Almost all present-day memory modules are at least DDR-1333. Depending on the APU chosen, the reader should go for DDR3-1600 or even DDR3-1866, as the added bandwidth can improve the iGPU performance in particular, and there is not much point in purchasing a module with lower speeds than what the APU natively supports. It is always possible to run higher rated memory modules at lower speeds if one wants to save power or reduce heat, and it is generally better to purchase modules with lower latency specifications, as this has the potential to improve performance in games and sometimes even for renderers such as madVR.

For most HTPC applications, 4GB of memory is more than enough. However, if you are repurposing the HTPC for other tasks such as intenstive video and photo editing, it might be worthwhile to invest in 8GB of memory. While performance typically does not vary between brands (assuming the same timings and clock speed), reliability might. It is therefore essential to choose the memory vendor and model carefully.

Some of the memory kits we recommend for the lower-end APUs (A4-3300 and A4-3400) are below. While all memory modules should work with all motherboards in theory, in practice that's not always the case, particularly if you're going to run low voltage modules. We recommend checking motherboard vendor compatilibity lists if you're not willing to deal with the potential need to return your memory kit for a more compatible set.

  • G.SKILL Sniper Low Voltage Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600: This kit operates at a lower voltage (1.25V) compared to similar kits, and can run cooler. The timing is also quite good at 9-9-9-24 when operating at 1600MHz. Coming in at $52, this is one of the best kits for a low power HTPC.

  • G.SKILL ECO 8GB (4 x 2GB) DDR3-1600: This kit also operates at a lower voltage (1.35V) and has excellent timing parameters of 8-8-8-24. However, it is a quad channel kit and can only be fully utilized with an appropriate motherboard. Priced at $100 it's somewhat expensive, but it may prove more compatible for some systems than 1.25V kits like the above Sniper Low Voltage.
  • AMD Entertainment Edition 2GB (1 x 2GB) DDR3-1600: This is one of the cheaper alternatives, coming in at $16. It operates at the standard 1.5V with timing parameters of 9-9-9-24.

For the higher-end APUs, we recommend memory kits rated for DDR3-1866. At these speeds, it is not possible to get low voltage kits.

  • G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB): This kit comes in at $75, operates at 1.5V, and has timings of 8-9-9-24. Users have reported that it overclocks effortlessly to 2133MHz. This makes it an idea candidate for HTPCs that will also serve as gaming rigs.
  • Crucial Ballistix 2GB (1 x 2GB): Coming in at $21, it is quite cheap compared to the G.SKILL kit above, but you only get one fourth the total memory. It operates at the same 1.5V and has the same timings. Of course, the drawback is that even with four of these in an appropriate motherboard, you only have 8GB of memory while the previous kit can give you 16GB.

Moving on to storage options, the reader will have to take a stance on the HDD vs. SSD debate. While a cheap SSD might sound very tempting (and may even prove excitingly fast in the initial days), the choice must be made only after careful consideration. At AnandTech, most of the SSDs that get reviewed go into production machines. I have been using an OCZ Agility 3 240GB SSD in my personal laptop. It is based on the SandForce SF-2281 controller. Unfortunately, I have experienced annoying random BSODs whenever I try to hibernate or put the laptop to sleep even with the latest firmware. A quick search on the various SSD forums indicates that SandForce-based SSDs usually don't like hibernation or sleep mode. This is just something to keep in consideration, because it is quite common to put HTPCs in sleep mode when not in operation.

If you plan to use your HTPC just as a front-end for local media residing in a NAS/optical drive, a 128GB SSD should serve you well. On the other hand, if you are planning to use your HTPC as a recording or download machine, it is suggested that you go in for a 2TB or 3TB hard drive in addition to having a 64GB SSD as a boot drive. If the HTPC is to be used in the backend as a media server/download or recording machine (and a media streamer or some other device is going to be used in the front-end), a SSD is not needed at all.

