How to build an HTPC, Part 2: Installing an HDTV Tuner card and Zalman Quiet cooling

HTPC project
How to Build an HTPC
Part 2

Installing an HDTV Tuner card and Zalman Quiet cooling!
Building an HTPC-1
Building an HTPC-3 (powerstrip)

The MyHD card by Macro Image Technology is on the left and the HiDTV card by Digital Stream is on the right. The big "D" connectors are for the "Dongle" cables which are basically video and audio I/O breakout cables. The MyHD has two "F" connector inputs which will accept antenna (ATSC HDTV or NTSC) or Cable TV (analog cable). The HiDTV has a single "F" connection. The MyHD also has a S/PDIF (Digital Audio) RCA connector on the card, while the HiDTV card has the S/PDIF connector on the Dongle cable. Both cards are great at tuning in ATSC HDTV OTA (over the air) signals with a good antenna setup. When trying to receive ATSC HDTV, the "Antenna Setup" is the biggest problem for most people, since they usually have cable or satellite TV. It can definitely be a problem, and using small indoor antennas is rarely successful, depending on location. Often a roof or attic mounted antenna is your only option. Sometimes you can position an outdoor antenna somewhere indoors, pointing towards the towers and get a good signal. Windows help. If you want these cards for anything but ATSC OTA HDTV, think again. These cards are great for HDTV but not more than average for NTSC OTA and cable TV. We strapped a 4 bay bow tie channel master antenna to the back of a big wall unit pointing out the window towards Philadelphia and used a channel master UHF amplifier to boost the signal. We're about 10 miles away so we generally get pretty good signal strengths. Both cards provide a great picture and work well. The HiDTV seemed a bit more stable in our test system, but doesn't have as thriving of a support community as the MyHD card. The HiDTV has an optional USB IR receiver for their remote controls while both offer serial port connecting IR receiversand remote controls. We tended to prefer the MyHD remote control. The HiDTV control panel is far more attractive than the MyHD control panel. Installing either card was fairly easy, configuring sound can be difficult, if you don't have a receiver with enough inputs. The trouble comes if you wish to use a single audio output from the computer. Your sound cards software is key here. If it can't support easy switching between analog audio and digital audio you may have problems. Some sound cards force you to restart or log out and in again to change between Digital and analog audio. These should be avoided.

The MyHD card is pretty deep. Make sure you have enough room.

Installing Zalman VGA Card cooler and CPU Cooler
Video Card Cooler: ZM80-HP
CPU Cooler: Zalman CNPS6500A-Cu

These products come with excellent instruction manuals. We only provide here some additional hints.

The first step is removing the original cooler from your video card. Unscrew the screws holding down the Video card cooler. This is easy. Pull off the fan and disconnect the fan cable. Next you need to remove the heatsink assembly from the GPU chip. This can be hard. If you need to apply pressure while prying this thing off, be very careful. Don't damage anything. This fan was pretty much "glued on". This makes removal difficult and preparing the GPU for a new heat sink even more difficult. A razor blade with a safety handle would be best for removing the glue. We didn't have it. We had to break open a cigar cutter and use the blade from it! This is a dangerous mod, so be very careful. A sharp blade is necessary. Don't scratch it off, cut flush to the surface of the chip.

Using a cigar cutter as a razor blade did not give us perfect results. We ended up scraping some paint off of the GPU, but we didn't damage it, hopefully.

We slathered on some heatsink compound and we're ready!

The Zalman ZM80A-HP

The Zalman ZM80A-HP and a ATI Radeon 9000 Pro

Setting up the front GPU small heatsink is the key to the installation. Line up the screws to go through the holes in the card. Try to keep the "arms" from the heatsink to the holes as straight as possible. Make the heatsink square with the top and bottom of the card. Make it as even over the GPU as possible, leaving as equal hangover on all sides of the GPU as possible. When you install the rear small heatsink, it will need to align with this one for the heat pipe, so consider that.

Hold the heatsink screws through the holes and get the rubber grommets over the screws. Not so easy.


Screw down the "Standoffs" over the rubber grommets. Don't go crazy. A pair of needlenose pliers and a small philips screwdriver will do nicely.

Align the rear small heatsink as much as possible to the front small heatsink. Check it with the "heatpipe" to make sure you are aligned. Tighten the screws and check again. Repeat.

When all is aligned, use the thermal compound. Cover the surface that will contact the large heatsinks and the heatpipe. Try not to get the thermal compound in the holes.


Stick in the heatpipe. Slime it. Make sure it isn't going to touch anything metal (other than the heatsink) and get ready to put on the big heatsinks.

Screw down the front and rear big heatsinks. If you need to bend the heatpipe to get it to fit, go back a few steps and align the front and rear small heatsinks again until they are right.

This is a giant heatsink which takes up a lot of space, the PCI slot beneath the AGP slot is covered. You do need to have good airflow through your case for this kind of cooler. The hot air has to get out of the case. For High performance GPU's you may need to get a cooling fan on this heatsink.

Installing the Zalman CNPS6500A-Cu CPU Cooler

Good looking stuff. The "Flower" heatsink and large, 92mm fan should keep things pretty cool and quiet.

This is a AMD Thundirbird 1400 which can be a challenge to keep cool. Gooped.

The Zalman is a large and heavy HSF. You need to make sure the bottom of it sits squarely on your P4 or Athlon processor. Be careful when moving the computer.

This heatsink is large, and can get in the way. Here it appears to get in the way of our memory slots, but there was enough room, despite appearances.

With the fan installed. Big fan = Quiet. Even this fan comes with a "silencer" which may or may not give you enough air on your cpu heatsink, depending on the cpu and speed.
There are other quiet fans besides the Zalman. Thermaltake is another top manufacturer of very quiet cpu fans. Others exist.
A great resource for Quiet computer information is silent pc review.
We decided to skip the Power supply installation for now. This is a very important component. It must help with airflow while being as quiet as possible. Picking an overkill power supply in an HTPC is a bit silly. Make sure you don't go overboard here or you will be adding heat and therefore noise to the mix.

Next - Powerstrip!
(or - how to connect your PC to your HDTV)