How To Specify And Build A Media PC (Part 3) - Step-By-Step Guide

6/28/2012 3:10:51 PM

Step-By-Step Guide

For our step-by-step guide we're using a Core i3 2100 processor, a mini-ITX Asus P8H61-I motherboard, 4GB of memory, a Blu-ray player and a solid-state drive. All of this will be fitted into Silverstone's lovely slimline ML03 case.

Part 1: Prepare The Case

Description: Prepare the case

Firstly, the case needs to have its top panels removed, and the standoffs screwed into the relevant holes. The motherboards I/O shield should also be slotted in at this stage. The Silverstone Milo ML03 case we chose for this project features a stylish black, anodised, aluminium fascia, which fits in well with high-end receivers and DVD players, but it's a lot narrower than a normal case. This means you'll need to purchase add-in cards with special low-profile brackets. The ML03 may lack the VFD display and sleek remote receivers of some of the more illustrious Silverstone chassis, but this model is affordable at just $74 and has decent enough cooling to accommodate even quad-core chips. The case comes as standard with no fans, so you'll need to budget in a couple of low-noise 80mm models to ensure you have enough cooling.

Part 2: Install The CPU

Description: Install The CPU

The Core i3 2100 will provide more than enough grunt for HD video playback and, with Hyper-Threading technology, it can process four threads at a time. It is also incredibly power-efficient, as proven by the diminutively specified stock heatsink it's shipped with. An AMD Llano or a quad-core i5 chip would also be suitable for media PC use, but as they run hotter and require more effective cooling, they won't run quite as quietly. In order to install a Socket 1155 cooler you simply unhook the lever from the socket to release the socket clamp and align the processor with the slot, taking care not to bend the fragile pins. Close the socket clamp and move the lever so it holds the chip in place. It's always best to install the CPU, the memory and the cooler before you fit the assembled motherboard 'module' into the case.

Part 3: Install The Cooler

Description: Install The Cooler

The compact nature of the Silverstone ML03 case means that you cannot get away with the oversized tower-shaped heatsinks now so popular for modern CPUs. We're actually using the Intel stock cooler for this project, but a much better choice would be the Scythe Big Shuriken. It operates at near-silence and is around 15°C cooler than the Intel stock heatsink. It's also small enough to fit in any low-profile HTPC case, the ML03 included. Installation of the cooler must be performed before the motherboard is installed in the case. As this is true of most high-end coolers, do your research and buy a suitable CPU cooler first time, because upgrading it at a later date could be inconvenient. Every cooler has its own installation method, but the Intel model is arguably one of the easiest - simply line up the four pillars with the holes in the board and click them down to lock the cooler in place.

Part 4: Install The Memory

Description: Install The Memory

Install the memory by moving the white clips away from the centre of each slot and pressing the memory sticks in until they snap back in place. Be sure to check that they're correctly installed in dual-channel mode, which for Socket 1155 motherboards will mean installing them in slots two and four. If you plug your memory into slots one and three, you may not get a successful POST - these slots only come into play when fully populating the motherboard. Our tiny Asus motherboard only has two slots any way - but most decent micro-ATX motherboards come with four. We recommend a minimum of 4GB of RAM for a media PC, which at time of writing can be snapped up for less than $25. If you plan on using your HTPC for more intensive tasks, then 8GB is a better bet. Cool running memory is appealing for an HTPC build, so aim to go for modules that operate at no more than 1,5V

Part 5: Install The PSU

Description: Install The PSU

In a normal build, we generally slot in the motherboard module at this stage, but for tight cases like the Milo ML03, it's more sensible to screw in the PSU first, so you can properly route the cables. Silverstone has provided enough relief from the tray that you can route a number of the cables under the board itself, thereby providing a considerably neater build. If you're buying from scratch, a modular PSU will make this easy: we went with the FSP model shown, only because we had it left over from a previous project and knew it was exceptionally quiet even under load. Route the cables carefully, taking care to remember where your cards, board and drive will be when fitted and then lash any superfluous cables together so they can be tucked away in the corner. Finally, attach the main unit to the chassis using coarse-threaded PC screws.

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