HTPC GuideZertz , technodanvan , tacohunter52 -
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The Graphics Card (cont'd):
For the purposes of this guide it should be assumed that you purchased a motherboard with onboard graphics. However, if you're using a motherboard without such capabilities the cards listed here should be nice substitutes. These cards are all better than onboard graphics and should give you the ability to play most new games. On lowered settings that is. Ideally the model selected in this segment would utilize passive cooling for silent operation and will cost around $50.
Graphics cards for this level build should primarily be chosen with the intent of playing Blu-Ray discs and some light gaming, as opposed to a large card capable of playing Crysis. Once again I have chosen mainly ATI cards, but that's not to say they are better. Both companies have their pros and cons, one of ATI's pros just happens to be affordability. ATI has done a great job making lower end cards with extremely low costs. It turns out that cheap, decent, low end cards are perfect for HTPC's. Who woulda thunk? The cards I would use in this class of HTPC are as follows.
High End HTPC:
Now for the super crazy ridiculous HTPC class build. In this class you can pretty much use any graphics card you want. If you're going through all the money to build one of these HTPC's, but are still planning on using an HTPC case, you'll definitely run into some restrictions. It is very unlikely you'll be able to stuff any high end cards in an HTPC case, but at this point I don't think you'll be using one. I'm not going to suggest anything bigger than a GTX 260 because, even for a super crazy ridiculous HTPC a GTX 295 is just a bit much. Basically I'll be listing ATI's, and Nvidia's current mid-rangish cards.
None of these cards should even be considered for an HTPC, but I know someone out there is going to try and shove a 4870x2 into an HTPC case. Out of the five cards listed, I'd probably have to choose the GTX 260 BE. Then again I'm pretty sure most people would. For any of the users that are going to use one of these cards in their HTPC case, all I can say is "good luck."
A final note on video cards:
Notice the fan orientation when looking at pictures of the card. Some tend to exhaust hot air to the back end of the card, which means this hot air will be inside your case. As mentioned before, hot air can be a nightmare to remove from the smaller mATX HTPC cases. Note that newer cards exhaust to the front of the case (ie: where you plug in the monitor cable). I always like these better as they take heat from the video card directly out of the case instead of venting back into the case. It is up to which you choose, depending on the brand both designs may be offered. If you aren't worried about blocking an extra slot then I would definitely choose a bigger cooler that moves heat out of the case. In any case, many stock coolers would be too loud for use in an HTPC (in my opinion) making an aftermarket cooler very viable and something you may want to look into.