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HTPC: APU vs CPU + GPU

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September 2, 2011 5:50:40 AM

I am in a huge dilemma and have spent 10+ reading hours to find an answer. Here is the problem:

Trying to build a HTPC to connect to a 50" Plasma and audio to Denon AVR.

Functions needed:
1. 1080p playback of video/blu-ray/home movies
2. Web sufing / facebook/ email
3. Some games : Civ 5/ From Dust/ C&C
4. Future ready : should have the ability to process 3D from blu-rays.
5. Would like it to be a silent system with hopefully low power footprint in a micro-ATX config.

The debate:
A8 Llano is a solid APU which meets most of my needs. However, a lot of reviews have suggested it si weak system for 3D compatibility / playing games at 1080p resolution. It seems that if I build a system using it, I will have a need to either replace or upgrade within the next 2 yrs. Also, there are rumors about AMD bulldozer architecture coming out later, which shortens the shelf life of the current APUs.

The second option is to use a standalone CPU + GPU. This list is exhaustive with good AMD as well as intel based options.

What are the thoughts of the community? Is it better to get a CPU+ discrete GPU; I am confident we can come up with a powerful build. However, it has to fit ina micro-ATX case and have low power usage (hopefully).

All thoughts / critique / suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance.
ConkyDoc

More about : htpc apu cpu gpu

September 2, 2011 1:22:45 PM

Llano is definately not good for 1080p gaming and blu ray playback.

I'd suggest a CPU + Discrete GPU.

Something like, an i3 2100 or i5 2400 paired with a HD 6850 is ideal for the tasks you mentioned.
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September 2, 2011 3:28:24 PM

How is the thermal performance for i5/i3 + GPU in a micro-atx setting? How about power requirements?
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September 2, 2011 3:34:59 PM

i3 - 65W TDP (max 55-60C under load)
i5 - 95W TDP (max 65C under load)

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September 2, 2011 3:57:32 PM

Hmm...GPU would have to be a Radeon HD 6770. That is another 105W. The biggest question is to fit this into a micro atx case. Any suggestions?
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September 2, 2011 4:03:49 PM

the A8's built in CPU can manage gaming at 1280x720 fairly well (45 fps in DiRT, WoW, etc) with good settings. (its about a 5550 to 5570 in ability).

Its NOT going to power game, but medium settings should be fine.
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September 2, 2011 4:40:01 PM

You are asking a lot from a single PC. Powerful, yet silent and low energy use typically don't go together. I built a relatively quite (didn't want to put up the $100 to go completely fanless) 40W HTPC 1.5 years ago that meets every requirement except playing Civ5 and probably 3D Blu-Ray (not sure on that one as I don't know what it requires) using a low power duel core and integrated HD4200 graphics.

If I were to build another HTPC, I would still keep gaming off my requirements and either use the PS3 or my main PC (which is much more comfortable at a desk) for games. That way I can keep power usage and noise level down. I'd probably go with a A4-3300M since it will do everything but game at a measly TDP of 35W. If you bought a SSD, pico PSU, and a massive heatsink you could make the thing completely silent and low power.
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September 2, 2011 4:40:10 PM

Medium setting are fine but I need 1920x1080 resolution. This us=nit is going to be hooked to a 50" plasma. The biggest issue is no 3D support on the APU. Within the next 2 yrs 3d is going to become even more mainstream. Then this would be too obsolete.
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September 2, 2011 4:44:16 PM

nordlead said:
You are asking a lot from a single PC. Powerful, yet silent and low energy use typically don't go together. I built a relatively quite (didn't want to put up the $100 to go completely fanless) 40W HTPC 1.5 years ago that meets every requirement except playing Civ5 and probably 3D Blu-Ray (not sure on that one as I don't know what it requires) using a low power duel core and integrated HD4200 graphics.

If I were to build another HTPC, I would still keep gaming off my requirements and either use the PS3 or my main PC (which is much more comfortable at a desk) for games. That way I can keep power usage and noise level down. I'd probably go with a A4-3300M since it will do everything but game at a measly TDP of 35W. If you bought a SSD, pico PSU, and a massive heatsink you could make the thing completely silent and low power.


I agree with what you are saying. Even if we take gaming off the requirements, the 3D issue still remains. I want this to last atleast the next 3 yrs without feeling the need to upgrade.
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September 2, 2011 4:56:05 PM

if you feel the need for 3D, then you will need to get a discrete card, as only those can do it yet.

