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thinking about building a HTPC

post #1 of 96
Thread Starter 
With my Marantz DVD player failing (used to be rock solid, lately skipping quite a bit and opening it up to clean the laser had little effect), and my backup work computer on its last legs, I'm leaning toward consolidating both into a HTPC. I have a few questions before diving in:

The output setup is RGB to a Barco 708s projector, although that also has some servicing to-do issues so the current output is composite video to a borrowed, lower-end Sony projector. I use a H/K Signature Series 2.0 preamp that does not offer the necessary video switching. From what I've been able to gather, HTPC output will be a bit complicated, with HDMI/DVI being purely digital and not offering an easy adapter method. What are my options here? VGA could be converted, but I don't think I'm likely to have that on any new-ish cards?

The MSI R6450-MD1GD3/LP Radeon HD 6450 video card on special for $15 at Newegg is a no-brainer of a starting point, given its glowing reviews for HTPC usage. However, I've been reading the Linux threads and would likely go that route (not 100% decided yet). I'm not having much luck determining if that card is Linux compatible... I've found some unclear listings that show just PC compatibility, and I haven't figured out how exactly to use the Ubuntu hardware compatibility checker.

Obviously, having used the Marantz DVD player up to this point, sound quality is of equal concern as video. Any suggestions for what hardware to look for there so as to not sacrifice [much] in this area?

I'm sure I'll have other questions, but those are the essential ones for deciding if I should even go ahead with the project.

edit: Oops, the MSI card has D-SUB which is the same as VGA, so I guess that option is there. Probably no significant loss in picture quality, being as it's an analog connection to the projector, anyway? Also, I've done a moderate amount of work under the hood of computers before, but never built one from scratch.

Thanks!
Dan
Edited by dkap - 10/4/12 at 12:09pm
post #2 of 96
You dont need a video card.

Just get a Sandy or IVy CPU and motherboard with HDMI out. (or vga/DVI)

Intel graphics 3000 or 4000 is quite good. As good as that 15$ card you mentioned and as good as you need.

My experience tells me that intel graphics are more stable than AMD add in cards

NOTE: I have a RADEON 6870 card in this PC. I am not a hater.
post #3 of 96
Thread Starter 
Good info, thanks. I looked at some of the on-board graphics options that most people deem sufficient ... I just thought the 6450 might be a bit better, based on reviews. For non-gaming applications, will a dual core processor be as capable as quad core, in your opinion? Looking at Newegg, the latter is more than twice as expensive for a Sandy bridge model.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115078 - Sandy dual core
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115229 - Sandy quad core

What about something like the AMD Llano for less than half the cost of the Intel quad core, rather than adding on a card (speaking to your stability concern)?

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819106002 - AMD

Also, is there an easy way to look up the video outputs on various cards that don't picture it?

I'm thinking I might go ahead and start ordering some of the parts to build up an old tower case while figuring out what direction to go with the main stuff. Things like power supply, DVD drive, etc., that I could always swap over to my main computer as upgrades if this project goes nowhere.

Dan
post #4 of 96
I'd get an i3 3220 and a Gigabyte H77M-D3H. That motherboard is so good, I bought two - one for my gaming system, one for my office system. BUT, it may not ship with the latest BIOS for support for that i3, so you'll need to flash with a Sandy Bridge processor. To work around this, I'd recommend a G540 and upgrade if you need an i3 (you might not). That motherboard also has internal USB 3 and 2 SATA 6 ports along with Gigabyte's UD tech so I'd say its worth it more than some cheapo throwaway Asrock board. AMD isn't worth it. They are simple too slow on the CPU side, and on the GPU side, you might as well go for Intel with its lower power consumption. You also have DVI, VGA and HDMI outputs - doesn't any of your gear support HDMI input?
post #5 of 96
Thread Starter 
I see I can get the i3-3220 and H77M-D3H for $225, so a fair bit less than a Sandy quad core by itself. If Newegg runs a special on either (like with the Sandy dual core currently), that could be around $200. Not bad.
Quote:
BUT, it may not ship with the latest BIOS for support for that i3, so you'll need to flash with a Sandy Bridge processor. To work around this, I'd recommend a G540 and upgrade if you need an i3 (you might not).

