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 Post subject: Multipurpose living room PC (stage 3)
PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2010 6:21 pm 
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Location: Austin, TX
...Or LRPC for short. This has a few different purposes to it, and so isn't as optimized as it could be.

Intended Purposes

Purpose 1: Media Playback

The first purpose (and the original reason for looking at putting a PC in the living room) was to be a media center, mostly to hold our DVD collection so we wouldn't have to try and find something in the entire bookshelf we've got packed with cases (something like 400 discs). Since the house unfortunately isn't wired for Ethernet, connectivity is via wireless (802.11g in a crowded area) and we wanted to avoid any potential slowdowns so we wanted to have the files stay on the PC, which means storage is required.

You can certainly get cute little SFF HTPCs, but I did want to ensure we'd have the power to run any files we threw at it without GPU acceleration (though the hope was that we'd have GPU acceleration available). I had a few spare parts around to harvest (P182 and Corsair TX650W PSU), so anything up to and including ATX format would end up working out fine.

Since we've got a 1080i-capable TV now (and will eventually replace our RPTV with a flat-panel of some variety), Blu-ray support would be nice to have (and BD-ROM drives aren't terribly expensive, so a doable option).

Purpose 2: Media Transcoding

Both for ripping our movie library to disc (at a reasonable size) and for encoding home video to usable formats, transcoding could be very handy to have done on this machine (saves on the hassle of moving across the wireless network). The more cores for this, the better.

Purpose 3: Gaming

Okay, so you're going to have a PC hooked up to the big-screen in your living room. What else would you want to do on it other than watch movies? Oversized gaming console, of course! I do more PC gaming than console (most recent console I've got is a PS2), and especially with the various games I've got on Steam, it makes it easy to have a game library at hand. So being able to get some gaming in on the big-screen would be nice.


System Specs

So here's what we ended up with:

Case: Antec P182 [SCPR review]

I had this extra after moving my home server over to mini-ITX form. It's a good case and has plenty of room for drives, so could serve well as a playback and storage system.

PSU: Corsair TX650W [SCPR review]

This was also left over from the server move. Overkill to be sure, but it's a pretty efficient supply, so shouldn't do too badly even at a low load.

Motherboard: MSI 785GM-E65 [SCPR review]

The 785G seemed to be a good combination of features, IGP power, and power consumption. I wanted to have a motherboard that would support a decent number of drives, have digital audio out (ideally coax, but that's hard to find), support Firewire (for my HDV camcorder), and for the future be able to support audio over HDMI. Having a chance to support mild gaming without a discrete card was a plus.

CPU: Athlon II X4 630 (quad-core 2.8GHz, 95W)

Seemed to be a pretty decent value proposition for getting extra cores for handling transcoding duties, without being too thirsty for power (comparatively) or extremely hot. TDP could be better, but it's certainly not bad. Nice and responsive, and it looks like the various encoding tools I've been using support all the cores, which speeds up the process nicely.

Heatsink: Xigmatek HDT-S1283

Originally I had the stock AMD heatsink, but on Prime95 that led to temps higher than I felt comfortable with, so I swapped out with the HDT-S1283, which I had in the office PC and I knew to be a reasonably-quiet and decently-performing heatsink (though overkill on the office PC).

RAM: 2x 2GB DDR3-1333 (G.Skill)

Fairly standard DDR3. Made sure to go for 1.5V instead of some of the higher-voltage sticks to try and save some extra power. I don't get the CAS8 advertised (instead get CAS9), but I haven't looked into that, so for all I know there's a setting that would help. In any case, I doubt the difference in latency is too noticeable.

Video card: HD4200 IGP (for now)

Eventually I'll have a real GPU for real game-playing, but for now the IGP works, even supporting some low-res (480p) gaming.

Wireless NIC: D-Link DWA-552 (PCI)

I'm honestly a bit underwhelmed by the card, but I had it already, so it was "free". Works okay on this machine, but the last PC I had it in, it really didn't work very well at all (lose connection, etc., despite being closer to the AP than this one is). Wouldn't recommend it, but if you have one lying around, may as well use it. Not sure if there's any good PCI cards anyway. :?

HDD: 320GB WD Caviar Blue (3.5" 7200rpm) + 1.5TB WD Caviar Green (3.5" 5x00rpm)

Speedy-ish system drive, and large low-ish power bulk storage drive for media. One storage drive to start, more to come as necessary. 1.5TB would have been just enough for around 200 straight DVD copies, but after transcoding just the movie portions it looks like they take up 80% less room, so 1.5TB ends up being more than we'll need for now. (However, we do have a couple of DVD+Blu-ray combo packs we'd bought because the price was the same or less than just the DVD, and Blu-ray transcodes seem to weigh in around 5-7GB, so those'll eat space up more quickly.)

