AVS Forum banner

Status
Not open for further replies.
1 - 20 of 150 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
4,310 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
HW update January, 2002


Hi All:


___Since just about every tech site on the net is posting a buyers guide of sorts, I thought it might be about time I post a “Best of Class†Low-cost, Midrange, and High-End HTPC component guide/Hardware review circa. late Sept. 2000 (now early January, 2002) so here goes:


___I am assuming here that most anyone interested in building there own HTPC has a HD (High Definition) FP (Front Projector), RP (Rear Projector), or DV (Direct View) display. I am asking that a new HTPC builder also acquire the knowledge to properly select/adjust some of their motherboards BIOS’ options for the fastest yet most stable operation (defaults work for the most part but are sometimes not in your best interest). I would also suggest knowing how to partition and format your HD’s using either a MS startup disk, WD’s Data Life Guard Tools for Western Digital drives, Maxtor’s Max-Blast for Maxtor Drives, or PowerQuest’s Partition Magic 7.0 for both additional drives added later on or partitioning a drive with the OS and applications already installed. Most importantly I would also hope that the new builder would have acquired some knowledge on installing OS’s and applications with a non-std. - custom options approach and have the wherewithal to start a project and never give up until the build is complete. I would also suggest that a new builder bury themselves in the Home Theater Computer forum for at least a month before the build while using the Search Function built right into the AVScience forums to answer whatever questions that he or she may have in regards to a particular setup feature or option as just two examples. I use the search functions all the time for looking up particular posts on a new feature that I need to understand a bit more and I hope you will as well! It works quite well if I do say so myself.


___I want to mention that even the “Best in Class†approach for a particular System and its components today will need a maintenance schedule of some sorts to keep it in the “Best in Class†arena for as long as humanly possible w/ continuous driver updates, late breaking setup news, and of course HW and SW upgrades to give you the best in a Home Theater environment in regards to both the audio and video experience. You do not have to of course but to gain a continually improved upon HTPC in both its features, functions, and capabilities, I highly recommend this. A quick look over the forums once a week with an eye on new capabilities being discussed here in the forums is all that should be needed. A sample of recent developments is the discussion on the TheaterTek SW player, Zoom Player front end, Silk SDI card with a modded STB DVD player along with DScaler uses, and Creative's Digital VCR w/ Tivo like NTSC recording capabilities.


___Now lets get to the fun part ;) The Hardware:


___I myself am an Intel Chipset fan from way back so my idea of the “Best in Class†will still revolve around an I815EP/I845-D chipset. You will also see mixed into this quasi HTPC HW guide my AMD/VIA/SiS solutions for “Best in Class†as well as high end P4 solutions as well.


___Low-cost HTPC solutions are not low quality by any means: A low cost solution does not need to sacrifice everything for cost considerations alone. In fact, many lower cost solutions will actually outperform the higher end HTPC solutions in various benchmarks when looking at System performance as a whole! My suggestions for a low cost solution are not going to include the $400.00 PC you would purchase from a “ Best Buy †or “ Circuit City †here in the states but would be fully functional HTPC’s with great display outputs and a decent sound output in the $500.00 - $875.00 USD range. Remember that if you own a $2,000.00 - $25,000.00 HD display, you really should not sacrifice much in terms of output given a low-cost HTPC’s capability at the minimum. This solution can even include simple upgrades to your existing HTPC and in this case, you may actually save yourself quite a bit of money in the process.


___Midrange “Best in Class†HTPC’s will consist of higher quality sound HW, faster CPU’s for future capabilities, faster and larger HD’s, and more SDRAM. The cost range of a mid-range HTPC will be in the $800.00 - $1,200.00 range.


___High-End HTPC’s will consist mostly of midrange “Best in Class†HW which is possibly the best HW available but will be upgraded with the fastest CPU’s, fastest and largest HD’s available, and include an HDTV tuner card and possibly even a 4U Rack mount case. Costs will be in the $1,000.00 - $2,000.00 range when loaded up with the works.


**************************************************

Without going into more detail than is necessary, here is a solid low-end HW component list to select from:

AMD CPU


___With the cost of an AMD 1.4 GHz T-Bird’s at used to give these chipsets fits but with the latest coming from these chipset manufacturers, some of this trouble has disappeared.

Intel CPU


___Given the most compatible PC HW comes from Intel, It would be a shame not to include one in the Low-Cost HTPC solution. The Intel 1.0 GHz Celeron II can be purchased for less than $60.00 today. This is a bargain compared to what many have paid for this type of CPU in the past. It offers an ~ equivalent of an 800 MHz PIII for those interested in its performance capabilities.