You lost me a bit there. The G540 is a Celeron processor, correct? Are you saying that's more likely to have the necessary BIOS support AND likely be capable enough as-is? (That knocks another $80 off, so only $145 for motherboard and processor.) It's been years since I've used a Celeron processor (wasn't impressed), but I suppose the demands aren't high on a stand-alone HTPC.
Quote:
doesn't any of your gear support HDMI input?

I don't think HDMI existed when my gear was built. smile.gif Aside from the projector being in need of Curt Palme's power supply mod, the setup is too slick to want to modernize any of it.

I appreciate the suggestions. I'd much rather get it right the first time than muck around with poor quality stuff!

Dan
post #6 of 96
These new Celerons are much much better than the old Core 2's. I'm using one and it has not stumbled on a 20GB 20MB/s .mkv. I also doubt it will stumble when I test some BD-50 iso's. It also sips power, and that board will allow you to connect via VGA if required to your projector setup. I only went with an i3 when I rebuilt my office box last week as I need a bit more all round grunt. For playback and other basic tasks the G540 will not flinch from the the job. And of course, if you do need more grunt, you can just drop in a new CPU, that board is Ivy Bridge and supports everything from Celeron's to i7's, so you are set there too.
post #7 of 96
Thread Starter 
Sounds like a winner. Unless someone has a strong preference for something else I should consider, the G540/H77M-D3H sounds like the direction to go.

I assume by going with just the built-in graphics, there's no Linux compatibility to worry about?

Dan
post #8 of 96
Thread Starter 
I'm seeing a potential problem with the H77M-D3H motherboard. I found its full specs on Amazon and it doesn't have the optical output (SPDIF) like some other brands. Seems like that would then require adding a separate sound card (since I don't have HDMI input), which then brings about Linux compatibility issues again.

Dan
post #9 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by dkap View Post

Good info, thanks. I looked at some of the on-board graphics options that most people deem sufficient ... I just thought the 6450 might be a bit better, based on reviews. For non-gaming applications, will a dual core processor be as capable as quad core, in your opinion? Looking at Newegg, the latter is more than twice as expensive for a Sandy bridge model.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115078 - Sandy dual core
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115229 - Sandy quad core
What about something like the AMD Llano for less than half the cost of the Intel quad core, rather than adding on a card (speaking to your stability concern)?
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819106002 - AMD
Also, is there an easy way to look up the video outputs on various cards that don't picture it?
I'm thinking I might go ahead and start ordering some of the parts to build up an old tower case while figuring out what direction to go with the main stuff. Things like power supply, DVD drive, etc., that I could always swap over to my main computer as upgrades if this project goes nowhere.
Dan

You could get away with a $50 Sandy bridge like the G530/G620/G630

Honestly.. you could. I used the G630 in my HTPC and it's marvelous.


I own a bunch of CPU from 530- all the way to overclocked i7.

The 3570k is nice but way overkill. (I have one in mine smile.gif ) I also have an overclocked 2600K.


go i3 or lower... You don't need a quad core.

I say this as an owner of them all...


post #10 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by dkap View Post

I'm seeing a potential problem with the H77M-D3H motherboard. I found its full specs on Amazon and it doesn't have the optical output (SPDIF) like some other brands. Seems like that would then require adding a separate sound card (since I don't have HDMI input), which then brings about Linux compatibility issues again.
Dan

Get an Asrock motherboard. $69 or $79 depending on model.
post #11 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mfusick View Post

Get an Asrock motherboard. $69 or $79 depending on model.

Quality is horrific. They are cheap for a reason.
post #12 of 96
Thread Starter 
I don't know what to make of the Asrock debate ... scares me to have such a big gap in opinions.

