...Or LRPC for short. This has a few different purposes to it, and so isn't as optimized as it could be.Intended PurposesPurpose 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:
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:
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.MeasurementsPower 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): ~140WTemperaturesIdlePrime95 LoadPics
Rear panel. Not much to see, just the I/O and wireless NIC.
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.
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.
[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.]