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HTPC on the cheap

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March 11, 2009 6:41:52 PM

Building an inexpensive HTPC to go with brand-new 47" 1080p LCD TV. The old Athlon XP 2200+ laptop I had hooked up to the old, standard-def TV just won't cut it, even when trying to just scale-up downloaded content.

So, the idea is to put something together on the cheap. I hope to put some lightweight Linux distro on it and run boxee. I'll use the VGA input on the TV, and run some sort of digital surround to the Amp. HDMI is also a definite possibility, as long as the motherboard supports surround out over HDMI (the board I've chosen has both HDMI and digital audio out). Big-ish HDD because I don't have much network-attached storage at the moment.

Blu-ray/HD DVD would be nice to have, but I don't have much experience there, and even less under Linux, so I may forgo that idea. I'm fairly certain Boxee handles it well, but don't know about codecs / enabling acceleration. The board I've chosen has a GeForce 8100 GPU, which doesn't have HD accelleration support. I'd have to move up to one with an 8200, at least. That being said, I'll bet that there's enough power to do it all in software, anyway, and that might cause less headaches under Linux, anyway. Anyone who has experience with PureVideo / AVIVO / Whatever they've named it, let me know.

Here's the build:

1 SAMSUNG HD642JJ 640GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive (Bare Drive)
Item #: N82E16822152134
$59.99
1 WINTEC AMPX 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model 3AXT8500C5-4096K
Item #: N82E16820161277
$39.99
1 LG Black Blu-ray/HD DVD-ROM & 16X DVD±R DVD Burner SATA Model GGC-H20L
Item #: N82E16827136133
$119.99
1 AMD Athlon 64 X2 7750 Kuma 2.7GHz Socket AM2+ 95W Dual-Core black edition Processor Model AD775ZWCGHBOX
Item #: N82E16819103300
$59.99
1 JetWay JXBLUE-N78V AM2+/AM2 NVIDIA GeForce 8100 HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard
Item #: N82E16813153121
$59.99
1 hec Black 0.7mm Thickness SECC 7K09 Micro ATX Media Center / HTPC Case
Item #: N82E16811121027
$48.99
1 1ST PC CORP. 6 1ST PC CORP. 6" 8-pin EPS female cable adapter from P4 ATX 4-pin male Cable Model CB-4MP4-8F
Item #: N82E16812706002
$7.99

Thoughts?

More about : htpc cheap

March 11, 2009 6:51:08 PM

Why DDR2 1066? Go with DDR2 800, unless you plan to OC the *** out of your budget HTPC for some reason.

Also look into some 780G (Or 790Gx) mobos if you want good on board video(ATI) that should handle 1080p just fine.
Related resources
March 11, 2009 7:14:17 PM

Transmaniacon said:
Motherboard: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

HDD: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... (Yes thats the Green version, for an HTCP, a quieter less power consuming drive will be nice)

RAM: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Better RAM and only $19.99 w/ MIR.


Motherboard: Has ATI's Linux support improved? I've used nvidia for years since I had an awful time getting an ATI board working under Linux.

HDD: Good suggestion. I was also looking at this one, but cheaped out.

RAM: Used this exact RAM before. Didn't see the discount. Thought I needed DDR2-1066 because the CPU is the Kuma core and that supports it. If that's not the case, then I will revise and use this RAM (or some other DDR2-800 stuff).
March 11, 2009 7:18:03 PM

I'd definitely get a 780G motherboard instead. Much better. With a phenom based cpu, 1066 ram is fine. It wil run full speed without overclocking. I wouldn't pay extra money for a "green" hhd. But I would think about getting a 1 or 1.5tb hdd as HD video can take up a lot of space.
March 11, 2009 7:27:35 PM

I can't comment on the ATI/Linux compatibility but ATI is a huge part of the computer industry these days so it makes sense to me that Linux would attempt to support such a large part of the market...

