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 Post subject: HTPC Build - A few questions
PostPosted: Mon Dec 17, 2007 3:51 am 
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Hi all. I'm a long-time reader, first-time poster. I've been running an HTPC for some 7 years now. The system has served me well over the years but just isn't up to dealing with modern 1080p content. I'm planning on getting an nice shiny HD TV in the January sales and will need to bring my HTPC up to date in order to play HD content.

For me, near-silent running is paramount for an HTPC. Yes, you can't hear the PC running when a film is on or music is playing however the TV is not always on and I like the lounge to be quiet when it's not on. The PC will be dedicated to media playing and I will be doing nothing else with it at all. I'd like the kit to fit in with my existing HiFi gear and consequently am looking at an Antec NSK2480 or a Fusion v2.

This brings me to my first question. Primarily, I'm going to be controlling this by IR. The Fusion v2 comes with an integral MCE-compatible IR receiver but I've read here on SPCR that there are some issues with the VFD/Volume control drivers on the Fusion. The review was over a year ago now and I note that the original review case did not include an IR receiver, so I can only assume that the case has been updated since the review. Anyone know if the issues reported on this review page are still a problem for the Fusion v2? Also, can anyone confirm that the Fusion v2 uses IR and not IRDA (ie. it uses the same wavelengths as standard HiFi equipment remote controls and should work with most universal remotes)?

I'm going to load the HTPC case with an Asus M2A-VM HDMI motherboard running an AMD 64 X2 BE-2400+ processor. These seem like the better option at the moment for my application. The onboard graphics and sound provide everything I need without my having to buy additional heat-generating hardware. Certainly video playback will be fine as tested in this review and it's got integrated HDMI output to go straight to the TV. I've some concerns about the audio as I've yet to encounter a single integrated audio solution that did not suffer from interference noise from other motherboard components. Guess, I'll have to test it out but I'm expecting to have to buy an after-market sound-card as well.

I've not yet decided what CPU cooler to put on the processor as yet. From what I've read in these forums, I've got around 110mm clearance. The Scythe Ninja Mini should fit but I've not seen a review of these on SPCR and that makes me a little nervous. Add in the fact that this only fits an 80mm fan and I get really antsy. I could run it passive and fit two 120mm exhaust fans on the case (probably Nexus or Noctua) but I'm not sure this will work. Any advice on CPU coolers?

HDD isn't a problem. I run a big ol' noisy fileserver in the loft. It's got plenty of storage and I'll be streaming all media content from this machine. A small notebook drive will suffice. I'll pick something nearer the time. I've considered network booting but I think that's probably taking things a little too far.

Finally, there's the PSU. The case comes with it's own PSU which I'm considering keeping. I've had some experience of Antec PSUs in the past, most die within a couple of years and I'm not sure they're passing enough airflow through to keep the componentry cool. I've had to swap out for Seasonic PSUs a couple of times (I've used Antec Sonata cases fairly extensively in the past) and am considering jus taking out the PSU straight away. At peak the system should use a little under 90W. This means I might be able to fit in a Pico PSU. They do a 90W PSU kit but the numbers don't seem to add up. The kit features a AC-DC 12V, 5A Switching Power Adapter (110/220V)...doesn't this mean it will output 60W (12v * 5A) as a maximum? The other option is the 120W kit and that features a nasty 36dbA fan as reported in this review. This seems to only kick in at 90W load, so I *should* be OK...but again, this makes me a little nervous. Are my calculations on the 90W supply wrong? I'm thinking I should probably take the safe route and go with the Antec supply and upgrade to the smallest Seasonic I can find once that dies. Any advice guys?

Anyway, that's about all the questions I have for now. Any guidance would be much appreciated.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 17, 2007 8:37 am 
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Your power calculations are correct - that AC adapter outputs 60W max. Seems a bit strange to put this in a kit with a 90W pciopsu. However, you could go for the 12V 6.6A version which should roughly give you 80W. You can find it here.

