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Need a good mobo and cpu combo for a HTPC rebuild!

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November 26, 2007 1:23:56 AM

I'm looking for suggestions for the best value combo for a new mainboard (full ATX) and cpu (Intel) combo for my HTPC. I currently have an older 478 setup (P4 3.2 HT), and am looking to make the next step to a multi-core cpu. I'm pretty confused about quad vs. dual vs. xeon, etc. I'll also need to get a new video card as I'm using an AGP 7800 and new RAM since I'm using DDR. I already got my new case and have my old setup running in it. The case I'm with now is the Antec Performance One and I've got some Best Buy 400W PSU. I run this system 24/7 as a dedicated media center box with a RAID setup and three tuners. I'd also like to move to HD with it sometime in the future. Currently, I can playback HD .264 content with CoreAVC but I don't think I could encode it very well. I doubt I'll be wanting to overclock this system at all as I just want it to run stable (and as fast as possible). TIA for any good ideas. I'm on a tight budget, so please give me the best value out there now.
November 26, 2007 2:33:00 AM

I was checking out prices on the 6550, along with P35 mobos and combos of the two. What I found was that it was sometimes cheaper to go with separates.

Now with the holiday season here, prices have fallen a noticeable amount on everything, which is good news.

For GPU, I would encourage something based on the HD2600 series, or an 8600. You won't want a furnace in your HTPC, so the 2900 and 8800 series are not a good idea unless you're trying to use the thing for power-gaming too. You could go with onboard, but you wouldn't get the improved video processing that you'll get with a GPU card. See past THG articles on these and the HQV test results for more info. I believe both ATi 2600 and NVidia 8600 series are available with no-fan, internal-fan and case-venting-fan configurations, so choose based on the ability of your case to vent the heat without assistance.

For CPU, it depends entirely on how much encoding / transcoding you plan to do. If you don't need high performance, then aim for low-power with a slower dual-core... again to control heat. I'm looking at 6550s, and even those are overkill for most HTPC tasks. Plus, you'll have plenty of headroom to upgrade when future prices come down.

For a Mobo with onboard RAID, consider RAID mobility. Intel's SB chips tend to at least offer some support for Mobo upgrading (e.g. from ICH7R to ICH9R, if a 7R-based mobo dies). THG had a recent article about this too. Worth considering if you don't want to have to restore from a backup in the event of a failure. Also consider support for future platforms, such as offered by the P35 chipset. Unless you're gaming with dual ATi cards, the X38 won't do much for you. And again for HTPC you want lower power, which appears to be Intel-based chipsets in the latest Mobo tests.

Are your tuners all PCI? If so, you'll need to pay attention to Mobo layouts and GPU choice because finding a Mobo with 3+ usable PCI slots while using a dual-slot GPU is becoming more complicated.
a b V Motherboard
a b à CPUs
November 27, 2007 11:15:33 PM

I would suggest getting an Intel board with a fanless NB heatsink, optical SPDIF in case you want to connect to a receiver, with onboard RAID capabilities, and 3 PCI slots so you can re-use your tuners. Look for boards from respected makers (Asus, Gigabyte, Abit, MSI, DFI, etc). The nvidia 650i chipset boards are cheap solutions, and the older P965 chipset boards will work as well. A good example of a decent P35 chipset board with all of the above options is this one: DFI BLOOD IRON P35-T2RL. This board places 3 PCI slots far away from the graphics slot, so a large passive cooled video card won't block one or more of them.

For the video card, I would suggest any of the passively cooled ATI 2600PRO or Nvidia 8600GT cards. For the video card, remember that you can always get a more powerful card, but you don't want the heat and probably don't need the horsepower. With these cards, the E6550 is plenty powerful enough to run the system smoothly and you may even be able to drop down to the E4XXX or E2XXX series processors due to the off-loading of the video decoding onto the video card.

Heat and noise are your enemies in a HTPC build. Hope my advice helps you in your build.
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