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…
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
And here is another snapshot showing off the back panel as well as the case fan:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- XBMC: Introduction to Our Upcoming Guides
Our introduction provides some of the deciding factors for switching from Windows Media Center to XBMC.
- XBMC: Build Your Own HTPC
Our extensive guide on the hardware we chose for our home theater PCs (HTPCs), the cost, and some tips on choosing the hardware for your own HTPC.
- XBMC: Prepare and Optimize Windows 7
A helpful list of tips to optimize the performance of Windows 7 so that the system is able to offer as many resources to XBMC as it can.
- XBMC: IR Receiver and Remote (Harmony, Xbox 360, and More)
If you want your HTPC to operate like a set-top box you’ll definitely want to get a remote control configured, and for me this was a critical step so that I wouldn’t have to be concerned about less tech-savvy users trying to use my TV.
- XBMC: Share and Sync Media/Settings Between Multiple XBMC Installs
Configuring XBMC to share settings between multiple instances means you’ll be able to stop a show in one room, and seamlessly pick up where you left off in another room.
- XBMC: Fit the Picture to Your TV with Overscan
If XBMC doesn’t fit your TV screen perfectly there are a couple of steps you can take to get it just right.
- XBMC: Installing Skins
How to tweak the appearance of XBMC so that it looks the way you want it to.
- XBMC: Custom Home Screen Menu Backgrounds
Make the backgrounds of your chosen skin/theme a little more interesting by having it flip through artwork from your favorite TV shows and movies.
- XBMC: Dynamic Weather Backgrounds
If you’re using the Aeon MQ 3 theme you can have it use dynamic wallpapers that change based on the time of day and current weather conditions.
- XBMC: SMB on Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion)
I use a Mac to serve up files to my XBMC instances running on Windows, and so my preferred protocol for sharing files is SMB. This guide explains how you can get a XBMC-compatible version of SMB running on Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.
- XBMC: Adding Media Sources
Learn how to add your media to XBMC and turn on the appropriate content scrapers.
- XBMC: Troubleshoot Buffering Issues
Trying to troubleshoot buffer issues in XBMC can be quite a pain, and so I lay out some of the most common culprits.
- XBMC: Test Your HTPC with High Bitrate Sample Videos
Want to see how well your HTPC performs? Throw some of these high bitrate 1080p sample videos at it.
- XBMC: More Advanced Settings
Configure some of the settings that you won’t find anywhere in the GUI.
- XBMC: Stream Hulu, Food Network, and More
Thanks to add-ons you can stream videos from some of your favorite sources including Hulu, Food Network, HGTV, TWiT, and more.
- XBMC: AirPlay on Windows
Send videos from your iOS device to any XBMC instance with very little configuration.
- XBMC: Web Interface and Chrome Extension
As long as you are on the same network as your XBMC box you can control it from any browser using the built-in web interface, or you can install a Chrome extension to make it even easier.
- XBMC: iPhone and iPad Remote
If you own an iPhone or iPad you can enjoy one of the best XBMC remote control experiences I’ve seen, and it will only cost you a few bucks.
- XBMC: A List of Our Guides, Plus Helpful Wiki and Forum Posts
A recap of all the guides we’ve written as well as useful wiki and forum post from the official XBMC.org site.
- XBMC: Free and Official iOS Remote for XBMC Released
This is the free and official XBMC remote control iOS app (optimized for both the iPhone and iPad). It will let you easily control all of the XBMC instances in your house as long as they are all on the same network.
- XBMC: Running XBMC on Startup in Windows 8
Learn how you can make XBMC start automatically when Windows 8 boots.
- XBMC: Send YouTube Videos From Chrome to XBMC
Send YouTube videos from your PC to any XBMC instance in a single click.
- XBMC: Aeon MQ 4 Skin
If you’re looking for one of the best and most popular XBMC skins the Aeon MQ 4 is a great choice.
- XBMC: Android Widget Remote Control
Control multiple instances of XBMC without ever having to open an app on your Android device!