SiS 735 chipset equipped Motherboard and AMD CPU


___The ECS K7S5A board with onboard LAN and a very low quality onboard sound chipset can be purchased for less than $60.00.


___The problems with this board were so numerous depending on who you speak with as to make it almost laughable … For some however, the board worked out of the box and is as fast as almost anything available in terms of performance and for a ridiculously low price. Some of us have worked through the problems of cold/warm boots, memory test errors, and general poor stability and have achieved fantastic results for a price many could have only dreamed of just 6 months ago. I burned up (2) 1.4 GHz T-Birds and an RMA of a board myself before I was satisfied as a low end HTPC platform. Its compatibility is top notch and having a passively cooled chipset (north and south bridges are combined in this chipset) makes this board silent as well. With its new SiS 745 chipset equipped younger brother in the form of the K7S6A about to be released for the average enthusiast on a budget, look for this board to possibly dominate the low end market in the coming year. I have read that the 745 is not only faster but some of the SiS735 chipsets bugs have been worked out and quite a few more tweaking features have been added for whatever that is worth …

VIA KT266A chipset equipped Motherboard - AMD CPU


___The Soyo Dragon + is a very solid VIA board and has the added feature of being relatively inexpensive when you consider it has an onboard VIA based LAN, onboard C-Media audio chipset w/ a TosLink/COAX S/PDIF I/O bracket, Onboard ATA 100/Raid (you can use up to 8 ATA100 IDE devices as std. drives with the included Promise controller) , and a Smart Card reader that is included with the package.

http://www.soyousa.com/pix/dragon-plusbig.jpg


and the accompanying TosLink/COAX S/PDIF adapter:

http://www.soyousa.com/pix/dragon-cardbig.jpg


___At $150.00 + delivered, it would not normally belong in the Low cost group but with all the onboard HW that works, I am sure you can appreciate the value given the sound chipset addition alone. Caveat's include the infamous patch of the month to fix some newfound incompatibility (ATA133 capable cards and drives cannot achieve maximum performance bursts with the VIA KT266A chipset design) which means nothing in terms of an HTPC. There is a fan on the Northbridge chip, which is not to loud but will fail at some time down the road. The onboard sound has some high distortion from the onboard DAC's and finally, who knows what you will run into with a new piece of HW or SW upgrade. I own this board and have been very satisfied but given my experiences with the VIA solutions of the past, be cautious is all I can add.

Intel I815EP chipset equipped Motherboard - Intel CPU


___The ASUS TUSL2-C has been proven to be excellent latest generation I815EP board and includes support for the latest Intel Tualatin processors.

http://www.asus.com.tw/mb/comimages/tusl2-c.jpg


___You could purchase a cheaper BX chipset here but if you want to make your purchase as future proof as possible in a PIII format, the ASUS TUSL2-C in particular is the board I would purchase. I have some small issues with the ASUS’ HW monitoring but these are not worth noting at this time. The largest caveat to this board is that Intel will be discontinuing the PIII Coppermine/Celeron/Tualatin at somewhere around 1.4 GHz so the I815EP's life span is coming to a close. Even though the Asus TUSL2-C is a bit more expensive than I would have liked for a low cost HTPC, it is by far the best Intel I815EP based board available at a reasonable price today.

CPU F/HS – AMD


___My current favorite although this is a more expensive solution that you would have thought for a low cost solution is the Alpha PAL 8045T :

http://www.micforg.co.jp/images/pal80_a.jpg


___It offers some of the best thermal performance up to and including the ability to be used on almost all T-Bird's and yet to be released AMD XP +'s but can also be used in conjunction with relatively quiet 80x80mm lower RPM case fans with these same high frequency CPU’s. This is a CPU F/HS that will grow with you as you upgrade into the future. The caveat to this cooler is first that you must remove the MB to install it and one that many AMD/VIA chipset owners have faced in the recent past. It is expensive, and it does not fit all MB’s. Let me say that running the T-Bird/XP + CPU's above 50 degrees C/122 Degrees F under DIE temp at full load/no load is my limit as far as long term reliability is concerned. If you cannot keep the under DIE temp below this temperature, I would seriously consider better case cooling to bring down ambient temps which in turn will reduce under DIE temps or install a higher performing fan with the added caveat of more dB output.

