Build a silent Media Center - Part Two

In part one of our Build a silent Media Center feature we looked at the components you'll need to bolt together a top-notch system.

This month, we'll guide you through the actual physical process of putting together a powerful and silent PC; we'll explain how to install the software and how get the system working. Simply follow the step-by-step instructions below (skip to the bottom of the page to print it out) and refer to the accompanying walkthrough pictures on the right.

Everybody ready? Then we'll begin.

Installing the hardware

  1. Open the hFX case and remove the internal cages towards the front of the case which are used to hold the power supply and DVD drive. In order to reach the screws in the base of the case, you'll need a long screwdriver with a shaft of at least 13cm. Be careful as some edges can be sharp.

  2. Next fit the iMon VFD module, which simply screws onto the four mounting tubes protruding from the rear of the front panel. Make sure the display itself is facing out and the right way up. Next, fit the small circuit board with the power and disk lights to the right of the VFD module.

  3. Take the DVD drive and slide it into the DVD cage and screw it into the middle position. Don't tighten the screws yet though to allow for fine adjustments in the next step.

  4. Position the drive cage back in the case, but don't screw it in yet. You can now adjust the position of the DVD drive to ensure the tray will emerge through the gap in the case. Once aligned, tighten the screws on the drive and stick the acrylic front plate to the tray with the supplied double-sided tape. Remove the cage.

  5. Now take the power supply cage and screw it to the power supply - line up the four holes in the cage with those on the side of the power supply with the mains plug. Spread some thermal paste on the surface of the power supply which will press against the case, then screw the cage into place. Connect a mains lead, guiding it out the hole in the rear corner of the case.

  6. To prepare the case for the motherboard, fit the thin metal plate which surrounds the ports on the back of the case. If the case already has one inserted, pop it out. Now swap it for the one which came supplied with your motherboard, ensuring it's the right way up.

  7. To prevent the motherboard from short-circuiting, it must be mounted on a number of short metal risers which come supplied with the case. These simply screw into the bottom of the case, but it's important to make sure they line up with the holes in your motherboard. Using the motherboard as a guide, screw the risers in the required holes. Remove any which don't line up with actual holes on the motherboard.

  8. Now you're ready to insert the motherboard into the case. Gently guide the ports through the plate at the back of the case and rest it on top of the risers. You can now screw the motherboard into the risers using screws supplied with the case. Note, updated instructions for the processor heatsink may require a plate to be fitted under the motherboard before it's fitted in the case.

  9. Next screw the DVD drive cage back into the case and mount the hard disk in the cage at the back of the case with the connectors facing inwards. Note the hard disk can alternatively be mounted in an optional noise-reduction enclosure which can be fitted above the DVD drive.

  10. The hFX case is supplied with a board featuring a SCART connector and eight audio RCA plugs. These are designed for components not used in this project, but you should screw them into place anyway at the rear of the case for future upgrades.

  11. With the rear of the case facing you, unlock the processor socket by inserting a screwdriver to the right side of the white socket and giving it a half turn anti-clockwise. Now turn the processor so the tiny triangle in one corner lines up with the triangle on the socket, then gently let push it into the socket. Don't force it or you'll bend the pins. Once the processor is correctly seated, use the screwdriver to lock it with a half-turn clockwise.

  12. In order to make good contact with the heatsink, you should squeeze a small amount of thermal paste on top of the processor die itself - this is the small square in the middle.

  13. Next assemble the Borg heatsink using the supplied instructions and secure it atop the processor. The model pictured here was a prototype, so the final version could differ -follow the instructions which come with it. You should now fit the four heatpipes which came with the Borg kit, slotting them into the loosened upper portion of the processor heatsink and attaching them to the side of the case using the supplied brackets; they can be slightly bent if required. Once in place, tighten the screw on top of the heatsink and brackets to secure the pipes in place. The heatpipes are not pictured here, and you may wish to fit the memory cards first - see next step.

  14. Now bend back the white levers at the ends of the blue memory card slots. Line-up one of the memory cards so the notch in the gold edge matches the bump in the slot, then gently but firmly press it into the slot using a thumb at each end; the white levers will snap into place. Repeat for the second memory card in the other blue slot.

