My AMD Llano HTPC build - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 7 Old 10-10-2011, 12:17 PM - Thread Starter
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First let's start with a little history...

I'd been looking on and off at media hubs for a while, interested but struggling to find the justification as I don't have the world's biggest CD or DVD collection and although I have a HDTV it's only a 720p capable one with no home cinema system either... probably very low tech for these parts!

At one point I was hovering over the Buy button on a Western Digital Live Hub but ended up deciding against it -- mainly because for my part of the world (UK) it doesn't offer many interactive services. It was at that point I started entertaining the idea of a HTPC.

Since then the idea has grown slightly but basically I'm going to use it to rip my CDs and some of my DVDs (mostly the TV boxsets), to listen to and view those things once on there and for an assortment of other things such as web browsing and interactive services such as BBC iPlayer, 4OD, etc. There's an outside chance of playing casual games on it too but it's not that likely as there are a few PC's in our house but only one TV, so if games are wanted they'll probably be played elsewhere. I don't need the ability to watch or record TV on it as I have a Sky (satellite) TV subscription which works for me at the moment, although if the box continues to miss recordings and crash it may be replaced!

One last bit of history before the details of the build... I don't like Intel, hence the choice of processor... I'm aware that a Core i3/i5 would probably have been the better choice

The build... (so far)



Motherboard: Asus F1A75-I Deluxe -- £70 (~110USD, ~80EUR)
Processor: AMD A6-3650 -- £65 (~100USD, ~75EUR)
Memory: Corsair 2000MHz DDR3 CL9 -- £34 (~53USD, ~40EUR)
SSD: Kingston V100 64GB -- £55 (~85USD, ~64EUR)
Case: Cooler Master Elite 100 -- £34 (~53USD, ~40EUR)

The motherboard was always on my hit list but I got really lucky with it and found it for a good £20 (~32USD, ~22EUR) less than most other stores are charging.

The processor wasn't my first choice -- I had been holding out for an A8-3800 but the possibility of getting one this side of Trinity seemed unlikely. Because I'd already decided on the case I new I only had 150w to play with so I didn't want to risk an A8-3850. And then I spotted a used A6-3650 on eBay at around £20 less than retail and thought I might as well go for it.

The memory was probably a bad decision as it isn't on the approved list for the Asus motherboard and I've had issues getting it to run at 1866MHz so I've had to drop it back to 1600MHz at the moment, albeit with tighter timings. My logic was that there were a number of other Corsair XMS products on the approved list and although the board can't run 2000MHz RAM it should happily run at a slower speed... apparently this isn't strictly true!

I'd been trying to get my hands on a Crucial M4 64GB SSD to use as a boot drive but finding one within budget (£60, 95USD, ~68EUR) was proving difficult... I was almost ready to give in and pay the extra £20 to get one when I noticed some new Kingston V100's up for grabs on eBay. I know they're "previous gen" but they're more than capable for what I need and most importantly, they're reliable and in budget.

The final part is the item I had chosen first of all... I liked the look of the Cooler Master Elite 100 case and it also gave me a number of options as it can handle mATX and mITX and a number of configurations of hard drives. As luck (although it didn't turn out quite that way) turned out there was a used one going cheap on eBay -- seller looked good so I punted for it. When it arrived it was devoid of most of its screws, the power supply was being held in by a single screw on the back (instead of three) and it only had a single standoff holding up the front. Even worse was that the screw point for the other standoff had a broken screw head in it.

Since I really wanted the case and didn't want to have to mess around sending it back and getting another one I spoke to Cooler Master about getting some replacement parts and then told the seller about the issues and what it would cost to get the replacements. He refunded some of the cost of the case and although I don't think he was happy with the situation, neither was I... I do love eBay but purchases like this make me have second thoughts.

Anyway, here is what those parts look like when assembled



It's currently using the stock heatsink and fan and geez is it a picture perfect size... it's like it was designed for this case. Shame it wasn't designed with some copper heatpipes though as sat open on my desk it idles around 35C and gets over 60C running Prime95... it'll be a lot less airy when its all closed up and in its final resting place. I may need to investigate alternatives in the near future but I think I'll be hard pushed to find any as in addition to a mere 50mm headroom I only have about 80mm of width to play with, which counts out even the Scythe Kozuti, and that sucker is small.

