Constructing A HTPC – Part 2

In the first part of this article, building a home theater PC, we looked at how to plan out your system. Once you have chose your components, the fun starts – putting it all together! Luckily building a home theater PC is not hard. If you can handle a screwdriver without stabbing yourself, you are probably going to be able to put together a PC.

One precaution before you get started – touch a large metal object like your HTPC case chassis, a metal cabinet, or similar to earth yourself. Static electricity can damage some PC components. And a helpful tip – invest in a pack of cable ties in advance. Good cable management in a home theater PC build will promote air flow in the case and make your installation much easier, particularly in a small HTPC case.

The starting point for our build will of course be the case. In my home theater PC I chose the Antec Fusion Remote case, and was impressed with it’s features.

Start by removing the cover. In this case the cover is fastened by a single thumb screw at the top rear. Removing the cover reveals the three sections of the case where you will be installing components, and a bunch of cables. You will also find the remote tucked into a corner of the front of the case. Remove this and any other loose pieces, and tuck the wires out of the way.

Case interior. Note the separate chambers and removable optical drive mount.

The mother board is installed first, but before you can screw it in you may need to add spacers (some are pre-installed). These small hexagonal metal mounts are screwed into the larger chamber, in the holes that you will see on the bottom of the case. To get the position right, carefully lay your motherboard into position, and look for the screw holes in the motherboard. There should be a spacer under each of these holes – avoid installing extras where not needed.

Once the spacers are installed, the motherboard can be installed. Before you screw it in though, find the back plate that will have been supplied with your motherboard. This small metal plate should be custom made to fit around the various outputs for your motherboard. You may need to remove the backplate that is supplied with the case. The plate should be pressed into the square slot at the rear of the case until it pops into place.

Now the motherboard can be placed on the spacers. Make sure the rear ports line up with the back plate, and screw the motherboard into place using the supplied screws.

The motherboard, with ports lined up with the back plate and screwed into position. Note the neat feature of the Antec Fusion Remote here - an adjustable air guide that helps direct cool air over the CPU fan.

The CPU should be installed next. Handle this gently while installing, as the pins are very delicate. The CPU slots into the large square socket on the motherboard, and should have a triangle indicating which corners to line up as well as a slotted design to avoid incorrect chip placement. Place the CPU and secure it with the motherboards locking lever.

Once the CPU is installed, you will need to attach the supplied cooling fan or an aftermarket cooler if desired. The CPU may come with a layer of thermal grease already but if not, or if you want to improve cooling a little, you may want to install your own thermal grease to the CPU before adding the cooler.

The CPU cooler locks into place with 4 push pins that fit into the holes around the CPU. Some coolers may need to be screwed into place.

After you have installed the cooler, secure the fan power cable to one of the fan power posts on the motherboard – there should be one located near the CPU.

Case function cables

Next, you can start attaching other components and cables. I recommend that your first step be to attach the various  case cables first, as this can be fiddly if done last. The case cables include front USB, infrared controller, power, firewire, and volume. Follow the motherboard manual and the case instructions to locate and attach all these cables correctly – most plug into small pins on the motherboard.

Once the case cables are attached, you can install the power supply with 4 screws to the rear of the case and then connect power cables. Note the sliding port between the PSU and motherboard chambers – remove the screw to open this and feed cables through neatly. Connect the wide power plug to the motherboard as well as the smaller 4, 6 or 8 pin plug to the top of the board, near the CPU. Your PSU will have a variety of other connectors, including both 4 pin and SATA power cables. Connect power to the case fans, and any other parts you have already installed.

Now you can move on to installing the RAM, video card if you are using one, various PCI cards, and hard and optical disk drives. Your RAM fits into a long slot down one side of the motherboard, and should clip into place.

RAM, clipped into position

Video and PCI cards, like your wireless card or TV tuner, are installed into the slots at the rear of the case. You will need to remove the metal guards by removing the screw holding them in place, press the card into the slot, and use the same screw to fasten into position.

In the Antec fusion case, the hard disk drive is mounted vertically near teh front panel. Remove 4 screws to release the bracket, and position the HDD on it’s rubber feet in the bottom of the case. Use the supplied screws with large heads and long shanks to screw the HDD down, through the underside of the case. Your DVD or BluRay drive is fastened to the bottom of the large metal mount at the front left of the case. Once all drives are attached, connect them to ports on the motherboard and plug in the right plug from the power supply. Most modern drives should use a SATA cable, which has an L shaped socket.

Motherboard SATA connectors

At this point, you are nearly done! Attach the Antec CPU air flow guide pieces, and do a final run around the case with cable ties to bundle up and secure any loose cables before screwing the case lid back on. If you installed a TV tuner, you may now need to attach the infrared receiver to the rear of the card. Most wireless cards come with an external antenna as well.

Now all that remains is to install your software, drivers, and applications. You may need to temporarily attach a normal LCD PC monitor before the HTPC can be set up to work with a flat screen, depending on the video card you are using. If installing a Windows OS, power up the machine, insert the install disk, and follow the prompts to format your drive and install the OS. Once installed, work through the stack of driver disks that come with your various parts and install the drivers, starting with the motherboard drivers.  If you are going to connect to the internet, I recommend a decent antivirus program (like the good, free AVG)and a third party firewall. Now you can hook up your telly and start figuring it all out – have fun!

All components installed

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