Unfortunately, many built-up PC comes with integrated VGA chipset that shared up memory from RAM and it has under average capability. Shared up means that it would consume a great number of RAM and off course it will decrease the amount of RAM that the PC has, the impact is slower performance. For me, a standardize VGA of HTPC must fulfill some specific criteria which are; (1) it should have TV output, (2) low voltage operating – for those who sensitive with electricity bill and (3) contain valuable chipset – so that it can decode DVD smoothly and good enough to play 3D games – Nvidia or ATI is a great choice. So, it’s strongly recommended that you have to supply an additional VGA card based on your appropriate motherboard. Note that you also have to aware with the power voltage needs and how much the VGA will consume it. Its related one to others; more powerful your VGA is, more voltage it needs from the CPU power supply. In my experience, since I still have an active NVidia AGP GeForce 4, so that I planning to find out a Pentium 4 based CPU and motherboard which compatible to the VGA.
Currently, a home theater/hi-fi sold with at least 4.1 sound speaker systems. If your soundcard PC doesn’t have those or you only have 2 or 2.1 speaker system, then get ready to hear joke comes out from your friends. Moreover, hearing music or watching DVD movies or playing games doesn’t seems more pleasant with that, and clearly, you will loose the surround experience. Forget about it if you have 4.1 speakers, but I suggest you to upgrade the soundcard which has at least two output lines (front and rear speaker). Don’t feel troubled with a brand new soundcard, since a second-hand is already enough (as long as it doesn’t break). Fortunately, on current experiment, I still have a C-Media soundcard with different front and rear speaker channel. This configuration is good enough to hear sounds out from speaker (even I only have 2.1 speaker system, I used it as front sound and using both speakers from my TV as rear sound). Maybe I’ll buy a real one in short. Just hope me to do that.
This seems quite difficult to explain since it relatively to other persons: first, it’s a benefit of yours if your PC has a remote control. See, you don’t want too disturbed with the use of wired keyboard or mouse during DVD movie playback or playing games, do you? Also, it will be great if your PC equipped with Bluetooth so that the file transfer from other media will become more easily. To playing around with games, I suggest a gamepad to take control of whole activities. Lots of above consideration will bring your decision to choose whether you need to buy a built-up PC or create a new one. So think before you buy.
So, What are the Built-up Alternatives?
There are a lot of alternative machines you can choose to build your HTPC. Most of them are based with Pentium 4 – sorry, I don’t recommend netbook desktop such as ASUS deskbook or MSI nettop which based on Atom processor since lots of limitation covered on it. Here below I explained (including CPU price only) what may best fit to your room and needs:
|PC DELL OPTIPLEX SX 280|
This CPU kinda small and cute, but it has no any free expansion slots available. Though, this could be your choice if you doesn’t play games lots and you already have a flat LCD TV. This CPU second hand price about US$ 200.
Actually, a brand new of shuttle contain only a basic barebone. But nowadays, many computer shops have sold a complete second hand CPU. This second hand price start with US$ 174, but note that before you made a decision to buy, please check the containing hardware, since the hardware inside may vary.
|PC COMPAQ D51S|
It has two empty PCI card slots only, so an extra GPU card will be impossible. This second hand price US$ 106. I think, this is a great CPU to create a DVR.
|PC HP D530 USDT|
USDT stands for Ultra Slim DeskTop. From it’s small form factor, we can bet that it has no expansion slots either. Although, type AGP 8x Integrated Graphics Processor from Intel Extreme Graphics 2 Shared Video Memory (UMA) is installed on system. This second hand price only US$ 137.
|PC IBM M51 SLIM|
Comes with strong processor - Intel Pentium 4 540 (3.2GHz, 1MB) - and surprisingly, the M51 does feature a PCI-Express slot to allow for graphics card upgrades. Second hand price US$ 169.
Above alternative is only some examples, there are also others brand circulate out up the store such as Samsung, LG, NEC or else. You may find another better complete second hand CPU with reasonable price, more functionality and suitable for your needs. Or you think better to build your self a CPU with weird computer case?
Anyway, after tired turning around all day long on some computer mall, finally I was interesting on Samsung built-up brand. You know that Samsung had released a special purposed PC dedicated to home multimedia entertainment. They called it with Magic Station. This Magic Station actually produced with many series & style (mini tower and slim desktop), but somehow – CMIIW - it was officially introduced only in Korea. If you are considering one of these units, be sure you know which version you are getting. My particular model is MT20 series – a slim desktop style – which is the low profile version. The MT20 is powered by Intel Pentium 4 2.6 GHz with 512 DDRAM, DVD Combo and 40 GB hard drive. All of this cost only US$79.
For second hand CPU, the price is worthless and I’m so pleased with it. Why? Because:
(1) The slim desktop case with cute style is exactly fit on my cupboard
(2) There’s 3 PCI and AGP slot available, so that I can plugged in my AGP card and soundcard on it
(3) There also attractive digital led in front panel showing CPU activity such as power indicator, hard drive, CD player, processor speed and more
(4) On hand soft buttons dedicated to multimedia accessibility under the led panel, helping to play, pause, stop, increasing or decreasing volume during DVD playback or other multimedia activity
(5) The CPU can stand for 2 boot mode; computer and CD player. There’s a switch (at left of the led panel) to turn on CD player mode without activating the operating system
(6) Various digital output port available in front panel, contains 1 USB, speaker line out-in, IEEE 1394, S-Video and video in
(7) It also have memory stick reader on the left bottom of front panel.
(8) The MT20 also fully equipped with eHome infrared transceiver built-in hardware, but I didn’t get the remote control when I buy this unit.
Even though, I can used a Philips DVD remote control to operate the CPU as well as Media Center remote. I though it doesn’t compatible with the frequency but it does. For this purposed, I used a free software named HIP (Human Interface Programming), a better one than Girder, in my opinion.
Maybe I’ll reviewed these both remote control and HIP more deep on the next articles. By the way, I programmed it so that it has the same functionality as common DVD player remote control. To help maintenance and operate this computer, I also attached it with wired mouse and numpad, since there’s no keyboard plugged in.
Anyway, for wide gaming activities, I also attach my HTPC with USB double shock gamepad. Now, it seems my system similar to PlayStation but with better 4.1 sound channels.
Different from my previous experiment with Windows Media Center, now my MT20 installed with Windows XP SP2 Professional Edition. Why XP SP2? The answer is for faster booting. If you want your HTPC look like a DVD player, try to install PowerDVD 9 and let the software started in cinema mode automatically during Windows start up. And here we go, the HTPC now ready to serve us.
Anyway, I don’t know how long does the MT20 will still stand for me since it’s kinda difficult to look out for the spare parts. But if it will broke soon, nothing I buy except a brand new of Magic Station from Samsung. Thrust me…
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