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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 much 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 popular as they used to be. In last few years there has been an overwhelming number of new Android TV devices released on the market, and their popularity seems to be growing strong. The Android TV devices successfully replaced 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 devices 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 good only for streaming video content, rather than playing it. Of course, you can always download and install apps such as VLC Player, MX Player or KODI, however, playing your videos 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. Everybody nowadays knows how to use a PC, and HTPCs are no different, except they are fitted into a small box. With HTPC you can stream any video channel, watch any kind of video format, install gazillion of video codecs, and even play video games, or browse online content – all hassle free. Like any PC, the home theater PC costs much more than some 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 versions on them (instead of Windows OS), and you can even use them as home cloud centers. In that sense, 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 a cheapest possible HTPC in 2021 requires a sacrifice of a dedicated 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 modules, however, AMD’s processors seem to be a much better choice in that aspect, since their Vega graphics modules prove to be more capable. The most powerful such processor is Ryzen 5 3400G, however, its price exceeds $250 mark, and as such it is a more suitable choice for CPU + GPU combination, than for super-cheap APU build. Luckily enough, AMD has other, much cheaper processors, such as the Ryzen 3 3200G 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 Ryzen 3 3200G is going to be the core of our cheapest HTPC gaming configuration in 2021.
With the latter on our mind, let’s not waste words any further and take a look at our PC build.
Budget HTPC Gaming Build Components
|Processor||AMD Ryzen 3 3200G 4-Core, 3.6 GHz Processor||Check price|
|Motherboard||ASRock B450M-HDV R4.0, Micro-ATX||Check price|
|Memory||G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4 3200 MHz CL16||Check price|
|Solid State Drive||Western Digital Blue SN550 250GB||Check price|
|Hard Disk Drive||Western Digital Blue 1TB 7.200 SATA3 WD10EZEX||Check price|
|Power Supply||Corsair VS450, 80 PLUS White||Check price|
|Case||SilverStone GD09||Check price|
If you sum up the prices of all components for our budget HTPC build listed above, you will get the amount of around $600. 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, however, that for this price you will get a completely new PC with all warranties, so when you consider that, four hundred dollars starts to look very affordable. However, our HTPC isn’t any kind of home media player. We will also be able to play games on it. In order to figure out how powerful our budget 2021 HTPC is, let’s take a look at our performance benchmark table below:
Expected Gaming Performance
|720p Gaming @ Lowest Settings||Ryzen 3 3200G|
|World of Tanks Encore RT||64 FPS|
|Metro Exodus||47 FPS|
|Apex Legends||61 FPS|
|Battlefield V||60 FPS|
|F1 2019||90 FPS|
As you can see, the Ryzen 3 3200G is a very capable APU (and is the heart of our configuration), which will enable you to easily play various PC games at 720P resolution with +60 frames per second. Since all the games in our table are AAA titles (except maybe World of Tanks), our HTPC build will be more than enough powerful for occasionally playing indie games, or even older AAA titles, which there are many to choose from. Altogether considered, our HTPC will be quite sufficient for playing media files, as well as performing some 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 Ryzen 3 3200G
Cores/Threads: 4C/4T | Base Clock: 3.6 GHz | Boost Clock: 4.0 GHz | L3 Cache: 4MB | TDP: 45W | PassMark Score: 7.287
Compared to the Ryzen 5 3400G, the Ryzen 3 3200G APU is a much slower, but also much cheaper piece of silicon. This processor is based on AMD’s Zen+ architecture, and was built upon 12 nm manufacturing process. The Ryzen 3 3200G packs four x86 cores, without the SMT support, and features Radeon Vega 8 integrated graphics module. The CPU cores have a base clock of 3.6 GHz, and can reach 4,0 GHz in Turbo mode. Like all the other Ryzen CPUs, the 3200G can easily be overclocked. The stock Wraith Stealth cooler can easily cope with its factory, as well as overclocked settings, so we highly recommend to overclock this CPU if you decide to purchase it. Compared to the Athlon 3000G, this processor doesn’t have downgraded PCIe controller, so it supports 16 channels bus for a dedicated graphics card, and four for NVMe SSD.
Motherboard: ASRock B450M-HDV R4.0
Form Factor: Micro ATX | Socket: AM4 | Chipset: AMD Promontory B450 | Memory Support: 2 x DDR4 3200+ | Features: 1 x PCIe 3.0 x16, 1 x PCIe 2.0 x1, 4 x SATA3, 1 x M.2
ASRock’s B450M-HDV R4.0 is a very good choice for building the cheapest gaming HTPC possible. This microATX motherboard features two DDR4 memory slots, as well as one M.2 slot, and four SATA 3 connectors. The CPU on this motherboard draws power supply from a somewhat weak 6 power phase circuit, which features no VRM heatsink. Despite its simplistic design and features, this motherboard will work without any problems even with the latest AMD Ryzen 5000 Series CPUs, however, don’t buy it if you plan to use it for overclocking. The B450M-HDV R4.0 also comes with an integrated sound and LAN cards, as well as with variety of rear panel connectors such two USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.1 Gen1 ports, one PS/2 port, and three HD audio jacks. Speaking of video outputs, this motherboard comes with separate VGA, DVI and HDMI connectors, so you shouldn’t have any problems connecting it to an external display. Keep in mind, however, that this motherboard doesn’t support 4K @ 60 Hz video output, but only 4K @ 30Hz, due to the fact that it supports HDCP version 1.4, and not 2.2.
