Build XBMC HTPC

I recently decided to make the jump from using Windows Media Center to XBMC as the primary way we watch media on our TVs. The nice thing with Windows Media Center is that you can use the Xbox 360 as an extender making it a no-brainer to access the content anywhere you have an Xbox in your house, but the lack of customizability was really starting to get to me. I started to look at some of the smaller home theater PCs (HTPCs) that are made by various manufacturers, but for what you get they are drastically overpriced (albeit they are normally crammed into nice compact cases). So I decided to build my own HTPC that could handle the exact needs of XBMC including 1080p playback.

Here is a breakdown of the different components I ordered to make my HTPC:

  • Motherboard/CPU: ASRock E350M1 AMD Motherboard/CPU Combo [Newegg - $94]
    For $5 more there is also a model of the same motherboard that replaces 2 of the rear USB 2.0 ports with USB 3.0 ports.
  • Storage: Crucial CT064M4SSD2 64GB SATA III SSD [Newegg - $87]
  • Memory: G.SKILL 4GB 240-Pin DDR3-1333 SDRAM [Newegg - $20]
    The motherboard only supports DDR3-1066, but due to backwards compatibility you might as well just grab some DDR3-1333. The motherboard can also handle up to 16GB of memory split across the 2 slots. I chose to grab just one 4GB stick, which means that I can upgrade to 8GB rather simply should I decide I ever need it.
  • Case Fan: Scythe SY1225SL12L 120mm Slipstream 800 RPM Case Fan [Newegg - $13]
    Noise level is rated at 10.70 dBA, which is extremely quiet for a computer fan.
  • Case: MI-008 Case with 250W Power Supply [Amazon - $40] [Newegg - $40]
    I provided the Amazon link for this as well because it includes free shipping, whereas Newegg charged $10 to have the case shipped. The case is 11.80″ x 8.70″ x 5.1″, which is significantly larger than something like the Apple TV but also has more power and versatility.
  • IR Receiver: HP OVU400102/71 USB Infrared Receiver [eBay - ~$15]
    You can use any RC6-compatible IR receiver, but the HP models have been found to be some of the most compatible. I’ll jump into this a bit later since there are also various models of the HP IR receiver.

If you go with all the parts that I described above your total should come to around $270, which isn’t bad for a system like this that can fully support 1080p video. I should mention, however, that 3D video support was not a requirement of mine so my particular setup does not support it. Here is a better look at some of the individual parts…

Case Fan:

The motherboard includes a fan on the CPU, but if you’re concerned with overheating (and you probably should be) I’d recommend grabbing a 120mm case fan. Since there is a good chance that the machine will be sitting out in the open make sure you look at the noise level (dBA) of the fan to ensure it’s designed to be as quiet as possible. This particular Scythe model is 800 RPM and from a noise perspective is just 10.70 dBA.

The fan, pictured below, takes a little force to get it to pop in the side of the case, but that also means you won’t need any screws to hold it in. After you put in the fan, you need to make sure that you’re able to freely spin it without any of the blades touching the frame of the fan. The first time I put it in the case it was in place where there was a little too much pressure being exerted on the fan causing the blades to touch the frame when they would spin. I simply took it out, moved it down another inch, and had absolutely no issues after that.

XBMC HTPC case fan

You’ll also want to make note of the direction you face the fan. Some people say you want to pull air into the case while others say to push it out. The way I have it placed in the photo makes it pull the air in, then it flows across the motherboard, and will exit the case on the other side.

SSD Storage:

I decided to spring for an SSD given the huge performance gains you get over the typical hard drive. I lose a lot of storage capacity going this route, but this device isn’t the one storing all of my media. Instead I have that streamed from another machine, or you could easily add more drives through USB or internally using the 4 internal SATA III ports.

I was a little torn about where I wanted to put the drive in the case, but ultimately decided to put it on the opposite side of where I had put the case fan. Given how light the drive is I was able to hold it in place using a single screw:

XBMC HTPC ssd

The motherboard does come with a 6.0Gb/s SATA III cable so you won’t have to worry about picking one of those up.

