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Although there are many tech users out there who will argue that HTPCs, or home theater PCs, are dead in 2021, they are still very popular, and lots of people seem to be enjoying their capabilities in their living rooms. However, there is some truth that HTPCs are no longer as popular as they used to be. In the last few years an overwhelming number of new Android TV devices has appeared on the market, and their popularity seems to be growing strong. The Android TV devices are successfully replacing DVD and Blu-ray players in our living rooms, and with the growing number of video streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, or HBO GO, they prove to be very good solution for streaming video content.
Must read: The Best Mini-ITX PC Cases of 2021
However, Google Chromecast, NVIDIA Shield TV and various Android TV devices are no match for standalone PCs. The Android OS was never designed to be a leisure-friendly environment, although it has many capabilities to become such. One particular thing about Android OS is that it was designed for touchscreen devices, and home media players have no such features. Also, Android OS seems to be only good for streaming video content, and not playing it. Of course, you can always download and install apps such as VLC Player, MX Player or KODI, however, playing your videos on Android TV box is often too complicated, and let’s be honest, your family relatives always have trouble playing your home-made videos on it.
Luckily enough, there are HTPCs. And they are still awesome. Nowadays everybody knows how to use a PC, and HTPCs are no different, except they fit in a small box. With HTPC you can stream any video channel, play any kind of video format, install gazillion of video codecs, and even play video games or browse online content – all hassle free. Like any other PC, the home theater PC costs much more than a generic Chinese-made Android TV box, however, the investment is well worth it, as you will gain much more possibilities with it.
Since HTPCs are only meant to function as media players, rather than fully-functioning PCs, nowadays it is very inexpensive to build them. Also, you can install custom Linux or Android OS on them (instead of Windows OS), and you can even use them as home cloud centers. For these reasons, we are today going to show you how to build your own HTPC for as little money as possible in 2021.
Best way to make your PC as cheap as possible is to reduce the number of its components. Since CPU-integrated graphics have become quite powerful in the last few years, building a small and affordable HTPC in 2021 has never been easier. In this short guide, we’ll show you how to build your new HTPC, and which components should you buy in order to play games on your ultra-affordable small form factor PC.
Building the cheapest possible HTPC in 2021 requires sacrifice of a discrete graphics card. That, however, doesn’t mean we are going to give up on 3D graphics altogether. Most Intel’s processors nowadays come with integrated graphics, however, AMD’s processors seem to be a much better choice in that respect, since their Vega graphics modules prove to be more capable. The most powerful such processor is AMD Ryzen 7 5700G, however, it is quite expensive, and as such it is a much better choice for a high-end PC build, rather than for a super-cheap APU build. Luckily enough, AMD has other, much cheaper processors, such as the Athlon 3000G which is able to run even AAA games, and it provides a solid starting point for further upgrades. Taking that into consideration, it is a no-brainer that Athlon 3000G is going to be the cornerstone of our budget HTPC build in 2021.
Budget HTPC Build Components
|Processor||AMD Athlon 3000G 2-Core, 3.5 GHz Processor|
|Motherboard||ASRock Fatal1ty B450M Gaming ITX/ac|
|Memory||TEAMGROUP Elite 8GB DDR4 2400 MHz CL16|
|Solid State Drive||Western Digital Blue 1TB 3D NAND SATA3 SSD|
|Power Supply||SilverStone ST45SF 450W SFX Form Factor 80+|
|Case||Fractal Design Node 202|
At the time of writing this guide, the total cost of PC components required for our HTPC build was less than $500. Now, to be honest, this isn’t the cheapest HTPC build in the world, but it is most certainly a budget one. Keep in mind that for this price you will get a completely new PC with all the warranties, so when you consider all that, a price of five hundred dollars doesn’t look all that bad. But our HTPC isn’t any kind of home media player. We will also be able to play games on it. In order to show you how powerful our budget 2021 HTPC is, we’ve also ran some gaming benchmarks on it:
Expected Gaming Performance
|720p Gaming @ Lowest Settings||Athlon 3000G IGP|
|Battlefield V||30 FPS|
|Counter-Strike: Global Offensive||105 FPS|
|DOTA 2||117 FPS|
|FIFA 20||84 FPS|
|Grand Theft Auto V||49 FPS|
|Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege||64 FPS|
As you can see, the Athlon 3000G with Vega 3 integrated graphics is a pretty decent APU. Sure, it’s not powerful enough to run AAA games, but if you plan to play widely popular CS:GO or DOTA 2, then this CPU will be more than enough to run these games at +60 frames per second at 720p resolution. Speaking of 4K video playback, the Athlon 3000G can play 4K videos without any hiccups, and can even play 4K YouTube videos since it supports hardware decoding for the latest video codes, such as H.265 (HEVC) and VP9. Overall, our HTPC will be quite sufficient for playing media files, as well as simple 3D graphics tasks.
