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Some questions for a mid-end HTPC

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November 10, 2010 9:43:08 PM

Hi there! Instead of posting a bunch of parts and asking the community if it all looks fine, I decided to do my own research and post questions as I go.

I already had a thread discussing about the HTPC I want to build, but things changed, I've learned new things and have a better general understanding.

I am now going to decide exactly which part to buy and I have a few more questions ;) 

Basically, I will use the HTPC only as a DVR, encore/decode movies or music, rip CD's DVD's or Blue ray discs, play OTA sources, from cable (both analog & digital) and mostly play media (movies pics & music) from my networked server. I also want to play streamed stuff from the web or from my local server. Just a very well featured media PC, no gaming at all. I will be running linux (no idea of what distro, potentially slackware).

Heres a few things to keep in mind: no noise and preferably all passive cooling so I am targeting low energy (or high efficiency) components. Also maximum cost for the whole rig (including remotes and case: CAD$1000) Ok now to the questions!

->Intel or AMD ? Except the price difference, my researched showed that AMD would be better at processing than Intel, but Intel would be better at gaming. Is that correct?

->Dual, Quad or Six cores? I believe Quad should be plenty enough...

->DDR2 or DDR3? Why?

->2GB or RAM or 4GB? (hint: I got 4GB of GSkill DDR2 for $28 brand new, should I ruse it or put it in another machine?)

->Discreet GPU or plain on-board is sufficient? Again, I believe dedicated is better but could not find a clear cut answer...

->ATI or NVidia for GPU?

->For the TV tuner, if people can give me a hint, or even better a few options, I am clueless in this category...

I appreciate any kind of help!

Thanks!

More about : questions mid end htpc

November 11, 2010 12:43:59 AM

lpallard said:
Hi there! Instead of posting a bunch of parts and asking the community if it all looks fine, I decided to do my own research and post questions as I go.

I already had a thread discussing about the HTPC I want to build, but things changed, I've learned new things and have a better general understanding.

I am now going to decide exactly which part to buy and I have a few more questions ;) 

Basically, I will use the HTPC only as a DVR, encore/decode movies or music, rip CD's DVD's or Blue ray discs, play OTA sources, from cable (both analog & digital) and mostly play media (movies pics & music) from my networked server. I also want to play streamed stuff from the web or from my local server. Just a very well featured media PC, no gaming at all. I will be running linux (no idea of what distro, potentially slackware).

Heres a few things to keep in mind: no noise and preferably all passive cooling so I am targeting low energy (or high efficiency) components. Also maximum cost for the whole rig (including remotes and case: CAD$1000) Ok now to the questions!

->Intel or AMD ? Except the price difference, my researched showed that AMD would be better at processing than Intel, but Intel would be better at gaming. Is that correct?

->Dual, Quad or Six cores? I believe Quad should be plenty enough...

->DDR2 or DDR3? Why?

->2GB or RAM or 4GB? (hint: I got 4GB of GSkill DDR2 for $28 brand new, should I ruse it or put it in another machine?)

->Discreet GPU or plain on-board is sufficient? Again, I believe dedicated is better but could not find a clear cut answer...

->ATI or NVidia for GPU?

->For the TV tuner, if people can give me a hint, or even better a few options, I am clueless in this category...

I appreciate any kind of help!

Thanks!



I don't think there is even a need for a "mid level" htpc as a htpc is usually low power by nature. A six core is overkill for the basics of media watching & recording. You more than likely will be fine with the a core I3 (3.2 ghz $129 at newegg) chip if you go with intel and a dual core Phenom II from AMD.

From what I read and hear intel makes better chips as far as performance. The core I series is usually stronger per core than the amd chips, but the AMD chips are cheaper (sometimes ALOT) while still performing well.

If you decide you want a six core know that the only six core cpus from intel are $880 for the core I7 970 and $1000 for the 980x. AMD on the other had has its cheapest six core for about $180.

I'm not sure so don't quote me but i don't think AMD chips support triple channel mode for DDR3 ram so if you get an AMD chip it wont run in triple channel, only dual channel for both DDR2 and DDR3. Again don't quote me.