When determining the size of the SSD make sure you consider the operating system you’ll be placing on the drive. With Windows 7 you’ll need at least 16GB for the 32-bit version and 20GB for the 64-bit version. Comparing the price of the 32GB and 64GB drives I saw a very small difference, which is why I decided to go with the 64GB.

Back Panel:

When it comes to ports this system is plentiful given the somewhat compact size. The back panel includes 6 USB 2.0 ports, VGA/DVI, PS/2 keyboard or mouse port, HDMI, 6.0Gb/s eSATA, S/PDIF optical audio out, and 5 audio ports. The motherboard also comes with a backplate to help make everything flush with the back of the case:

XBMC HTPC hdmi ports

And here is another snapshot showing off the back panel as well as the case fan:

Xbmc htpc fan ports

Front of the HTPC:

The case also has a couple of ports on the front that you can use. It includes 2 USB 2.0 ports, a microphone port, and a headphone port. I love having the USB ports on the front because I don’t keep a keyboard or mouse plugged into this, and if I need to go into the BIOS to make some changes it’s nice and easy to pop down the front cover and plug the devices in.

XBMC HTPC front ports

Closing the Case:

When everything is done you can throw the cover on the case and enjoy your hard work. Here you can see that the front of the case has a glossy appearance serving as a magnet for fingerprints, while the rest of the case is a matte-like finish.

XBMC HTPC full case

This particular case gives you room to grow as well. There are definitely some more compact cases available, but with this you could easily add a DVD drive in case you wanted to watch a movie from your physical collection. If you want to go with a more compact case you’ll want to think about the ventilation because some of the reviews I read on them had users frequently mentioning how their devices would overheat when streaming media. That’s another reason installing a generous 120mm case fan is a good idea.

HP IR Remote Receiver:

I already have plenty of remote controls that I knew would work with this IR receiver before I purchased it. Both my Xbox 360 Universal Media Remotes as well as my Logitech Harmony Remote had no troubles working with this receiver on Windows 7, and the drivers for the device were automatically installed. It does take some tweaks getting it to work depending on the remote you have, but we will cover that in a future article.

XBMC HTPC hp infrared receiver

In general any RC6 IR receiver should work fine if you’re running Windows, but the ones made by HP seem to have earned the trust of the XBMC community the most. The one thing I want to point out about this IR receiver is that there are several different models of the HP IR Receiver, which may be important if you’re looking to use this on a Linux-based system. Here’s a rundown on some of the different models I’ve seen mentioned:

  • OVU400103/00 (HP Part #: 5188-1667)
    This is the most highly recommended model, but the trick is finding someone that is actually selling it. If you can find this model I’d recommend getting it as it’s been known to work well on both the Windows and Linux side.
  • OVU400102/71 (HP Part #: 5187-4593)
    This is the model I purchased and had no troubles getting it to work on Windows 7. This seems to be one of the more common models and should be relatively easy to find on eBay.
  • OVU422000/06 (HP Part #: 5070-2584)
    I don’t know much about this one, but I suspect it would also work well on the Windows side.

You just need to be careful when buying these on eBay because there are a lot of knockoffs out there. Not only that but sellers of these devices will often label them as being the OVU400103/00 model whereas what you actually receive may be another model. I’m guessing this is because many of them just have boxes of mixed models sitting in their warehouse not realizing they are actually different since they look the same.

XBMC HTPC hp infrared receiver model

Wrapping Up:

Over the coming weeks we will have a bunch more XBMC articles and guides coming your way. So stay tuned if you want even more info on getting this unit set up perfectly.

CyberNet’s XBMC Guides:

There Are 30 Comments

  1. Thanks for starting this series. It’s something I’ve been intending to do for a long while!

    • Hopefully these guides will be useful for you then. I spent many many hours researching and finding tweaks to make XBMC work perfectly for my situation, and figured that some of what I did will translate well to other users’ setups as well.

  2. Ryan, did you look into openELEC or XBMCbuntu? They have added support for AMD GPU rendering in Eden. Can’t wait to see what else you have found!