If you are interested in specific details of each component of our HTPC build, then keep reading further.
PC BUILD DETAILS
Processor: AMD Athlon 3000G
Cores/Threads: 2C/4T | Clock Speed: 3.5 GHz | TDP: 35 W | PassMark Score: 4.465
Featuring Vega 3 integrated graphics, the AMD Athlon 3000G is basically a weakened Ryzen processor based on Zen+ CPU architecture. It packs two x86 cores featuring SMT support, as well as 4 MB of shared L3 cache. The integrated graphics solution comes with 192 shader/stream processors which are able to deliver pretty decent performance (at least when it comes to 2D graphics), and 4K video playback feels very smooth and without any hiccups.
Given the fact that this is an entry-level processor, it’s no surprise that Athlon 3000G doesn’t support overclocking. However, the price of this sweet APU is simply fantastic, and as such it is perfect for use in budget HTPC or office PC builds. One significant drawback of this processor is that it doesn’t support HDCP 2.2, meaning streaming 4K HDR content over Netflix isn’t possible. However, if watching 4K YouTube videos and local video playback is all that you wish for, then this is a perfect budget APU for you. Plus, it’s heatsink measures only 38 mm in height, meaning it can fit in most ITX PC cases.
Motherboard: ASRock Fatal1ty B450M Gaming ITX/ac
Form Factor: Mini ITX | Socket: AM4 | Chipset: AMD Promontory B450 | Memory Support: 2 x DDR4 3466+ (OC) | Features: 1 x PCIe 3.0 x16, 1 x M.2 (Key E), 4 x SATA3, 1 x M.2 (Key M), Intel Wi-Fi 5
Despite featuring an entry-level CPU, our HTPC build comes with a mid-range motherboard for which we allocated a large chunk of our budget. The reason why we chose ASRock’s Fatal1ty B450M Gaming ITX/ac motherboard for our HTPC build is that we wanted to make our tiny PC as much future-proof as possible. The B450M Gaming ITX/ac was a perfect choice for this purpose, as this motherboard offers support for the latest Ryzen 5000 series CPUs, meaning it allows you upgrade your Athlon 3000G to Ryzen 7 5700G someday. The board also supports installation of up to 64 GB of RAM, and it features onboard Intel Wi-Fi 5 with Bluetooth module, meaning you won’t need to buy a separate WLAN card to wirelessly connect to your local area network.
Speaking of its other features, the Fatal1ty B450M Gaming ITX/ac comes with one M.2 SSD slot, four SATA 3 ports, multiple addressable LED headers, as well as with one USB Type-C port, and one DisplayPort 1.2, and one HDMI port. The board also supports 4K @ 60 Hz video output, and it features one S/PDIF out connector.
Speed: DDR4 2400 MHz | Timings: 16-16-16-39 | CAS Latency: 16 | Operating Voltage: 1.2V | Capacity: 1 x 8GB
Building the cheapest HTPC possible in 2021 requires use of inexpensive components. Luckily enough, DDR4 RAM is nowadays very affordable, so buying one memory module with a capacity of 8GB won’t break your bank. In that regard, the TEAMGROUP’s Elite 8GB DDR4 RAM represents an optimal choice, since it can offer fairly fast 2.400 MHz DDR4 memory with CAS 16 latency for less than $40. This memory module also work perfectly with Athlon 3000G, because TEAMGROUP has greatly optimized their memory modules for AMD’s processors in the past few years.
