HTPC and separate sever/NAS vs. All-in-One media server... Suggestions? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 10 Old 10-22-2013, 12:32 PM - Thread Starter
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I apologize if this ends up being a long post.

I currently have a system I built from old parts that serves as my HTPC and media server which more or less meets my needs, but I end up with a huge case in my living room (though, most ppl don’t even notice it) and I think it’s a bit power hungry. I’m looking to build an NES PC (mini ITX form factor) for nostalgia purposes, but I’m curious about what the best route is:
  1. Build the NES PC with minimal specs to handle blu-ray/1080p playback and have a separate system which serves as my server
  2. Build the NES PC with enough specs to handle media playback AND media hosting duties simultaneously for an “all-in-one” solution (using external storage)

The issue here is that the NES is very small case, so this limits what you can put inside of it, both from physical and power consumption/heat standpoints. My requirements are as follows:
  • Have a box that provides easy media access using a front end (e.g. XMBC) that is quickly accessible (<15-20 sec) and relatively quiet
  • Have a box that allows for couch browsing and streaming various embedded web-based content (Hulu, Netflix, DivX, java, flash, etc.)
  • Have a box that allows for playing various emulators (at least NES, at best N64)
  • Have a box that centrally stores my media and is always accessible
  • Have a box that allows for streaming/transcoding of said media (e.g. using Plex) to at most two clients
  • Have a box that hosts my ThinVNC/Splashtop (though likely not simultaneously with transcoding)
  • Use as little power as possible
  • Spend less than $300 (CPU, mobo, RAM of HTPC)

I think it’s possible to squeeze a system capable of most of these into the envelope of a NES, but I worry about cooling and noise, not to mention external HDDs for storage. The benefit is it’s always on and quickly accessible. If I go with a lower end HTPC with separate NAS or server, I can offload storage and/or transcoding requirements, but I worry about wait times for startup, network performance issues, and a possible increase in power consump if I continue using my current rig as the server.

So here are the questions. Is it possible to get a system that’s capable of everything into an NES case but doesn’t require oodles of fans buzzing? If so, what CPU would you recommend (i3 Sandy, i3 Ivy, Pentium Sandy, AMD A6 etc)? If it’s best to go with separate systems, what’s the minimum CPU you would recommend that can handle HD content (incl blu-ray) as well as emulator play? What’s the best way to achieve (near) instant-on (OpenELEC + XBMC, S3 Suspend, This guide, etc)?
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post #2 of 10 Old 10-22-2013, 06:04 PM
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Most people would find a 15 second wake time rather slow. My 5 year laptop with a new ssd wakes up in a few seconds.
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post #3 of 10 Old 10-23-2013, 09:54 AM
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Originally Posted by ymarker View Post

Most people would find a 15 second wake time rather slow. My 5 year laptop with a new ssd wakes up in a few seconds.

Most TV's are not fully functional 15 seconds from being turned on. So, what is the point of having an HTPC that is fully functional before the TV can dislay the image?

This is HTPC forum for PC's that are connected to TV's or Projectors. Most projectors, even the new LED ones, take about 30 seconds to become fully functional.

6 TV's in the house on FiOS and we only pay $4.99/month to connect them all!!! Power to the CableCard and WMC7!!!
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post #4 of 10 Old 10-23-2013, 10:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by blueiedgod View Post

Most TV's are not fully functional 15 seconds from being turned on. So, what is the point of having an HTPC that is fully functional before the TV can dislay the image?

This is HTPC forum for PC's that are connected to TV's or Projectors. Most projectors, even the new LED ones, take about 30 seconds to become fully functional.

My TV does not take 15 seconds. What TV do you have?

My projector does take some time to reach full brightness so I guess it depends on the display.

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post #5 of 10 Old 10-23-2013, 10:05 AM
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@ OP I don't really have any advice for you. Your budget seemed too small and your project expectations seemed too large for me to offer any valuable input. Not saying you can't do it, but just I probably can't help. Sorry.

I'd suggest a NUC with Msata SSD for the OS but it's beyond your budget.

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"Too much is almost enough. Anything in life worth doing is worth overdoing. Moderation is for cowards."
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post #6 of 10 Old 10-23-2013, 11:29 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VitoHGrind View Post

So here are the questions.

1) Is it possible to get a system that’s capable of everything into an NES case but doesn’t require oodles of fans buzzing? If so, what CPU would you recommend (i3 Sandy, i3 Ivy, Pentium Sandy, AMD A6 etc)?

2) If it’s best to go with separate systems, what’s the minimum CPU you would recommend that can handle HD content (incl blu-ray) as well as emulator play?

3)What’s the best way to achieve (near) instant-on (OpenELEC + XBMC, S3 Suspend, This guide, etc)?
Here are my thoughts-

1) The limiting factor is going to be transcoding. From what I've read you're going to need an i3 (and maybe an i5) if you want to support two transcoded streams at the same time. Maybe someone else can confirm this. Everything else you want to do can be accomplished with a Pentium. If you transcode it will likely generate more heat than your NES case can handle. If you're dead set on a NES case I would not do an all-in-one setup. I'd split your server and HTPC.

2) I have a SB Pentium (G620) and it plays all the HD content I throw at it (including full bitrate mkv's). I've played NES, SNES, and PS1 emulators on with my rig as well with no issues. Just for kicks I tried to play Tekken on a PS2 emulator and I got about 3 FPS so that is a no-go. Bottom line, I think any recent Pentium will handle HD playback and emulators up to N64 no problem.

