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HTPC (make that HT-gaming-workstation) build thread

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
As I have been saying around here for a while I need a new computer. Mostly for HTPC use, but I video edit and game too. There is a hole in my rack where the old disk-jukebox used to be. Plenty of space, but the rack is only 15" deep to the mounting post for my pull-up projector screen. After several weeks of thinking about parts, everything is now on order. I figured a good old-fashioned build thread could be fun, because whether it turns out well or is a complete failure, it isn't going to be a typical HTPC. So, watch this space...



I was looking to do a performance-value build, but not an economy build. Every new computer is cheaper than the last, and my last was a Thinkpad T with upgrades. My ballpark budget was $1,200, and when I’m done it will probably go over that, but I am letting sales tailor the choices. I have a Mediasonic 4 bay media server, so internal storage is not the first priority.

I probably should have come and asked advice first, but too late for that. Let me start with the guts list:
  • GIGABYTE GA-Z77X-UD5H (it has firewire)
  • Intel Core i5-3570K
  • G.SKILL Sniper Gaming Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3
  • SanDisk Extreme 240GB
  • Pioneer Electronics USA Blu Ray Computer Drive, BDR-2207B
  • Rosewill RNX-N250PCe (RNWD-11005) Wireless Adapter

Powered by a:
  • Antec NEO ECO 520C

I’ve grabbed a few quiet fans and a small tower heatsink (Coolermaster TX3, hope it fits) as well. [It didn't fit, final build is with a ZALMAN CNPS8900]

I’m going to leave you hanging on the case until I have photos…

Now, my build is also going to need a graphics card. I’m thinking an HD7870 for the good price and fine quality at 1920x1200. I’ll add a 2 or 3 TB WD green as well when I hit a sale. I’ll probably get a PCIe to express card adapter and move the AverMedia card from the laptop for OTA HD. Keyboard, mouse, and remote will move over. I’m going to need a load of cables (HDMI to projector about 30’, DVI to monitor, about 15 feet, I’ll figure the rest out later) but that is what monoprice is for once I test everything on the desktop.
Edited by lespurgeon - 9/8/12 at 2:33pm
post #2 of 19
Thread Starter 
Sorry it has been a few days, busy at work and this setup has taken longer than expected. So first, the case:



I went with an iSTAR USA D-411S3 server/workstation because I needed a 15” depth case, which was hard to find, and wanted one that took a full ATX motherboard. This case’s specification is 13.5” deep and 19” wide, but in reality it is only 12” deep and 17” wide. It will look great in the cabinet, but as you will see it is a PAIN to build in. There is no extra space. As soon as I open it up I know the heatsink is going back for a low-profile model.
Edited by lespurgeon - 9/8/12 at 12:26pm
post #3 of 19
Thread Starter 
So I pulled out the drive tray, and as you can see there is not much space in here. Those high-speed fans have got to go next.

In with the power supply, and I can tell already that those leads are going to be a problem, way too many and too long wires, but modular would have been worse as you will see because of the limited clearance to the drive tray.

Motherboard fits, but barely, and I have to shove wires under the front fans. Had to go with 2 front fans to be able to connect SATA cables. One more inch of depth would have been nice on this case. I put in the factory cooler, knowing I would replace it later.

I mounted my SSD into a 3.5” converter and slid it up into the bottom of the drive tray. Added in the Blu-Ray burner and front USB 3.0 jacks temporarily until I get a card reader and move them to the back. Time for first boot…

and windows 7 loads up without issue, always a good feeling...

Edited by lespurgeon - 9/8/12 at 12:48pm
post #4 of 19
Thread Starter 
A couple of days and A couple of days and a Newegg order later and I have a new cooler, case fan, card reader, and ExpressCard to PCIe adapter so that I can use my AverMedia ExpressCard mini TV card.
  • Scythe DFS922512M-PWM 92mm Case Fan
  • ZALMAN CNPS8900 Extreme 110mm Ultra Quiet Slim
  • nMEDIAPC ZE-C368 3.5IN USB3.0 Flash Card Reader Black Panel with Front USB 3.0 port
  • SYBA Laptop ExpressCard/34mm to Desktop


I like the cooler. It runs slow on the IvyBridge CPU. Watching movies I can touch it and no heat. The 92mm fan; however, was a wrong choice. The PCM fan control runs it way too high with a nasty whine. I pulled it and re-wired a molex to give 5 V. It is probably only at 20% speed, but I can't hear it and the 2x80mm fans are totally quiet, so I am letting the motherboard control their speed to keep the case cool.