ODD: LG CH08LS10 Blu-ray combo drive

BD-ROM and DVD+-RW combo, so we get Blu-ray reading support and I can burn DVDs of my home videos directly from this machine (keep the entire workflow in one place). Reasonably quiet (at least from 3m+ ;)), unless the drive's going full speed in which case it's pretty loud.

System fans: standard 120mm Tri-Cool on rear exhaust, blocked top vent

Tri-Cools are pretty good, though certainly not ideal. Decent enough to get by with, though.

OS: Windows 7 Home Premium

For straight media support I could've got Linux, but Windows lets me get my gaming in and use the standard tools I'm used to.

Media center software: XBMC 9.11

I tried out a couple of different media centers (the built-in WMC, MediaPortal, XBMC), and XBMC seemed to give me what I was looking for with respect to options and display and such. There are some minor issues with it, however: currently it doesn't support GPU acceleration on Windows (but 10.5 will), and the display thread can sometimes end up pegging a core (without seeming like it's a particularly stressful screen -- probably just not using a max framerate and so updating as often as possible).

Input devices: HP Wireless Elite keyboard/mouse + Logitech Harmony One remote

Keyboard and mouse seem to work well, though do be careful if you're using a 2.4GHz wireless NIC as well, since you can run into connectivity issues with the keyboard/mouse. I used a USB extension cable to get the receiver around 8-10 feet away from the wireless card and input performance has gone back to flawless even while heavily using the wireless network.


Measurements

Power Consumption

I've only done some basic power checks, and haven't messed with the BIOS much at all (encoding an entire DVD library is a large task and I wanted to get on with it).

So here's the power results I've gotten so far:

BIOS idle: 104W

Desktop idle: 63W
XBMC idle (home screen): 66W

CPU load (Handbrake, 100% CPU): ~140W


Temperatures

Idle
Image

Prime95 Load
Image


Pics

Image

Rear panel. Not much to see, just the I/O and wireless NIC.

Image

Interior shot. Relatively empty-looking so far with only one PCI card, two HDDs and one ODD, but at least the tower heatsink fills up a little space.

Image

Closer shot of the main chamber. Heatsink just barely clears the RAM. ;)


Thoughts

Media playback is flawless, but that's to be expected with a 2.8GHz core (much less four of them) on mostly-DVD content. CPU while playing DVD transcodes back is usually around 2-3%, and around 30% on the Blu-ray transcode we've currently got (which means it's maxing out a core which presumably the audio takes 5% for being passed through to the receiver).

Transcoding I have to say is pretty awesome IMO. With Handbrake's High profile preset tweaked up to 62% quality (overkill I'm sure, but I'd prefer to have transparency in the quality department and am willing to sacrifice on size since I've got space available), DVDs tend to encode (via x264) around 36-45fps (on average I'd seem to get a feature-length movie done in around an hour). Still takes a long time to get through all the discs, but it's a whole lot quicker than it could've been. ;)

Gaming for now is a bit weak, but surprisingly the HD4200 does have a little bit of grunt to it, if you're willing to accept low resolutions in order to have decent framerates. With a 480p resolution I'm able to play Borderlands and The Last Remnant fairly well. I'd love extra resolution, but with the RPTV I can only go so high before text gets unreadable (and if I go up to 1080i, the interlacing is absolutely brutal). So it's a reasonable effort by a non-gaming IGP that'll fill the space until we've got a flat-panel and I stick a real video card in there. 8)

[Edit - Kinda trailed off on the keyboard/mouse. Oops. ;)]
[Edit2 - Added some current temps.]

[Edit3 - Stage 2 reached, see post below.]

[Edit4 - Stage 3 reached, see post below.]


Last edited by idale on Tue Mar 08, 2011 8:46 pm, edited 8 times in total.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 19, 2010 1:35 am 
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Pretty low wattagges with full CPU load, it seems to me that reported TDM 95W is not exact. How's the noise and temperatures?

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 19, 2010 6:57 am 
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Location: Austin, TX
As mentioned, I'm not sure that I can trust SpeedFan's output. I'll have to pull it up and post what I see there in a few load configurations just to see what people here think. If I recall correctly, I was getting something somewhere around 57C or so under my Handbrake 100% CPU load. Unfortunately I can't remember exactly, so I'll break open SpeedFan again and see exactly what values it gives (I still remember the -128C it told me for one of the cores, which is obviously bogus ;)).