If you already got 2 gigs of DDR2 from Gskill (good brand) re use it and just pick up another matching set to get to 4 gigs.

On board graphics CAN be ok depending on if the onboard graphics chip is from ati or nvidia (not intel) and the particular onboard chip set but its better to have a gpu. Usually onboard graphics tax the cpu alot, but you don't need a high end gpu to do BR movies and such.

I personally use ATI so i don't know much about nvidia but an ATI 5450 would be fine (as many articles on htpc have stated).

Both ati and nvida cards support hardware acceleration of blu ray movies and hd files if the right software is used so that an advantage over onboard. So go with the cheapest card between the ati HD 5xxx series and the GT 2xx series from nvida. Both pass audio through HDMI so that's a plus.

I'm in the same boat as you as far as tv cards. I don't know much about em. I don't know what your currency amounts to i U.S. dollars but 1000 bucks or even close to that is overkill for a htpc.

For example I on newegg I priced up the following components for $536 with shipping. A nice thpc can be had for somewhere in that price range.

1x intel Core I3-550 @ 3.32 ghz
1x Gigabyte GA-H55M SV2 (micro atx) mobo
1x 2gig stick Gskill DDR2 ram
1x Rosewill 350 watt psu
1x sapphire HD 5450 (fanless) gpu
1x Seagate 7200 rpm 1TB HDD
1x Foxconn 4360+ISO400 micro atx case
1x LG 10x blu ray burner

Also if you want to go with AMD I used that same setup and replaced the intel cpu and mobo with the ones below and came out to $496

1x AMD phenom II x2 560 black edition 3.33 Ghz
1x Gigabyte GA-MA785GM-US2H micro atx mobo
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November 11, 2010 3:05:41 AM

Since you mention encoding/ripping as one of your HTPC tasks, that one feature lends itself to a more powerful CPU and discrete GPU. Something like an Athlon II X4 and a HD5670 GPU would improve encoding times -- though mostly it will depend on what the software you use can take advantage of. You can usually find benchmarks for the software you want to use (e.g. Handbrake) around the 'net with some Googling.

For instance:
http://www.tomshardware.com/charts/desktop-cpu-charts-2...
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November 11, 2010 4:29:07 PM

Quote:
A six core is overkill for the basics of media watching & recording.
Agree, thats why I am targeting at most a quad core... I am looking at the Phenom 2 Quad core (dont know which model yet) but like I said power is a big deal so any kind of TDP above 95W is not desired (I want to have only passive cooling)...

Quote:
If you decide you want a six core know that the only six core cpus from intel are $880 for the core I7 970 and $1000 for the 980x. AMD on the other had has its cheapest six core for about $180.
Yeah whats that about? How come such a difference ?

Quote:
If you already got 2 gigs of DDR2 from Gskill (good brand) re use it and just pick up another matching set to get to 4 gigs.
Thats what I'll do. DDR2 should be plenty enough... after all Its not a gaming machine...

Quote:
Usually onboard graphics tax the cpu alot, but you don't need a high end gpu to do BR movies and such.
Thats why I am looking for a cheap ATI HD 5XXX series GPU... the'ye cheap and will add more horsepower for encoding tasks

Quote:
I don't know what your currency amounts to i U.S. dollars but 1000 bucks or even close to that is overkill for a htpc.
Yes and no... I quickly put numbers together on newegg.ca, and unless I cheap out on critical components, buy a really low end case or buy low quality components, I will not be below $700 Canadian Dollars.

Its to find the balance between price, performance, power consumption and quality.

I will definitely use AMD as it seems to fill the need enough

I think next step will be to put together a list of components and look at the prices

Thanks guys for your help!
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November 11, 2010 4:39:19 PM

lpallard said:
Quote:
A six core is overkill for the basics of media watching & recording.
Agree, thats why I am targeting at most a quad core... I am looking at the Phenom 2 Quad core (dont know which model yet) but like I said power is a big deal so any kind of TDP above 95W is not desired (I want to have only passive cooling)...
Maybe you should consider a low power Athlon quad instead.