I am currently using the intel integrated graphics, but I plan to add an HD 7870 for gaming, and I noticed that the drive bracket is going to have to have a slot cut out of it to fit the card, so I took the opportunity to pull apart my card reader case and mount my SSD inside its case.

The graphics card is going to be very tight when I add it…

But I am happy with how the computer is going to look in the rack. Notice tape over the power and drive lights, those were going to blind me, this was obviously designed for a server rack, not HTPC use.

I have a 3 TB WD Green on the way that will finish out the inside. I had to run a load of cables (30' HDMI to the projector, 15' DVI and 3 USB to my desk) and Monoprice helped out there. Everything is smooth at the moment. I'll be back to fill in once I add the last internal drive and slip the machine into the cabinet.
Edited by lespurgeon - 9/8/12 at 2:34pm
post #5 of 19
Thread Starter 
Here is the finished look in its rack. It sits under my projector screen, so all displays are set to minimum brightness.
From normal viewing angles in normal brightness you don't see any of the wires through the back of the rack, but there is about 4 inches of open space for airflow and to hide my drop-down projection screen in the top 8" or so.
Edited by lespurgeon - 9/18/12 at 8:07pm
post #6 of 19
Thread Starter 
reserved 5
post #7 of 19
Thread Starter 
Hey guys, I've updated my build thread. You see anything I should do differently? Think I can make a HD 7870 fit? Hopefully this is helpful to somebody.
post #8 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by lespurgeon View Post

Hey guys, I've updated my build thread. You see anything I should do differently? Think I can make a HD 7870 fit? Hopefully this is helpful to somebody.

MAN !! What a nice build cool.gif very nice work

Did you have a paticular brand of 7870 in mind ? There are many flavors

You cleaned up that "birds nest" in the top pic in post 4 .... right ? Air flow is critical especially if you add a discrete vid card
post #9 of 19
Thread Starter 
Thanks,
Yeah, most of the wires you see are SATA that attach once the drive tray is re-installed. They are all tied-off to the drive tray. No brand in particular, but I can't go over the stock length (about 9.75" is absolute max) so either an OEM blower (which might be better for cooling anyway) or another short card. How loud are the blower cards?
post #10 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by lespurgeon View Post

Thanks,
Yeah, most of the wires you see are SATA that attach once the drive tray is re-installed. They are all tied-off to the drive tray. No brand in particular, but I can't go over the stock length (about 9.75" is absolute max) so either an OEM blower (which might be better for cooling anyway) or another short card. How loud are the blower cards?

A dual fan card is going to be LOUD ! You can usually turn them down with software though when your not using them for heavy gaming . I have been out of the ATI game for a lot of years but I know that nvidia has software that gives you the ability to set profiles for different situations. Where by if situation " X" exists the fans go to a set speed and when that situation is gone they go back to there normal speed that you have set .

Are you set in stone on ATI ?
post #11 of 19
Thread Starter 
Not set in stone, I had good luck with a 3870 and 3450 in prior builds where an nVidea 8800 GT gave trouble in one of them. Card has to be max 9.75", I glanced at the 670 and 660 options, but haven't done sufficient research.
post #12 of 19
Thread Starter 
I'm wondering if I can hold out using HD4000 until the end of the year. If the next AMD card is going to be anywhere near the rumour, I want it:
http://videocardz.com/34981/amd-radeon-hd-8870-and-hd-8850-specifiation-leaked

I suppose that suggests 8970 will be able to go toe-to-toe with big Kepler, if it ever comes out.
post #13 of 19
I would suggest that you start your research using Anandtech's Bench. You can compare power consumption, heat, and noise levels in addition to performance in different games. Similarly priced NVIDIA and AMD GPUs often perform differently depending upon the game. One card might have a 20% advantage over the other in Dirt 3 while be at a 20% disadvantage in Left 4 Dead 2, for example. You might want to make your selection based upon the games you play most.

Since you mentioned the 7870 ($250-300), I would recommend either the NVIDIA 660 GTX or 660Ti GTX. When the 7870 is faster in a game, it's usually only a small lead, but when the 660 is ahead, it is a much more considerable lead. For roughly the same price, the 660 or 660Ti (faster) is probably the better buy.

