Q's re: HTPC in general, Linux builds in particular. - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 21 Old 07-01-2009, 01:54 PM - Thread Starter
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I was reading through posts, going "Well, that kinda answers my question..." But then I decided to just ask my questions to you fine people, and hopefully get some answers.

Background information: I can/do build my own PCs- including a SFF once, but never an HTPC- nor have I ever played with one. I have used and previously enjoyed Ubuntu Linux while I was out of the country; I have not used it for years- since I got back- because I do PC gaming, and sadly, that nearly requires Windoze- to play betas and new releases, and not have to wait for support.

What I am looking for, is, basically, a network digital media player- one that will play, er, different formats than WMC allows. (*cough*cough*fanslations*cough*) The Popcorn Hour player looked great, and I was going to order one, but I was struck with a thought- obsolescence. That is, over the years that I have been watching video from the intertron, the formats it was encoded or packaged with have changed and evolved. Assuming that trend doesn't stop any time soon- what would happen in a year or two when my hardware is no longer supported for patches? I'd be stuck with a brick and a hard-drive.

Hence why I'm looking at a HTPC- that way I can just pop it open and upgrade parts; or connect and download the latest codecs. But I'm also looking for the same kind of ease of use and access in the GUI that I can get with a 'box'- that is, able to hook into my equipment, able to control with a remote and not a keyboard... I don't even know if this is possible, I know so little about HTPCs.

I'm looking at Linux for 2 reasons:
1) Cost: When the original thing I was looking at costs $2-300, paying, at the minimum, $100 just for an OS is... counter-intuitive.
2) Compatibility: WMC won't play the types of files I want it to out of the box, anyhow; leaving me to depend on community codecs, which... well... As an anecdote, just last month, I told my husband I'd found a pack that seemed to only crash every six videos or so, and he was honestly interested. It's that bad.

What I'd like is basically a networked server with an auto-run GUI media player. Or something to that effect. The ability to have 'channels' like YouTube would be cool, but is not deal-making or -breaking.

What I don't need is any kind of DVD player or recorder, or anything to hook up to any kind of TV signals. I don't watch TV, even to the point that the AT&T U-verse I pay for has it's DVR/TV component wasted. (They won't sell the fiber-optic intertron speeds separately to residential customers, the meanies.)

Is what I have described doable? If so, are there recommendations of the hardware/software I should do it with, please? Or should I just get one of those Popcorn Hour 'tanks'?

Thanks in advance for reading/answering.
_Cat
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post #2 of 21 Old 07-01-2009, 03:00 PM
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Have you tried XBMC? I believe you should be able to find a Windows version to get a feel for it and if you like, build your linux box, grab the linux version and you are done.

Then stick around so there are more than 2 of us not running Myth in the group
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post #3 of 21 Old 07-01-2009, 05:44 PM
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Since you don't need TV and physical DVD, the PopcornHour is probably well suited for you. I don't think the containers and the codecs it supports will become obsolete that soon that you have to worry about that.

I have a Popcornhour A100 and I'm reasonably happy with it, but it does have it's share of mildly annoying bugs, nothing that's a total deal breaker for me though.
The main advantage is, it's mostly plug'n'play (unlike a HTPC), but if any of it's flaws or limitations annoy you, then you can't do much about it as you don't have much control over it's software.

A HTPC means you have a lot more flexibility with regards to software, but that comes at a the cost of sometimes long frustrating configuration sessions until you get everything working to your satisfaction (and there is no guarantee that you ever reach total satisfaction!).

A year ago when I bought the PopcornHour the choice was a no brainer, it was much cheaper, smaller and more silent than a similar capable HTPC.
These days with Atom/ION systems such as the Asrock ION 330, the choice is not so obvious anymore and in fact I'm seriously considering to replace my PopcornHour with an ION HTPC, but I'm still waiting for more ION systems to be released.

I hope my rant is of some help for you rather than making you even more confused, I'm undecided myself so can give you a clear recommendation!

But I would second what zim2dive suggests, try out any HTPC software you are considering, on a normal PC first to see if you like it, that's what I'm currently doing, I'm testing various HTPC software on my desktop PC (the fact that I have VDPAU capable GPU in it helps getting a good impression on how it would work on a HTPC).

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post #4 of 21 Old 07-02-2009, 05:24 AM
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The one reason I never considered any of the "appliances" (Popcorn, AppleTV, etC) was that I wanted to be able to surf to content (Hulu, etc)... and as far as I could tell (I could be wrong), that was not a generally supported feature?

EDIT: ie. give me an appliance with Firefox and Flash
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post #5 of 21 Old 07-02-2009, 09:18 AM
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I run XBMC on a Kubuntu build (attemtping to get a Mandriva build working as well) and am extremely impressed with the interface and features. XBMC is truly sharp, clean, well written and professional looking. I like it!
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post #6 of 21 Old 07-02-2009, 10:47 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zim2dive View Post

EDIT: ie. give me an appliance with Firefox and Flash

The problem is, said appliance would need to have a quad-core CPU to play Hulu, etc., content.

