DIY: A Killer Home Theater PC for $562.92
If you're looking to build a powerful yet affordable home theater PC that won't take up too much space next to your TV, here's a quick list of components to get you started. The idea here is to build a Linux- or Windows-based system for less than the cost of a Mac Mini, and we'll also focus on getting all the parts from the same store. In this case, we went with NewEgg.com* based on its low prices, above-average selection, and low-cost or free shipping (depending on the item). The Mac Mini comes in two versions -- one for $599 and one for $799 -- and the parts listed here can be cobbled together in two configurations that beat both those price points.
Case: hec SECC 7K09 Micro ATX Media Center/HTPC Case ($48.99)
Choosing the right case can actually be one of the hardest parts about building a machine within a certain price range. You have to look at the thing day in and day out, so you don't want an eyesore, but HTPC-specific cases can smash your budget if you're not careful. For this project we'll use the hec SECC 7K09 case which, at just under $50, is more unassuming than anything. The nice big silver power button gives it a component-like look, and we're getting a 270-watt power supply and niceties like thumb screws and the ability to set it up vertically or horizontally. For $48.99, that's a lot of bang for the buck.
Motherboard: JetWay JMA3-79GDG-LF ($94.99)
This JetWay motherboard accepts most AMD AM2, AM2+, and AM3 CPUs and features just about everything we need for an HTPC right out of the gate: HDMI/DVI/VGA outputs, 8-channel audio with optical and coax outputs, an ATI Radeon HD 3300 GPU, up to 8GB of DDR21066 RAM, six USB ports, two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots plus a PCI Express x1 slot and standard PCI slot, six SATA ports, RAID support, and CrossFire compatibility all for under a hundred bucks.
Processor: AMD Athlon X2 4850e 2.5GHz ($55.99)
There are plenty of other CPU options out there but we're trying to stay inside a budget, and the $56 Athlon X2 4850e offers a compelling mix of price, performance, low power consumption, and quietness. The 45-watt dual-core CPU should be able to keep everything humming along smoothly and won't wake the neighbors by forcing you to turn up the volume on your TV to drown out fan noise.
Hard Drives: Two 1TB Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EADS drives ($94.99 each, 189.98 total)
We're going for capacity and performance here, so the 32MB of cache and the 3GB/second throughout these big Western Digital drives offer ought to fit the bill just fine. You can set them up in a RAID array if that suits you or leave them to operate as standalone drives. The two terabytes of storage should come in handy for recorded and downloaded videos, especially high-definition content.
If you're feeling adventurous, the motherboard we're using can take up to 8GB of RAM but this 4GB kit should be more than enough to run media center-type software smoothly. This particular kit is apparently pretty stable too, which is a good thing when you're trying to make it through a few feature-length movies on a rainy Saturday afternoon. That, or doing a little overclocking.