All righty then. Let’s keep this thing moving. It’s part three, so let’s take care of the processor, SSD, RAM, Blu-ray drive, and call it a day.
ETR How to Build a 4K HTPC
- PART ONE: GOALS AND CHALLENGES
- PART TWO: CASE, POWER SUPPLY, MOTHERBOARD, AND COOLING
- PART THREE: PROCESSOR, SSD, RAM, AND OPTICAL DRIVE
- PART FOUR: SETUP, TROUBLESHOOTING, AND QUIRKY 4K STUFF
- PART FIVE: SOFTWARE
- PART SIX: PERIPHERALS AND EVERYTHING ELSE
- PART SEVEN: GRAPHICS CARD – THE DEFINITIVE INSTALLATION/UPGRADE/HOW-TO GUIDE
- UPDATED PARTS LIST FOR 2016
- UPDATED PARTS LIST FOR 2017
After we get all that in place, guess what? You are going to have yourself a fully functional HTPC ready for an OS of your choice. Pretty easy so far, don’t ya think?
I’ll admit it, I splurged a bit here. You don’t need a Core i5 for most basic HTPC tasks. But I decided to go with a Core i5 anyway. Do I regret it? Absolutely not! I was originally going to go with a Core i3. But I was a little concerned about how an i3 would hold up over the long haul. I was also concerned about its ability to successfully render 4K video. All of my research points to the i3 having no issues with 4K, but I wanted to be sure my HTPC could just destroy 4K, and do anything else my heart desired. Basically, I didn’t want to look back in a year or two and wish I had a better processor like I did when I built my first PC all those years ago. Ultimately, I went with the i5 and I don’t think I am going to kick myself in the butt anytime soon. If you were wondering, I am happy to report that the Core i5-4460, using nothing but Intel’s integrated 4600 graphics, handles 4K fantastically. Plain and simple.
So my advice is this. Go with the best processor you can afford. Personally, I would stick with Intel. Even though Intel is often far more expensive, it is almost always worth it in the end, especially for what we have planned with our HTPC.
Now comes the most nerve-racking part of the build, for most people. Installing the processor. Good thing for you, installing an Intel processor is mostly foolproof. First off, you need to take off the protective cover. The cover protects all of the processor contact pins.
You will need to push the lever (that silver bar in the upper right-hand corner of the processor mount) over and up to remove the black plastic cover.
Once the cover is off, you can position the processor. In the picture above, you can see a little white dot on the corner of the processor mount. This dot serves as a visual reference to help install the processor properly. In the picture below, you can see a small triangle shape on the lower left-hand side of the chip. All you need to do it align the triangle with the white dot on the board and you will have perfect alignment. There is really only one way you can install the processor if it is not lying flush with the mount, you are not aligned properly. There is also small semi-circle cut outs on each side of the chip that aid in getting the chip positioned properly. Don’t mess it up.
Once the processor is seated properly, you are ready to clamp it into place. Pull the clamp down onto the processor. This should require a reasonable amount of force. Keep on pulling down until you can secure the lever back in its original position. You might hear some creaking or cracking noises during this process. However horrible and terrifying this sounds, assuming your processor was aligned properly, the cracking sound is normal. Once you are locked in place, wipe the sweat off your forehead, and grab a beer. The hard part is over. But we’re not finished with the processor just yet.
CPU Cooler Installation
Processors generate a lot of heat. This heat needs to be dissipated from the CPU somehow, otherwise, your new CPU wouldn’t last very long. Most, if not all Intel processors include a CPU cooler when you buy it new. If you research CPU cooling, you will hear a lot of unscientific reasons about why you shouldn’t use the stock Intel cooler. Some are right some are wrong. But your CPU cooling depends upon a lot of factors. Is your case well ventilated? Is your CPU known for overheating? Do you plan on overclocking? Do you have room for a larger cooler? The list goes on and on. So here is what I recommend. Put off getting a new fancy CPU cooler until you see how the stock cooler fares. If you aren’t comfortable with your CPU temps, get a better cooler. The stock cooler too loud? Pick up an aftermarket CPU cooler. Just make sure it isn’t too big for your case. CPU coolers can be quite beastly. Most HTPC cases don’t allow a whole bunch of extra space for a large CPU cooler. If you are using a smaller case, you might need to pick up a low profile CPU cooler. If you are definitely going to overclock your CPU, you will obviously need to get a better cooler. It’s that easy. If you don’t know what overclocking is, don’t know how to check your CPU temps, or you just don’t care, the stock cooler is probably going to be an OK fit for you.