    • After some deliberation I decided to not go the route of openELEC and XBMCbuntu. I felt that I was the most familiar with Windows 7 in terms of being able to optimize and configure it, so that’s the path I chose. It was the fastest way for me to get a couple of systems up and running without having to troubleshoot any potential hardware compatibility issues. I’ll probably look at it later on down the road again, but the thing that also struck me about XBMCbuntu is that it won’t always be running off of the latest version of Ubuntu/Lubuntu. So I think I’d actually do my own Ubuntu/Lubuntu install, and then throw XBMC on top of it. That way I’m able to keep the OS up-to-date at my own pace.

      Oh, and I already had some licenses for Windows 7 thanks to a MSDN subscription. So it didn’t cost anything additional for me to use it.

  3. I ran Windows for a long time and it worked well for me (I have a Acer Revo 3600 w/ the Nvidia ION) and moved over to openELEC and found it to be a bit more responsive. On the Ubuntu front, XBMC just got accepted into Debian so in the version of Ubuntu you will be able to just update and be at the latest version, pretty exciting if you ask me. More here: [xbmc.org]

    • Yeah, I was pretty excited when I saw they got accepted into the official Debian distribution. I will definitely be giving it a try down the road, but I need to make sure things like my IR receiver work okay with it. That will probably be the real challenge.

  4. Just wondering, as it’s been a few months, do you have any suggestions as to new motherboard/cpu combos? I know new tech is always coming out and maybe there is a new combo out there that is reasonably priced with a bit more horsepower.

    • Also, any recommendations on adding Wifi?

    • Hey Justin – There hasn’t really been any huge advancements in the Mini ITX space so I’d still recommend the same board above. I don’t think these combos get refreshed as often as the standalone motherboards and CPU’s do. There is, however, a USB 3.0 version of the board for $5 more. That was available when I bought mine as well, but I was afraid of driver incompatibilities should I decide to try out Linux on the machines (which I’ve done and almost works perfectly).

      In terms of adding WiFi I haven’t done that with my system since I have ethernet available at all three of the locations I have one of these boxes. If I did have to choose something I would get an external USB solution so that I could use a USB extension cable to position the adapter in an optimal spot. If you’re going to be streaming media you’ll want the best signal possible so making sure it is external would be important. This appears to be a popular (and rather cheap) one on Newegg: [newegg.com]

  5. Thank you kindly for your update. I think I’m about to attempt a new arrangement that will have my router within range of having it plugged in.

    This guide is the just thing I needed.

  6. This is great! I’ve been looking to build a similar system. But I’m confused about graphics. Did you need to buy a graphics card or did the system already come with it? Thanks!

    • The graphics are integrated into the motherboard along with the CPU. So you don’t need to worry about that. The graphics handle full 1080p (even Blu-ray quality) quite well despite being integrated.

  7. What size TV do you stream to from this system? Are these specs powerful enough for streaming to a 50 inch Sony lcd hdtv?

    • I have two 54-inch TVs and one 40-inch TV that I stream to (I’ve built three of these boxes). The size of the TV doesn’t matter, it’s the quality of the videos you are trying to playback that matters. I’ve played uncompressed Blu-ray quality videos back on the system with exceptional performance. So I don’t see you having any problems playing back on your 50-inch Sony.

      I do recommend checking out the article I wrote on troubleshooting buffering/stuttering issues in XBMC if you plan on streaming though. I initially had some issues I thought were related to the graphics performance, but turned out to be related to the ethernet drivers.

  8. Awesome, thanks for getting back to me. Most of what I will be streaming is from the web, like Netflix or Hulu. I have a Samsung Blu-ray, hooked up separately. I don’t generally have my own video files. I’ll definitely check out your article on troubleshooting. thanks again!

  9. hi ant chance you could help with pictures on how to change cache on xbmc ive tryed getting into profile for xbmc on my pc but cant find out how to change the cache size and to add the note file as well any help would be great please as the buffering is doing my head in

  10. Interested in purchasing the same/similar setup and had a question regarding this one. After research there seems to be a lot of complaints about the case being to tight of a fit on the inside. Did you have to do anything special to get the hardware to fit (use all right angle connectors, etc.)? Also, does the case put out a lot of heat?

    • Since I used an SSD there was plenty of room. The main thing that is tight is the side fan, which takes a little force to get to snap into place. Other than that I never felt like the case was too small… in fact I was thinking I had a lot of left over room and seemed like it could have been made smaller. For me all of the area under the power supply remained unused.

