It's official: We're living in a high-definition world. And with a new generation of affordable, high-quality HD components flooding into the world of PCs, it's high time your computer shared in the fun.
Unfortunately, great HD systems still cost a fortune. However, if you've got the skills to assemble your own machine, you can save a bundle by building an HD-capable media centre PC that can bring you pristine video and amazing gaming.
Whether you're recording free, over-the-air HDTV, playing Blu-ray Disc movies, or making light edits to your HD home videos, a well-built high-def system does it all. For this demonstration, I'm building a PC that will complement my living room entertainment system. Feel free to mix and match choices for your own needs. Heavy gamers, especially, should aim higher on the video card and processor.
Note: For the purposes of this guide, I assume the reader has a basic level of PC building experience. No matter how experienced you are, be sure to practice good antistatic procedures by grounding yourself well at all times and wearing an antistatic wrist band .
Case and Power Supply
Any good computer starts with high-quality components from the ground up. That means choosing a case and power supply that will be adequate for your needs.
Case Beauty is beauty — even if it's skin deep. Pick a case that will look good on your desk or in your home entertainment centre. Many home theatre cases also include displays to show the name of a song that's playing and even navigate media: in a word, slick. I chose the SilverStone Crown CW03-MT for my HD PC, largely because of this integrated LCD display. (Look for this case at various online electronics stores.)
Be sure the software that drives those extras works with your operating system of choice. I'm planning to load my HD system up with Windows Vista Home Premium, which I know will support this feature (as will Windows XP Media Centre Edition).
While you could cram everything into a case the size of pizza box or shoe box, you'll have a much easier time and a broader selection of components to choose from if you stick with a horizontal minitower. Also, the system's heat — and therefore the sound generated by fans keeping everything cool — is going to define your experience. Nobody wants to have to pump up the volume just to drown out a whiny PC fan. Good airflow design will keep things quiet.
Builder's tip: Before you start building, cover part of a table with overturned mouse pads to create an antistatic workspace, and wear a wrist strap clipped to the case to protect the components.
A 500-watt power supply should generally prove adequate if you're not including multiple hard drives, a high-end video card, and other energy-hungry devices beyond the recommendations given here. (Use OuterVision Extreme's Power Supply Calculator Lite to come up with a rough estimate of what you'll need.) Some cases — especially those smaller than the industry-standard ATX — include built-in power supplies. But for nearly silent performance, consider upgrading from those. Finally, go green if possible, with the latest energy-efficient spec, 80 Plus. I chose the Antec NeoPower 650 because of its quiet fan, and its 650-watt rating ensures more than enough margin to grow with upgrades.
When installing your power supply, try to route the nest of cables along the case edges so that they don't obstruct airflow.