Building A Sub $300 Windows 7 Media Center PC

Today is my wife’s last day in her current job and next week she’s starting a new career as a homeworker.  I decided it wasn’t fair her sharing our Toshiba laptop, so I’ve given it to her as her dedicated machine and I’m now using the old laptop which previously had been struggling along as a media center in our bedroom.

The media center laptop never had enough power to play HD 1080p mkv or bluray rips stored on my Windows Home Server without some major stuttering, so I took the opportunity to build a new media center PC for the bedroom which would be powerful to play all file formats using Windows 7 Media Center.  I wanted to keep the costs as low as possible as this machine will only be used as a W7MC machine, so I set myself the challenge of spending less than £200 (approx $300).  I’ve also been inspired by Sean’s attempts to build a Windows 7 PC for his mother.

I was amazed how easy it was to do, even though I did go over the budget a bit by buying a sexy slim Antec Minuet PC case – even my wife was impressed when she saw it.

Because Windows 7 isn’t a resource hog, if you’re not planning on playing games then you don’t need a lot of powerful hardware.  Here are the components that I purchased to go into my sexy new Windows  Media Center PC:

Case

I got a bit carried away with my case because the machine is going in the bedroom, so I didn’t want anything ugly so it would get my wife’s nod.  I could have picked up decent looking cases for under £40, but in the end I purchased this super slim Antec Minuet case for £80, which is just over 30cm wide.

grey Building A Sub $300 Windows 7 Media Center PCMotherboard

I chose a motherboard with  a AMD 780G Chipset as these have good enough onboard sound and audio for a media center, so there’s no need for a separate soundcard or videocard which keeps the costs down.  The Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics core is from the same processor family in the Radeon HD 2400 series that’s less than 2 years old – more than enough to play a few videos.

Most 780G motherboards also have good sound support.   I ended up choosing an Asus M4A78-VM that has an inbuilt S/PDIF out socket, as well as DVI and HDMI connectors providing full AV connectivity.  Total cost?  £45

grey Building A Sub $300 Windows 7 Media Center PC

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16 Responses to Building A Sub $300 Windows 7 Media Center PC

  1. Everton Blair August 14, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    great article, but do you think 250gbs is enough? 1TB sounds better! that way you have plenty of room to stock pile media with no worries about spacial constraints. my two cents : )

    • Everton Blair August 14, 2009 at 10:16 am #

      I’ve got 6TB in my WHS so I’m good for storage!!

      But, yes a standalone machine would need at least 750GB. I’d recommend getting one of the new 1.5TB drives as I find they are the cheapest per GB

      • Everton Blair August 14, 2009 at 10:24 am #

        6TB…you are very good on storage. nice! and yeah my next hard drive purchase will either be 1.5 or 2 TB drive. maybe a matching pair…something like that. you never can have too much space these days.

  2. Everton Blair August 14, 2009 at 10:04 am #

    then again, that would pretty much make it not under $300…..

    • Everton Blair August 14, 2009 at 10:18 am #

      True, although you can get a 750GB drive for £60 so adding that to my basic spec would only push it just over £200. Finding a cheaper CPU for sale would get it back down below £200

      • Everton Blair August 14, 2009 at 10:29 am #

        yeah but you really want that crisp high def playback, i agree 100% with your processor choice. i probaly would have picked the exact same one. oh and that case is very clean and at a very nice price. i like the whole rig. simple yet effective.

  3. Koen Wijnstok August 14, 2009 at 10:33 am #

    I’m running Windows 7 Media Center already some time now on a (very) old Dell Dimension 4800. This thing is almost 6 years old now and besides a little more memory it still runs a very smooth Media Center experience…

    I totally love MC!

    • Everton Blair August 14, 2009 at 11:32 am #

      W7MC (and VMC) is a great program. Once you’ve configured your codecs and plugins like Mediacontrol and My movies, there’s nothing it can’t do with the minimum fuss.

  4. yolarrydabbomb August 14, 2009 at 2:05 pm #

    I recommend video card in the feature with a true HDMI plug-in

  5. dijuremo August 14, 2009 at 6:57 pm #

    You say you spent about $360 US dollars on a Windows 7 Media center PC, so where did you factor in the ~$130 for the OEM windows 7 home premium license? That really puts you almost at $500 or even over if you go with business or ultimate.

  6. Photoman August 16, 2009 at 5:54 am #

    Two other things missing. No DVD drive to install the OS and no IR remote to control W7MC. Apart from that, it gives me an idea of what to look for when I build one myself (subject to approval!)

    BTW Did a price comparison check and building it using only the components listed in the article would cost me NZ$714 or GBP293 or US$485.

    • Everton Blair August 16, 2009 at 6:25 am #

      I installed the OS from a USB stick – much quicker.

      Agree about the IR remote – you can get one for under £10 on ebay.

      • Roy Malee August 17, 2009 at 5:14 pm #

        USB stick – good idea. Will have to check TradeMe as eBay isn’t big in NZ.

  7. John Byrne September 15, 2009 at 1:13 am #

    I have just priced components via http://www.staticice.com.au in Australia, but the price really starts to jump, when you add a Blu-ray drive and an HDTV tuner:

    case £80 $121.51 (£62.91) digitan.com.au
    m/b £45 $ 96.00 (£49.70) msy.com.au
    CPU £45 $ 76.00 (£39.35) msy.com.au
    RAM £34 $ 73.00 (£37.80) excelcomputers.com.au Corsair TWIN2X4096-6400C5 4GB (2x XMS2 2GB) PC-6400 (800MHz) DDR2 RAM
    HDD £20 $ 0.00 (£0.00) I have a spare hard drive.
    HDTV tuner $ 0.00 (£0.00) I have a spare USB HDTV tuner
    _______________________________________
    Total: AUD $366.51 (£189.76 / USD $314.82)

    Then add:

    Blu-ray $119.88 instantpcshop.com.au LITE-ON iHOS104 BLURAY ROM

    • Everton Blair September 15, 2009 at 4:38 am #

      that’s a good price for a blu-ray drive. I didn’t realise they were so cheap now. What case did you go for?

  8. Name October 26, 2009 at 8:49 pm #

    What about the cost of Windows 7 itself?

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