HTPC GuideZertz , technodanvan , tacohunter52 - March 15, 2009
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If the processor is the brain, then the motherboard is it's stem. There are two basic ways to choose the right motherboard for your computer. The following method I DO NOT recommend, but I know some people will do it. The method I'm referring to is going to your favorite online vendor, such as Newegg or Tigerdirect, going into advanced options, and then typing in a price range you're okay with. After you've done that, you choose the cheapest board on the list and build your computer around it. While this works and will definitely get you a motherboard in your price range, it will NEVER be the best way of choosing one. The best method is to actually take into considering what you want.
You still need to consider a price range, and this will limit your overall choices. I consider a suitable price range for an HTPC to be $50-$100. It is extremely easy to spend more or less, so you should decide what you are willing to spend. You'll then need to take a few more things into consideration.
Determining if your CPU is supported is a fairly easy thing to do. Hopefully you'll be using either an AMD or Intel CPU. If not you need to get out of the 70's and go buy one right now! You should be using either an AM2 or LGA775 socket type for your respective CPU's. An older or newer CPU will work just fine, but I will not be talking about them. On top of that I don't think you should be using either an i7 or a Phenom 2 for an HTPC, as it will be an insult to their capabilities. Some older motherboards don't support newer AM2/LGA775 processors so you should check to make sure your CPU is supported. However chances are your LGA775 CPU will work with your LGA775 board.
Expansion slot support:
If you are purchasing either an AM2 or LGA 775 socket type motherboard it should at least have one PCIe X 16 slot. This means support should be a non issue. You will need to make sure that the motherboard you choose can support all the expansion cards you buy. Do not expect six GPU's to fit on one motherboard. Make sure you look at a picture of the motherboard you're considering. This way you'll be able to see the exact number of expansion slots, which types they are, and if something like a GPU will block any. As long as you take your time at this, you'll be able to find the perfect motherboard.
Ealier in this guide, I suggested using only SATA drives, and I'm sticking to that suggestion. This means you'll want to find a motherboard with enough SATA ports to fit all your drives. You should keep in mind that cheaper boards tend to have fewer SATA ports, and even the most expensive mATX boards will only have up to six. I'd suggest getting a six-slot board, but if you find you need more than that, you can pick up an ATX board with ten slots.
This is not the most critical part of choosing a motherboard, but it can take away a few annoyances before they happen. You should look for the following:
- Look at how close the memory slots are to the CPU. You should be sure that your heatsink will not interfere with your RAM placement. You don't want to buy four sticks only to find out you can't use one.
- Where is the secondary power plug located? If your 8-pin EPS 12v plug is located in the middle of the board, it can interfere with wire management. If you don't mind a stray wire in the center of your rig, then this shouldn't be a concern.
- Make sure your precious few SATA ports will not be blocked by anything. This includes a long GPU, although these shouldn't be used in an HTPC in the first place.
- What onboard graphics chipset does the motherboard utilize? If you're planning on purchasing a GPU for your HTPC, this really shouldn't matter. If you're not going to use a dedicated GPU, you will want to know about the chipset and how it performs. I must say I do not like Intel's onboard graphics, and I'm not too fond of the VIA stuff either. I'd suggest getting either a Nvidia or AMD chipset. Something along the lines of a 780G should do you just fine. If you're using an Intel CPU, then I'd get something similiar to a 630i.