As for noise level, I definitely want to do something about that. It's not necessarily bad, but the fans are definitely audible from ~3m. I've got the stock AM3 heatsink and fan on there, and while those are relatively decent, it's not ideal. I've got the CPU fan on auto in the BIOS with a minimum 25% and a trigger temp of 50C, but even idling the machine's noticeable (and when there's a load, it's very audible -- when watching something you may not notice the noise so much, but there's definitely more "pressure" that is relieved if the PC is put to sleep).

The lower chamber has the PSU fan and the included TriCool on low. I don't believe I was able to get data on the temps of the two drives down there, so I'm not sure if I can pull out the TriCool and not worry about drive temps (until such time as I add more drives to the cage).

The upper chamber has the stock AMD HSF (BIOS-controlled as mentioned), and the two stock TriCools as exhaust, both on low.

I think part of my noise issue can also be from the placement of the PC. It'll eventually change (whenever we go flat-panel we'll have a ventilated cabinet it'll sit in), but for now it's sitting behind our upright A/V cabinet which is next to the large CRT RPTV, and the front of the case is facing towards the "outside", so the exhaust fans are aimed up and towards the TV. There could be a bit of reinforcement of the sound as it travels behind the TV and between the TV and A/V cabinet.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 19, 2010 1:18 pm 
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With your system, you shouldn't need a top exhaust fan, so you could get away with removing the top exhaust fan and sealing that hole.

With only 2 HDDs in the lower cage, you shouldn't need a fan down there either. Just use some tape to seal up all the air holes around your PSU at the rear of the case. This will mean that the intake air for the PSU will be drawn from the front of your case, over the HDDs and into the PSU and out the back by the PSU fan.

Definitely go for a aftermarket CPU heatsink and replacement rear exhaust fan - a Scythe Mugen 2 and a Nexus or Scythe fan for the exhaust would be a pretty good choice.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 19, 2010 1:40 pm 
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Ah, the slow descent into madness (or perhaps ascent therefrom, depending on your outlook?). :) First I start sealing holes in cases, the next I'm a Dremel-wielding maniac bending cases to my every whim. 8)

But seriously, yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to work on the fan situation sooner rather than later (while it's not bad exactly, I'd been expecting inaudible from the couch, and I don't quite have that). I'm also not sure if it'd be best to try and start work on deflecting airflow with currently having the cavernous P182 and not having many heat-generating components inside the main heat zone. (Only have the three fans up top, would it be better to try and channel the air, or just leave well enough alone because it won't make that much of a difference here.)

Normally my experience with the stock AMD heatsink fan has been fairly pleasant (it's no SPCR fan, but it's by no means bad), as has my experience with TriCools on low (and SPCR data seems to back up the low setting being pretty decent), but maybe the 1.5-year-old TriCools are starting to wear more, the stock AMD fan isn't as good as some others I've had, or it's just the position of the fans in relation to the walls and equipment amplifying the noise.

Thanks for the suggestions, I haven't gone too far afield in dealing with fan configurations (generally just keeping the TriCools and turning them all the way down and calling it a day), so it's definitely a help to have some ideas of where to go from here. :)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 19, 2010 5:06 pm 
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SpeedFan results are in. It may be better than I thought, though I'm still not sure what to make of the temps. There's Temp1-3 and Core, which seems fairly standard. Temp2 is the -128C one, so that's thrown away (maybe it's just not hooked up to anything). Temp3 stays fairly low, so that'll be the MB temp. Temp1 is a little odd, since it's very very quick to respond to CPU load changes: it's the first to increase, and first and fastest to decrease. Maybe it's a different core, or some generic "CPU" temp.

It unfortunately doesn't have any hard drive temps, so I've got no idea what those are at. Most likely the usual <30C, though, considering the airflow down there (but it'd be nice to have that data to compare with and without lower fan).

In any case, the results (ambient was around 24C):

Idle

Image

Prime95 Load

Image

While running Prime95, I had the case open for a short bit feeling heatsinks and exhaust air and such. Exhaust all seemed normal, NB/SB sort of heatsinks seemed just slightly warm, and the CPU heatsink was fairly warm. When I looked at the chart, the temps dipped several degrees while I had the side of the case off. Probably normal, but makes me wonder if there's an issue with getting enough cooler air through the case.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 19, 2010 8:19 pm 
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Decided to try some of JamieG's suggestions on the fans (block the top exhaust and remove the lower fan). I'm sure the lower fan didn't do a whole lot for the noise level, but removing the top fan apparently did: while before I could hear the droning over my laptop (with its typical tiny fan noise), after it wasn't all that noticeable, especially if there's any other noise (laptop, TV, refrigerator).

