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Feedback on, yet another, HTPC

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July 17, 2011 10:54:31 PM

Hey folks,

I'm looking for some insight/advice/etc. on putting a new HTPC together from scratch. This will be a straight up movie/music machine running to, obviously, a receiver and TV. The receiver (and speakers) I have yet to purchase. I will be ripping all music down to flac and storing internally. As such, I plan on also using this machine to serve a bedroom setup over the network for movies and music. My goal is a very quiet system, with low power consumption as it will remain on 24/7. I'd like to keep my budget between $600-$700. Here is what I've specced:

Case: LIAN LI PC-37B Link
CPU: i3 2100T Link
Mobo: ASRock Z68 PRO3-M Link
~or~ ASRock H61M-VS Link
GPU: EVGA GT 430 Link
PSU: CORSAIR Builder Series CX430 V2 Link
HDD - Data: 2 TB Western Digital AV-GP Link
HDD - OS SSD: 64 GB Crucial M4 Link
RAM: 4 GB CORSAIR XMS DDR3 1600 Link
Optical: TBD

At the moment, the spec comes out just a bit higher than my desired budget, even with Mail-in Rebates. :sarcastic:  ..but I could live with the added cost if necessary.

I realize a SSD in an always-on HTPC is basically pointless, however, with the "Smart Response" feature on the PRO-3M mobo, I'm compelled to think it possibly has some value in caching the common files pertaining to, say, cover art, movie descriptions, etc. that would be accessed commonly by media software, such as XBMC. I guess what I'm imagining eliminating are the "?"s or blank boxes used prior to loading cover art as you scroll through media. ..and perhaps those items load fast enough on a traditonal HDD, there is no concern? In which case, I could eliminate the SSD and drop down to the cheaper ASROCK mobo. Thoughts???

Any further advice or suggestions on this system are very much appreciated!
Thanks for your time!
Brad

More about : feedback htpc

July 17, 2011 11:26:28 PM

Looks good. I like the case.

The cache capability of a Z68 is a partial benefit. It is worth trying if you can.
But, I think a dedicated ssd for the OS and some apps might be a better performer.
So, just us a H61 and spend the savings on perhaps a 80 or 120gb ssd.

The i3-2100T has an integrated graphics capability that is somewhat like that of a $50 discrete graphics card.
I think I might try that out first. You can always add a discrete card later.
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July 18, 2011 12:43:21 AM

Thanks for the advice, geofelt! That's a good point about using the integrated graphics of the 2100T! I'll definitely start out with that, save the $$ and see how it goes.

I like the idea of reserving the SSD for the OS and any added apps, but the the Z68 could could take advantage of the same SSD for that file caching, yes? I believe it can only use up to 64GB on the SSD for caching, or less if you specify. I wouldn't suppose that cover art and the like would necessarily require even that much?

Do you think there is a good deal more advantage to a larger SSD, storing only the OS and a few apps here and their? ..I guess as opposed to spending the savings from the GPU on the Z68 for the caching instead?

I apologize, I simply do not have enough experience with HTPCs to know if those small benefits of caching are worthwhile. Just trying to wrap my head around what I "think" may be a quicker, more responsive (prettier) user interface when actually using the system.

Are there any SSD brands you would recommend? I'm partial to WD, but again with SSDs, I haven't much experience with them to draw upon.

Thanks!
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July 18, 2011 5:03:32 AM

lukewarmpork said:
Thanks for the advice, geofelt! That's a good point about using the integrated graphics of the 2100T! I'll definitely start out with that, save the $$ and see how it goes.

I like the idea of reserving the SSD for the OS and any added apps, but the the Z68 could could take advantage of the same SSD for that file caching, yes? I believe it can only use up to 64GB on the SSD for caching, or less if you specify. I wouldn't suppose that cover art and the like would necessarily require even that much?

Do you think there is a good deal more advantage to a larger SSD, storing only the OS and a few apps here and their? ..I guess as opposed to spending the savings from the GPU on the Z68 for the caching instead?

I apologize, I simply do not have enough experience with HTPCs to know if those small benefits of caching are worthwhile. Just trying to wrap my head around what I "think" may be a quicker, more responsive (prettier) user interface when actually using the system.

Are there any SSD brands you would recommend? I'm partial to WD, but again with SSDs, I haven't much experience with them to draw upon.

Thanks!

How effective a ssd cache will be is primarily determined by your reference pattern. Remember also, that it is reads that will benefit from the cache, unless you turn off the verify waiting which might be risky. . A ssd is very good at small reads and writes, which the os does lots of. If you had a 80gb ssd, you might partition it to 60gb for the os, and leave the remaining 20gb unallocated. set that 20gb as a cache for your hard drive and see how you do. If you don't see much, then you can recombine the 20gb with the rest of your ssd c drive.
I really think, though, that all of the ssd would be better used for the os and apps.

Intel has historically done better at ssd quality:
http://www.behardware.com/articles/810-6/components-ret...
But recent problems with the 320 series may give you pause. Apparently, they lose their space if an unexpected power outage happens at a bad time.
No doubt this will be fixed soon, and may not even be an issue if you have a UPS which I also recommend.
Do some research on the 320 series since they seem to be otherwise very good.