We've selected an SSD and hard drive for use with HTPCs below:

  • SAMSUNG 830 Series MZ-7PC064D/AM 2.5" 64GB SSD: Samsung's 830 series was well received by us, and Samsung has a good track record of reliability. At $90, the price per GB is much higher than the budget drives, but trust us, a worry-free experience even with unusual HTPC usage scenarios is worth it. If you want more storage in your SSD, a more cost effective purchase would be the SAMSUNG 830 Series MZ-7PC256B/WW 2.5" 256GB SSD that is currently on sale for $250.
  • Seagate's Barracuda 3TB (ST3000DM001): This hard drive is currently priced at $158 on Amazon. It has 3x1TB platters and delivers better performance than the initial 5x600MB hard drives. For users that like to record TV shows and/or download media files, 3TB is definitely not overkill when it comes to hard drive capacity.

APU, Chipset and Motherboard Power Supply and Chassis
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  • iTzSnypah - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    I didn't like how you flipped the point of the article. You start off by stating AMD APU's make good budget HTPC's. However then you recommend a $130 Seasonic PSU that is 80+ gold. For $70 you can buy a Rosewill Capstone PSU that is also 80+ gold. Building with these expensive components makes building on AMD silly, even for HTPC. Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    I also recommended a $38 Antec PSU.

    Note that the everything other than the mobo and the APU itself can be used for a build further down (maybe the budget builder wants to move on to a premium HTPC). I always suggest picking components which will serve their purpose for at least two or three builds / upgrades.
    Reply
  • edge929 - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    Trinity is just around the corner so unless you're not planning to game, it's better to wait. Trinity should also drop the prices on Llano chips if you can wait ~1 month. Reply
  • silverblue - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    Trinity has reportedly been delayed until September (if you believe semiaccurate.com, that is)... Reply
  • randinspace - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    I use mine for writing novels that never make me any money since it's the only "desktop" PC I have or frankly even need ATM :P

    For those who haven't tried it, you can write a novel on just about anything that uses a real keyboard (ex: docked ASUS Transformer, iPad with bluetooth keyboard, that 7 year old Centrino laptop you bought with your student loan...) these days as long as you stick with it, but productivity tends to suffer more when your biggest potential distraction changes from a game of FreeCell to an entire TV series at your fingertips.

    Back on topic: great article Ganesh. Having lived in a metaphorical cave for 5 straight years (aforementioned Centrino laptop, which in its defense at least has a better looking if not higher resolution LCD than a lot of stuff on the market these days) I hardly even knew what I was missing out on until I stumbled upon one of your HTPC guides.
    Reply
  • jeffkro - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    I have the 100W llano HTPC and a really recomend sticking with the 65W. The stock fan for the 100W is pretty loud even when the mobo lowers the speed. Reply
  • ashvagan - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    Would you review the low budget ones and see if they can run the usual 720p stuff just fine? Which ones are recommended really? Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    Zacate is OK for 720p / 1080p24 stuff. But, it struggles with deinterlacing (even for SD content):

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/5738/zotac-zbox-nano...

    I wouldn't advise Zacate for media PC (except if usecase is something like a hotel setup where the type of content being played back is known beforehand -- say, always 1080p24 H.264 with compliant profile or something like that).. As I mentioned in the concluding remarks, Zacate is more efficient for use in headless setups (i.e, running as a media server or storage server platform, where low power is useful). Unfortunately, the GPU prowess of the Zacate is just not needed there.
    Reply
  • wiyosaya - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    As an activity that I would like to do would be recording HDMI to some medium, in particular, Blu-ray or hard-disk.

    There are several HDMI capture cards on the market that would allow recording from HDMI sources such as satellite or cable set-top boxes, or other playback devices such as Blu-ray players.

    If the content protection bit is not set by the content provider, this should be easily accomplished.

    I see such recording falling under "fair use" rules when it is for personal use, i.e., viewing in your own home for not-for-profit uses.

    Such capability is one big hole in the market, IMHO, and there is no sign that stand-alone Blu-ray recorders will ever come to market, and those very few from JVC that are already available do not have HDMI inputs.
    Reply
  • Casper42 - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    Why would you want to drink from a fire hose?

    HDMI is a display protocol and as such is very high bandwidth.
    Cable, Sat and even Blu-Ray have much lower bandwidth requirements before decoding.

    Why wouldn't you instead want to find a solution to convert/capture the incoming stream rather than the outgoing display?
    ATI cracked open the door to M Card powered Cable tuning and Silicon Dust is fairly well received as well.
    Blu Rays can be easily ripped now a days, and finding mass market movies WITHOUT the Content Protection enabled is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
    Reply

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