I ran through SpeedFan again, and it looks like not much changed: CPU temps went up around 1C, and the MB temp went up around 5C. So it looks like any sort of bottleneck on CPU cooling is definitely the heatsink at this point. And with getting right up around 70C on such a load, I'd definitely like to ensure I'm giving the CPU a good chance to breathe (stock heatsink seems inadequate for a full-tilt quad, apparently).

Of course the fun issue of blocking the top exhaust and having an AMD setup is that very few heatsinks support front-to-back airflow on AMDs. I might see about swapping in the HDT-S1283 I've got on the office PC's CPU (pretty decent stock fan), but with blowing the hot air upwards, I'm sure that would be much more difficult for the rear exhaust to deal with. :?


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 20, 2010 12:24 pm 
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With those (maybe) CPU and Core temp readings bugging me, I decided to harvest the HDT-S1283 from the office PC (that's not used so much anymore) and swap it in to see if that does anything for me. I spent a bit of time with both computers off (cleaning CPUs and heatsinks, as well and hunting down my thermal grease that was hiding), but it sounded like the noise level rose slightly; I could be wrong, without actually taking readings I have no idea if it's just in my head (or lack of central air moving at the time or whatever).

However, the good news is that temps dropped both at idle (~4C) and most importantly at load (~15C). So I'm no longer brushing up against the thermal limits of the chip (supposedly just above 70C), so I'm much happier for now. I may still want to see about a different heatsink that can have side-to-side flow, and even if not, there could be a better fan to place in that position (assuming there exists a nice, quiet PWM fan that works well with that horizontal positioning). But there's less of an immediate need to do something about those temps (even though Prime95 is a higher load than I'll encounter in normal use with this stage).


Temps: Blocked Top + Stock HSF

Idle
Image

Prime95 Load
Image


Temps: Blocked Top + HDT-S1283

Idle
Image

Prime95 Load
Image


[Edit - Oops, copy and paste issue, second set of temps was obviously with the Xigmatek, but didn't get the heading changed. :oops: ]


Last edited by idale on Wed Feb 24, 2010 9:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 21, 2010 1:48 pm 
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Your Speedfan says VRAM = 2.19V not 1.5V ! I have a similar G.Skill F3-12800CL9-2GBNQ with 550BE and speedfan shows default 1.62V but will also work fine if set manually to 1.5V


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 21, 2010 2:25 pm 
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Rebellious wrote:
Your Speedfan says VRAM = 2.19V not 1.5V ! I have a similar G.Skill F3-12800CL9-2GBNQ with 550BE and speedfan shows default 1.62V but will also work fine if set manually to 1.5V

I think the sensor's not right on the board (or SpeedFan's reading the wrong thing), because it's actually set to 1.5V in the BIOS. That or something's really wrong somewhere. :shock:


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 29, 2010 3:53 pm 
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Location: Austin, TX
Stage 2

Stage 2 has recently been reached, consisting of adding a discrete video card (MSI Cyclone GTX 460 1GB in this case). I have also gotten rid of the crappy D-Link wireless NIC, which was made even crappier by being very hot from the video card's proximity. ;) Now I've got a Netgear WN2000RPT range extender (which has a 4-port switch for connecting wired equipment to), which I highly recommend.

Pics

Updated shot of the system with the 460:
Image

Temps

Idle
Image

Prime95 CPU Load
Image

FurMark GPU Load
Image

Thoughts

I'm definitely happy with the 460, and the Cyclone version is reasonably quiet even when loaded (it's certainly audible from the couch, but the sound quality is good and it fades into the background especially with game sounds going). However, with a real GPU in there, the heat is a little more than I'd like, so I'll be looking at what options I've got for downsizing the case to hopefully get better airflow going.


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 3:02 am 
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Can you turn the CPU cooler 90° CCW? Currently it takes hot air from above the GPU - the GTX460 is fairly powerful.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 5:15 am 
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Tetreb wrote:
Can you turn the CPU cooler 90° CCW? Currently it takes hot air from above the GPU - the GTX460 is fairly powerful.


Mats has the answer. :D

Rotating the CPU mount means you get a nice push-pull airflow between the xigmatek fan and the case fan.

