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Old 04-09-2012, 08:07 PM   #1
Cecil
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Cecil's Ultimate HTPC Guide

This is a work in progress, on going guide.

Finally going to do this as I put mine together and set it all up.
This is going to be broken in to two parts. Hardware and software. (good thing I just got my first mechanical keyboard, cause this will be long : )


First question you need to answer yourself is what do you need? There is more to an HTPC then being able to playback videos, or even HD videos. What do you plan to have in the future? Whats a possability to have in the future? Sure you can make a decent HTPC with a low budget CPU and low end video card, and likely be happy with it. But for not much more at all, you can have a true HTPC that can handle anything you throw at it for years to come.


Here is a list of the biggest things for an HTPC that most wont know to look for.

1. Bitsreaming HD audio (being able to play DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby True HD)
2. 23.976Hz support (the framerate film is shot at)
3. Full 1080P 3D playback
4. Transcode files quickly to formats you need
5. Low noise, heat, and energy draw


Number one, bitstreaming HD audio.
This is important to those who have home theater surround systems capable of playing DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby True-HD. There are very few sound cards out there that can do this, and the ones that do exsist are hugely expensive. So the best way to get HD audio is through the video card.
From Nvidia there arent many cards that can do this. Most if not all of the 500 series do, but from the 4 series you need a GTX-460 or GT-430.
From AMD, any 5000 series card or newer can bitstream HD audio without issue. Also the Llano platform can do this as well.
And from Intel, Clarkdale and Sandy Bridge (and anything newer with an IGP) is capable as well.



Number two, 23.976Hz support.
This one is complicated. Some people manage to get it exactly 23.976Hz, while others can only get close (23.978 or 23.974). What this does is every so often you will get a judder when it tries to sync itself back up to the original 23.976FPS it was shot in.
AMD, Nvidia, and Intel all have their own issues with this, but I personally find AMD to be the best.



Number three, full 1080P and 3D playback.
Anything with HDMI 1.4 or newer can do 3D playback, and anything since Nvidia 8000 series and AMD 2000 series should have no issue playing back 1080P video.



Number four, transcoding files.
Until Sandy Bridge came out, Nvidia hardware accelerated CUDA based transcoding was king. Sandy's quicksync came out and blew everything else away though. Only issue is finding the right software to take advantage of quicksync. To use quicksync, you must have be using the IGP of the CPU either directly, or through Virtue (which allows you to use a normal video card, but still use the IGP when not gaming).
Here is a good artical on transcoding.
http://www.anandtech.com/show/4083/t...-2100-tested/9
So while Nvidia is fast (not so much against quick sync) the quality drops noticably. Quick sync is very fast, and only has a small drop in quality. Using an AMD video card or just the CPU to transcode results in the highest video quality, though it takes longer.



Number five, low noise, heat and power draw.
Most modern video cards have very low idle power draw, and are quiet and cool enough to not be too worried about them. The CPU choice is all yours to make, and there is no wrong choice either. Some people care about power draw, others dont (like me). By now, you should have some idea on the type of system you are going to go with. If you want something small, silent, low power, then you will likely be looking at an AMD APU or Intel CPU with an IGP. If you want a powerful HTPC that is fast and can do everything, then you would be looking in to at least a quad core CPU. Which means finding a quiet but good cooling solution. This is where the all in one water coolers are much better then air coolers. The Corsair H60 (with a different fan) is about as silent as they come, and can hold about any modern CPU at a very high clock speed.
For the user looking for a quiet cool running, but still fast system, a low end dual core CPU with a mid range AMD video card, or a mid range CPU with a good IGP would be your best options.





Now we need to narrow some things down. Most important part of an HTPC is the video solution.
Again, Anandtech has a good report on HTPC video cards.
http://www.anandtech.com/show/4380/d...pus-shootout/1
I see a lot of people suggesting the cheapest cards a lot, which for most users is fine. But the really low end ones are not powerful enough to do all things well.

For an AMD based card, you really want a card with at least 320 SPUs. 160 and less are capable of most things, but fall behind in some testing.
With Nvidia, you want a GT-430 96SPs card or better. The 520 with 48SPs really fell behind.


Here is another test with Intel and AMD IGPs,
http://www.anandtech.com/show/4479/a...-perspective/3
Intel HD3000 performs well, but not as good as Llano. Both are still behind a real dedicated video card.

Then in these tests, we see HD3000 not do so well with deinterlacing, but general color and quality is better then Llano.
http://www.anandtech.com/show/4479/a...-perspective/5





I think by now you should be seeing the pattern. There is a lot of give and take with HTPC, and no setup is perfect at everything. If you want what is going to make you happiest, you need to decide what is most important to you. I will give a few suggestions for a variety of setups though.




