Media Pc Hardware Round-Up (Part 3) - Memory,Video Cards, Sound Cards, PSU And Cooling

6/25/2012 9:37:56 AM


Description: Kingston ValueRAM 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz 240-pin

Kingston ValueRAM 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz 240-pin

Typical HTPC systems don't need more than 4GB of DDR3 memory, because they're not used as multitasking workhorses. That said, with memory costing less than $19 per 4GB module if you shop around, doubling this count to 8GB isn't a bad investment, particularly if you only have two memory module slots on your motherboard to play with. Remember, modern desktop chips need memory modules to be installed in pairs for maximum performance, otherwise you'll be running in single-channel mode.

Video Cards

Description: AMD's Llano integrated video card

AMD's Llano integrated video card

For most people, the integrated Intel HD4000 (or AMD's Llano integrated video card) will be more than good enough for HTPC use. Both are capable of decoding full-screen HD video content without any dropped frames, and can be set to output lossless HD audio over HDMI. Nevertheless, if you want even more control over your video quality, and the ability to tweak features like noise reduction, edge enhancement, 23.976Hz refresh rates, deinterlacing and so on, a dedicated video card is a good investment. It's easy to assume that an entry-level card like a GeForce 210 or a Radeon 5450 would be perfect - low cost and low power consumption are certainly attractive after all. Some of the hardware video enhancement features use more horsepower than these cards can provide unfortunately, making something from the next range up a better choice. A Radeon 6570, for example, has the performance to enable hardware deinterlacing as well as smooth video effects at the same time, and will offer you credible gaming performance to boot. Critically, it's available in low-profile variants for HTPC cases, and even in variants that are passively cooled.

Description: GT 430

If you're more of an NVidia fan, then the GT 430 remains the HTPC king. It may lack the broad video playback controls of the AMD card, but NVidia's 3D infrastructure is far more robust and well established, making it a better choice overall if this is of great importance to you. If you're on the fence and could be persuaded either way, we recommend the Radeon 6570 ) - it's the best overall HTPC card on the market right now, featuring enough horsepower for the full range of video quality enhancements a discrete card can bring, yet it sits in a ^ power envelope small enough to be passively cooled in a low-profile card.

Sound Cards

Description: Sound Cards

Whether you need a sound card or not very much depends on what you have your HTPC attached to. If you're outputting analogue audio to an older amplifier or receiver, then going for a high-quality dedicated sound card like an Asus Xonar or a Creative X-Fi will unquestionably improve audio output, owing to the far superior quality of the DAC (digital to analogue conversion) hardware these cards provide. In general, the more you spend, the better the quality will be.

If you're using a digital output, the question becomes rather harder to answer, not to mention controversial. There's a school of thought suggesting that 'digital audio is digital audio' and regardless of whether you output sound over HDMI, over optical S/PDIF or coaxial audio, the sound will be the same because its delivered as a stream of 0s and 1s. By the same token, there's a school of thought that totally disagrees, with people swearing blind that they can tell the difference between different digital audio cables, sound cards and so on. We'd suggest you try the HDMI or optical audio provided by your motherboard and see if you find it satisfactory. If you do, great; if not, it's time to go sound card shopping!

PSU And Cooling

Description: the PSU

Perhaps the single most important aspect to your HTPC is the cooling and power supply, because your HTPC is fully dependent on these two attributes for quiet playback. There's no use having a fabulous HTPC if it sounds like a jet plane taking off. When it comes to buying power supplies, always pay for an 80 Plus certified model, otherwise it will get hot and have to expel additional heat from the fan. You should also get a model specifically designed for low noise use. Zalman, BeQuiet and Seasonic are among the quietest on the market, although Corsair and XFX are also worthy of consideration.

When it comes to cooling, many HTPC cases will require a low-profile cooler rather than the full height tower models that make quietly cooling a desktop so easy. If you're looking for a quiet inexpensive solution, the Arctic Cooling Freezer 11 LP is a great choice. If your heat demands are a little more substantial, then the Scythe Shuriken low-profile coolers are excellent.

You should also be sure to invest in quiet cooling fans. EBM Papst makes arguably the finest-quality models on the market, although those made by Scythe are again excellent. QuietPC. com has an unbeatable range of quiet cooling fans, so there's bound to be one there to take your fancy!

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  •  Combine The Pieces Together - Third Party Windows Defragmenter (Part 2) - Ashampoo Magical Defrag 3, IObit Smart Defrag 2.3
  •  Combine The Pieces Together - Third Party Windows Defragmenter (Part 1) - O & O Defrag 15 Professional Edition
  •  Buying Guide: CPU Cooling Equipment (Part 8) - SilenX EFZ-120HA5, Xigmatek Aegir SD128264, Zalman CNPS11X Performa
  •  Buying Guide: CPU Cooling Equipment (Part 7) - Gelid Solutions GX-7,Rosewill RCX-SC1U-1366,Scythe NINJA 3 Rev.B
  •  Buying Guide: CPU Cooling Equipment (Part 6) - Deepcool by Logisys ICE BLADE PRO,Enermax ETD-T60-VD, Enzotech Extreme-X REV.A
  •  Buying Guide: CPU Cooling Equipment (Part 5) - Antec KUHLER H2O 620,Arctic Cooling Freezer i30,Cooler Master Hyper 612 PWM
  •  Buying Guide: CPU Cooling Equipment (Part 4) - Thermaltake BigWater 760 Plus,Thermaltake Frio OCK,Zalman CNPS20LQ
  •  Buying Guide: CPU Cooling Equipment (Part 3) - NZXT HAVIK 140,Phanteks PH-TC140PE_BL, Swiftech H20-X20 Edge HD
  •  Buying Guide: CPU Cooling Equipment (Part 2) - Antec KUHLER H2O 920, Corsair Hydro Series H80, Corsair Hydro Series H100, Noctua NH-D14
  •  Buying Guide: CPU Cooling Equipment (Part 1)
  •  AMD A6-3500 - Llano integrated-graphics processors
  •  Samsung Series 7 Gamer
  •  Zalman F1-Series 240GB - New star SSD
  •  Corsair Vengeance M60 Mouse
  •  Corsair Vengeance K60 Keyboard - Pro typing with 'murder' design
  •  AMD Radeon HD 7970 - The World's Fastest Single-GPU (Part 3)
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