Build A Home Theatre PC (Part 3)

12/4/2012 3:14:14 PM

Our case of choice, the Lian Li PC-C50, is equipped with two 120mm fans. These are fitted as intakes as standard, but we achieved lower temperatures with them fitted as exhausts – we recommend you do the same, with the fans positioned so that they push air across the case from the front, with the rear fans pulling the hot air out the back.

Description: the Lian Li PC-C50

The Lian Li PC-C50

The next factor to consider is your CPU cooler. As the Core i3-2105 is such a cool-running CPU, we first wanted to see if the Intel reference cooler was a viable option, especially as the MSI H61L-E35 motherboard can tune the CPU fan speed according to temperature.

Sadly, despite setting the fan speed to zero until our maximum target temperature was reached, the fan continued to spin noise. However, we then plugged in an Arctic Freezer 7 Pro Rev 2 and its fan actually powered off until our CPU reached our maximum target temperature of 600C. The Freezer 7 Pro Rev 2 also has multiple mounting systems, including the parts needed to hook it up to an AMD A8-3870K. it costs $28.5 inc VAT from, and it’s just the right height not to interfere with the roof of most decent-sized HTPC cases.

In fact, with one of the side 120mm fans located right next to it, the fan actually stayed switched off during all our tests, just needing a blast of Prime95’s smallfft test to push it over 600C to make sure it did eventually engage. We also used 5V fan adaptors with the case fans; these sit between your fan’s power plug and your PSU’s 4-pin Molex connector, removing the 12V cables and forcing the fan to run at 5V, meaning fewer rotations per minute and much quieter operating noise. With such a lowly system to deal with, there’s no point running them at full speed.

We also included two fanless motherboards in our testing. Both of these boards have large heatsinks to shift heat from the CPU or APU, but they became extremely hot during testing. If you opt for this type of motherboard, you’ll either need a fan very close by or a dedicated fan strapped to the heatsink. A small case with a single 80mm fan won’t be able to cool them properly.

Building tips

You average HTPC case is going to be much smaller than a typical tower PC, and this can pose significant challenges when fitting your hardware in the case. Whether you’re using the Lian Li PC-C50 or an Origen case, you’ll almost certainly have to install your hardware in a specific order. Therefore, you’ll have to plan ahead, particularly with cable routeing, as you may well have to install the PSU and motherboard before any of you hard disks or optical drives.

Rigged for silent running

With your fans producing hardly any noise, the main cause of noise will be hard disks. As we previously mentioned, opting for an SSD here can limit this issue if you’re prepared to allow Windows to turn off your hard disks when they aren’t being used. This is ideal if you’ll be performing a lot of video streaming, as only the SSD will be powered during basic Windows operation.

However, the hard disk will need to be powered for playback of local video files, or anything else that isn’t located on the SSD. Once you’ve installed Windows, type power in the Start menu Search box and select Power options.

Under your current power plan setting, choose Change plan settings, then Change advanced power settings and set the hard disk option to ten minutes.

After that, head into your motherboard’s BIOS or EFI system and locate the hardware monitoring section. This is where any fan control profile settings will be located, hopefully allowing you to tell the motherboard to stop the CPU fan entirely if the CPU temperature is below a certain level. We opted for 600C.

While you’re floating around in Windows, make sure you tell Windows Update not to harass you about the latest releases from Microsoft – the notifications will drag you out of Windows Media Center, and some updates will automatically restart your PC, even if it’s in the middle of recording a live TV programme, all of which can prove to be very annoying. Deselect Software notifications in Windows Update settings in Windows Control Panel, and change the Important updates setting to ‘Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them’, and you’ll be left alone.

Watching and recording live TV

TV tuner cards have been around for decades, and generally offer good value for money if you’re after better-quality viewing than streaming TV services such as TVCatchup or BBC iPlayer. However, tapping into the latest high-definition channels in Freeview and Freesat can be an expensive business, with the best HD dual-tuner cards from companies such as BlackGold retailing for over $263 – you could buy a lengthy subscription to Virgin’s cable TV along with its TiVo box (assuming you have cable in your area) for the same amount, or subscribe to Sky+.

Description: TVCatchup


That said, TV cards are definitely worth investigating, as Hauppauge and Compro both make reasonably priced standard-definition TV tuner cards that deal with Freesat and Freeview. When coupled with Windows Media Center or a similar interface, they offer a surprising amount of flexibility, as well as vastly superior video quality to streaming services. As well as the full channel listings and guides you’d find on your average set-top box, you’ll also able to pause or record live TV. Plus, with a dual-tuner card, you’re able to view one channel while recording another.

The easiest way to get started is to use Windows Media Center (WMC). For all its other failings, WMC actually offers an excellent means of viewing and recording live TV via a TV tuner card. It’s even able to scan for channels itself, so you don’t need to use the often clunky software provided with cheaper TV tuners either. Once you’ve installed the drivers for your TV tuner, make sure you’ve installed all the latest Windows updates, especially those for WMC. Now head into WMC, and then to the TV and live TV setup section. Follow the instructions and WMC will eventually begin to scan for channels. The process is pretty much the same whether you’re dealing with Freesat or Freeview.

Description: BBC iPlayer.

BBC iPlayer.

That said, we installed a Hauppauge Win TV-HVR-4400-HD satellite tuner in our test machine to see how it fared, and it required some tweaking. Making WMC tap into HD channels required us to download and install a patch (, enter several channels manually using data we found online (, and then conduct a full scan that tool almost an hour to find the rest.

A few more options will now be available under the TV sections, including a TV guide that looks much the same as you’d see with a free-to-air set-top box and a recorded TV section. You can record while you’re viewing a particular channel, or by using the guide, which also works as a scheduler, enabling you to record pending programmes. Once you’ve selected to record a future programme, you also have the option to record future programmes in that series, and tell WMC to keep the file indefinitely or delete it if your hard disk is running out of space. In standard definition, the default recording settings take up 30MB/min, which equates to 1.8GB per hour. You also might find it hard to keep track of the hundreds of channels in WMC, and one of the easiest ways to organize these is to create a Favorites list, which will be viewable each time you log into the guide in WMC.

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