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1080p Gaming build: i5-4670K, Mugen 4, MSI Z87-G45, MSI GTX 760 2GB Gaming, 8GB 1866 RAM, Samsung Evo 250GB, WD Red 2TB, Samsung DVD burner, Fractal Define R4, Antec True Quiet 140 (2 front + rear) case fans, Seasonic X-560. 35-40W idle, 45-55W video streaming, 170-200W WoW, 200-230W Rift, 318W stress test (Prime95 + Furmark)


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 5:32 am 
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Hmm, then again, I'd also try first setting the rear fan to blow air inside and putting the CPU on the top side of the cooler to suck air upwards, removing the cardboard there too.
It may be cooler than the current setup . :)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 6:31 am 
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Interesting find there on the backplate, though sounds like it'd be safer just to replace the whole heatsink (I'm not exactly the dexterous sort with power tools, I'd probably lose an arm with the necessary modifications to get this HS to work with that backplate ;)).

The reason I'd blocked up the top exhaust was because with both fans running (even on low), it was just too noisy at the couch. So at JamieG's suggestion I went ahead and removed the top fan and did a quick hack job at blocking the top (no material handy but the cardboard worked in a pinch to 98% seal up the top) and it was much quieter. I suppose my current noise issue would really be the fan on the Xigmatek getting noisy as it ramps up to cool the hot(ter) CPU. As well as (I assume) the positioning of the case in relation to the other equipment (creating places for the sound to bounce around).

One preliminary thing I may have to try is to change the positioning of the case to the rear faces the wall instead of facing along the wall. That way hopefully more of the sound will stay behind the TV and A/V cabinet and have a harder time reaching my ears. Then assuming that helps it'll open up the ability to make changes to fan setup to allow more noise to escape (without it getting louder at the couch than it is now).

And I definitely think I'll have to try the short-circuit airflow before getting all crazy and Dremeling heatsinks and/or backplates. :) One other thing to try might be to block the rear and have the fan on the top. That'd definitely generate more noise at a worse location, but would enable push-pull without backplates.


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 8:08 am 
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I went from a Scythe Shuriken to the Noctua downblowing cooler (I like the idea of blowing on to the mainboard) and temps went down by over 10°C. Even the graphics card went down by 10°C under load, it was as cool as on an open test bench (with another CPU cooler though). :) 1500RPM is a bit high to be silent due to being so close to the fins.


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 Post subject: Re: Multipurpose living room PC (stage 2)
PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 8:45 pm 
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Location: Austin, TX
Stage 3

Stage 3 attained, shrinking the case down to an HTPC and using a built-in IR receiver (Antec Fusion Black). Since of course the Xigmatek had no chance of fitting, I replaced it, managing to score a rev. B Minja (new in box :shock: ) off eBay for a reasonable price.

I replaced the TriCools with 1600rpm S-Flexes both hanging off the CPU fan header via a splitter so they could be automatically controlled (set at 50%/50C in the BIOS -- 50% is the lowest speed available, but brings it to around the 800rpm model, which is nearly inaudible from the couch). The reason I went with the F instead of a D or something is that I wanted to have the ability for the fans to ramp up as much as necessary to help cooling. The fan on the 460 gets noisy when going full tilt, so it doesn't get much worse than that. :)

The one problem was that the Cyclone heatsink doesn't fit. Nothing borrowing a Dremel couldn't solve; opened up the vent for the video card and the top closes fine.

Pics

External shot, note the Cyclone peeking out:
Image

Internal shot:
Image

Temps

Idle
Image

Prime95 CPU Load
Image

FurMark GPU Load
Image

XBMC (Playing)
Image

x264 Encoding (While XBMC Playing)
Image

Thoughts

Happily, the Fusion and Minja are able to cool the system a little better than the P182 and Xigmatek. When not under load, the system is pretty quiet from the couch. When loaded (mostly an issue when gaming) it get a little noisier than I'd like, but there doesn't seem to be much to do about that since if the system fans weren't ramping up the 460's fan would go higher (and be at least as loud).

One annoyance is the iMon IR receiver doesn't seem to play nice with Harmony remotes. Luckily Logitech's been poking my remote settings and that's been sorted out from what I can see. Yay for Harmony tech support. :)


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 Post subject: Re: Multipurpose living room PC (stage 3)
PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2011 6:10 am 
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Very nice build. Good job on solving that MSI Cyclone room issue ;-)
And thanks so much for posting these pictures.


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