ML03

Want to build a sleek home theater PC that will look great on your AV rack? No problem - this guide will set you up with the perfect fit, providing a wide range of HTPC options to suit any builder's needs. Whether you want to equip your HTPC for enjoying live or recorded TV, high-fidelity audio, Blu-Ray movies, high-end gaming, or all of the above, we give you the basic setup, and you decide how to make it your own! 

The January 2017 edition of the Home Theater PC Build features the brand-new Intel Core i3-7100, released on January 12, 2017! It's a 3.9GHz dual-core processor with Hyperthreading support, which means it's really, really quick! It's ideal for HTPC use, due to its very lower power consumption and powerful built-in video processing. Also new this month is a motherboard using the latest B250 chipset. It includes dual M.2 SSD slots, and we are recommending you populate one of them with the Crucial MX300 M.2 solid-state drive. The M.2 stick-based SSD standard streamlines the build and reduces cable clutter, which is always an issue in a compact HTPC. We pair it with a quiet and efficient Western Digital hard drive for media storage. Also new this month: the brand-new low-profile MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti video card, perfect for anyone who wants serious gaming power or the ability to send a 4K/60Hz video signal to a 4K HDTV. 

GD09

Note that for users who want to fill their HTPC with a lot of gear, we recommend an optional case, the SilverStone GD09, shown here. This awesome case allows you to use full-size ATX components without even approaching the size of typical ATX cases. We've used this case in our labs and came away very impressed.

Now, if you're interested in a truly ultra-compact system, flip over to our Mini-ITX HTPC Builder's Guide, featuring the super-slim case shown below. You might also want to check out our Desktop Buyer's Guide, which profiles a few amazingly-small pre-built options.

ML08

To see previous versions of this build, simply flip to the Home Theater PC Archive. We use Amazon's real-time pricing engine, so prices in this guide are always up-to-date. We also include local Amazon links for our readers in the United Kingdom (UK), Canada, and Deutschland (Germany), making regional substitutions as necessary. If you decide to purchase any of the products listed below, please use the links provided, which helps support continued development of this guide.

To discuss this build or get advice on your own build, check out our Reader Forum - we'll be sure to respond! And for inspiration, you can see both versions of this build in The TBG Gallery as submitted by our readers: Dave's slim-line HTPC and the Ultimate HTPC Gaming PC! If you decide to build your own HTPC, please let us know - we'll be happy to add it to The Gallery for all to see!

The $650 Home Theater PC - January 2017

    CPU:

    Intel Core i3-7100

    After a long wait, it's finally time to take your home theater PC to the next level with the brand-new Intel Core i3-7100 processor, offering the best value in Intel's entire Core i3 model lineup. Its two 3.9GHz cores with Hyperthreading will outrun most quad-core chips from just a few years ago, despite dramatically-lower power consumption. And its built-in HD 630 graphics chip is more than up to the task of video decoding.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Want an ultra-quiet low-profile cooler? Then go for the 65mm-tall Noctua NH-L9x65, which we reviewed here. Don't worry, though - the fan included with the Intel Core i3 will work well too.

    Motherboard:

    Asus Prime B250M-A

    The B250M-A boasts a fantastic feature set at a fantastic price. It has the capable ALC892 sound codec, 5 USB ports (including a USB 3.1 Type-C connector), and three video outputs (VGA, DVI, and HDMI). In terms of expansion, you get a PCIe x16 slot for video cards, two PCIe x1 slots, along with four RAM slots, and two M.2 slots for solid-state drives, which we are now recommending be used for this build to reduce cable clutter.

    The Guru's Tip:

    We're still trying to confirm whether this system can support 4K/60Hz output via HDMI 2.0. While one of the features of the new Kaby Lake platform (which includes the Core i3-7100 and B250 chipset) was supposed to be HDMI 2.0, the specs for this board still list it as being HDMI 1.4. The same goes for new boards from every major manufacturer. Apparently they didn't get Intel's memo about how this was supposed to be the best new feature of Kaby Lake!

    Memory:

    Crucial 2x4GB Ballistix Sport DDR4-2400

    This 8GB kit is more than sufficient for any home theater use. Note that unlike the older Skylake platform, the Kaby Lake platform supports DDR4-2400 memory, so that's exactly what we recommend here in order to get the absolute maximum performance out of your system.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Need more memory for multi-tasking or photo/video editing? Then pick up Crucial's 2x8GB DDR4-2400 kit!

    Solid-State Drive:

    Crucial MX300 525GB M.2

    We transitioned this system to an SSD for the main OS drive years ago, and while we've been recommending 480GB SSDs for a while, it's time to move on, because there's a new sweet spot: Crucial's awesome MX300 525GB. For the same price as many typical 480GB drives, this model offers both 10% more capacity and significantly greater performance. It uses the new Micron 3D V-NAND technology to provide that boost without a price increase.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Critical note: Only the upper M.2 slot on the motherboard recommended for this build supports SATA-based M.2 drives. While the lower slot looks identical, it will only work with PCIe-based M.2 drives, which cost twice as much per gigabyte of capacity. Another note: to install this drive, you'll need a jeweler's screwdriver. If you don't have one, pick up this Stanley set.

