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Thread: HTPC questions

  1. #1
    Network Hub Olero's Avatar
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    HTPC questions

    Hello knowledgeable RPS people,

    I've decided to join this modern age, and build myself a HTPC, upgrade my internet + television subscription and get Netflix. To make things extra challenging/fun, I want to make a completely silent PC. What I want is one device that can:


    • Play stuff from the internet on my TV, including Netflix
    • Play my CD collection, so a good connection to some speakers needs to be there
    • Play my DVD collection
    • Play MP3s, so either storage is needed, or connection to a network or:
    • Connect to USB devices (but this use is probably limited, since the TV itself can do that as well)
    • I won't play any games on this machine



    I've covered all/most of the hardware bits:


    • Case: Streacom FC8 Evo - An aluminium case that acts as heatsink. Possible alternative is the FC5 OD model, which looks a bit better, but is more expensive)
    • Mobo: ASRock B85M-ITX - A cheap, capable mini-ITX motherboard that, most importantly, fits in the case (the heatsinks limit the options in mobo's quite a lot).
    • CPU: Intel i3 4360T - A brand new Haswell refresh model with (and the reason I want it) a TDP of just 35 Watt. Which in case of a passive build, is a big plus for heat management. But it could be an overkill for performance?? This is one of the points where I scratch my head and have no clue what is needed. Since I won't add a GPU, I do want a good Intel HD graphics included (HD 4600 in this case).
    • PSU: Pico PSU 150 Watt - A PSU that is plugged directly onto the motherboard. Very efficient and completely quiet. What I'm not 100% sure of is the amount of Watts needed. There are no good calculators out there, at least not that I could find
    • SSD: Crucial MX100 256GB - Great value for money I think. Could be 128 Gb, but I like to be on the safe side, and on the fast(er) side :)
    • Mem: Crucial Ballistix Tactical 8 Gb LVLP - Low profile, low voltage.
    • DVD drive: Lite-on DL-8ATSH - No blu-ray? Nope. I just want to be able to play my current collection of DVD's, but won't buy blu-ray discs. I expect to use Netflix mostly instead of buying new DVD's. The drive I chose is slot-in and has a central eject button, which both are needed for the case.
    • Mouse + keyboard: Logitech 400 - Not so sure about this. What is an easy to use "aparatus", that fits in the living room and is usable by the missus.
    • Infrared: Streacom IR controller + receiver - I uhhhh, am not sure what I can and can't do with this. Do I even need it?
    • OS: Windows 8.1 (apparently Windows 8 saves power usage compared to Windows 7 when playing/streaming movies/youtube/Netflix)

    -------------------------------------------
    Total price, approx. 650,- Euro/ 520,- Pounds



    Now the big (and small) questions:


    • Is the processor I chose overkill to stream videos to my PC? I am not willing to put a GPU in my PC, since this kills the whole "silence" idea. The processor needs to have a) good built-in GPU b) low TDP c) not be a bottleneck
    • How much Watt does my build use?? (or: How much Watt does my PSU need to supply?). How I calculated: 35 (CPU) + 30 (Mobo idle) + 5 (SSD) + 5 (mem) + 5 (DVD drive) + 5 (IR receiver) + 10 (2 USB devices attached) = 95 x safety factor 1.5 = 150 Watt. But I realize I can't just add up Watt + Watt. My gut tells me even 150 Watt is way too much, but is my gut right?
    • What is the best way to operate a HTPC? What do you guys/gals use? A mouse + keyboard?? Your smartphone??? I'm clueless what is an easy, good thing to use.
    • Do I need an infrared device? What would be the benefit? If I can play CD's without having to power my TV, this would be a benefit to me for example.
    • My most urgent question: What are good speaker/home cinema sets that can be connected to the HTPC and provide a nice, balanced sound for TV, movies and playing audio (CDs / MP3s) ?? I only have a little knowledge of PC speakers, but they tend to miss a lot of mid, which is bad for TV and CD.




    Phew, wall of text has landed. Thanks for reading, and hopefully you might know some answer(s) ?
    Mijn Uitlaatklep - My (Dutch) blog about games, music and more

  2. #2
    Obscure Node
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    I'd say don't look at 'pc speaker', just get a sound card and look at standard amps and speakers. As long as the amp has a couple of inputs you can have both the tv and pc going in to separate channels, so you don't need the tv on once a cd's playing.

  3. #3
    Network Hub Olero's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GGG View Post
    I'd say don't look at 'pc speaker', just get a sound card and look at standard amps and speakers. As long as the amp has a couple of inputs you can have both the tv and pc going in to separate channels, so you don't need the tv on once a cd's playing.
    Thanks for your answer! I was hoping to avoid an amp (which is another device in the living room, and I'm looking to have it all combined in one HTPC). I don't want to have bombastic / epic cinema-style sound, and I'm not even sure I want surround sound (my girlfriend would love to have surround sound with invisible speakers, she doesn't like our current speakers which are very very modest (approx. 40 centimeters high, 25 width, 40 deep).

