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Confessions Of A Serial HTPC Builder - Part 2

Introduction

In Part 1 of this series, I covered some basic Home Theater PC principals and outlined several of the lessons I learned during my first HTPC build.

What I discovered was that:

They were all valuable lessons, while the one that really stood out was how important case design was. I was proud of what I accomplished with the build, but the bright blue and-yellow case stuck out like a sore thumb, and looked like it had been left in my living room by mistake. After first trying to hide it behind the TV, it was no longer possible to use the PC as a DVD player and rebooting became a chore. I then concluded that I needed to try again.

I had built the HTPC to serve as a backbone for my home theater, but not as an embarrassing-looking object hidden in the corner.

I was also rapidly becoming an HTPC addict. My HTPC became less of a novelty and more of a necessity. I had stopped watching live television completely because it was annoying. I would always become impatient and wanted to fast forward through the ads. I'd actually grab the remote multiple times during a live program and jab at the fast forward button before realizing it was live. After a while, I never watched anything without making sure first that I had enough recorded content in the buffer to be able to time-shift through the advertisements. Mostly though, I found that I was so busy catching up to watch pre-recorded programs that I didn't have time to bother with live content.

I had a couple of options: a) I could find a case that I could modify easily into a perfect HTPC chassis, or b) I could find an existing case that was not designed to look like an office PC or a gaming rig. I was not terribly excited about a case mod project, either. However, I knew I wanted something small after struggling with the big Supercase 500, so I began to research small form factor PCs.

I wanted something that looked like it was designed to go into a theater, but most SFF boxes were either too mundane or colorful.

After a long search I came across a Tom's Hardware Guide review of the MEGA 180 SFF barebone PC from MSI. I liked the design right away. The mirror-like finish was an eye-catcher without being overbearing, and the overall look of the case looked like it would fit in my home theater. According to the reviewer, the MEGA 180 ran quietly and was well built. It was just what I sought.

A week later the MEGA 180 arrived along with several other parts.

PartPrice at the timePurchase date
MSI MEGA 180 Deluxe Barebone PC$308.005/12/2004
ATI All in Wonder 9600$174.005/12/2004
Western Digital 1600JB 160 GB Hard Drive$110.005/12/2004
Samsung 512 MB PC2700 Ram$77.005/12/2004
Athlon XP 2800+ Barton Core CPU$115.005/12/2004
Total$784.00

The MSI MEGA 180 in all its glory.