Athlon II X4 605e 2.3GHz
Athlon II X4 610e 2.4GHz

Both have TDP of 45W and might work with a passive setup. You could also consider underclocking/undervolting a regular Athlon.
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November 11, 2010 4:42:36 PM

Well if you're going to go quad core the Phenom II 4x just remember some of the higher speed ones (3.0 ghz and up it seems) are 125 watts and ones under 3.0 ghz seem to be 95 watts. The core I5 are between 82 and 95 watts.

The reason intel cpus cost more than AMD is that they are stronger per core in MOST cases. But they most would tell you they are not $600-700 worth of stronger.

If you're cool with 2 gigs its cool. I just never feel comfortable with less than four. The HD 5450 should be right up your alley for what you need . I'm no expert on canada prices but you should still not have to spend close to $1000. The prices I listed on my first post are all parts from well known and respected makers.
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November 11, 2010 4:43:48 PM

rwpritchett said:
Maybe you should consider a low power Athlon quad instead.

Athlon II X4 605e 2.3GHz
Athlon II X4 610e 2.4GHz

Both have TDP of 45W and might work with a passive setup. You could also consider underclocking/undervolting a regular Athlon.



That's a good idea, never even considered the Athlon's
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November 11, 2010 4:47:53 PM

my recommendation is a 3-core Athlon (they have 85W TDP) 445 or 450, an 880G motherboard (which is good enough to stream HD video just fine), with the option of adding a GTS 430 video card for bitstreaming. The extra core and the 430 will speed up encoding HD video, and go ahead and get 4 GB of DDR3. DDR2 is fading and getting as expensive (or more expensive) than DDR3.




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November 11, 2010 4:56:16 PM

Sounds like he already has 4GB DDR2. If not buying new memory, I say go with what you already have.

BTW, there's also low power Phenom X4's (running a 905e here), but they are 65W and still need some active cooling.
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November 11, 2010 4:56:22 PM

ScrewySqrl said:
my recommendation is a 3-core Athlon (they have 85W TDP) 445 or 450, an 880G motherboard (which is good enough to stream HD video just fine), with the option of adding a GTS 430 video card for bitstreaming. The extra core and the 430 will speed up encoding HD video, and go ahead and get 4 GB of DDR3. DDR2 is fading and getting as expensive (or more expensive) than DDR3.



There is really no reason for him to get a GT 430 over an HD 5450. The 430 is more expensive and they both perform the same functions. He said he is doing no gaming so it doesn't matter if the 430 might be faster.

The 5450 can handle 1080p with no issues and has hdmi audio pass through the same as the 430. Also the only 430 that has passive cooling is $85 On the other hand he can pick up a fanless 5450 with 512 or ram for $41 or one with 1gig of ram for $55. So why should be buy a more expensive card for?
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November 11, 2010 4:58:01 PM

rwpritchett said:
Sounds like he already has 4GB DDR2. If not buying new memory, I say go with what you already have.

BTW, there's also low power Phenom X4's (running a 905e here), but they are 65W and still need some active cooling.


I think he said he already had 2 gigs of DDR2 laying around so it makes sense to get another 2 gigs or at least one.
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November 11, 2010 5:35:57 PM

Thanks guys for all the replies! very helpful!

Some questions for you:

Whats the difference between athlon & phenom??

Yes I already have 4GB (2X2GB) of GSkill DDR2... But at the price I paid for these 2 sticks, I can ditch them and upgrade for DDR3 if the benefit is justified.

Definitely anything above 2.8GHz will generate too much heat and will require a noisy fan... I prefer to buy a multi core CPU at lower speed instead of the other way around. make sense?

I'll decide which CPU to go for and then I'll look at the mobo & tv tuner...

