[WINDOWS] Help to save baldmosher's marriage
#1
EDITED 24/08/2012:

N40L now running with 2x4GB AMD Entertainment RAM and a 60GB Crucial M4 SSD. Posted a full update today in this thread (p7)

EDITED 14/12/2011:

Have purchased a HP Microserver N40L w/ GT520 for now. I will then probably look at an AMD or Ivy Bridge build. All requirements edited below.

EDITED 12/12/2011:

Current system: TV unit, Philips 37PFL5405H 37" 100Hz (coax to amp), Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Pi 1505 laptop (VGA+opt), Xbox 360 Elite (HDMI+opt), Sony BDP-S370 (HDMI+coax), Humax Foxsat HD (HDMI+opt), Cambridge Azur 540R v2 (opt+coax, no HDMI), Keysonic 540RF, Harmony 300

Planned WHS11 Microserver + stopgap HTPC build: N40L* £120 after rebate, HD5/6450 £15, 2TB HDD* £94, + maybe 8GB ECC RAM £55
Purchased, looking to set up as HTPC once it arrives, and I can then sell the laptop. Then have a few months to play around with it before I go on to the next stage....

Planned W7x64 AMD mATX (HT)PC build: Case*, PSU, RAM, Mobo, CPU Total £205 + HSF? + SSD?[/size] (HDMI+opt)
Looking to purchase this in 2012 late Q1 / early Q2

* already purchased


---------------------------

I'm still reading through the 58-page "start here" thread Rofl

Here's my conundrum

Current setup is housed in a tall IKEA BESTÅ closed cupboard, adjacent to the IKEA BESTÅ BOÅS TV unit, with:
- Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Pi 1505 laptop (T2050 CPU, 2GB RAM, Creative XFi (toslink), onboard Intel GPU, 1x D-sub, 100Mbps LAN)
- Philips 37PFL5405 37" 1080p HDTV (3 x HDMI inputs, so I'm also using a 3-1 HDMI auto switcher box)
- Keysonic 540RF keyboard/touchpad
- Logitech Harmony 300 (doesn't control the laptop)
- external HP USB DVD drive (so no optical drive reqd)
- Cambridge Azur 540R v2 receiver (6.1 DD/DTS-EX/Neo6, optical+coax only, no HDMI so no HD audio, coax from TV source)
- Xbox 360 Elite via VGA and Optical for gaming
- Sony BDP-S370 via HDMI for BDs + DVDs + CDs (so no optical drive reqd)
- Netgear WNDR3800 router with 500GB drive which is OK as a DLNA/NAS. (I've not yet got the ReadyShare Cloud software to work properly, but that becomes chargeable from 2012 anyway, so I want to stick to using AudioGalaxy, which seems to work fine, and I can stream music directly to my Android phone, bonus.)

pic (click to zoom): Image

It is pretty much tolerable as an HTPC setup, but it's cumbersome and limited.

The Wife dislikes it immensely, mainly cos she can't be bothered to remember how to browse to find files on the WNDR, and finding & saving torrents via Google/uTorrent is "too complicated". Even though it's really easy and I've shown her a zillion times how it's done. I should probably write her a 4-step guide but she'd still insist it was "too hard". She does however know how to use the internet so can watch online streaming no bother. And MediaMonkey handles the music library no bother. EDIT: have tried CouchPotato and SickBeard... both pointless unless I pay Usenet subs and I disagree with the concept of paying to pirate

EDIT: The Wife really likes Boxee, and can find her way around XBMC. We're on to a winner already, but she can't understand why I want to spend money just to get 1080p video. I'm expecting her to change her mind on that, as she has finally noticed that ITV HD is better than ITV SD......

Anyway.

Positives:
It's low power consumption
It works OKish with Windows 7 Ultimate x86
It plays all(?) 720p MKVs since I enabled DXVA in XBMC - thanks to this forum!
It sits in the cupboard, it's always on, usually goes into standby when idle, and never crashes

Negatives:
Very sluggish for general/occasional/internet use
It will play 1080p MKVs with DXVA enabled, but they are very stuttery
Upscaled DVDs and SD internet streams look utterly horrendous
No HDMI output
No remote control, but I'm using a Keysonic RF keyboard/touchpad which is very good
Takes up a fair bit of cupboard space, and I have a spare shelf in the unit.
Primary monitor is the laptop screen, which makes troubleshooting very difficult.
It's worth a ridiculous GBP£100 (USD$150) on eBay if I sell it.

