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HTPC Configuration - Sanity Check

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May 16, 2009 2:22:20 AM

Hi All,

After doing far to much research, I've finally decided on a configuration for an HTPC that I think I'll like. The component selection was driven by a couple of needs/wants and factors. I simply like the Mobo and think the 790GX chipset should be really nice. The processor seems good enough while going easy on the power. The memory is pretty standard. It's nice to see that the optical drive can handle multiple formats. The tuner card should be fine for us, just recording the occasional show. I'll figure out later if a second one is in order. The case is supposedly really nice. I wanted a big one so that I have flexibility and some room to place things. The PSU looked good enough. Western Digital 1TB Green Drive.

Before I pull the trigger, I figured I'd post it as a sanity check and see if anyone sees potential conflicts or issues I may have overlooked.

My current HTPC Plans

Mother Board: GIGABYTE GA-MA790GP-UD4H
CPU: AMD Athlon X2 4850e 2.5GHz Socket AM2 45W
Memory: CORSAIR 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)
BD / HDDVD Drive: LG Black Blu-ray/HD DVD-ROM & 16X DVD±R DVD Burner SATA Model GGC-H20L
TV Tuner Card: AVerMedia AVerTVHD MCE A180 HDTV Tuner Card / PVR
Case: Antec Black Aluminum / Steel Fusion Remote Max ATX Media Center / HTPC Case
PSU: Rosewill RG530-2 530W 80Plus Certified
HDD: 1TB WD Green SATA HDD
OS: Plan to use Mythbuntu and Win7

Thanks,
Will

More about : htpc configuration sanity check

a c 177 V Motherboard
May 17, 2009 5:46:32 PM

Looks great to me; I've been testing a bunch of HTPC h'ware on my workstation, with an eye toward building a couple of systems for my (fairly elderly) parents to use without paying for digital cable and DVRs; once you start playing with it, and discover the possibilities (transcoding recorded TV automatically for smaller storage size and commercial removal), you might want a quad with all the horsepower you can get - transcoding is processor intensive. That is the same case I'm planning on - everyone raves about it, has plenty room, actual space for internal drives, and the LCD is programmable if you root around a bit. One thing I've learned while researching is: stay away from 'slim' profile cases that require a header to mount cards - it would seem that ever person who's ever bought one complains about problems with it! I've also heard good things about the AVerMedia stuff; be sure to check specifically for linux support. I've finalized on Hauppage HVR-2250s and Win7 finally gets it right; I also have a SiliconDust HD_HomeRun on my net, and windows 7 sees them as six tuners: the pair of HVR NTSCs, the same tuners alternatively as digital ClearQAMs, one channel of the HDHR as ATSC antenna, and the second as ClearQAM. BUT - I don't think the HVRs have linux support yet (at least, not as of the last time I looked), but I haven't been able to get Ubuntu on my system anyway (just spent a week with it, as I needed to do a fresh install of the official TechNet release of the release candidate) - I use a multi-boot MBR loader on a system with three RAID pair, two 0s and a 1, and Ubuntu refuses to play nice with the RAIDs - I finally got sick of rebuilding broken RAIDs, and gave up!

A note: you'll need to separately enable sound on HDMI - I've seen several people flummoxed by this; HDMI works great for video, gives no sound - audio default must be set manually to HDMI...

Another note: most of my experience is with the 'd' series Intel-based MOBOs, but I've seen a huge number of egregious problems w/Corsair RAM; besides often being difficult to get working, it sometimes appears to 'degrade' over time, causing a previously working setup to refuse to boot; mushkin is unbeatable, but pricey; G.Skill and OCZ seem to work well, cost less, and require minimal tweaking to get working right... Kingston is also on my &^%t list.

You might want to take a look at:
http://mcebuddy.com/
to look at the possibilities for automated commercial removal (free, & one of the few to deal with the new WTV format), although it's command line at this point - we've been waiting quite some time now for a gui & 64-bit support to be added, but the author had some deaths in his family, and, quite understandably, has had some trouble getting back to it...

I mention all of this because I, too, came to it from the simple end, just wanting a couple of non-leased, no-hassle DVRs; once I discovered the possibilities, I changed plans to a couple of HTPCs with an i7 based home server to monitor for new programs, yank the commercials, and make them available to the whole house, as well as a terabyte-and-a-half NAS on my router with a movie and music library (which is already up & running flawlessly).
May 17, 2009 11:15:33 PM

bilbat said:
Looks great to me;


Thanks bilbat,

That is exactly the type of thought provoking feedback I was hoping for.

Tuner: The tuner I was looking at appeared to be supported in Linux/MythTV. I'll have to double check before pulling the trigger on that part.

