HTPC questions

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HTPC questions

Post by Hezu » Tue Sep 15, 2009 1:09 pm

Since my parents recently got a new Full HD TV and there is no true HD input sources hooked to it yet, I got idea to build a HTPC to remedy that problem. I already have few ideas and few surplus components that I would like to use, but there is few conflicting wishes. These componets are:
- Terratec Cinergy 1200 DVB-C PCI card
- Sapphire Radeon HD 4670 Ultimate PCI-E graphics card
- Scythe Ninja+ CPU cooler
- Samsung HD501LJ 500 GB SATA HDD (or actually I have two of these)

The problem here is that I would like to build this computer in small form factor, but the three first components above are rather big. And stricly speaking eliminating these may not be end of the world, since first the display device is indeed a TV and there is also Humax DVB recorder hooked to it, so the tuner card may not necessarily get that much use, although might still be handy since it would allow that one could eg. watch telly and browse Internet at the same time. I also suppose modern integrated GPUs may suffice and the reason this Sapphire graphics card is not in use at the moment is that I fed up fighting with ATI fglrx Linux drivers, thus I am bit unsure if these drivers even work any better under Ubuntu (the primary OS candidate for this new HTPC) than Debian "sid". Then only thing why I would like to reuse the CPU cooler and HDD(s) is to save few euros.

So, I seek other opinions on the situation:
1. should I scrap the idea of small computer or seek savings by using old components?
2. if I leave out the big CPU cooler and perhaps the graphics card too, are there any good ITX motherboards with PCI slot and GPU with good video acceleration and Linux drivers? Something based on Geforce 9400 I guess. And what sort of small cases I should I look into if I want that full height PCI slot and 3.5" HDD (and perhaps also "normal" 5.25" optical drive)?

And I guess it is obvious that in any case, this setup should be a quiet one...

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Post by jhhoffma » Thu Sep 17, 2009 5:33 am

Why ITX? You're pretty much limited to Atom/ION systems with HD decode to make it worthwhile.

I'd recommend a 780G/785G based Athlon microATX system. That will allow you enough slots for tuners, get rid of the GPU (unless you need 7.1 LPCM) and use slightly larger cases (like the Antec HTPC cases) that will fit a mATX motherboard and full size cards along with a Ninja Mini to cool the CPU, which is another critical choice.

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Post by trandy1001 » Thu Sep 17, 2009 7:02 am

There are capable mini-itx motherboards out there (the Nvidia Ion platform comes to mind, as well as a couple G45 based socket LGA775 motherboards and AM2 8200/780G based itx boards). There is no advantage really except smaller size. I would much rather suggest a micro-atx motherboard because you would save quite a bit of money.

you would be hard pressed to find an unobtrusive enclosure with a full sized ninja as a cooler. Might be worth it to change out to a lower profile cooler, otherwise your parts seem more than reasonable. I'd definitely go for the HD4670 if you want to do some light gaming, otherwise onboard video is more than sufficient for video playback. Also the surround sound comment is important if you have an hdmi compatible surround sound system.

Otherwise, 3.5mm to rca adapters should work fine in any older receiver. Some motherboards even have built in spdif out via coaxial or optical out.

prepare to spend lots of money for bitstreaming of high resolution audio formats like DD TrueHD or DTS-Master Audio.

Sounds like your needs are pretty basic, so disregard most of what i've said.

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Post by barefootzero » Thu Sep 17, 2009 9:35 am

There are basically to worth while levels of HTPC in my opinion
Level 1: mainly gets used for displaying internet TV (like Hulu) and pictures and videos of the grand kids. Maybe playing Blu-Rays (about $160 for drive plus software)
Level 2: That plus Playing PC games ported from consoles.

I think you will be happiest if you set you priorities as follows...
1) reliability
2) sufficient performance with a little head room
3) noise
4) form factor
5) power consumption

priority 1 is obvious. This means don't by the cheapest MB or PSU.

priority 2 means you don't want a CPU that will be nearly maxed out at any time because if adobe upgrades flash or netflix starts streaming HD your system will become obsolete. So I recommend at least an Athlon 240 or similar.

priority 3 means your parents wont like a wind tunnel in there family room. It also means don't put a fan cooled GPU in your system unless you have to. You also don't want to fill the thing up with drives.

priority 4 does not mean the system needs to be small. It means the system has to be the right size. If your parents have an AV stack it should be the width and depth to work with that. if they have a cabinet where they want it that means it needs to fit there. Just blindly building the smallest PC isn't worth it. IMO I would rather have a taller system with a quieter HSF then a shorter one that is louder. The form factor might also put some constraints on cooling and thus power consumption. If they are willing to get a blu-ray player and you use a PicoPSU then your system might be little more then an HD connected to a MB with cpu, ram and HSF.

priority 5 By this point the other objectives probably took care of this one but it is still something to think about. The only trade off might be getting a slightly quieter but slightly less efficient PSU but if your system is light enough to run a PicoPSU then that will also help with form factor, noise, and efficiency.

Regarding Tuners:
Recording tv is a waste of time IMO and your parents already have a DVR anyway. All my experiences trying to set up a HTPC with any sort of tuner have been a giant disappointment.

If you are planning to build your own case you give yourself alot of options. Depending on your available tools it is not very difficult to make a basic wood case.

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Post by Hezu » Thu Sep 17, 2009 1:06 pm

barefootzero wrote:If you are planning to build your own case you give yourself alot of options. Depending on your available tools it is not very difficult to make a basic wood case.
I think this can be ruled out, the case will be something readily available and I guess the fanciest modification I may do to it would be a fan swap.

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