How To Specify And Build A Media PC (Part 5)

6/28/2012 3:15:33 PM

Part 11: Install The Video Card

Description: Install The Video Card

With the card cooler fitted, you can now plug in your video card. The back bracket of a video card doesn't always line up perfectly with the holes cut into the motherboard tray, so you may need to manipulate them gently to get the card to sit flush. The area where you screw the card into the chassis should be flush with the back of the case and you should not be able to see any of the gold traces in the PCI Express slot. If you can, try to bend the bracket a little and try again. Obviously if you're opting for Intel's surprisingly reasonable integrated GPU (as indeed we are), you don't need to carry out this step, as your motherboard will have the relevant HDMI output on its I/O plate. Once your card is plugged and screwed in, remember to insert the PCI Express power cables, otherwise your system may not post. If your PSU does not have enough PCIe plugs, you can buy Molex adaptors inexpensively.

Part 12: Install The TV And Sound Cards

There are now many TV cards to choose from, some with single decoders and others with multiple. With the analogue switch-off imminent in many areas, you're best off opting for a dual digital decoder. The advantage of a multiple-decoder TV card is that you can record one show while you watch another. Black Gold and Compro produce some of the best TV cards on the market in our experience, and if you want to use them with Windows Media Center you should double-check compatibility. When deciding on if you require a discrete sound card for your PC, look at the quality of your speakers for guidance. Simple sets for less than $125 will do fine with the on-board audio, whereas discrete hi-fis and high-end PC speakers will benefit from something like an Asus Xonar or Creative X-Fi.

Part 13: Install The Case Fans

Description: Install The Case Fans

We recommend swapping the fans that come with your HTPC case for something of better quality to maximise the low noise credentials. Models from Sharkoon and Papst are especially effective in our experience. For our build we've elected to use Silverstone's own 'golfball' fans. Just a single unit is enough to keep our modest HTPC spec cool. With the chassis fan control enabled in the BIOS, they're virtually noiseless and only kick in when really needed for gaming. Where possible, always buy three-pin, tail-equipped fans rather than those with Molex plugs, because they allow you to control the fan speed via the BIOS rather than having to adjust it either manually or not at all. Some newer boards also have four-pin, PWM-enabled fan headers, but these can still be used with conventional three-pin fans. Where possible, you should consider mounting dust filters to your intakes. These are included in the Silverstone, but aren't in many HTPC cases.

Part 14: Tidy The Cables

Description: Tidy The Cables

At this stage, all the hard graft has been done, so it's a good idea to arrange the cables neatly in order to reduce their cross section. In a media box, air flow is already restricted by the usually plain fascia so is already at a premium. Once you have your cables arranged tidily, tie them away with cable ties and stow any excesses in a spare drive bay if possible. In such a restricted space, you may need to get quite creative. Self-adhesive plastic rings or cable tie mounts are useful if there's no obvious place to keep spare cables, and if you plan on augmenting your HTPC with further upgrades in the future, you should consider using Velcro straps instead of zip ties, because these are much easier to remove at a later date. You can also replace the top panel after making sure all the screws you used to secure the drive bays and any support struts are correctly fitted.

Part 15: Set BIOS Settings

Description: Set BIOS Settings

The first thing you should do when turning on your HTPC for the first time is to cross your fingers! For this initial POST we also recommend you use a traditional PC monitor, because TVs are much trickier beasts and can result in display problems that are nothing to do with your computer's hardware - for example, support for only a limited range of PC-compatible resolutions. Once greeted by the POST screen, press the relevant key to enter the BIOS and then head straight for the hardware monitor section. Your Core i3 should be idling nice and cool, although if it continues to rise past 60°C in the BIOS alone, you certainly have something amiss with your cooler mounting. Once checked, head to the boot menu and set the first boot device to your optical drive.

Part 16: Boot The Windows 7 Disc

Description: Boot The Windows 7 Disc

Before you exit and restart, insert your Windows 7 disc and follow the on-screen instructions to install it. Once installed, install the relevant chipset, graphics, sound and TV card drivers (if required) in that specific order. Run Windows Update to pick up any important bug fixes and you can finally begin to use your HTPC! In addition to a proper media playback application, you'll also want to grab some popular codecs. As HTPCs are generally connected to the internet at all times in order to retrieve TV guides, you should also consider a decent anti-virus package as mandatory. Once you've set your HTPC up, you can finally hook it up to the TV, preferably via HDMI, and start to enjoy all of the multimedia treats a modern PC can provide!

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