You may also have noticed that at the moment I'm still missing a number of parts, most notably the optical drive and main hard drive... oh and some screws which are on their way from Cooler Master. I think the optical drive is sorted but given it's another eBay purchase (I know, I never learn!) I'll hold my breath until it arrives and I can test it... (it's new, what's the worst that can happen?! )

I'll keep this thread updated as the remaining parts arrive and add my impressions once everything is up and running. For the time being though, over to you all for your critique and comments!

Thanks for reading
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post #2 of 7 Old 10-10-2011, 08:14 PM
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Be sure to upgrade the firmware on that SSD if it needs it.

http://www.kingston.com/support/ssdn...0_firmware.asp

I have two of them and while not the fastest SSDs out there, they've been nothing but terrific, especially for the money.

 

 

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post #3 of 7 Old 10-11-2011, 01:22 AM
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Good choice of motherboard. I just built a system with the same board (see my thread) and it worked out great.

I am using an A6-3500 but it isn't breaking a sweat. I have a passively cooled heat sink type case and I am seeing temperatures similar to your "open case" ones which confirms my opinion that AMD stock coolers are crap.

Good luck and please keep the thread updated.

Since you are in DVB-T2 land like me, you might be interested in my mod to replace the mini-PCIe WLAN with a BlackGold BGT3620 dual DVB-T2 tuner. It is small enough to fit in my tiny case. I am still waiting for a PCIe x1 extender cable via - you guessed it - eBay so I haven't been able to complete the mod yet but I will post pictures in the thread.
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post #4 of 7 Old 10-11-2011, 02:02 AM
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Have you tried to undervolt CPU? In many cases A6-3650/A8-3850 runs just fine at 1.250V and it saves ~30W (or more) at load.

Memory: Perhaps you need to specify the correct timings and voltage manually in EFI BIOS setup to make them run at DDR3-1866. The speed DDR2-2000 is not supported by the Llano memory controller of course.
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post #5 of 7 Old 10-11-2011, 11:07 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StardogChampion View Post

Be sure to upgrade the firmware on that SSD if it needs it.

http://www.kingston.com/support/ssdn...0_firmware.asp

I have two of them and while not the fastest SSDs out there, they've been nothing but terrific, especially for the money.

Thanks for the heads-up; that's one thing I'm not used to, having to worry about drive firmware. I checked when I got home this evening though and I'm already on the latest version so it must be a new drive straight from the factory... bonus!

Quote:
Originally Posted by politby View Post

Good choice of motherboard. I just built a system with the same board (see my thread) and it worked out great.

I am using an A6-3500 but it isn't breaking a sweat. I have a passively cooled heat sink type case and I am seeing temperatures similar to your "open case" ones which confirms my opinion that AMD stock coolers are crap.

Good luck and please keep the thread updated.

Since you are in DVB-T2 land like me, you might be interested in my mod to replace the mini-PCIe WLAN with a BlackGold BGT3620 dual DVB-T2 tuner. It is small enough to fit in my tiny case. I am still waiting for a PCIe x1 extender cable via - you guessed it - eBay so I haven't been able to complete the mod yet but I will post pictures in the thread.

I've just had a look at your thread and I'm impressed that you can cool it passively, but it does make me wonder how hot the case gets if the heat is being channelled to the sides?

I'm going to try running the stock cooler once it's all packed up and see what the temperatures look like -- if they start getting high then I'll have to look in to some other cooling, although with us heading towards winter it may be that it'll be fine now until next year... which suites me.

The mini DVB-T2 tuner could be of interest; I have Sky HD at the moment but the box isn't what you'd call reliable (I haven't had one yet that doesn't manage to crash and miss recordings) and to be honest there's never that much on... might be worth investigating freeview again, although I do live in a bit of a dead-zone.

Quote:
Originally Posted by renethx View Post

Have you tried to undervolt CPU? In many cases A6-3650/A8-3850 runs just fine at 1.250V and it saves ~30W (or more) at load.

Memory: Perhaps you need to specify the correct timings and voltage manually in EFI BIOS setup to make them run at DDR3-1866. The speed DDR2-2000 is not supported by the Llano memory controller of course.

I did read about the undervolting trick actually but the Asus motherboard has automagic undervolting capabilities which can be set at various levels, so it may end up being easier than expected. That said I have it switched off at present while I'm running through memory profiles; once I've found something stable I'll switch it back on and see what gives.