Power user HTPC
For someone who doesnt care about size, heat, power, etc... but wants the best overall HTPC experiance. High budget needed.

Video Card: If this is strictly an HTPC and not for gaming, any custom cooled AMD Radeon 6670 or better (better wont gain you anything though). Look for one with a nice aftermarket cooler. The 6670 will be strong enough for any HTPC related use you throw at it, draws low power, and is a pretty cool running card.

CPU: At least a fast quad core, and more cores will be better. We are going to be doing X86 transcoding with this system to ensure lowest drop in quality, so you are going to want some serious power. Sandy bridge 2500 or better, AMD FX-8000 series or hex-core Thuban, or best options would be an Intel hex-core with hyper threading (9x0X on 1366 or i7 39x0 on 2011).

Motherboard: Higher end motherboard thats well built and has lots of SATA/USB/etc ports. If you need the power for this type of HTPC, you are going to have a LOT of HD material, which means a lot of storage space.

Ram: 8GB decently quick ram should be fine here. Ive yet to use over 6GB with anything, and even that was hard to do.

PSU: Good quality 550W should be plenty here. Look at reviews for a low ripple/noise, efficient unit, with a quiet fan and that runs cool. Antec, Corsair, Seasonic, etc... are all good choices.

Case: Completely up to you. I like the Fractal Design Define R3. Sound dampaned with the option to uncover fan slots for more cooling, or keep it quiet, and room for 8+ HDDs.

Internet: If you plan to do a lot of streaming, downloading, or sharing, I suggest getting a motherboard with a good 1Gbit LAN port, or getting a dedicated card. I like Intel ones.

Fans/Cooling: Any good quality fans that can put out decent air quietly. Larger is better the majority of the time. For CPU cooling, the Corsair H60 gets my vote. Its afordable, mounts very easily to just about everything, is very quiet, and a single ~800rpm 120MM fan works great on it. It also prevents CPU heat from spreading around the rest of the system.



Budget HTPC

Vid Card: Either get a CPU with a good integrated graphics, or if you can do so, get at least an AMD 6570 or Nvidia GT-430.

CPU: Intel I3-2125 or other CPU with HD3000 or better graphics, or if you are going to get a dedicated card, a Pentium G620 (or any half decent dual core in recent years) is fine. For AMD, a Llano A6-3500 or better is a good choice.

Motherboard: Anything that offers the features you want really. I would try to look for one that at least has all solid caps, a strong VRM setup for the
CPU, and good cooling.

Ram: 4GB really is the minimum these days. If you are going to be using an integrated graphics setup, be sure to get pretty fast ram too (8Gb Dual Channel DDR3-1866 or better is recomended).

PSU: Good brand 400W or better should be fine.

Cooling: Stock should be fine



Balanced Price/Performance

Vid Card: AMD Radeon 6570HD

CPU: Intel I3 or AMD Llano or Phenom II tri-core or better

Motherboard: Quality brand, mid range, with features you need, and preferably Intel 1Gbit Lan port (some AMD boards have this too)

Ram: 8GB DDR3-1866 Dual Channel low voltage or better (Crucial 1866Mhz 9-9-9-27 1.5V kits get my recomendation)

PSU: 450-500W quality unit or better

Cooling: Corsair H60 for CPU, pick a video card with a good aftermarket cooler on it already, decent 120MM fans set to run 800-1000RPM (fan controller comes in handy here).


My personal HTPC setup

I wanted the best quality I can get, and something that I know is fast enough for anything I throw at it, but also on a budget.

CPU: Intel I3-2125

Vid Card: Intel HD3000 graphics (might add an AMD 6570HD or better)

Motherboard: ASUS P8Z68-V Pro, a bit overkill for most, but I got it really cheap. It has 8 total SATA ports plus an eSATA, an Intel 1Gbit Lan port, and Virtue.

Ram: 2x4GB Crucial Smart Tracer 1866 9-9-9-27 1.5V memory kit (capable of running 2133Mhz 9-9-9-27 with 1.6V)

PSU: OCZ ZS Series 550w PSU

Case: Fractal Design Define R3 White

Cooling: Stock (except Im using a copper bottom heatsink from a 2500K on my CPU)

Storage: Samsung 830 Series 128GB SSD, 4x2TB Samsung F4 HDDs
Disc Drive: LG Blu-Ray and HD-DVD player, DVD-RW





Software guide coming soon

Last edited by Cecil : 04-09-2012 at 08:15 PM.
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Old 04-10-2012, 07:18 PM   #2
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Nice little guide Cecil. The Llano over Phenom II for power savings.

Got one built, a piece together from some HW I got from here actually.

FX-4100 Asus M5A78L (760G) and a 4550 for video. Stock air cooling. 2x 250GB Sata drives and a 350w PSU in a neat little mini tower HP case. The power supply is getting replaced with a 600 watter so I can add some more drives though.