CPU F/HS – Intel


___Since we will only be running a maximum of 35 - 40 W PIII Coppermine/Tualatin in a std. or OC’ed condition, an SVC Golden Gate or Dynatron DY1206BH-625

w/ a 60x60mm to 80x80 mm Funnel

and PC Power & Cooling Silencer case fan is highly recommended. I have been achieving just 14 to 18 degrees F above ambient with OC'ed 1.125 GHz PIII's and this solution is inaudible inside of most cases with reasonable ambient (below 95 degrees F) case temps. This is not a truly low cost solution at a cost in the neighborhood of $37.00 or thereabouts but to sacrifice $20.00 - $30.00 by using a higher dB output solution does not make much sense to me. That is why I included it here. For those on an extreme budget, the std. Retail Intel CPU F/HS combination will certainly suffice at the expense of a small amount of ambient noise. Given they are free with a retail PIII purchase, it makes sense to use them in a low cost solution.

SDRAM/DDRAM


___My current suggestion for a low-cost HTPC is to use at the minimum, 128 MB of Micron 7E CAS2 PC133 SDRAM/PC2100 CAS 2.5 DDR from Crucial Technology , Micron Technologies memory sales arm. Micron 7E/PC2100 is one of the best spec’ed PC133 SDRAM/PC2100 DDR based DIMM’s that you can own and is very reasonably priced as well. I would like to see all HTPC owners use a minimum of 256 MB given the great SDRAM prices of today (circa January. 2001) but for those who need an absolute low-cost HTPC solution, 128 MB will suffice. Given an increase of just $24.00 - $34.00 for the 256 MB DIMM over the 128 MB DIMM today, this amount of SDRAM/DDRAM will set you up nicely for a Windows XP upgrade if you so choose to move to this OS sometime in the near future. I am speaking of a Windows Millennium build here. If you are going to run Windows 2000 or XP, I highly suggest that you install 256 MB before even lighting off the HTPC after initial construction.

Video Card


___For a Low-cost solution, you simply cannot do better than the ATI Radeon 7200 OEM:

http://65.119.30.151/productimage/14-102-191-01.JPG


___Not only will it give you the equivalent of any ATI based Radeon in terms of an excellent scaled and progressive output but it does so at a cost anyone can afford. The Radeon 7200 OEM is manufactured in China using the ATI Radeon chipset. The 7200 OEM's core and 64 MB of SDRAM memory are clocked at 183 MHz. The reason I recommend these cards over the other Radeon's available today is that they offer the same HQ picture of all the others bar the 8500 (see comments below on this card …) at a cost anyone can afford (
Sound Card


___Given this is a low-cost solution, I will have to forego the M-Audio DiO, AP 2496, or Delta 410 but you can still achieve AC-3/DTS pass-thru, excellent 4-speaker positional gaming, and analog output for ¼ the price of the M-Audio DiO/AP 2496 themselves. I am partial to both the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live Value II's (#4830/4832) w/ digital output for use on the ECS board but they are becoming hard to find. The Creative 5.1 except for the very expensive Platinum's with their included 5.25 drive bay outputs all have out of spec S/PDIF outputs unless you were to use a Hoontech DB II or DB III to bring the S/PDIF outputs back into spec. I would not purchase a 5.1 for any reason as it offers you nothing over a std Value except for costing more and its analog DAC's are of the same low quality as the Value II's before them. I want to mention the Live Audigy here in that you not only receive a higher quality DAC than its predecessors as well as all the gaming compatibility Creative cards are known for in the past. A neat feature found on this card is the addition of a 1394 fire wire port on the I/O shield for video capture of that is a feature you find useful. I have seen these cards in the low $60.00 range, which in turn makes them a good value. As for its S/PDIF voltages, I don't think it has in spec S/PDIF outputs but I have not purchased this card to find out for myself. If you instead purchased the Soyo based Dragon + board listed above, the included and onboard C-Media chipset/sound output solution should more than suffice without so much as setting up the driver for S/PDIF output. There has been a lot of talk about the Zoltrix Nightingale Pro and its C-Media based sound chipset. It is a good HTPC solution but I find the DAC's on this card in particular to be very harsh as stated above. At a hair above $40.00 with COAX and TosLink S/PDIF outputs, it is hard to beat however.