Personally I think 3D is a fad, simply because of the headaches and washed out colors it creates
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September 2, 2011 4:58:48 PM

conkydoc said:
I agree with what you are saying. Even if we take gaming off the requirements, the 3D issue still remains. I want this to last atleast the next 3 yrs without feeling the need to upgrade.


Would it be feasible for you to just get a standalone 3D capable blu-ray player to hook up to the Denon receiver that this computer is going to connect to also? It would solve that problem. I was looking for a while for a blu-ray player for my comptuer because I have my Xbox, computer, and cable box hooked up to my Yamaha receiver in my room so I wanted wanted blu-ray to complete the entertainment package you know. Well I went through that whole ordeal about having to possibly buy decent blu-ray software to be able to play the blu-rays once I bought a $100 player for my computer. After a couple of months of being fed up with the shady ordeal I just said f*ck it and bought a refurbed standalone player on the cheap from cowboom.com. I'm actually happier that I got the standalone player now.

Or did I read this wrong and you want to play games in 3D also? Oh and I saw somebody mention that Llano wasn't good for 1080p resolution and blu-ray playback. Well, Llano probably isn't good for demanding games in 1080p res or 1920x1200 res but I'm pretty sure it'll play the living sh*t out of a blu-ray, not 3D of course. Unless I misread his comment also in which case that's 0 for 2 for me and I might just leave this thread all together lol.
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September 2, 2011 4:58:50 PM

AMD claims their A4-3300 (forget the M, I forgot it is impossible to buy AMD mobile parts) is blu-ray 3D ready.
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September 2, 2011 5:03:08 PM

ScrewySqrl said:
if you feel the need for 3D, then you will need to get a discrete card, as only those can do it yet.

Personally I think 3D is a fad, simply because of the headaches and washed out colors it creates


I think your right in a sense. I think the way 3d is done now is a fad but eventually someone is going to figure out how to do it without the headaches and what not..

Maybe even holograms could be the real 3d? The technology is there but its just not cost efficient.


Also Conkydoc, future proofing a computer is hard enough, especially with new technology coming out almost every 6 months. Now your throwing in the requirement of 3d which is still relatively new, I am just going to be honest with you and say that anything you buy involving 3d will probably last no more then 2 years before it needs to be replaced *assuming of course 3d doesnt become mainstream and doesnt stay the way it is*
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September 2, 2011 5:06:51 PM

arson94 said:
Would it be feasible for you to just get a standalone 3D capable blu-ray player to hook up to the Denon receiver that this computer is going to connect to also? It would solve that problem. I was looking for a while for a blu-ray player for my comptuer because I have my Xbox, computer, and cable box hooked up to my Yamaha receiver in my room so I wanted wanted blu-ray to complete the entertainment package you know. Well I went through that whole ordeal about having to possibly buy decent blu-ray software to be able to play the blu-rays once I bought a $100 player for my computer. After a couple of months of being fed up with the shady ordeal I just said f*ck it and bought a refurbed standalone player on the cheap from cowboom.com. I'm actually happier that I got the standalone player now.

Or did I read this wrong and you want to play games in 3D also? Oh and I saw somebody mention that Llano wasn't good for 1080p resolution and blu-ray playback. Well, Llano probably isn't good for demanding games in 1080p res or 1920x1200 res but I'm pretty sure it'll play the living sh*t out of a blu-ray, not 3D of course. Unless I misread his comment also in which case that's 0 for 2 for me and I might just leave this thread all together lol.



My situation is very similar to yours. It is a good suggestion. I am trying to avoid buying a xbox or ps3 or a tablet and be able to perform everyday surfing/streaming/music etc tasks in my living room. And sometimes try playing in full 50" high def splendor. Spooked that the A8 will become history in the next 6 months, once the Bulldozer are out.

And I didnt want to play games in 3D.
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September 2, 2011 5:07:50 PM

Llano is low end so will not be affected by bulldozer which is high end, the same reason why i7s don't steal sales of pentium gs. Llano was made for low power, non intensive uses such as a htpc. Even an old 1.6 c2d with integrated can play BR, remember these are prerendered frames so the gpu does very little, the cpu is decoding.

The problem is the fact that you mentioned gaming, a power hungry, intensive task. As llano is low end and not made for those purposes, you will need to turn down settings to have playable framerates.

The games you said aren't too demanding. So you could manage llano if you don't mind turning down settings and you could buy a discrete card later if need be. Otherwise an i3+6770 is good.
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September 2, 2011 5:18:44 PM

ScrewySqrl said:
if you feel the need for 3D, then you will need to get a discrete card, as only those can do it yet.