3) Openelec is an option. I use XBMC on win7 + SSD + S3 and my system resumes in a few seconds - faster than my flatscreen can power up. If you want to use an all-in-one that throws out Openelec and I'm not sure what kind of emulator support you get as well.
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post #7 of 10 Old 10-23-2013, 01:01 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by blueiedgod View Post

Most TV's are not fully functional 15 seconds from being turned on. So, what is the point of having an HTPC that is fully functional before the TV can dislay the image?

This is HTPC forum for PC's that are connected to TV's or Projectors. Most projectors, even the new LED ones, take about 30 seconds to become fully functional.

My TV and AV equipment are on in 15 seconds, probably less. The point is I'm used to having my HTPC available whenever I need it because currently I leave it on. If I go with separate media server, I'll turn it off more. The goal is to feel more like an appliance than a computer.
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Originally Posted by Mfusick View Post

@ OP I don't really have any advice for you. Your budget seemed too small and your project expectations seemed too large for me to offer any valuable input. Not saying you can't do it, but just I probably can't help. Sorry.

I'd suggest a NUC with Msata SSD for the OS but it's beyond your budget.

I meant to add that the budget was just for CPU, mobo, and RAM of the HTPC and it's negotiable. Additionally, it assumes that I convert the current system to a dedicated media server, if needed. I see people that build Atom + ION HTPCs and they seem perfectly content with the performance. My experience with these processors is from the first Netbooks that barely handled email so clearly I'm missing something there. The old Opteron 170 system I'm using now handles what I throw at it (except, randomly, streaming HD content from YT or Netflix even though it handles transcoding most 1080p content no problem) and someone's selling a near identical system on CL in my area for $125. Certainly I can build a system that can at least read media files for under $300, and likely do more if this is less than $300 and this is only marginally more. (Side note: I assume either of those would be able to handle both jobs?)

I guess my issue is despite all my reading, browsing, etc, I'm still unsure what the Atom+ION systems are capable of and where the line is drawn on a more capable system. I'm confident an i3-3225, mobo, and 4gb of RAM can be had for under $250, would handle blu-ray and emulators, but would it be able to transcode while playing a movie locally? If not, then would an Atom system be able to play emulators usefully? If not, then I need something in the middle. If the i3-3225 is sufficient, does it produce too much heat for the case?
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post #8 of 10 Old 10-24-2013, 11:25 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wsume99 View Post

Here are my thoughts-

1) The limiting factor is going to be transcoding. From what I've read you're going to need an i3 (and maybe an i5) if you want to support two transcoded streams at the same time. Maybe someone else can confirm this. Everything else you want to do can be accomplished with a Pentium. If you transcode it will likely generate more heat than your NES case can handle. If you're dead set on a NES case I would not do an all-in-one setup. I'd split your server and HTPC.

2) I have a SB Pentium (G620) and it plays all the HD content I throw at it (including full bitrate mkv's). I've played NES, SNES, and PS1 emulators on with my rig as well with no issues. Just for kicks I tried to play Tekken on a PS2 emulator and I got about 3 FPS so that is a no-go. Bottom line, I think any recent Pentium will handle HD playback and emulators up to N64 no problem.

3) Openelec is an option. I use XBMC on win7 + SSD + S3 and my system resumes in a few seconds - faster than my flatscreen can power up. If you want to use an all-in-one that throws out Openelec and I'm not sure what kind of emulator support you get as well.

Really appreciate the feedback. I'm pretty set on the idea of a retro NES pc, but running a single system continuously might be more attractive. I'm tempted to see if I can get away with an i3 in the NES and if my temps top 55/60 under load then I can make a decision on where to go from there. Considering that I currently get stutters on some 1080p transcodes and the i3 has half the TDP of my current CPU, simplifying to one new unit that does all (assuming it will) AND saves on power is a welcome trade-off for a different case. I've seen some very nice looking cases which will probably increase WAF anyway.. If I like the look too much, I can always fall back to the Pentium.
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post #9 of 10 Old 10-24-2013, 01:30 PM
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According to this PLEX wiki: FAQ: Plex Media Server and NAS

- ATOM is not capable of transcoding 1080p (may be possible at 720p but it is not recommended)
- 1080p transcoding requires a Core 2 Duo @ 1.6 GHz
- For multiple streams they recommend multiplying the passmark of the above CPU by the number of streams desired.

Passmark for Core 2 Duo P7500 @ 1.6 GHz is 945.

Passmark for i3-3225 is 4399. According to the PLEX wiki that would easily handle 2 streams plus local playback.

Passmark for G3220 is 3231. Seems like it would also be able to handle 2 streams plus locak playback.

Passmark for my measly G620 is 2264. Should definitely handle a single stream plus local playback. Might even be able to handle 2.

So I guess maybe you should just build an i3 machine and stick it in a NES case. If it gets too hot then you know you need a different case but all your other hardware would be good to go for everything you are looking to do.
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post #10 of 10 Old 10-25-2013, 09:57 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks wsume. That's exactly what I was looking for. The i3 seems to fit my complete processing needs and I can convert my current system to a server for storage. I may just use an external enclosure(s) and skip the separate server for now to reduce energy consumption. I'll see how temps hold up and decide if another case is needed. Later on, I'll probably upgrade the server to an AMD E-350 or SB Celeron or other similar low power cpu, get a RAID1 up and running, and add more storage. Again, really appreciate the help.
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