  11. Hey I saw another build possibility and they bought a wireless card. Is that a good idea in this case?

    • I would say that it really depends on your situation. I happen to have ethernet running throughout my house to ensure I have the best performance. However, I’m sure you could get good performance using wireless as well. If you were going to do that I’d get a USB wireless card though so that you can use a USB extender to position the wireless card in the best possible spot.

  12. Stupid question, I have been using My SmartTV or PS3 to stream media from my PC in my office. Like you, this works fine except it is ugly and cannot be modified visually.

    So I have been researching HTPC. Your article is great..I think your box may work for me.

    My question is..once you get the box then what? Do you basically just install XBMC on it then hook your TV up as a monitor? When wanting to use the media center you switch to the appropriate input for the PC and then go from there?

    I know this sounds dumb but I want to make sure I am fully understanding before I spend money. I just installed XBCM on my PC so I can see how it is. WOW. It is gorgeous..technically I could plug my PC into my TV right now and it was be like an HTPC correct? The key is an HTPC is small and dedicated to using for the TV media..is this correct? Also..if I was still keeping my media on my main PC how do I stream it…I assume that when I setupt my shared folders in the library it detects the shared network and I can pick those folders.

    Thanks for all your help.

    • Hey James – so I only use these boxes as media centers, and never use them for regular computing. For me that means they were quite an investment since I needed three of them (much more expensive than buying three Roku boxes, or something along those lines), but because of the versatility and upgradeability I’m sure I will have these for many years.

      I have all of my HTPCs set up to stream media from a central PC in my house, which is super nice. That’s how I can get away with having such a small drive in each of the machines. There are many ways you can do this, but I’m just using the standard windows UNC/SMB file sharing.

      Let me know if there is anything else I can help with.

  13. Also there is a lot of negative posts on the review for that motherboard..have you had issues. One of the listed issues was no video when booting up with HDMI (actually seen this many times with certain motherboards or GPU but it is a hassle)

    Curious if you ran into any problems like that?

    Also if I were to get a Harmony or somethingl ike that..could it replace ALL my remotes? Dish Network, TV, BluRay and HTPC? Thanks again

    • I ran into an issue with one of the motherboards. After a few days the integrated graphics chip seemed like it was going bad, and the picture started to go to static almost like on old TVs. I exchanged it with Newegg and haven’t had troubles with any of the ones I have now.

  14. I built this HTPC using every part you listed but instead of installing windows, I had a coworker set it up to boot directly into XBMC using OpenELEC. The motherboard fan has been running very loud after about a month and I’m having a hard time figuring out how to adjust its speeds, any suggestions?

    • Well, I’ve had that kind of experience using Linux on some of my other desktop computers before, and it will probably be difficult to address. That is likely a hardware incompatibility, and something they’d need to address on their end. The ease of management is one of the reasons I decided to just go with Windows.

      However, have you tried using the official XBMCbuntu? That uses a stripped down version of Ubuntu and may be able to address the issue you’re seeing: [wiki.xbmc.org]

  15. With this build will it be able to handle the new PVR function of Frodo? Basically I was going to run a USB tuner to it and run NextPVR. Do you think this build will handle it or should I look for a different build?
    As a separate question, should I run a USB tuner or look for one built in?
    Thanks

    • I am using the PVR functionality of Frodo with this build, and it works fine. Though I am using a central machine running MythTV as my backend. I’m confident that you’d be able to run the PVR software on this box as well as XBMC without a hitch though.

  16. Hey Ryan,

    Thanks for all the info! The build seems simple enough and I went with the same equipment and I either have a bad motherboard or I am making some type of simple mistake. I can’t seem to get it the machine to boot up to the bios (nothing comes up on the monitor) and nothing is coming out from the small internal speaker. I was wondering if I could confirm with you for the power switch, the orange wire is the positive (not well labeled on the case but the other is white which historically means negative to me). The cpu fan comes on but no lights on the keyboard. Any suggestions you could give would be welcomed!

    Thanks,
    Ted

  17. Here is an easy way to recognise the the model number of the different HP IR Receivers if you cannot see the model number on the label itself:

    [forum.xbmc.org]

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