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Best mid-range HTPC mobo for Athlon X4

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February 4, 2011 12:11:45 AM

I am looking to build a mid-range HTPC with Athlon X4. I plan to use as music server, to play videos/netflix in 1080P, to decode HD Audio/bluray, to DECODE MKV 1080P in full speed, and to send digitial audio to my Home Theatre for decoding.

I am gonna start with onboard graphics for now, but at some point will add a cool running or passive dedicated video card for proper 3D games... here's what I intend to do, what's the best mATX mobo around $100? I wanna make sure the motherboard (combined with Athlon X4) has enough juice to have no issues decoding 1080P high bit videos, plus loss-less audio!

- Athlon X4 640
- OCZ 60 GB SSD (OS)
- WD Green 1 TB (files)
- Antec Fusion Remote
- 4GB Corsair memory DDR3 (or DDR2)
- Asus Bluray
- Windows 7 Pro

I think 880 or 890 chipsets are best, but I am very confused as to difference between the two and not sure which onboard graphics are best, and/or which brand (MSI, Asus, Gigabyte)?

Also, is 6GB SATA needed for my OCZ SSD?

Thanks a bunch!
a b V Motherboard
February 4, 2011 11:37:02 AM

For motherboards, Asus and Gigabyte are the most respected for quality and you can't go wrong with either. MSI is good, but I wouldn't put them on the same level as Asus and Gigabyte.

The 890GX has its graphics clocked a little higher than the 880G graphics, but if you are planning a dedicated card anyway I suggest you just go for an 880G motherboard. Of course neither of these chipsets will bitstream HD audio, but it looks like you will be fixing that deficiency when you get your discreet video card since all of the recent cards from Nvidia and AMD bitsream HD audio just fine.

6GB (SATA 3) is not necessary for the OCZ SSD. SATA 2 has enough bandwidth to handle its level of performance. If you plan to have this setup for a while, you might want to get a board that has support for SATA 3 just in case you do need it in a future upgrade.

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a b V Motherboard
February 4, 2011 12:32:57 PM

For around $100 I would look for a board with onboard HD 4290 video, SATA 6.0 and USB 3.0. Any board with a minimum of HD 4200 video will do 1080 resolution, have smooth blu-ray playback, and do HDMI audio and video.

ASRock 890GM PRO3 $95 => http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

MSI 890GXM-G65 $110 => http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

...or the entire filter...
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=E...
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February 7, 2011 5:44:41 AM

Thanks a lot, so the only difference between 890GX and 880G is the onboard video (4290 vs. 4250) and number of PCI 2 x16 slots? If I just wanna add a mid-range dedicated video card later, and possibly a video capture card, would that extra slot make any difference for me?

Anything else? is the difference significant between two onboad IGP? I saw a few negative feedback on 890 layout, that CPU and DIMM slots are too close, limiting CPU heatsink, aparently that's becuas of extra PCI slots...

lastly, this is for HTPC, I assume both have similar power consumption.. right?
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February 7, 2011 7:14:55 AM

Ok, so I narrowed it down to Asus, MSI, and Gigabyte boards. I skipped Biostar, ASRock and Foxconn. I just didn't think those brands are any good, any counter feedback for that?

So, which of the following do you guys recommend for an HTPC? The MSI 890Gx looks like the best value, BUT, I am not 100% sure how good MSI is. Some say it's good, some say not, I've always used Asus, but not sure if today the premium makes sense!


Gigabyte 880:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

MSI 880-1:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

MSI 880-2 (not sure what's the diff vs. #1? says military class!):
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Asus 880:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

MSI 890:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

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February 7, 2011 8:37:54 AM

Go for Asrock, good cards.:) 
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a b V Motherboard
February 7, 2011 11:49:47 AM

You'd be alright with any of those motherboards. The biggest difference between MSI 880-1 and MSI 880-2 is that #1 has the older southbridge chipset (SB710) while MSI #2 has the newer, more desirable SB850 with native SATA 3 support. The SB710 needs a 3rd party chip to have SATA 3.

All of the other boards listed also use the SB850 chip. Gigabyte is nice if you care about firewire.

Oh, and the MSI 890 board has a an older audio chipset (ALC889) while the others have the newer ALC892. Here's the difference.
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February 7, 2011 10:56:22 PM

rwpritchett said:
You'd be alright with any of those motherboards. The biggest difference between MSI 880-1 and MSI 880-2 is that #1 has the older southbridge chipset (SB710) while MSI #2 has the newer, more desirable SB850 with native SATA 3 support. The SB710 needs a 3rd party chip to have SATA 3.

All of the other boards listed also use the SB850 chip. Gigabyte is nice if you care about firewire.

Oh, and the MSI 890 board has a an older audio chipset (ALC889) while the others have the newer ALC892. Here's the difference.


Thanks again, you've been extremely helpful! Any brand preference?

