Back in October of last year I finally bit the bullet and upgraded my main media center PC, I'd been speccing out components for months but since the current PC was working so well I couldn't justify the outlay, however since I was starting to watch HD content and I had a bit of money to spend it seemed like a good opportunity.
I also decided to get a new case, while I'd been really happy with the Silverstone Lascala LC11 it was limited in that it only took micro-ATX motherboards and didn't have an LCD display on the front, besides I'd totally fallen for the Zalman HD135, which to me looked more like a piece of Hi-Fi equipment than any other HTPC case I'd seen before or since.
I went totally overboard in terms of the specs (my excuse was that it would last a while, but who am I kidding...):
- Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 Processor
- ASUS P5K AiLifestyle Series iP35 Socket 775 Motherboard
- OCZ 2GB Kit (2x1GB) DDR2 800MHz/PC2-6400 x 2 for 4GB total
- MSI 8600GTS Heatpipe Edition 256MB DVI HDTV PCI-E Graphics Card
- LG GSA-H62N 18X SATA DVD±RW/DL/RAM
- Seagate ST3160815AS 160GB Hard Drive x 2
- Hiper 580W Type-R Modular PSU
Including delivery the total came to £643 (the case was another £170 on top of that!).
I arranged for next day delivery and it turned up on the Friday as scheduled, so once the kids were in bed I set about putting it together, this is when the first problem occurred. I'd bought a silent graphics card with heatpipes and without realising it the heatpipes stuck out from the top of the card meaning that it didn't fit in my nice shiny new case and being that this was the first PCI-E based GFX card I'd purchased I didn't have another one with which to get the PC set up with in the meantime. Argh!
I sent ebuyer an email explaining my mistake and they took the card back without any problems, I didn't order a replacement, heck I couldn't wait that long! At the time I was working just around the corner from Tottenham Court Road, so during my lunch on the following Monday I picked up another 8600GTS, I paid a bit more than I would have online but hey, I got it without any delays.
So finally on Monday evening I got to put the new beast together and fire her up, unfortunately for me what you dread the most when putting a new machine together is that it actually boots up and in this case it didn't, it powered on and all the fans were running but nothing else, nada. I ended up stripping it all out and starting from scratch and testing each component as best I could in another machine, eventually it turned out to be something really simple, the CPU fan wasn't seated properly! When it finally booted up I can't tell you how relieved I was!
Once it was up and running I decided to leave everything hanging out of the case while I installed the operating system, just in case any more problems arose, it was only when everything was fully installed that I put all the components back in the case.
I put the machine in the equipment rack and connected it all up, downloaded some 1080p test videos and enjoyed the show. I ran a few more tests to see what the quad core could do, specifically I started encoding four mpeg-2 videos to xvid at the same time, in comparison to any of my other machines it chewed through them like a hot knife through butter and I was a rather happy bunny. :-)
Since I built the machine last October I've added a Blu-Ray drive, replaced the GFX card heatsink and fan with a quiet Zalman model, added in a large 12cm fan to increase the airflow through the case and done a few other minor mods to keep the noise down. It now runs whisper quiet, all fans are at their lowest setting and the CPU idles at about 40 degrees, only going up a few degrees when watching HD content.
Here are a few more pictures of the machine and the TV setup in the lounge as it is today, the picture above was taken around October last year when the machine was first built, the two pictures with the machine in pieces were taken in the kitchen when I was building it.