Gotta say, it's fine doing anything even some gaming. It's cost me $190 drives mobo and FX-4100 +$25 PSU and the 4550 was around +45$?? (can't remember) Case was salvaged from curb on some road somewhere. In total it was roughly $260.
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Old 04-10-2012, 07:49 PM   #3
prudhomb
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for cpu cooling antec 620 is nice as well, It cools a little better than the H60, and when I bought mine it cost less as well.
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Old 04-11-2012, 12:00 PM   #4
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Nice guide, I have the exact same personal setup except I have one of the GT520's (had it on my old box for HDMI audio/video since I have it going through my receiver) and a Silverstone GD01-B case. I used the cooler for my 2600k it does a descent job of keeping it cool and quiet and a aftermarket HS that fit in my case was 40$+ (I was being cheap too)

Looking forward to see what you recommend for software, and add my own findings.
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Old 04-11-2012, 09:40 PM   #5
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Just got a Lian Li PC-Q07 hand me down going Mini ITX AMD A8...Subed!
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Old 04-17-2012, 01:52 PM   #6
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If you want any help with an XBMC portion to your guide I'd be glad to help. I've been a user/tweaker for a few years up to the point where I roll my own builds at times.

I was actually just thinking about writing an HTPC guide the other day, glad I don't have to anymore
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Old 04-17-2012, 01:56 PM   #7
Cecil
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Ill probably work on the software part here in the next day or so. If you want to do one for XBMC go ahead.
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Old 04-18-2012, 10:13 AM   #8
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Awesome guide and really looking forward to the software part. Been contemplating putting one together for months now, but wasn't sure where to start, lol. Now I've got a great starting point!
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Old 05-01-2012, 01:12 AM   #9
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Here is how to force a couple of special resolutions for nvidia. The 59.94 settings smoothed out my scrubs rips.

Quote:
active pixels horizontal: 1920 vertical: 1080
front porch horizontal: 638 vertical: 4
sync width horizontal: 44 vertical: 5
total pixels horizontal: 2750 vertical: 1124
polarity horizontal: positive vertical: positive
refresh rate: 23.978

for 59.94:
front porch horizontal: 88 vertical: 4
sync width horizontal: 44 vertical: 5
total pixels horizontal: 2200 vertical: 1124
refresh rate: 59.942
Confirmed on my Nvidia Ion HTPC.
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Old 05-31-2012, 09:12 PM   #10
Cecil
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Didnt forget about this, just have had a lot going on recently. Still havent gotten around to setting my HTPC up yet either.
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Old 06-01-2012, 09:29 PM   #11
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It took around 3 years, but, the htpc windows 7 install finally bit the dust.

Reinstalling now.
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Old 07-16-2012, 11:32 PM   #12
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Im in the middle of moving, among other projects. Going to be a while before I can do a software guide, but this one pretty much covers all I was going to do.

http://imouto.my/watching-h264-video...video-version/
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Old 07-19-2012, 10:49 PM   #13
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Great post!

What are you doing for storage options? Offsite, external, internal?

What are you using for music management?

Zoom Player has been my crown jewel for several years now (since version 4, I even stuck out the charge only stint). That plus CCCP has handled all my media format needs. At this point I am thinking of buying the Pro version.

Community Question: How does XBMC stack up?
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Old 07-19-2012, 10:54 PM   #14
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I'm a fan of K-lite codec packs personally.

I used xbmc a while back on the atom, and it didn't like it. Assuming you're going to use something more powerful, and you have a reason to use a media center remote as apposed to a kb and mouse, it's wonderful.
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Old 07-21-2012, 06:51 PM   #15
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Does the new intel HD 4000 provide enough muscle so that you no longer need a dedicated gpu?

Great thread btw.
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Old 07-21-2012, 07:48 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PhilZJ View Post
Does the new intel HD 4000 provide enough muscle so that you no longer need a dedicated gpu?

Great thread btw.
It should be, but I havent found anything that says one way or the other. I can say, that I have too many problems with framerate timing, jerkyness, res scailing, etc... with every Intel HD 3000 system Ive tried. Mostly driver related I would guess. I gave up and stick with mid level Radeon 5 series or higher now.
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Old 07-27-2012, 05:00 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cecil View Post
It should be, but I havent found anything that says one way or the other. I can say, that I have too many problems with framerate timing, jerkyness, res scailing, etc... with every Intel HD 3000 system Ive tried. Mostly driver related I would guess. I gave up and stick with mid level Radeon 5 series or higher now.
Thats what ive always read too. thanks for the guide
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Old 09-02-2012, 10:11 PM   #18
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Cecil bees in the trap, bees bees in the trap.
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