Regarding the RAM, you do not need anything fancy at all, just something that is reliable. Get DDR2 800, its cheaper and that Corsair kit I linked is a steal right now. If you want more space for you hard drive, this is a good choice: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
You can still keep the quiet low cost Green series, but with more space. If you do want speed, then look into the Caviar Black line, but for an HTPC, it is not necessary.

March 11, 2009 7:52:49 PM

Quote:
I can't comment on the ATI/Linux compatibility but ATI is a huge part of the computer industry these days so it makes sense to me that Linux would attempt to support such a large part of the market...

Yeah, but you've got it backwards, unfortunately. ATI has to write support for AVIVO HD (their name for HD video hardware acceleration) into the Linux drivers. Back in the day, their Linux driver support was so notoriously bad that a project was taken up to write drivers for their cards by reverse-engineering the hardware. Their support site actually links to these efforts. (http://ati.amd.com/products/catalyst/linux.html). That site says: "The ATI Proprietary Linux driver currently provides hardware acceleration for 3D graphics and video playback. It also includes support for dual displays and TV Output." I don't know if that means HD video playback, specifically, so I'll try to dig deeper, but, their site is a little slow at the moment, and trying to get to the general Linux FAQ is timing out ATM.

Don't get me wrong, ATI's products look like the clear winner here, but if I can't get decent Linux support, it won't make any difference.

The processor I have chosen is a Phenom, with only 2 of the 4 cores enabled. Reviews I've read seem to indicate that this chip is quite fast, and for a HTPC, you're not going to be doing much multitasking, so 2 fast cores are better than 3 or 4 slower ones. If I can offload HD video decoding to the graphics card (which, for Blu-ray/HDDVD playback is probably a must) I may be able to get away with a slower CPU, but cost savings are probably going to be negligible.

Thanks for your suggestions, guys. Keep 'em comin'
March 11, 2009 8:00:09 PM

The AMD Kuma and the Intel Pentium E5200 are the two best budget CPUs in my opinion; Both offer good overclocking ability and low price.

Hopefully though you are able to find information regarding HD playback on linux, should you not have any luck or find a disapointing answer, you can build a similar Intel build with the aforementioned E5200, however you would need a discrete graphics card. Maybe something like this: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... nothing fancy but it has the HDMI you need for a relatively low cost.
March 11, 2009 9:00:43 PM

I've come to the conclusion that amd has 1 guy that's sole job it is to hide crap in their website. I have been able to confirm that AVIVO is available to Linux via Xv - but that still says nothing about accelerating HD content. Ughhh.... I guess I'll contact them and wait. Better to know for sure, I guess.
March 11, 2009 10:55:39 PM

heltoupee said:
as long as the motherboard supports surround out over HDMI (the board I've chosen has both HDMI and digital audio out).


FYI- I bought a Gigabyte motherboard (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...) with HDMI out and digital audio out- when the HDMI output is used the digital audio out is turned off! My intention was to use the HDMI out to the TV and then the digital audio output to the sound system for when I want to crank it up... couldn't do it. However, I was able to use the HDMI cable in "DVI mode"... HDMI cable transported video to the TV, a pair of RCA cables transported sound to the TV, and the digital audio out went to the sound system. I don't know if the mobo you're looking at is the same or not... just a word of warning.
March 11, 2009 11:43:37 PM

There is absolutely no reason to consider the overclocking potential of a CPU for an HTPC as a postive since you really don't need or want to overclock your HTPC.

The mother ASUS 780G transmaniacon recommend is probably the best board for the price for your needs, I would strongly advise against going with an nVidia chipset for this build. Any processor that fits that board will decode 1080p no problem thanks to AMD's UVD 2.0.

The AMD Athlon X2 4850e http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... is a CPU more suited for a HTPC. It does the same job just as the Kuma except it will run cooler (45w vs 95w). This will allow you to run your fans at lower RPM, which will allow the system run quieter which is important for an HTPC. Also, mATX case are appealing for a HTPC and are harder to cool properly thus a low wattage CPU is a benefit again.

