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 November 2017 edition of the Home Theater PC Build continues to feature the Intel Pentium G4600 processor, which is by far the best CPU available for under $100. It's really a wolf in sheep's clothing, given its two fast 3.6GHz processing cores, Hyperthreading support, and powerful built-in HD 630 video processing. These features had been limited to more expensive Core i3 models in the past. It's paired with a B250-based motherboard, which includes such cutting-edge features as a USB Type-C port and an M.2 slot. For storage, we're recommending the combination of a speedy 250GB solid-state drive plus a 1TB hard drive, which together provide excellent performance and capacity for the price. Want to add gaming, 4K, or TV capture capabilities to your system? No problem! We list a number of optional add-in cards that will get the job done! 

GD09

To see previous versions of this build, simply flip to the Home Theater PC Archive. Note that users who want to fill their HTPC with a lot of gear should check out our $1,100 High-End HTPC Buyer's Guide, which uses 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. On the flipside, if you're interested in a truly ultra-compact system, flip over to our Small Form Factor PC Guides, featuring many bookshelf-sized options.

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 this build in The TBG Gallery as submitted by one of our reader. 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!

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.

The $650 Home Theater PC - November 2017

    CPU:

    Pentium G4600

    The Intel G4600 processor offers the best value in Intel's entire CPU lineup. Its two 3.6GHz 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. Note that while we previously recommended the more expensive Core i3-7100, the extra cost really isn't justified in an HTPC, as it includes the same onboard graphics and simply offers 5-10% more computing power, not enough to make a significant difference for HTPC uses.

    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 Pentium will work well too.

    Motherboard:

    MSI B250M Mortar

    This B250-based micro ATX board boasts a fantastic feature set at a fantastic price. It has the capable ALC892 sound codec, 6 USB ports (including a USB 3.1 Type-C connector), and three video outputs (DVI, DisplayPort, and HDMI). In terms of expansion, you get a PCIe x16 slot for video cards, a PCIe x4 slot, two PCIe x1 slots, four RAM slots, and an M.2 slots for solid-state drives, which we recommend you use for this build to reduce cable clutter.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Take note: despite Intel's somewhat misleading marketing regarding Kaby Lake's support for true 4K, motherboard manufacturers must implement the feature in their hardware, and they've only done so on a few high-end boards. Unfortunately, that means yet another generation of HTPC users must use an add-in card for true 4K content. We recommend the very best video card option later in this guide.

    Memory:

    Crucial 2x4GB Ballistix Sport LT DDR4-2400

    This 8GB kit is more than sufficient for any home theater use. Note that unlike older Intel platforms, the current 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 Patriot's 2x8GB DDR4-2400 kit! One important note: RAM prices continue their unrelenting increase due to supply shortages, and there's really not much any of us can do about it!

    Solid-State Drive:

    Western Digital Blue 3D 250GB M.2

    We transitioned this system to an SSD for the main OS drive years ago, and among several options, Western Digital's new Blue 3D 250GB M.2 drive offers the best value, making it a great fit for this system. It's the least expensive high-performance drive available in the M.2 form factor, which uses a dedicated slot on the motherboard and saves a lot of space in your case while eliminating cable clutter as well.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that you'll need a jeweler's-type screwdriver to affix this drive, as standard Philips #2 screwdrivers are too big.

    Hard Drive:

    Western Digital Blue 1TB

    If you'll be storing a lot of media, you're going to need a hard drive. Western Digital's 1TB Blue drive has a well-earned reputation for offering a great blend of speed, quiet operation, and reliability.

    The Guru's Tip:

    This full-size 3.5" drive will sit in a dedicated tray in the case we recommend, right next to the motherboard.

    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. If you'd like to build a system compatible with full-size add-in cards, check out our $1,100 High-End HTPC Buyer's Guide.

    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, You'll also need a software package to play back commercial movies, and we recommend Cyberlink PowerDVD 16 Ultra.

    Operating System:

    Microsoft Windows 10 Flash Drive

    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.

Optional Components

    Video Card (Optional):

    Gigabyte GeForce GT 1030 Silent Low Profile 2G (Opt.)

    This card is an optional upgrade for anyone looking for true 4K support from their slim-line HTPC. This awesome little card is low-profile (required for the ML03/04 case), and can actually handle quite a few older gaming titles at 1080p. But it's best feature is one that that will truly improve your HTPC experience: it supports HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 for true 4K/60Hz streaming support. And of course, given that it's fanless, it's totally silent, although Gigabyte also offers it in a single-slot actively-cooled model, ideal for users looking to fill all four of their expansion slots.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Want to do serious gaming on your slimline HTPC? Then go for Gigabyte's GTX 1050 Ti 4GB LP, the most powerful low-profile video card ever released!

    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 DGX (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 DGX PCIe sound card. It provides high-quality 96kHz/24-bit input and playback through four mini-analog outputs, plus an optical adapter for digital connections.

    The Guru's Tip:

    If you're using HDMI out for sound, you won't be able to take advantage of an add-in sound card.

    TV Tuner (Optional):

    Hauppauge WinTV-quadHD PCI Express TV Tuner Card 1609 (Opt.)

    The perfect solution for cord-cutters looking to watch or record over-the-air TV, this TV tuner offers four built-in tuners that run over a single antenna, allowing you to record four channels simultaneously, or even watch four channels in split screen!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Being a half-height card PCIe card, this adapter will fit right into the slimline case we recommend for this build.

    Optical Drive:

    LG 14x Blu-Ray Burner

    For support of Blu-Ray reading and burning, you'll want to upgrade this build's standard DVD burner to this optional Blu-Ray drive.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that to play Blu-Ray movies, you'll need decoding software, and we recommend Cyberlink's PowerDVD 17.