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.
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.
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.
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
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
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!