Personally I think 3D is a fad, simply because of the headaches and washed out colors it creates

Agreed I feel 3d will be dead in 3 years time.
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September 2, 2011 5:19:17 PM

From listening to everyone's opinion and comments, it seems that a8 is the way to go. However, I would like to know what a i3+6770 system would like. Any ideas, it terms of which micro-atx case can hold this monster and deal with the heat issues.

Also, I have been reading reviews on lot of the HD6770, most run quite hot. Any sub-vendor suggestions?

Then I can put a nail in the coffina nd start the buying process.
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September 2, 2011 5:38:56 PM

conkydoc said:
From listening to everyone's opinion and comments, it seems that a8 is the way to go. However, I would like to know what a i3+6770 system would like. Any ideas, it terms of which micro-atx case can hold this monster and deal with the heat issues.

Also, I have been reading reviews on lot of the HD6770, most run quite hot. Any sub-vendor suggestions?

Then I can put a nail in the coffina nd start the buying process.



I am not sure why I cant find the dimensions for the GPU you mentioned, however I just dont see it being possible in anyway to get that GPU in a MICRO case and even if you did, the heat would be ridiculous because they are not designed to have the airflow you would need.. I forsee many heat issues in your future if you are determined to have a micro case.

Anyway that's just my 2 cents, but if you can find the dimensions for the GPU u want (mainly length - since for some god aweful reason I just cant locate it) that would help figure out 100% whether the gpu could fit.
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September 2, 2011 5:43:26 PM

I stand corrected (A tech friend of mine said that the gpu should fit in the case vertically or back to front(depending on the case). Also I still think there would be some heating issues but ive already been wrong once haha
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September 2, 2011 6:32:13 PM

For a good micro-atx case, look no further than the Rosewill R102 case. I Have it and use it myself. Its currently on sale for $24.99 with free shipping (!), comes with a single 120mm fan in back, and space to mount a 120mm in front (I like the blue LED Rosewill 120mm fan for $7.99), and a side intake vent, that can be replaced with an 80mm fan. Both the fan I recommend and the included fan push 74 cfm of air at a rather quiet 29dB. In this small case, those two fans are really all you need for excellent airflow

Its a bit old-school in design (screws for holding HDDs, no removable cages, the 0.8mm metal can be rather sharp if you aren't careful), but all-metal design, simple, and can handle BIG heat sinks. It's not a 'HTPC' case, but its simple, practical design won't be obtrusive either.

the case can handle GPUs up to 9.25" in size...which means you can get up to a HD 6850 or a GTX 560ti in there, the low-end HTPC-style GPUs will easily fit with no sweat.
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September 2, 2011 6:38:08 PM

conkydoc said:
My situation is very similar to yours. It is a good suggestion. I am trying to avoid buying a xbox or ps3 or a tablet and be able to perform everyday surfing/streaming/music etc tasks in my living room. And sometimes try playing in full 50" high def splendor. Spooked that the A8 will become history in the next 6 months, once the Bulldozer are out.

And I didnt want to play games in 3D.



Well I checked the reviews on NewEgg for both desktop AMD APU's (A6-3650 and A8-3850)they have currently and reviewers are saying that 3D blu-ray playback works very well on them. So that problem is solved also. Your gaming might be hindered, but I think you probably figured as much.
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September 2, 2011 6:48:00 PM

again, gaming on the a8's 6550D isn't that hindered. get DDR3-1600 ram:






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September 2, 2011 6:58:23 PM

I disagree with everyone stating "i3 2100+6770"

In terms of HTPC's, that's going for a i3 2100 on load which would give you 65w. Then you got a 6770 that has a TDP of 146w (I believe). That'll double a single A8-3850's TDP. Now I understand that you want gaming performance, but the 6550D is plenty capable of handling games on low or medium, better than the i3 2105's IGPU at least.

A8-3850 review
http://www.anandtech.com/show/4476/amd-a83850-review/5
Those benches show the 6550D is capable of playing games at 1680x1050. Now quick question OP, are you going to mind playing in Window mode? If not, then yes it is best to go discrete. As shown, none of the lower end AMD cards play Civ5 very well.

To your "debate" BD is not replacing Llano, Llano is its own class of APU+CPU, Trinity will replace Llano with a BD chip and a 7 series APU. That would come in Late 2012.