I'm not sure about the power needs of your individual components, but I would have thought 80W would be enough as long as you don't add any graphics cards and stick to the 1 laptop drive.
Also, the fan in the 120W AC Adapter only kicks in under high loads. This according to the spcr picopsu review.
Quote:
Because of the fan, the 120W brick is best treated as a 90W unit that can sustain short peaks of 120W. Any sustained load above 90W would be unacceptable to users of quiet systems.

How did you get to the 90W figure? If that is the max theoretic power draw, consider it very unlikely you can achieve this with normal use (IE without running cpu, memory and disk stress simultaneously)

FWIW, I'm using this 120W AC adapter with my D201GLY, 3x 500GB Samsung T166, 6-port RAID Controller and a 120mm nexus fan with the 120W PicoPsu, and have not heard the fan in the ac brick. Saying that, I have yet to undervolt the fan in the system (it is definitely audible at the moment) so maybe I missed the fan from the brick.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 21, 2007 2:24 am 
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murtoz wrote:
How did you get to the 90W figure? If that is the max theoretic power draw, consider it very unlikely you can achieve this with normal use (IE without running cpu, memory and disk stress simultaneously)

Thanks for the response. I got the power requirements from http://www.silentpcreview.com/article778-page4.html. You're right in that they only break 80W with CPU Burn and ATI Tool. Average consumption for video decode should be around 65W. It's looking like a 120W PicoPSU might be the way forward.

I'm going to pick up all this kit late January. I'll be sure to post back and let ppl know how it's going.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 21, 2007 9:17 am 
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I would pick up a low speed recommended 80mm fan and swap the fan out of the Antec PSU. The psu is a very high quality 80 plus unit made by seasonic. The only downside to this PSU is the fan speed at low load. Your system uses so little power that a decent PSU with a slow fan will have no problems cooling itself in the isolated chamber of the NSK2480.

As for the CPU cooler, a fanless mini ninja can easily cope with that processor if you put a 120mm fan in next to it. I recommend that you run the 120mm case fan off the CPU header.


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 04, 2008 8:03 am 
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Okay, Xmas is over and I've got a bit more time to work on this project. Going to buy in the next week or two. The finalised kit-list is:

Antec NSK2480
I'm going with the NSK because the iMon VFD/IR Receiver in the Antec Fusion v2 is extremely poor. A number of users are experiencing problems with lockups and poor remote interoperability. More detail can be found on the Antec forums on Soundgraph's website. I've got an old USB-UIRT which will handle my IR Receiving requirements well. It uses standard IR (as opposed to IRDA) and works in conjunction with the Logitech Harmony remote that I'm using. Ideally I would have liked to do this with a bay mounted IR receiver but that wasn't to be. I might break out the dremel and try to bay-mount the USB UIRT after the build is complete. I'll see how much the external receiver bugs me. I'll also be sticking with the internal PSU. I may mod this with an SPCR recommended 80mm fan or use a PicoPSU. Will see how noisy it is once the system is built.

Asus M2A-VM HDMI
Solid MicroATX board with good onboard VGA with HDMI outputs. Might have to spring for a PCI sound card depending on the audio quality, will decide once I see how the integrated solution performs.

AMD 64 X2 BE-2400
35W Energy efficient processor. Should be able to handle HD decoding.

Sycthe Minja
No fan. Placement is close enough to the case exhaust to allow this to do the job.

2Gb Crucial PC-6400 DDR2 RAM
Should be more than enough.

60GB Western Digital WD600BEVS
Assuming this is as quiet as the SPCR recommended WD1200BEVS. I don't really need 120Gb as all of my media is stored on a remote fileserver. This drive will just hold the OS. Tempted by SSD but they are still too expensive at the moment. Maybe in a future upgrade.

Scythe SQD 2.5 HDD Caddy
This should eliminate any HDD noise that might be audible above the case/psu fans.

2 x Scythe SFlex 1200RPM 120mm Fans
A couple of case fans. I may only use one depending on how the internal temps run. I'll run one off the CPU header as recommended by autoboy.

I should be able to pick this lot up for ~£300 all-in. Not bad for a quiet, HD ready media-centre. I'll post an update once I've bought and built. Thanks for the advice thus-far. :)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2008 6:00 am 
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Bought the kit and assembled last night. Not had time to load the OS/Software yet but have had a bit of a play to get an idea how it sounds.

