pioneer receiver and DVD player. I have now just one-box-fit-all HTPC. My build can be found at
  • Anonymous
    Nice article; but would have been nice to see ClearQAM performance and/or use with two 650s All-wonder cards.
  • kevinherring
    I'm sorry but I really cannot see the point in this article. All of this technology has been around for years! On the Windows platform, MCE 2004/2005 offered all this functionality in a stable, easy to use package years ago; Vista and 7 offer a few minor tweaks, but nothing substantially new. Also MythTV has been doing this for much longer.
    The only really interesting thing about the article was the sound card, but you brushed that aside.
    Also, don't forget standby mode. There is no "booting" of the PC to watch TV etc. It is either on standby, or on all the time. My (Vista) HTPC hasn't been rebooted for weeks.
  • mp4lms
    a real eye opener for a newbie in the UK. have wanted home theatre but without the Receiver. I new there was a way.

    Quick question though. I have a Virgin Media cable box in the UK which is connected via Scart to my TV. Are you saying I just pull the Coax out the back of it and bang it in the TV card? then HDMI or Component into TV?

    many thanks and hope to hear from you..
  • mamikel
    Just a note of warning, Windows 7 and TV pack have some serious bugs for Australian users which aren't present in Vista and XPMCE prior the TV changes. While MS Media Centre is comparitively easier to set up and is arguably "prettier", offerings such as Media Portal and MythTV (although more involved to configure and perhaps less tuner support in the case of MythTV)at least offer a generally more stable offering.
  • knighthawk5
    Two Words.... Good Laptop... Just hook your laptop to you TV and there you go. Wireless to your network attached storage device for all the movies you could ever want. Access it any where in the house. PUt in a sling box and what them anywhere. you don't have to spend thousands to do these things or even reinvent the wheel.
  • anzerman
    I have used media portal for over 2 years now and there is nothing better.
    & with custom skins like monochrome....
    visually it is a winner!