Oh, I also agree with everyone stating 3D is going to die off.
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September 2, 2011 8:56:57 PM

aznshinobi said:
I disagree with everyone stating "i3 2100+6770"

In terms of HTPC's, that's going for a i3 2100 on load which would give you 65w. Then you got a 6770 that has a TDP of 146w (I believe). That'll double a single A8-3850's TDP. Now I understand that you want gaming performance, but the 6550D is plenty capable of handling games on low or medium, better than the i3 2105's IGPU at least.

A8-3850 review
http://www.anandtech.com/show/4476/amd-a83850-review/5
Those benches show the 6550D is capable of playing games at 1680x1050. Now quick question OP, are you going to mind playing in Window mode? If not, then yes it is best to go discrete. As shown, none of the lower end AMD cards play Civ5 very well.

To your "debate" BD is not replacing Llano, Llano is its own class of APU+CPU, Trinity will replace Llano with a BD chip and a 7 series APU. That would come in Late 2012.

Oh, I also agree with everyone stating 3D is going to die off.


Hmm... so if I do not want to compromise then i3 is the best option for now. It will be more power intensive, but I can switch it off when not in use.
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September 2, 2011 8:59:33 PM

^ Basically.
When I hear HTPC though, that generally is a PC that is always on or is on idle. As in it is the PC used to stream media, etc. entertainment around the house. So it'd be better to have lower TDP things. But if you're just going to turn it off when not in use. You can just go i3.
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September 2, 2011 9:13:07 PM

OK. Now off to research i3 models. Any recommendations for i3 + mobo (just to make my life easier)?

;)  Had done all the A8 reading...hahaha!!!
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September 2, 2011 9:25:27 PM

There's only 2 models of the i3....
i3 2100 (IGPU HD 2000) and the i3 2105 (IGPU HD 3000)
Bottom line
i3 2100 + Asrock H61M/U3S3
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September 2, 2011 10:12:07 PM

Never mind found the U3S3 mobo. It has great specs for the price.
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September 2, 2011 10:15:53 PM

with an H61, get DDR3-1333, otherwise DDR3-1600 is sort of the sweet spot right now.
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September 2, 2011 11:29:49 PM

The mobo suggested by shinobi doesn't support 1600 DDR3, will have to upgrade mobo in that case. I could not find RAM tests like the one for A8.

For A8 it is clear taht if you ise anything below 1600, there is a big performance difference. Is it similar for i3?
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September 3, 2011 5:22:28 AM

Well.... 1333 doesn't really perform all that much worse than 1600 for the SB platform. Maybe it effects the Llano platform, but not SB. The U3S3 MB is a solid one and good enough.

As for the A8-3850, the DDR3 1600 would be best for it, 1866 even better. The effect of the ram speed for SB (i3, i5, i7) is minimal. It wouldn't matter for SB, only for Llano.

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September 4, 2011 3:34:19 PM

Any suggestions for a HTPC case taht can accomodate a HD6770 on a microATX mobo with good heat dissipation? The rosewill suggested earlier is a mid tower, I need something to keep beside a denon AVR
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September 4, 2011 9:58:19 PM

a couple possibilities if you want to use a full-height card:

Cooler Master Elite 360: $39.99 + $9.99 shipping
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Its basically a standard mid tower, but designed to be run while on its side (as you can see from the orientation of the three 5.25" slots.

A couple nMediaPC cases:
This Steel HTPC 3000B: $59.99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Like the above, a mid tower designed to lay on it's side.

This, designed to look like an old-timey radio, $89.99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

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September 6, 2011 3:21:06 AM

First one is out of stock.

Second one has terrible reviews.

Third one is.....hmm.....dont like the looks at all on this one.

Any other suggestions??
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March 3, 2012 9:08:41 PM

conkydoc said:
Hmm...GPU would have to be a Radeon HD 6770. That is another 105W. The biggest question is to fit this into a micro atx case. Any suggestions?


this is my opinion, if he wants to play, hello this is not a psp, you will need a min of 650PSU if in a near/far future he'll want crossfire, a phenomII x980 at 3.2Ghz, and 8G of rams and a mobo that fits all this like asus evo, thats about it, make himself a wooden box like I did and leave it open cuz you dont want trapped heat inside even though it might have fans thats not good enough, have a pedestal fan blowing it. now for anything else besides gaming, get a tablet or a cheap laptop, games are the only software that can stretch to thin hardware performance. there is no point on building a small atx mobo or case if its gona sit either next to the monitor or desk, pss whats the point? and if he says something bout this, search for torturerack case, that will help alot. dont expect a low powered high end machine, that just doesnt exist lol.
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