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HTPC - update

Soooo... I built a new HTPC the last several weeks, and wanted to give an update/short review on what it involved.

I wanted silence. Not low-noise, but silence. I have spent a lot of money over the last ten years on various brands/quality levels of power supplies, case fans, cpu coolers only to be generally disappointed. I was initially resigned to suffering at least some fan noise. 

Then, I noticed AMD introduced a line of low powered, so-called "APU" chips. These are up to a quad core + gpu and rated at 25 watt TDP. Now we're talking! The last under 65w cpu I tried was some shitass Sempron single core and that thing was worthless for anything but getting pissed off at. In that regards, it was stellar. Worse than the Intel Celery cpu I had in an old eMachine box, to be honest. I spent more on the fan and heatsink than I did on the cpu since silence is what I was after, but it still made irritating whooooooooooosh noises because the damn thing had to work so hard to get anything done, it was always maxing out. Worthless. 

Anyways, I was still a little nervous with this new APU since the last AMD APU I bought (A6) in 2012 proved to be under-performing as well. It is a quad-core with integrated Radeon something or other and running at 2.6gHz. The GPU was the main roadblock on that, but since this was for my desktop/workstation PC in my home office I didn't mind the noise as much so I installed a pretty decent GeForce card (thanks Channing). 

So I assembled the following hardware to rebuild my HTPC:

AMD Athlon quad core 5370, 25w TDP, 2.2gHz per core, Radeon R3 (8400HD I think) integrated GPU

8gb DDR3

240gb Radeon SSD - nothing too fancy, but the price was right

400 Watt Seasonic fanless power supply,  platinum rated whatever the fuck that means. Claims 92% efficient under load. 

Asus motherboard. 

Arctic M1 fanless heatsink for the CPU.

I disabled all the case fans and installed the new hardware. I installed winders 7 from a USB3.0 bootable thumb drive, so installed the OS took about ten minutes (zhang!), in and of itself pretty awesome. I remember winders 2000 seeming to take that long to boot to the desktop. 

After installing drivers and codecs and the last version of Kodi worth a shit (v15) I ran the winders 7 raterator application and the CPU surprised me by scoring a 4.8 - I honestly expected a score of 3 or less. 

So after some tweaking on the graphics software (essentially turning off all the "betterers"), I sat down to do some critical viewing. 

The good: The Radeon does a decent job upconverting in conjunction with the software upscalers integrated with Kodi. Sound quality over HDMI seems to actually be improved over my previous setup (GeForce 610GT) but that is probably just confirmation bias. 

The bad: The Radeon does a shit job de-interlacing and does a shit job locking into the various pulldowns. Visible frame tearing and dropped frames. It renders each frame beautifully, but sucks ass otherwise. On some content, it is almost unwatchable. I have not checked v-sync settings yet, that has been a problem for me in the past trying to use Radeon shit as a HTPC. 

The good: it is hyper-responsive, feels fast during usage as a normal PC - boots quickly, is absolutely quiet. The only noise is when my external hard drive spins up when I wake it from sleep mode. I might insulate that item, or hide it behind something. It runs my NES emulator without a hitch.

The verdict: I may install my 610GT card (fanless model) and see if that improves things after I do some further troubleshooting on the frame issues. Otherwise, this would actually make a pretty sweet daily driver PC - in fact, I just bought another mobo and CPU off of Fleabay. Same mobo, a step down in processor (my HTPC uses the 5370, the one I bought is the 5350 - 2.0gHz clock vs 2.2gHz clock, should be hardly any difference in practical usage. Only difference I could see between the two). Not sure if I will replace the FX-based system in the home office with it or the A6 (or is it an A8? I can't remember) in the living room with it, but one of the two will be gone before too much longer.

I no longer do anything that requires the grunt offered by the FX system but my daughter could use a little more power in her system. She currently runs a triple core Phenom II that I overclocked along with a nice GeForce (thanks, Channing). It is still less of a system than the FX due to using DDR2 ram (only 6gb) and just a lesser CPU overall. So I may install my existing cpu/mobo in her tower. I don't know. 

I digress - if you are looking for a dead-silent HTPC solution, you can do a LOT worse than these weird AMD processors. 

Total cost (not including case since I re-used my nMedia 6000b - that can drive cost up by $100 or more if you have to have RU sized stuff) (prices approximate):

CPU: $55
Motherboard: $45
RAM: $55
SSD: $70
PSU: $100
CPU Heatsing: $12
Total: $340 or so.

I use Shark007 codec packages, Windows Ultimate 64bit, Kodi v15

Nick - if you are reading this, you will have to come test drive it to see how it compares to your recent rebuild. 
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greywarden

Comments

  • I use LOUDspeakers to overcome PC noise... JK, nice re-build, though the last time I used AMD was a long time back, that too cause the price was much lower than intel.
  • I have nothing against Intel - I am just not necessarily in need of the benchmarks they deliver. I am not a gamer, and decoding video and audio do not exactly eat up a lot of clock cycles. This new box is creepy quiet, like any good rack component should be. 
    greywarden
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  • Yeah ,for sure! I'm still working on mine so can't really compare but would like to see and "hear" your latest creation. I'm having issues getting my wireless installed and haven't touched it since last weekend. Thanks for the invite
  • Good to hear! Sucks about the video issues. If you have the space, Prolimatech makes a massive heatsink for up to 320W of GPU cooling (with dual 140mm 1krpm fans, probably acceptable for most low end GPUs fanless, though). 

    I've wanted to build an htpc for a while, when I "finish" my current rig I'll get started on that, haha. 