I know the GPU is my main problem. It's a laptop, upgrade is not an option. Aero on or off makes no difference but XBMC does allow me to use DXVA, and that's helped with high bitrate 720p. It'll even play 1080p now, but it's unwatchably stuttery.

NB: the Sony BDP is brilliant for DVDs and a handful of streaming services, e.g. BBC iPlayer. The wife can use it, the player's SD upscaling is superb, and I don't mind using it, but the menus are slow and clunky, and the iPlayer streaming server is temperamental and buffers poorly, especially with HD programmes. I'd much rather use a PC for internet stream services. But it needs to be just as simple.

I do want something suitable for my needs, so it makes sense to get a dedicated low-power HTPC system for a small additional outlay. £150 is a reasonable budget for a second hand HTPC system if I sell the laptop, but I do accept I'll probably have to spend more to get what I think I'll need.

I don't want 3D, HD audio, or 3D gaming, but I do want to play around with emulators. (EDITED)


What I need is quite simple & straightforward:
EDIT: I'm now looking at a HP Microserver which takes care of TV card (aiming to use Myth or similar) and hard disks.

- low(ish) power consumption
- Windows 7
- a pretty fast 64bit CPU as I would also like to use it for the internet and other general PC purposes
- 4GB RAM (2 slots)
- 1080p (MKV) playback
- upscaling SD & 720p, streaming & AVI/MKV, to 1080p
- HDMI + separate SPDIF
- gigabit ethernet
- a fair few USB2/3 ports
- IR (for Harmony 300)

mATX Case is already purchased. (Needs a PSU)

Optional bonuses ONLY if they don't stretch the budget too far:
- space for 8GB RAM (i.e. 4 slots)
- 1 x DVI or DisplayPort (to connect to the 720p bedroom TV - Windows would auto-detect whichever display was switched on and resize the desktop automatically to fit)

I have a Logitech Harmony 300 remote control but I'm quite happy using my Keysonic 540RF keyboard (see TV/sound issues below).


Since I'm bothered about general PC use and not just for use as a HTPC this is where my biggest problems arise. I don't use it for gaming but some emulators would be a lot of fun. I would like to use it for editing & saving WAV files in SoundForge occasionally (but the laptop does that reasonably well so I doubt it's a chore) and if possible I'd like to be able to use MP3 mixing software e.g. Traktor so will need dual sound outputs (line out + headphones).
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#2
Just a few points ...

Since you don't need 3D (I don't think I saw that in your post) and you're going to use windows why not just go with a Sandy Bridge Pentium or Celeron? Something like a G530 or G620 should do just fine. The only reason I see to go with the i3 is for 3D or transcoding with quicksync. If you use the nightly builds then DXVA acceleration will work just fine with SB graphics and you shouldn't need a discrete GPU. I've used it myself and it works for me. I'd say give the Intel graphics a try first and if you're not satisfied then get a G210.

The sweet spot in terms of price seems to be mATX. I don't think you'll see a lower price if you step up to an ATX form factor.

Regarding your wife's difficulty in finding sources of content - I'd suggest you look into Sickbeard and Couch Potato. Many users report that these apps increase spousal satisfaction with HTPCs.
HTPC: Win 7 Home 64-bit | MB | CPU | GPU | RAM | Case | PSU | Tuner | HDDs: OS, Media | DVD Burner | Remote
Media server: unraid 4.7 | CPU | MB | RAM | Case | PSU | HDDs: Parity-2TB, Data-2x2TB
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#3
Check out poofy's signature. He's got THE perfect setup for high WAF. I can vouch for it as well, as my wife is all about our HTPCs. So much in fact that I don't get questioned on "upgrades" to the system.

http://forum.xbmc.org/showthread.php?tid=94268
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#4
baldmosher Wrote:What I need is quite simple & straightforward:
- low(ish) power consumption
- 2GB RAM
- Windows 7
- snappy Windows response as I would also like to use it for the internet and other general PC purposes
- enough power to handle a HD tuner card

