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Need advice: Best hardware for Linux-based HTPC/Server combo

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January 2, 2010 3:00:02 PM

I'm a newbie - this is my first build from scratch - interested in building an HTPC / home server combo that will use only open-source software. (I use Ubuntu 8.04 desktops at home and work, along with a MacBook laptop that travels with me (for graphics work)). I've read some older posts about how to do this, but want to take advantage of the newer CPUs, motherboards, etc. that have come out since those posts were written.

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: ASAP (January 2010). BUDGET RANGE: $400-$500 (after rebates)

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT:
The system's main goal will be to play online content (hulu, etc) on our new HDTV using the HDMI connection. But I would also like it to be able to:
> Act like a DVR to record sports, etc.
> Network all the computers (we have a Windows laptop, a MacBook, and a Linux desktop, plus we'll have this new HTPC) to connect wireless to the printer (right now we bring the laptops to the printer and connect via USB).
> Allow all the computers to back up to this server, though I'm not sure how practical that is if I'm also using it as a HTPC.

PARTS NOT REQUIRED: (e.g.: keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, OS): No need for monitor or OS (boxee and ubuntu)

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: Currently use newegg, but any is fine. COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: I live in USA

PARTS PREFERENCES:
Here's the setup I THINK I need:
AMD Athlon II X4 620 Propus 2.6GHz Socket AM3 95W Quad-Core Processor (but worried about the 95W; I've been reading I need something closer to 65W)
ASUS M4A785TD-M EVO AM3 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard
OCZ Platinum 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3
hec Black 0.7mm Thickness SECC 7K09 Micro ATX Media Center / HTPC Case
Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EADS 1TB SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive
ZALMAN CNPS 8700 NT 110mm 2 Ball CPU Cooler
IOGEAR GKM561R Black 2.4GHz Wireless Multimedia Keyboard

OVERCLOCKING: No. SLI OR CROSSFIRE: No

MONITOR RESOLUTION: 1920x1080 (32-inch HDTV)

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: Of course, we'll be putting this next to the TV in the living room, so an attractive case would be nice. We do have considerable room there. A mid-tower is fine, but would prefer something smaller if possible.

I won't be using this for gaming ... which should help bring down the system's cost.

Please help save me from myself. What am I missing? Where am I going overboard?

Thanks already to this forum. Learned a bunch just reading what I have.
January 2, 2010 4:00:17 PM

Quote:
AMD Athlon II X4 620 Propus 2.6GHz Socket AM3 95W Quad-Core Processor (but worried about the 95W; I've been reading I need something closer to 65W)
ASUS M4A785TD-M EVO AM3 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard
OCZ Platinum 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3
hec Black 0.7mm Thickness SECC 7K09 Micro ATX Media Center / HTPC Case
Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EADS 1TB SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive
ZALMAN CNPS 8700 NT 110mm 2 Ball CPU Cooler
IOGEAR GKM561R Black 2.4GHz Wireless Multimedia Keyboard

Looks good.

A few things:
1.Ditch the Zalman cooler. Since you arn't OCing stock cooler will be fine. HOWEVER, that case is small, see point #3.

2. The WD "Greens" are slow. I highly recommend you getting a Samsung F3.

3. That HTPC case is pretty cramped. Those cases are really meant for an m-ITX type builds imo. Consider a bigger case like this: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Or http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
They provide much more space for more HDDs, TV tuners,etc. So it's worth considering this. And this will allow you to use a CPU like the one listed with out worrying about heat.

3. You said KB is not needed, but you have a KB in your list.

4. What about a TV Tuner(you'll need this if planing to do DVR), card reader (maybe), DVD burner(ain't this a HTPC? :p  )?
January 2, 2010 5:50:27 PM

Thanks! That first case (Aerocool M40-BK) is definitely better, and should keep things cooler. Helps avoid the fan (I had added it based on something I read about the case). Now I need to find a power supply to match - do you have a suggestion?

My main worry with exchanging the WD Green for the faster Samsung is power draw and thus heat, as well as noise. Read lots about that on other forums. Is this a legitimate fear?

Uh, yeah, I'm not sure why I said I didn't need a keyboard. Maybe because I had already settled on one.

