HTPC GuideZertz , technodanvan , tacohunter52 - March 15, 2009
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- Recording live broadcasts
- Storing/playing back music and movies
- DVD player
- Back up a small DVD collection
- Standard computer feature; i.e. word processing, browsing, etc
The basic HTPC is your entry level computer; nothing special just a basic computer. In fact most any computer from the past 5 years should work. Unless of course you spent these past 5 years dropping it or using it as a drinks coaster, then I'd be surprised if it even turns on. Most current processors will be overpowered for your basic HTPC needs. You'll be hard pressed to find a reason for sticking in an i7. In HTPC's this may be the one case where less is better. The total price of the hardware for this computer should be under $500 (after all, it's basic). So I'd keep the cost of the CPU under $100. $75 will probably suit your needs. Yes, I said earlier it's the most important component in an HTPC and yes, for only a few bucks more you can get a lot more power. However, at this level there is simply no reason to spend the extra money. Note that I said 'small' DVD collection above. I say this because lower powered processors won't be able to compress movies nearly as fast! It could take the better part of 6 hours a piece. Now if you just want to backup a full copy of the movie without compression, this shouldn't be a limitation. I would have added 'home server' to the list above, but while it could stream music and movies throughout your network just fine, it probably would get bogged down if you were actually using the computer for something else at the same time.
If building a new computer, I would choose one of the least expensive dual-core processors you can find. Be it a Celeron or Athlon, either will do the job without complaint.
The Processor - Intermediate HTPC:
- Playing Blu-Ray discs
- Running image enhancements on movies
- Gaming (for at least current games)
- Backing up a moderate DVD collection
- Run a home server
The intermediate HTPC is the prototypical HTPC. This HTPC is usually the result of being built to one's needs, while taking the future into consideration. With the right graphics card it should be able to both effortlessly play Blu-Ray discs and can run moderate image enhancements on movies. The additional power of these HTPC's should also give you the ability to compress movies faster, making backing up your DVD collection more feasible. I'm giving a $150 budget for the processor in this level.
Although AMD CPU's are generally slower then the Intel counterpart, I'd easily choose one for my HTPC. The main reason for this is price. You get what you pay for, and when you buy an AMD CPU you get decent performance for what you need. You can easily buy an AMD quad core for less then an some Intel dual core CPU's. However, even an AMD Quad is a bit much for an HTPC. I'd suggest either a Tri-Core CPU or AMD's new 7750. If I was making one now, I'd go with a Tri-Core Phenom 8650. If your one of those "I hate AMD they need to die" types, a 2.5GHz Wolfdale should do you just fine.
The Processor - High End HTPC:
- Backing up a large DVD collection
- Future-proof (to an extent)
- Gaming (including future games)
- Ummm...Really whatever the heck you can think of
If you're building a rig and calling it a High end HTPC you're insane, but some people just are. At this point you can really pick up any CPU you want, although I'll expect you'll be wanting an extremely powerful high end quad. After all H.264 decoding is a stressful process. Lesser processors may require a good graphics card to offload some of the strain. The processors listed in this category may be able to do this all by themselves. Keep in mind the new quad core AMDs as well as Intel's put out a lot of heat. You will definitely need an aftermarket heat sink for these, especially if you'll be using a small case. If you can control the heat, you can rest assured that you will have enough power to do most anything without the need to upgrade for a considerable amount of time. Personally, I don't see any reason to get this machine unless you absolutely intend to run high definition games without needing to upgrade for some time. I cater for everyone, and enthusiasts are people too.. sort of. My one request is please don't by the $1000 enthusiast-class processor for this. Go ahead and buy a car instead!
For this computer it's a tough call between AMD and Intel. If you're actually going to build this HTPC, you'll want the best. Both companies offer high end quads that would probably not be needed. You could go with one of AMD's new phenom 2, or try out Intel's new space heater, the i7. Keep in mind that there isn't currently a large selection of mATX boards for these CPU's, although you can put the Phenom 2 in an AM2 slot. For a real life HTPC in this class, I'd pick up either Phenom 2 920 or a Q9550. Some of the best mATX boards (if you're going that route) still use AMD processors.