Fanless "htpc" using Linux. Where can I read up on it? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 19 Old 06-10-2012, 10:44 AM - Thread Starter
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I have a set of requirements for my "htpc", I use htpc loosely as we all have different goals and definitions and I'm not sure I can do this using Linux. At least not without learning more about configuration files than I care to.

My "needs":
Fanless, I know I can get almost silent with fans but I don't want to.
Playback of avi files up to 1080p. I'm guessing this actually covers a lot of different formats.
Streaming web content in HD. Typically youtube and the TV-channels in my country (Sweden if anyone cares). This means I do not need Netflix that I have heard can be a beast to run.
Small footprint (also a reason for fanless).
Bluetooth mouse (or other wireless that do not need line of sight).
Logitech DiNovo Mini keyboard.
HDMI/DVI for picture
Digital out for sound.
Low power.

I do NOT want a frontend like XMBC. Since I share the time between viewing media and surfing and also reading ebooks a frontend is just an obstacle as far as I'm concerned.

Given the fanless, low power small footprint requirements I'm looking at a system with built in graphics on a CPU with low TDP. AMD or Intel does not matter. However, most of my uncertainty comes from the fact that from what I'm reading you "need" a NVIDIA card for HW acceleration when using Linux and that is not an option for me.

My reason for wanting Linux is mostly to save me the cost of a Win7 license. I don't mind putting some work in to it, especially on the investigation phase, but there also comes a point when time is money so it can't be too much work.

If anyone could point me to good sources where I can read up on this I would be grateful.
Basically I need to know what CPU/Motherboard/Linux dist I need to make this possible.

I have tried to search for this but I'm still confused about what is and is not possible.
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post #2 of 19 Old 06-10-2012, 01:26 PM
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This is not really a recommendation as much as one idea of a way to get everything (I think) that you asked for, without having to actually do any work at all on your part. Take a look at the new mintBox:

http://blog.linuxmint.com/?p=2055

As far as reading goes, there are answers to most, if not all, of your questions in the sticky threads at the top of this page.
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post #3 of 19 Old 06-10-2012, 06:22 PM
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To watch web content that usually means flash video. That requires a good CPU, as the video card can't accelerate flash video in Linux. That means heat, and then fans are required to cool the system.
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post #4 of 19 Old 06-12-2012, 06:16 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Neil L View Post

This is not really a recommendation as much as one idea of a way to get everything (I think) that you asked for, without having to actually do any work at all on your part. Take a look at the new mintBox:
http://blog.linuxmint.com/?p=2055
As far as reading goes, there are answers to most, if not all, of your questions in the sticky threads at the top of this page.

Thanks, I will take a look at the stickies again. I thought I had and that they missed a lot of what I needed but I will recheck as I sometimes skip past the important stuff.
The HW you linked looked interesting and I might look at that when it comes time to actually buying anything but I have a feeling it will be too expensive given shipping/customs/taxes.
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Originally Posted by waterhead View Post

To watch web content that usually means flash video. That requires a good CPU, as the video card can't accelerate flash video in Linux. That means heat, and then fans are required to cool the system.

Thanks, exactly what I was looking for. If that is the case I'm thinking I might have to shell out the extra money for a Win7 license even though it hurts both my wallet and my pride.
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post #5 of 19 Old 06-12-2012, 07:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nizztos View Post

Thanks, exactly what I was looking for. If that is the case I'm thinking I might have to shell out the extra money for a Win7 license even though it hurts both my wallet and my pride.
I would first try it, and see if it works for you. It could depend on the streams that you are watching. You can always buy Win 7 later, if you find that you need it. You could save yourself the cost of Win 7.
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post #6 of 19 Old 06-12-2012, 11:17 AM
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If I were to try a fanless Linux HTPC now, I'd go with an A6 or A8 AMD quad core CPU. If Flash video were eradicated from the web by now, a ~3GHz dual core would most likely suffice for a Linux HTPC. But we're not there yet (i.e. a Flash-less web)

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103994

and a heatpipe cpu cooler like

http://www.amazon.com/AMD-Socket-Copper-Heatpipes-Connector/dp/B0044FHFJQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1339525425&sr=1-1&keywords=am3plus+copperfan

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835185178

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835103100

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835185176

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835103177

and try it without the fan. If it gets too hot without the fan, just use a fan speed controller

http://www.amazon.com/Zalman-Fanmate-2-Speed-Controller-Retail/dp/B000292DO0/ref=sr_1_4?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1339524893&sr=1-4&keywords=fan+speed+control

I just turn down the speed of my internal fan(s) until they are inaudible. This includes the case inlet fan and PSU fan. You may be able to go without the CPU fan and one case inlet fan blowing line-of-sight to the CPU heatsinnk.

But if you lay out the components carefully with sufficient venting, you may get by with no case or CPU fan, though you'd still have a PSU fan, unless you spring for a pricey fanless ATX PSU or use a picoPSU

http://www.mini-box.com/s.nl/it.A/id.417/.f

Your timing is perfect. I am currently building an audio-centric media PC (music server/player built with audiophile principles) and am using an Athlon II dual core CPU with ATI 3000 GPU on the motherboard (had the parts already- would use an AMD Fusion A4/A6/A8 now)- I don't plan on playing anything more than DVD's and CD's on the machine, plus SD Flash video on the web.

