Thanks for the advice and guidance! I mainly followed your recommendations with a few upgrades and a few exclusions (won't be gaming on this PC). This machine will primarily be used as a media server running Plex for now. It was my first ever PC build from scratch. I am most proud of my cable routing!
Built: April 2016
This sleek-looking home theater PC comes from Dave, who started with our Home Theater PC Buyer's Guide, as published in March 2016, and customized it to make it his own. His focus was on running a media server for his family, which meant quiet but fast storage along with ultra-quiet cooling.
Below is the parts list for Dave's PC:
- CPU: Intel Core i5-6500
- Motherboard: MSI B150M Mortar
- Memory: Crucial 2x4GB DDR4 2133 CL15
- SSD: Samsung 850 Evo 250GB
- Hard Drive: Western Digital 1TB 5400RPM
- Case: Silverstone ML04B
- Power Supply: Corsair CX430M
- Case Fan: Noctua NF-A8 FLX Premium 80mm Fan
- Keyboard: Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400 Plus
- Infrared Receiver: FLIRC USB Universal Remote Control Receiver
- Operating System: Windows 10
Building an HTPC always begins with making the right choice when it comes to the case you'll be using. Over the past few years, one company has come to dominate the HTPC case market: SilverStone. It has more offerings than we can count, including the smallest ITX-based cases you can buy, slimline and standard-height micro ATX cases, and some truly gargantuan ATX-based cases. Dave went with the mATX-based ML04, which we think is really ideal for a mid-range HTPC that is intended for home theater use rather than gaming. Note that it has a flip-down aluminum front panel that conceals the optical drive bay, USB ports, and power/reset buttons. SilverStone also offers the ML03, which uses a standard plastic front fascia. It doesn't look quite as sleek, but allows easier access to the front-mounted components.
One of the things we think is critical in a true HTPC case is cross-bracing for the top panel. That's what allows you to stack components on top of your PC, such as a Blu-Ray player or set-top box. SilverStone wisely includes a crossbrace on the ML04, which is clearly visible in the great top-down photo Dave provided. Without this crossbrace, placing a heavy item on top of the case will cause the top panel to sag and eventually bend permanently.
Dave went with the standard Intel CPU cooler, which is really under-rated in terms of its ability to run quietly when a custom fan profile is used. Remember, for most HTPC uses, the CPU isn't running anywhere near full-load, so you just don't need that much cooling. As a result, a low-RPM fan profile will work just fine, with a ramp up included for when the load gets high. You can also see the characteristic brown-and-tan coloring of the high-end Noctua NF-A8 80mm case fan, a great addition to this system, given that the case does not include fans. The component most in need of cooling will be the hard drive, so Dave's positioning of this fan, right in line with the drive, makes a lot of sense. Also on prominent display is the Samsung 850 Evo 250GB SSD, which is where this system really gets its high-speed chops. Until the next generation of drives hits the market, there's really no other model to consider under $100.
One thing to keep in mind about building a slim micro ATX system like this is that things can get tight, even when you're using all the right components. The ultra-short 140mm Corsair CX430M power supply is really about as big as you'd want to use (and note that this is a modular unit, meaning some of the cables can be left out of the build when not utilized). Then you have the full-width (and full-featured!) B150 Mortar micro ATX board from MSI. While lesser boards will come in at under 9.6" wide, this board goes all the way to spec, meaning it slips right under the drive bracket in the front of the chassis. It's a tight fit, but with proper cable management as illustrated here by Dave, there's no doubt that everything can come together just fine. We really like that the B150 Mortar has four PCIe slots (PCIe x16, PCI x4, and two PCI x1). Lesser boards will substitute in a few legacy PCI slots, which we consider to be mostly filler - they won't do you much good with modern add-in cards.
By the way, we should mention that Dave has mounted his Western Digital Green drive in the optical drive bay, which makes a lot of sense if an optical drive won't be used, given how wide-open that area is. If he had included an optical drive, the hard drive would have to slot in where the SSD is, and the SSD would slip in under the optical drive. Another thing to mention for builders looking to set up an HTPC using one of WD's hard drives: the WD Green line has been retired, and has been re-branded as part of WD's Blue line. You can distinguish between the "old" 7200RPM Blue and the "new" 5400RPM Blue by the RPM rating - the slower 5400RPM is identical to Dave's "Green" model and is quieter, perfect for its intended use as a media drive. Both will continue to be marketed, at least for now.
All right, with all the details out of the way, let's take one last look at Dave's complete setup, which really shows off the efficient layout and clean cabling of his new HTPC:
We want to thank Dave for taking the time to contribute to the TBG community with this build - feel free to learn more about his building process by checking out our discussion on the TBG Forum. Thanks again, Dave!