Home > Articles > Home & Office Computing > Microsoft Windows Desktop

How To Build the Ultimate Windows Media Center 2005 Machine on a Budget, Part 1

In this series, Cyrus Peikari shows you how to build a DIY version of Media Center 2005. Using only the best components at the lowest prices, you can have a breathtaking home theater system that dramatically changes how your family and guests relax and enjoy time together.
Like this article? We recommend

For more information on Windows Media Center, visit our Digital Lifestyles Reference Guide or sign up for our Digital Lifestyles Newsletter

"One OS to rule them all... one OS to bind them."—adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings

Windows Media Center 2005 (MCE) is Microsoft's attempt to bring together the entire living room—and the entire family—under the warm quilt of a single operating system. MCE 2005 is the third and best attempt at a Windows XP-based "home theatre" operating system. (At the time of writing, August 2005, an interim rollout version codenamed "Emerald" is rumored to launch shortly.) After building and using the system described in this article, I can understand the brilliance of Microsoft's plan to dominate the home market. I would even hazard that Microsoft will drop the vanilla version of XP Home Edition some time in the future and will replace it with the enhanced MCE variant. MCE could become the new family cynosure—the "hub" around which secular family life will revolve.

Until recently, the OS has only been available through OEMs. However, you can now get it by purchasing only a token piece of hardware or two—just enough to call yourself a "homebrew OEM." But why would anyone try to build his or her own MCE machine? Haven't we all heard early horror stories of the incompatibility problems, the mangled video, and the endless frustration that comes with a do-it-yourself MCE project?

Well, those stories are all true. However, this is late 2005, not 2004, and we have a better shot at it. MCE 2005 (which I will hereafter abbreviate as MCE) is the third version of the platform, and it has been out for almost a year. Thus, the hardware market to support it has matured. I hope that by reading this article you can learn from my (sometimes costly) mistakes.

Building your own system gives you a lot of the satisfaction I discussed in my 2004 article "How To Build the Ultimate Gaming System on a Budget, Step by Step." MCE systems are quite expensive, and you can expect to pay upwards of $1,500 (September 2005 prices) for a top-of-the-line system that I describe in this article. However, by doing it yourself you can bring that cost down considerably. In addition, you will truly own your system, so that in the future you'll have the knowledge and confidence to upgrade it by yourself. Finally, you'll have a truly high-end system, which will allow you to do word processing; check email; surf the web; and play graphically intense, online 3D games—all while lying comfortably on your living room couch. (At the end of this series of articles, I'll present a final shopping list of all the components, as well as a price list).

Choosing the Case

When you spend this much money, you want to be sure you "future proof" the system. Our target is to make this box last about five years. To do this, we need to spend extra for high-end components. But more importantly, your aesthetics may change. Statistically, most of you reading this article who are still single are likely to be married in five years' time. And your future spouse will banish the MCE from the living room if it is loud, garish, and tricked out with UV and neon lighting like a gaming rig.

So with aesthetics in mind, I began to look for a high-quality, brushed aluminum case in a silver color. More importantly, I had to decide on a case size. A small, slender form factor would look more at home in an AV rack. However, that would require us to buy a tiny motherboard, mini-ATX or smaller. And the components for mini-systems are often more expensive and less compatible. In addition, as a DIY enthusiast, I plan to be back inside the case to upgrade or modify it fairly often. So I wanted room to maneuver.

After a great deal of research, I settled on the Ahanix MCE601 Home Theater PC case in silver (see Figure 1). I also added an internal USB 2.0 card reader, which for less than $20 allows me to add direct support for memory cards of most types. So now I can pop open my digital camera, take out the memory card, and insert it directly into MCE to start a slideshow.

The Ahanix case is a bit more expensive, but it's worth spending more since it forms the foundation of your entire system. In addition to the chassis' very good looks, it's very functional. An attractive vacuum fluorescent display dominates the front panel, while bottom and top vents provide adequate cooling. A special feature is the vented hood (see Figure 2) that allows the CPU to draw cooler air from directly outside the box, rather than recirculating the warmer, ambient air inside the machine. This venting also allows the two quiet, 60 mm fans in the back of the case (see Figure 3) to draw cool air up and over the motherboard chipset and across the graphics cards. The Ahanix ships with a 350W, very quiet power supply that will provide more than enough juice for an MCE. Note that this is a really big case, ATX sized, so plan your table space accordingly when setting up your home theatre. Dimensions are 435 × 150 × 458 mm, 17.13" × 5.88" × 18.00" (W × H × L).

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020