Let’s be honest, as of mid-2018, it’s not a great time to be a PC builder. RAM prices are ridiculous, and GPU prices are still a bit high. That being said, it’s not all bad. It’s easier than ever to build a kick-ass 4K HTPC. There are more options than ever when it comes to building HTPC’s of all shapes, sizes, and budgets.
A lot has changed since last year, Intel has had a processor refresh, Nvidia has released it’s new 1000 series lineup, and AMD has finally released its Ryzen processors and Vega GPU’s. Like I said, A LOT has happened since last year, and these changes have brought forth a bevy of options to consider when building your HTPC.
Before we begin. AMD is back!
It’s been awhile since I last updated this particular article, and apparently, A LOT has happened since, so I’ll try and cover as much as I can. Here’s how we’re going to do it this year. I couldn’t recommend AMD CPU’s (pre-Ryzen) in the past, they were just too damn inferior when compared to Intel’s offerings. But now that Ryzen is finally available, I think they are more than deserving of some time and consideration in your build.
We are going to stick to three tiers. Budget, mid-range, and high-end. There will be two builds for each budget. The only difference being AMD and Intel components. One AMD CPU based build and one Intel CPU based build. Each build will be capable of 4K output. The GPU, RAM, SSD, cooler, case, etc. recommendations for each build will be interchangeable. The motherboard and CPU, however, will not. I have no personal preference of one over the other (AMD vs Intel), I’m just giving you options.
Most of you would be well off to stick to the budget build. You really don’t need much more if you doing standard HTPC stuff (Plex, DVR, streaming, ripping, etc.). In our case, budget does not equal shit. Despite their low price tags, these budget builds make for great all around HTPC’s.
For all builds, I will be excluding any and all mass storage needs. Everyone has a different requirement when it comes to storage. Some of you might need only a single TB while someone else might need 12TB to rip their entire Blu-ray collection. In the spirit of saving money, I will also be excluding an operating system from the budget builds. I do not consider Windows to be a vital component of budget HTPC.
If you’re on a strict budget, luckily, you have a ton of options. There’s the Intel Compute Stick, Intel NUC, Chromeboxes, and various other (small form factor) pre-built systems that might fill your needs. But most pre-built systems share some common downfalls. Most lack processing/graphical power, expandability, and some lack 4K output. But, on the flip side, some pre-built systems feature extremely low power consumption, very small form factors (footprint), and most come with a modest price tag.
So which one is right for you? It all goes back to your personal preferences. If you want to play PC games from your HTPC, or if you’re ever considering that possibility, most of these options simply will not cut it. Most, if not all, lack virtually any kind of expandability and/or upgradeability. Same goes for video encoding, and Plex server hosting. A budget pre-built PC can do it, but you may not be happy with its performance. That being said, should your needs take you beyond the basics, you would probably benefit from building your own HTPC, even if you’re on a budget. If that sounds like you, then continue reading.
Here is our budget AMD based 4k HTPC. Could we have built a cheaper AMD based HTPC? Sure. But if you’re looking for 4K output, and modern hardware, this is about as cheap as I will go. You could pair up an older AMD CPU with an older AMD motherboard and a cheap GPU, but I feel like that would be a step backward. If cost is of the utmost importance, I would just settle for a pre-built PC and be done with it. But if you ever want more from your HTPC, you need to leave a little room for expandability. Nothing in this build is a luxury, these are the baseline components that will get the job done.
NOTE: This motherboard requires a BIOS update (as do most other as of this writing). It also requires inserting a Ryzen CPU before applying the BIOS update (seriously). Most motherboard manufacturers will let you borrow a CPU to get your motherboard working, but that is going to delay your build. That being said, this is obviously a pain in the ass, I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to avoid this situation altogether. But, until compatible motherboards are released (Asus says “soon”) this is going to remain a pain in the ass. Personally, I would just wait, or go with an Intel build until manufacturers release “official” compatible motherboards. I’ll try and post an update when Raven Ridge supported motherboards begin to show up.
If you hadn’t noticed, our Intel budget HTPC is almost the exact same price as our AMD variant. I went with the i3 7100 over the i3 8100 for two specific reasons. Cost, and abundance of options. The 8100 and 7100 share roughly the same price tag, but, as of this writing, it is significantly cheaper and easier to find a motherboard (that matches our needs and budget) for the 7100. It’s good to have options when building on a budget. Choosing the more mature CPU is just going to make everything that much easier, especially considering our size constraints. But if you feel like doing a bit of detective work, the i3 8100 is a solid swap. But you will need to find an LGA 1151 300 series motherboard that fits your needs.
Now we’re talking. Increasing your budget to about $800-1,000 really opens things up. Assuming you have no big size constraints, you’ll have little to no problems building a 4K 60Hz HTPC. This HTPC will be capable of fantastic 1080P gaming and will make for a great Plex server, capable of everything Plex has to offer including several simultaneous HD transcoding tasks at any given time.
This isn’t a 4K gaming rig, but it could be, you’ll need to significantly upgrade your graphics card to game at anywhere near 4K (see AMD/Intel high-end below). But for consuming 4K/UHD media, you are good to go.
Due to my own personal time constraints, I wanted to get this published before it was too late. I’ll do my best to post the rest of the builds ASAP! If you have any questions, leave a comment below or just stop by the CONTACT page and drop me a line, I’ll do my best to get back with you as soon as I can. Thank you.