I myself go back and forth between XBMC and Myth. Depends what mood I'm in I guess.

-- Kevin
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post #7 of 21 Old 07-02-2009, 11:03 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zim2dive View Post

The one reason I never considered any of the "appliances" (Popcorn, AppleTV, etC) was that I wanted to be able to surf to content (Hulu, etc)... and as far as I could tell (I could be wrong), that was not a generally supported feature?

EDIT: ie. give me an appliance with Firefox and Flash

True but for Flash streaming websites an Atom/ION system is not usable either (at least not HD full screen).

Personally I'm not interested in any streaming Flash web content. both for ideological reasons (I don't want to support DRM encrypted Flash technology) and because I'm simply not interested in the content available, so that doesn't matter to me.

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post #8 of 21 Old 07-02-2009, 12:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by k_ross View Post

The problem is, said appliance would need to have a quad-core CPU to play Hulu, etc., content.

I'm the consumer.. its not my problem

(ie. I can build a HTPC for $300 that will handle this.. so if they want to make an appliance that costs more than say, half as much... well, they need to give me a reason to buy it instead of spending a little more and getting everything I want)

PS. I don't *like* flash.. I wish another standard was used.. but when I hate using Flash slightly less than I hate giving $$ to Cable TV in order to obtain the same content
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post #9 of 21 Old 07-03-2009, 06:16 AM
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I too switch back and forth between XBMC and Mythtv. If you go the HTPC route, I'd look into XBMC. Or you can look at the appliances - there is more than popcorn hour out there, but in my experience all of them have little annoyances (but an HTPC can too) that you have to wait for a firmware update to fix, if at all.


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post #10 of 21 Old 07-03-2009, 07:24 AM - Thread Starter
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Well, I dug around, and I have found 2 power supplies (a 450 and a 600), an old Pentium 4 670 chip, an 8x DVDRW, and about 3 gig of (2x512) Patriot PC3200s. I figure I can use that stuff to shave some money off. (I'm not even sure I'll put the optical drive in at all, and instead boot from USB to load on the linux.)

I figure I can add to that a nMedia 1000B case (on sale!); a Zotac GF9300-A-E mainboard; a Samsung EcoGreen 1TB HDD; and an Antec Multi-station basic- all at Newegg for ~350.

Does that seem like a viable build? I'm wavering on just slapping down the $40 for a newer/faster ram set, at least....

Anyhow, would the scrounged parts I've described be capable of running a HTPC? Especially if there will be no burning/ripping tasks?

_Cat
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post #11 of 21 Old 07-03-2009, 10:07 AM
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The DVD and power supply are re-usable. Not so sure about the CPU and RAM. The CPU is somewhat old so I'd check the support page for your motherboard to see if it's compatible. I'd opt for an E5200, myself, though. As for the RAM, if it's PC-3200, then definitely not since you need DDR2 memory. If it's PC2-3200, it may or may not work. I'm not exactly sure if the motherboard supports the significantly lower memory speed.
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post #12 of 21 Old 07-03-2009, 12:25 PM
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The CPU will work, but at 115W TDP, you'll need a significant cooler on it, which most likely means more noise. I know nothing about memory.

My recommendation would be to buy a cheaper case (Newegg has many mini-itx cases with PSU's in the $50 range), and use the money you save to buy a more modern, lower-power CPU. The E5200 is an excellent choice.

-- Kevin
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post #13 of 21 Old 07-03-2009, 03:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by k_ross View Post

The E5200 is an excellent choice.

-- Kevin

Agreed E5200/5300 are great value, I have a E5300 running at 3GHz without changing any voltages, just ramped up the FSB, it doesn't get any hotter than at standard speed either.

With more effort these cpus apparently can be overclocked even to 3.5GHz or so.
(never tried it as it's fast enough at 3GHz for me and I care more about long term reliability than speed).

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post #14 of 21 Old 07-03-2009, 03:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by k_ross View Post

My recommendation would be to buy a cheaper case (Newegg has many mini-itx cases with PSU's in the $50 range)

Just a note, the GF9300-A-E is a micro-ATX board so that's the minimum size she's supposed to look for. That said, I'm using a cheapie Apex DM-387 case w/included 275W Flex ATX power supply (got it for $45) for my main HTPC build. I did have to replace the built-in 80mm case fan because it was loud as heck.
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post #15 of 21 Old 07-03-2009, 04:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ilovejedd View Post

the GF9300-A-E is a micro-ATX board

Oops, my bad.
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post #16 of 21 Old 07-05-2009, 07:12 AM - Thread Starter
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Slapped a E5200 and 2x1g PC2 6400 on the list (the ram is Patriot-I'm fond of them- PDC22G6400ELK. I wasn't able to find a 'supported memory' list on the intertron for the Zotac- anyone have any reservations about this exact combo?)

