Saturday, August 18, 2012

Home Theatre PC

 HTPC (Home Theatre PC) aka The Media Centre PC

I had a thought, I know that's a dangerous thing to have, never the less I had one, "Wouldn't it be handy to have a HTPC". So I have a spare motherboard and processor, 4Gb of DDR2 memory and a 500Gb hard drive; just need a case. This is where my troubles began. I wanted a full height media centre case because I happen to have a fairly decent 500w power supply that runs fairly quietly, which is essential for a HTPC. Looking around the Net for a case I found loads of ITX and slimline micro ATX form factor cases and one or two very expensive enclosures from the likes of Antec, and Zalman costing upwards of £150, way out of my price range. My requirements were fairly modest, it had to be a black desktop style case to match my TV and peripherals, microATX and have a minimalistic appearance. Front facing USB naturally to accept thumb drives etc. and a card reader would be nice.

I settled on a X-Case Q100 from at £36 + £7 next day shipping well under my £50 budget for a case. Their site has a few reviews mostly positive, it looked the part and came with a remote for Windows Media Centre although it didn't have a card reader it ticked all the other boxes so I took the plunge. true to their word delivered next day.
This case is a strange beast with the power supply surprisingly situated at the front of the case. There is a vent in the case lid immediately above the power supply air intake and it exhausts out of the underside of the case fascia.
Hot air is expelled by two 60mm fans to the rear of the unit roughly where the power supply would be on a more conventional case. It is supposed to be designed for microATX for factor motherboards at (244mm x 244mm), however to fit my Gigabyte GA-MA785GM-US2H microATX board, which is a full 1mm smaller in both dimensions so some percussive maintenance was required. The drive cage encroached on the motherboards turf by 1.5mm so I had to use a large flat blade screwdriver to hammer a slight dent in the upright pillar at the bottom enabling the board a snug fit.

Once I had fitted the motherboard I built the rest of the PC up without much incident although the drive cage wasn't the sturdiest nor easiest I have encountered, so all seemed well at this point.
However booting the machine into the bios it was apparent that cooling was going to be a serious issue. Now was where I discovered the the obvious mistake the designers made, plenty of vents to expel hot air but not enough opportunity for cool air to enter. This results in the screaming fan of my stock AMD cooler running at full blast and spectacularly failing to cool the processor while making my ears bleed. To cure this problem more cool air over the processor was needed so I performed a case modification by installing a 90mm whisper quiet fan in the case lid directly over the CPU cooler to force cool air onto the heat sink and fan, thus turbocharging the cooling. The two 60mm exhaust fans I left in place to expel the hot air and its good to go.

The image above shows the intake vent for the power supply at the bottom and the case mod intake fan I installed above the processor. Quite why are selling what is essentially a seriously flawed product your guess is as good as mine. If it hadn't visually complimented my existing HiFi separates and BlueRay player so well I would definitely returned the unit, but it looks damn good so it stays. One other gripe the blue power led is seriously so bright you could almost read by it in the pitch dark.

Next entry operating system and software for HTPC...

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