CPU: Since posting, I've considered going with the quad core Phenom due to the video work that I would like to do with it. However, I'm looking at the 65W version as I really don't want to create a heater in the house beyond what I already have. It's quite hot here today. The 9350e is what I was looking at. I hope that it provides enough processing benefit for the added cost / heat. It is too bad it costs more than 3X the 4850e Athlon. As I was looking to get most of it at Egg, I was disappointed that they are not carrying the 9350e. Thoughts?

Memory: It has been years since I built a system from scratch, so the insight on the memory is helpful. I'll take a look at what is available.

Scope: Also since posting, I've considered much of the same thing. I definitely want to have it function as a DVR. I'm thinking it honestly doesn't need super great output graphics since I can likely feed it through my PS3 (for movies) if push comes to shove. Along those lines, I may drop the LG drive and just use my existing DVD drive. I also want to use it as a part-time NAS. Not so much as an always-on server. Rather as a networked back-up drive that is shared by multiple systems and as a place where any of the other systems can access files they don't have locally, when needed. As for the case, while waiting to buy, the combo deal disappeared, which cause me to question if maybe I should just use my existing full tower Antec case. We'll see.

OS: I'm honestly avoiding the temptation to add Vista to the system. Win7 sounds like it will be pretty good when it is finally released for real. So, I will be open to that. Otherwise, I'm relying pretty much on Ubuntu and/or another distro to provide the bulk of functionality on this system. The other systems in the house are an old iMac G4 (for surfing and email) and an XP laptop for work. So, I hope this system serves as the hub.

Thanks again for the helpful thoughts.
Related resources
May 17, 2009 11:47:48 PM

I just built a HTPC, and I was looking at the various Linux options too. To be honest, the best thing out there for media right now is Vista Media Center. Win7 has a good media center, but it is not yet supported by some of my key plugins. For me My Movies is vital. It allows you to organize and integrate your DVD/Blu-rays into Vista Media Center seamlessly. The other problem with the Linux options is that they don't have blu-ray support. I think you can play H.264 with VLC, but you can't play a straight up blu-ray disc (AFSIK).

Component wise, you may want to go with a better PSU. I recommend the Antec Earthwatts series. If you keep an eye out, you can probably get a good combo deal on that PSU and your case. The reasons are quality and noise. For HTPCs fan noise is really something to be considered, and Earthwatts are pretty quiet.

For the Blu-ray drive, I have that model, and I like it. Just make sure you get the retail version, not OEM. You need retail for the software player.

I think your ram is fine. I personally have gone with this Patriot ram the last couple of builds. It performs well, and it's about $20 cheaper than the Corsair you selected. If you are partial to Corsair, however, what you selected is fine.

I too have a Hauppauge 2250 (like bilbat). Bilbat is right, Vista doesn't see it quite right. For me it hasn't been a problem because I don't get over the air HD, nor does my cable provider have any Clear-Qam channels. If MCE Buddy doesn't work with Win7 or Vista, another good program to strip out commercials is Life Extender.

Good luck with the build.
a c 177 V Motherboard
May 18, 2009 1:46:45 AM

I understand your concern about heat; when I built my workstation, I designed for lots of heat removal, but only to outside the case, as I intended to run it in a large, cool basement. Turned out to be too dirty (and especially dusty - sawdust is nasty - it's infinitely fine, and sticky to boot)) there, and wound up putting it in my small (~100 sq ft) bedroom; ran up the room temp to over eighty F in the winter with the room's heat vents off; couldn't wait 'till summer - had to WC it with a radiator a floor below... Have pictures of final result at:
http://www.sevenforums.com/hardware-devices/347-show-us...
BTW - those 20 C GPU temps are with the graphics cards OC'd as fast as the driver will crank them - used to run around 54-58C, with fans howling like banshees!

I'm fairly well awed by 7; they finally seem (which appears to be about every third product release) to have gotten pretty much everything right! I had done upgrades (not recommended, but I wanted to see if it worked) from the original TechNet release, to torrented 7058, to 7061, to 7100, where I found a few problems... I then thought to remove the upgrading problem excuse, and did fresh installs of the official Technet 7100 release candidate, both x86 & x64. Only two significant problems: one, I am certain is video driver related - I have a pair of 3850s, and both Catalyst 9.3 and 9.4 cause IE8 to crash whenever right clicking on a favorites entry; tried it at three different points in an install routine of perhaps forty programs - dead consistent; second, I think, is also ATI driver - often, when returning from using media center, I lose a monitor (four on system), but not the one MC was on - which, of course, scrabbles up the placement of three dozen icons. Speaking of icons, that is probably the biggest bug I've seen that seems to be traceable to win7 itself; it appears to have an icon cache problem, and only with certain icons - occasionally, a few vanish after a reboot, and, likewise, once in a while, only with certain icons, an attempt to edit their text makes 'em go away, only to reappear after a reboot??? If I could identify the difference between the ones succeptible to either problem, I'd probably have the cure! BTW - same in 32 & 64... Both Enterra's IconKeeper, and the old, stand-by xp's layout.dll mostly fix it.

