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HTPC Recommendation: CPU-MoBo-Memory combination (Intel Haswell)

Hi,

After one week researching, I finally have an idea about the components I want for my HTPC (+NAS). Since Linux is a must, and given the compatibility of the Intel chipset with Linux I decided to go for this manufacturer (besides other reason such as power efficiency).

I've chosen a quad core i5 CPU since I'll be using the PC as a file and media server as well, and I plan on playing HD content.

Regarding the motherboard I choose the latest chipset from Intel, to have the possibility of replacing the CPU in the future with the newer generation of Intel's CPU's.

However, I'm not so sure which kind memory should I go for. Intel supports up to DDR3-1600 kits, but I've read a couple of reviews recommending to go for higher speed memories when using the Haswell architecture. The recommendations on this regard are contradictory:
- http://www.corsair.com/en-us/blog/2014/march/haswellrealworld
- http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/memory/display/haswell-ddr3_8.html#sect0
- http://lifehacker.com/5827145/how-to-build-a-computer-from-scratch-lesson-2-choose-and-buy-your-parts

Do you have any experience on this?

Do I need an overclock-capable CPU (*K series) for using higher speed memories?

These are two possibilities I'm evaluating:
- http://pcpartpicker.com/user/damianonly/saved/rcdxFT
- http://pcpartpicker.com/user/damianonly/saved/dd3H99
Do you have any remarks on the components I choose so far?

Thanks in advance,
Damian.
2 answers Last reply Best Answer
More about htpc recommendation cpu mobo memory combination intel haswell
  1. Best answer
    You really won't need that much power to stream HD content, although that comes with a few caveats. If your media is in standard file formats (h264 for example) then the server doesn't need to do anything to the files, just spit them out and almost every client will be able to decode them. Even if you do need transcoding ability, unless you need to transcode multiple streams simultaneously then you'll have no problems using a much cheaper CPU. For my home storage I use Unraid with the Plex plugin to serve media across our house. The chip is a very very old Athlon x2 5000+, and it happily serves to tablets, phones, Rokus and PCs with no problems at all. Much of my video isn't in standard formats (well, not the modern standards anyway) but the system has no problems transcoding for the Roku and the web-player at the same time if it needs to. Without knowing exactly what you want to do with your system in terms of your wider network and the content you want to play on the TV with it, but it seems extremely likely that an i5 is overkill.

    In memory terms, for media players more is radically more important than faster. You don't need to worry about speed at all. The RAM interface is mind-bendingly fast, and while some is faster than others you will never be stressing the memory under usual operation. You'll cache things to memory, and the system will be happy to use as much space as you can give it to hold file structures in memory so you can quikcly find things, but you won't be doing fast read/writes of large files like textures to memory as you would if you were gaming. At present my Unraid is using 322mb of ram, with much of the rest of the 2Gigs in it used to cache Plex and the SMB file systems for snappier operation.

    You certainly shouldn't overclock anything in your server. That's a terrible idea. Definitely don't buy anything that is designed with this in mind. Servers are about longevity, not speed. Even a very slight, very stable over-clock is less stable than the original specs the chip was designed for. Similarly, the inside of your server case needs to be kept as cool as possible to keep your drives cool. HDDs aren't *that* sensitive to heat but you want to keep them below 40 degrees under use if at all possible, and you do that by keeping everything else in the box as cool as humanly possible. That doesn't mean you need to put a better cooler on the chip, because the hot air coming off the cooler goes into your case and makes it hard to cool the drives. No, you need the chip to producing as little heat as possible.

    Also -

    Have you considered using some kind of RAID in your server to protect your data? Most media servers, including mine, contain vast archives of data that goes back many many years. I still have things on my server that I ripped nearly ten years ago. Part of the joy of having a proper storage solution that you built yourself is that it's infinitely expandable, and you never need to make choices or throw anything away. But that comes with a price. Losing a drive (you never think it'll happen to you, but if you build it right this machine is just going to sit and do its job for YEARS, and everything fails eventually) can toss away 2 or 3 or 4 terabytes of data that you want to keep, and since we're talking about quite so much data, traditional backs ups aren't really applicable. RAID (specifically RAID5 or RAID6) uses an additional drive (or two) on top of your data to store parity information so that even if one drive dies you can totally rebuild everything. On my server I can even access data while a drive is physically missing, although with some processing over head.