What about PSU? Are the Gold or silver certified PSU's worthwhile? What about power? I think 500W is enough...
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November 11, 2010 5:49:02 PM

the only difference between Athlon II and Phenom II is a L3 cache on the Phenom.

as for PSU. 80+ bronze and 300-350W will be plenty for this build. The Seasonic OEM 350W model is inexpensive ($39.99) and very reliable. You just have to supply a power cord
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November 11, 2010 11:52:05 PM

A quick selection on newegg.ca gave this. Do you see any problems?

SAMSUNG Spinpoint F4 HD204UI 2TB 5400 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
$109.99

SeaSonic M12II 520 Bronze 520W ATX12V V2.3 / EPS 12V V2.91 SLI Ready 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Modular Active PFC Power Supply
$80.99

ASUS M2N68-AM PLUS AM3/AM2+/AM2 NVIDIA Geforce 7025/nForce 630a Micro ATX AMD Motherboard
$49.99

SAPPHIRE 100292DDR3L Radeon HD 5450 1GB 64-bit DDR3 PCI Express 2.1 x16 HDCP Ready Low Profile Ready Video Card
$60.99

AMD Phenom II X4 810 Deneb 2.6GHz Socket AM3 95W Quad-Core Processor HDX810WFGIBOX
$124.99

LG Black 10X Blu-ray Burner - Bulk SATA WH10LS30 LightScribe Support - OEM
$129.99

Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 Dual TV Tuner / Encoder 1229 PCI-Express x1 Interface
$124.99

I still have no case & no remote controller.
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November 12, 2010 1:05:45 AM

case are very subjective

That 520W is way more than you need. PSUs run better if they are actually using their power. get a 300w
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November 12, 2010 8:04:06 PM

I agree with the PSU...

I guess a few more questions before I submit my findings.. :) 

For the dedicated GPU, should I target more RAM or better GPU? To keep the price relatively low, I can "cut" on one of them... In other words would I be better with a HD 5670 GDDR5 @ 512MB or HD 5450 @ 1GB?

Optical drive brand? which one you suggest?

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November 12, 2010 9:00:59 PM

Yeah thats a good deal but it looks like robocop a bit...
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November 12, 2010 10:31:49 PM

Here's second take onthe subject! I restarted from scratch... I would appreciate feedback!

Antec EarthWatts Green EA-380D Green 380W Continuous power Power Supply
$59.99

SAMSUNG EcoGreen F3 2TB 3.5" SATA 3.0Gb/s Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
$109.99

GIGABYTE GA-MA785GM-US2H Micro ATX AMD Motherboard
$69.99

AMD Athlon II X4 620 2.6GHz Socket AM3 95W Quad-Core Processor
$89.99

SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 5450 100292DDR3L Video Card
$45.99

SAMSUNG Black Blu-ray Drive SATA Model SH-B123L LightScribe Support
$89.99

Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 Dual TV Tuner / Encoder 1229
$124.99

Logitech diNovo Mini Black Bluetooth Wireless Mini Keyboard
134.99

I think I'll build the machine first and then find a case & a remote... The case is so subjective and I want something good looking to fit in my living room so no geeky style cases....

As for the remote, I am tempted by the logitech harmony series, but I cant justify spending almost $300 on a remote!!!
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November 12, 2010 10:52:42 PM

lpallard said:
SAMSUNG EcoGreen F3 2TB 3.5" SATA 3.0Gb/s Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
$109.99
The F4 you listed before is a better drive for the same price. Higher density platters = win
lpallard said:
SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 5450 100292DDR3L Video Card
$45.99
The onboard video will work just fine for media playback. You can forego a discreet card altogether, or add one later if you decide you need it. Honestly, give the onboard video a shot.

lpallard said:
I think I'll build the machine first and then find a case & a remote... The case is so subjective and I want something good looking to fit in my living room so no geeky style cases....
Check out this new line of HTPC cases coming soon: PHT Wesena
I've been drooling over this one for a while:


There's a good thread on AVSforum that I've been following. The guy creating the cases has been getting DIY HTPC'er input on the designs. Here is the thread. The cases are due out in January and have a steep discount based on how early you pre-order.