However, it's quick, adaptable, and, I do industrial systems, so I need to run a lot of really crappily written s'ware - the virtual xp machine is a godsend! The MC finally seems to work completely - with vista and the tv-pack, setup was always chancey, and sometimes would simply refuse to get it right, even manually... The built in iso burner has yet (probably thirty disks) to bobble a burn (and I'm distraught, as I just paid for Nero), and one other nice feature is right-click conversion of the new wtv files to dvr-ms. I'll tell ya, I had an MCSE back at win98, as I worked for a company that would pick up the cost of the tests so long as you passed 'em; when 2000 came out, we all took a pass, as it was obviously just a 'fill-in' in the revenue stream; same for ME (didn't even rate as a fill-in!); I might give recert a shot; this one's going to make MS some money, especially if they get the RTM soon enough to accomodate next year's xmas machine buyers... It's impressed me so much that I've finally bitten the bullet and undertaken to teach myself ceesharp and dotnet (which I also figure, seeing as how we're on rev3.5sp2, might be stable enough to bother with!)

MCE_Buddy works with 7 and vista, but, so far, is limited to 32 bit and a command line interface. I'll take another peek at Life Extender to see if they've caught up to wtv files; as I said, MCEB seems to have come to (I hope) a temporary development hiatus... Another spot I've found invaluable is: http://www.hack7mc.com/ -full of daily tips (mostly useful) on sprucing up your MC

I'm surprised you get no ClearQAM - I thought it was some kinda FCC thing that they had to put QAM of local broadcast channels on; anyhow, not missing much - they mostly (here) are broadcast better on ATSC, and the few oddballs that aren't broadcast are wierd, local origination things that appear to have the res of an older ipod!
May 18, 2009 2:26:18 AM

Hi gimpy,

Thanks for the thoughts.
I was asking myself, why should I try to make this new system play blu-ray and other video when i already have a PS3 that should display all of that just fine. Also, I'm really not a gamer, even though I have the PS3, so that really isn't a driver for me. So, I figured all I needed was something that could easily handle creating and converting the video, serving files, and generally impressing. As for TV, I'll have to take a closer look at that one. The primary use for that would be simply recording American Idol and such stuff for the wife when we are trying to get the boys to bed. (bad timing) At the worst it can likely be streamed afterward to the PS3.

I had looked at the Earth Watts and it looked good. They all usually have a mixture of reviews. One of the factors I was looking at was to make sure I got the 8-pin CPU power connector. I'll take another look.

Thanks again. Gotta run.

Will
May 18, 2009 2:52:28 AM

Hi Bilbat,

Ha ha ha ha ha.

That is quite a system and setup. We're crammed in a second story apartment with poor insulation. So, heat is surely and issue.

Thanks for the insight on 7. I'll have to keep an eye on it.

Yes, for the TV it is really ATSC that I'll be relying, I think.

I've been trying out the beta of Boxee on Ubuntu (based on XBMC). Except for my current poor video performance (old hardware) it really looks to be shaping up as a nice tool. Atleast that was my impression, not having really used much in the way of media centers.

I was reading an old article earlier on Tom's that compared the Phenom Quad Core 9350e against the 65W Core 2 Duo (e8600 I think) at about the same price. The main thing I got from it was that to really benefit from the quad core the software has to use plenty of threading to really benefit from the additional cores. On the plus side, linux should handle that right now. On the other side of the coin, I want to make sure that at idle or sleep I get the best possible efficiency (CandQ).

Thanks again,
Will
a c 177 V Motherboard
May 18, 2009 3:32:31 AM

I'll check on MCEB to see if there's threading control; most of the stuff I use for ripping/editing has thread settings. I can't be positive, but I think that's one reason that 7 is much 'snappier' than vista, I think it natively manages multithreading much better - at least, my core loading looks much better... Sleep is another whole topic; I've found that, unless you're running a pretty dirt simple system, getting a bunch of networked, oddball hardware to sleep, and then wake up properly, is a whole battle in and of itself - USB, PCI, PCIe, HDDs, everyone has to 'play nice'; mostly, the component manufacturers will imitate the scarecrow in the wizard of oz, cross their arms, point in both directions and claim "it's their fault!" Ah well, I'm an uneployed systems engineer; I needed something to struggle with...

Found something else interesting in this field tonight - might actually be older news that I'd so far missed, but someone has come up with a variation of linux' grub loader that makes any BIOS OCUR compatible, meaning that, now, pretty much any capable PC can run CableCard tuners - no more scavenging HDPCs for their BIOS, no more restricted, h'ware dependent keying... I think CableCard tuners can be had on ebay for less than $200, and are available new (I think from ATI) for around $300

!