Posts Tagged ‘htpc’

HTPC Project

Friday, February 6th, 2009

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.

Home Theater PC w/ XBMC

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

The idea here is to build a pc from scratch that’s sole purpose is to play HD or HR videos using a port of XBMC. All for under $300.

Xbox Controller Port Modification

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

Adding Xbox controller ports to your computer, so you don’t have to use an adapter to plug them in. Click More Info for the full guide

I take no responsibility for the accuracy of this information, or any damage caused by the instructions of this guide. (I’ve always wanted to say that)

Materials Needed:

  • A pc with an internal USB header (or front USB ports)
  • A free 5 1/4 inch drive bay
  • A blank drive bay face plate
  • Spare xbox controller port pair
  • 4 or 8 wire cable (shielded recommended)
  • Small piece of wood (5″ x 1″ x 1″)
  • Wood screws

Tools Needed

  • Philips screw driver
  • Solder gun (optional)
  • Glue gun (optional)
  • Heating knife* or Dremel tool
  • Sand Paper
  • Wire cutter
  • Wire stripper
  • Drill
  • Drill bit of proper size to use with wood screws chosen

*A heating knife is just a normal knife that is ruined from being heated up. Has heat and warp marks. Take this knife and hold it over a strong flame until it becomes hot. It may now be used to cut plastic. Don’t inhale the fumes because the black smoke produced is poisonous.


Measure and trace around the controller ports onto the face plate. A heating knife is used to cut away at the face plate following inside the tracing marks. You may use a dremel tool to cut these holes instead. Make the holes just large enough that we may place the controller ports snuggly in them. If using the heating knife you may also want to use the sand paper to sand down the bubbled edges caused from the melting. Hold the wooden block up to the back of the face plate and place the controller ports on top. arrange them so the controller ports will protrude from the face plate the desired distance. Using the controller port’s built in screw holes as a guide make a mark. These marks are where we must make screw holes using the drill and bits. The holes must be approximately the same depth as the screws. This process prevents the wood from cracking when we screw into it. You may screw the controller ports to the wood block at this time. Next very carefully drill a hole just under each of the controller ports. Drilling through the face plate first then the wood block. You want to drill low enough not to drill into the controller ports but high enough that you are not to close to the edge of the block. You may now screw the block to the face plate. For aesthetics you may wish to paint over the screws with the appropriate color for your case. Don’t insert back into the pc yet, we still got to wire this thing up.


Solder the controller ports to the 8 wire cable. If you have a 4 wire cable just use two lengths of it. It shouldn’t matter if you use shielded cable or not, but just to be on the safe side I did. You can wire the other end of the cable to either the USB header on the motherboard or splice it in with USB ports on the case.

Option 1 – The USB header

It’s not recommended that you solder directly to the USB header. What you need to find is a USB header connector and solder to that then place it on your USB header. Wire arrangement is as pictured follow the table (below) for proper connections to the xbox controller ports.

Note: A Firewire (IEEE1394) header looks identical to a USB header. Refer to your motherboard manual to differentiate them.

Option 2 – The USB port Splice

This is much simpler. Just cut the insulation of the wire going to the USB port and solder the correct wire to it. Be careful not to mix up controller port 1’s, and controller port 2’s wires. This table will help you properly match each wire.

Contact Number Signal Name PC Color XBOX Color
1 USB1 VBUS Red Red
2 USB1 D- White White
3 USB1 D+ Green Green
4 USB1 GND Black Black
5 USB1 Sense Not Connected Yellow
6 USB2 Vbus Red Red
7 USB2 D- White White
8 USB2 D+ Green Green
9 USB2 GND Black Black
10 USB2 Sense Not Connected Yellow
Shield Shield Drain Wire Drain Wire

After Thoughts

When inserting this back into my case I noticed that the controller ports were upside down. This was not a problem for my design, but you may want to take it into consideration.

Also you may wish to make the block of wood a bit longer then you see in the picture. Long enough to insert partially into the drive bay. During testing when you insert a controller into the port the force exerted on the modified bay cover is sufficient to push the whole thing off it’s latches and into the pc. I fixed this by attaching the wood block directly to my pc case with a wood screw through the drive bay slots. The down side to doing this is one must remove this screw before I can remove the front of my case housing.