Solid State Drive: WD Blue 1TB 3D NAND SATA3 SSD
Capacity: 1 TB | Interface: SATA 3 | Max. Sequential Read: Up to 560 MB/s | Max. Sequential Write: Up to 530 MB/s
In this day and age when external hard drives have become very affordable, buying an internal mechanical drive to store your OS and data makes no sense. For this reason, we’ve decided to completely ditch all mechanical hard drives out of our HTPC build, and spend the remaining budget on a high-quality solid-state drive. The WD Blue 1TB 3D NAND SSD was our first choice, since this drive can boast with enhanced reliability, industry-leading mean time to failure (MTTF) of 1.75M hours, and fantastic sequential read and write speeds of up to 560 MB/s and 530 MB/s, respectively. The WD Blue 1TB also features 3D TLC NAND memory, meaning it can deliver better performance and higher capacity, for lower power consumption and smaller spatial footprint.
Case: Fractal Design Node 202
Form Factor: SFF | Motherboard Support: Mini-ITX | Dimensions: 377 × 88 × 332 mm | Fan Support: 2 x 120 mm | I/O Ports: 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x Audio | Drive Bays: 2 x 2.5″
Case is one of the most important components of any HTPC. However, finding an affordable, yet feature-rich small form factor case is no easy job. There are plenty of small form factor PC cases out there, however, most of them are ridiculously expensive, or lack some standard features which make assembly easier. The ideal HTPC case should look similar to the one of a gaming console, or an old VHS player, however, most of these “horizontal” cases are quite expensive and hard to find.
Luckily enough, there is the Fractal Design Node 202. This case seems to be able to fulfill all of our expectations about an ideal HTPC case. It fits nicely under a flat-screen TV, and offers plenty of room to accommodate a small ITX motherboard, as well as CPU coolers up to 56 mm in height. The Fractal Design Node 202 is also able to provide enough space for up to 310 mm long graphics card, which should be more than enough to accommodate a GeForce GTX 1650 SUPER, or a similar graphics card. All-in-all, this is a sweet little case, and it should provide good closure for your HTPC’s internal components.
Power Supply: SilverStone ST45SF 450W SFX Form Factor 80+
Form Factor: SFX | Capacity: 450 W | Efficiency rating: 80+ Bronze Certified | Modularity: Non-modular
Last but not least, there is the power supply unit. Since our budget HTPC build features the Fractal Design Node 202 PC case which only supports PSUs up to 130 mm long, the SilverStone ST45SF 450 W PSU seemed to us like a perfect candidate to get the leading role in the power department. Not only this SFX power supply unit measures less than 130 mm in length, but it also features 80+ Bronze certification, and costs less than $100.
The SilverStone ST45SF is able to deliver more than enough power for all of our listed PC components, and it comes with sleeved cables, as well as SFX to ATX bracket for use in ATX cases. In idle mode, this PSU produces only around 18 dBA of noise, meaning it’s practically silent, and it has enough power to support even some high-end graphics cards, such as the GeForce RTX 3060. Lastly, its 80 mm fan provides sufficient cooling for keeping it cool, and its 3-year warranty is quite encouraging.
And that’s it! This is our best budget HTPC build for 2021. We hope this buying guide will help you in deciding which components you’ll buy in order to assemble your own home theater PC. Our build may not be the most powerful one out there, however, for its price it offers very much. You’ll be able to easily play any video format with it, and even play some video games. This small PC will fit nicely under your flat screen TV, and if you pair it with wireless peripherals, such as Logitech MX Keys Wireless Keyboard, you can easily interact with it from the safety of your couch. Altogether, this will be a great device for watching home videos with your family members, or streaming movies and TV series with your friends.