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Green seed box/home file server/htpc

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December 16, 2010 9:29:20 PM

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: ASAP. Will wait for new components (cpu, gpu, mobo, etc.) if something that’s about to be released will meet my requirements much better than what’s currently available.

BUDGET RANGE: The cheaper the better, but the budget really has no set limit. (rebates would be great)

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: In addition to functioning as a 24/7 home seed box (maybe more power draw than idle, but not much, right?) and home file server, the box will be primarily used as a nettop (some htpc movie watching, heavy, multi-tabbed web browsing, email, office apps., etc.). Because this box will run 24/7, energy efficiency is a must. That said, I’ve read some reviews/benchmarks that show core i3’s and i5’s (is this true for any i7’s as well?) drawing less power at idle (while obvisouly at least twice as many watts when loaded) than many of the dual core atom cpu’s. If these were my only requirements, I’m sure there are a myriad of mini-itx mobo/dual core atom/nvidia ion gpu combos out to satisfy my seemingly low performance and low power needs. However, while some HD content will be output via the gpu directly to a monitor, the majority of the HD content will be real-time transcoded or occasionally real-time re-encoded to a PS3 readable format via PS3 media server and gigabit Ethernet for display on a large, 1080p plasma.

REUSING PARTS: Maybe. If needed, I have a 280 GTS and an old 600W Seasonic S6 PSU. Additionally, I have (2) old dual channel DDR2 2GB dims of Gigabyte ECC registered PC3200 ram that, while slow, I think should meet all of my requirements. While I would like to run the OS off of a decently quick (30-100GB) SSD (which I still need), I am intending to store all of my content on my (2) WD10EADS 1TB drives in a raid 0.

PARTS NOT REQUIRED: keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, OS

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) / SHOP FOR PARTS: If you guys have bought from them in the past with success, then I’d be willing to give them some business as well.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: U.S

PARTS PREFERENCES: Currently, I’m leaning towards a mobo/cpu/gpu all-in-one combo because I think it should reduce my power bill, but if I’m wrong about that, I’m certainly open to other options.
Mobo: Zotac Ionitx-A-U

Case: (1) external 5.25”, (1) external 3.5”, (1) internal 2.5”, and (2) internal 3.5” bays would be ideal, but, if I end up choosing a mini-itx board, a more compact option may be in order.

OVERCLOCKING: Probably not, but maybe

SLI OR CROSSFIRE: No

MONITOR RESOLUTION: 1920x1080

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: While I believe the dual core atom N330 will handle my transcoding needs (I may be wrong about that?), I doubt that it will be capable of re-encoding on the fly. That said, if a low power, dual core atom can handle real-time transcoding as I believe it can and it has an overall lower power draw than a core i3, i5, i7, I’d be willing to sacrifice the real-time re-encoding capability to save money on the build and down the road on my power bill. Any advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.
Nick
December 17, 2010 3:42:15 AM

Well, Newegg is a fantastic retailer, but their website seems to be down??? What is this madness? :-) I'll put together something for you as soon as it's up. Will you be playing 1080p video? (I mean the video resolution, not the display resolution).
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December 17, 2010 4:12:10 AM

Okay, here's a question: does the re-encoding software actually process the video in real-time as it streams, or does it re-encode as fast as possible, caching it on the computer, and then stream the re-encoded video as the PS3 needs it? That will be key to picking out a CPU - the Atom will be more efficient clock for clock, but it will take MUCH longer to re-encode, whereas the i3 will take more power under load, but it will be done way faster.
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December 17, 2010 4:35:14 PM

Here's a build to consider. My apologies if I've missed the mark completely, but I think this would make a nice little HTPC system; quiet and efficient, nice looking, and fast too.

LIAN LI PC-Q08B Black Aluminum Mini-ITX Tower Computer Case
Model #: PC-Q08B
Item #:N82E16811112265
$129.99 -$10.00 Instant $119.99
Also available in red for the same price. This case has LOTS of room for hard drives. Its fans are barely audible when it is on, and it looks nice too. I put a slide show of a build I did in one of these on YouTube; look under the userID "jtt283." It doesn't have the external 3.5" bay, but everything else is there.

Seasonic SS-560KM Active PFC F3, 560W ATX12V V2.3/EPS 12V V2.91, 80Plus Gold Certified, Modular Power Supply
Model #: X-560
Item #:N82E16817151098
Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
$120.99 $120.99
Way overkill, but I chose this one because of its high efficiency even under low load, its modular cables, and because it is dead silent (fan doesn't run at all) under low load.

