best htpc motherboard?


Senior Member
I'm going to replace my current rackmounted touchscreen computer with a separate screen and case. I'm tired of not having easy access or enough slots. I've no need for cosmetically appealing front panels. It's all behind a door anyway. But before I decide upon a case, I'm wondering whose motherboard to consider.

I'd really like to get something that'd be more than capable of handling being an excellent media delivery device. All the data is on a file server so motherboard storage controllers are less important. What's important is getting out from under the foolishness of IRQ sharing and conflicts when multiple display, network and tuner cards are installed. So a board that had a PCI bus designed for HTPC, MCE or other DVR types of services would be ideal.

Any suggestions or websites to consider to find out more?
avsforum has tons of threads on this stuff. What type of resolution are you looking to render? Have you decided on AMD vs Intel (basically x64 vs Core2Duo at this point)?

For the tons of PCI slots for tuner cards, why don't you move that to your fileserver? That's what I ended up doing, so I could get a Core2Duo mobo (Abit AB9 Pro) for the HTPC for the rendering power.
Thanks for the avsforum tip.

I'd like to get something with some room for growth. Support for PCI-X slots, fast display card and things like firewire. Our main theatre display is a 50" pioneer plasma so I'd expect to use 1080i max. Mainly to shuffle programming off a couple of DirecTivo units. This box won't be the fileserver, that's a different upgrade. Right now the fileserver box is sorely in need of upgrading but one step at a time.
Why the need for PCI-x. About the only thing that I've seen for PCI-x are some of the more expensive hardware RAID cards. If you are not going to be using this box as a file server, then PCI-x is probably big time overkill.

To get PCI-x, you generally have to step up to a server MB and those are generally much more expensive.

Any decent PCI-e MB is going to be fine I think. You don't really need SLI unless you plan to do some serious gaming on the box. Just make sure it has at least 1 10/100/1000 ethernet port to stream your files onto the machine.

I personally would make sure it has 3 PCI slots. You'll want one for a good audio card, and you might fill the others with tuner cards or other accessories. I hate the fact that so many of the new boards only have 1 or 2 PCI slots.
If you are considerting Vista for the HTPC then the 64 bit architecture will be the only one supporting some of the MCE functionality. I don't know specifics, but there was some bad press a few months back about needing new 64 bit hardware to run full-up Vista.

My MCE box has PCI for SDTV tuner, Audio and RAID. If you are within broadcast range then an OTA HDTV tuner will also be desired. RAID may be already bundled with more modern motherboards. Usually USB can be used for hardware interfaces, but selection is more limited and I find dynamic USB to not yield as troublefree operation as dedicated hardware.

For HTPC noise/heat and packaging are the biggest drivers that limit selection and drive cost. In my case I just use a server in the closet with the only visble HTPC component being a USB DVD and an IR receiver. If your HTPC is visible, then take a serious look at the higher speed Pentium-M. They benchmark very well and are easier to cool because of the laptop-based design.
I would look at Asus motherboards regardless of your architecture choice. If you are not going for Vista type functionality, then you can get some socket 478 type parts that are very good for very little money (of course the cheapest are still the recycled woot or tigerdirect machines, but for a little more money I prefer having custom hardware in many cases).
I'm going to 'ripple' some machines; take some low end ones offline and move others down the chain of performance needs. That'll mean I'll get a new desktop, and I'm long overdue. So that leaves one other box. I've had Asus boards before and had good luck with them. One of the rack chassis is a little tight so a microATX board would be the best fit. The looks interesting. But it's such an adventure trying to pick a new board.