New Home Theater PC

Last weekend, we finally decided to order the components for and build a new home theater PC (HTPC) for running MythTV (DVR software). We really have a need for two computers to perform this function: one for the home theater on the third floor and the other for the family room that we’re setting up in our sun room, but we decided to start with building just one and see how it works out before buying the parts for a second.

Ideally, we would have preferred to run all of the AV cables from the server in our basement straight to the televisions (eliminating the need for the frontend PCs like the one we just built), but our TVs were just too spread out and fishing wires through the walls of our nearly 100-year-old home presented too great of a challenge, so we had to give up on that idea. A couple of weeks ago, we found a feasible solution for wireless networking that we decided to go with for streaming the video recordings from the MythTV backend server in our basement to a frontend PC located nearer to the TVs, but we still needed the frontend PC(s) to make it all work. And that’s what we built last weekend.

Here’s a picture and the specs for the new computer we built:


  • CPU – Intel Pentium E2200 2.2 GHz Allendale Dual-Core
  • Motherboard – Gigabyte GA-73PVM-S2H with on-board:
    • nVidia GeForce 7100 graphics chipset with HDMI out
    • gigabit ethernet
    • 8-channel surround sound output
  • System Memory – 1 GB
  • Storage – SYBA SD-CF-2IDE-U IDE to Compact Flash Adapter and 4GB Compact Flash Card
  • Power Supply – Antec earthwatts EA340
  • Case – Silverstone Silver Micro ATX GD02S HTPC Case

The computer is actually pretty low spec, but there are a couple of cool things about it. First, it’s housed in a case that’s meant for home theater PCs, so it looks less like a computer and more like a stereo component. Even though the plan is to not have it be visible, this should make it blend in with the rest of our AV equipment a lot better. Second, we used a 4GB compact flash card in place of a hard drive, which cuts down on heat and noise … and it turned out to be a bit cheaper too. Since we’re running a trimmed down Linux install, we really didn’t need that much space and this provides a neat, solid-state alternative that the computer doesn’t even have to know about since the adapter plugs in just like any ordinary IDE hard drive.

Assembling the components was pretty straight-forward. The only challenge we really ran into was getting the button on the case for the DVD drive to line up with the button on the drive itself. We wound up super-gluing another piece of plastic to the case to make it work better. It wasn’t a big deal, but it would have been nice if the case had been designed to work with a larger selection of DVD drives. As far as the software install, on this and all of our other Linux computers, we run the Gentoo distribution of Linux, which has always worked pretty well for us. With this build, though, we had trouble getting the LiveCD to work and wound up having to install off of the system restore disk to get support for some of the hardware components – like the SATA DVD drive – which we thought was pretty weak. The difficulty we had with Gentoo on this build will definitely make us consider a different distribution next time around.

So far, though, we’ve been testing the new PC out on the third floor (in the home theater we’re using as a family room until our furniture for the sun room arrives) and it’s been working pretty well. We still need to tweak a couple things with the boot loader (GRUB is giving us error 25 randomly on start-up), set up a remote control to work with it so we don’t have to be tied to the keyboard, and get it moved into the cabinet with all of the other components. For now, though, it’s up and running … and we’re really enjoying being able to watch all of our favorite television programs without all of the skipping!

Filed Under: Home Technology

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