Intel Core i3-550 Clarkdale 3.2GHz LGA 1156 73W Dual-Core Desktop Processor BX80616I3550
Model #: BX80616I3550
Item #:N82E16819115065
$129.99 -$15.00 Instant $114.99
Eats more power under load, but should complete tasks so much faster than an Atom that overall power use will be similar. Iirc, Tom's found this to be the case not long ago.

ECS H55H-I LGA 1156 Intel H55 HDMI Mini ITX Intel Motherboard
Model #: H55H-I
Item #:N82E16813135259
$79.99 $79.99
This is the cheapest LGA1156 mini-ITX board. It is the one I used as well, and it has done well for me. Mine's a mid-range gamer, so I put a GTX460 on it, but for your uses the integrated video may be sufficient. If not, add the video card of your choice, knowing the case will fit it and the PSU will handle it.

Mushkin Enhanced Essentials 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model ...
Model #: 996586
Item #:N82E16820146748
$41.99 $41.99
You might get by with only 2GB, but for a $20 difference...

SAMSUNG DVD Burner Black SATA Model SH-S223L LightScribe Support - OEM
Model #: SH-S223L
Item #:N82E16827151188
$17.99 $17.99

Subtotal: $495.94
======================
I hope this is reasonably consistent with what you had in mind. I really think you'll like the Lian Li case. If you want to stick with Atom, you could still do that, although be sure that whatever power source you use can support the number of drives you want.

Edit: to eliminate a smiley.
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December 17, 2010 11:25:48 PM

thepcphysician said:
Okay, here's a question: does the re-encoding software actually process the video in real-time as it streams, or does it re-encode as fast as possible, caching it on the computer, and then stream the re-encoded video as the PS3 needs it? That will be key to picking out a CPU - the Atom will be more efficient clock for clock, but it will take MUCH longer to re-encode, whereas the i3 will take more power under load, but it will be done way faster.


Since my ‘05ish dual xeon box went down 2 weeks ago (narrowed it down to the Iwill mobo or one of the cpu’s, and since Iwill was bought out by Flextronics, the mobo is no longer available. As for the old Irwindale Xeon’s, well, they probably aren’t even worth replacing), I haven’t been able to mess with the PS3 media server app. However, iirc, PS3 media server uses TSmuxer to transcode or MEncoder to re-encode on the fly. Additionally, I believe my old Xeon’s were able to re-encode 1080p faster than the PS3 needed the data for all but the highest quality settings, and therefore, they were able to build up a buffer and stream to the PS3 as needed.


Onus said:
Here's a build to consider. My apologies if I've missed the mark completely, but I think this would make a nice little HTPC system; quiet and efficient, nice looking, and fast too.

LIAN LI PC-Q08B Black Aluminum Mini-ITX Tower Computer Case
Model #: PC-Q08B
Item #:N82E16811112265
$129.99 -$10.00 Instant $119.99
Also available in red for the same price. This case has LOTS of room for hard drives. Its fans are barely audible when it is on, and it looks nice too. I put a slide show of a build I did in one of these on YouTube; look under the userID "jtt283." It doesn't have the external 3.5" bay, but everything else is there.

Seasonic SS-560KM Active PFC F3, 560W ATX12V V2.3/EPS 12V V2.91, 80Plus Gold Certified, Modular Power Supply
Model #: X-560
Item #:N82E16817151098
Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
$120.99 $120.99
Way overkill, but I chose this one because of its high efficiency even under low load, its modular cables, and because it is dead silent (fan doesn't run at all) under low load.

Intel Core i3-550 Clarkdale 3.2GHz LGA 1156 73W Dual-Core Desktop Processor BX80616I3550
Model #: BX80616I3550
Item #:N82E16819115065
$129.99 -$15.00 Instant $114.99
Eats more power under load, but should complete tasks so much faster than an Atom that overall power use will be similar. Iirc, Tom's found this to be the case not long ago.

ECS H55H-I LGA 1156 Intel H55 HDMI Mini ITX Intel Motherboard
Model #: H55H-I
Item #:N82E16813135259
$79.99 $79.99
This is the cheapest LGA1156 mini-ITX board. It is the one I used as well, and it has done well for me. Mine's a mid-range gamer, so I put a GTX460 on it, but for your uses the integrated video may be sufficient. If not, add the video card of your choice, knowing the case will fit it and the PSU will handle it.

