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Wednesday January 21, 2009 4:58 pm

HTPC Building Series: Achieving great 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound


Check out our HTPC on a Budget series and join us in building a great HTPC for under $1,000.

In previous posts, while talking about building up our Home Theater PC, from the ground up, and on a budget, we’ve focused on a few goals. Things like what we want to see the system, as a whole, do for our home entertainment experience. We’ve talked, in general, about some of the hardware we plan on ordering to put into this bad boy. We’ve even gone into detail on the one essential piece that is going to drive everything - that being the motherboard. Today we want to focus on how we are going to get amazing sound out of this system.


Since we are relying on the MS-7411 motherboard, that means we can one one of these two top-of-the-line sound solutions. The first is a 5-channel x 100W card, which built-in amplifier. That this means is that you can connect your 5.1 speakers directly to this card, with no need for a receiver in between. Perfect if you want to make this machine your all in one solution for all your entertainment needs, and don’t own a receiver.

But what about those of us who want our 7.1 goodness? Well, we are in luck too, as the 7.1 solution is less expensive than the 5.1, since it doesn’t have a built-in amp. However, this means you’ll need a receiver to plug into that supports analog connections for each channel. Luckily, we do, so we are going to go with the cheaper route.

In our next article, we will talk about what we are going to do to drive content to this HTPC, and we’ll see if we can ditch our cable box.

In case you were wondering, here are the details and specs on the two cards we mentioned:

Option #1:
5-Channel x 100W (AAIC100-5) Card

  • 100W Peak, Channel Drive, 8Ω
  • THD+N: <0.1%, 1kHz, 1W
  • SNR: >105 dB
  • Frequency Response: ±0.5 dB (20Hz to 20kHz)
  • 93% Efficient Power Amplifier
  • Price of MSI motherboard with 5.1 card: Approximately $200 USD
Option #2: 3 Channel to 7 Channel Pre-Amplifier (AAIC7) Card
  • High Quality Home Theater Performance
  • Line-Level Outputs, 2.0Vrms
  • THD+N: <0.01%, 1kHz, -6dBFS
  • SNR: >110dB
  • Price of MSI motherboard with 7.1 pre-card: Approximately $180 USD

Read More | Series: Building an HTPC on a Budget

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Comments:

Not bad if you don’t mind using your computer as the receiver. Every aspect of home theater can be pumped through the computer nowadays, but I still wonder about the practicality of having speaker line outputs from the computer rather than going to an offboard processor to do your surround sound. I mean, you can’t take HDMI inputs to process the other components that are bound to be in the home theater—those would have to connect to another receiver which probably sits next to the HTPC anyway.
To add, with one remote, I can control all aspects of my home theater. With a computer as the brains, try controlling the DVR’d shows, then playing music through the iPod, then switching to FM, then playing some Xbox games.

With the 7.1 card, which is what we are using, that plugs into a receiver wink


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