The stock Intel cooler will come with thermal paste pre-applied to the contact portion of the cooler. It is OK to install as is, but I like to remove the paste Intel puts on there and add a premium thermal paste. You can remove the old paste with rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs, just make sure you get it all. Arctic Silver 5 is an industry standard when it comes to thermal paste. It’s one of the best thermal pastes out there if you ask me. But there are tons of thermal pastes to choose from, each will serve you better than the stock cooler paste. One tube will probably last you 25 years if you only build one computer every 3-5 years or so. You will probably lose it before you run out. REMEMBER: If you ever need to take off your cooler and/or reinstall/install a new cooler, you will need to reapply your thermal paste.
Applying the paste is actually really simple. Don’t over think it. Take your tube and apply a small amount of the thermal paste directly onto the center of the CPU. Do not over apply, it should be just about the size of a grain of rice. It will not look like a lot. Don’t spread the paste around with your finger either. The application and pressure of the CPU cooler will equally distribute the paste onto the surface of the CPU. That being said, with your rice grain of paste applied, you can now position the cooler over the CPU. Try and get it centered the first time, otherwise, you will need to reapply your thermal paste. Once the cooler is down on the CPU don’t lift it up. Once you are centered and aligned over the CPU, the only thing left to do is to push down the locking pins. There should be four black locking pins, these should line up with holes in the motherboard. Once you are lined up with the holes, push down the locking pins, two diagonal pins at a time. If the pins were labeled as 1-2-3-4 in a circle around the cooler, you would push down 1 & 3 at the same time, then 2 & 4. When you hear a click sound, you are locked. Once finished, make sure the CPU cooler is locked down tight before you move forward. The cooler should not have any give or wiggle. If you make a mistake, you will need to do the entire process over again.
Storage/Boot Drive (SSD): Crucial MX100 128GB SSD (now BX100 120GB) $64.99
If you are building an HTPC or any PC for that matter, you have absolutely no excuse not to have an SSD as your OS boot drive. As SSD prices continue to plummet, they are no longer for high end builds only. Everyone should have one, it makes that much of a difference. SSD’s are still much more expensive (per GB) than traditional HDD’s, but the extra cost is well worth it. I’m not saying you need a 480 GB SSD, anything 120 GB and above should be good for most people. You probably get the most bang for your buck around the 120-250 GB range. Anything above 250 starts getting pretty pricey. But if you have the funds, why not? Go nuts!
From a cost analysis perspective, your SSD should primarily run your system applications. Windows, Kodi, Spotify, Chrome, Plex, etc. Whatever apps you typically use, or plan on using for your HTPC. An SSD’s most noticeable benefits with come with these types of applications. Fill it up with extra crap if you want (games, movies, etc). But as far as gaming goes, other than load times, you won’t see much improvement in game performance when you compare an SSD to a normal HDD.
Your SSD should probably not be your data storage drive. For data storage, you would be much better off picking up a large capacity external USB3 storage drive, internal 3.5 HDD, or setting up an NAS (Network Attached Storage). SSD’s are still a little too expensive to be your PVR (Personal Video Recorder), or mass data storage drive. The high cost would highly outweigh the advantages. I picked up Crucial MX100 128GB SSD for my HTPC build. I figure 128 GB should be more than enough for all my necessary system applications.
So let’s get it into our case. If you recall, in part II of our build we had to remove the storage drive mount. So where are we going to put this thing?
Since I am putting in an optical drive, there are really only two other places where I can mount my SSD. If you take a look at the photo above, you can see my mounting position right above hexagonal PSU exhaust holes. You will see two raised areas, with two holes each, this is where I will mount my SSD. For ease of access, I wish I could use the stand, but mounting the SSD directly to the chassis will have to suffice. I am also mounting a 2TB HDD drive to the chassis (I didn’t include it in the build because it is not mandatory). The HDD will be mounted underneath the disc drive cage. You cannot see it in the picture above, but if you took off the disc drive cage, there is another HDD drive mount below. If you do not plan on using a disc drive in your build, you can attach another drive (or two) to the disc drive cage if that tickles your pickle.