Had to go with Noctua fans in the end due to stock issues. Only running with one at the moment and placed it near the Minja, blowing air out of the case. I'm running it off the CPU header with all the BIOS options for fan control, etc. switched on. It's pretty damn quiet when the CPU is at idle. Temps hang around the 30C mark, which is fine. Obviously this is going to change under load, I'll sort out that testing once I have my OS in place.

The HDD is completely inaudible. Nice. Some reservations about the SQD caddy. The screw threads for attaching the caddy to the case are non-standard. This will usually be OK as they supply their own screws however, the NSK 2480 comes with it's own long screws for mounting drives via the rubber silencing grommets that are embedded in all the drive bays. These did not fit the SQD holes and I ended up having to tap the thread with one of the screws. The result is a not-perfect fit and there's some play room there. It's fitted well enough but shouldn't have been that hard to assemble...bit of a pain in the bum.

The PSU fan is quite loud when the system is at idle. I think I'm going to have to change the fan. Given that the PSU seems to throttle the fan based on load, I'm going to have to ensure the fan I emplye doesn't stop spinning at low load...always want a little airflow. I'll check the recommended list and do some research.

I'll post more updates once I'm further along in the build.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2008 7:39 am 
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There's a discussion on fan-swapping the SU380 in the PSU forum. One good suggestion is to use the fan that comes with the Scythe Mini Ninja. This fan is a close enough match to the stock PSU fan, but it's considerably quieter at low speed, and our review sample started as low as 2.5V, which means it can be a very simple fan swap, no messing with alternative fan headers.

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Last edited by MikeC on Tue Jan 22, 2008 4:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2008 3:51 pm 
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Tagging along with this thread, dont know how to bookmark it yet.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2008 6:04 am 
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MikeC wrote:
There's a discussion on fan-swapping the SU380 in the PSU forum. One good suggestion is to use the fan that comes with the Scythe Mini Ninja. This fan is a close enough match to the stock PSU fan, but it's considerably quieter at low speed, and our review sample started as low as 2.5V, which means it can be a very simple fan swap, no messing with alternative fan headers.

Thanks for the pointer. I'd spotted that thread earlier yesterday. Unfortunately, things didn't go too well. Swapped over the fans without a problem. Ran a quick test to ensure everything was OK, it was. Bolted the PSU cover back on but forgot to disconnect it from the mains first (I know, I know...stupid). Case made contact with the PSU internals and shorted out the PSU. Very stupid indeed...that'll teach me not to rush things! Anyway, end result is that the PSU is completely fried, it's not just a bust fuse. I've put in an order for a Seasonic S12-380, which should be arriving on Thursday. Given that it doesn't ramp up until around 150W (my little system should go nowhere near that level of power usage), I'm expecting it to be very quiet indeed. I'll post more once I've installed it.

treejohnny: At the bottom of this thread, to the left, under the "page 1 of 1" text is a link which will allow you to monitor this thread. ;)


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 Post subject: How's the build?
PostPosted: Thu Jan 24, 2008 3:34 pm 
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Detritus,

I camce across your post with great interest as I am just in the process of planning a re-build of my HTPC, and I was considering that same motherboard and processor.

The alternative would be a p-35 variant and a passively cooled nVidia card (not sure which model yet).

The question I have is whether you are happy with the video and sound quality on that board or not?

Going with this board and CPU, together with utilizing the onboard stuff would save me hundreds of $$, so it is a pretty compelling idea.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Kook


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 Post subject: Re: How's the build?
PostPosted: Fri Jan 25, 2008 4:42 am 
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OK, another quick update.

The Seasonic PSU arrived yesterday. I installed it and fired up the machine. Everything fired up fine and I'm very impressed with the noise levels. The build is easily a lot quieter than my existing media centre build (Sonata Mid-Tower case). I can't hear disk access at all. Even with my ear on the case. There's a slight buzzing noise from the PSU but again, this is only audible with my ear right next to the case. I can hear the PSU and Noctua fans but only when my ear is within 3 foot or so of the case. From any reasonable distance the build is inaudible, even in a quiet room.

