Let me start with an apology for the cliched name of this build - all I can say in my defence is that I have called every PC I've owned since my early teens 'The Beast', and 25 years later still can't bring myself to make a change!
I actually completed a build similar to this earlier in the year, used for traditional HTPC duties - it was my first build since the late 90's and took me ages. I had a great time learning on the fly via YouTube 'How To' videos. It all worked fine and continues to do so, even if it wasn't the prettiest build in terms of cable management and the like.
Recently a good friend expressed interest in having an HTPC as part of his living room A/V setup, so I suggested he buy my earlier build, saving him some cash and at the same time giving me the start of a war chest to take the plunge into the brave new world of Virtual Reality. Everybody wins!
First things first though: HTPC's - dead, dying or reviving?
I'm the first to acknowledge that modern tech like Nvidia Shield, Apple TV, ChromeCast or even terrestrial catch up TV services, have for many relegated the HTPC to A/V irrelevance.
Personally, I'm not sure that is going to remain the case (pun pardoned). At the end of the day it will always be easier to have a full blown PC operating system accessible via your living room TV. The flexibility this provides still can't be beaten, and is unlikely to be anytime soon. Personally, I cannot stand the cumbersome interface provided by so called ''Smart" TV's, and the endless limitations they force upon you in the living room.
I'm also a fan of a minimal home A/V setup, and there is no denying the long list of devices no longer required when a fully functioning HTPC is included in the mix; DVR, Cable TV Box, CD Player, DVD Player, Blu-Ray Player, UHD Blu-Ray Player, Playstation, Xbox, Radio... the list goes on.
But all of that aside, I suspect high end Virtual Reality kits that run via PC are perhaps where the Home Theatre PC can really find a new niche in the living room. VR is an experience best enjoyed in a common area of your home, where other family members or friends can get involved, and there is room to move about more freely. It certainly isn't best enjoyed all cooped up in a small home office, huddled over a desk.
With all of that and more in mind, I set about acquiring myself the parts for a kick *** living room HTPC VR setup.
I would really like to hear the thoughts and opinions of the PCPP community on the future relevance of HTPC's in general. Will VR see them make a comeback, or am I an old skool fool who really needs to move on???
Let me know in the comments :)
HTPC Build Details:
If you're looking at the prices paid for some of these components and thinking I've been ripped off, well, then you would be right. Sadly this is an unavoidable reality of living in Australia nowadays.
Other than the primary VR requirements, I also plan on using this build as a home media server to manage my ludicrously large collections of film and TV titles. Of course being able to take care of other more traditional HTPC duties like Netflix, YouTube, web browsing, music, physical media playback, live and recorded terristrial TV, etc., will also be important.
Case: Silverstone Grandia GD08 - A bonafide HTPC should compliment the look and feel of your existing audio visual setup by visually integrating itself as seamlessly as possible. The GD08 does just that, with it's horizontal design and brushed aluminium finish that accomodates ITX, ATX and even eATX Mobo's. It is however, far larger than most HTPC cases, which for my needs means it should function well as a media server, storing up to 12 HDD/SSD drives (8x 3.5" & 4x 2.5"). Be warned though, this suckers dimensions are deep, so be sure to check that it can fit into your existing entertainment centre furniture if you're thinking about making a purchase (I had to cut out a portion of the backing board for mine).
Mobo: Asus Z270-AR - I had the same board in a build earlier in the year and was happy to go with it again. From an HTPC perspective, it offers solid, well isolated audio performance (Realtec ALC S1220A 8-Channel HD Audio), along with digital optical out, and Intel HD Graphics 620 via HDMI 1.4 (4096x2160 @ 24Hz / 2560x1600 @ 60Hz). In more general terms it ticks pretty much all the boxes with numerous other slots and ports available both internally and externally. In fairness though you could easily downgrade this as part of a similar build to save some cash.
CPU: Intel Core i5-7500 - I'd say this is probably the best value CPU in Intel's 7th Gen range, balancing cost with performance about as well as you can with Intel these days. In terms of VR, conventional gaming, and 4K film and TV viewing it's enough to comfortably meet my needs. I've never really been much into PC gaming, so have little to no OC experience - hence not going with a 'K' model.
CPU Update - 30/12/2017 Have swapped out the i5-7500 for an i5-7600K so I can play around with some overclocking. Luckily I was able to throw the other chip in a PC I was building for a friends Dads home office. **
RAM: Kingston ValueRAM 16GB - What can I say, it's RAM. This is a fully enclosed HTPC so RGB and sexy looks is not really a priority.