Audiophile standards dictate fanless if possible (or minimize number of fans/fan speeds), so I am trying it with this heatpipe cooler

http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid=AMD-AM3PLUS-COPPERFAN&cat=FAN

http://www.amazon.com/AMD-Socket-Copper-Heatpipes-Connector/dp/B0044FHFJQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1339525425&sr=1-1&keywords=am3plus+copperfan

without the fan, but haven't run heat /temp benchmarks yet, so I may need to use the fan speed controller linked above.
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post #7 of 19 Old 06-12-2012, 12:18 PM
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post #8 of 19 Old 06-12-2012, 06:15 PM
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post #9 of 19 Old 06-13-2012, 09:13 AM - Thread Starter
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rgb:
Lots of interesting info there, but in my case a picoPSU trumps Flash. I.e. if it is one or the other I can live without Flash.
Is the Flash issue an issue with Linux or with lack of HW support in general?

As far as I understand what I have been reading regarding fanless systems and picoPSUs 65W TDP is my absolute max. I'm sure I can get away with a higher TDP but not in a small footprint case.

waterhead:
My plan has always been to try Linux first, wouldn't cost me any, but I would only do so if I was reasonably sure it would work.
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post #10 of 19 Old 06-13-2012, 11:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nizztos View Post

rgb:
Lots of interesting info there, but in my case a picoPSU trumps Flash. I.e. if it is one or the other I can live without Flash.
Is the Flash issue an issue with Linux or with lack of HW support in general?
As far as I understand what I have been reading regarding fanless systems and picoPSUs 65W TDP is my absolute max. I'm sure I can get away with a higher TDP but not in a small footprint case.
.

With a 65W max TDP, the triple core A6-3500 sounds like the best bet-

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103951

I'm confident that with the HD 6530D GPU on the chip and the latest Catalyst ATI driver and recent distro (Ubuntu 12.04 or derivatives, F17, etc), you should be able to do fullscreen Flash 720p video without dropped frames. 1080p will probably be fine, too. Occassional blips of tearing may still be present (and may not), but this is not due to lack of CPU or GPU headroom, just bad coding of Flash and its interaction with the X video subsystem and/or video driver. I was just playing back fullscreen 720p Flash video on the Athlon II X2 255 dual core rig with only HD3000 GPU and it looked great to me.

The A6-3500 tri-core would be MUCH cheaper than any Intel i5/i7, with a better GPU on board. Plus, if the HD6530 GPU doesn't do the video playback job for you, you can add the fanless GT520 later if needed and turn off the HD6530. For the cost of an i5/i7 CPU alone, you can have two GPUs (6530+Nvidia card) plus motherboard

http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0375353

$10 with purchase of CPU/APU.

I'm confident that a good copper heatpipe cooler should work fanless with the A6-3500.

Also, remember that the king of small form factor media PC's, the Mac Mini, still uses a fan-

http://www.engadget.com/2011/07/25/mac-mini-review-mid-2011/

https://discussions.apple.com/thread/3997441?start=0&tstart=0
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post #11 of 19 Old 06-14-2012, 09:24 AM - Thread Starter
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Rgb:

Thanks for the info.

Adding a card in the future is not an option for me. Again due to my desire for a slimmed down case where a card would not fit.

However, the information you provided makes me think that I should definitely try a Linux based machine. Reading between the lines I take it that normal playback of the most common video formats should not be a problem on the CPU you mention.

The fanless cases I'm looking at claim that they can be used on any CPU up to 65W so I should be good, especially as I would not spend all that much time at high load.
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post #12 of 19 Old 06-14-2012, 10:03 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nizztos View Post

Rgb:

The fanless cases I'm looking at claim that they can be used on any CPU up to 65W so I should be good, especially as I would not spend all that much time at high load.

What specific cases (makes/models) are you looking at?
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post #13 of 19 Old 06-14-2012, 11:03 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nizztos View Post

Rgb:

However, the information you provided makes me think that I should definitely try a Linux based machine. Reading between the lines I take it that normal playback of the most common video formats should not be a problem on the CPU you mention.
.

Correct- with the A6-3500 tri-core, there shouldn't be any issue playing back any non-Flash video up to 1080p with the included GPU, smooth and tear-free.

Even with Flash up to at least 720p, it should be "good enough" for most "normal humans", i.e. non AVS/techie people who wouldn't notice and/or care about occasional tearing, if it happens.

