sunnuntai 27. tammikuuta 2008

Hardware Specifications

Let´s start this one of with hardware specifications (everyone loves those, right?) of the HTPC. This should give some idea of what I am trying to accomplish and maybe some pointers of what I have considered to be good hardware for such project. Let´s face it, it is also the easiest place for me to start.

Hardware specifications:

  • Processor: 2.0ghz Intel Pentium Dual-Core E2180
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3R (rev. 1.o)
  • Memory: 2x 1GB Transcend 800mhz aXeRam
  • Hard disks: 2x 320GB and 500GB Seagate Barracuda SATA drives
  • Graphics: Nvidia Geforce 6800 GS
  • DVB tuners: 2x Technotrend Premium C-2300 Hybrid (aka Hauppauge Nexus-CA ?)
  • PSU: Seasonic S12II-430W
  • Enclosure: Silverstone LC20M with IR and VFD display
  • Cooling: Scythe Mini Ninja CPU cooler, 2x 92mm and 2x80mm silent fans
  • Accessories: Logitech Harmony 555 remote and Ione Scorpius P20 Media Center Keyboard

Here is a little rationale about why I have chosen the hardware above.

First of all I decided to build my HTPC setup around Intel E2180 processor, not just because it is dirt cheap (72€ here) but also because every E21x0 processors overclocks like nothing else! I am talking 100% overclock with stock cooler and with a little bump to core voltage. I am currently running the 2.0ghz version at 3.0 ghz and it has been rock solid for few months now. It also handles H.264 encoded FullHD video easily (albeit the software, mainly mplayer, needs to be CVS version that includes multithreading support).

The Gigabyte motherboard seems to be good choice, it is very stable even with overclocked system like mine. It also has 3 older PCI slots which are useful because I have 2 PCI slot DVB tuners and I might consider adding third one. The 1.0 revision of the board also has 4 additional USB headers which are very useful because the enclosure alone needs one for the VFD and one for the USB/Audio front panel, I have also thought of adding memory card reader in the front panel, which would require one more USB header. Being Gigabyte the motherboard also features their "Ultra Durable 2" design, which seems kinda cool.

Transcend memory was chosen because of it's overclocking potential and also because it was quite cheap at the time. I managed to get hold of a batch of memory that still included the Micron memory chips which are know for their uncanny overclocking potential. Although I really do not have so much use for the "potential" since I am running the memory near the stock settings. Overclocking the CPU was done by increasing the FSB and at the same time lowering the memory multiplier.

With three hard drives and three cards in slots the case is getting a bit crowded, but I thing I will manage to add one more drive. The two 320GB drives are going to be used in RAID1 (mirroring) setup and will store the Gentoo system (root and swap) partitions and also serve as "safe" place to stores data I don't want to lose, like my pictures and music. The 500GB drive currently houses DVB recordings and will be fully dedicated for this purpose. The fourth drive that I am going to add at some point is going to be dedicated to house all
the multimedia content, mainly high definition video.

Nvidia Geforce 6800GS is likely a bit overkill for the use in HTPC, but that is what I had available. Nvidia does not provide much of support for hardware based video decoding in Linux, which causes the need for such computing power as E2180@3ghz. For example Nvidia 8400GS would be ideal for HTPC because it supports hardware decoding of H.264 video and also has HDMI output.
Unfortunately Nvidia has decided to leave Linux users hanging.

Technotrend DVB tuners are so called full feature cards, which are leftovers from my original VDR-box (Video Disk Recorder). Each card can display and record one full DVB-mux at time, so currently I am able to view and record from two different program muxes at the same time. There are some times that I would like to have capability to record from two different muxes and at the same time watch third. Fortunately there is still room for expansion.

Seasonic PSU was chosen because of it's very good efficiency, low noise and good quality. First I was going to buy the 380 wattage version, but availability was a problem, so I went with the bigger one.

Tastes differ, but the looks is always a big priority when choosing casing for a HTPC. I've always liked the looks of the Silverstone cases, in particular I liked the LC20M which hides optical drives and front IO ports behind doors. The case does not stand out at all amongst other entertainment electronics I have under the TV-set. Also I liked that the case comes with a built in IR-receiver and VFD.

Cooling can be a problem in HTPC cases, which are built for looks and compactness, not for optimal cooling results. LC20M has mounts for 2 92mm fans in front of the HD-cage and for 3 80mm fans near the CPU cooler. Adequate cooling can be provided by using slow turning fans making minimal noise. Currently I still have the stock Intel cooler but I am going to replace it within days with a Scythe Mini Ninja cooler. Cooling fans are currently Nexus made, but once I get rid of the stock sink I'll have to review if they are silent enough.

I'll get back onto Logitech Remote and Iolo keyboard later.

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