Guide to hardware selection (1 Viewer)

knutinh

Portal Pro
September 4, 2005
558
2
(Last update: oct 8th 2006)

This is just a list of common components found in HTPCs and some advice. Please note that there are lots of views and differences of opinion. I have tried to assemble my own experiences as well as what I have read for building a reasonably quiet, good performing HTPC, suitable for MediaPortal for instance. For running microsoft office or SETI programs, you may want a very different system.

Contents:
Cooling and noise
Optical drives (CD,DVD)
Harddisk
RAM
sound card
graphics
CPU
PSU
analog tv-card
digital tv-card
HTPC-case
remotes and keyboard
Links

Cooling and noise
Nobody wants their shiny new HTPC to sound like a loud vacuum cleaner. But often, that is what happens when you assemble a typical system from regular components. Manufacturers often focus more on the "hardcore overclocker/gamer crowd" than living-room computers. The consequence is that we will have to do some googling ( http://www.google.com ) and educated guesses to minimize noise while still keeping a stable and fast HTPC.

The easiest solution is buying a pre-assembled system with all the tweaks in place, but whats the fun of that? =) You can also purchase low-performance hardware such as www.mini-itx.com systems that may get the job done with less power (=heat) developed. You may even get passive systems (= no fans!). The challenge is building a near-silent computer yourself, using regular hardware AND keeping aestetics, performance and stability.

Usually, high performance means more electric power, and more electric power means more heat. In most systems more heat means more noise. We dont want that...There are ways to:
1)Remove heat while generating as little noise as possible
2)Only generate heat when it is really needed (dynamic systems)
3)Only remove heat when it is really needed

The conclusion of 1) to 3) is that we want a system that runs at a constant TEMPERATURE, not one that runs at a constant NOISE level. This fits as most computers perform their maximum only 1% of the time, while the cooling/noise is at 100% all of the time...

In comes temperature/termostat controlled fans, large radiators, large fans. If you can:
1)remove the heat from each component without making excessive noise
2)remove that heat from the case and into the living room without making excessive noise
then you have come a long way. This can be done by using large CPU coolers with heatpipes and/or Cupper ribs, large graphics coolers etc. Then you would want to use large, slow-moving system fans or PSU fans that will suck enough air while making as little noise as possible.

Such a system can usually be controlled by Speedfan so that fan-speeds ramp ump when relevant temperatures ramp up. In my system, the system fans will stop after windows has booted. Only when the temperature gets high enough will they slowly ramp up in speed.

Optical drives (CD,DVD)
Any DVD-rom or recorder will let you play CDs and DVDs. The noise level will be different for different models.

AnyDVD is really great for:
-forcing the player to run at a lower speed (means less noise). 1x is enough for watching DVDs anyways.
-removing zone problems
-removing FBIwarnings etc (FBI doesnt have juristiction here in Norway - yet ;-)

Otherwise, you can also flash your DVD-players firmware with one that has no zone restrictions (find by using google)

Nero Drivespeed should give similar features for forcing your DVDs/CDs to playback at less than maximum drive speed.

Harddisk
How much, how fast, what type?

There can never be enough hd space. If you are going to tape a lot of shows or use the HTPC as a server, you will probably want to have more than one large drive. A pure windows/MP installation in itself takes almost no space, so if you are primarily sharing media files from another computer, or using MP for live viewing of tv/radio etc, you may get by on a small drive.

7200rpm drives are generally faster and noisier than older 5400rpm disks. Nowadays, most disks are 7200 anyways. Samsung P80/P120 series have a very good reputation for low noise and low temperature. The are typically not available at the largest sizes (max 300GB currently).

The typical HTPC may benefit less from really fast hard drives than a typical office computer.

You may find tests of hds and hd silencing remedies (including DIY) here:
http://www.silentpcreview.com/section14.html
Discussions of the same topics can be found here:
http://forums.silentpcreview.com/viewforum.php?f=7

A tool for managing disk noise :http://www.rt-sw.de/en/freeware/freeware.html
RAM
Q: How much RAM do I need, what type do I need?

A: Short story: 512MB is enough, 1024 is more than enough. I have seen reports of users removing ram sticks one at a time when playing back HD MPEG2 video files, where the performance was essentially constant from 512MB and up. This makes sense, as you are streaming a file from disk that is to large to fit into ram anyways.

In this guide, the author recommends 512 MB ram, after conversations with one of the guys ("Andy") behind ffdshow (sadly in norwegian):
http://www.hardware.no/guider/hele_maskiner/htpc_trinn_for_trinn_-_del_2/13774/2 .Translated:

"7. There is no need for large amounts of memory, 512MB is enough.."

(I know, it sounds scarily like a Bill Gates quote, but remember that this is for a specific application for a specific time...)

sound card
If you only want a spdif pass-through, any card that can pass a bit-perfect signal will do. I can`t see why an expensive soundblaster give any advantage to more modest spdif equipped cards for pure HTPC use. For gaming, the situation may change somewhat.

