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How to build a HTPC How to build a HTPC
Having owned and used a Home Theatre PC for many years now, the time to write an article on how to build a HTPC is long over due. In this article we will focus on the hardware side of the build and at a later time we will examine the software side.


When considering the parts list, we could not resist using OrigenAE's new and sexy S21T HTPC case. This case is the exact opposite of slim and the photos really do not do it justice. The S21T is a stunning looking, functional Home Theatre PC case that will still be state of the art in many years to come. The pictures below shows you the S21T, exactly how it comes out of the box.

The OrigenAE S21T includes a unique motorised 12" TFT touch screen which dominates the front of the case. The touch screen is very useful when working with Windows Media Centre without having to turn on your TV or Projector.

Front LCD touch screen
Back panel

We begin by removing the slide-out tray, to make a little room, so that we can install the ultra quiet Zalman 460W Power Supply. Given the number of pieces of hardware that the power supply is going to supply power to, we recommend the 460W as a minimum for this case.

Slide-out tray Power supply fitted

Why start with the Power supply? The reason is very simple, there is no manual way to move the LCD touch screen out of the way, in order to fit the DVD drive into the S21T case. It needs power to lower it out of the way. This means we do need to fit the power supply and the motherboard to the case before we can switch on the power to move the LCD touch screen out of the way, to install the DVD drive.

The first thing you will notice is the huge number of wires, with all sorts of connectors on them, that all need connecting before any thing will work. We begin with the first power connector, which is the molex connector at the back of the LCD touch screen as shown in the picture below.

4 pin molex connector

This molex connector supplies power to the S21T case. This connector alone is not enough to run the S21T case. There are 3 or 4 other connections, depending on your motherboard, that need to be made before the case will spring to life. Now is the time to fit the motherboard to the slide-out tray. If you are using an after market fan to achieve an ultra quiet HTPC, like we are, then you do need to fit a bracket to the underside of the motherboard, before you bolt the motherboard to the slide-out tray. The standard Intel fan, simply pushes into the holes and nothing is fitted to the under side of the motherboard. Next, fit the motherboards rear aluminium back plate to the side out tray, then carefully position the motherboard so that it marries up to the aluminium back plate and lines up with all the mounting posts, for all the holes in the motherboard. This is a very fiddly job, so be patient, otherwise, you can damage the motherboard. Begin bolting the motherboard to the mounting posts, checking as you go. After every screw is secured, it is time to fit the CPU, then the fan and then the memory.

Aluminium back plate Motherboard fitted to slide-out tray

The first of the 3 or 4 connections that need to be connected, in order to allow the case to function, is the power switch cable. It's labelled 'Power' and connects to your motherboards power connector. Notice there is no reset switch cable. That's because there is no reset switch on the S21T case. The second connection requires connecting the supplied 24 pin ATX pass-through connector to the motherboard. Notice that the 24 pin ATX pass-through connector includes an additional 2 pin power connector on it. The third connection involves connecting the additional 2 pin power connector to the S21T case. Some motherboards include an auxiliary 4 pin power connector in order to work and that would be the fourth and last connection needed. Check the motherboards installation manual to see what connections are needed to supply power to the motherboard in order for it to start.

Power switch connection 24 pin ATX pass-through connector

At this point we noticed our first issue. The motherboard we used includes a red connector that protrudes from the right hand side of the motherboard. The red connector would not allow the slide-out tray to close, without hitting the fan. The only solution was to remove the OrigenAE fan, so that, the slide-out tray would close. This left a nice gap, where we could mount the Zalman fan controller. We set the Zalman fan controller to its minimum setting. That is, the CPU fan spins at the slowest RPM possible, which makes it silent.

Red Connector Zalman fan controller mounted

Now, it is a good idea to also fit the 80 pin IDE cable for the DVD drive, before finally securing the slide-out tray with the thumb screws provided. Connect the Zalman 20+4 pin ATX connector to the OrigenAE supplied 24 pin ATX pass-through connector. In our case, we only needed to use the 20 pin connector from the Zalman power supply. Check your motherboards manual for the correct connector to use.

80 pin IDE Cable fitted 20 pin ATX connector

After all this work, we are finally in a position to power up the case, so that, we can move the LCD touch screen out of the way. Plug the 240v power cable into the back of the Zalman Power Supply and the other end into a wall socket and switch the Zalman power supply on. Press the big power ON button on the front of the case and if all is well, the CPU fan will spin and the illuminated power button will go from orange to blue. The button to lower the LCD touch screen is next to the right foot. Side your finger into the cavity and you will fill a button there. Before you press it, move the S21T to the edge of the table, otherwise the LCD touch screen will hit the table as it lowers. Once the LCD touch screen is out of the way, focus can then change to fitting the DVD drive to the case.

Open the black tray to the DVD drive using a paper clip. All DVD drives have a small hole where a straightened paper clip can be inserted to eject the tray when no power is connected. The front black tray bracket is simply clipped on. Gently remove it, making sure not to damage the tray itself. Next, remove the DVD grill from the S21T case and bolt the grill onto the DVD Drive. Now, bolt the DVD grill back into the case, but do not tighten the screws yet. Leave them finger tight. Notice that you can slide the grill back and forward a few millimetres. This adjustment is to enable the DVD eject button to work. Bolt the grill to far forward and the eject button will not work. Same goes if the DVD drive is to far back. Position it so that you can hear the click as you press the DVD eject button on the case and then tighten up the 4 screws to hold the DVD drive in the correct spot.