    Is there a way to connect regular speakers / a home cinema set to a PC (more specific, the PC I specified) without the need of an amplifier?? Or does that imply that said speakers / home cinema set have an built-in amp?
    Mijn Uitlaatklep - My (Dutch) blog about games, music and more

  4. #4
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Boris's Avatar
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    You'd need a built-in amp. If you're googling for that, the term "active" is what you'd want to include.

    The processor is way overkill, if you're just streaming movies. You can get the most budget basic Celeron chip, and it'll be fine. This one will save you 80 euros. Really, pretty much anything can decode 1080p streams at the moment, so if you're not doing anything intensive (like gaming), I'd go with the cheapest chip you can get. Do note, that with the B85 chipset mobo you've chosen you can't use Haswell Refresh CPUs unless the motherboard BIOS has been updated (which you have to do with a non-refresh processor). Stores like Azerty (which is close to you, fellow Tukker, in Raalte and I recommend them) ask 15 euros to flash the BIOS to a new version.

    Your power budget is also a bit off. An SSD does not use 5W. It probably can't even use 1W. Your motherboard will also not use 30W. It will probably use on the order of 15W, if even that. My money's on 10W tops. Your PSU is fine. Here is a guy who built a similar rig and it used under 6W idle.

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    Network Hub Olero's Avatar
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    Bedankt! I mean, thanks! :)

    That is some great advice. I'll look for a cheaper CPU, I guess I'm not used to looking at the bottom list of PC parts... The one you specified seems good enough indeed. I also switched to a lower power Pico PSU as well. Furthermore added some thermal paste, which needs to be used to attach the CPU to the heatsink aka the case.

    All in all some 100 Euro saved, not bad, not bad at all!

    I'll look for an active speaker set in the meantime. Any good leads? (budget max. 200,- Euro)
    Mijn Uitlaatklep - My (Dutch) blog about games, music and more

  6. #6
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Boris's Avatar
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    You can, by the way, also get away with just 4GB of RAM. If you're unsure, you can always get a single stick of 4GB and add the other 4GB later if you need it, but I think you won't.

    I'm really fond of my M-Audio AV-40 (they're active 2.0 speakers, so no sub and only stereo), but they might be a tad underpowered for a living room.

    It's hard to shop speakers if you don't know what you want. I don't even know if you can get active 5.1 sets with wires long enough for a living room. Most active 5.1s seem to be made for PC use, so the wires are relatively short (like 4 meters, which is too short for a living room if you want to hide the wires).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Boris View Post
    The processor is way overkill, if you're just streaming movies. You can get the most budget basic Celeron chip, and it'll be fine.
    Unless you want to do some post-processing on it. That can add up real quick.

    Also, have you ever heard about XBMC? The go-to solution for HTPCs? And OpenELEC?
    Last edited by DanMan; 02-08-2014 at 09:27 AM.

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    Network Hub spacein_vader's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DanMan View Post
    Unless you want to do some post-processing on it. That can add up real quick.

    Also, have you ever heard about XBMC? The go-to solution for HTPCs? And OpenELEC?
    With some attached storage a Raspberry Pi running XBMC could do everything he was (except play DVDs, they'd need to be ripped to the storage.) So I'd say CPU power in that scenario could be pretty low. AMD's new AM1 boards and CPU's might be a better bet than Intel? Cheap, upgradeable, low power and with enough graphics grunt to do any post processing. The 5150 is available for about 33 (quad core, 1.6ghz, 25W, 8400 GPU) and ASRock AM1H-MITX board is 48 on Amazon which supports external power. It has HDMI out so you could use a home cinema receiver with passthrough or the on board analog or optical digital outputs saving you on the sound card. It also has a PCIe slot and Mini PCIe which might be handy if you want to install WiFi?

    The platforms only weakness is it only has 2 SATA ports, but if the SSD and optical drive are all you're having that's a non issue. drop in your memory and other components suggested and you're ready to go. Drop XBMC on it and assuming you have a smart phone or tablet you can use one of the many XBMC remote apps to use it as a remote control over your wifi.

    This does assume the HTPC will be connected to the network via ethernet as I'm not sure movie streaming will be great over wireless.

  9. #9
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Boris's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DanMan View Post
    Unless you want to do some post-processing on it. That can add up real quick.

    Also, have you ever heard about XBMC? The go-to solution for HTPCs? And OpenELEC?
    You mean the shit that runs on the original Xbox and the RPi? I'm pretty sure a newly released desktop-class cpu is going to handle that just fine​.

    Quote Originally Posted by spacein_vader View Post
    This does assume the HTPC will be connected to the network via ethernet as I'm not sure movie streaming will be great over wireless.
    That's working fine for me.
    Last edited by Boris; 02-08-2014 at 01:21 PM.

