How to build a computer
How To Build A PC - A Computer Building Guide
Rob Williams - contact via the forums
Last Updated: 1/3/2016
How to build a computer
Making PCWorld's "Best Free Stuff On The Web Guide - 101 Great Sites" as the favorite Build A PC site!

Build A Computer Like My Super PC

Media Center PC

I get a lot of questions about a Media Center PC, specifically what does it do and how do you build one? A Media Center PC is not practical for most of us. It's not so much driven by technology meeting opportunity as it is driven by big company marketing wanting a foothold in your family room.

What Is A Media Center PC

A Media Center PC is the entertainment hub in your family room for all things digital. The movers and shakers in the computer industry are very serious about something called a Media Center PC and are spending bazillions to get to it. There's big money to be had - at least so think companies like Microsoft and Sony - if they can be the king of the family entertainment center. That's why they sell their latest game consoles for hundreds less than they cost to make, so they can have that presence in the family room. The so-called Media Center PC is another means to this end. It's years away from maturity, if it even makes sense. I haven't built a Media Center PC because it just doesn't seem like a compelling thing to have at the moment. Maybe one day the marketing hype will live up to the promise, but not today.

A Media Center PC is a computer for the family room. That means it has a look-and-feel that's somewhat different than a desktop computer. The video output for the computer is probably not a computer monitor, but a large-screen TV. It's very important the computer itself be small, quiet and stylish looking. When I say small I mean so it integrates into the entertainment environment well. When I say quiet I mean so you don't hear it over the TV or stereo. The need for small and quiet can makes things a bit tricky. This is because of heat. A small box means whatever heat is generated is more concentrated. Heat is usually dispelled by fans, but the typical computer with quiet fans may not be quiet enough for the family room.

What Does A Media Center PC Do

When you think Media Center PC, first think Personal Video Recorder (PVR). Also known as Digital Video Recorder (DVR) by cable providers and as TiVo by satellite providers. I use PVR and it's great, but I just rent a box from the cable company that does it because it's so cheap and easy. If your Media Center PC can't do PVR then it's not a Media Center PC.

Here are the things a Media Center PC might do. As you can see, a Media Center PC doesn't do anything new, it just does everything you ever wanted in one slick, quiet, easy-to-use, bug-free, trouble-free, no hassles, no worries, perfect little electronic box that never needs an upgrade and never crashes - with a remote control. At least, that's what marketing types would have you believe.

As for me, I don't see how all these things make sense coming from one box. If I'm watching TV then I'm relaxing and I want to see it on the largest screen I can afford and I want to watch from the sofa where I may fall asleep. If I'm editing digital photographs or home movies then I'm working and I need to be sitting up and alert as I would be at an office desk. Certainly no one else in the household wants the big screen family TV tied up while I tediously process the family photos. Given the obvious split in how these two types of activities are usually done, how does it make sense to integrate them? How is a Media Center PC any practical advantage over a DVR, CD player, receiver and some speakers?

What Do I Need To Build A Media Center PC

Given everything it's expected to do, it should be no surprise that a Media Center PC is vastly more expensive than most PC's, and more complex. A Media Center PC needs the most of everything. The fastest dual-type processors, every RAM slot filled with the biggest memory modules, the biggest hard drive (think RAID), an add-on sound card, plus specialty add-on cards for tuning TV programming, a DVD RW optical drive and a memory card reader. Plus a high-end video card if top-tier gaming is desired. Configuring the computer with all these components can be difficult since with all these add-ons it's easy to run out of the right kind of add-on slot needed for each type of card, especially since a small, compact computer is what's desired and accommodating motherboards and computer cases often save space by constraining the number of add-on cards. Also the power supply needs to be carefully chosen in terms of being able to handle the large load, the amount of heat generated, and the amount of noise generated. And don't forget the software to support all the digital functions I mentioned above, starting with Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition for the operating system.

A Media Center PC can be done, but it's well out of the mainstream of what most people would find practical.

Next: Build A Computer Like My Super PC - Help And Support

My complete recommendations for building a computer with quality components at unbeatable prices is on my home page at Build A Computer Like My Super PC - Cost To Build A Computer. Here again are the recommendations for a motherboard!
Description Where I Would Get It Today Today's Price Comments
ASUS Z97-A LGA 1150
$155.99 The Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UDH5 motherboard I'm using has outstanding quality and is a top performer. Unfortunately, it's been discontinued. This ASUS motherboard is very similar and would be my choice today. One difference is that the ASUS does not come with IEEE 1394, but it is cheaper and FireWire can be added for low-cost with a plug-in card.

Bundles, Barebone Kits
Motherboard Bundles
Varies Clicking the link takes you directly to the page for bundles and systems. All of the components in My Super PC were purchased separately so that I got exactly what I wanted. But if you come across a bundle you like then you can be sure that all of the components are compatible. Bundles typically include at least the processor and motherboard, but can include much more.
Combo Deals
Varies Clicking the link takes you directly to the combo deals page. Once there you can search by category, such as "AMD Motherboards" and brand, such as "Gigabyte".

Skip Ahead
  Introduction/Cost To Build A Computer
  Computer Building Price Considerations
  faq: OEM Definition
  Case And Power Supply
  BIOS Settings
  Video Card
  Sound Card
  SSD - Solid State Drive
  Hard Drive
  faq: Can I Use My Old Hard Drive With A New Computer?
  Change The Front Panel On The DVD RW
  Flat Panel LCD Monitor
  Other Computer Hardware
  Windows Operating System
  Sharing Cable Modem or DSL
  CPU Cooler And Case Fans
  How Fast Is It?
  What Problems Were There?
  More About How To Get A Cheap Computer With Top Quality And High Performance
  Changes For A Game Computer And Enjoying Computer Games
  Changes For A Computer With MP3 Music As A Priority
  Media Center PC
  Help And Support
  faq: How Can I Tell What I Already Have In My Computer?

© 2001-2015, Rob Williams, all rights reserved.