Like someone else mention there is no reason to get DDR2 1066 RAM, it will again provide no additional performance in the HTPC enviroment. The cheapest DDR2 you can find is really all you want and DDR2 fits that bill. To be honest, I think 2GB is all you need, but with it so cheap 4GB can't hurt.

You didn't list a PSU, but any 300W+ PSU will do the just fine, you'll just want to pick one that is reliable and quiet.

If you go with an mATX case and are interested in an aftermarket cooler or passive cooler you'll have to be careful as what will fit your case because of height restrictions. I bought a SG03 and was pretty limited to what after market cooler solution I could since there was on 80mm clearence hieght wise and low profile coolers like the Zalman 8700 wouldn't fit my motherboard because it would bang into stuff around the CPU socket (memory/northbridge) before it made contact with the CPU.

http://www.guru3d.com/article/amd-780g--athlon-x2-4850e... talks directly about the 780g chipset and the 4850e
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/windows-7-htpc,2159... tomshardware htpc article, has some good general info
March 12, 2009 12:06:21 AM

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Here is a good Case/PSU combo. The case is pretty sleek looking, and will fit in with the standard audio/video components you might have. The Antec EA380 Watt PSU is probably the best low power PSU, and will last you a long time. As Mykc mentioned, go with simple components, and good point about the low power AMD CPU, definitely a good way to cut down on noise and power drain.

PS. This is not a requirement in any way, but if you want a nice Christmas present idea, this Logitech mouse is a great compliment to a HTPC, letting you control your computer like a remote: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
March 12, 2009 11:06:42 AM

MykC: Thanks for the info. You probably just missed it, but I will be running Linux, and can't find info on if the UVD is available in the Linux driver. The more that I'm reading about it, the more it looks like they've included support in the Linux drivers for everything available in the Windows drivers, but I need to be sure. The results in the guru3d test look promising, that is, if I can get hardware video acceleration working under Linux.

transmaniacon: Cool case. I had a case picked out, but noone's going to like it because it looks like a POS :D . It reviewed pretty well, and the 270W PS it comes with handles more than what I'm putting in it if you look at some of the customer reviews on newegg. Cool mouse, but I'm running boxee, so I'll be able to use their free Ipod Touch app that turns your Ipod into a top-notch media center remote. Forgot to mention that.
March 13, 2009 3:55:01 PM

Boatloads of bad news. AMD customer service is unhelpful as usual, just giving me links to crap Google has already turned up. There was some noise awhile back about them adding support for HD video decoding to their Linux drivers back in October. Who knows. I know Intel has been pushing the whole Linux compatibility thing. nVidia has always been a solid choice when running Linux.

The worse news is Blu-ray / HD-DVD support on Linux is non-existent. Furthermore, it's technically illegal to play a Blu-ray disk on Linux due to the nature of the DRM infecting the format. You can still do it, since the encryption scheme has been cracked, but it's punishable under the DMCA, so none of the major distros are going to support it. Technically, the same applies to DVD encryption, which is why, to this day, libdvdcss (the package that allows decryption of DVD movies) is not included by default with Ubuntu. So I'll just acquire my HD movies from a certain bay full of eyepatch-wearing ne'er-do-wells :) . See? DRM _CAUSES_ piracy. Rant over.

So, we're looking like a no-go for right now. May reconsider a build under Windows, but that's a ~$100 MS tax, plus extra for Blu-ray / HD-DVD software. (Unless the software that comes with the drive plays them. I have my doubts.) If anyone is interested, here's what the build would be:


hec Black 0.7mm Thickness SECC 7K09 Micro ATX Media Center / HTPC Case - Retail
$48.99
ASUS M3A78-EM AM2+/AM2 AMD 780G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail
$78.99
AMD Athlon 64 X2 7750 Kuma 2.7GHz Socket AM2+ 95W Dual-Core black edition Processor Model AD775ZWCGHBOX - Retail
$59.99
WINTEC AMPX 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model 3AXT8500C5-4096K - Retail
$39.99
SAMSUNG HD642JJ 640GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive (Bare Drive) - OEM
$59.99
LG Black Blu-ray/HD DVD-ROM & 16X DVD±R DVD Burner SATA Model GGC-H20L - Retail
$119.99