I think these requirements are in conflict. Win7 with 2GB of RAM will never be "snappy". It will be quite usable for XBMC, but probably disappointing for your "other general purpose PC" uses.
Having enough processing power to handle an HD Tuner pretty much negates the low power consumption - although it's admittedly subjective.
My personal advice is to pick one of these two options:
#1: Spend some money - get a high end HTPC, put XBMC on it, buy a Harmony remote, and spend a lot of time customizing it.
#2: Get a Boxee Box for the living room, your wife will love it. Get a separate PC for all of your general purpose computing.
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#5
wsume99 Wrote:Sickbeard and CouchPotato.......these apps increase spousal satisfaction with HTPCs.

+infinity

(mainly sickbeard)
____________________________________
HTPC 1 - Openelec ION . Revo 3610
SERVER - Sickbeard . CouchPotato . Headphones . MediaDog
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#6
teaguecl Wrote:Having enough processing power to handle an HD Tuner pretty much negates the low power consumption - although it's admittedly subjective.
Since it's subjective I suppose I'll have to disagree. As long as you have a tuner card that has onboard hardware encoding (which just about every one on the market today does) then the CPU resources required are minimal. With my E-350 and a Hauppauge 2250 tuner I frequently recorded two HD streams while playing back HD content from my NAS and drawing a total of ~38 watts with CPU utilization typically <25%. So IMO you can have a low power HTPC and a HD tuner all-in-one.
HTPC: Win 7 Home 64-bit | MB | CPU | GPU | RAM | Case | PSU | Tuner | HDDs: OS, Media | DVD Burner | Remote
Media server: unraid 4.7 | CPU | MB | RAM | Case | PSU | HDDs: Parity-2TB, Data-2x2TB
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#7
wsume99 Wrote:Just a few points ...

Since you don't need 3D (I don't think I saw that in your post) and you're going to use windows why not just go with a Sandy Bridge Pentium or Celeron? Something like a G530 or G620 should do just fine. The only reason I see to go with the i3 is for 3D or transcoding with quicksync. If you use the nightly builds then DXVA acceleration will work just fine with SB graphics and you shouldn't need a discrete GPU. I've used it myself and it works for me. I'd say give the Intel graphics a try first and if you're not satisfied then get a G210.

The sweet spot in terms of price seems to be mATX. I don't think you'll see a lower price if you step up to an ATX form factor.

Regarding your wife's difficulty in finding sources of content - I'd suggest you look into Sickbeard and Couch Potato. Many users report that these apps increase spousal satisfaction with HTPCs.

dsimages Wrote:+infinity

(mainly sickbeard)

Interesting new Rating Parameter Smile
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#8
Thanks for the info, good that you all agree CPU power is largely irrelevant nowadays. Times they are a changin'... if I may digress..... I remember paying £100 (US$150) to upgrade from a SX-25 to a DX-50 and then once again to a DX4-75. The latter was overclocked to 95 Smile Then I think I bought a Cyrix 133 for about £50.... I broke & fixed my dad's Olivetti PC innumerable times between 93 and 96. He's still using my hand-me-downs, but he'd probably still be using his Amstrad PCW if I hadn't done all those upgrades.

ANYWAY....

A Pi 1505 laptop with standard spec (512MB RAM) just went for £65 (US$100) Sad so I am now bracing myself for having to justify spending $200+ on the total setup eventually. It's gonna have to be über-usable and look like sex on legs. The Wife™ likes the idea of putting it in the drawer/shelf though, as it frees up more cupboard space to hide our junk. Laugh

However, I've seen suitable Mini-ITX builds going for the same sort of price range recently (I missed a really good one last week going for <£100 when broadband connxn decided to drop last minute - I wasn't happy at all).

So I'm keeping an eye out for a <£100 bargain base unit at the moment but they seem to be very rare. Lots listed as "HTPC" but they are all overpriced IMO. I guess the keyword by itself is a useful selling tool.

wsume99 Wrote:why not just go with a Sandy Bridge Pentium or Celeron? Something like a G530 or G620 should do just fine. The only reason I see to go with the i3 is for 3D or transcoding with quicksync. If you use the nightly builds then DXVA acceleration will work just fine with SB graphics and you shouldn't need a discrete GPU. I've used it myself and it works for me. I'd say give the Intel graphics a try first and if you're not satisfied then get a G210.

