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I would like to build a new computer to be used as a DVR and media server. I am thinking of using mythtv as the DVR software, but short of that decision I am completely open to suggestions.


  1. Must be cheap.
  2. Must have low power consumption (since it will always be on).
  3. Should be quiet.
  4. Should be small.

I'm really not sure where to start with this project, and am open to any hardware/software suggestions. Is it possible to build a small quiet and cheap system?

*Keep in mind I am working on this project because I am tired of Cable rate increases, but I can't imagine living without a DVR so cost is very important and I would like the system to be sub $200.00. The system also needs to handle the new digital broadcast system.

Thanks for the help,

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I'm not sure how this helps you with cable rate increases, you still need to pay for a cable subscription. At most this will save you the extra $10-15 per month that you are charged for a DVR. – MDMarra May 12 '10 at 0:12
@MarkM: I'm going to cancel cable and just have over the air broadcasts. So there is no monthly fee. – Tester101 May 12 '10 at 0:15
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Good for you. I did the same thing you are doing - dropped my TV provider and switched to over the air. I have no regrets.

I had a great experience with MythDora for software. It's a Linux distro with MythTV built in and preconfigured, with an installer wizard that helps you get your specific hardware set up.

For hardware, try to get a system with 120mm fans as they are much, much quieter than smaller fans. Never get anything with a 40mm fan; they are very loud. This includes motherboard fans and video card fans.

This may be hard to pull off for under $200, though; "quiet" and "cheap" are seldom found together in the HTPC world. With all the money you are saving, though, you may be able to justify spending a bit more.

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You can buy a commercial dvr for less than you can build one, and if you are price sensitive than the commercial dvr will also be much more polished device than what you'll end up with going the diy route.

That said, there is some value in building your own if you consider a longer life span for the device. For example, the one you build is upgradeable and expandable. Not to mention the things you learn in the actual build, itself.

What I'd go for is something like this (sadly no longer available):

That's cpu, motherboard, ram, and case in one box for ~$200 that'll look okay (not great, just okay) next to other AV equipment. Again, this item is no longer available, but hopefully you can find something similar (I have one of these as a home server, and I love it). To this you'll need to add an optical drive (blue-ray?), a hard drive, and linux-compatible video card, preferably something passive cooled.

If you're on a budget and can find a similar base system to work with to my posted link, you should be able to do all that for around $350.

Update: Sweet, they're even cheaper now and some of them will already do hd video without needing the addition of a discrete video card (you will need a video-in card, though, and none of them have hdmi outputs so finding a good card might be tough):

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A good place to start would be there are some excellent guides for doing what you propose.

For the OS you might want to look at linux. There are several distros built explicitly for the multimedia environment. Two to get your started are;

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