HTPC GuideZertz , technodanvan , tacohunter52 - March 15, 2009
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The Graphics Card:
One of the most frequently asked questions is, "What graphics card should I get for my new build?" In the case of an HTPC this should hardly be on any users mind. Onboard video chipsets have improved greatly over recent years, and while they aren't anything you would want to play new games on, they have more than enough power for anything an HTPC should be used for. That being said there are two exceptions:
- If you own a Blu-Ray drive you can opt to offload some of the strain to a dedicated card that supports it.
- If you absolutely must play video games on your HTPC, you'll clearly want a powerful graphics card. I'm not going to go crazy on recommending these, and certainly won't go out of my way to support guys wanting to use two or more cards. The needs of these types of people aren't that of a typical HTPC user. They'd be more suited to a gaming computer with a TV tuner installed.
I really feel purchasing a card without an actual need for it is a waste of money. Not only are they not needed in most cases, they also add extra heat and power consumption. You don't want a huge GTX 295 taking up all the room in your case blocking your airflow. If you're on the fence and not sure what you need, just purchase an appropriate motherboard (and power supply). This way you'll have the option to upgrade in the future.
For the sake of argument, let's say you decide you do need a graphics card. Well first of all you're going to need to figure out which one will best suit your needs. When choosing the proper graphics card for your system, there are a number of considerations:
- First and foremost, you have to make sure it will fit. The chances of a GTX 280 fitting into an HTPC case are somewhat slim (unlike the card itself).
- Make sure the GPU won't block any PCI slots that you may need for something else, such as a sound card or a TV tuner.
- You'll want to make sure the card is equipped with a quiet fan. The ATI series are notorious for having ridiculously loud fans when they spin up, and Nvidia really isn't much better. Aftermarket cooling solutions can fix this problem, but they are usually large and will likely block a couple expansion slots.
- If you'll be playing H.264 encoded DVDs, be sure to balance CPU, and GPU power in your budget. Both ATI and Nvidia offer hardware (and in Nvidia's case software) video playback acceleration, called AVIVO and PureVideo, respectively. Keep in mind that certain software may be required to make these work.
- Ensure that the GPU either comes with or has the appropriate video adapters for your TV.
- Ensure that a proper power supply will fit the case as well as be able to power the card you choose.
These days there are so many graphics cards it could be extraordinarily hard to choose. If you have an older card laying around it should work just fine, if not well there's a lot out there. You can buy a new 4550, or pick up an older 7600gt. Just don't plan on purchasing an older card, because they may be harder to find. For this reason the cards I'll be choosing will be newer, and more easily available.