And yes, guess I will need the TV tuner and DVD burner. The card reader would be nice, but I think I'll have ton put that off for cost reasons. Can add that later.

How about this for the DVD burner:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Any thoughts about TV tuner? Tough to pick ... so many bad reviews on New Egg of the cheaper ones, and my unit in up at the top of my budget alreay ($500).
Related resources
January 2, 2010 9:19:28 PM

Quote:
My main worry with exchanging the WD Green for the faster Samsung is power draw and thus heat, as well as noise. Read lots about that on other forums. Is this a legitimate fear?

Nope. The heat output is not that much higher. As for noise, it will be a bit louder, but I doubt it will much more.

As for TV Tuner, I haven't kept up with the tech on that side, so you'll have to do a bit more digging on that, start here: http://www.hdtvtunerinfo.com/comparetuners.html

Also, keep in mind, since you plan to run Linux, make sure that card you select has support for Linux.
January 2, 2010 11:06:09 PM

$80 Gigabyte GA-MA785GM-US2H Micro ATX Motherboard
http://www.amazon.com/Gigabyte-GA-MA785GM-US2H-Micro-AT...
$137 Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 Media Center Kit Dual TV Tuner 1213 PCI-Express x1 Interface - Retail
comes with remote and IR receiver
$46 EDIMAX EW-7727In IEEE 802.11b/g/n 32bit PCI Wireless Adapter Up to 300Mbps Wireless
$62 AMD Athlon II X2 245 Regor 2.9GHz 2 x 1MB L2 Cache Socket AM3 65W Dual-Core Processor - Retail
$70 IN-WIN Case IW-BT611T.300SL Micro-ATX Slim Desktop 1/1/(1) USB/Audio Dual Core 300W PS Silver
includes power supply
$65 Corsair TWIN2X2048-6400 2GB (2X1GB) Kit DDR2-800 XMS2-6400 Xtreme Performance Memory Retail
$85 Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EADS 1TB 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
$2 SATA cable
$70 ECS Silent GeForce GT 220
http://www.guru3d.com/news/ecs-debuts-passively-cooled-...
should ship in about 2 weeks

Was not able to stay within budget. Delete the tuner to meet your budget goal.

This build isn't for the faint of heart. It will most likely require some tinkering to get running due to the tuner/encoder. The drivers for this tuner just went into the latest Linux stable build about a month ago.

NOTE 0: If you're going to be within line-of-sight of this box while watching movies, go with the green drive.
NOTE 1: this system may struggle a bit playing Hulu until the new Adobe 10.1 Flash driver is released sometime in the first half of the year. A beta driver is out but it may crash on you.
NOTE 2: the tuner/encoder can handle clear-QAM (unencrypted cable) and OTA (Over-The-Air) signals, but cannot
handle analog signals, at least not if Linux is used with this card. This card also requires Linux 2.6.32 or newer. You would have to recompile the kernel if you use an older kernel. This tuner is one of the best you can buy right now if one of your goals is to be able to pick up faint OTA signals. It is a dual-tuner: you can watch tv and record at the same time. It DOES NOT handle encrypted cable channels (it does not have a cable-card slot), nor old standard-def signals, nor analog signals. You will require a cable splitter if you want to hook this to your cable feed.
NOTE 3: the onboard 785 graphics on this motherboard are not supported that well in Linux, which is why an Nvidia card is included, since Linux can hardware-accelerate Nvidia cards well.
NOTE 4: you don't want a 95W part in a small box.
NOTE 5: you will probably want to purchase a better remote after you get this set up.
January 3, 2010 2:28:49 AM

Thanks. Lots of good thinking, especially love your familiarity with Linux. Let me see if I can sum this up:

CPU: Your suggesting the AMD Athlon II X2 245 over the X4 620 to keep the heat lower (65W v. 95W). Do I lose anything by giving up the X4's superior speed? (I do save $30, and maybe I don't need the speed or should stay clear of a 95W chip regardless, as I would be willing to go to a bigger box).

MOTHERBOARD: You suggest the Gigabyte GA-MA785GM-US2H Micro ATX Motherboard over my choice of the ASUS M4A785TD-M EVO AM3 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard, even though they both use AM3 socket (like both processors). The gigabyte is $14 cheaper, but the ASUS reviews were much better on newegg. Any reason to go with the Gigabyte other than price?

