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Help! Home Server / HTPC advice ...

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October 19, 2011 1:39:09 PM

My first post here, so HI EVERYONE!

I'm planning to build a low-cost home server / basic htpc and I need some advice on choosing the right hardware [particularly for the HTPC part].

First i will describe the functions it will perform, then I will give a little more information about the system requirements, and lastly i will list the hardware I have chosen so far.

Any comments or suggestions will be greatly appreciated.


To start with, it should have the following functions;

SERVER
- print server
- file backup
- file server
- media server
- net access point
- torrent client

HTPC
- HD playback
- watch TV
- record TV
- music jukebox

And of course occasional, light desktop usage [web browsing, checking emails, viewing documents, etc]


Some extra info:

It will be running some form of *nix, will be headless most of the time and will be connected to my TV and most likely, to a set of PC speakers. Nothing too fancy.

It will be storing, backing up and serving mostly small files, such as pictures, mp3s, ebooks, pdfs, documents and so on. We don't watch too much TV, but we would like to watch the occasional [possibly HD] film and record a must-see show from time to time.

I will not be playing any games on it. At all. Ok, maybe SNES emulation from time to time, but that's it!

The system must be silent, fanless and low power [as it will be running non-stop in the living room].


OK, so the hardware I've chosen so far is:

RAM: 2 x 2gb OCZ DDR3 PC3-10666 Gold Edition
Motherboard: Intel D525MW
OS Hard Drive: Kingston SSD [Seem cheap and good enough, but not sure which model]
Data Hard Drive: No idea yet.
Case: No idea yet.
TV Tuner: Hauppauge WinTV-NOVA-TD 500 OR Peak PCI DVB-T TV Tuner
HD Decoder: Broadcom BCM70015
Wifi Card: TP-Link TL-WN951N
PSU: PicoPSU 150XT

This works out cheaper for me than any ION / Fusion based motherboard setup I have come across.

So if anyone has any questions / comments / help / suggestions, please let me know.

Thank you.
October 19, 2011 3:44:36 PM

An interesting project.

With the Wifi+BroadcomHD+Atom combo, I can't imagine it being much less than a fusion board. With a little froogling:

Intel D515MW = ~£55
BroadcomHD = ~£30
PCI Wifi = ~£20

Total = ~£105

That compared to a full featured Fusion board like the ASUS E35M1-I Deluxe = £121 @ Dabs

So it looks like you're saving ~£16. However, that Intel board does not have HDMI or DVI out... only VGA. That will prevent you from playing any HDCP content and will not bitstream any audio (HD or SD).

I say go for a nice Fusion board.

That's my 2¢.
October 19, 2011 8:43:08 PM

hi rwpritchett,

Thanks for your input! Great, pertinent comparison and good choice of motherboard; I have also been considering the ASUS E35M1-Deluxe.

Thing is, I'm based in Europe and with delivery costs / local product availability / exchange rates I haven't been able to get the prices so similar. In fact I found the HD decoder selling for 25 quid and the WiFi card for a tenner. I will keep looking though as I like your thinking!

I am very mindful of the limitations of the D525MW [no HDMI, no DVI, no S/PDIF, only 2x SATA ports, only one mini PCIe, only one PCI, no USB 3 etc]; it should be enough for my current needs, but provides little headroom for the future. Headroom vs extra cost...

However, regarding the lack of HDMI port; it is my understanding that with some televisions it is possible to display Full HD videos via VGA cable [not to be confused with VGA resolution, of course]. Is this different from HDCP?

I also wonder about the quality of the MiniPCIe WiFi card shipped with these "Deluxe" boards.. I have had no experience with them. Can anyone shed any light on this? [Please bear in mind my setup requires the WiFi card to be running in "master mode"].

Another point i would appreciate any info about would be the performance of AMD GPUs [or APUs] under *nix: Does the well-known weakness of the driver support affect performance to the point of making the extra cost pointless?

And what about the differences in power usage, temperature, cpu usage, RAM usage in a Fusion / ION system VS a system with GFX + HD decoder? Is it significant in any way?


Any more questions, comments, etc will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks again.
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October 19, 2011 10:06:10 PM

HDCP = High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection

This will stop one from playing copy protected material, like blu-ray discs, using a digital connection if it is not HDCP compliant. VGA can output 1920x1080 rez and will be able to play HDCP content as long as there is not an ICT flag.

ICT = Image Constraint Token

With HDCP, there is the possibility that the film you want to watch has the ICT flag set. In that case, VGA will not work. Which movies have IDT? IDK :)  I think most movies do not have it but I haven't looked to much into it.

That being said, it's just a good idea to go with a modern HDMI connection that is HDCP compliant.

For your Wifi question, I swapped out the wireless on my own deluxe board because I wanted wireless-n @ 5GHz dual band to cut down on interfering signals. See the link in my sig for details on that. The Intel 6300 I installed picks up signal really good, better than my PCI 5GHz n card. AFAIK, all bundled wireless-n chips on these motherboards are of the 2.4GHz single band variety. If you are only interested in wireless-g or wireless-n @ 2.4GHz, then they work perfectly fine.

I haven't dabbled in Linux for a few years... I remember ATI drivers sucking in Linux though compared to Nvidia. That may have changed since. I suggest you check the Ubuntu forums for Linux video driver experience.

For your power questions, My fusion setup now idles at 36W, 1080p playback bumps it up to 46.7W. You may have even better #'s using 240VAC. Actually, the new Sandy Bridge dual core CPU's have similar power draw, though they are not fanless.
October 19, 2011 11:03:35 PM

I am running a home network withree desktop systems. I have a separate torrent box, primarily for security. I have up to date firewall and antivirus software but the torrent box has still been corrupted by viruses twice in about one and a half years.

If at all possible, I recommend a separate system for your torrent client.
October 20, 2011 2:36:31 PM

Thank you for the information about HDPC and ICT. Definately something to think about.

I've also heard good things about those Intel WiFi cards, but the FreeBSD driver [FreeBSD is my *nix of choice] doesn't support master mode.

The bundled WiFi card uses the AR9285 chip [correct me if i'm wrong] and this runs in master mode using the "ath" driver. This driver, however, is limited to 802.11g, as are most master-mode-enabled freebsd drivers.

Having never streamed media over my network, I'm not sure if a wireless-g will suffice. As previously mentioned the system will be providing internet access for up to 5 clients and streaming mostly mp3's, maybe some lower quality movies from time to time, but definitely not HD films.

As for power usage that seems pretty high to me. I'm guessing that is with 3.5" hard disks and a 5.25" DVD rom type thingy..?

@ jsc: Thank you for the warning. Could you tell me which operating system you are running? And what steps you have taken to secure it?
October 21, 2011 12:11:18 PM

Due to hardware compatibility issues I'm having to rethink my setup.

My OS of choice [FreeBSD] can only support full HD playback via Nvidia's VDPAU [no ATI support, no Broadcom decoder drivers, etc].

Therefore I have to choose a motherboard with PCIe and stick in a VDPAU compatible card.

The cheapest, smallest, passively cooled, HDCP compliant, audio-output-viaHDMI card I have seen so far is this one:

Zotac GeForce 210 Synergy Addition

According to this list, it supports HD playback and hardware acceleration of most of the codecs i use.

Does anyone know of a cheaper alternative with similar features? I've been unable to find one cheaper than 22 quid.

And this means my first motherboard choice [Intel D525MW] is no good as it doesn't have PCIe.

Does anyone know of a low cost, low power, fanless board which has PCIe without an unnecessary GPU [unneceassry for my purposes, that is] like the Fusion / ION boards?

!