    Hard Drive:

    Western Digital WD10JPVX 1TB 2.5" Drive

    If you'll be storing a lot of media, you're going to need a hard drive. But we don't recommend just any old hard drive - we suggest WD's laptop-style "Blue" drive. These drives spin at 5400RPM to save power. For media purposes, that's just fine - and comes with the benefits of lower noise and heat. We suggest a laptop-style drive because it's a much better fit in a compact HTPC system.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Need even more storage? Then go for Seagate's 2TB Barracuda 2.5" drive.

    Case:

    Silverstone ML03B

    At just 4.1" high, the microATX-format ML03 is super-slim, and at 17.3" wide and 13.4" deep, it will blend in well with your AV equipment. Another great option is its cousin, the ML04, which adds a flip-down brushed aluminum front panel. Because neither model includes case fans, we'd suggest adding at least one ultra-quiet Noctua NF-R8 80mm fan.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Due to their slim dimensions, the ML03/04 only accept half-height add-in cards. 

    Case (Optional):

    SilverStone GD09 ATX HTPC Case

    Want a whole lot more space to work with? Then go for SilverStone GD09, which supports full ATX motherboards and high-end, full-height video cards. It's a lot bigger than the ML03/04 twins, but at 17.3" (W) x 6.7" (H) x 14.1" (D), it's actually the smallest ATX case on the market, so it's still pretty impressive when it comes to compact design! It comes with one quiet 120mm fan and has space for two additional fans.

    The Guru's Tip:

    If you'd like to take full advantage of this case's ATX capabilities, we recommend going with the Asus H170 Pro Gaming ATX motherboard, which offers ultra-high-end sound, six PCIe expansion slots, USB 3.1 Type-C, and a nice bonus you typically don't get at this price: four SATA cables.

    Power Supply:

    Corsair CX450M

    For HTPC use, the big, high-capacity power supplies popular for desktop builds just aren't necessary, nor are they a good fit. So we suggest this 140mm-long model from Corsair, the longest power supply that will fit in the ML03 case. It features plenty of power for all your HTPC uses, along with modular cables, which is critical for working in compact cases. And it comes with the added bonus of Corsair's stellar customer service!

    The Guru's Tip:

    If you'd like a much higher-performance PSU in the same compact form factor, look no further than SilverStone's amazing Strider Platinum 550W. It's just 140mm long, so it still fits in either case we recommend, yet it adds a fully-modular design, semi-passive cooling (the fan will never spin at typical HTPC loads!), plus exceptional Platinum-rated (92%) efficiency.

    Optical Drive:

    LG 24x DVD Burner GH24NSC0B

    Optical drives have plenty of uses, so we include a bargain-priced model here. Just keep in mind that Windows has dropped DVD movie playback support due to licensing fees. 

    The Guru's Tip:

    For Blu-Ray use, go with the LG BD Rewriter, which is very economical at this point, but similarly cannot play Blu-Ray movies out of the box. To play back DVD or Blu-Ray movies, you'll want Cyberlink PowerDVD 16 Ultra software for playback.

    Operating System:

    Microsoft Windows 10

    Windows 10 is a huge improvement over Windows 8 and every OS that came before it. The most obvious change for most users will be the return of a functioning Start Menu, which Microsoft broke in Win8 despite it working just fine in Win7, but there a huge number of other changes to usability and functionality that any user will appreciate.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Consider picking up the awesome Logitech K830 Illuminated Living Room Keyboard and Touchpad to make navigation of the OS easier from the couch.

    Video Card (Optional):

    MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB LP (Opt.)

    This card is an optional upgrade for anyone looking to serious gaming or high-end video decoding using a slim-line HTPC. This awesome little card is low-profile (required for the ML03/04 case), and is actually the most powerful such card on the market! Amazingly, this is the very first low-profile card to support HDMI 2.0/HDCP2.2 for true 4K/60Hz streaming support!

    The Guru's Tip:

    If you're going with the larger GD05 ATX-based case we recommend, you can use even more powerful cards, such as the EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB!

    Wireless Card (Optional):

    TP-LINK Archer T6E AC1300

    If you don't have a hard-wired ethernet cable nearby, this wireless adapter will get you connected to your home network with ease. It will fit in any of the PCIe slots available on the motherboard recommended for this build, and offers 400Mbps on the 802.11n 2.4GHz band, and more importantly up to 867Mbps on the 802.11ac 5GHz band. That's ideal for getting the most out of high-speed Internet service. While we previously recommended TP-Link's 802.11n-only card for this build, now that just about every router on the market supports 802.11ac, we think it's time for PC builders to move to 802.11ac adapters as well.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Also consider using the stand-alone Netgear EX6200 AC1200 Range Extender as an alternative to an add-in card. It connects wirelessly to your home router using ultra-fast 802.11ac networking, and in addition to extended your wireless network's range, provides wired connections for up to four devices - perfect if you also have a TV, Blu-Ray player, media streamer, or other network-enabled device you'd like to hook up to the Internet via an ethernet cable.

    Sound Card (Optional):

    Asus Xonar DSX (Opt.)

    If you're serious about sound quality, you'll probably want to step up from built-in motherboard audio, so consider the low-profile Asus Xonar DSX PCIe sound card. It provides high-quality 192kHz/24-bit playback through five mini-analog outputs, plus an optical adapter for digital connections.

    The Guru's Tip:

    For the best PC sound available, pick up the audiophile-quality Sound Blaster ZxR, complete with a Burr-Brown DAC, analog RCA jacks, and optical in/out. Note that the ZxR will only fit in full-height cases.