CASE: IN-WIN Case IW-BT611T.300SL Micro-ATX Slim Desktop Case you suggested seems to have been discontinued on newegg and is sold out on Directron. Couldn't find it on Buy.com. I really liked the Aerocool M40-BK that Shadow70379 suggested. Any reason not to go with that? If I do, need a Power Source suggestion. Maybe there's another option. Please let me know.

MEMORY: You cut me back to 2 gigs of memory, which is probably plenty. (I had 4 gigs). Saves me about $60.

HARD DRIVE: Everything I've read seems to go with your recommendation to stick with the WD Green, despite the faster alternatives out there. Avoid noise and heat.

You added the wireless adapter and the graphics cards (seems like the right choice given your explanation and the link). I'll obviously need those.. And thanks for the explanation on the tuner's limits. Guessing there is no way around those.

So hoping you can help me with those questions above:

1. Any reason not to stick with the ASUS Motherboard?

and

2. How can I find an alternative case? Could you suggest a PSU for the one I liked (Aerocool M40-BK) or an alternative? Size is not that big an issue for me.

Thanks again!!! Loving this forum.
January 3, 2010 3:45:17 AM

The 245 is all you need if you are planning to use the machine mostly for recording and viewing. If you plan on doing a lot of transcoding to other video formats, then you will need a chunkier processor. For a traditional HTPC, however, the 245 is sufficient, assuming, that is, that you have other hardware assists, namely, a decent video card and a hardware tuner/encoder (as opposed to trying to do everything with the cpu).

The x4 doesn't change High-Def viewing at all -- the GPU does 95% of the work. The x4, however, would give you a better Hulu experience at the present time. When Adobe finishes their 10.1 flash player then Flash will be handled by the GPU and not the CPU and so the 245 would then no longer be used and the x4 would be using just a fraction of its capability.

The in-win case is available, I found it online recently, just not at one of the normal outlets. There is nothing special about the case other than I think it is more girlfriend-friendly than the m40.

The Asus board may be just as good as the Gigabyte board but I didn't go through its motherboard manual and BIOS settings like I did for the Gigabyte so I don't know whether the Asus is missing anything. An HTPC has a couple of additional settings that you would normally look for. For example, you would want to make sure the BIOS supports Cool'n'Quiet, it has fan control, and supports wake-on-usb. Again, I can't say off the top of my head that the Asus does. The thing I didn't like about the Asus board is it is on the pricey side for me, so I didn't bother downloading its manual and looking through it. I would suggest you thumb through its pdf manual first. All of its major specs are sufficient. It's the details that can bite you later. Make sure the fan connectors are 4-pin and not 3-pin.

The Apple TV only has 256MB of ram. I am specifying between 2.5GB and 3GB (depending on how much the video card holds). You really don't need a lot of ram if you plan on using the HTPC in its traditional role. If you plan on doing a lot of video transcoding, however, then 4GB would be the practical choice. Keep in mind that this function (transcoding) is normally not performed by average HTPC users.

Going with the x4 would not only require a bigger box, but an additional case fan. If you look carefully, you can find a quiet case fan on newegg for $2 / $6 shipping. I wouldn't go with an x4, however, unless I had definitely planned to make use of all 4 cores. Bigger is not always better when you have to sit next to it and listen to its fans and disk drive while you're trying to watch a movie.

The only thing that jumps out at me about your choice of case (M40) is the clearance directly above the CPU. There should be about 3.9 inches so that the fan fits and the air can circulate above the fan at least 1/4 inch. The pictures seems to indicate that you should be OK.

I don't have any power supply recommendations for this. Sorry. Maybe somebody else has an idea.

Re: green drive. As another poster noted, drive heat is not too much of a bugaboo, especially since you are using just one drive. The drive noise, however, can really be annoying if you choose wrong. I've listened to a WD green drive operate and it is sweet.

