As I mentioned before, my old HTPC (dubbed the Rosstation before HTPC was a commonplace term) bit it a few weeks ago, so I had to replace it. The relevant specs are as follows:
GIGABYTE GA-MA78GM-S2H (onboard ATI Radeon HD 3200, gigabit ethernet, HDMI, S/PDIF out)
2 GB RAM (don't need much for a HTPC)
Antec Fusion Black case - the crown jewel of the setup, and 40% of the overall cost.
I also forgot to mention that the heatsink I bought for this rig doesn't even usually need to run with a fan, so this machine is SILENT. My Xbox is about 10 times louder. Check this thing out:
Once atop the chip and inside the case:
Powered up for the first time:
The software was much more difficult than the hardware, mostly because there are so many different ways to do this, so many different software packages you can run. For a while, I was set on running the Windows port of XMBC, but decided against it in favor of another open source app, MediaPortal.
The hardest thing to get working was my requirement that I be able to use my Logitech Harmony 680 remote control to contol the computer as well. I used a separate controller in the past but what's the point of having a universal remote if it doesn't control everything. The biggest problem was that the case comes with an IR receiver just for this purpose, but come to find out the bastards only certified it to work with Windows Media Center Edition, which I didn't want to run because of its over-reliance on Windows Media Player (I prefer to have my movies launched in a separate app called Zoom Player which I regard to be one of the greatest software apps ever. Anyway, I had to order a separate Microsoft remote and IR receiver and disable the onboard one. Then I found a remote control program called IntelliRemote that I ended up buying because it worked so well, and now everything more or less works.
Here's what it looks like when it's playing music:
And browsing movie shares:
And finally, the obligatory shot of it playing a Spider-Man movie:
All this for just a smidge over $500.