The 510 series is not affected, but they are more expensive.
You might be able to find the earlier X25-M 80gb or 160gb Gen2 units available for a good price.

I also happen to like WD for conventional hard drives;
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July 18, 2011 12:36:05 PM

I agree with geo. The SSD caching that the Z68 supports is meant to create a hybrid install where you use a platter drive as the main drive, and it is supplemented by a small SSD for write caching. The intent was that people could buy an el cheapo SSD in the 16-40GB range for caching only instead of dropping $100+on a larger SSD and get the best of both worlds (large capacity with improved performance).

You have a 64GB SSD on your shopping list, that is plenty big enough for an HTPC install (actually, I use the M4 you've selected in one of my HTPC's). A Win7 install with HTPC apps and the basic AV, PDF reader, browsers, etc. for me takes up about 30GB.

For an HTPC user standpoint, I do find that using an SSD helps bring up folder and backdrop art noticeably better since all of those images are stored on the C drive. MCE launches more quickly too. My experience is with Media Browser and a rather large media library and I was coming from having the OS on a 5400rpm drive, so YMMV. Personally, I'll never go back to using a platter drive for OS/apps in any future builds.
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July 18, 2011 7:21:52 PM

geo; rwpritchett,

This is making much more sense and I'm getting a much better idea! Thanks for your time and responses, guys! In the right application that caching may be a nice perk, but I can see the value (cost/benefit) isn't necessarily there in this instance.

As such, I've revised a few parts;
Mobo: ASRock H67M
RAM: 4GB CORSAIR XMS3 DDR3 1333

One important thing I was missing on the previous specced mobo budget option, was the HDMI 1.4 support in H67s that are absent in the H61s. Also, the H67 8 channels for 7.1 ..should I ever get to that point.

With those changes, I'm back within my budget again!
..still not sure if I'll splurge a bit on an 80GB SSD now. After all, nobody ever went to their death bed thinking, "I wish I had less space on my SSD." :kaola: 

Thanks for the knowledgeable input, guys!
Brad
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July 19, 2011 1:00:33 AM

Intel IGP sucks. Get the new Llano.
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July 19, 2011 3:26:38 AM

What makes you say that, mosox? The stutter produced due to the inability of the intel chips to reproduce the perfect 23Hz to match video playback? Or is there something else?
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July 19, 2011 4:52:36 PM

Thanks for the link.

Well, I won't dispute the A series having the edge on overall graphic performance; DX11 support and increased performance standalone as well as when paired with a discrete GPU. Though, these things mostly go to benefit the gamer alone.

However, this article does little more than boast the Llano and point out a falling behind of Intel IGP performance in graphic benchmarks. Which is of little to no value in a strictly music/movie media HTPC.

When looking at straight IGP, the only remaining performance flaw I see that applies to the Intel would be the lack of integrated support for the absolute perfect fps for HD content, resulting in a possible stutter every ~5 minutes? (I can't remember the exact number) And if I'm not mistaken, the A series, while more accurate, suffers just the same issue, but every ~8 mins instead. The only remedy for both chips is a discrete card, solving the issue entirely.

While I'll accept some of the findings provided by the author of that article, he seems to be rather biased in favor of Llano, supplying graphs such as this. "More Intense Gaming, More Compute Power, Higher Model Number" ..haha I'm sure that's just for fun. But to point out "No DX11" and "HD Stutter" for SB seems extremely misleading as who would truly be running games with DX11 and NOT have a discrete GPU? Haha ..and if you do have that added card, neither of those points are even applicable.

All in all, I don't see the benefit in a build design for only movies and music. No gaming will be happening here. I don't have a problem with you saying, "Intel IGP sucks." ..but I'd truly be interested in why that would be true, as applies to this type of HTPC build. If you have any more info/articles, please let me know.

Thanks!
Brad
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July 19, 2011 5:49:18 PM

The integrated graphics on sandy bridge is supposed to be comparable to a $50 discrete graphics card. That is sufficient for HTPC apps.
What the llano gains in graphics, it loses in compute power. Take your pick.
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July 19, 2011 6:33:47 PM

About sums up everything I've read as well. The only thing I could see that may provoke me to move on an added gpu would be the aforementioned stutter. I really expect it to be a non-issue at this point, but worst case scenario, I go for that gt 430 I originally specced.

In any case, I'll be celebrating Christmas in July later this week. :bounce: 

Thanks for all the advice, fellas!
Brad
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July 20, 2011 7:34:44 PM

Looks like a great suggestion, mosox! I had read a few positive reviews for HTPC use of the gt 430s for a low-cost card with 3D Blu Ray support, bit streaming, low power, etc.; and I had been content with EVGA nVidia cards in the past so it never really occurred to me to look elsewhere.

However, after reading your article and a whole slew of others thereafter, ATI certainly has the upper-hand in image quality. While the 6570 you linked seems to use only slightly more power than the 430, it clearly outperforms it and has some very nice added perks I would otherwise be missing.

Now, hopefully soon, Newegg will discount the price a little. :p 

Thanks for the input, mosox!
Brad
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July 27, 2011 3:49:57 PM

Best answer selected by Lukewarmpork.
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