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Low-power HTPC/home server build

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March 17, 2011 11:45:50 PM

I'm beginning to piece together a low power HTPC build, and would like some advice. I have a few requirements;

- Windows-based.
- Room for a Blu-ray drive.
- Capable of 1080p playback.
- Lowest possible idle power consumption.

I'm considering the following CPU/Motherboard/Case/PSU combo;
- Asus AT5IONT-I Atom D525
- Antec ISK 300 Black Mini-ITX Case - 65W PSU

However, I've read good things about the Core i3 and newer Sandy Bridge processors although perhaps those are overkill - this will primarily be a media playback machine, as well as a 24/7 home server.

Any advice, or comments about the above starting point, would be appreciated. Thanks.

More about : low power htpc home server build

March 18, 2011 2:08:24 AM

I just finished an HTPC build using the ISK 310-150. :) 

To start, the Atom has been usurped by the new AMD Fusion as the best low-power HTPC choice. Read this article/review:

The Brazos Review: AMD's E-350 Supplants ION for mini-ITX

In my ISK, I installed the new Asus E35M1-I Deluxe Fusion APU. I installed the blu-ray drive last night and watched a blu-ray movie and it worked great. The 65W power supply that comes with the ISK you've chosen will limit you to either ION or Fusion... you'll have to step up to one of the ISK cases bundled with a 150W PSU if you want to go i3/SB (which offer very good performance per watt). Or, you could get a 150W picoPSU to replace the 65W. That would give you plenty of power for an i3/SB or AMD Athlon build.

What's your budget, and what parts do you need for this build?
March 18, 2011 10:52:58 AM

In terms of parts, I have a pair of hard disk drives from my previous build which died last year. I may have 4GB memory too if that wasn't the part that blew up (I don't think it was). So unless I'm missing anything I need;

- A processor/motherboard/integrated graphics
- A case
- A PSU
- A blu-ray drive.

Thanks your advice, including the link.

One question - in terms of power consumption (which is a factor), does it make a big difference if I get a 65W or 150W supply, if the system is only drawing a fraction of that, or do I want to try and get the wattage as close as possible to the power used by the system?

Thanks again.
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March 18, 2011 11:22:48 AM

It's true that the system will only pull the watts it needs, but the efficiency will be different. PSU's like the 65W one bundled with the ISK are much more efficient than a standard computer PSU, and that efficiency depends on the load. All power supplies are more efficient at ~50% load so that's where you should shoot for. If your setup is only going to draw 30-35W most of the time then the 65W power supply would be a perfect match.

If you have an Atom or Fusion board that draws 20W with a 65W power supply, it might pull 25 or 30W using a 1000W power supply (extreme example).

For my ISK+Fusion build, I went with the 150W PSU for three reasons:

#1 The silver case (which is what I wanted) does not come with a 65W PSU as an option like the black ISK 300
#2 The case was the first part acquired and I was not sure what processor I might be using such as a higher power i3 or Athlon
#3 I knew that if I didn't care for the fan noise of the 150W PSU, I could always swap it out for a passive picoPSU since the case has the mounting holes for a picoPSU plug.

Now that I'm done with my build, I can tell you that the internal 150W PSU makes it quite a challenge to get everything inside the case. The 65W bundled case with its external brick would have been much easier! Maybe I'll share some pictures with you. I documented my build with the intention of doing an HTPC how-to blog.
March 19, 2011 11:08:01 PM

Thanks again for the advice. After a good couple of hours worth of reading and research I decided to go with the Fusion board (actually went for the same board, since it has integrated wifi!). Out of interest, where did you buy your board from?

If I remember, I'll report back once I've built the thing should anyone be interested.

March 20, 2011 7:34:54 PM

Ah, I assumed you were from the UK. I had trouble finding any suppliers with stock but never mind. To the back of the queue I go.

Thanks for the documentary, I'll have a look now.
March 23, 2011 1:52:24 PM

Thanks, that's actually who I ordered with but like everyone else in the UK, there is no stock. Unfortunately no-one seems to have a clue when they expect stock (I suspect this board hasn't actually found it's way to these shores just yet). I'm considering going for the PRO board instead, but I did like the idea of integrated wifi, bluetooth, and passive cooling. :( 

Out of interest, I've just realised that I've gone and ordered a Mini-ITX case (the Antec 300) and a Micro-ITX motherboard. I noticed that despite a few problems, you managed to install yours. Do you think I'll have any problems fitting it in the 300? I would guess that it's the same size, but if you think you 'got lucky' cramming the thing in, then it'd be nice to be forewarned. :) 

Thanks for your help.
March 23, 2011 2:09:58 PM

Actually, it seems I was misinformed - the E35M1 is a mini-ATX after all. Phew.
March 23, 2011 3:10:46 PM

I did some testing last night with my E35M1-I Deluxe board. Idle power consumption is 43.3W, fully loaded stress testing (CPU & GPU @ 100%) peaked at 59.1W and 49.0°C. Good news if you are looking for a low power system. You may even see better efficiency since you UK'ers run 240V from the wall.

- Hehe... I just re-read that...UK'ers looks a lot like f***ers. No offense meant. :) 
August 13, 2011 2:46:37 AM

hey there, do you think you could run your exact hardware @rwpritchett with the 65w psu in the isk 300-65 or would it be a little unwise?
August 13, 2011 3:59:10 AM

Definitely. PicoPSU's are more efficient than regular PSU's so power draw would be a little less than what I measured. My HTPC never goes above 50W during normal use.

If you haven't already, check out the details of my build in my signature.
!