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November 12, 2010 11:08:18 PM

I admit the case looks sharp! I wonder how "reliable" is this guy... Just saying that I am worried about sending $200 to a random guy in a remote country. These days, everybody's a business man.

For the GPU, I agree.. might save $70 allytogether. Anyways I can upgrade later if need be.

The HDD, I selected the Ecogreen because I thought for the same capacity & price, thius model would generate less heat & maybe noise.. So it does not overtax my heatsinks.. Dont forget I am targeting as silent as possible.

Any parts you would change (except the HDD & remove the GPU)? Brands or models you dont trust? Incompatibilities between parts?

Do you think the logitech keyboard dinovo is overpriced for what it does? It looks sharp so leaving it on my coffee table wont scare the ladies ;) 

I am targeting to "pull the trigger" either this weekend or early next week....
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November 13, 2010 11:08:55 AM

lpallard said:
The HDD, I selected the Ecogreen because I thought for the same capacity & price, thius model would generate less heat & maybe noise.. So it does not overtax my heatsinks.. Dont forget I am targeting as silent as possible.
Check out silentpcreview.com's review of the F4 drive here. Some quotes from the article:

Quote:
The 2TB F4 has three massive 667GB disks inside which we hope will give it an acoustic advantage over its four-platter predecessor. The EcoGreen F3 was a big disappointment in this regard, with noise levels much higher than expected.

...

The newest EcoGreen is a huge improvement noise-wise over the disappointing F3. Measuring only 13 dBA and 15 dBA at one meter when idle and seeking, respectively, the acoustics of the 2TB F4 at last brings EcoGreen parity with Caviar Green.


Both EcoGreen F3 and F4 drives are 5400rpm and a bit slower than their 7200rpm counterparts... Just so you are aware. I don't know if you were planning a separate boot drive.
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November 13, 2010 12:37:22 PM

thanks rwpritchett for your reply!

damn biulding a computer nowadays is more challenging than 10 years ago!

I appreciate the info you brought up on the HDD's.. I am not doing any storage on the htpc itself, only on my server that is located in my basement. This server has 7TB of storage so noise & heat are not a problem in this location.

The only reason why I was thinking about a standard hard drive was for decent storage on the htpc in case I want to rip a blue ray disc or download something and temporarily store it on the htpc... If I mount my server each time to the htpc and use its storage via a network share, I dont need much storage, i.e. 20GB would be sufficient (I will be using linux). Thats why I have been comtemplating a ssd for less than $100...

last month I saw a OCZ 60GB SSD for $89 (no shipping)

SSD's would generate much less heat right? and of course completely silent.
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November 13, 2010 12:59:21 PM

If you have a 7TB server, then an SSD would be a good idea. I run a 64GB SSD in my HTPC and use only about 40% with OS + media apps. BD rips are usually 20-40GB though and OTA HD tv shows are about 8GB/hr, so not much room left for that. You would have to move things over to your server constantly or you'll run out of room quickly. I've never tried it, but I've read that its not recommended that you record TV directly to networked storage or you will be asking for trouble (missed recordings).

Samsung also has a new 320GB F4 that is 7200rpm and, from customer reviews, quiet for a mechanical drive and would hold a # of BD's and HD tv shows. But, if absolute silence is needed, then SSD would be best.

I wish I had a server, I have 4TB worth of platter drives in my HTPC and one particular drive is quite noisy.
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November 13, 2010 3:44:21 PM

here's what I would do: get a 40 GB SSD for OS and media programs. get that Samsung F4 320GB mechanical drive for immediate media storage (what I'm recording or playing right now.) Then offload things to your 7 GB server once they are recorded.
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November 13, 2010 3:58:30 PM

but that would not defeat the benefit of quietness of only a single SSD?
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November 13, 2010 7:57:55 PM

maybe a little, but the 320 isn't loud and will be better than trying to save over your network
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November 14, 2010 1:17:53 AM

I am going to use Linux's hdd spin down or power saving mode features (hdparm) to shutdown the hdd when not in use, and the ssd will be the main drive.

now the next component I need to decide is the case.. So far I have been selecting parts for a MicroATX built, but I wonder if using a standard atx case, although bigger, would give me more air flow and "upgradability" in the future. This will also allows using a massive CPU heatsink for a complete passive cooling option.

