HTPC Project

A writeup of choosing parts for my black box media computer. Based on my htpc project from last year.

Component List 2009

There is the list. That’s all you need, now go and watch some videos on your custom built xbmc box.

I did get into a few arguments over the component selection. In the end I won. Read on for my rationalizations.


The case is the first decision to make and determined how the rest of the build will progress. I set out a number of goals to achieve.

  • HD video playback capable
  • Small footprint (going in an entertainment center)
  • Near silent operation
  • Under $300 price tag

These goals kept me from going crazy with vacuum displays and built in remote IR receivers or file server racks. I went with a simple case that I fulfilled my needs. A microATX case and a low profile design.

The low profile design causes other issues and limits how much can be crammed in the case. Only MicroATX motherboards may now be considered. All pci boards will have to be low profile or have the ability to be made low profile. The case also only has room for one internal 3.5″ drive and one external 5.25″ drive.


I knew I wanted Nvidia graphics because XBMC was incompatible with ATI at the time (xbmc is now compatible with near everything). I also knew that I wanted onboard graphics.

On board graphics was decided on necessity and pricing. Realizing full well that upgrading the graphics after the initial build is very difficult. The only way to upgrade your graphics is to replace the entire motherboard. The graphics chipset also handles many none graphic operations like your network adapter and must use the RAM of the motherboard. This is called shared memory and can be set to more or less in the bios settings. More is better, so be sure to give your system as much memory as you can while keeping in mind the maximum memory that can be shared.

There are a number of advantages to onboard video.

  1. You do not have to accommodate any extra space for a graphics card.
  2. There are deals to be had with onboard graphics.
  3. The graphics don’t overheat or have a need for a separate fan.

The only other thing I looked for in the motherboard was the proper internal port headers and rear ports available. HDMI, serial, USB, etc…


The last major decision was the cpu. Something to fit a LGA 775 port. I ended up on a celeron. 35W and 65 nm, this thing runs cold. The 1.85Ghz single core may not sound like much, but this is not a gaming machine. It is more than powerful enough to run any video encoding I can throw at it.

On top of that, this line of chips is overclock friendly. So if I ever feel the need for some extra kick, all I would need to do is upgrade the included fan for additional cooling.

Hard Drive

Who needs one? That’s where the 4GB flash drive comes in. There is a custom bootable build of xbmc available on sourecforge for just this purpose. The system runs linux, but you see no linux. The system boots straight to xbmc with zero configuration.

Later on I did switch to a spare small hard drive I had so I could run more applications in the background. Sigh… Ubuntu…


A soundcard is a must. Onboard sound cannot compare with a real sound card. After I finished the build, I plugged my sound system into the onboard audio and compared to the sound card, the output was much quieter and almost muffled.


Not mentioned are the DVD player and RAM. Besides the latency and price, I didn’t really care about these selections.

After putting it all together

Assembly was painless and XBMC LiveUSB V2 runs all hardware as expected with default settings. Only the remote required configuration, needed the lircd.conf file updated.

The cpu is only as powerful as it needs to be for HD playback, but also has a lot of overclocking potential for any future needs.