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My Intel Core i3 Home Theater PC

My first HTPC

I’ve been talking about it all year and this summer I finally broke down and started purchasing the parts for a Home Theater PC. I’ve had the shopping list made for months and over the last two I have slowly acquired them to build the HTPC. I wanted to cover my experience putting the HTPC together in detail in this post.

Some of the reasons for building a HTPC were mainly for extreme flexibility and the ability to custom tweak things the way I wanted. Having a browser on your TV gives you every experience you have watching video on your laptop right on your TV. Also, over the past few years, media center software has been popping up such as Boxee, XBMC, and Miro. They all do different things, some better then each other so having the HTPC is a nice little project to try them all and get into a nice media consuming groove.

I’m also not a cable TV subscriber and do not plan to be any time soon. Streaming video is taking off these days and I can get more out of the internet bill that I already pay for by using the HTPC. Most of TV is crap anyway so I am not missing much and don’t feel left out when some friends are talking about the newest episode of Jersey Shore. Yes, building the computer costs a few hundred bucks but in the long run, the savings of not paying cable work out in the end.

Here is a list of all the parts for the initial build:

I wanted to build a small computer that would fit easily in the shelves under my TV. The Apex MI-008 case seems to fit the bill and is about the size of a shoebox. I was worried about its small size and how the components are placed inside. The build is tight, real tight. But with careful placement of components and well run wires, the computer stays cool and I’m not worried at all about it.

Below, I will go through the build with some notes and pictures. Click on the picture for a larger view. There are more pictures in the lightbox gallery that loads, just click the prev and next tabs to see them. Also, as a warning, the pictures were taken after I did some experimenting on putting the computer together and then taking it apart. The pictures are not fresh out of the box but you will get the general idea.

The black Apex MI-008 case and included parts. Inside the case were:

  • pan head screws (x8)
  • truss head screw (x2)
  • philips-head screw (x6)
  • plastic hard drive mount rails (x2)
  • motherboard speaker
  • rubber case feet (x4)
  • plastic zip tie (x1)
  • 6 foot power cord

The next step I took was to disassemble the case in order to place the components inside. The cover is held in place by four screws in the back. After taking those out, the cover slides off. The power supply is also held in place by four screws. Taking those out allows you to remove the power supply.

Here are all the connectors off this power supply, with a picture included.

  • 1 x Main connector (20+4Pin)
  • 1 x 12V(P4)
  • 3 x peripheral
  • 2 x SATA
  • 1 x Floppy

Here are the wires for the front input panels and front bezel. Click the images for a gallery with more pictures and details. The front I/O panel has two USB ports and the usual audio and mic jack. The front bezel has connectors for the power button, hard drive LED light and power LED light.

We still have more to take apart. The front bezel can be removed for loading components into the front bays. The bezel clips into four spaces, one on each corner. You can lift them out of place and push the bezel out for removal.

Next, I took the motherboard out of its box, the Intel DH57JG. Leaving it on the static bag that it was wrapped in, I decided to install the memory, CPU, and the CPU cooler before putting it into the case. Below is a picture of the Intel motherboard with the Mushkin 2 GB DIMM, Intel core i3 processor, and stock CPU cooler installed.

Next, I installed the rear I/O cover and placed the motherboard into the case. The I/O cover snaps in pretty easily. It took a bit of force to get it in, but once it snaps in, the finish is clean. The motherboard is placed in the case and held down with four screws.

At this point there is an issue that everyone should be aware of with this particular setup. If you put the power supply back into the case you may see something that is cause for concern. The CPU cooler that came with the Intel core i3 processor may be too big for this case. With the power supply back in the case, the CPU cooler sits very, very close to it. It may not bother some but I did not want to force any components into this case and apply any pressure against the heatsink fan.

In that case, I decided to purchase a lower profile CPU cooler, the Silverstone NT07. This cooler gave me a little more clearance. This is optional for your own install of course. Go through the pictures below to see the difference.

I installed the hard drive differently then what the case instructions said to. The Apex MI-008 can hold a 3.5 inch hard drive using the plastic rails to mount the drive vertically along the side. You can also fit a 2.5 inch drive in the floppy drive bay. I decided to put my 2 TB 3.5 inch drive in the floppy drive slot instead. The drive sticks out more then would a smaller drive but it works for me.

