My "HFX Media PC" Project

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In august 2005 I decided to get myself a home theater PC (HTPC). Before starting the whole event, I wrote down a couple of small requirements for the machine:

  • It should ‘look’ nice
  • The size must fit the stereo
  • The machine must be very, very quiet
  • The sound quality should be as good as possible
  • The machine should be able to have all ‘HTPC’ functionality without using Microsoft Media Edition

The hardware
As you can see in the list above, most of the requirements (looks, size and noise level), are dictated by the choice of case. Since the machine is going to be located in the living room noise turned out to be the main reason for choosing the case.

Based on the above I ended up buying the following components:

  • An HFX classic case in black. If installed correctly (with all the heatpipes, etc.) this case can live without any active cooling. This means it is as silent as a case can be. I got it with the default power adapter (ST30NF 300W) and the iMON VFD-IR. Info.
  • An Abit AV8 Mainboard. Info.
  • An AMD Athlong 64 Processor 3000+ with Venice core. Although at the time of buying there were faster processors on the market, I chose this one because of the power consumption. Link.
  • A gigabyte of RAM.
  • The old ATI card that I had laying around, which I figured should be up to the job. It is an ATI Sapphire Atlantis Radeon 9600 Pro
  • A Hauppauge MCE 500. This TV card basically features two Hauppauge 150 cards in one. So it is possible to record from two channels at the same time. I opted for a version without a remote control. Info.
  • A Terratec Aureon Space 7.1. I digitized all my CDs so the sound output of the HTPC is one of the key requirements. After a log of reading on different forums I learned the following two things:
    1. Stay away from Creative as they seem to do funky stuff with their bitrates.
    2. ENVY Chips have the best consumer sound available.

    I chose the Terratec because of the overall positive reviews it had and I must say, it sounds like a beauty. Link.

  • A Seagate 250 Gb SATA Hard disc. A little googling showed that for Seagate has an excellent name when it comes down to crating quiet hard discs. Link.
  • A BENQ DVD DD DW1640, ATAPI CD/DVD-ROM drive. Because it operates very silently. Link.
  • Since I could not have cables in the living room I needed to go with a WIFI card. Finding a wifi card that would work with 64 bit linux proved to be a very hard undertaking. I think I tested about four cards, before I finally bough a Linksys WUSB54GP v4.0 802.11g Adapter. The card has performed very well during the last 11 Months. And with the release of kernel 2.6.17 it’s driver is finally included. Oh, and it looks pretty funky standing up on its feet. Link.

The software

To make sure that everything created on the machine is transportable and free, I chose to install Mythtv on my HTPC. Mythtv features all the PVR functions one needs and it also comes with modules for listening to music and looking at photos. As stated before music is one of the key features of my HTPC and since I completely moved to digital Photos the ability to present slideshows in my HTPC application comes as very handy.
Initially I chose gentoo linux. This worked very well, but took an enormous amount of time to stay up to date. So after 8 Months I turned to Kubuntu Edgy Eft. More on that later.

As it turned out, a lot of the components (both hardware and software) I chose made a lot of problems… So building everything took way more time than planned.

Read more: the hardware arrives.

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