    Also, good to hear the GPUs are still working and being used!
    deadhorse - leviathan - harbinger - shockwave (wip)
  • I still have a few things to investigate on the playback issues. I suspect the GeForce software is simply better at hand-holding for video playback than the AMD/Radeon. I may experiment with turning off all post-processing whatsoever and see how the Oppo handles it, as well. It always takes me a few weeks to get things dialed in no matter what. I also have more clock cycles available to me than I did before - I may leverage that with more software based processing rather than unloading it all to the GPU. For all I know, the upscalers in Kodi are not playing nice with the GPU. A lot of options to explore at this time. 

    In the past, the GeForce cards I have used worked extremely well out of the box vis-a-vis deinterlacing and handling 30fps content, maybe the Radeon stuff just requires more tweaking, I honestly do not know. The last Radeon I tried as part of my HTPC was many years ago when I was still running an Athlon 64 single core and winders XP. That was, I believe, a 4500HD or something along those lines. I cursed it out on a regular basis back then. 
    greywarden
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  • Are any of the new processors with inboard graphics decent? I know amd has some "APU"s and intel has their version. Im interested to know hkw that would work for a HTPC. My wifes pc is loud as fug. I bought a new cpu heatsink and fan the stock intel one is nuts. Im bought a full atx board and im wishing i had a micro atx or mini itx board so i can make it fit better on our entertainment center. When i add the center channel i need to wall mount the TV and the pc might be a problem to store. 
  • Keep in mind I am stupid picky on video playback. If you are not running last weeks games at retarded resolutions, any modern so-called APU will more than suffice. 
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  • I've been using the AMD APU's for a while and they're a lot of bang for the buck.  My desktop machine scores 6.6 on Windows 7 graphics benchmarks with an AMD A8-3870 3Ghz APU. I built a machine for a friend who does a lot of CAD and she loves it. I solve my noise problems with my HTPC by putting it on the other side of the wall of my listening room. The room is double walled with double sheet rock using resilient channel mounting. It's so quiet the only noise I hear is a slight hum from the TV. It's not a ground loop because it's there with the amplifiers turned off. It's nice to be able to listen late at night while my wife sleeps upstairs.

    Ron
  • https://www.amazon.com/AMD-A6-3650-Graphics-Quad-Core-Processor/dp/B0055ZCXUK/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8

    That is the APU I currently run in the wife's rig. I originally bought it (2012) to replace an older Pentium 4 rig (currently in the garage serving very light duty) my daughter was using, at which time I moved my Athlon 6000 setup to my wife's use and gave my daughter the Phenom build (as she was starting to play more demanding games) I mentioned above. The 6000 was, in its time, a pretty nice CPU but let the smoke out after a while. We cobbled together another 64 X2 system until such time as I was able to build my current FX based rig and she inherited my A6 rig. 

    Through the last five years, that Athlon II HTPC rig has remained rock solid and dependable, if not not an outright powerhouse. In the last month of its life, however, it stopped resuming from sleep mode and one day it refused to finish a POST, and then it refused to even do a partial POST so syanara. I will check individual components as time permits, if it turns out to be a single RAM stick, well then I guess the Pentium 4/WinXP rig in the garage will be upgraded out of existence. 

    As you guys can probably tell - I am not exactly a cutting-edge tech user. 
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  • I completely forgot my new measurement PC. One of the local cable guys gave me a Lenovo Thinkcentre, on of the small form factor models. Initially, I was going to replace the HTPC with it and use my existing HTPC case to house my rig but I didn't. So it has a i5 CPU and a 120gb SSD, a fanless GeForce 210 video card (the Intel integrated graphics really suck - I mean really bad, plus I wanted the HDMI output), 4gb of RAM, and an Asus Xonar DG soundcard. It has Windows 7 installed, and the ARTA suite. It doesn't even go online - it is strictly for measurements. It sits on top of the partially disabled Onkyo 809 that I use as a measurement amp, and it uses a different HDMI port on my tv than the rest of the system uses. 

    I did this because I was tired of futzing with playback devices on the HTPC whenever I wanted to take measurements. It is a solid little PC, but the crappy power supply those ship with preclude it from heavy use. If there are any real power supplies available in the so-called "flex" form factor, I am all ears. It seems all of the ones I see look like the same cheap shit these cheap computers ship with. I am not opposed to buying a new case and ditching the SFF setup, either. 

    Oh, I also have two laptops - an old (ca2006) Dell that I upgraded with a Pentium M cpu - it shipped with a Celery - and 2gb of RAM and a somewhat newer HP upgraded by Channing. The Dell runs Linux Mint and is useful for almost nothing but tinkering with Linux Mint. The HP has Windows 7 on it. I added a 500gb hard drive in the second bay and ripped the majority of my music collection to 320MP3 and filled it up. It gets used exclusively when I travel. It isn't a laptop so much as a desktop replacement, however. It gets warm, is heavy and a big fucker for a laptop. Nice to have on the road, though. 

    Oh, and the wife and I each have an iPhone and an Android - my Android is not for calling/texting however. It is a fancy alarm clock at this point. POS Samsung. My kid has the same Samsung. My wife's Android is activated - her work bought her the iPhone. I also have a tablet that I use on those rare occasions I do not want to get out of bed but feel like Netflixing. 

    I am probably going to get cancer of the forehead and ear from all this shit, and am largely responsible for the depletion of heavy, precious, and rare-earth metals in the western hemisphere, and my address is probably routinely checked by drug task forces for electricity usage but dammit - when I want to look at the internet, I want options.
    squamishdrockennyk
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