I narrowed my choice down to these cases, please give me your comments!

Lian-Li PC-C33
http://www.lian-li.com.tw/v2/en/product/product06.php?p...

Silverstone LC13-E
http://www.silverstonetek.com/products/p_contents.php?p...

The lian-li case seems to be very good quality and looks very sharp, but having no door or cover on the front I fear it will look like a simple computer rather than a htpc...Especially if I add a card reader bracket. The silverstone case does not sems as good quality but the door hides everything. If I want to add a card reader to the machine, it will be hidden behind the door.
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November 15, 2010 4:57:39 PM

Have you seen this HTPC case?

nMEDIAPC Black Aluminum / Acrylic / Steel HTPC 6000B ATX Media Center / HTPC Case
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

It has a card reader built in behind a flip-down door. I've had the opportunity to build an HTPC with both a Lian-Li and nMediaPC case. I liked the Lian-Li but compared to the nMediaPC I didn't find it was so much better it justified the cost. The nMediaPC works great and looks great (though I have the 1000B). I also found the nMediaPC case to be easier to build with.
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November 15, 2010 9:07:56 PM

Might be the way to go. I'll think about that!

Thanks guys!
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November 17, 2010 9:19:36 PM

So far my build has been pretty much straightforward but I am now facing a problem...

Basically, the motherboard I've got has a small PCI-E port just beside its only PCI-E x16 port. The TV tuner is using the small PCI-E port and the videocard I got is using the x16 slot, but they dont fit side by side.... The heatsink of the videocard is too big. I guess the low price on some of the components got me excited and I bought (instock at a local computer shop) without checking the clearances...

The videocard is completely passive cooling, but the heatsink is pretty big. It protrudes almost 5/8" on the front of the card and almost as much on the back...

I am wondering if I can cut the heatsink to remove the back portion of you guys really dont advse me to do so...?
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November 18, 2010 2:01:02 PM

Could you return the internal tuner card and get an external tuner card, like the SiliconDust HDHomeRun? I've seen them on-sale as low as $89. I have the dual-tuner one and it's great as long as you don't need to tune and analog sources (they are NTSC/QAM). It sits next to your router/switch.
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November 18, 2010 5:21:06 PM

lpallard said:
So far my build has been pretty much straightforward but I am now facing a problem...

Basically, the motherboard I've got has a small PCI-E port just beside its only PCI-E x16 port. The TV tuner is using the small PCI-E port and the videocard I got is using the x16 slot, but they dont fit side by side.... The heatsink of the videocard is too big. I guess the low price on some of the components got me excited and I bought (instock at a local computer shop) without checking the clearances...

The videocard is completely passive cooling, but the heatsink is pretty big. It protrudes almost 5/8" on the front of the card and almost as much on the back...

I am wondering if I can cut the heatsink to remove the back portion of you guys really dont advse me to do so...?



the x1 shoudl also fit in any regular PCI slots, try that before doing any parts swaps.

Definitely don't cut the heatsink!
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November 18, 2010 9:07:58 PM

The mobo has only 1 PCI-E mini and 1 PCI-E X16 slots... no other PCI-E slots to plug the tv tuner to....
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November 18, 2010 10:07:20 PM

With only 2 PCIe slots, you have two options.

#1 Just run the onboard video.

#2 Use the discreet video card, but replace your tuner with the HDHomerun, USB, or regular PCI based tuner.

With no gaming or need for HD audio, just use the onboard video. It works perfectly fine for HD video.
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November 18, 2010 10:17:38 PM

Yep thata good idea... I will try before I bring the card back to the store... If thats good enough for me, I will just run the onboard!

I think this completes this build! Thanks all for your help!
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November 18, 2010 10:23:06 PM

How about some pics of the build?? :) 
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November 18, 2010 10:27:19 PM

100% agreed, I will finish this either tomorrow or saturday and post pics when completed
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!