I'm looking, and there are only 4 cheaper HTPC micro-atx cases on newegg. Two of those are by a brand called 'hec' and are super-slender- so much so I'd worry about cooling- or how I'd even fit a cooling can or passive cooling solution IN! Anyone have personal knowledge of the brand?

Again, thanks for all the help,
_Cat
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post #17 of 21 Old 07-05-2009, 11:40 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The DCG View Post

Slapped a E5200 and 2x1g PC2 6400 on the list (the ram is Patriot-I'm fond of them- PDC22G6400ELK. I wasn't able to find a 'supported memory' list on the intertron for the Zotac- anyone have any reservations about this exact combo?)

I'm looking, and there are only 4 cheaper HTPC micro-atx cases on newegg. Two of those are by a brand called 'hec' and are super-slender- so much so I'd worry about cooling- or how I'd even fit a cooling can or passive cooling solution IN! Anyone have personal knowledge of the brand?

Again, thanks for all the help,
_Cat

The processor is ok. It offers very good performance for the price. My only concern about the RAM is it's 2.0V. I'm not sure how Zotac boards fare with out of spec modules. Perhaps you can go with the PSD22G800KH, instead?

As for the hec case, I don't own one myself but I have a case with similar dimensions. The cooler that comes with the E5200 fits perfectly (it's what I use) and there's one 80mm case fan on the side acting as exhaust. Obviously, putting the case in a really enclosed space is a no-no as it needs a bit of airflow. My dad did some re-arranging of the entertainment center so there was considerably less clearance between the case and the shelf on top and CPU temps jumped from ~45C to ~65-68C at idle (my personal limit is 60C max at load). Granted, it was pretty hot that day, but prior to that, even at 30C ambient, idle temps only go up to low 50s. I've since done some re-arranging and temps are back to normal. Oh yeah, load temps are ~5-10C higher than idle temps. I know there are people who consider 45C idle "unsafe", but these parts were designed to withstand considerably more heat. Intel has the E5200 pegged at 74.1C. Those specs, iirc, are designed for a 10-year life span. I reckon I would have changed my processor (if not built a new PC altogether) a couple of times before I reach that. The build is not quiet. In fact, if I had it on a desk right next to me, the slight noise would probably have bothered me. Since I'm sitting 12 ft away from it, though, I can't really hear the whir of fans (never did try to figure out if it was the case fan or the Intel HSF).

As for alternate coolers, the Silverstone Nitrogon NT07-775 is guaranteed to fit (smaller than Intel cooler). I just don't know how it compares to the stock Intel HSF when it comes to cooling performance and noise. I tried the Scythe Shuriken, but despite being short, it was fairly big and I was unable to fit it in my case (the side was hitting the power supply and it barely cleared the caps around the CPU).
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post #18 of 21 Old 07-05-2009, 01:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The DCG View Post

I wasn't able to find a 'supported memory' list on the intertron for the Zotac

Here you go: http://downloads.zotac.com/mediadrivers/mb/cpu/ae5.txt

Quote:
Originally Posted by The DCG View Post

I'm looking, and there are only 4 cheaper HTPC micro-atx cases on newegg.

The trick is to look in the regular computer cases section, not the HTPC cases section. Then filter for Micro-ATX form factor. There are many cases there that are good HTPC cases.

Hope this helps!
-- Kevin
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post #19 of 21 Old 07-12-2009, 01:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by k_ross View Post

The problem is, said appliance would need to have a quad-core CPU to play Hulu, etc., content.

This is not true in my experience. I have an IBM Lenovo with the lowliest of the low Pentium dual cores running at 1.6GHz and it plays Hulu with no issues, even at their "Hi" resolution of 480p. The only dual core with less horsepower from Intel is the Atom!

Just reviewing the thread and though I'd share my on-line streaming experiences with a creaky processor.
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post #20 of 21 Old 07-12-2009, 03:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by erkq View Post

This is not true in my experience. I have an IBM Lenovo with the lowliest of the low Pentium dual cores running at 1.6GHz and it plays Hulu with no issues,

That is at odds with the experience of just about everyone else here, at least for HD Hulu in full-screen (which IMO is the only relevant mode in a HTPC forum)

See this thread: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...1032645&page=4
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post #21 of 21 Old 07-14-2009, 10:18 AM
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At the moment I've got my TV and stereo wired under the floor to my regular old desktop computer, and have it set up as a second monitor. It does get annoying to switch everything over every time so when I can afford it (I'm only 19 and still saving for a car) I'd like to build an HTPC with XBMC autorunning at startup on top of Ubuntu, all controlled by a usb IR remote (XBMC is built to work with remotes) with the option of using a wireless keyboard/mouse combination.

You should defintely look up the Aeon Stark skin for XBMC. That is one slick looking media center.
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