PC based appliances, touchscreens, technology & innovation

One of the things that I proposed to do with this blog was to talk about computer based appliances – in other words, computer hardware that has been built up for a specific purpose, and which doesn’t necessarily expose the underlying computeryness during day to day use.

So it is with the home theatre PC.  Originally built in July 2006 with Windows XP Media Centre Edition, this machine has been:

  • recording and playing back television;
  • storing and playing back DVD’s and home movies;
  • storing a copy of our MP3 collection and playing it back
  • storing a copy of our photo collection, which acts as a screensaver when it’s not in use

This post outlines what’s in the HTPC for hardware and software, how it was built.  With the plan for moving to Win7, there are bound to be changes to come.


  • Motherboard:  Asus A8N-VM CSM (Socket 939)
  • CPU:  AMD Athlon64 3500+ (2.2 Ghz)
  • Samsung Spinpoint 7200rpm 80GB HDD (OS drive)
  • Samsung Spinpoint 7200rpm 250GB HDD (TV recording drive)
  • RAM:  2GB Corsair Value Select
  • GPU:  nVidia 6150 (onboard)
  • Optical drive: Pioneer DVR 107
  • TV: Terratec Cinergy 2400i (Dual tuner HDTV PCIe)
  • Case:  Antec Fusion
  • Remote:  Microsoft MCE Remote and USB R receiver
  • Keys:  Microsoft MCE keyboard with integrated mouse

The only thing that is missing from the above is the display.  I can’t recall the model number now, but it was a Philips 42″ plasma which we bought in September 2003 just prior to the Rugby World Cup.  Prior to the build of the HTPC, we ran a couple of digital set top boxes, including a Topfield TF5000PVR, which we still use as a spare set of tuners for recording.


Other than the operating system, there is very little else installed.  Daily use sees Windows Media Center in use for recording, playback and so on.  the plasma is on a lot of the time, and if we aren’t watching something, then it’s likely that there are photo’s being displayed.  If you’re looking for a way to connect with your photo album, then this is a great option – we see them all, and it’s not uncommon to find yourself sucked into half an hour of photo watching.  The kids enjoy yelling the names of who ever appears on the screen as well.

Other than that:

  • nVidia PureVideo codec:  For DVD playback – MCE didn’t ship with a DVD codec in the old days;
  • MCE Weather:  Add’s a lookup to the weather channel to MCE, and allows multiple cities to be bookmarked /  shortcutted.
  • MCE Standby Tool:  Allows recovery from sleep and send to sleep from the MCE Remote, as well as a bunch of other handy preset things
  • Google Earth:  It’s very cool on  a huge screen!
  • Tweak MCE: Everyone loves to fiddle with stuff!  This pack wasn’t really all that crucial though.
  • Anti-virus:  When first built, this machine ran a commercial AV package as I had a licence through work.

And beyond…

We’ve been using this machine practically everyday for four years.  Sure – it’s rebooted itself at unexpected times, it’s borked a recording or two, but we’ve really had four years of great service from this machine.  I’m happy to answer questions or discuss via email or comments, but the purpose of this post was to put a stake in the sand in terms of what our hardware has been, and how happy we’ve been with this machine under MCE, prior to commencing the journey to upgrade the HTPC to Windows7 Home Premium.


Comments on: "The Home Theatre PC (initial build): What’s inside?" (1)

  1. […] 29, 2010 On release of Windows7, it was time to upgrade the HTPC from the initial build.  I had done a test build with Vista Home Premium earlier in the year, and whilst I liked the look […]

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