Building of my HTPC

July 7th, 2009

When a peon got a TV, he will need a signal source, and the best signal source is PC, IMHO. To put PC in the living room along with TV, it should at least be small enough and quiet enough, and generate no mosaics or blue screens. That’s not really an easy task. I hadn’t built a PC myself for a while (well, you know, a peon in the family of two toddlers tends to act lazy). Since I’d like to try out the photo feature of my new Nokia 5310, so I took some pictures during the building of the HTPC. Unfortunately I forgot to remove the protection film on the lens, so, err, well, I’m sorry that they are quite blurry 😀

I chose Zotac IONITX-D-E as my motherboard. It’s built on top of NVidia ION chipset and Intel Atom 330.

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The assessories come with the motherboard are more than sufficient. If the SATA cables were low-profile, that would be better.
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The motherboard was very hard to find. I put an order on Amazon for the pre-order, and waited for two weeks without any responses. Patient is never a good virtue for pre-orders, so I went to Excaliber PC to place my orders. Excaliber PC has very good services comparable to Newegg and I’d recommend them if you need to do business with them. Corsair 2GBx2 1.9V DDR2 are the memory. Although Zotac said the motherboard required 1.8V RAM, I did not have a single problem with the Corsair 1.9V RAM. I use Apex MI-100 as my case and I don’t think this is a wise choice. The depth on spec is 11.8 inches, but this does not include the panel. As a result, when you put panel on, and attach HDMI cable and wireless antenna on the back, the total length will be a little bit over 13 inches, which is the standard size of TV cabinets.

It’s not too hard to assemble everything. The PSU of Apex MI-100 will block the motherboard installation:
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So it must be removed in the very beginning:
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The PSU is very quiet and I can barely hear its sound. Unfortunately, the position of the PSU will block the chipset fan of Zotac (which is very noisy, BTW):
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So I removed the chipset fan for better clearance:
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And install a silent 8cm fan on the side of the case:
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Unfortunately, installation of the fan will block the designated hidden 3.5″ hard drive area, so I had to install the hard drive in the other visible 3.5″ bay, which was intended for placing card reader. I am reluctant to return it because there were not many choices for ITX cases and you can’t ask too much for a $54 case.

I’ve installed Windows 7 Ultimate RC2 and everything became immediately usable. Yes, no need to install anything from Zotac CD-ROM. There’s a trick to hook TV on the HDMI port: you’ll need to boot using VGA, hook the HDMI cable and let Windows 7 find the drivers, then power off the PC, unhook VGA, and reboot. My Toshiba REGZA has overscan issues when it was hooked on HDMI port. (Overscan means the edges of screen are cut off several pixels.) The solution is to put the TV in game mode. Stress test of this PC for eight hours showed that the top temperature of the chipset was 60 Celcius, which is not bad. Zotac is notorious for not being able to wake from USB, so I’m forced to think something else to let Windows 7 sleep correctly.

I did not encounter any playback issue after installing k-lite codec, and the playback is extremely smooth. Windows 7 runs flawlessly on this little box. Compared to my EEEPC 1000, which run Windows XP on Atom 270 with noticable delays, this little box really rocks. Aero effect? No problem. Direct 3D is not as good as today’s desktop but still acceptable.

My configuration:

Zotac IONITX-D-E $215.62 tax and shipping included
Corsair XMS2 4GB (2x2GB) $46.99
Apex MI-100 $53.99
WD Green 1TB HDD $88.95
LiteON DVD+-RW $0 already owned
keyboard & mouse $0 already owned
Sunon 8cm quiet fan $0 already owned
HDMI cable $0 already owned
Total $405.55

I’m not satisfied with the limited range of my wireless keyboard and mouse, so I might go shop for something that have better ranges. The configuration is pretty affordable and smooth enough, and it should be also suitable for light users like my parents.

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