For the past few months, I've been using my Dell Inspiron 9300 laptop to steam video to my home theater. It works well for 720p videos and below, but totally chokes on 1080p. Also, it only outputs stereo audio, and I wanted to output 5.1 channel surround sound.
That's why I decided to build a HTPC. Ii needed to decode 1080p video, so a fast CPU was a must. The video card was less of a concern. I also wanted it to fit nicely in my TV stand, so I went with the smaller microATX form factor motherboard and case. The case is also shorter than normal, which means only low-profile cards will fit in the expansion slots (not a problem since I'm not using any expansion slots). Loudness was also a concern, but not a major factor.
Update: More pretty pictures! (with comments inline)
The components that I bought (total cost around $500):
- Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 @ 3GHz
- GIGABYTE motherboard with NVIDIA GeForce9400 graphics
- hec microATX case with 270W power supply (has HDMI and optical S/PDIF outputs)
- Seagate 1.5 TB hard drive
- USB wireless adapter
- 2 x 1GB memory
- 250GB hard drive
- Optical drive (borrowed to install Windows XP)
I was hoping to get better performance by overclocking the CPU (Intel Core 2 CPUs are nicely overclockable), however I ran into some problems that I think are caused by the integrated GeForce9400 not being able to keep up with the faster FSB. The end result is that the system failed even a minor overclock from 3GHz to 3.2GHz. Compared to building my first computer, which I was able to overclock from 2.4GHz to 3.3GHz, this is terrible.