Choosing the Processor:
Browse around the Intel web site to understand what’s current. It’s always best to check so as to avoid obsolescence in a short time. About every 18 months, Intel introduces a new generation of processors. You always get much better performance at about the same price of the previous generation of processors. A processor selection tool and specifications on their processors can be found on the Intel website.
You most likely will not need the top of the line of the current generation for normal household computing. For this application, I’m going for the 2ndGeneration Intel Core i5 2500k. This has built-in Intel HD graphics, so with the correct motherboard, you will not have to spend extra money to purchase a separate graphics card.
Intel’s Boxed processors usually come with an appropriate heat sink which cools the processor, but always check the specifications to make sure. For cooler and quieter operation, you may want to choose a retail heat sink, but only do this if you are confident about choosing one.
The key specifications will also be available when you source the component (at Newegg.com, in this case).
When choosing a motherboard, you will need to know and match the processor socket (LGA1155, in this case) and the supported memory type (DDR3-1066/1333, in this case). These are important for fit and function.
Choosing a motherboard:
I’m a big fan of Intel’s products because of the high reliability over the years. So naturally, I’m choosing an Intel manufactured motherboard. Desktop board DH67BL Media Series was chosen. Again, check out Intel’s website for details. It supports the LGA1155 socket, DDR3-1066/1333 memory and has both HDMI and DVI connections.
Other important specifications on the motherboard you will need to know:
Number of memory slots: 4×240 pin. You will need to know this, along with the memory standard (DDR3), when selecting memory.
Storage devices supported: 3x SATA 3Gb/s and 2x SATA 6Gb/s. This determines the supported hard drives and BD-ROM. SATA 6Gb/s is the new standard but is backwards compatible with SATA 3Gb/s.
LAN speed: 10/100/1000 Mbps. This determines your maximum Ethernet connection speed in a wired network.
Form Factor: Micro ATX (9.6″ x 9.6″). This is the physical size of the board and is important when choosing a case. The smaller Micro ATX boards will fit in most Media Center style cases while the bigger ATX form factor may not.
As mentioned above, we require DDR3-1066 or DDR3-1333 240 pin memory modules to be compatible with the processor and the motherboard. We choose 2x of the Kingston 4GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600) Desktop Memory Model KVR1333D3N9/4G for a grand total of 8GB. Memory prices vary a lot, and they are cheap as of this writing, so take advantage of the price. The board can accommodate up to 4 modules, but 2x4GB is plenty for our applications.
Choosing the Hard Drive(s):
Hard drive prices have almost tripled during October and November of 2011 due to component shortage as a result of the weather in Thailand. Prices are expected to remain high for a couple of quarters. Previously, since hard drives were really cheap, the system here was built with two hard drives. The first one is a 320GB drive used to load the operating system and any other programs to be used on the system. The second 2TB drive is dedicated for Recorded TV and can hold about 300 hours of HDTV.
In general, the more Read/Write heads you have, the better the performance.
I recently switched to Western digital green or blue hard drives because I got one on sale and found it to be vastly quieter than the Seagate I was accustomed to.
The key specifications of the drives that affect fit and function are the SATA speed and the physical size.
SATA 6Gb/s describes the data transfer speed and is the new standard for desktop computing. The chosen motherboard supports two SATA 6Gb/s, so be sure to connect these to the 6Gb connections on the motherboard for best performance.
The physical size of the drive is characterized as 3.5″ internal drive. This specification is important when selecting your computer case. The selected case holds two 3.5″ internal drives.
Selecting an optical drive (Blu-ray/CD/DVD ROM):
Today’s optical drives are typically SATA 3Gb/s transfer speeds. Physical size for desktop computers is described as 5.25″ internal drive, and they fit into a case which has an external 5.25″ drive bay. The case specifies the bay as external because it gives you access to open the drive tray.
Additional software like Power DVD is required to play Blu-ray disc. Some drives come bundled with this software. I have found that most internet stores are vague about whether the software is included or not. The Samsung included in the table above, came with software.
TV Tuner cards:
I have two “AVerMedia AVerTVHD Duet – PCTV Tuner (A188 – White Box) – OEM” in my system. The main thing you need to know is the interface type, which is PCI-Express x1 interface. This was described in article 2. The selected Intel motherboard accommodates two such expansion slots.
This set up gives four available tuners for simultaneous recording or watching one channel while recording three others.
Selecting a computer case:
To have your entertainment hub look like another piece of audio equipment, you will need to select a case from the HTPC/Media Center category. To avoid the hassle of having to select a power supply to fit the case, I chose a case with a built in 500W power supply. “APEVIA Black SECC Steel / Aluminum X-MASTER-BK/500 ATX Media Center / HTPC Case”.
It’s important to make sure you have an adequate wattage power supply. Because we are not using any add-in graphics cards, 350W to 500W will typically be more than adequate. Feel free to select a case that’s more esthetically pleasing to you.
It’s also important to make sure that your selected motherboard fits into the case. The Micro- ATX motherboard will fit into most cases.
We are using two 3.5″ hard drives and a 5.25″ Blu-ray player, so the case must have at least two 3.5″ drive bays and one 5.25 external drive bay.
One thing that bugs me when buying a case is that the fan type or fan noise is hardly ever specified. You don’t really know what you are going to get until you put it together. Fortunately, fans are cheap and you can replace them if the noise level is too high for you.
Fan noise is dependent on the design, rotating speed, and air flow. The lower the stated noise level in dBA, the quieter it should be. A variable speed fan will control the speed base on the temperature inside the case, so it will only rotate as fast is it needs to, keeping noise to a minimum.
Wireless keyboard and Wireless remote:
I particularly like the “nMEDIAPC HTPCKB-B Black 2.4GHz RF Wireless Streamlined Keyboard with Track Ball & Remote Combo Set” because a track ball mouse is built into the PC remote control. This makes for easy operation of the media player. I hardly ever use the keyboard, but when I do, the built in track ball mouse also comes in handy. No surface is required to operate the mouse.
Choosing the operating system:
Windows 7 home premium and above comes with Windows Media center which manages your tuner cards and recorded TV.
I chose Windows 7 Professional because it allows you to use Remote Desktop to remotely log into the PC. This way, using my laptop, I log into the media PC to do more demanding tasks.
Note that the selected Windows 7 OS is the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) version. Amongst other things, this means that there is no technical software support offered by Microsoft, but it’s a lot cheaper.
I never have the need to call Microsoft for technical support. If there is a problem, chances are that someone else would have already found it so do a Google search.
Putting it all together:
As mentioned earlier, this article is mainly about selecting components to make your Media PC. Your components manual will guide you through the steps required to assemble the different components. If you need additional help, you can do a simple Google search on ‘how to build my own PC.’
Don’t forget to connect the front panel switches and jacks.
Once everything is connected you are now ready to turn on your new PC.
If everything goes well, you will see a boot up screen once you turn on the power. Refer to the motherboard manual to make BIOS settings adjustments if needed. The default settings should work without requiring any changes, but it’s always a good idea to read this section of the manual to see what’s available.
The next step would be to insert the Windows DVD and follow the installation instructions. Be sure to be plugged in to your network and have an internet connection. Windows installation will take about an hour. When prompted, select to download and install windows updates automatically. Updates will probably take another hour, depending on how many they are.
Firmware and Driver updates:
These updates are usually provided to fix bugs and improve device functionality. In most cases, the system should work properly without these updates, however, if you are experiencing functionality problems, it’s always a good idea to check the manufacturer’s website and install available updates.
For Intel motherboards, Intel device drivers are available on Intel’s download site for Network connections (LAN), Graphics, Chipset, and Audio devices.
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