DVD Grill fitted DVD fitted to case

The easiest way to fit the supplied aluminium DVD tray bracket to the DVD tray is to turn the case so that it is face up, with gravity on your side. Remove the backing on the tape. Push the tray in, so that, it is still sticking out a few millimetres and simply line up the aluminium bracket and lower it, so that, it is just sitting on the DVD tray. Give it a few light taps and check that it is fitted perfectly to the case by putting the case back on its feet. If not, it is still easy to remove and try again. If it is perfectly fitted, carefully use the paper clip to grab the DVD tray and open it again. Now press the bracket down firmly to make sure it is stuck well. The S21T case also comes with silver DVD stickers to stick onto the aluminium bracket. We would have preferred black stickers, instead of silver stickers and opted not to fit any to the aluminium bracket.

Black tray protruding a few millimetres Aluminium DVD tray bracket fitted

Simply connect the 80 pin IDE cable to the back of the DVD drive and use a molex power connector from the Zalman Power supply to give power to the DVD drive. Turn the S21T case on and test that the DVD drive works correctly by pressing the eject button a few times to open and close the DVD tray.

Before fitting the Hard Disk Drives to the case, plug in all the fans connectors to there respective connectors on the motherboard. Now is a good time to also connect the front panel USB, Firewire and HD Audio cables to the motherboard. These cables are the ones hanging out over the right hand side of the S21T case in the picture below. Check the motherboard manual for the location of each connector on the motherboard. Many motherboards share the same connector for both HD Audio and legacy AC'97 Audio. If this is the case, check the BIOS setting, as it should be set to HD Audio.

Front panel USB, Firewire and HD Audio cables

The S21T is capable of supporting Ten (10) disk drives. In our case, we had 5 disk drives to fit. 4 x 500GB and 1 x 200GB disk drives. Check if your motherboard supports SATA 1.5GB/s or 3.0GB/s and set the speed of the disk drives accordingly, using the jumpers supplied with the disk drives. In our case, the jumpers are removed for 3.0GB/s through-put. Installing the disk drives into the S21T case is easy. Firstly, remove the thumb screws and brackets to expose the rails where the disk drives slide into. Supplied are special screws with rubber grommet's fitted to the screws. On the outer wall rails, we used 3 of these screws on the disk drives and on the inner wall rails, we used only one screw on the disk drive. The disk drives can then be carefully lowered down the rails. When all the drives are in place re-fit the brackets and thumb screws to prevent the disk drives from falling out.

Use the supplied red SATA cables to connect the disk drives to the motherboard. Most motherboards include 4 standard SATA connects plus an additional 4 RAID SATA connectors. With RAID you can either Strip (RAID 0) or Mirror (RAID 1) or Mirror and Strip (RAID 10) your disk drives. In some cases, some motherboards include Distributed Parity (RAID 5). The most useful is RAID 5, however, our motherboard did not include RAID 5. Instead we used RAID 10 or Mirroring and Stripping. Should one hard drive fail, you still have a Mirror copy, so all is not lost. Simply replace the faulty disk drive and the RAID sub system will recreate the Mirror and Strip set. In our case, we ended up with a virtual 1TB RAID 10 disk drive. The 200GB disk drive is used for the operating system only and we back this drive up to the 1TB RAID 10 disk drive. The operating system uses only 3 to 4 GB's out of the 200GB disk drive.

Connect the red SATA cables according to your desired configuration, along with the SATA power connector from the Zalman Power Supply. This is were we noticed our next issue. OrigenAE supply a number of 4 pin molex connectors to angled SATA power connectors. The reason for this, is the lid for the S21T case will not close unless you use the angle SATA power connectors. As more and more power supplies come will less and less molex connectors and include more straight SATA connectors, this will become more of an issue in the future. With the Zalman power supply we used, it included only 2 Molex connectors on the same cable! We did not want to run 5 disk drives plus a DVD drive from a single power cable. The solution was simple, we simply fitted a couple of Molex connectors to the end of the SATA cables after snipping off the original straight SATA power connectors. We were then able to use the supplied angled SATA cables to connect to the disk drives.

Using the supplied angled SATA power connecters Straight SATA power connectors are to tall

The last thing to do is fit the Nvidia video card and the Avermedia TV cards to the motherboard and you are ready to install the software. We have fitted 3 digital TV Cards to the S21T case as 3 tuners really reduces the number of recording conflicts that you can come across in practice. If we could, we would have installed 4 TV tuners, but the motherboard we used only included 3 PCI slots. As we have a preference for Avermedia TV Cards, at present, Avermedia do not have a dual digital TV Card that we can use. Avermedia is well known for super fast channel changing. Some TV Cards can take up to 7 seconds to change a channel!

Now that the hardware side of the build is complete, the only thing left to do is install the software, configure it and then hook up your new Home Theatre PC to your existing hi-fi equipment. Once that is all done, simply grab your remote control or remote keyboard, sit back, relax and enjoy your new Home Theatre PC.

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