01 September, 2009

My Home Theatre PC - Oh yeah! (Part 1)

My home theatre PC - or the centre of my world is finally up and running. It is a very long story and I will only give you highlights.

The aim was to own a PC which would do the following
1) Play movies/DVDs/CDs and also TV
2) Play music
3) Be a living room centrepoint and not a study room artifact (aka Look cool)
4) Be silent
5) Surf the internet
6) Have a remote in place of a mouse and a wireless keyword
7) Download everything
8) Record everything including TV shows (without ads)
9) Cost less than $1000
10) Run on open source but without any compromises

(Note how gaming is missing from the list above)

It took me 18 months to finally decide upon what I needed to buy. After that, I needed about 4 weeks to get everything in one place and about 5 hours to assemble it.This is what I came up with.
There is a lack of many such options in India except for some boxes which I saw on ebay. They were usually intel based and were not really close to the kind of system I had in mind. I was also not able to find too many systems in the US which I liked, though there is a lot of choice. I found this where the computers ranged from $429 to $3299, all were Intel based (nothing against intel but I think you can get the same computing power for lesser on AMD), had things which I rather not pay for (touchscreens, warranties, expensive video cards) and did not have things which I would have wanted to have.

The writing was on the wall - To get what I want, I had to make it myself.
I had to assemble my own computer. Computer engineer I am, but I am and have always been concerned with bigger issues
(Always tended more towards the later Vinod Dham and less towards his earlier days when he designed the pentium chip) and have been able to live for 4+8 years (college,since college) without assembling a single computer. In any case, I had to do what I had to do and I dived in for quite detailed research on the following items:

Motherboard and chip
You have to decide on the motherboard and the chip together. Gone are the days when all chips went into all motherboard for a particular type (long long gone). AMD and Intel both have their own families. Motherboards do a lot nowadays. They have on-board sound and video cards (which means that if you like, you dont have to buy these cards separately), support for a lot of input and output formats (HDMI, DVI, VGA, Stereo, Digital Audio and so on) and give power to cooling fans, Hard discs etc.
I chose an Asus motherboard - not top of the line, but with excellent reviews and with support for a 3.0Ghz AMD chip. The motherboard has three features which I really liked
- You can surf the internet, listen to music, play DVDs without loading windows if you like
- You can shut down parts of the CPU if you want to cut down power consumption
- You can run a memory chip of speeds upto 1033Mhz
The chip I selected was the AMD quad core Phenom 940. (What it means is a quad core chip with a speed of 3.0Ghz)

The PC cabinet has to to look good, make less noise, dissipate heat and support a remote while housing a lot of things inside it - chip, motherboard, power supply, hard disc(s), CD/DVD/Blue ray drive(s). The cabinets can only support motherboards of a particular size and form factor (ATX or miniATX) and also have a fixed number of hard disc and drive bays. They also can house a power supply of a given size and have a fixed number of fans for cooling. They have to have a particular design and noise absorbing components.
I chose an Antec cabinet - dull black, with separate internal compartments for power, HDD and motherboard, 3 fans, a small LCD display, a volume control knob and an i-mod remote.

(Still to write about - Power supply, TV card, Software, Final configuration)

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