Built my first HTPC (Home Theatre Personal Computer)
The idea of an HTPC is to have a PC that can fit in with your amplifier/receiver underneath your TV which will act as a DVD player but with more features.
Hardware wise it is identical to a normal PC with CPU, RAM, motherboard etc etc but generally put in to more stylish cases specially built to fit in most TV stands.
I opted for an Antec Fusion Black HTPC case which is a fairly nice case, although it can be seen as quite costly at around £100 without a PSU. The case is steal with an aluminium front but even so it doesn't weigh alot. There is space for 2 hard drives which are secured with rubber grommets to stop vibration and 2 5.25" slots with one of these slots being used for the LCD display that comes built with the case, but can be taken out. The case has a few ventilation holes around to keep components cool but only has 2 120mm fans which are located on the side of the case near where the CPU will be. Both of these fans are Antec Tri-Cools and as such have the 3 way setting for fan speed, low, medium, high. I have mine set to low which gives off a little bit of noise and gives more than adequate cooling for the rest of the components.
After reading many good reviews I bought the Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H AMD 780G Micro-ATX. The GA-MA78GM-S2H uses the AMD 780G chipset which has onboard audio and graphics. The onboard audio is a Realtek chip with your standard analogue in and outs but also has a digital out. The onboard graphics is called the Radeon HD 3200 which is said to be equal in performance to the Radeon HD 3450. The HD 3200 has AVIVO and allows for full hardware acceleration if the software supports it. The HD 3200 gives you VGA, DVI and HDMI which also carries sound. The motherboard also has a feature called Hybrid Graphics Technology. This allows you to put in another graphics card in to the PCI-e 2.0 slot which will be used in a crossfire like situation although AMD refuses to call it crossfire due to the performance levels not being the same. Unfortunately you can just shove any card in there and get this performance. It is obviously limited to AMD/ATi cards only and even then it will only use the power equivalent to the onboard graphics. In this case the best card to put in would be the HD 3450.
Keeping to an all AMD affair, I got the AMD Athlon X2 4850e which is a low power CPU said to consume only 45W. This also reduces heat which is a top priority in an HTPC as it means you don't need a noisy fan on it, and this CPU is more than capable of processing any HD media or x264 rips.
RAM isn't used that much in an HTPC compared to a gaming PC so I just got 2GB (2x 1GB sticks) of Corsair DDR2 XMS2 PC2-6400C5 TwinX. Of course you can easily change this to 4GB if you want.
As I was happy with my current Corsair PSU in my gaming PC I chose to keep my loyalty and got the Corsair CX400W which is more than capable of powering the HTPC with room to spare if I ever wanted to add a new sound card or new graphics card.
Being a Samsung fan due to the low noise from their Spinpoint harddrives, I bought another Samsung SpinPoint F1 500GB to join my growing collection of them. This drive isn't particularly slow, but obviously won't keep up with a Western Digital Raptor but is a hell of a lot quieter. This only used up 1 slot, so I still have another slot spare to add another drive in the future if I wanted to.
Originally I was just going to buy a £20 DVD drive. But then I saw the LG GGC-H20L Blu-Ray Reader & HD-DVD ROM. For only £45 more I now have the ability to play Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. Although HD-DVD has been beaten by Blu-Ray there is still a lot of HD-DVD stock out there with stores trying to get rid of it. So when you have the choice of getting HD films for as little as £3 it seemed obvious to get a dual player. The only thing I forgot to check about this drive before purchasing was the noise, but I was gladly surprised with in once it was installed. Although not quiet, it wasn't too noticeable, so when you have a film on you are unlikely to hear it.
At the moment, I don't have any dedicated software for my HTPC but I have got Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit to install, then I can test with further software to expand the HTPC to be the optimum it can be.