I personally have preferred NVIDIA hardware lately due to their driver support and their dynamic power switching (Optimus) is still better than AMD's implementation. I've got nothing against AMD - I have both brands in my computers. It's just that if I were in your shoes today, I would get the 660Ti. If I had $100 more, I would get the 670. smile.gif
post #14 of 19
Thread Starter 
Yeah, AMD has been way behind in laptops for the last 2 years or so. They are starting to catch up to the first-gen Optimus, but a long way to go.

They are about on-par on the desktop (just 6-months earlier to market). 670 is very tempting, but I'm looking at around $225-250, which is where the 660 and 7870 are sitting. I've had both brands in the past, and the 660 is great on size and power, but overall is trailing the 7870 a bit. If its price dropped to $200 against the 7850 it would be a killer. My take is AMD is the value-leader at the moment, thanks to price drops, but not by much.
post #15 of 19
In your opinion , are the amd driver continuous issues worth the price and performance diff compared to the NVIDIA ?

Not being sarcastic . I am really interested cause I have thought after a 10 year hiatus from amd about trying them out again in a more "testing" machine type manor . Not something that would need any type of WAF !!
post #16 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by flocko View Post

In your opinion , are the amd driver continuous issues worth the price and performance diff compared to the NVIDIA ?

I hope I didn't paint AMD in too harsh a light with my comments about the drivers. I've got mobile and desktop AMD and NVIDIA hardware, so my opinion is mixed. Overall I don't find AMD's drivers to be as refined as NVIDIA. Not only is AMD's installation package larger, but the Catalyst Control Center system is slower and more cumbersome than NVIDIA's driver suite. Custom resolutions and scaling options are also easier with NVIDIA as well. AMD is a fine choice from a hardware perspective, I just don't fancy their software.

As of October or November, however, AMD is FINALLY releasing unified drivers for all their modern desktop and mobile parts including improvements to their dynamic power switching controls. That should even the playing field from a software perspective and really heat up the competition.
post #17 of 19
Thread Starter 
I went with the HD 7870 a couple of months ago - now I can game. I need to do a bit of airflow work however, I think the card is being starved of cool air at the moment.
post #18 of 19
I ran into an audio bug playing back Ceton delivered cablecard content. Some channels would stutter the audio playing back commercial other channels would have audio stutter in program and commerical content. This was so repeatable on CNNHD you knew which commercials would skip and you knew where exactly in the commercial the audio would drop out. This was only the case with the Ceton in WMC.. This occurred with multiiple machines, different Nvidia cards and different driver releases.

Intel and AMD don't exhibit the problem.

I finally went with an HIS Radeon HD 7790. I am getting a better picture than with the Nvidia in WMC live TV playback. I am migrating to JRiver ROHQ with MadVR and LAV Video. Using Jin AR 3 Taps the picture is awesome. Fora $149 card I could not be more pleased. Install was NOT straightforward...

I needed a bios upgrade to my MSI H61M and had to use the HIS provided video drivers. Still there are many more options in the Video Quality section of the HIS version of the 13.1 driver. The WHQL version would not recognize the card. The card also did not like my Radiance Video Processor inline during driver install.I hooked it up directly to my Mits 92" DLP configured the card and then put the Radiance and Darbee Darblet back in line. I have never seen cable content look like what I am seeing now.I am sure the driver device detection was a result of the very new card.

While I generally prefer Nvidia for how straightforward its installations are.... The audio issue with Ceton provided cable TV using the stock WMC decoders really gave no choice to look elsewhere. The JRiver enviroment still is not in WMC class for Program Guide navigation and it will not play copy protected cable content. I have little or none of that on my tier. MadVR and LAV Video with the setting cranked up just do lovely things to image quality and I intend ultimately to move away from WMC altogether. I still have one foot in each enviroment but JRiver with some guide and navigation improvements will be my production enviroment for music, movies and live and recorded TV all that highest level of image quality. With the big screen you really want eveything you can get.

So the Radiance provides the 125 Point color calibration, The Darbee Darblet just adds so much 3 dimensionality to the image and MadVR produce with sufficiatent GPU produces a phenomenal image. I need a new lamp and still I am high as a kit on the how good live ATSC and Cable TV look. Now if I can just convince the wife I need that 10" tall stand I will getting about as much of my display as is possible.
post #19 of 19
Thread Starter 
Well,
I'm a year into this machine and still quite happy with it. I'd consider a GTX 760 today - might still go AMD - surprisingly little has changed in mid-range video in the last year. And probably a 120mm radiator closed-loop water cooler.
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