If you plan on using more than two drives, storage or disc, and use the same FSP PSU I used in this build, you will need to pick up a Molex to SATA power adapter. The FSP PSU used in this build only had two SATA power connectors. Your PSU’s power connectors may vary, so do your research.
It’s pretty hard to screw up buying and installing RAM. If your motherboard supports DDR3 RAM module’s, then you can purchase virtually any DDR3 RAM you wish, as long as each module is of the same manufacturer and type. You will more than likely be using standard desktop RAM for your HTPC. But there is the possibility (for much smaller builds) that you might require smaller DDR3 memory modules (SODIMM) the type of memory you usually find in a laptop PC. It’s very easy to tell them apart. Normal DIMM memory is long and skinny while SODIMM is short and fat. Check which type you need before you purchase your motherboard. Also, do not mix and match your RAM. Use the same manufacturer and same model for each and every DIMM. RAM does not share your beliefs on diversity.
Spend as much as you want on RAM, having too much RAM is not going to hurt. Just make sure you’re not buying more than your motherboard can support. You don’t need super fancy, fast, and expensive RAM. Your motherboard might not even support its above average speed. The RAM would still work, but you might be paying for stuff you don’t need. 8 GB of normal, everyday garden variety RAM, is just right if you ask me. It’s relatively cheap and is the perfect amount for our HTPC. 16 GB is probably overkill, but it’s all up to you. If you purchase RAM in pairs (not required), just make sure you install them into the motherboard slots that support dual channel. This info can always be found in your motherboard manual.
Installing the RAM is as easy as it gets. You cannot install it wrong. Line it up, firmly push down, flip the clips up so they lock the RAM in place. That’s it. One more component to go!
If you plan on watching, ripping, burning Blu-ray disc’s (and why wouldn’t you) you are going to need to pick up Blu-ray R/RW disc drive. This drive from LG is fairly inexpensive but makes a terrific Blu-ray player.
Installing the disc drive is probably the simplest part of the build. All you have to do is slide it into place. Insert the back end of the drive into the front of your case. Push the drive in so that it is flush with the outside of the case exterior. Align your screw holes found on both sides of the disc drive, and tighten a few screws, at least two, but do as many as you want, I ain’t yo daddy. There you have it, pat yourself on the back cause you’re all finished…Installing components.
Connect Power Cables and Connections
Well, you’re almost finished. Just one more thing. Now that we have everything in place, it’s time to plug it all in. Your power and other connections will vary depending on your motherboard, PSU, and other components. Take a look at your motherboard manual to check the vital connections that need to be made. Normally required connections include 20(+4) power, 4 pin power, HD audio, USB, case fans, the CPU fan, and various tiny miscellaneous connectors (if you have a tight space these can be a real pain in the butt).
These little connectors are not fun to deal with.
Connect the SATA cables. Your storage drive(s) and disk drive will require SATA connectors. Make sure you connect your SSD to your one of your SATA III (higher data transfer rate than SATA II) ports on your motherboard. Again, check your motherboard manual to find out which SATA ports are which. You can connect your disc drive to any SATA port. I usually use SATA II for optical drives because they cannot utilize the higher data transfer rate of SATA III.
Your final task is cable management. You can think about cable management as you go along. But before you put the cover back on, your cables should at least be somewhat organized. This helps improve airflow and therefore cooling. It also helps you keep track of what cable goes where. There are several cable management mounts found on the chassis, so use them to your advantage.
Once you are sure that everything is connected, you are finally ready to power this beast up! Good luck!
In part 4, we will go over general setup and troubleshoot any problems we might be having with our newly assembled HTPC. See you there!
|Power Supply||FSP SFX 300W Power Supply 80+ ||$39.99|
|Motherboard||MSI B85M-G43 Micro ATC LGA 1150 Motherboard ||$74.99|
|Cooling||(2) Arctic 80mm Case Fan||$14.58|
|Processor (CPU)||Intel Core i5-4460 ||$189.99|
|Storage Drive||Crucial MX100 128GB SSD ||$67.00|
|RAM ||Crucial Ballistix Sport 8GB ||$60.65|
|Optical Drive||LG Blu-ray Internal Rewriter ||$57.79|
|Total Build Cost*: $584.98|
*Total build cost does not include optional parts such as an OS, keyboard, mouse, gamepad, extra storage, HDMI cables, wireless adapters, etc. Only the essential costs were calculated.