Thursday, November 22, 2012

Nov 2012 - $400 HTPC

Description: This month's $400 HTPC is powered by an AMD A6-3650 quad-core in an ASRock A75 mini-ITX motherboard. The CPU upgrade is throw in for good measure, even though an A4-3400 dual-core would be sufficient. The price difference between the two is neglible. The motherboard comes with USB 3.0, gigE, and HDMI standard for maximum connectivity. The HDD has been doubled from 500GB in the $200 build to 1TB in this build, and an SSD is included standard in this build. It's a small powerhouse of a computer capable of light gaming on top of playing just about any media you would want it to. The mini-ITX case is slightly larger than the $200 build's case, but provides a substantially larger amount of room for expansion, including four 3.5" hard drive bays, as well as room for a full-sized dual-slot graphics card. If you wanted to build an HTPC/gaming PC/file server, this is where you want to start.

Cost Breakdown
Subtotal MIRs Total

Individual Parts
RAM Crucial 4GB 1600MHz $19 --- Newegg
Power Supply Antec EA-380D $28 --- Amazon Warehouse
Hard Drive WD Caviar Blue 1TB $85 --- Newegg
SSD Crucial M4 64GB $66 --- Amazon
Case CM Elite 120 $50 $10 Newegg
Optical Drive LITE-ON DVD Burner $16 --- Newegg

Type Part Part Price MIR Link
Motherboard + CPU ASRock A75M-ITX AMD A6-3650 $130 --- Newegg


The following modifications are for changing the HTPC into a multi-purpose machine.

Gaming: To turn this little PC into a gaming rig, simply add any of the following graphics cards and, if needed, replace the power supply. This will break the budget. These are upgrades, not substitutions. Also, although you may upgrade to practically any grphics card you want, remember that you only have a mid-range CPU in this machine. Thus, you can quickly reach a bottleneck. Any of the graphics cards below will provide a good gaming experience, and balance the machine out well.
Gaming Upgrades
PartPriceMIRPower SupplyLink
SAPPHIRE HD 6670 $65 $15 --- Newegg
MSI HD 7770 GHz ed $100 $30 --- Newegg
EVGA GTX 650 Ti $140 --- CX430 @ Newegg Newegg
Gigabyte HD 7850 $170 $20 RD500 @ Newegg Newegg

File server: To turn this HTPC into a file server, you would want to maximize the storage. To do this, you can do a multitude of things. The easiest would be to increase the capacity of the single hard drive that is already included in the build from a 1TB drive to a 2TB or 3TB drive. Additionally, you could add a second hard drive. You could also remove the SSD and/or DVD-drive and replace each with another hard drive. With 4 3TB hard drives, you would have 12TB of physical storage.

You can implement RAID 0 for a speed boost, but realistically, that wouldn't be necessary. In a home server, the bottleneck would most likely be your network and not the hard drive read speed. You also double the risk of losing your data because of the data striping with RAID 0.

If your files are extremely important (family photos and videos, work documents, etc...), I would recommend using the built-in RAID 1 or RAID 10 on the motherboard. RAID 1 mirrors a pair of hard drives, effectively cutting their capacity in half, but increasing data redundancy. If one of the drives fail, the other remains with the same data intact, giving you time to replace the other drive. RAID 10 is a combination of RAID 1 and RAID 0. The data is striped, and then mirrored. RAID 10 is preferable because it provides a speed boost, as well as redundancy.

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