Interestingly, the older audio card looks to be better than the newer one? no? It has 108 SNR to 97! Although newer one has LDO integrated for AVDO (whatever that means), and Ultra Low Power (not sure how big a deal for HTPC?!).
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February 7, 2011 11:03:25 PM

Moonie_23 said:
Go for Asrock, good cards.:) 


Really? Isn't it just the cheap brand for Asus? So, they get all the left over part from Asus to make a cheap mobo not to diminish the Asus brand?
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February 8, 2011 6:08:07 PM

I am basically between MSI 890 vs. Gigabyte or Asus 880, all with USB 3.0, SATA 3. The MSI having better video (4290 vs. 4250), but has only ONE chasis fan and uses older Realteck ACL889; both Asus and Gigabyte have 4250 video card, and use newer Realtek ACL892, only Gigabyte has 2 chasis fans.

Now, for a HTPC, to start with on-board grphics (upgrade possible later), which of the above features are MOST important?
- Do I need two chasis fan (for Fusion Remote case)
- How much better is 4290 vs. 4250 (I can only see core speed as difference 700 vs. 560)
- Is the difference between ACL889 and ACL892 noticable?

Also, in terms of brands... I read a lot about how Asus lied about their EPU, and about Gigabyte using 2Oz copper for their core (better heat management) and using high quality Japanese capacitors.

I saw that Asus doesnt use high quality capacitors, but what about their Copper content, and what about MSI? How's their components quality?
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February 12, 2011 6:55:23 PM

Any other feedback?

Thanks
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a b V Motherboard
February 12, 2011 8:28:30 PM

If you are using HDMI or S/PDIF audio, then don't nitpick about the audio chip. The audio will be sent digitally and the TV or receiver will have more to do with the sound quality. With a digital signal either its all there or there's no signal. Analog ports would be a different story.

About the fan controls, I downloaded the manual for the Gigabyte and it also only has one chassis fan connector. It is 4-pin PWM, which is nice while both Asus and MSI are standard 3-pin. The Asus chassis fan runs at full speed, the MSI runs at one speed but that speed is selectable in the BIOS. The the PWM Gigabyte header will speed up and slow down the fan as needed.

BTW, you can add more fans by using Y-splitters or connecting them directly to a power supply MOLEX. If you have quiet fans, you can just run them full speed rather than use the BIOS to control them. Alternately, you can purchase fans that have built-in thermocouples that will control the fan. Like this one and this one.

So again, any one of those boards will serve you fine. Maybe choose the one that "looks" better? :lol: 
The Asus EPU news thing was a little bit of mudslinging by Gigabyte.

From an HTPC point of view, the 4250 vs 4290 won't matter. Both are equally capable of all HTPC duties and neither are suitable for gaming.

That's my 2¢... well it's more like 6¢ taking into account my previous posts :) 
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February 21, 2011 11:26:16 PM

rwpritchett said:
If you are using HDMI or S/PDIF audio, then don't nitpick about the audio chip. The audio will be sent digitally and the TV or receiver will have more to do with the sound quality. With a digital signal either its all there or there's no signal. Analog ports would be a different story.

About the fan controls, I downloaded the manual for the Gigabyte and it also only has one chassis fan connector. It is 4-pin PWM, which is nice while both Asus and MSI are standard 3-pin. The Asus chassis fan runs at full speed, the MSI runs at one speed but that speed is selectable in the BIOS. The the PWM Gigabyte header will speed up and slow down the fan as needed.

BTW, you can add more fans by using Y-splitters or connecting them directly to a power supply MOLEX. If you have quiet fans, you can just run them full speed rather than use the BIOS to control them. Alternately, you can purchase fans that have built-in thermocouples that will control the fan. Like this one and this one.

So again, any one of those boards will serve you fine. Maybe choose the one that "looks" better? :lol: 
The Asus EPU news thing was a little bit of mudslinging by Gigabyte.

From an HTPC point of view, the 4250 vs 4290 won't matter. Both are equally capable of all HTPC duties and neither are suitable for gaming.

That's my 2¢... well it's more like 6¢ taking into account my previous posts :) 


The case I am getting has 2-120mm fans, but run off one connector, they got 3-speeds, but I rather set it on high, and have Motherboard modulate the speed based on tempreture. Which of the three does that? from your post looks like only Gigabyte, right?

Thanks for your 6¢! Been very helpful! :) 
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a b V Motherboard
February 22, 2011 1:01:39 AM

The Gigabyte has a 4-pin PWM header that will control case fan speed (not 4-pin MOLEX). The fans must be PWM too for it to work. The fan connector looks like this:


The two Antec fans that come with your case are 4-pin MOLEX, so they will not automatically adjust their speed by motherboard header. You would have to replace them with PWM fans and use a PWM splitter cable like this one.

Just so you know, the 4-pin PWM for the case fan is VERY conservative on Gigabyte boards. At least it is on mine (GA-MA785G-UD3H). It runs my 80mm PWM fan at about 300rpm and speeds it up to about 1200 when things get toasty. This is with a fan that runs 2000rpm at full speed. I don't know if all Gigabyte boards are the same. It sure keeps things quiet, but at the cost of airflow.
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