  15. Next unscrew the two thin vertical plates at the back of the case which line up with the two long white PCI slots on your motherboard. Now gently but firmly insert the gold edge of one of the TV cards into one of the slots, guiding the tip of its metal plate into the gap between the case and your motherboard. Screw the top of the plate into the case, then repeat for the second TV card.

  16. Now connect the cables for the iMon VFD display. First connect the thin, flat black plug over the four pins of the blue header labelled USB on the motherboard. Next connect the red and black iMon cable with the visible pins to the cable labelled POWER SW from the case. Now you should connect the other iMon red and black cable to the power switch header on the motherboard. Similarly connect the cables from the rear of the case and the front lights to the appropriate motherboard headers - see the motherboard and iMon manuals for full details of this step.

  17. Next you'll need to connect the power cables. The large white plug from the power supply connects to the large white socket on the motherboard, but the power adapter supplied with the iMon display will need to fit in-between; the iMon adapter's small white socket should then be connected to the matching plug from the display. Now take one of the chunky white power plugs and insert it in the back of the DVD drive. Finally connect one of the thin black power plugs to the back of the hard disk.

  18. Now it's time to connect the data cables which came with your motherboard; notches in the plugs and sockets ensure they can only fit one way-round. Take the thin red cable and connect it between the back of your hard disk and the red port labelled SATA1 on the motherboard. Next connect the flat wide cable between the back of the DVD drive and the blue plug labelled IDE1 on the motherboard.

  19. Finally slide the case lid back into place and screw it shut. You can now connect the cables for your keyboard, monitor and mouse, but resist the temptation to switch-on until next month's workshop when we'll explain how to install the operating system.

Installing the Media Center Edition software

We've chosen to install Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, or MCE for short, as we believe it's the most powerful and easy to use front-end for a media PC.

Microsoft doesn't sell an official retail version, but the bare 'OEM' discs (designed for PC manufacturers) are on sale from many sources including eBuyer for £76.27 - see www.ebuyer.co.uk. While you're shopping there remember to buy the Microsoft Media Center remote control for £21.73 if you haven't already got one.

Like other OEM products, you won't get any instructions with these MCE discs, just a pair of CDs in a sleeve. These actually include a full version of Windows XP which is installed with the MCE software itself - there's no way of separating the two, so you're looking at a fresh installation of Windows which will wipe your system clean. And while the complete installation unsurprisingly resembles one for standard Windows XP, there's a few key differences to be aware of, along with a couple of tweaks to ensure it works smoothly. Here's what you need to do.

Adjusting the BIOS settings

Before kicking off the Windows installation, you'll need to adjust a couple of settings in your PC's CMOS Setup utility. To see these options, press the Delete key as your PC starts up and a menu will appear a few seconds later. The menus vary between different motherboards, but there will always be a section for Power Management. Use the keyboard arrows and Enter keys to navigate these menus.

The first setting you'll need to change is the Suspend Type from S1 to S3 or STR - this will allow your media PC to go into sleep mode in complete silence, while consuming the least power. Next you'll need to Enable the option for USB wakeup from S3 - this will allow the USB remote control to wake up your system. Press Escape to return to the main menu, then under the Advanced Bios Settings menu, change the first boot device to CDROM.

Now insert MCE CD 1 into your DVD drive and choose the option to Save and Exit Setup. Your PC will restart and ask you to press any key to boot from CD - do so and the Windows installation will begin. Now follow the on-screen instructions.

A short while later, Windows will ask for your Regional and Language options. It's crucial to change the location and language from US to UK in order for MCE to later download the correct TV schedules. Similarly after entering your name and serial code, make sure the time and time zone are correct.

A few moments later the Network options will appear. Select Typical Settings, then enter your Workgroup name if you already have one you'd like to connect your media PC to. If you're an advanced networking user with a Domain, now will be your only easy opportunity to enter the details. The installation will then proceed, asking for CD 2, but a short while later you'll be prompted to insert the CD labelled Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2 - see screen. Worryingly the OEM pack doesn't come with this CD, but the installation can continue if you simply reinsert CD 1. Windows will then complete its installation.

Installing the drivers