Building an HTPC Part 3: A Gaming HTPC

By Mike on 6:35 pm

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TV gaming has long been dominated by consoles. With the advent of HDTVs, this is changing. You can now play your favourite PC games on your TV, and incorporate all your home entertainment needs into one system. For this build, we're going to build a high end gaming HTPC for under $2000.

High End Gaming HTPC

Motherboard: DFI Lanparty Jr X58-T3H6 micro-ATX DDR3 & Crossfire ($290.99 at NCIX only)
Processor: Intel Core i7 920 Nehalem 2.66ghz Quad Core ($349.99)
Memory: G.Skill 4gb (2 x 2gb) DDR3 1333mhz Dual Channel Kit ($105.49)
Graphics: Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 512mb GDDR3 PCIe 2.0 16x ($180.09)
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar WD1001FALS 1TB/7200rpm/SATAII/3.5'' ($161.49)
Disc Drive: LG
GGW-H20LK 6x Blu-Ray Burner/16x DVD Burner ($247.99)
Case: Thermaltake LANBOX Lite VF6000BNS Black ($87.09)
Power Supply:
PC Power & Cooling Silencer S61EPS 610W (124.29)
TV Tuner: Happauge WinTV-HVR 1800 MCE Kit PCIe 1x with Remote ($124.19)
Rosewill RNX-N1MAC 802.11b/g/draft-n USB2.0 Wifi adaptor ($31.39)
Keyboard: Logitech LX 710 Wireless Keyboard with laser mouse ($80.99)
Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 OEM 64-bit ($149.99)

Total: $1822.08

Here it is, the creme de la creme of HTPCs. Yes, this thing can play Crysis. I selected the mighty Core i7 processor, which is currently Intel's high end enthusiast line based on the 45nm Nahelem core. The i7 920 features quad cores running at 2.66ghz. This CPU is incredably powerful and should handle any media or gaming task you throw at it with ease. Be warned that the i7 does run quite a bit warmer than the processors in the other builds so it may be worth it to upgrade to a third party cooler at a later date.
We're still sticking with the micro-ATX form factor, so this really limits us to our motherboard choices. In fact, there is only one micro-ATX board that supports the Core i7 processor and it's new LGA1366 processor socket. That would be the DFI Lanparty Jr X58-T3H. Luckly, this is a full featured board despite it's small size. It even features support for both NVIDIA's SLI and ATI CrossfireX for using up to two graphics cards. It supports up to 24gb of fast DDR3 using six memory slots, as well as tri-channelling. I personally think triple channel RAM is overkill, even for gaming so I went with a 4gb dual channel kit. I'd stick with that until DDR3 prices come down as it is currently double the cost of DDR2. The Lanparty Jr X58-TH3 is not currently for sale on Newegg's Canadian site. It is currently available at NCIX, which is another excellent Canadian online parts retailer. Everything else is from

For graphics, I went with the ATI Radeon HD 4850 from Sapphire. This is not the top end card but I went with it rather than the higher end 4870 for a couple of reasons. First to stay under $2000 but mainly because the 4870 is a massive card and I wasn't sure it was ideal (read "I wasn't sure it would fit in the case") for a small footprint HTPC. The 4850 will also run cooler and quieter and use less energy than it's bigger brother. ATI's cards are ideal for gamers right now as they offer the best bang for buck in terms of performance and features on Windows systems. It should be able to play all the latest games. Since the motherboard supports CrossfireX, a second graphics card can be added at a later date.
For audio, we're sticking with onboard or HDMI passthrough. I originally wanted to add the HT Omega Striker 7.1 mentioned in the last article until I noticed a problem with board layout. Most higher end graphics cards today take up two slots due to their large coolers so either the PCI slot would be blocked or the PCIe 4x one would be. I decided to keep the latter for the TV tuner, judging that to be more important. Using an HDMI capable AV receiver is ideal since the computer will simply pass raw audio data to it and let it do the work.

In terms of media features, I kept everything pretty much the same as with the last build, with the exception of upgrading to a Blu-Ray burner. This means you'll be able to export your homemade HD videos and DVR recordings to a BD-R or BD-RE disc for archival purposes. If you don't think you'll need BD burning capability, you can save $100 by using the Lite-On BD-ROM/DVD-R combo drive from the last build. For case, I've kept the Lanbox Lite though for $13 more, you can get one with decorative LED lights and a clear plastic case window. However, those features are superfluous for an HTPC that will be hidden on a shelf. Once again I stuck with the venerable PC Power & Cooling for the power supply, this time bumping up output to 610w. This is overkill really but it gives plenty of overhead for CrossfireX systems, overclocking, or possible water cooling. The keyboard also received an upgrade and comes with a laser mouse for better gaming performance. It still uses wireless RF though instead of Bluetooth. The high cost for little to no performance difference makes Bluetooth impractical for this sort of setup. Finally, I included a USB2.0 802.11n wifi adapter to cut down on cables while providing high performance for media streaming. One final note regarding the TV tuners. These can only accept unencrypted broadcasts. Unfortunately, there are no PC tuners on the market that are compatible with digital cable and pay-satellite smart card systems.

Well, that's it. Three HTPCs for three budgets. Keep in mind that the parts I've recommended are only guidelines to give you some ideas of what you can assemble for your money. I encourage you to shop around and not just at the stores I've mentioned. Building your own computer is far more rewarding that purchasing factory built models and an HTPC is a great way to get your PC out of the office and into your living room. They provide a more flexible and therefore more satisfying media experience.

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