This post contains more info about "bit-perfect" capable soundcards.

If you want analog output, other cards may have better connectors, and more "professional" DAC/drivers/bass management etc. Look for M-audio, Echo etc.

SACD output is currently (and probably in the future as well) impossible on a computer. DVD-A is possible using certain DVD playback programs. You would need a sound card with 24 bits and 192kHz to take full advantage of those.

graphics
For pure Media Portal, any direct-x 9.0 compatible graphics card will do I believe. You may want tv-out or DVI out depending on what you are using as a display device. If you want to use Nvidia hardware accelerated video decoding and processing, a geforce 6600GT or better will give you all available functions. I have yet to see a objective reason why HTPC users should go for anything faster than a passive GF6600GT (for pure video processing), or 6200 or equivalent (for ffdshow processing). If you expect to play a lot of computer games in high resolution you may want a faster card (check out a gaming site)

Nvidia geforce purevideo compatibility chart:
http://www.nvidia.com/page/purevideo_support.html

A list of DirectX 9.0 cards from both ATI and nVidia.
ATI
DirectX 8.1
ATI Radeon 9000-9250
DirectX 9.0
ATI Radeon 9500-9600
ATI Radeon 9700-9800
ATI Radeon X300 / X550 PCI-Express
ATI Radeon X600 PCI-Express
ATI Radeon X700 AGP
ATI Radeon X700 PCI-Express
ATI Radeon X800-X850 AGP
ATI Radeon X800-X850 PCI-Express
ATI Radeon X1300 PCI-Express
ATI Radeon X1600 PCI-Express
ATI Radeon X1800 PCI-Express

nVidia
DirectX 9.0
nVidia GeForce FX5200
nVidia GeForce FX5500-FX5700
nVidia GeForce 6200 AGP
nVidia GeForce 6200-6500 PCI-Express
nVidia GeForce 6600 AGP
nVidia GeForce 6600 PCI-Express
nVidia GeForce 6800 AGP
nVidia GeForce 6800 PCI-Express
nVidia GeForce 7800 PCI-Express

CPU
Do you want an AMD or Intel? Dual core or single core?

There are lots of information on this on the net. Problem is, not all information is applicable to HTPC use. The world is going dual core, no doubt. But it is more expensive at the moment, and you can always add a dual core later on, when prices are lower and more applications support it. "What do you say`? support it?" Thats right. In principle, a 2GHz dual core will be exactly as fast as a 2GHz single core if you are running a single program that does not have multiple (2) threads. And cost a lot more... Even a multi-threaded application may see little improvement if the usage is not symmetric. This is confirmed by a test at www.anandtech.com where they had to use many applications at the same time to see significant benefits of dual core vs single core processors. Do you think this is a common use of HTPCs? This may change as applications are changed to reflect the hardware situation, but then processor prices will also drop. A 3000+ will probably be cooler and a lot less expensive that a x2 4800. In 6 months a faster processor thatn the 4800 may be bought for half the price...

Intel Vs AMD is a touchy subject, bringing out the warrior in every tru geek. Suffice to say that AMD has generally been cooler, and had more performance-pr-watt heat lately. On the other hand, intel has had better support, notably in ffd-show.

PSU
Tests at www.silentpcreview.com shows that even the most power-thirsty systems doesnt consume more than 200W at full load. Tests at the same site shows that PSUs have a "sweetspot" where their efficiency peaks. This means that a 600W PSU used in a 150W system will develop more heat than a 300W PSU in the sme system if all other variables are equal. And it will cost a lot more.

Seasonic s12 series are very highly regarded, and now they are finally availably here in europe. No blingbling, but boring grey PSUs that consistently get good reviews on noise and stability.

analog tv-card
For MediaPortal, you would want a tv-card with hardware encoding. This means that the analog tv is encoded as MPEG2 (just as DVD) on the card itself, and the system reads this stream which is decoded in software typically.

digital tv-card
It seems that there are less differences between digital cards. As long as BDA drivers are available, go with what is convenient and economical. I am using a terratec T^2.