Mushkin Enhanced Essentials 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model ...
Model #: 996586
Item #:N82E16820146748
$41.99 $41.99
You might get by with only 2GB, but for a $20 difference...

SAMSUNG DVD Burner Black SATA Model SH-S223L LightScribe Support - OEM
Model #: SH-S223L
Item #:N82E16827151188
$17.99 $17.99

Subtotal: $495.94
======================
I hope this is reasonably consistent with what you had in mind. I really think you'll like the Lian Li case. If you want to stick with Atom, you could still do that, although be sure that whatever power source you use can support the number of drives you want.

Edit: to eliminate a smiley.


While the Lian-Li case is a bit pricey and a bit bigger than what I’d want for a mini-itx build, no one can argue with the beautifully clean lines and quality of craftsmanship compared to so many other cheap mini-itx boxes. I’ve been a fan of Seasonic since my first build back in ’05, and with an 80+ gold rating, the psu seems like a no brainer. That said, do you guys know if a standard pc psu at light load is more or less efficient than a laptop style AC adapter (with a pico-psu?)? All things considered, that little HTPC setup is a pretty nice piece of kit that may fix my needs perfectly.

Having no experience with the atom cpu’s, do either of you think it will be able to at least remux/transcode real-time? Does the atom really draw more power at idle than a core i3 or i5? If so, does it draw more than an i7? What would be more power efficient per clock cycle? For example, clearly any of the core family cpu’s will encode at at least 2x or 3x the speed of an atom and draw at least 2x the current in the process, but does anyone know which will require more watt/hrs for a given task? Like I said in my initial post, I’m still not set on anything, and I’d be willing to shell out the cash for an i7 if it makes the most sense long term. So, if you guys have links for articles on THW or otherwise that you think will help me out, I’d greatly appreciate the additional resources. Thanks again for all suggestions.
Nick

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January 17, 2011 5:38:15 PM

So decided to postpone my build until the new Sandy Bridge chips were actually available, and based upon this TH article, I'm glad that I did. Anyway, after pooring over numerous articles, newegg customer reviews, and a myriad of comparison tables, I leaning towards the following newegg sourced components (w/e they're in stock again) for my build.

LIAN LI PC-V354B Black Aluminum MicroATX Mini Tower Computer Case
Model #: PC-V354B
Item #:N82E16811112300
$149.99 $149.99
-Still relatively small, Lian Li quality and style mini-tower with ample room to expand storage.

ASUS P8H67-M EVO LGA 1155 Intel H67 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 Micro ATX Intel Motherboard
Model #: P8H67-M EVO
Item #:N82E16813131689
$135.99 $135.99
-Seems to be the top of the line H67 based board ATM.

G.SKILL ECO Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Desktop Memory Model F3-10666CL9D-4GBECO
Model #: F3-10666CL9D-4GBECO
Item #:N82E16820231316
$44.99 $44.99
-May not have the lowest timings, but hopefully the low voltage will keep the system cool, quiet (lower fan speed/less of them), and just sipping power.

Intel Core i5-2500K Sandy Bridge 3.3GHz (3.7GHz Turbo Boost) LGA 1155 95W Quad-Core Desktop Processor BX80623I52500K
Model #: BX80623I52500K
Item #:N82E16819115072
$224.99 $224.99

As I mentioned previously, I plan to re-use my old Seasonic S600 PSU (It's not modular or 80+ anything, but I already own it, lol), Sony PATA DVD-R/RW drives (disconnected unless I need them), and WD10EADS 1TB HDD's for the OS (at least until the new Sand Force controller based SSD's, maybe an OCZ Vertex 3?, are released... :whistle:  ). If I'm way out to lunch or completely missing the boat on better deals/rebates, please feel free to chime in. Thanks again.
Nick
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January 17, 2011 10:42:08 PM

That CPU is way overkill for your needs. Keeping in mind your low-power objective, if you want Sandy Bridge, get a 65W i5-2400S for $205: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
I think the cost savings of a 73W i3-540 will more than offset a few more watts being used over its lifetime.

Edit: Since your old PSU is not 80+, spending $45 on an 80+ Bronze 380W Earthwatts would probably save a lot more power than Sandy Bridge vs. the previous generation.
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January 18, 2011 2:55:20 AM

It seems like you've already decided, but I figured I'd post my recent build that used the same Zotac you were originally going to use:

Case: M350 Universal Mini-ITX
http://www.amazon.com/Universal-Mini-ITX-enclosure-PicoPSU-compatible/dp/B003DXI288

MB/CPU/PSU: ZOTAC IONITX-A-U Atom 330 1.6GHz Dual-Core 441 NVIDIA ION Mini ITX Motherboard/CPU Combo
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813500027

RAM: G.SKILL 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231098

HDD: SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5"
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822152185

The case was a really tight fit, but I love it. Using the pico saved me tons of room, plus low power draw.