    I don't know what software you are planning to use - Unraid isn't really what you want since you're looking to do HTPC as well as serving. Off the top of my head I can't think of anything that offers both a good HTPC experience on Linux, as well as giving you advanced server features.
  2. LostAlone said:
    You really won't need that much power to stream HD content, although that comes with a few caveats. If your media is in standard file formats (h264 for example) then the server doesn't need to do anything to the files, just spit them out and almost every client will be able to decode them. Even if you do need transcoding ability, unless you need to transcode multiple streams simultaneously then you'll have no problems using a much cheaper CPU. For my home storage I use Unraid with the Plex plugin to serve media across our house. The chip is a very very old Athlon x2 5000+, and it happily serves to tablets, phones, Rokus and PCs with no problems at all. Much of my video isn't in standard formats (well, not the modern standards anyway) but the system has no problems transcoding for the Roku and the web-player at the same time if it needs to. Without knowing exactly what you want to do with your system in terms of your wider network and the content you want to play on the TV with it, but it seems extremely likely that an i5 is overkill.


    I was afraid of this. Actually I will probably we playing 1080p blue ray rips, from the PC itself. The only requirement is that the HTPC will be able to play HD content.

    Most likely the server will be 24/7 running a torrent client, NFS or samba server, and I might run my own cloud and mail server. In view of these possibilities that's why I went for the i5. But considering that only my family and friends will use these services an i3 may be just fine.

    LostAlone said:

    In memory terms, for media players more is radically more important than faster. You don't need to worry about speed at all. The RAM interface is mind-bendingly fast, and while some is faster than others you will never be stressing the memory under usual operation. You'll cache things to memory, and the system will be happy to use as much space as you can give it to hold file structures in memory so you can quikcly find things, but you won't be doing fast read/writes of large files like textures to memory as you would if you were gaming. At present my Unraid is using 322mb of ram, with much of the rest of the 2Gigs in it used to cache Plex and the SMB file systems for snappier operation.


    Good to hear. From what I read in the reviews the gains don't seem to be that significant, and it is dependent on the particular program you're running.

    LostAlone said:
    You certainly shouldn't overclock anything in your server. That's a terrible idea. Definitely don't buy anything that is designed with this in mind. Servers are about longevity, not speed. Even a very slight, very stable over-clock is less stable than the original specs the chip was designed for. Similarly, the inside of your server case needs to be kept as cool as possible to keep your drives cool. HDDs aren't *that* sensitive to heat but you want to keep them below 40 degrees under use if at all possible, and you do that by keeping everything else in the box as cool as humanly possible. That doesn't mean you need to put a better cooler on the chip, because the hot air coming off the cooler goes into your case and makes it hard to cool the drives. No, you need the chip to producing as little heat as possible.


    I understand. I guess an i3 with lower TDP will also help in this regard, right?

    LostAlone said:
    Also -

    Have you considered using some kind of RAID in your server to protect your data? Most media servers, including mine, contain vast archives of data that goes back many many years. I still have things on my server that I ripped nearly ten years ago. Part of the joy of having a proper storage solution that you built yourself is that it's infinitely expandable, and you never need to make choices or throw anything away. But that comes with a price. Losing a drive (you never think it'll happen to you, but if you build it right this machine is just going to sit and do its job for YEARS, and everything fails eventually) can toss away 2 or 3 or 4 terabytes of data that you want to keep, and since we're talking about quite so much data, traditional backs ups aren't really applicable. RAID (specifically RAID5 or RAID6) uses an additional drive (or two) on top of your data to store parity information so that even if one drive dies you can totally rebuild everything. On my server I can even access data while a drive is physically missing, although with some processing over head.

    I don't know what software you are planning to use - Unraid isn't really what you want since you're looking to do HTPC as well as serving. Off the top of my head I can't think of anything that offers both a good HTPC experience on Linux, as well as giving you advanced server features.

    I haven't looked into this yet. But thanks for mentioning it!

    I did some reading about HTPC+NAS, and I now I'm not sure if it is a good option. I like the idea of having everything in one single hardware solution. But if this will translate into increased noise and temperature, and lost of performance I may have to reconsider this.

    Thanks a lot for your help!
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