or, more efficient processor, DDR800 RAM, and WD Green HDD:

hec Black 0.7mm Thickness SECC 7K09 Micro ATX Media Center / HTPC Case - Retail
$48.99
ASUS M3A78-EM AM2+/AM2 AMD 780G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail
$78.99
CORSAIR 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model TWIN2X4096-6400C5 - Retail
$44.99
AMD Athlon X2 4850e 2.5GHz Socket AM2 45W Dual-Core Processor Model ADH4850DOBOX - Retail
$53.99
Western Digital Caviar Green WD6400AACS 640GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive (bare drive) - OEM
$69.99
LG Black Blu-ray/HD DVD-ROM & 16X DVD±R DVD Burner SATA Model GGC-H20L - Retail
$119.99
March 13, 2009 6:34:46 PM

You guys are probably really getting tired of hearing from me, but, here's my final build. After seeing the numbers they got in that test in previous post, I've decided that the Kuma is overkill. Went with the WD green drive (why not), and can save 10 bucks on the BD/HDDVD/DVD/etc. drive if I leave out the (Windows only) software. I'm running Linux, so that's a no-brainer. Boxee has support for VDPAU (PureVideo in Linux, HD video acceleration) in a separate SVN build (I'm not afraid of a little compilin'). BD/HDDVD support is still lacking, but you can rip to hard drive and play from there. Maybe I can dual-boot to Windows (7 beta - so free :)  ) to watch bluray for awhile.

Final build:

Western Digital Caviar Green WD6400AACS 640GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive (bare drive) - OEM
Item #: N82E16822136298
$69.99
ASUS M3N78-VM AM2+/AM2 NVIDIA GeForce 8200 HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail
Item #: N82E16813131318
$72.99
CORSAIR 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model TWIN2X4096-6400C5 - Retail
Item #: N82E16820145184
$44.99 (-$25 MIR)
AMD Athlon X2 4850e 2.5GHz Socket AM2 45W Dual-Core Processor Model ADH4850DOBOX - Retail
Item #: N82E16819103255
$53.99
LG Black LG Blu-ray/HD DVD-ROM & 16X DVD±R DVD Burner SATA Model GGC-H20LK - OEM
Item #: N82E16827136154
$109.99
hec Black 0.7mm Thickness SECC 7K09 Micro ATX Media Center / HTPC Case - Retail
Item #: N82E16811121027
$48.99

Should make a sweet MythTV / Boxee box, right?
March 13, 2009 6:47:38 PM

Its good to put your thoughts out on paper and why not share it. Windows 7 beta is closed now though, at least they aren't issuing any new keys.

On a sidenote, I have a 8200 motherboard myself, I didn't know that the onboard GPU decoded H264, but after reading some artilcles it good to know that it does.

And you do have a PSU for that HTPC right?
March 13, 2009 8:15:44 PM

MykC said:
Its good to put your thoughts out on paper and why not share it. Windows 7 beta is closed now though, at least they aren't issuing any new keys.

On a sidenote, I have a 8200 motherboard myself, I didn't know that the onboard GPU decoded H264, but after reading some artilcles it good to know that it does.

And you do have a PSU for that HTPC right?


PSU is included with the case. It's an odd size, but it does conform to a standard, and there are replacements out there (some from reputable companies, even) if it blows up.

I got in on the Win7 beta far enough to get my key, anyway. I'm sure I can find a copy of the disk without too much hassle ;)  .

Thanks!
May 1, 2009 10:30:05 PM

Heltoupee,

How is the performance? I am looking to build a similar system and wonder if you would change anything now that you have it up and running (assuming you went forward with the build).

Thanks!
!