However, the H77M-D3H may not be dead in the water. I see that it does indeed have SPDIF output pictured (bottom left corner in the Amazon pic), just that Intel doesn't offer a way of actually connecting to it ( http://communities.intel.com/thread/8130 ) ... but there is a fairly cheap connector offered on eBay that I found prior to finding the Intel community thread. That should eliminate the separate sound card requirement without adding a ton of cost. Straight digital pass-through, so hopefully it minimizes the sound quality loss as compared to the Marantz.

Mfusick, how many computers are you running to have that many processors lying around??

Dan
post #13 of 96
might be willing to let this go for cheap, since i wanna clear out some space. pm offer if you're interested. http://www.avsforum.com/t/1432049/i3-3240-3rd-gen-ivy-cpu

also, i suggest going the h77 route since i3's are not overclockable from my understanding. i've seen a lot of people get z77 boards for some reason, but you seem to be on the right track. smile.gif
post #14 of 96
The H77M-D3H does indeed have S/PDIF out:

http://www.gigabyte.com/products/product-page.aspx?pid=4143#sp

I'd stick with a Celeron, you might not need a i3.
post #15 of 96
Thread Starter 
jaboki, thanks for the offer; responded to via PM.

Tiddles88, yeah, that's what I was referring to three posts up. It seems like the Australia/HK seller eBay seller is the only one offering the connector for the motherboard's S/PDIF output, though. Very strange. (Also, they seem to have the identical unit at various prices labeled for different boards.) With that, I think I'd have all my outputs covered via the on-board graphics (D-SUB to RGB connector) and digital optical from the S/PDIF. Then, it's just a matter of building the thing. smile.gif

Dan
post #16 of 96
I recently built an HTPC using an Intel G620 with an H61 mobo which Mfusick suggested.

I needed SPDIF for my AVR and the mobo did have an SPDIF header on it. I happened to have a jumper with the correct 4 pin connector on one end which was left over from a very old CD ROM drive install. Anyway it fit the header pins. You only need 2 pins in order to make this work for digital coax output.

Doing an edit here.
Going by the Gigabyte H77M-D3H mobo link that Tiddles88 reference, I just looked at the mobo manual.
http://download.gigabyte.us/FileList/Manual/mb_manual_ga-z77m%28h77m%29-d3h%28-mvp%29_e.pdf

Page 21, item #10 is the SPDIF header.
Page 26 shows the pinout. It looks like it’s only 2 pins, ground & signal.

If you can dig up a connector with wire that fits the header all you need to do is solder an RCA phono jack onto the other end. That's it. I took an used slot cover, drilled a hole, & mounted the jack in it (before soldering).

I did end up using a $15 HD 6450 video card. My HTPC is mainly used as an OTA DVR. I never noticed a visual problem with HD content but did with some SD programs. Short story - the 6450 (and others) fix a 29/59 frame rate bug that occurs in WMC. And it did fix my problem. If you don't use WMC or you watch only HD content you may never see any problem when using the Intel integrated graphics.
Edited by Mike99 - 10/4/12 at 5:32pm
post #17 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tiddles88 View Post

The H77M-D3H does indeed have S/PDIF out:
http://www.gigabyte.com/products/product-page.aspx?pid=4143#sp
I'd stick with a Celeron, you might not need a i3.

It states "Support for S/PDIF Out" & does say it has a SPDIF header. However it does not list a SPDIF connector on the back panel.
post #18 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tiddles88 View Post

Quality is horrific. They are cheap for a reason.
Horrific? Mine works fine. Never an issue. I hear them recommended a lot.
post #19 of 96
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike99 View Post

It states "Support for S/PDIF Out" & does say it has a SPDIF header. However it does not list a SPDIF connector on the back panel.

That's correct. It doesn't show the back panel connector in the pictures on Amazon.
Quote:
I needed SPDIF for my AVR and the mobo did have an SPDIF header on it. I happened to have a jumper with the correct 4 pin connector on one end which was left over from a very old CD ROM drive install. Anyway it fit the header pins.

