My HTPC: hardware

Posted in M@H by Ruslan Ulanov on the October 29th, 2007

It all started in 2005 when I got tired of chasing my photos and music spread over several laptop and desktop systems in my home. I decided to consolidate my media library and put it on a single PC, so it would be easier to share, manage and back-up.

After weeks of unsuccessfull attempts of trying to make a blueprint for a decent do-it-yourself HTPC for under a $1000 I decided to go with a ready-made Gateway FMC-901X [review 1, review 2] bought from eBay for under $600.

Gateway FMC-901X

The FMC-901X came with a wireless keyboard which had a built-in joystick-type mouse. It also had an IR Windows MCE remote control with a “green button” on it.

The FMC-901X had the most beautiful and functional full-size case I’ve seen (at that time), with all commonly used buttons such as Stop (A), Play (B), Pause(C), Replay(D), Skip (E), Rewind (F) and Forward (G) on the front panel.

FMC-901x media playback controls

It also had a little swing-open panel up front that housed some external ports, flash cards reader and Media Center buttons. Which allowed for a natural media-component-style look and remote-less operation if the need be.

FMC-901x front door

FMC-901x media center buttons

The flash card reader allows to use any of the following cards: SmartMedia (SM), CompactFlash (CF), SecureDigital (SD), Memory Stick (MS), Memory Stick Pro (MS Pro), MultiMedia Card (MMC), which comes in handy when friends come around and you need to offload some pictures from their camera.

The original FMC-901X configuration was as follows:

  • OS: Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004
  • Motherboard: custom made for Gateway, 800Mhz
  • Chipset: Intel® M865G
  • Processor: Pentium 4 3.0GHz with Hyper Threading (HT)
  • RAM: 512MB DDR400
  • Hard Drive: 250Gb Ultra ATA100 7200rpm
  • Optical Drive: DVD+RW/DVD-RW/CD-RW multiformat drive
  • Floppy Drive: Integrated 6-in-1 memory card reader
  • Video: 128MB ATI Radeon 9800 Pro AGP Graphics with VGA, DVI and S-Video Out
  • Audio: Creative Labs 7.1 Audigy card with SPDIFF digital optical out
  • External Ports: 4 USB 2.0 Ports (2-Rear/2-Front) and 3 Integrated IEEE 1394 (FireWire)
  • Keyboard and Mouse: Wireless Multifunction Keyboard/Mouse
  • Remote Control: Infrared Media Center Remote and Receiver
  • TV Tuner: Integrated Hauppage PVR-250 analog TV Tuner
  • Modem: V.92 56K Modem
  • Network Adapter: Integrated Intel® 10/100 Ethernet Adapter
  • Dimensions: 17″ x 5.75″ x 14.5″ (WxHxD), approximately 26.46lb.

Since then I did several rounds of upgrades including:

  • Swapping default 250Gb HDD with 2 SATA drives 300Gb each, which required the installation of PCI/SATA adapter card. Since there were no available PCI slots in the case I had to say “good bye” to a PCI modem card (which I never used anyway);
  • Adding external Western Digital MyBook (500Gb) hard drive for back-ups;
  • Moving system to Windows MCE 2005 and later on to Windows Vista Home Premuim;
  • Adding 1Gb of Ultra RAM to make Vista happy;
  • Swapping Hauppage PVR-250 with Hauppage HVR-1600 combo analog/digital (QAM/ATSC) TV tuner
  • Adding Gefen’s DVI Detective (EDID repeater) to alleviate the issue with Vista not recognizing a TV connected with DVI-HDMI connector after TV was turned off and then back on. The repeater continually transmits the EDID to the computer, essentially “tricking” the computer into thinking that the video is present, even when it is not connected. This keeps computer from deactivating inactive DVI ports.

The system works fine most of the time with some quirks here and there (did I mention it is powered by Windows? 😉 ).

The CONS of this HTPC are:

  • lack of free space for further updates
  • excessive heat in the case (had to install additional fan specifically for GPU)
  • a bit noisy fans
  • VFD doesn’t work with Vista/Win7
  • custom BIOS is not updateable to enable SATA on MB

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  • Chris

    Just wondered if I could ask you a few questions. I have the same machine and have really been struggling with Vista upgrade issues. Replaced many of the same components, but man, majorly jittery video, i cannot get the front control panel VFD to operate, etc…

  • Chris,
    I couldn’t get the VFD to operate either, but I never see it anyways, since the PC is located in a wall niche behind closed doors, so it doesn’t bother me much. The rest of the upgrades work OK, thou sometimes it gets a bit slugish on some HD channels (received thru ATSC tuner) when signal is not very strong. Other than that – no major issues. Maybe I’m just lucky 🙂

  • Pingback: Getting digital | Media @ Home()

  • tim

    Hi, I am also still using this same system. I've upgraded the RAM to 2gb and I've upgraded to Windows 7. I've started to notice performance (lag) issues when watching Live TV or high-def videos. If you are still using this system, what other upgrades have you done? Video card? TV tuner?

    • Hi tim,

      Since that post was last updated I've switched to Win7 Ultimate. I'm using the same combo TV tuner HVR-1600 hooked up to Comcast cable box for cable as well as QAM/ATSC channels. Indeed, HD channels may occasionally lag, but it's natural – they require more processing power than Pentium 4 and my video card can provide.

      Video is ATI 9800Pro, but I added a fan directly above it to pull hot air out of the box – it's the hottest spot in the case.

      Also, I'm trying to keep my system clean of any software not needed for Media Center functionality, alas some of the MC plug-ins that I use install services that run in the background, slowing down the system.

      Anyway, I think the time has come for an upgrade. Currently I'm looking into Atom/ION systems. Check the following post for some of the options…

    • tim

      I just upgraded by video card to an ATI Radeon HD 4650 and I bought a HVR-1600 tuner card.
      I haven't been able to install the tuner card yet because the power connector pin size on the new card is different that the card that the Gateway htpc originally came with. Did you have a similar issue, and if so how did you connect it?

      • Tim,
        As far as I remember, the HVR-1600 tuner is a PCI card and it draws power from the motherboard, so no external power cable is needed to feed it. The big white connector at the top of the card is an A/V Header and you don’t need to connect anything to it.

        • Brandon Calhoun

          Have you ever updated the PSU of your FMC-901? I want to get that same video card from above, but it requires 400 watts. And I'm sure that your aware that the stock PSU on this omputer is only 250 watts. I really don't want to have to start "customizing" my case, i.e. making new holes.

        • Brandon,
          No, I have not upgraded the stock PSU. I do notice, though, that additional HDDs that I have installed require more power than stock PSU can provide. Which occasionally can lead to system’s instability (especially on very hot days).

          As for me, I’m thinking of retiring this system completely, since it cannot handle HD content from blu-ray and LAN (limitation of GPU mostly). I’m pretty satisfied with Acer AspireRevo 3610 (my other Media Center PC). Considering the cost of upgrading the graphic card and PSU it just doesn’t make sense for me to not switch to a new system altogether.

          Let us know how the upgrade went if you will decide to upgrade.

  • Hi, I go over all your blogs, keep them coming.

  • Brandon Calhoun

    Has anybody attempted to upgrade the PSU in this computer? I'm looking to buy the same video card, but the stock PSU is a 250 Watt and the video Card requires 400 watts alone. Anybody have any advice before I start "customizing" my FMC-901X Case?

  • I think that ATI is the best graphic card…

  • anyone still looking at this post and have a rescue disk for this system I could sure use one.