The motherboard automatically set the RAM to run at 9-9-9-24 when I selected DDR3-1866 so I think its auto settings are fairly loose. I haven't had chance to run any more stability tests for a few days but when I do I'll try manual control... hopefully I'll get a chance in the next few days.

Thanks everyone for the suggestions and support.
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post #6 of 7 Old 10-22-2011, 10:20 AM - Thread Starter
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Build progress has been delayed due to a (selfish) holiday but has now resumed, so here's what's happened since last time...

The box of screws and bits (missing from the case I bought from eBay) arrived but typically didn't contain the one bit that I really needed -- the non-standard motherboard/PSU standoffs. Still, I've managed to jury-rig it to work with the parts I do have and although it looks terrible it actually feels quite sturdy.



The BD drive I bought from eBay arrived, as did my 2TB storage drive... I never realised that 3.5" drives are so big until I built this PC though!



There were a couple of other issues that caused me a headache before I managed to get everything put together; the first was the location of the front-panel audio header on the motherboard -- it's underneath the PSU, and not what you'd call a comfortable fit.



The second was that the BD drive wouldn't load/eject properly when screwed in -- I don't know whether this is a quirk of the drive I bought or whether that's how it is as I've never handled a notebook drive before. Basically the bottom of the drive has a thin piece of plastic covering it and screwing it down was putting pressure on it and stopping the drive mechanism from moving.

So, here we are with all parts now installed. I'm not happy with the front-panel USB cable being routed where it is but I can't seem to find anywhere to buy a bigger female/female 2-port internal cable from so I may have to live with it.


(not sure why ImageShack has rotated it, sorry)

I'm still having issues running the RAM at 1866MHz, even with some very loose manual timings -- the last attempt at 9-9-9-24 T2 ended in a BSOD so I've gone back to 1600MHz and I'm now just running stability tests to make sure all is well. Currently running Prime95 for over at hour without issue at 7-7-7-24 T2 but I'll leave it going for another few hours before I do anything else. It's hitting 63-64C with the fan at full tilt so I have to say that I'm massively unimpressed with the stock cooler.

I'm also unimpressed with the stock power supply -- yes it's loud when under load but you really have to expect that with a 40mm fan. The thing that troubles me is that the +12v rail can only manage 11.9v at idle and drops down to 11.7v when under load -- I think that's "within tolerance" but it's just one more mark against it.

So rather that look in to trying to find a CPU cooler that will fit the tiny dimensions I have available (50mm height, 90mm width, 110mm depth) I think I'm going to replace the PSU with a PicoPSU, which will free up some additional width and should allow me to get a better CPU cooler as well as removing the noise from the PSU... for the moment though, it'll have to stay as-is.

Once I'm happy that everything is stable RAM-wise I'll start mucking around with the CPU voltage to see if I can reduce the power/temperature... then maybe I can actually start using it!
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post #7 of 7 Old 10-24-2011, 12:03 PM - Thread Starter
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Okay so final update of the setup phase...

I played around with a number of settings on the RAM but in the end was unable to get anything more than 1600MHz @ 7-7-7-18 T2. Most of the other configurations I tried wouldn't even let the PC boot, including trying T1 rather than T2.

After running the above RAM configuration under Prime95 for 8 hours I called it a day; the CPU was running at around 67C at the end, and that was after changing the fan profile to "Turbo", otherwise it got over 70C.

Next up was looking at the CPU voltage. The motherboard I bought has some automatic settings to adjust the CPU voltage (the BIOS only has an Enabled or Disabled setting but the software that comes with it allows you to be more specific) so I thought I'd try that first.

On the "middle" of three settings it was dropping the voltage at idle down to 0.4v, which seems ridiculously low but then under heavy load it would always go back to 1.4v, which I knew I could better. Although there was another level to try I thought I'd throw caution to the wind and try disabling the automatic stuff and do it manually...

It worked amazingly well; with a 0.2v drop (so 1.2v under load) the CPU temperature running Prime95 was down to 55C with the "Standard" fan profile, and dropping it by another 0.1v (0.3v total drop, 1.1v under load) it was then at 47C. So far that's as far as I've taken it although if I get some time this week I'll try dropping it further or maybe even re-enabling the auto tuning on top of what I've done to see how it copes.

So far I'm very impressed with my Llano build and I've barely even scratched the surface of what it's capable of...
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