The sweet spot in terms of price seems to be mATX. I don't think you'll see a lower price if you step up to an ATX form factor.

Regarding your wife's difficulty in finding sources of content - I'd suggest you look into Sickbeard and Couch Potato. Many users report that these apps increase spousal satisfaction with HTPCs.
All good info, thanks, although you'll have to explain what "nightly builds" (is Nightly a xbmc dev team?), "DXVA acceleration" (DirectX video acceleration?), and "SB graphics" means....!

No, I definitely don't and won't need 3D. The Wife™ is highly photo-motion-sensitive, hand held cameras in 8 Mile / Cloverfield makes her feel physically sick, so 3D is a very bad idea. It's snake oil IMHO. My eyes & brain do a good enough job with creating depth perception by themselves! I might change my opinion if they ever start bringing out games in 3D, but that'll be Xbox's problem, and also a few years away.

ATX was a mere thought, promptly scrubbed from the list.

I won't be doing transcoding.

I'm liking your "Intel onboard should be OK" suggestion, even if only temporarily, but GT210s on eBay for just £30 ($50), so cost of upgrade is not an issue.

I'll try out Couchpotato and Sickbeard (I am assuming that's not what you meant by SB graphics?) on the laptop first. Both look very useful indeed.

teaguecl Wrote:I think these requirements are in conflict. Win7 with 2GB of RAM will never be "snappy". It will be quite usable for XBMC, but probably disappointing for your "other general purpose PC" uses.
Having enough processing power to handle an HD Tuner pretty much negates the low power consumption - although it's admittedly subjective.
My personal advice is to pick one of these two options:
#1: Spend some money - get a high end HTPC, put XBMC on it, buy a Harmony remote, and spend a lot of time customizing it.
#2: Get a Boxee Box for the living room, your wife will love it. Get a separate PC for all of your general purpose computing.
Really? Even on x86? So you reckon go for 4GB from the outset?

I was led to believe that you don't get the benefit of 4GB unless you install x64. I could be confused with XP -> W7. I could also be confused with needing 4GB to get any benefit from switching to x64 Smile

The laptop is not exactly snappy at the moment with 2GB RAM installed (that's the maximum). It's not dog-slow, but it does take a while to get around, and loading heavy apps is pretty painful (e.g. half a minute to load Firefox, Chrome not much faster). W7MC is dog-slow, except when running on a fresh W7 install, and then it's pretty fast. I had assumed the slow RAM and FSB (I think just 533MHz?) would be an additional problem, another reason for wanting a newer CPU.

as regards your recommendations....
1. that's precisely what I'm trying to avoid Wink I've got a Harmony One. If I can use the TV as a HDMI sound source switcher, then that frees up one device (the Cambridge amp) to control the HTPC. Until then, I'll be using the Keysonic keyboard as a remote.
2. Boxee looks very expensive for such a simple device - but I'll install the s/w on the laptop and see what's what, it certainly looks awesome, The Wife™ loves US TV shows, so that would be an instant winner if we could just watch those on demand.



Incidentally, I tried Ubuntu very briefly, but that was even slower than W7, it drove me nuts. Although I didn't spend any time at all looking for drivers. I'm guessing I might need to spend a bit of time with it while I figure out what to put in the new HTPC.

I'm also guessing the onboard laptop video (Intel Graphic Media Accelerator 950) probably uses shared RAM, so I'll see if I can fix that to 512MB in the BIOS.

http://www.notebook.hu/download.cmt?id=646


Oh, one other thing I definitely want, is an E-SATA port, preferably two. I have a 500GB internal SATA disk for now, but I want to be able to use my Icy Box once I get myself a SSD eventually. We don't need much space for films & series because we always delete them after we've watched them once, but it's nice to have the option of adding more fast disks later.

(The WNDR3800 has another 500GB IDE drive (via USB caddy) which we use primarily for DLNA music sharing and occasional backups. Our music collection is about 150GB but we are deleting more than we add.)
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#9
wsume99, your system looks pretty sweet actually, especially as it's micro. Amazed it only draws 38W at full load.