I don't have photos of my own yet, but this is what it looks like:









I'm planning on overclocking the Atom to around 2.0Ghz soon. This write-up was helpful.
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January 18, 2011 12:19:17 PM

Onus said:
That CPU is way overkill for your needs. Keeping in mind your low-power objective, if you want Sandy Bridge, get a 65W i5-2400S for $205: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
I think the cost savings of a 73W i3-540 will more than offset a few more watts being used over its lifetime.


With CPU level video decoding/encoding, SB seems to not only be more efficient (shorter encode and transcode times AND lower power draw in the process) clock for clock, but it also seems like it will be much more capable of fully re-encoding on the fly. That said, I completely agree that the i5-2500k is overkill for my needs, and when all of the SB marketing slides were first released, I was excited about scooping up an "S" class chip for the lower TDP. However, after comparing numerous video processing benchmarks for Intel's HD2000 and HD3000 integrated graphics solutions, the HD3000 makes the HD2000 look downright anemic. Leave it to Intel to only offer their best integrated graphics solution on the enthusiast chips that will almost never run without a discrete GPU... :pfff:  Again this is what I have been able to garnish from various internet reviews and benchmarks. Does it sound reasonable, or am I missing the big picture?

Onus said:
Edit: Since your old PSU is not 80+, spending $45 on an 80+ Bronze 380W Earthwatts would probably save a lot more power than Sandy Bridge vs. the previous generation.


While I think you're probably correct about my older Seasonic psu, it does claim 80% efficiency. Once I get the system up and running, I was planning to run it through my Kill-A-Watt meter for a reference idle power draw. At that point, I'll be able to make a better estimate how many kw-h's/month a 5-10% psu efficiency is actually going to save.

margincall said:
It seems like you've already decided, but I figured I'd post my recent build that used the same Zotac you were originally going to use:

Case: M350 Universal Mini-ITX
http://www.amazon.com/Universal-Mini-ITX-enclosure-PicoPSU-compatible/dp/B003DXI288

MB/CPU/PSU: ZOTAC IONITX-A-U Atom 330 1.6GHz Dual-Core 441 NVIDIA ION Mini ITX Motherboard/CPU Combo
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813500027

RAM: G.SKILL 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231098

HDD: SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5"
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822152185

The case was a really tight fit, but I love it. Using the pico saved me tons of room, plus low power draw.

I don't have photos of my own yet, but this is what it looks like:

http://www.geek.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Zotac_ION_M350_Casing.JPG

http://www.geek.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Zotac_ION_M350_Interior.JPG

http://www.geek.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Zotac_ION_M350.JPG

http://www.geek.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Zotac_ION_Mobo_in_M350.JPG

I'm planning on overclocking the Atom to around 2.0Ghz soon. This write-up was helpful.


Have you had the chance to measure how much power your particular Zotac/Atom build draws at idle/load? When you're snapping pics of your build, would mind shooting a few of the pico psu in particular? Do you have any idea how efficient pico psu's are in general compared to 80+ bronze, silver, or gold rated psu's? Thanks again guys for all of your time and input.
Nick

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Best solution

January 18, 2011 1:32:19 PM

From that perspective, it is better to have more power than you need, than not enough. If you will not be adding a discrete GPU, then you probably will want to choose the "best" IGP (can you use "best" and "IGP" together in the same sentence?).
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January 18, 2011 2:25:20 PM

05UFCaptain said:
Do you have any idea how efficient pico psu's are in general compared to 80+ bronze, silver, or gold rated psu's? Thanks again guys for all of your time and input.
Nick
PicoPSU's are much more efficient than standard PSU's. Depending on the load and the AC power brick you pair with one, efficiency is around 85-87% (link).
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January 19, 2011 1:33:01 AM

I'd say more than a little.
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January 19, 2011 9:11:33 AM

They look to be on par with 80+ Bronze.
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January 28, 2011 4:12:37 AM

Best answer selected by 05UFCaptain.
n
nJust wanted to say thanks again to everyone for throwing in their $.02. The links benchmarking various picoPSU’s and their associated AC/DC bricks were exactly the information that I was looking for.
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January 29, 2011 12:20:10 AM

Thanks. Enjoy your build.
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