You will get better speed if you use wired ethernet. I just threw that wireless card in if you were interested. If you have already strung cable, I would go with a wired connection. If you want to save a few bucks, you could buy a wireless g card and replace the antenna with a 7 decibel antenna and the performance will be nearly the same as the wireless n card, except cheaper. If you look around carefully you can find these antennas cheap. [http://www.dealextreme.com/details.dx/sku.25031]

The case is mostly a subjective matter. I just thought the case I spec'ed was purtier than the M40. Just make sure that there is enough clearance above the cpu, that you have enough bays, and that the board fits and doesn't interfere with the power supply -- those are the biggies. I thnk somebody on newegg said the m40 has a power supply limit of 140mm, so keep that in mind.
January 3, 2010 2:01:24 PM

Thanks. I'm not confident in any of the folks still selling the IN-WIN case, which is discontinued, so looking to use the M40. Just need to figure out the PSU.

Anyone out there want to suggest a POWER SUPPLY for the AeroCool M40-BK Black 0.6 SECC Steel MicroATX Cube case Computer Case?

In the meantime, reading up on the ASUS motherboard to see if it has what you mentioned.
January 3, 2010 3:38:53 PM

Quote:
IN-WIN Case IW-BT611T.300SL Micro-ATX Slim Desktop 1/1/(1) USB/Audio Dual Core 300W PS Silver
includes power supply

I would not trust that PSU.

Anyways, vanekl, you do bring up a good point about GPU acceleration for Flash. Also, OP if you are ripping DVDs on the HTPC keep the X4, else go X2.

Also one more note: DO NOT get anything from dealextreme unless you are willing to wait. I ordered a R4 and a few other things and it took them 4 weeks to ship. Same thing happened to my friend for things he ordered.

@OP: The Corsair 400CX or the Antec EA 430D Green will fit with the M40 case. Any PSU no longer than 140mm will fit. Most PSUs in the 400-550W range are 140mm long.
January 3, 2010 5:32:02 PM

Can't seem to find that ECS passively-cooled graphics card - can it be had yet? Other alternatives?

Here's what I have so far in my cart:
- Sony Optiarc 24X DVD/CD Rewritable Drive Black SATA Model AD-7240S-0B ($27)
- AeroCool M40-BK Black 0.6 SECC Steel MicroATX Cube case Computer Case ($60)
- Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EADS 1TB SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5 ($85)
- GIGABYTE GA-MA785GM-US2H AM3/AM2+/AM2 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard ($80)
- EDIMAX EW-7727In 32bit PCI Wireless Adapter ($39)
- Antec EarthWatts Green EA-430D Green 430W Continuous power ($50)
- CORSAIR XMS2 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 Memory ($65)
- AMD Athlon II X2 245 Regor 2.9GHz Socket AM3 65W Dual-Core Processor ($62)

I punted the tuner for now to stay in budget. Still good for acting as home server andf playing hulu, no? Right at budget ($495 so far), but I still need to graphics card. Maybe I should look for a more economic case/PSU combo.
January 3, 2010 5:56:17 PM

Don't forget a cable for the hdd if it's bulk.

The ECS hasn't made its way to stores yet. Any geforce gt 220 will work for you as long as you don't mind the sound of the fan. You probably want it low-profile.

Full-screen hulu will probably stutter a bit with the 245 until Adobe releases their new player. But that's fixable.

I wont buy a Sony drive any more since the last one I bought was a $300 piece of junk. The Sony name no longer stands for quality. BTW, you don't need a dvd if you have one in another one of your computers and can borrow it just for the install. As long as you're networked it's no longer necessary to have optical in every computer. Just something to think about; I know it sounds strange to consider a media center computer without an optical drive. But then again, you may have a large library of discs.
January 3, 2010 7:04:57 PM

Quote:
Still good for acting as home server andf playing hulu, no?

Yes, this build should be fine for that.

Quote:
Right at budget ($495 so far), but I still need to graphics card. Maybe I should look for a more economic case/PSU combo.

The Integrated ATI Radeon HD 4200 is more than enough for HTPC uses.

Quote:
Full-screen hulu will probably stutter a bit with the 245 until Adobe releases their new player. But that's fixable.

You can try the Beta: http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/flashplayer10/

I'v been using it on Server 2008 R2 and it's been running solid. Except for some problems with some HD vid on YouTube it works flawlessly (with a nVidia 9600GSO aka 8800GS). Or OP can try and OC it a bit temporarily.

PS: I hear the GPU acceleration Enabled Flash Player should be released by February or March.
!