HTPC-case

So many choices...
http://www.silverstonetek.com/
http://www.origenae.com/products_index.htm

Sleek mATX case with room for 3 expansion boards
LC11M.jpg

http://www.silverstonetek.com/products-lc11m.htm

Full ATX, nice looks, with full expandability
http://www.silverstonetek.com/products-lc16m.htm
LC16m.jpg


Passive, massive and expensive:
http://www.mcubed-tech.com/eng/hfx.htm
hero-l800.jpg


Perhaps the best looking (in mye eyes). ATX mobo, mATX PSU
http://www.origenae.com/product_h5.htm
5bl.jpg


A serious contender for the most popular full-featured box:
http://www.origenae.com/product_x11.htm
strip.jpg


Expensive and built in touch screen
http://www.origenae.com/product_x15e.htm
strip.jpg


remotes and keyboard
Since we are all couch potatoes, we need to be able to do anything without physically moving anything more than strictly necessary :)


Links:
HTPC:
www.htpcnews.com
tv-cards:
www.tv-cards.com
silencing/noise issues, lots of tests:
www.silentpcreview.com
home theater:
www.avforum.com
 

knutinh

Portal Pro
September 4, 2005
558
2
tomshardware did a test for finding the performance difference between an identical setup featuring 512MB, 1GB and 2 GB, link is below:
http://www.tomshardware.com/2005/12/13/how_much_ram_do_you_really_need/index.html

I observe their results, but I disagree with their conclusions. From what I gather, they have found that out of a batch of applications (including synthetic tests, video transcoding, etc), games were the only applications that gave a significantly better performance when using 2GB compared to 512MB ram. That is relevant to us.

By running a GB ethernet ftp-connection transferring 8.6GB of data while playing a computer game, they were able to show a very noticable performance gap between the 512MB and 2GB of memory. But how relevant is that to us? How many are using GB ethernet here?

regards
Knut
 

ting

Portal Member
February 8, 2005
24
0
Sandvika, Norway
Home Country
Norway Norway
Hard disks
7200 rpm (correct me if I'm Wrong?)
I prefer samsung (one 250gb sata2 on order)

HTPC-case
I would recommend avoiding cases made totaly of aluminium, since they are hard to silence due to qualities within the material. Steel (Secc) is prefered, and the thicker the better.

Fans : the bigger the better, NOT the more the merryer

If this is your first time setting up a HTPC, DON'T buy a 500 dollar case, buy a cheap case so you can set up things first, get experience with usage , noise, cabeling, looks etc. Then you can decide which case to get.

Hei Knut, kanskje du har lyst til å legge til noe av dette i posten din?
Hey Knut, perhaps you would like to add some of this to you're post? :lol:

If you don't agree with it you can write: ting recomends......bla bla bla.... or something :wink:

Hilsen
ting
 

knutinh

Portal Pro
September 4, 2005
558
2
Heihei =)

Is there a real need for fast harddisks in conjunction with MP? Even full HDTV 1080i, MPEG2 isnt more than 10-20mbit/s, or 2-3MByte/s. The fastest harddrives out there are in the 60 MByte/s range. So the only real benefit of a fast hd would be if you are seriously low on ram (then you are in trouble anyways), or when copying large files over the network. I a m not shure if that justifies the extra noise? On the other hand, you can hardly get your hands on 5400 3.5" drives these days.

I follow the recommodation of www.silentpcreview.com samsung P80 and P120 are consistently the most silent or among the most silent drives out there, while delivering more than good enough performance.

I strongly agree on your fan tips.

I have only had one HTPC case, so I cant speak for the others. Are pure aluminum cases really that hard to silence?

regards
Knut
 

wewe

Portal Pro
August 3, 2005
362
0
61
Herxheim
Home Country
Germany Germany
Hi there,

I have bought an Arctic Cooling Silencer 64 Ultra TC for my AMD. I costs 17 Euro and you don't hear it :D . The original cooler was a nightmare ...

I have a Spinpoint 200GB (SP2004C SATA), it is supported using a rubber fixing. I can still hear it. Not that it would be a big problem but it is the only component I can hear (as long as the DVD doesn't work). So maybe some day I will put a silencer box around it. (But first I have to solve my MP problems ...)

thanks+regards
Wolfgang
 

ting

Portal Member
February 8, 2005
24
0
Sandvika, Norway
Home Country
Norway Norway
About hard disks, I really don't know, I think a 7200 is recommended, but as you wrote it probably would work with a 5400 rpm disk. However since these disks are more expensive etc. I think a 7200 would be the best choice.

Aluminium
Spcr has a lot of information about this, and it fits with my current experience. Look at my signature :wink:
I don't recomend it :lol:
 

knutinh

Portal Pro
September 4, 2005
558
2
Ok.

I have a Chieftec CX04 office pc that is very sensitive to hd vibration. It causes the entire structure to resonante :-(

There is a large (and growing) crowd of people going to extreme measures to silence their computers. Damping mats, water cooling, etc etc.

My Silverstone lc16m is absolutely to live with right now noise-wise. The loudest component is samsung hd (unless the DVD is used). I have bought some Cupper plates and will experiment when I can get som spare time.

regards
Knut Inge
 

wortelsoft

Portal Pro
May 13, 2005
374
1
46
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Home Country
Netherlands Netherlands
I just replaced my power supply fan with a papst 8x8 1500 RPM fan. The cpu cooler was allready equiped with the same fan. My graphics card has a zalmann heatpipe cooler
My system is now very silent for a system with fans.
 

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