I've put XP on the machine but, as yet, it's just a vanilla build. Once I've had more time to look at it this weekend I can look at heat under load and tweak things. During OS build the case fan never cranked up speed at all. That having been said, the case was open during the build (had to jury-rig in a CD-ROM for the initial OS build) and I may need to add in an extra fan to keep things cool during extended 1080p playback. Will have to see...

ob_kook wrote:
The question I have is whether you are happy with the video and sound quality on that board or not?

Ob, as mentioned above, I've not got to the audio/video playback testing yet. I'm hoping to grab some time this weekend to work on it. I have a kid, so whether I manage to finish the build this weekend is in the lap of the gods. That having been said, the build is largely based around one mentioned in this silentpc article. You'll note Mike says:
Quote:
The Radeon X1250 integrated graphics chip powered through the video playback section of our test effortlessly until the WVC1 encoded test clip. Though the average CPU usage was only 64% during this test, CPU usage peaked at about 85% on both cores during the most stressful portion of the video. Still, playback was smooth, without visual hiccups.

I've some reservations about playback of audio, but I'm expecting/hoping visual playback will be smooth.

How are you serving files to your machine? I have a back-end fileserver, the costs of which are not included here as it's salvaged from various bits I had lying around. You'll need to up the cost for extra storage and silencing if you're planning on keeping all the media locally.


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 Post subject: Re: How's the build?
PostPosted: Fri Jan 25, 2008 6:11 pm 
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Detritus wrote:
How are you serving files to your machine? I have a back-end fileserver, the costs of which are not included here as it's salvaged from various bits I had lying around. You'll need to up the cost for extra storage and silencing if you're planning on keeping all the media locally.


I'm running Vista Ultimate upstairs with 1.5TB RAID shared disk to the HTPC downstairs (also Vista Ultimate).

I am going to give this rig a try, and I'll use the Digital Co-AX audio out (yeah, the extender takes up a slot on this mobo, but what are you going to do?) directlly to my Denon home theater amp.

Video will be RGB to the same amp at first, and HDMI if I am not happy with the results.

I am trying to decide between Media Center and the open source MediaPortal for the main application, as well as TheaterTek or Media Player for the DVD software.

Any ideas/opinions on these?

Also, given the mobo, efficient CPU, and 2.5" HDD, what size PSU should I be looking at? I would guess something in the 350 to 400 range ought to be grunty enough, right?

I will give you my feedback with the similar setup - I think I will go shopping this afternoon. (Currently in Tokyo near Akiba Electric Town, so I can pick up everything I need!).


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 Post subject: Re: How's the build?
PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2008 2:18 am 
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ob_kook wrote:
I am trying to decide between Media Center and the open source MediaPortal for the main application, as well as TheaterTek or Media Player for the DVD software.

Any ideas/opinions on these?

Also, given the mobo, efficient CPU, and 2.5" HDD, what size PSU should I be looking at? I would guess something in the 350 to 400 range ought to be grunty enough, right?

I didn't want to go with Media Centre because of codec issues. On my old media centre, I used to run with Meedio and have become rather spoiled by the fact I could just install a codec and watch a film...no piddling around with things like ffdshow. As a consequence, I've gone with Media Portal.

My experience with Media Portal has been OK. Had some initial problems getting the remote set up with the USB-UIRT and Logitech Harmony remote that I cannabilised from my last rig. Nothing major, but it took a little reading around and there's just not much useful info out there about IR setup for PCs. It's all working now, though, so no problem in the end.

Media Portal is pretty good. It seems like the developers have been a little third-party mod unfriendly in recent releases. They've changed some of the internal stuff and not published any kind of interface spec which is making it difficult for plugin writers and skinners. As a consequence, there don't seem to be a great many plugins for it, and those that exist lack polish. There are a couple of good skins out (Spinsafe Revolve and Xface look good to me) and a few select plugins that work well and look good into the bargain (particularly like MyTVSeries). The core application is pretty solid. It requires a fair bit of time to set-up but once you've mastered it, it can look really good. There's a few interface peculiarities to work around but nothing too serious. In balance, I'd probably go with Media Portal if I had to make the choice again. I'd rather have something that takes a bit of time to setup but flexible than something easy to set up but fixed. They're working towards a 1.0 final for Media Portal now. No new features are being included and they're focussing on stability. Good news imo. They are also working on Media Portal 2.0, a complete rewrite. This also looks good but I'm not going near it until it has a stable release.