Installing the DVD drive is pretty straight forward. The only detail worth mentioning is that the case has an adjustable button on the inside so that the button on the front bezel comes into contact with the eject button on your drive.

Now that the two front bays are full, we can reattach the front bezel. Next, I connected the wires from the front to the motherboard. This includes the USB ports, the power switches and lights, and the HD Audio connectors.

As a connection reference, Intel provided this quick reference sheet which really helped with properly connecting everything to the motherboard. It may be easier to refer to this then my pictures and details.

Next, I connected the SATA data wires from the hard drive and DVD drive to the motherboard. Two wires were included with the Intel DH57JG. I think it is very important to run these cables nicely after you have connected them. I pulled them toward the front of the case and held them together with some velcro.

After this, I attached some of the connectors from the power supply into the motherboard and other peripherals. Initially, I made the mistake of not attaching the additional 4 pin connector where the main power connection goes, which I fixed later. At this point, I have not yet put the power supply back in the case.

I also connected the 120 mm fan that I will install on the side of the case. The fan fits snugly where the 3.5 inch hard drive is supposed to go. Spin the fan manually to make sure that there is nothing blocking it from spinning.

Finally, I was ready to put the power supply in the case and slide the case cover back on. You have to be really cafeul with the wires and make sure they run cleanly and away from moving fans. I tried my best to get them towards the front of the case where there was lots of room under the hard drive. Like I mentioned earlier, this build is a really tight fit.

Some final notes:

  • I had problems first booting up the system and after some extensive troubleshooting I found out that I had a bad DIMM. I kicked myself for choosing the cheapest deal on NewEgg’s website with free shipping only to have to send the part back and get it replaced. I had to wait about ten days for this whole thing to happen. The replaced part now works fine. I don’t know Mushkin’s quality record but after getting a bad DIMM the first time, I will not be buying from them if I decide to upgrade to more memory in the future.
  • Like I mentioned in the post, I forgot to connect the 4 pin additional connector next to the main power connector. Double check that all connectors are accounted for and properly connected.

I’m really getting into tinkering with the system and it is slowly turning into a great gaming, media, TV machine. I’ll save other issues and topics with this HTPC for the future.

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9 comments for “My Intel Core i3 Home Theater PC

  1. Manuel Monserrate
    August 24, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Coolness.. what is your software stack? I have an old PC that I am thinking of turning into an HTPC (which would definitely not fit inside a TV stand, but that’s what I got today).

    Cool finish, looks like a product you could sell 🙂

  2. Leo
    August 24, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Manuel, I set up a dual boot system with Ubuntu 10.04 and Windows 7. This Lifehacker article was pretty much my guide on that topic, http://is.gd/eB4Qe. Love me some Lifehacker!

  3. Adam
    August 24, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    Man, when this popped up in my Google Reader feed I got so excited. I’m definitely impressed, and it looks great. I too love Lifehacker (thanks to your recommendation).

  4. Ileana Vila
    September 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Just read your writings here Leo and I am very impressed. I want to fire Time Warner (at least for the cable tv portion of it) but unfortunately I still can’t get the sports that Vicente needs specially for college football and basketball (i.e. ESPN and ESPNU). Did you read the article in WIRED magazine this month that covered how to go about getting most programs you would want (that are worth it). Anyway bottom line was if you wanted live sports…you are screwed.

  5. Leo
    September 1, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Ileana, that is a great idea for a followup post. I have a few ideas as to how to watch the sports I want, some are possible, some are tricky, others are not possible. I’ll get back on this later.

  6. Ileana Vila
    September 1, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    Any ideas you will have to share will be great. If we got rid of cable we would still like to keep up with the ‘U’ and not have to be going to bars just to get to watch the games. Can’t wait to hear back. Thanks

  7. Chosen_OnE
    December 6, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Nice article. I’ve been looking to build a small HTPC that will allow me to utilize the Ceton Cablecard module. Is the CPU or motherboard HDCP compliant? I can’t seem to find a clear cut answer for any mini ITX motherboards.

  8. Leo
    December 9, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Chosen_OnE, yes the motherboard and the CPU are HDCP compliant. I most definitely checked up on that one cause you really don’t want to bother working around HDCP. There aren’t any really good solutions to get around it from what I have seen.

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