Posters on forums like these are particulary picky (rightfully so), and sometimes it's good to step back and see the forest through the trees in HTPC-Linux land. Sometimes on these boards, HTPC builders give up too easily and either don't do a HTPC, resorting to settops, or settle on Windows, all because of one or two items, like Netflix playback (better done on a closed settop like a BluRay player or Roku or built into recent smart TV's) or minor tearing artifacts. Neither excuse is worth the loss of personal freedom and control over your media, IMO.
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post #14 of 19 Old 06-14-2012, 04:29 PM
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I'm not being picky. I couldn't watch football games on ESPN 3 using an AMD Radeon HD 6450 on Linux. It was constant jerkiness, and basically unwatchable.
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post #15 of 19 Old 06-14-2012, 04:53 PM
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Originally Posted by waterhead View Post

I'm not being picky. I couldn't watch football games on ESPN 3 using an AMD Radeon HD 6450 on Linux. It was constant jerkiness, and basically unwatchable.

I assume EspN3 uses Flash for their web feed?

If so, is the resolution selectable, ie 480p/720p/1080p? What resolution did you play ESPN3 at? Were you using the latest Catalyst driver (fglrx) available or the 'radeon' driver? What CPu were you using?

My comments were based on an A2 X2 255 dual core 3Ghz with only HD3000 GPU on youtube Hollywood trailers at 720p, using a 2009 vintage fglrx driver, I assume the last version compatible with the HD3000.

That said, I am switching out the motherboard to a VdPAU capable Nvidia GF8200 board (Asus M3N78-VM) with the same x2 3Ghx CPU.

I had high hopes for the ATI 6xxx series given latest Catalyst improvements and XvBA/VAAPI support

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-Video_Bitstream_Acceleration

http://forum.xbmc.org/showthread.php?tid=116996

https://launchpad.net/~wsnipex/+archive/xbmc-xvba

http://askubuntu.com/questions/87395/how-can-i-enable-hardware-acceleration-for-an-ati-radeon-hd

No big deal- just use one of the hundreds of fanless, low profile Nvidia GT2xx/4xx/5xx/6xx cards out there for $25-$70 until the XvBA/Vaapi stuff gets stable and well supported on the ATI side.

I just bought a GT520 2G fanless card ($50 after MIR amazon) for another build yesterday wink.gif
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post #16 of 19 Old 06-14-2012, 09:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rgb View Post

I assume EspN3 uses Flash for their web feed?
If so, is the resolution selectable, ie 480p/720p/1080p? What resolution did you play ESPN3 at? Were you using the latest Catalyst driver (fglrx) available or the 'radeon' driver? What CPu were you using?
Yes, it is flash video. I didn't choose a resolution. But ESPN 3 will automatically choose a resolution for you based on the streaming capabilities of your internet connection. I always seem to get the best.

I used an Intel quad core CPU, with the latest AMD drivers. The CPU shouldn't matter if the AMD drivers are working correctly. Before this I was using an Atom/ION based MythTV setup, And I may be confusing the two. The Atom most certainly cannot play full screen flash video.
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post #17 of 19 Old 06-14-2012, 11:19 PM - Thread Starter
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What specific cases (makes/models) are you looking at?

Typically the smaller ones from Streacom and HDPlex.
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post #18 of 19 Old 06-15-2012, 03:42 AM
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Originally Posted by waterhead View Post

Yes, it is flash video. I didn't choose a resolution. But ESPN 3 will automatically choose a resolution for you based on the streaming capabilities of your internet connection. I always seem to get the best.
I used an Intel quad core CPU, with the latest AMD drivers. The CPU shouldn't matter if the AMD drivers are working correctly. Before this I was using an Atom/ION based MythTV setup, And I may be confusing the two. The Atom most certainly cannot play full screen flash video.

An Intel quad vs Atom is a BIG difference! It is widely understood that Atoms are VASTLY underpowered for video processing (underpowered, period wink.gif )- the only saving grace of the ATOM/Ion setup was the VDPAU capable Nvidia GPU. VDPAU was enabled in Flash on Linux only about a year/18 months ago, so without VDPAU enabled and working properly, an Atom based PC would be useless for HD Flash video on ANY OS.
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post #19 of 19 Old 06-15-2012, 04:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nizztos View Post

Typically the smaller ones from Streacom and HDPlex.

Good call- exactly what I was interested in for my next audiophile PC-

http://www.streacom.com/products/fc5-od-fanless-chassis/

http://www.quietpc.com/manufacturers/streacom

http://www.anandtech.com/show/5858/streacom-fc9-fc10

http://aleutia.com/relia-fanless-industrial-pc

Cool stuff being done with low power PC's run on solar and Ubuntu-

http://aleutia.com/solar-lab

http://www.hd-plex.com/

My current build is using the Silverstone ML03

http://www.amazon.com/SilverStone-Aluminum-Steel-Center-ML03B/dp/B004GGUAUE

I tried removing the fan on the amazon heatpipe cooler I linked earlier, and the CPU temp shot up to 70C pretty quick, so I think I'll need to run a fan on the CPU with speed controller in the ML03 case.

A "quiet"/silent PC doesn't necessarily mean "fanless"- it appears this fanless HTPC stuff is a relatively new development with the Streacom cases of the world, at least not counting liquid cooled or complicated hetpipe setups of years past. 1080p capable quad cores with integrated GPUs running at less than 100W have enabled this to happen.
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