The price of a Media Center PC
The Windows XP Expert Zone has published some interesting articles in the past few months. I paid special attention to Terri Stratton’s article, Should you build or buy a new Media Center PC?, as I went through the same decision process last year.
She put together two systems, one based on an AMD CPU, the other built around an Intel chip. The price tags came back at nosebleed levels – the cheapest AMD system was $2365 plus $146 for a tuner card, for a total of $2511. The priciest system (AMD-based, surprisingly) was $3118.
Those numbers are insane. Part of the problem is that Terri insisted on using parts that deliver far more performance than a Media Center PC demands. You don’t need a 3.6GHz P4 560 CPU (at $475-775, depending on how smart a shopper you are) when a 3GHz 530 will do the trick for under $200. Likewise, an ATI Radeon XT850XT Platinum at $500 or more is overkill. You shouldn’t need to spend more than $150 on a video card that will deliver excellent performance on every common Media Center task. Scaling back on those two components alone saves somewhere around $700.
In fact, the components in this system will generally run hot and loud, which is exactly what you don’t want in your living room. The referenced systems might be awesome for gaming, but they’re not well matched for a Media Center.
If you’re planning to put together a Media Center PC, think outside the high-performance box. Consider a smaller form factor, with a CPU and graphics card that don’t need noisy fans. The Shuttle small-form-factor system I built last year is still going strong, and you could build one just like it for less than half what this article recommends.