Thursday, April 28, 2011

If I Were To Replace My WDTV...

Keeping it inline with my last post on how much of a "server" you can buy for $400, I ended up hopping on Newegg again today and started putting together a different kind of machine... An HTPC...

Don't get me wrong, I love my 1st Generation WDTV. It works and it works really well considering how much I ask of it. But eventually I DO want to get Netflix and Hulu... and Pandora access would be kind of nice as well. Not to mention a wireless keyboard and mouse for some internet couch surfing. Personally I would like to try out some other cool software too, like XBMC, which is a free Media Center software solution that gets talked about ALOT on most of the major WDTV forums. How about support for EVERY codec under the sun, like those annoy RMVB files that for some crazy reason our 1st Generation WDTV's can't handle...

So, I started to ask myself, if I were to replace my aging 1st Generation WDTV, what would I buy in its place? For a long time now I figured I would replace it with a WDTV Live Plus! This would provide a faster interface, support for a few extra odd codecs and Netflix support. On top of all that, these boxes can be picked up for around $80.

But then it hit me... I am coming up on about 2 years of ownership for my 1st Generation device. I spent about $110 on it. If I picked up a WDTV Live Plus! for $80 or if I picked up the even newer WDTV Live Hub for around $180, I am quickly approaching the $200 mark or the $300 mark for equipment. If I had spent that much money on an HTPC setup 2 years ago, I wouldn't be replacing it today... So, for the "second time around" maybe I should just build an HTPC!

Now the bottom line is that 2 years ago I didn't have $200 - $300 to spend on an HTPC (and I still don't today for that matter but dreaming is fun :)...).

I already have an old slimline micro-atx case that I am not using so I would only really need to buy the internal components... With that in mind, what could I build that would meet my needs and be in the $200 price range? My minimum requirements were; A.) It has HDMI out B.)It can play 1080p Video (streaming and files) without issue and C.) It boots up fast... Bearing those in mind, here is what I was able to throw together. (Once again, I am not affiliated with Newegg, I just do most of my personal shopping on there...)

$55 MOBO: BIOSTAR A880G+ AM3 AMD 880G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard (It has a Radeon 4250 built in which can handle most video without breaking a sweat, it has HDMI-out, and it support "core-unlocking" which lets you unlock the deactivated core found in most low-end AMD processors

$40 PROCESSOR: AMD Sempron 140 Sargas 2.7GHz Socket AM3 45W Single-Core Processor (Low power which means it will run relatively cool, the "Single Core" is a negative BUT a lot of people have successfully unlocked the 2nd core on this chip which can greatly improve its performance, even as a single-core it will have plenty of kick, DIRT CHEAP)

$20 MEMORY: G.SKILL NS 2GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (2GB isn't much but the budget is extremely tight. I would buy only 1 chip at first and hopefully upgrade a few months down the road if necessary. Unfortunately I won't be able to take advantage of the "dual channel" memory mode which double throughput because I am using only one chip, but I would rather "future-proof" a bit now than throw away 2 1gb sticks later...)

$35 POWER SUPPLY:  FSP Group FSP300-60GHT 300W TFX12V 80 PLUS Certified (TFX is the "odd" formfactor that will hopefully fit in my old slimline micro-atx case, FSP makes one hell of a power supply, 80 Plus Certified means it runs cool and is very efficient, all of which is very important in an HTPC which will often be in a cramped space and running all the time...)

$50 HARD DRIVE: Kingston SSDNow S100 16gb SATA II (This is the "gem" of the hardware selection and the device that will make this machine feel a whole lot faster than what it really is. 16gb is hardly any space at all but should be enough to hold Windows 7 and any media center software of my choice. Why not have more internal storage you ask? Because all of my media is stored on a server and can be shared wirelessly over the network. Furthermore, I still have a 1.5 TB external hard drive that has the rest of my media on it that I am currently using for my WDTV's local storage. With that being said, I opted for a 16 GB, hyper-fast SSD which will allow for much shorter boot-times than a regular hard drive and should last a great deal longer. What is so great is that this technology has come so far down in price over the last 2 years. This device supports "TRIM" which is important for the longevity of an SSD. This is the component I would get most excited about!...)

$200 TOTAL

So that's the list... There is no CD/DVD drive. I would possibly add that on later but for the most part we don't really watch DVDs any more. I would probably just hold-out until blu-ray drives drop even more as the system has all the necessary components for smooth playback. I already have an older wireless keyboard and mouse which would work nicely in the living room.

If I can scratch the money together for this little project you may end up seeing a "How to Build a Dirt Cheap HTPC" article series on here next!



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