Speed: DDR4 3200 MHz | Timings: 16-18-18-35| CAS Latency: 16 | Operating Voltage: 1.35V | Capacity: 2 x 4GB
Building the cheapest HTPC possible requires use of low-price components. Luckily enough, RAM memory nowadays is very affordable, so buying two sticks with the capacity of 4GB won’t break your bank. In that sense, G.SKILL’s Ripjaws V Series is a great choice, since you can buy a very fast 3.200 MHz DDR4 memory with CAS 16-18-18-35 latency for less than $50. These memory modules will work perfectly with Ryzen 3 3200G, because G.SKILL has greatly optimized their memory modules for AMD’s processors in the last few years. The memory modules of Ripjaws V Series are based on Hynix’s chips, and offer solid overclocking capabilities. Due to the fact that our budget HTPC build doesn’t have a dedicated GPU, investing in a good quality memory modules is a priority, since Ryzen’s Vega integrated graphics will make a very good use of it.
Solid State Drive: WD Blue SN550 250GB
Capacity: 250 GB | Interface: M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 | Max. Sequential Read: Up to 2.400 MB/s | Max. Sequential Write: Up to 950 MB/s
Since our budget 2021 HTPC build has very limited graphics capabilities, there is no reason, or need, to install modern PC games which require a lot of storage space. In that sense, buying a 250GB SSD seems like a good choice. Prices of NVMe SSDs nowadays are similar to the ones of their SATA-based cousins, so there is no reason avoid them, especially since our motherboard supports their interface. Our choice for this particular situation was Western Digital’s SN550 SSD. This is a great little drive that offers very satisfying speeds, consumes small amount of power, and it comes with 5 year warranty out of the box. Perfect for running OS and few casual games.
Hard Disk Drive: WD Blue 1TB HDD – WD10EZEX
Capacity: 1 TB | Interface: SATA 6.0Gb/s | RPM: 7.200 | Cache: 64 MB
The reason you’re building your home theater PC is probably due to the fact that you want to easily watch all of your downloaded movies, TV series, or TV recordings which take a lot of hard drive space. All of this data can’t be fitted on our 250GB SSD which only has use for the operating system, and a few games or PC applications. External hard drive seems like a solid option, but it will never match the speed of a dedicated internal hard drive. For that reason, we recommend buying Western Digital’s 1TB SATA3 WD10EZEX hard drive. This is one of the most popular WD’s internal HDDs, and has proved to be a very reliable and efficient device. The drive comes with 64 MB of cache, which drastically improves loading speeds compared to other hard drives with less cache. In that sense, buying this drive is a no-brainer, especially if you are looking for a cheap mass storage solution.
Power Supply: Corsair VS450
Form Factor: ATX | Capacity: 450W | Efficiency rating: 80 PLUS White Certified| Modularity: Non-modular
Although there are cheaper power supply units than this Corsair’s low-end model, we believe that is worth to spend a few extra dollars for a product whose producer has well-established reputation. The VS450 won’t impress anyone with its features, however, it is a solid choice for building a budget HTPC. This PSU will deliver more than enough power for all of our listed components, and it has sleeved cables with two extra PCIe connectors, which will be enough for an additional GPU if you plan to upgrade your PC one day. The 120 mm fan provides sufficient cooling for this PSU, and its 3 year warranty is quite encouraging.
Case: SilverStone GD09
Form Factor: Micro ATX Tower | Motherboard Support: Mini-ITX, Micro-ATX | Dimensions: 440 × 170 × 358 mm | Fan Support: 2 x 80 mm, 3 x 120 mm | I/O Ports: 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x Audio, 1 x Mic | Drive Bays: 1 x 5.25″, 2 x 3.5″, 1 x 2.5″
The final component of our budget HTPC is, obviously, the case. Finding a cheap, yet feature-rich Micro-ATX 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 many standard features which make assembly more easier. The ideal HTPC case should look similar to the one of a gaming console, or old VHS player, however, most of these “horizontal” cases are quite expensive and hard to find. Luckily enough, there is SilverStone GD09. This case seems to be able to tick all of our expectations for an ideal HTPC case. It fits nicely under a flat-screen TV, and offers plenty of room to accommodate a small Micro-ATX motherboard. The SilverStone GD09 is also able to provide enough space for an installation of a 309 mm long graphics card, which should be more than enough to house a GeForce GTX 1650 SUPER, or similar graphics card. All-in-all, this is a sweet little case, and it should provide good closure for your 2021 HTPC components.
And that’s it! This is our best budget HTPC build in 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.