I did see a very similar DIY suggestion while searching half an hour ago, but I never would have thought to try look for suitable parts in that fashion! As it turns out, one of the two systems I'm looking to cannibalize (both are only good for their cases at this point) has a very old CD drive with a connector just like you referred to. Dual 4-pin connectors on each end, the main one (black) of which connects the drive to the sound card and looks very similar to the pictured connector on the eBay part. The secondary connector(s) is a smaller white one that serves who knows what purpose. Secondary drives back in the day? However, one of the pins is blank, so it's actually three, not four.

I have digital coax capabilities in addition to digital optical, so no reason why I couldn't switch over to that.
Quote:
Have you seen the actual manual for the mobo you’re interested in?

No, I haven't looked for that just yet. In the picture, the SPDIF_O space looks to be just 2 pins; might be more trouble than it's worth to modify the old 4-pin to fit. You can see it here:

http://www.amazon.com/Gigabyte-LGA1155-CrossFireX-Motherboard-GA-H77M-D3H/dp/B007R21JYA/

I also have a RS-232 connection on the pre-amp, but I'm guessing that's not of any use here...

Dan
post #20 of 96
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mfusick View Post

Get an Asrock motherboard. $69 or $79 depending on model.

Just for the sake of argument ... is something like this what you would recommend?

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157256

That has the desired SPDIF optical output, which is a definite plus, especially at that price. (For $5 more, there's a newer one with USB 3.) Quality control and packaging sounds a bit sketchy, though.

Dan
Edited by dkap - 10/4/12 at 6:31pm
post #21 of 96
Just my 2 cents. Go with an AMD APU processor. I've now built two HTPC's using two different APU processors and they are great! These chips are perfect in this application. Are they going to trump a sandy bridge chip in encoding benchmarks, No. But that's not what an HTPC is built for. The onboard graphics are superior to the Intel competition, and you can even get playable game framerates with no discrete graphics card. Unless you're going to be doing some serious video encoding or other CPU intensive tasks, these things will work great. Audio and video are great, no problem with 1080P. You will also save a boat load of money as well. I just built a budget rig from a barebones kit for $250 from tiger direct.. These chips are also easily overclockable if you're into that kind of thing. I got the A6-3500 which comes stock at 2.1 GHZ.....slow right? OC'd it to 3.0GHZ with no voltage bump and on stock cooling. You can get these up to 3.5GHZ with better cooling. I can run every program on my computer, run a virus scan, and play 1080P video with no lag whatsoever. I"d rather save the money for a bigger amp or another sub smile.gif
post #22 of 96
Thread Starter 
Can this be right?

http://www.amazon.com/ASRock-Motherboard-DDR3-1333-Intel/dp/B002MRROO4/

An ASRock H61M-DGS motherboard for $45 shipped? The info all looks right, but the picture is clearly for something else.

Dan
post #23 of 96
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by coniacvsop View Post

I just built a budget rig from a barebones kit for $250 from tiger direct..

How did you pull that off? Did you re-use existing parts? Barebones kits are ~$150, and even a budget motherboard and processor runs $100. That leaves no room for optical drive and hard drives, RAM, and any fan/power supply/cables type stuff you might need.

Dan
post #24 of 96
Sorry Dan, that was minus the good 'ole windows OS and a $20 keyboard. The OS is always good for $100. Stupid Microsoft, I guess I could start to go the Linux route. This was the kit that I built:

http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=4357414&CatId=332

It looks like they bumped the price up a bit since last week. It has a really solid 550W ultra power supply and the Cav Blue HDD aren't bad. I built this for someone else, and I'm actually pretty impressed with the performance vs the price. I built a similar rig in a HTPC case for about $325. Unfortunately my HTPC is still running a first gen Phenom Quad Core, but it does alright with a cheap graphics card in there and a pretty nice NMedia case. It's starting to get a little scary that 7TB isn't enough room anymore........
post #25 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by coniacvsop View Post

Sorry Dan, that was minus the good 'ole windows OS and a $20 keyboard. The OS is always good for $100. Stupid Microsoft, I guess I could start to go the Linux route. This was the kit that I built:
http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=4357414&CatId=332
It looks like they bumped the price up a bit since last week. It has a really solid 550W ultra power supply and the Cav Blue HDD aren't bad. I built this for someone else, and I'm actually pretty impressed with the performance vs the price. I built a similar rig in a HTPC case for about $325. Unfortunately my HTPC is still running a first gen Phenom Quad Core, but it does alright with a cheap graphics card in there and a pretty nice NMedia case. It's starting to get a little scary that 7TB isn't enough room anymore........

