Build an HTPC on the Cheap for Under $250

Build an HTPC on the Cheap for Under $250

So you want a HTPC (Home Theater PC/Media Center) but you are not Mr. Money Bags? It’s okay; you can still build yourself a great HTPC.

The goal of this build was to play HD content streamed over the network to an HDTV.

The requirements:

1. Powerful enough to handle 1080p Bluray rips.
2. Fairly compact.
3. Fairly quiet.
4. Inexpensive.

The Parts

Barebone System: Foxconn R10-G3  [$80]

This kit comes with a HTPC case, 250W PSU, and a LGA775 Motherboard.

This barebone system is a great value. The motherboard has a gigabit ethernet port (what you want to stream HD content over a network) and 6 Channel S/PDIF audio out. It also comes with 2 SATA cables. The build quality is quite nice.

CPU: Intel Celeron Dual-Core E3300  [$53]

I chose this CPU because it’s LGA775 to match our motherboard socket, powerful enough to handle 1080p Bluray rips, and inexpensive. Consider an E3400 as well.

Video: PowerColor HD3450 Low Profile  [$30]

The integrated graphics solution on the motherboard was weak and only offered a VGA output. Any modern low profile GPU with HDMI out will do (It needs to be low profile already or come with a low profile bracket to fit in the case). This one was not only cheap but had the benefit of being silent (no fan, just a heat sink). Check out ATI 3450’s, ATI 5450’s and Nvidia 8400’s.

RAM: G.Skill 2GB DDR2-800  [$30]

2GB of ram is the perfect amount for a system like this. If you find a deal on a 4GB stick then go for it. Note: the mobo only has a single ram slot.

See the rest of the build and the final price after the break.

HD: Western Digital 250GB Caviar Blue  [$50]

Any 7200RPM hard drive will do here. If you have one laying around go for it. With our setup we will be streaming our content over the network where it is stored on another PC (in our case our media server) so we did not need much local hard drive space (just enough for the OS and software basically). If you will be storing all of your content locally on your HTPC then consider a larger drive.

Total cost: $243*

*What we paid for the above parts in the weeks leading up to this post; prices may vary.

The Software

OS: Windows ($) or Linux (free).

I had an extra copy of Windows 7 laying around so I went with that. Linux is a good option for those who do not want to spend the money on Windows. Ubuntu is recommended for those new to Linux.

Media Center: Windows Media Center (only on windows – check your version) or XBMC (free & works on all platforms).

I decided to use XBMC inside windows instead of WMC because it has a much nicer GUI with many skins and will grab cover art and content details from the internet for movies and TV series without the need for any extra plugins.

The Conclusion

This HTPC turned out to be everything that we wanted. It looks nice, it was cheap, it’s quite quiet, and it delivers in the performance department.

It eats 1080p x264 .mkv’s for breakfast if you were wondering.

 


26 thoughts on “Build an HTPC on the Cheap for Under $250

  1. That foxconn barebone system is a great deal but it is getting harder and harder to find. It’s sold out on NewEgg at the moment; I hope they get more in soon.

    • Also, have you tried this set-up with 2 SATA drives? I need a setup with with 2 drives and am worried the PCU won’t handle it.

      • I have had no problems with the PSU. This system uses very little power and I suspect that even with another drive the power would not be an issue.

  2. Ok, so I have convinced myself I want to build a HTPC, and I love this article, this is exactly what I needed. I know just enough about building a PC to get me into trouble, but I don’t know best bang for buck and whatnot. Only issue is that this FoxConn unit is not available anymore, anywhere apparently. Do you have an alternative you can recommend?

  3. Nice system, I’ve been looking at The Popcorn Hour A210, Zotac’s ZBOX AD-02, ans Asus’ EEE 1021 but I think your option seems the best (e.g. the AMD options require Windows for video acceleration but I want to keep it cheap).

    I’m curious how loud the system is, whether or not you know how much power it consumes, and if you have any trouble putting the computer to sleep then waking/resuming? Thanks.

    • There are no noisy case or gpu fans to worry about in this build so it is only as loud as the stock Intel heat-sink fan. It doesn’t bother me. It’s not loud but it is not silent either. If that bothers you, you can always pick up a low profile aftermarket HSF that is quieter.

      I have not tested the system with a kill-a-watt to see how much power it is actually drawing. The power supply is only a 250W and the system is not even using all of that. It is quite a low powered system.

      I can’t speak to the sleeping question. It boots up fast so I have no problem booting it up when I want to use it and shutting it down when I’m finished.

  4. I’m curious about how loud it is also. If it is quieter than or just as loud as my 360, I’m game. Don’t want anything louder than that though for sure.

    Thanks in advance,
    Seth

    • See above comment reply. If you have ever used a stock Intel Heatsink then you know what kind of noise levels we are talking about here. It is acceptable to me.

  5. Thank you for this article. My wife had been thinking about building a low cost HTPC like this and your article helped give us the confidence to actually do it. We ended up with a completely different set of components (AMD build) but I think we achieved similar results (< $250).

  6. Great article. Thanks for putting it together.

    One question: Can the case and parts support a blue ray optical drive? Is there room in the case to stick one in?

  7. Nice build. Cheaper possibility still…if purely HTPC streaming, then consider running XBMC LIVE installed on a 4GB USB stick. You can then lose the HDD and save a few further bucks still.

    BTW…i stream 1080p 100% perfect using 100Mbit/s ethernet. Even when torrenting, voiping, and browsing all at the same time!

  8. This is a very interesting project. I am looking to build a small, simple media center. Here is a fairly n00bish question: I want to run Windows on this box, using my TV as a monitor so I can watch the BBC iplayer through the proxy program, expat shield.

    Will this outfit fit the bill?

    • A windows install disc will set you back some money. If you have the correct cables to output from the computer’s graphics card, it should work fine. Just make sure you have a match from that to your TV.

      Also check to see how to input audio to your TV, unless you have a speaker system.

  9. Anyone monitoring their system load (cpu & mem) when doing various tasks on this PC? I’m about ready to pull the trigger on this system config (adding in a pair of 1TB drives to double as a SW RAID1 fileserver), but I’d like to see if it’s being really worked or is it a fair load. A heavy CPU or mem load might lead me to bump up to a better CPU or more mem.

  10. Will this system boot from a USB stick? I assume it will since you didn’t list an optical drive but maybe you used an external?

    Thanks

  11. Actually, all you need to play 1080p HD Blu-ray x264 movies are an Intel Pentium 4 CPU, or AMD equivalent, and an AMD ATI HD graphics card. Also, you probably only really need 512MB of RAM. MPC is the best software to use when playing HD movies.

    I only have single core P4 1.5Ghz CPU and HD movies play perfectly on my 1080p screen because when you use MPC it allows the HD decoding to happen on the AMD ATI HD video card. Therefore, it only utilizes a maximum of 20% of the CPU.

    If you think about it, I doubt stand alone Blu-ray players ship with a 2.4Ghz (dual core) or 3.5Ghz (single core) processors just to play a Blu-ray movie.

  12. I got the POWERCOLOR 5450 1GB and it needs a two prong power to be plugged into the mother board, where can I find this plug in on the motherboard, it came with a cord.

  13. My build came in at about $45 US higher, mainly due to getting a somewhat nicer video card and an SSD instead of an HD. I haven’t received all of the parts yet, but I’m extremely excited about building this!

    This article was very useful.

  14. You might want to consider a dual tuner: one for watching and one for recording. I also asked friends and got extra sata drives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

*