Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Build of the new HTPC

This post describes Friday's build of my new Home Theater PC. Any of the images can be clicked to see a larger version in a new window.

Friday pretty much went off as planned. After leaving work I headed over to the accountant, picked up and paid for mine and my oldest son's tax returns, and headed home. As Scott and Danielle had after school activities, I decided since the parts for my new Home Theater PC had arrived Wednesday, it was high time to get started! While still feeling a bit washed out, I was finally up to the task.

And so it begins.....

As usual, I used the dining room table. First I unpacked and opened the case for the new unit, and then the Power Supply. It's been awhile, I must admit, since I build a system from scratch. Thanks to eBay and some motivated sellers the previous HTPC I sold, and the current one soon to be, I was able to acquire them at prices that simply could not be beat. Both of them were not top of the line, but were powerful, full featured, and worked well.

Since i had tax money coming, and money from my Dad's (brief pause here while I miss my dad yet again) estate, I decided this time it would be close to top of the line. So, the new system features some really good components though on the Video card and CPU I did not go top of the line. The $299 i7 quad core CPU is he entry level i7 CPU with the top of the line being over $1,000. Same the the video card, I could have paid almost double for that.

The VisionTek Radeon HD 4870 with HDMI output

They are however state of the art and will certainly far outperform what I have now. I will do a 3dMark of the current and new system and post them at a later date.

Mary had a little RAM...this creature has 6 GB of Triple Channel RAM!

So, with case open and parts to install, I began what was to become an epic journey in frustrations! I a using an HTPC case the is not quite a small form factor, but it is not a full sized case. I wanted to void the look a HTPC that resembled someone taking a desktop tower case, turning it on it's side, and calling it an HTPC.

This means that space inside the case is VERY tight! Millimeters to spare in some instances, NO SPACE AT ALL to spare in others.

Tails is stunned by the tight confines of the HTPC Case

So, first, with Tails assisting (she had to get into everything!) I mounted the power supply followed by the other board. Next the hard disk. Then came the first gotcha! While the motherboard fit perfectly in the case, the SATA hard disk connectors were mounted right on the edge and were right angled which means you needed enough room to plug in the cables. There was no way this would ever happen! So, I plugged in on cable for the drive, one for DVD, and then mounted the board which barely fit. Those cables cannot be unplugged without removing the motherboard.

Tails sniffs out a potential space problem for the CPU cooler!

At this point Danielle called. it was just after 4:30 and she had told me she'd need to be picked up at 5:30. I called her brother who was up at the school and asked him to pick her up and head home. 5 minutes later i decided to double-check with Danielle and she said Scott thought I told him I was coming up. As we had been planning in any event to go to dinner at Ming 10 after i picked Danielle up, I got ready to go. I put the cover on the HTPC and boxed up small items as Tails had been getting into everything, and i headed out.

I called Scott and told him I was on my way and we met at Ming 10. We had a nice dinner, Scott and i having a couple of helpings of their cooked to order lo-mein with grilled chicken. He headed off to hang with friends, and Danielle and I stopped at her Mom's so she could get stuff for the weekend as a big snowstorm was forecast. I chatted up the X and gave my son Chris, who had come home for the weekend, a hug which he returned!

Danielle and I stopped at Forest Hills Foods and got enough food for the weekend just in case the weather was as bad as they said. We headed home. I continued working on the PC while Danielle played Left 4 Dead.

The PC install was coming along fine. I installed the three 2 gigabyte ram modules and then the video card which fit, with millimeters to spare.Next i ran all the power cabling. The motherboard requires three power connectors and two on the video card.

Tails double-checks the jumper settings on the Motherboard

It was now time to do power on test! I got a display from my office, connected power and the display, and pushed the power button!

POST! (Power on self test). The system came up! I turned of the power as i had nor yet mounted the CPU cooler. I wanted to insure everything was working first, and then decided I might as well mount the DVD drive before doing the cooler.

At this point it was time for a break, so Danielle and I watched Ugly Betty from Thursday and then we played some left 3 Dead. Scott arrived home around 9 PM and then around 9:30 we watched the season finale of Monk which was very good. Danielle headed off to bed, and Scott headed downstairs to play F.E.A.R. 2, and of course I headed back to the PC.

I had done a lot of research and ended up talking to the folks at VisionTek about the video card to make sure of the length, and the folks at Antec, as to the dimensions of the case and power supply. Regarding the power supply I wanted, because this is the heart of a high end system, I was told "Yea, it will fit....just barely, though you may have a bit of trouble getting it in their with the DVD drive. It can be done!"

Yes, it can be, but he should have added "With a crowbar!" WHAT A ROYAL PAIN. There was no way, with the length of the DVD drive I had, and the power supply which mounts directly in back of the DVD drive, to fit. The is complicated with the angled mount for the DVD drive which has to drop in on an angel, and then swing about 45 degrees to mount flush with the drive access door on the front of the HTPC case. It was so tight, and after repeated failures, I was even contemplating on seeing if I could get a supply with the same current rating that was a bit smaller.

The bundle of wires coming out of the power supply made this just impossible! The power supply can be mounted upside down which puts the nexus of the wire bundle on the other side, still in line with the DVD drive, but with enough room where I could lay each cable flat against the power supply case. Mounted the other way the cabled nexus was right next to the access port to the rest of the cases, so it made a large bulge that could not be flattened out. By using this method, and partially removing the front of the case to give me just a hair of wiggle room, I was finally, after putting on a pair of padded gloves to protect my hands from the amount of pressure I was using on the metal cage holding the drive, able to get the drive and power supply installed. This took about two extra hours because to turn the supply over I had to disconnect and pull back all the cabled I had previously run.

Whew! The guy was right! It could be done....just barely!

I now had the fun of rerunning all the power supply cables, but the system was functional. It was not about 12:30 so I quickly broke out the replacement Vista SPI kit I had gotten from Microsoft awhile back and was delighted to find it had 32 AND 64 bit versions! I now had 64 bit hardware so I put in the install DVD and booted off of it, and the system came up to the "Let's install Windows!" screen.

I turned off the HTPC and Monitor and headed off to bed at 1 AM.


David Louis Harter said...


That is an excellent HTPC, my friend! You are fortunate to have had the assistance of Tails, since it would otherwise have been difficult to assemble it. Tails' relatively small paws must have been a great asset!

Enjoy the new unit!

- David

Chris said...

David - I had a very frustrating hour or so where I did not think the power supply and DVD drive were going to fit. It was most frustrating, but I was quite proud of myself when I did get it all together.

I am now working on the new HTPC loading software, drivers, etc!

It is also installed in the Entertainment System Cabinet!

David Louis Harter said...


I can understand your annoyance and frustration. I have experienced similar issues and did not enjoy them--particularly since they lessened the enthusiasm I had prior to the problems!

I am pleased that all is well now and that you can relax and enjoy your new unit!

- David

Chris said...

David - I knew you would understand. I was pleased I did not lose my temper or curse like a sailor!

Or throw expensive equipment about!

I was doubly pleased when I got it to fit.

I will NEVER take the power supply or DVD drive out unless one of them fails!!