That PSU is horrible. It isn't even 80+, that and a G540 would be the equivalent of that APU for less cash and less power consumption.

To the OP, I'm flicking through the manual for my D3H, it looks like you'll need to connect a S/PDIF cable to a GPU and then connect that GPU to your setup, the manual recommends HDMI though.
post #26 of 96
Cool, thanks buddy.
post #27 of 96
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tiddles88 View Post

To the OP, I'm flicking through the manual for my D3H, it looks like you'll need to connect a S/PDIF cable to a GPU and then connect that GPU to your setup, the manual recommends HDMI though.

Remind me which of my proposed setups that's referring to? smile.gif Is that for using the GIGABYTE board originally recommended? If I go with the ASRock, I'm pretty sure it eliminates the need for extra S/PDIF connections.

coniacvsop, that's not what I was thinking when you said "barebones" kit. That looks pretty complete to me, quality of components notwithstanding.

Dan
post #28 of 96
dkap,

No question about it, having a SPDIF output on the back panel would be nice, either optical or coax.

If the 4 pin connector you found fits the 2 pin header just use 2 pins, solder on a jack & you could just let it hang out the back of the case. That is presuming you really like the features of the mobo you were looking at. I needed coax to the AVR because the 3 optical inputs were already used.

I wanted a mobo with at least two PCIe x1 slots for two OTA tuner cards and one PCIe x16 slot just in case I needed to add a video card. Some mobos I looked did not have these & instead had 1 or 2 of the older PCI slots. I was lucky the $25 on sale mobo that I used had these & at least a header for SPDIF. IIRC this was even $15AR at one time.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813135288

Obviously your requirements may be different. Just like you need a SPDIF output make sure the back panel connectors & slots have what you need as not all mobos are configured the same.

You mentioned your old systems had good cases. That's what I did, use an old Dell case & everything fit. It's not a sleek looking HTPC case but mine sits out of sight in the corner anyway.
post #29 of 96
Thread Starter 
Morning update: I went ahead and ordered the ASRock H77M motherboard (fingers crossed!), Intel Celeron G540 processor, OCZ 600W power supply (OCZ600MXSP), Samsung DVD burner, and a VGA to composite/s-video adapter. Total price after various discounts (bundles, rebates, Amazon Visa signup (didn't expect that offer at checkout; thought I already had one!), etc.) is $132.

I originally ordered both the motherboard and processor from Amazon, but Newegg dropped the price on the motherboard literally minutes after placing the order, so I cancelled that part and re-ordered through Newegg since it showed immediate delivery and Amazon has a four week wait for some reason. I still have that processor ordered through Amazon, so that will hold up the show significantly if they're really that delayed. (I've never known them to be anywhere near that slow.)

I'm nearly settled on the hard drive and RAM, plus the long-term VGA to RGB connector for when I get the Barco projector back up and running. Still researching remote/dongle options... I went with the newest of the three salvage cases and have it all cleaned out and ready to go. I think that pretty much covers it! It should come in under $250 when all is said and done, so significantly less than the price of upgrading both the Marantz DVD player and backup computer which it is replacing.

Thanks everyone for the suggestions and guidance.

Dan
post #30 of 96
Thread Starter 
I just realized, I have a couple of spare SCSI drives that I could put to use if I pick up a cheap SCSI card and cable. (All my other old-unit drives are IDE.) That should bring the total price down under $200.

I was planning on the 60GB Intel SSD for $60, but SCSI ought to come fairly close in performance, I would think, and perhaps be more reliable.

Dan
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