Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid with your HTPC Build

Aug 24 2009

Remember the feeling you had when you would pack for a nice long vacation, only to arrive at the hotel and realize you forgot your toothbrush? That feeling can be 100 times as bad when it comes to building out a Home Theater PC (HTPC) where components cost a lot more than $3, not to mention the effort involved with each step.

With the help of the gang at MissingRemote.com, we have compiled a list of the top 10 mistakes people most commonly make during their build process of an HTPC. I can't stress that this applies for novice users as well as experts, as its usually the obvious things that are forgotten that cause the most hassle!

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1. Buying a case that doesn't fit your needs

The chassis is one of the most important components of a build, not just stylistically but also functionally. Go to small with a chassis and you may not be able to use that 2nd hard drive, or fit that full size ATX motherboard. If the chassis measurements are too deep, then you have a gorgeous case that's hanging out the back because your entertainment shelf is only 18" deep and the chassis is 20"!

2. Choosing a video card that is underpowered - so many HTPC's are started off with parts that are leftover, and the video card is most common since it's one of the most regularly upgraded pieces. But there's little more that can cause headaches than an underpowered video card when you're trying to playback some high resolution, high compression video formats and spend the next few weeks trying to find the culprit.

3. Choosing an antique CPU/Mobo combination - Partly for the same reasons as the video card complaint above, but the problem around using older motherboards is more of an issue if you are buying more components. For example, if you are going to be buying PCI components (instead of PCI-Express) because your older motherboard has a lot of them, and then are forced to upgrade, will new motherboards be able to support all your devices?

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4. Not thinking about your Software enough - Just browse around the forums of every software available and you'll see people surprised/disappointed that their selected software can't do the 1 most important thing they want. For example, if you must have the extender model and you must have DVD/Blu-ray playback onto them, then Windows Media Center is NOT for you, SageTV would be ideal. If you must have high definition television, know your options--Windows Media Center is the only one that supports cablecard.

5. Using a cheap power supply - this is valid for almost any system build and the reasons are obvious. Using an inexpensive power supply can cause you a lot of headaches with random reboots, freezes, shut downs...and of course you will assume the problem is everything EXCEPT the power supply...that is until you replace every piece and figure it out.

6. Not testing their memory - Memtest86 is free, and now with Windows 7 they have a built in Memory Checker that you can run as well, so the excuses are getting thin for NOT checking your memory. yes it takes a few hours, but the time you will save if you find out sooner than later that you have faulty memory will be well worth it. Faulty memory can cause blue screens, crashes, freezes and other annoying glitches which your eyes will tell you is a software issue.

7. Selecting the wrong sound card for your setup - The lack of knowledge for sound options is pretty high as are the number of people who still get disappointed that their on-board HDMI device can't bitstream high definition formats. Again, this comes back to knowing what you have to have for features.

8. Not using the latest drivers - Again, a tried & true rule from regular computer building, so many times issues the user has are fixed eventually by updated drivers from the manufacturer. If you have any CD's that came with your hardware, step 1 is to throw them out! Then go to that company's website and download the latest drivers for that particular device.

9. Not making an image backup - I can't express the importance of this one and how many people forget about this. You spend countless hours installing your OS, tweaking all the settings, installing all the software...getting things perfect, only to have a random Windows Update or something else 3 weeks later cause absolute disaster and you need to start from scratch! Windows7 includes image backup software, if you have Windows Home Server you can use that, or you can find plenty of other imaging type software available for cheap. Believe me, if it saves you a full day of work you will APPRECIATE it!!

10. Not looking into the future with your purchases - This is of course in reference to actual purchases, not leftover parts which are free. Take for example the optical drive. You might be telling yourself that you have absolutely no need for a blu-ray drive since you don't own any blu-rays, you don't have a big HDTV and you're perfectly fine being on the cheapest DVD-only Netflix plan. As blu-ray discs continue to come down in price, as do LCD and plasma televisions, you don't want to be stuck having to settle for DVDs or having to crack open your HTPC just for this upgrade. Not to mention the cost is not that bad. A DVD drive can cost you anywhere from $20-40, and you can pick yourself up a blu-ray drive starting at $60. This type of thinking holds true across every part--try to envision the item lasting through next year. Are you recording Television shows or ripping movies? If so, you might as well go for a 1 terabyte drive now instead of that seemingly inexpensive 250gb one. 

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