We take a look at the top individual components needed to build the best media centre PC you can.
A media centre PC needs to be built within a certain set of guide lines. It should blend in with its surroundings, it needs to be quiet, it needs to be fast, and if you’re anything like me, it needs to be fast enough to stream to my iPad, Xbox 360, ATV2 and iPhone on the fly, all at the same time, while downloading and acting as a file server.
Core System: $1,742
CPU: Intel i5 2500K –$239
Being a media machine, you'll want the fastest video playback and conversion. Intel has really raised the bar with the GPU in their Sandy Bridge chips. While not stellar for gameplay, nothing comes close within this price range for video encoding. Also means you don’t need to buy a video card and can spend the money elsewhere.
CPU Cooler: Stock - $0
Stock cooler is fine for this application, in both cooling and noise. This is something you need to think about when building a media box. Noise. The stock cooler, with the motherboard’s fan controller activated is usually all you need, but correct case choice is also part of the equation.
Video card: HD3000 Intel GPU - $0
The HD3000 GPU is available only in the K Series of Sandy Bridge CPUs, and since it’s only a few dollars more than the non-K CPUs, it's kind of a no brainer. Even though it might not be up to playing some of the more recent games, it has been optimised for video encoding, which is perfect for a media box.
NEW -- Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z77M-D3H - $139
Intel’s newest s/1155 chipset, and from all reports it is a little faster and slightly better on power. A little bit of power-saving can’t be a bad thing for a machine designed to be left on 24/7. In this day and age, every little bit counts. It also fully supports the new Ivy Bridge chip, tipped for release soon.
Memory: 2x Corsair CMV4GX3M1A1333C9 4GB ($25 each) - $50
RAM is so cheap these days. 8GB RAM, less than $60, crazy. With this much RAM you won’t have any trouble running everything, all at once.
NEW -- Hard drive: 4x WD Green 2TB WD20EARX ($149 each) - $596
4x WD 2TB HDDs, in RAID 5: that’s 6 terabytes of redundant space and that should be enough to hold all your media, while doubling as a full file server. Before you say "that’s too much space" you’ll find pretty quickly that there’s no such thing as too much space.
PSU: CoolerMaster Silent Pro M600 600W - $115
Ultra high-quality, ultra-quiet power supply, with more than enough power for this application, even if you plan to add more hard drives.
Case: Lian Li PC-C60B Black USB 3.0 HTPC Case Black - $229
You just have to look at this case to see that it exudes quality, in typical Lian Li style. A better quality HTPC case you won’t find, and it's complete with USB 3.0, 3x 14cm fan spots, and able to run 6x 3.5in drives and 3x 2.5in drives.
Optical Drive: Pioneer BDR-207DBK Blu-Ray Disc Writer OEM - $129
It wouldn’t be a media box if it couldn’t play or burn Blu-rays, and they are cheap. Not long ago you would be lucky to find a writer for less than $300, now they are sub-$150.
Capture Card: Avermedia AVer3D CaptureHD - $145
This is a media box with everything, and the Aver3D is one of the most affordable full 3D capture cards on the market. Lets you watch the footy in full 3D! Obviously you will require a 3D TV or compatible monitor to watch 3D content.
Cooling: 2x Silverstone 140mm Air Penetrator ($25 each) - $50
There is more to fan choice than just air flow. The C60B case works best with a positive air pressure set. That means instead of sucking the hot air out of the case, cool air is forced in to displace the hot air. The Air Penetrator fans may not move insane amounts of air, but due to their frame design, they have a high static air pressure. This means that more air is forced into the further reaches of the case.
Core system cost - $1,742