Why a HTPC?
A HTPC (Home Theater PC) is generally an easy, affordable build if the primary purpose is to stream video (e.g. Netflix, etc.). Even if you are using something like a Roku, having a PC in the mix expands the functionality of your entertainment center and is not dependant on what kind of TV you have. One nice thing about a HTPC for streaming or light computer activities (versus a gaming rig) is that you can generally use HDMI out and not have to worry so much about the graphics card (or even the CPU for that matter). Just about any modern motherboard will work for you.
The driver for this project was the roll-out of Steam In-Home Streaming. The thought of being able to play my games on my big screen and just use a small HTPC as the front end was too good to be true! Plus I wanted to explore using XBMC (X-Box Media Center) and perhaps setting up a DVR for over-the-air broadcasts.
In the end it turned out that I use XBMC just about every day. The Steam streaming is cool, but I really have not had a chance to do much with it.
Depending on how much wood working you want to do, this can be an extremely safe Instructable. The main things are to allow for plenty of ventilation when painting, staining, etc.
However, if you are going to be using power tools (e.g. table saw, router, etc.), remember:
Step 1: Materials
After a little homework I found out about the ASRock AM1H-ITX motherboard and that it only needs a 19V external power supply. The specs are good enough to meet my needs for this build. So I went to PCPartPicker.com to help pick out the rest of the bits and pieces. Thatís a convenient site to visit if you are doing any kind of a PC build. Here is what my PC build looks like (prices are approximate):
Total cost (including misc items): $335
Step 2: Design and Software
For my machine, I wanted to get the basic functionality of a HTPC (e.g. quiet, wired network access, HDMI output, low power usage, etc.). Plus, as with everything else I do, I wanted to get the biggest bang for the buck (and keep it under $200-300).
When I stumbled across a motherboard that did not need a traditional power supply, I realized I did not need a traditional case. Since I did not need a case, I had more flexibility on how I housed this guy. Plus the entire noise issue seems to disappear when you do not have to use a regular PC power supply or worry about air flow in a case.
Aside from the power supply issue, minimizing the number of cables is something you probably want to consider. Keep in mind that HDMI cables also run audio. So if you use HDMI to connect the HTPC to your TV, then you donít need to worry about RCA audio cables.
I happen to have a nice curved metal speaker grill that I salvaged from a guitar amp just waiting to be used for something. The grill seemed to be about the right size to cover the PC components. So I just decided to keep things simple (and cheap) and mount the PC on a board and use the metal grill as a cover.
Steam and XBMC were the main reasons I wanted to build this in the first place, so I only focused on getting those two loaded. After I got everything up and running, it also worked great as a browser, etc. You could lay out PowerPoint slides, Excel spreadsheets or type an email to your grandma on your 60" screen if you wanted to.
Step 3: Mounting Board
Mounting board layout
My "case" was essentially going to be a piece of plywood with a metal grill over it. One of the nice things about using wood is that itís easy to process and you usually end up with something half-way decent looking.
Step 4: Installing the Components (Lights, switches and motherboard)
Installing the components
Securing everything to the mounting board was pretty straightforward.
Step 5: Installing the Components (Cabling)
More pictures relating to installing the components.
Step 6: Loading Windows/Testing
Getting Windows 7 installed took me longer than I would have expected. Between the solid state drive, different drivers for different SATA ports on the same motherboard, an external DVD drive to install Windows from, needing more USB 2.0 ports than I had and having to buy a newer service pack version of Win 7, it actually took me a few days to get Windows up and running.
But once I got all the drivers and Windows 7 going, the system proved to be very responsive.
Step 7: Mounting the Unit on the Wall
Mounting the unit on the wall
Now that I had the OS in place I was ready to mount everything in its new home. This part was relatively easy as the wall I was using opened up into the utility/laundry area. All I really needed to do is open up an access hole for the cabling.
Step 8: Loading and Testing Steam/XBMC
Loading and Testing Steam/XBMC
With the HTPC in its final location, I then did the final loading of the Steam client and XBMC.
Step 9: Remote Control
Getting the right remote is what makes or breaks a HTPC. I was using a keyboard/mouse originally because I was thinking I would only use this for Steam. But I found using a full sized keyboard and trying to use a mouse on the couch wasnít happening for watching content with XBMC. Enter the FAVI Mini-Keyboard.
· FAVI FE02RF-BL Mini 2.4 GHz Wireless Keyboard - This one was about $30 on Amazon. This little guy has a full QWERTY keyboard and touchpad, backlit keys, great connectivity for my set up (about 10í max between couch and receiver). I did have to move the USB receiver from the HTPC down to the USB hub to get the best reception (I wonder if the metal grill Iím using messed with the reception). The battery life is about 3-4 weeks before it needs recharging. Itís very easy to thumb type on this, great tactile feedback. Check out the on-line reviews on these. I definitely recommend getting one of these for a HTPC.
Step 10: Closing Thoughts and Next Steps
Iíve literally built dozens of PCs through the years of various conventional and odd-ball designs. This one is probably the most successful special purpose PC's Iíve done so far (from a design and performance standpoint). I havenít even started exploring any DVR possibilities yet. Iíve been using this about 2 months now and here are some of my thoughts so far:
Please let me know if you see anything that needs corrections or clarification - or just let me know if you have a question. Thanks for looking!