What's it like for running Windows apps?


Oh and one more thing, I am very glad I didn't throw out my spare 120mm case fans, I think they might come in useful and save me a couple of bucks!
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#10
Sounds like you are off to a good start in terms of putting a lot of thought into the expenditure and asking advice. A few things I note in your post that have not already been commented on:
You (correctly) want to leave yourself the option to add on to your htpc later. Thus you want to make careful selections for hardware that meets your needs now but leaves room for expansion and upgrades later. Buying something cheaper now that leaves no room for upgrades is a waste of money when you have to scrap it in order to upgrade it. Fortunately, there are plenty of good options.
Secondly, it sounds like your budget may be limited right now. You do have something that is 'working' for now so it really is okay to wait a little while longer to save up a bit more cash so you can get what you want rather than settling for something you can 'live with' but not really be happy with. As a bonus, Christmas is coming up... Maybe ask for gift cards for amazon or whatever the newegg equivalent in the UK is.
In any case, there are plenty of us here that will enjoy helping you create a system that is right for you! Nod

As to WAF. My wife likes our htpc/xbmc setup just fine. Will she pick the remote up and push one button to turn it on? NO. I came home from work the other day and she and 3 friends were watching a DVD on her laptop Shocked Why, because she 'didn't know how to turn the thing on' WTF?
Did I marry a bimbo you rightly ask? lol My wife is smarter than I am by a longshot! Moral of the story: avoid trying to push wives somewhere they simply are not gonna go. Wink
My first HTPC build
My UnRaid Server
Kingston rebates and ASUS warranties are WORTHLESS FRAUDS
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#11
Woah, I just looked at the Passmark score for G620... that's 3x the spec I was looking at in a second hand machine for just £50. I almost spaffed in my pants.

I think I might just build one myself.

EDIT: In fact I might just copy the build above this post Wink I make that $270 for all the bits I would need right this moment. I reckon I'll be able to plump for that in Feb/March.

And then wait a while for the triple-SSD RAID stripe... LOL

EDIT: crikey, the G530 is similar spec for £10 less.....

I have the bug
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#12
OK so let's assume G530 is my sweet spot, if I were to go for the following:

CPU: G530 2.4GHz 65W £40
or G620 65W £49

Mobo: Gigabyte GA-H61M £51
EDIT: no wait, no E-SATA....? Is that a case feature?

RAM: Corsair DDR3 1333 4GB (2x2) £22


I think I am going to struggle to put any case into the drawer shelf 100mm tall, as that seems to be a major problem to find a case that small.
EDIT: indeed - and the 350mm shelf depth means the following won't fit.... see page 3

e.g. "slim" Silverstone Milo ML03B 105mm £51

http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/cases/d...vc-s7.html < this did catch my eye... but passive cooling severely limits my options, I guess?

PSU: BeQuiet 350W 82% efficient £39

At a touch under £200, that's well within my price range, assuming I would get about £100 for selling the laptop. And I could probably go cheaper if I tried.


Thankfully I have a 140mm aperture at the top of the BOAS unit, that currently houses my Cambridge amp (100mm) and the BD and Satellite STB (80mm total), that stack looks pretty ugly actually, so they could probably be moved down below to the smaller drawer without too much trouble (would need new cables though). And then it's just a matter of the case looking nice sat alongside the Cambridge amp..... which is matt black, btw.

I'd guess 120mm case height would be the sweet spot for quiet fans, seeing as it's now going to be sat in the "open air" and not hidden out of earshot in a drawer. But 100mm would match the amp.


Pics of current setup / units to follow once I take & upload them. You'll see why I have a few difficulties...!
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#13
Oh and no, The Wife™ is not a bimbo. She's a hot 36FF blonde all right, but she is a mechanical engineer.

Hence why she doesn't want to come home and spend all night trying to remember how to operate MORE highly complex machinery Wink

...and yes, this thread is useless without pics.
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#14
Kirky99 Wrote:Check out poofy's signature. He's got THE perfect setup for high WAF. I can vouch for it as well, as my wife is all about our HTPCs. So much in fact that I don't get questioned on "upgrades" to the system.
Aye.... If only I had the space for a full sized case.... Sad
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#15
pic (click to zoom): Image
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