GPU: Asus GTX 1080 - As with most horizontal HTPC cases there are no fan slots at the front, making conventional cooling design a challenge. Things are also pretty tight on space more generally. This makes a reference style card such as this a good solution, as it expels warm air out through the rear I/O bracket rather than within the case. Major VR manufacturers seem to suggest a GTX 960 as a minimum, and a GTX 1060 as preferred. In order to future proof myself as best as possible for the next generation of PC driven VR devices, I decided to go with the 1080. This Asus model was simply the cheapest available in my area, and so far is working well.
SSD: Samsung 960 EVO 250GB M.2 - I cannot speak highly enough about the 960 Evo; it is positively smoking! Loads Win 10 in close to 5 seconds, and most apps have near instantaneous load times. Worth every penny!
Cooling: The GD08 provides no less than 7 slots for case fans, impressive for an HTPC case. It comes with 3 stock Silverstone fans, which are plenty quiet enough for a living room setup. The case is designed for positive air pressure cooling - not something I've ever really considered before, but without front fan slots it seems to make a lot of sense. There are slots for 3x 120mm fans at the bottom front of the case, which is where I ended up placing the stock fans as intakes. I also added a 120mm Noctua fan on the right to help with CPU and GPU cooling, as well as a single Noctua 80mm fan to the rear as an exhaust to assist the positive air pressure flow. That seems to have worked particularly well. Lastly I swapped out the stock CPU cooler for the Noctua NH-L9x68, which has made a massive difference in keeping the CPU cool under heavy VR gaming loads.
Peripherals: The Logitech anywhere mouse series are fantastic for living room duties. It literally works on any surface - the leather couch, coffee table, even resting on my belly! The Flirc IR receiver is a fantastic little device that works out of the box with my Harmony Elite universal remote. A must have for any living room HTPC setup.
VR - HTC Vive: Hands down the best home VR available today, it truly is a brave new world. I can't get enough of Space Pirate Trainer and Elite:Dangerous! Given that you can also play Occulus Rift games on the Vive I really can't see a reason to go any other way. My advice though, is to pick one up second hand rather than brand new if possible. This will minimise your investment in a first gen VR unit, and make upgrading to new models more palatable when they arrive in 2018.
A few things to note:
I don't currently have either a 4K capable TV or AV Receiver, but the next upgrade of these will certainly include those features; but only once the tech settles down a bit, more film and Netflix content is available, I have a better broadband connection, and the whole thing doesn't cost the earth. This build will have me immediately firing in 4K once I get around to the A/V component upgrades.
I plan on adding a TV card at some point for use with Kodi for live TV and DVR functions. Catch Up TV services are increasingly rendering these devices obsolete, but still handy to record the big game if I'm not at home!
I may add a dedicated sound card at a later stage, perhaps when I upgrade my AVR and 7.1 speaker setup. But between the on-board sound offered by both the Mobo and GPU, it probably isn't really needed, other than to satisfy my enthusiasm for kick *** home theatre.
I have been experiencing severe interference with my wireless mouse and keyboard, as the Logitech Unifying Receiver is not designed for USB 3.0. This improved greatly by using a USB extension cord that put some distance between the device itself and the rest of the PC. Unfortunately the HTC Vive Lighthouse trackers that facilitate room scale VR create further chaos when plugged in (they also use Bluetooth), as does the VR unit itself. A recent BIOS update from Asus seems to have improved this considerably, but not completely. I am hoping that picking up a PCIe USB 2.0 card will solve this completely. They are proving hard to find these days though!
I have tried as hard as I could to manage the cables professionally, but it's not easy in an HTPC case - and I'm only a noob at this sort of thing.
So that's about that. As I suggested above it would be great to hear from the PCPP community about your thoughts on the future of full blown HTPC builds like this one, as well as your thoughts on my build overall. It's only my second crack at putting a PC together, and is something I have found to be a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience.
PS - Will run some benchmarks shortly and update the idle and load of CPU and GPU
Benchmark Update - 30/12/2017
3D Mark - Time Spy - 6,490 points (No OC)
3D Mark - Time Spy - 6,623 points (4.5GHz OC)
Aida64 stress test has the CPU at 58C under load and 36C at idle. Ambient temp was 22C so I'm pretty happy with these thermals given this case is SFF and not known for great cooling.
Is working like a charm in my Silverstone GD08 HTPC case. Well worth the investment
I've used this Mobo in two builds this year, and have been impressed on both occasion. Great all round features, 2x M.2 slots and the high end Realtec audio codec (1220) are a bonus. Probably bordering on being expensive for what it is, but I do live in Australia where everything costs the Earth.
Blisteringly fast. Buy one, now!
This card is doing a great job in my living room HTPC VR build. Hasn't skipped a beat and the temps are generally very reasonable.
Personally I love this case for HTPC builds, although it is right at the larger end for such uses. If you're looking to have your HTPC double up as a home media server, then you can't go wrong - 8x 3.5" and 4x 2.5" drive bays should suffice for most of us mere mortals!