Answering your other question about PSU. The spec I quoted above should have a maximum power draw of ~90W. Get the smallest, quietest Seasonic you can, imo.

I've finally had time to play around a little and get Speedfan installed and test out video playback. Frankly I'm astounded by the image quality from this rig. It is orders of magnitude better than my old media centre and I couldn't be happier with this (caveat: I've not got my 1080p TV yet, so I'm just viewing standard def files). I'm not using the digital out yet but sound quality is fine through the standard audio jack, although it seems a little bassy to me. There may be some post-processing going on, I'll check when I get time.

CPU usage is minimal during standard def playback. I've not tried any of the HD files yet. I still have to install the appropriate codecs. I'm a little concerned about temps. At startup the CPU idles at around 31C. This gradually rises to 39C over time and sticks there. Standard def video playback gets the temps up to around 42C (short test) and I'm expecting it to level off at about 45C. This is with CPU utilisation of around 10%. I can expect this to rise much more under load. I can't find much detail about acceptable temps for the AMD 64 X2 BE-2400 but what I can find indicates a max temp of 55C-78C (quite why AMD publish a range of temps as a "max" I have no idea). I'm certain that under extended playback of 1080p content the CPU will breach 55C, although it is extremely unlikely to break 78C. For now I'm going to switch on the logging and embark on some more extended testing.

If anyone can give me an indication of the kind of temps that are safe for the AMD 64 X2 BE-2400, I'd appreciate it.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2008 8:18 am 
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I do not have any hands on experience with an athlon be so it`s only an indication, but anything up to 60c should be a safe temperature.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 12, 2008 2:02 am 
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Thanks for that. I've set-up an event in Speedfan to shut the system down at 60C. I don't seem to be getting close to that at the moment but I'm not really playing HD for long periods of time yet. That's soon to change, however, as I've just dropped some cash on a 40" HDTV. I'll run some more protracted tests once that arrives.

On the subject of HD decoding. I downloaded the Serenity HD trailer. It's supposed to be one of the more demanding clips you can play. I had no problems with quality of playback, it was smooth as you like. Granted this was all fed out over S-Video to a CRT but that shouldn't change the resource usage profile of the clip.

Essentially, I'm exceptionally happy with this build. Performance is right where I want it and the system is inaudible to me. I get the impression that, even if I do have to slap in an extra exhaust fan it will remain very quiet if not inaudible...that's conjecture for the moment though. I'll be sure to post here if I end up taking that route.

I think this project is winding up now. I've got a few software issues to work out:
- If I send the machine into S3 standby, when it resumes the USB-UIRT IR receiver/transmitted is disabled. Not sure how to fix this. Don't want to use Girder because I've programmed the remote directly in Media Portal and I'm fairly sure if I load Girder on there, I'll lose my config and have to deal with the more complex config in Girder.
- Some problems playing a test HD WMV file in Media Portal. File plays fine in Media Player. Not sure what's causing this at the moment.

Aside from that, everything is working wonderfully. :)


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 21, 2008 3:28 pm 
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I've just bought and installed an HDTV. The TV is lovely but I have encountered major problems with the 1080p output from the Asus M2A-VM HDMI. The screen flickers randomly with all video output at > 720p. This means I'm currently stuck at 720p. The culprit seems to be the ATI x1250 gfx chipset. There's not a lot of support from ATI on the problem and, given AMDs current financial challenges, I'm not expecting a resolution any time soon. Looks like I may have to go with an 8xxx series nvidia card to get true 1080p without any associate issues. Wanted to post this warning here for those that may try a similar build.

One other thing of note. Any version of the ATI Catalyst drivers beyond 7.2 causes random lockups with Media Portal on the Asus M2A-VM HDMI. I've downgraded to that version and all seems to be well.

I now have a working 720p Media Centre. Very disappointed in how shonky the HD support is for this board. Definitely not the all-in-one solution it purports to be.


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