So I started looking into that a bit. Doing some kind of simple RAID would be pretty sweet, but that seems to still be outrageously expensive (just a good RAID controller is like $500). TV out cards are cheap as hell these days; TV in might be fun too, I could make it a DVR. I'd love to use a quiet mini case, but all the super mini PC's (like the AOpen or Shuttle) don't take full size hard drives (and probably don't have the juice to play 1080p video anyway).
I guess there could be some value in running Linux on it, but I have zero experience with that. I wonder how good MS's XP authenticity checks are these days. I suppose eventually this box should also be my Blu-Ray player but there's no rush to that.
Any advice or experience appreciated.
I found this Mvix thing; it's a pretty sweet deal, it's all ready to go, but I don't like the fact that it's not just a computer. I gather it's running a custom version of Linux and there's some bruhaha because they're not releasing the code they're supposed to under GPL.
It's pretty sweet that people are making good home-theater style PC cases now. I really like the look of the Antec Fusion which apparently was designed with the help of the SilentPCReview guys. The case prices are pretty outrageous; you can get whole computers for the price of one of these HTPC cases. For example this Visionman system for $469 is almost ready to go.
If you're a money-is-no-object kind of guy the EndPCNoise mCubed is close to perfect. It's 100% fanless; it uses the solid aluminum case as a big heatsink with heat pipes hooked to the CPU; I've been dreaming of systems like this for a long time and they are finally here, albeit with an outrageous $2500 price tag.
Addendum : So I spec'ed a machine and made a Newegg Wishlist with all the parts. $662 for the whole thing. Some notes on the parts :
The Antec Fusion case is partly designed by the SilentPCReview guys. It's got good air flow and vibration-damping mounting brackets. Cool. It has an IR Receiver and front display panel for song info and whatnot.
The Scythe Mini Ninja CPU cooler was also designed by them specifically for this case. It has horizontal vanes so that transverse air flow will cool the CPU. Most CPU heat sinks have vertical vanes and are designed for a fan to be mounted on top. The Antec case is specifically designed to have air flowing across the chips, so putting a vertical vane cooler in would wreck it.
The AMD 780G mobo is perfect for HTPC right now. It's got plenty fast integrated graphics to do HD H.264 decoding without pegging the CPU. It also includes all the good video outputs. At idle it's actually cooler than the older 690G mobos, but at full load the northbridge with the GPU in it gets very hot. Hopefully will be okay.
Hard drives you have two options depending on your planned use : the Sumsung F1 is very fast and cool and quiet and cheap. The WD GP is slower. I went with the GP for my build because I imagine this machine will be sitting on but completely idle a lot, and the GP will park its heads in idle which will extend its life and also reduce noise & power when not in use.
For CPU I went with the 4850e which is the fastest chip at 45W, which hopefully will be cool enough to run with no fan on the heat sink. If you want to put a fan on the CPU there are various good 65W choices.
The Scythe SFF21D is the quietest case fan available; it doesn't push much air though, so hopefully it will be good enough for this build. BTW make sure you install the fans to blow out of the case not into it.
My reference material :
Visionman DTA-1A7800 Slim Desktop PC - AMD Athlon X2 4200, 2GB DDR2-800, 500GB SATA II, DVDRW-LS, Radeon 3200 Onboard, Gigab
SysOpt.com - A Case for the Ultimate Media Center Antec Fusion Review
Scythe Ninja Mini CPU heatsink silentpcreview.com
MvixUSA Revolutionizing Portable Entertainment - Mvix Multimedia Centers Mvix (MX-780HD) Wireless HD Media Center [wHDMI]
MATX Computer Cases, ATX Computer Cases, HTPC Comptuer Cases TigerDirect.com
How To Build A High-Class Media PC With Antec's Fusion Media Center Case - Personal Technology - Network Computing
Build It A Living-Room Media Center PC - Solutions by PC Magazine
Build a Quiet, Efficient Home Theater PC - Motherboard ASUS M2NPV-VM - How To by ExtremeTech
Brian's Media Center Edition - Introduction
bit-tech.net Review - AMD's 780G integrated graphics chipset
Asus M2A-VM HDMI AM2 mATX motherboard silentpcreview.com
Antec NSK2400 Fusion Media PC Case silentpcreview.com
AMD Cool & Quiet replacement
AMD Athlon 4850e & 780G as HTPC Platform TweakTown
AMD 780G Best Ever Integrated Mainstream Chipset silentpcreview.com
BTW my link lists like this are autogenerated from a bunch of .url files in a dir. I run the following batch file :
call spawnm -i url2href *.url >> r:\hrefs.txt
spawnm and url2href are programs in the ChukSH distribution.