  10. #10
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Boris's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spacein_vader View Post
    With some attached storage a Raspberry Pi running XBMC could do everything he was (except play DVDs, they'd need to be ripped to the storage.) So I'd say CPU power in that scenario could be pretty low. AMD's new AM1 boards and CPU's might be a better bet than Intel? Cheap, upgradeable, low power and with enough graphics grunt to do any post processing. The 5150 is available for about 33 (quad core, 1.6ghz, 25W, 8400 GPU) and ASRock AM1H-MITX board is 48 on Amazon which supports external power. It has HDMI out so you could use a home cinema receiver with passthrough or the on board analog or optical digital outputs saving you on the sound card. It also has a PCIe slot and Mini PCIe which might be handy if you want to install WiFi?

    The platforms only weakness is it only has 2 SATA ports, but if the SSD and optical drive are all you're having that's a non issue. drop in your memory and other components suggested and you're ready to go. Drop XBMC on it and assuming you have a smart phone or tablet you can use one of the many XBMC remote apps to use it as a remote control over your wifi.
    Wow. I missed the introduction of that. There's a 25 euro mini-itx board for that platform, and that chip is 34 euros here. Ridiculously cheap. Very nice.

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    Network Hub spacein_vader's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boris View Post
    Wow. I missed the introduction of that. There's a 25 euro mini-itx board for that platform, and that chip is 34 euros here. Ridiculously cheap. Very nice.
    Ah yes, noticed he was using a pico PSU so doesn't need the board with built in DC. 25 should get him a board then.

  12. #12
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Boris's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spacein_vader View Post
    Ah yes, noticed he was using a pico PSU so doesn't need the board with built in DC. 25 should get him a board then.
    Ooh, I didn't spot that that had DC in. Well, the pico-PSU is quite expensive. It's probably cheaper to buy the Asrock with built in PSU than to get the cheaper Asus and having to buy a pico PSU.

    EDIT: It even uses 19V, so any old laptop power brick will do. The pico-PSU wants 12V, which is a more expensive brick. This thing is going on a wishlist for a steambox.
    Last edited by Boris; 02-08-2014 at 08:54 PM.

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    Network Hub Olero's Avatar
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    Wow, many thanks guys! I've now replaced the Intel mobo + cpu with the ASRock AM1H-MITX, AMD 5350 and a cheap 19V adaptor (don't have one spare sadly, but 15,- Euros is manageable ;). Which brings the total cost to a whopping 470,- Euro, almost 200,- Euro cheaper then my first option.

    I also decided to go for a 2 speaker set with a separate amplifier. Which I now can spent said 200,- Euro on me thinks !
    Getting closer and closer to a perfect build, can't wait to hit the order button and start assembling.
    Mijn Uitlaatklep - My (Dutch) blog about games, music and more

  14. #14
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Sparkasaurusmex's Avatar
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    That keyboard is exactly what use with my HTPC. I've tried different things but honestly a full keyboard with a touchpad is ideal.

    I really like my imon remote for powering on and off the PC, and using with WMC or whatever software as a Bluray remote.

    BTW you can get that machine to play blu ray without spending much more than a DVD drive.

    For sound I just use my video card. HDMI to the TV does audio and video.

  15. #15
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Boris's Avatar
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    If you're streaming all your data over the network, you can look into downsizing that SSD for more savings (which you can apply to speakers -- quality speakers last a long time, it's well worth to invest in them).

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    Network Hub Olero's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boris View Post
    If you're streaming all your data over the network, you can look into downsizing that SSD for more savings (which you can apply to speakers -- quality speakers last a long time, it's well worth to invest in them).
    Well, I didn't save on the SSD, but I did invest in some quality speakers + AVR. Funny how the bar raises the moment you start looking ;). If all goes well, I've got everything in home by Thursday. Can't wait to start assembling!

    And thanks again to everyone who helped me out in this thread!
    Mijn Uitlaatklep - My (Dutch) blog about games, music and more

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    Network Hub spacein_vader's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Olero View Post
    Well, I didn't save on the SSD, but I did invest in some quality speakers + AVR. Funny how the bar raises the moment you start looking ;). If all goes well, I've got everything in home by Thursday. Can't wait to start assembling!

    And thanks again to everyone who helped me out in this thread!
    Let us know how it goes. I'm curious as to how quiet the cooler is on the CPU.

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    Network Hub Olero's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spacein_vader View Post
    Let us know how it goes. I'm curious as to how quiet the cooler is on the CPU.
    How quiet? How about 0 dB quiet? :) The cpu will be passively cooled by the (heatsink+pipes included in the) case. The only thing making noise will be the DVD player when it's spinning (and hopefully no high pitch, driving our cats crazy, from the adaptor ;)
    Mijn Uitlaatklep - My (Dutch) blog about games, music and more

  19. #19
    Network Hub Olero's Avatar
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    Update: Something I learned: Don't order parts in the summer holiday... All are delayed, except for the case, which now proudly stands empty on my desk... This probably means that I can start tinkering after I've been on vacation myself :-S. First world problems, eh? ;)
    Mijn Uitlaatklep - My (Dutch) blog about games, music and more

  20. #20
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Boris's Avatar
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    Azerty seems to stock most of the stuff you need?

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