A Perfect DIY Living Room PC for $400

by Graham McFarland

Over the past 2 years, the market success of the flat panel LCD television has created a real opportunity for convergence of media in the living room.  Although many self proclaimed “geeks” have been aware and living with such convergence, technology for the rest of us is now available to fully realize the value of that 42 inch screen in our family room.  The light bulb went off when I signed up for NetFlix earlier this year and discovered the convenience of “watch instantly.”  I immediately went out to the computer store and purchased the cables necessary to connect my laptop to the TV so we could enjoy watching movies instantly.  My TV, measuring in at 32 inches, was an older Sony model that required me to hook up my PC connection via serial VGA and separate audio in cables.  Newer, more advanced models combine these into one HDMI connection for ease of use and better quality. 

Regardless, it has never been easier to introduce a PC in your living room that utilizes the biggest monitor in your home.  I set out to find the best Living Room PC components that not only performed but looked good sitting on top of my satellite receiver.  Here is the result of my research and after a few weeks of use, I can say with certainty that it works great and the entire family enjoys our newest technology addition.

A Living Room PC consists of only 3 parts; small stylish computer, wireless keyboard and mouse combo and an HDMI cable.  After extensive review, trial, testing and a few errors, here is my winning recipe.

Computer:

Dell ZinoHD – AMD Athlon 2650e (1.6GHz, 512K), 2GB SDRAM at 800MHZ, 250GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM), 8X DVD+/-RW, 802.11 b/g/n wireless card and Windows 7 Home Premium.  No need for any other upgrades in terms of processor, storage, memory and graphics unless you are looking for more horsepower.  Remember to personalize without a mouse and keyboard to ensure maximum savings.  The Zino comes complete with 4 USB ports (2 on back and 2 in front), 4-in-1 memory card reader (front), HDMI port (back), 2 eSATA connectors (back), audio out (back), microphone jack (back) and headphone jack (front).    

$324 (+S&H) from Dell 

Wireless Keyboard & Mouse combo:

IOGEAR 2.4GHz Multimedia Keyboard with Laser Trackball and Scroll Wheel

Don’t skimp on this one.  This is the most important part of the Living Room PC in terms of functionality.  I tried 5 different options here and nothing came close to the ease and performance of this one.

$49.99 from Buy.com (free shipping)

Video cable:

HDMI is preferred and the easiest to connect with the least amount of wires.  If your TV doesn’t support HDMI, don’t fret.  Just get a SVGA cable and an audio in (micro or RCA depending) on TV.  The connection on the back of the Dell Zino will be the SVGA monitor and audio out (micro).

$30-$65 depending on TV connection from Fry’s or RadioShack

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