Confessions Of A Serial HTPC Builder - Part 1

It seems that home theaters are becoming all the rage. Prices have dropped; the components are becoming easier to install and operate and HDTV is making its way into more households. The growing popularity of home theaters is fueling an interest in home theater PCs, as well. The primary purpose of a home theater PC (HTPC) is to manage and control multimedia content such as video, audio, radio, photos and television in a home theater environment. However, an HTPC can also offer more. While it mainly serves as a dedicated multimedia management computer, you can also use it for office applications, surfing the net and playing video games like with any other PC.

Do-it-yourself HTPCs have been this writer's hobby since 2003. I built my first HTPC after becoming fascinated with the time-shifting function of a standalone TiVo-style digital video recorder (time-shifting allows the user to fast-forward through TV commercials). I decided that if a TiVo could do it, then a PC could do it better. In this series of articles, I take you through three HTPC builds. I'll focus on the hardware, talk about what worked and what didn't and do my best to outline some of the common HTPC pitfalls I encountered.

I built my first HTPC from spare parts lying-around, which turned out not to be a bad idea. The minimum system requirements for a HTPC are fairly slim. In fact, there are some great media center programs that only require a 1.4 GHz processor and 256 MB of RAM. My first HTPC clearly seems like a low-end performer, but aside from the occasional hiccup, it was satisfactory for the software that I was running on it.

The main components of my first system:

Part Price at the time Purchase Date
AMD Athlon XP 2000+ $77.00 2/15/2003
MSI K7N2G Motherboard $118.00 1/17/2003
60 GB Maxtor DiamondMax hard drive $68.00 11/22/2002
ATI All in Wonder Radeon 8500DV $161.99 11/21/2002
256 MB PC2700 Samsung RAM $52.00 11/21/2002
Sound Blaster Live Digital 5.1 $31.96 4/08/2002
Raidmax Storm 847W Mid tower case $46.99 9/23/2003
Windows XP Pro $142.49 2/20/2002
TOTAL $698.43  

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