Modem


___If you need a 56K modem, than here is just a suggestion. Since this a low-cost solution I have to recommend a low-cost component and that would be a WinModem. In my case, I will only recommend the highest quality WinModem I can think of and that is the 3Com/USR 56K/V90 w/ Voice model # 3594. I do not like to use WinModems in builds because there are CPU performance and latency issues which are very noticeable to me but they are inexpensive and work as implied. There are a number of branded WinModems available but from my experience repairing older PC’s, the Lucent WinModems, as just one example, do not perform as well as the 3Com/USR’s. Why would I suggest voice modems? Just in case you were to setup a voice mail system on an HTPC at some point in the future. You can save a few dollars by purchasing a non-Voice version but the utility of a voice-equipped modem can become very apparent if you ever were to setup a voice mail system with your HTPC. I have used Symantec’s TalkWorks Pro 3.0 in the past and it works very well with the 3Com/USR Voice modems I have used in case anyone is interested. Remember, your top of the line HTPC of today will be an also ran just as the Hollywood + has seen its time come and go as well. At some point in time, your HTPC will be relegated to more mundane tasks like possibly answering your telephone! At just $25.00, you cannot get a higher quality product for the price if you do indeed need one in the first place.

Network Interface Card or NIC’s


___Given that many of today’s low cost MB solutions come with an onboard NIC, you would not have to purchase this item on either the ECS or Soyo based boards listed above. On the Asus TUSL2's however, you would. Here is an area that any 10/100 BaseT cards will do the job and do it magnificently in my experience. I am still partial to an Intel Pro 100 S or the 3Com 905B’s because they have been known to surpass the best in throughput on highly optimized HW but you can use any number of 10/100BaseT cards from D-Link, LinkSys, NetGear, or SMC to name a few and they will work great. Stick with a brand name here in that you will still want Driver updates when you upgrade to the next OS whatever that will be after XP in the future.

S-Video Capture/TV tuner card for the DScaler users


___Since this is a low cost solution, I would search out the I/O Magic PCPVR . These S-Video capable Capture cards were just available at CompUSA for ~ $25.00 after a few rebates were applied and if you can find one for similar, buy it. The 1 GHz based CPU’s are enough to handle any of the Algorithm's inside of DScaler IMO but Tom B. is really pushing the code to make sure that you will need every cycle/second available and make them count.

Hard Drive


___You should consider a Seagate Barracuda ATA IV 20 GB drive. For less than $80.00, they are one of the quietest major brand drives available yet are reasonably fast w/ 7200 RPM spindle speeds and 2 MB Buffers. Once HDTV recording becomes commonplace, we will all be purchasing the 100 GB + capacity drives and will be looking for more …

CD/DVD-ROM Drive


___I like either the Toshiba SD-M1612 16x/48X CD/DVD-ROM drive or the Pioneer 106S 16X/40X Slot Load CD/DVD-ROM drive in white because not only are they both reasonably priced but are also reasonably quiet with slow DVD playback speeds either natively in the case of the Toshiba or with a drive speed utility in the case of the Pioneer slot loader. The Toshiba can read quite a few new formats in the DVD-RAM area which makes its utility that much more appealing.

Floppy Drive


___I have sold hundred's of white TEAC 235’s and have had nothing but good luck so at $12.00 a unit, it is not a bad deal at all. There are others of course so choose whichever brand you are comfortable with. If you boot from the CD-ROM, you do not need one but whenever you need to transfer a driver patch or text document, it sure is easier on a Floppy than it is to burn a CD on another PC …

Case


___We are discussing the low-cost solutions here so this would have to include a white case and peripherals. I like the EnLight 7230 Series and in particular the 7237 03’s w/ 300 W PS’s. I have used the included 300 W PS to power up OC'ed 1.4 GHz T-Bird's and you just don't get much more Power abuse than this. Found just about anywhere for Antec KS388’s and an Antec 300 W PS come to mind as a strong case with a PS capable of driving at least a 1.4 GHz T-Bird in my experience. These Antec’s are available on the web for a great price as well. I should mention that the PS's needed to drive a 1.4 GHz T-Bird listed here are not recommended by AMD themselves. The problems with driving a higher output PS is usually increased dB output by thermally controlled fans that really rev up when that CPU is working at maximum. I have used the Enermax 330, 350, Antec 350, and 400 W PS's to date. IMO, they are all to loud in comparison to the 300's and the 250 Antec powering a PIII in particular. Look at the high-end suggestion in the form of a Zalman 300 W PS but at ~ $75.00 alone, it most certainly will not fit the low cost constraints I was looking for in this selection of reasonably inexpensive HW.


___This concludes the Low-cost solution which will give you a great output as far as your HD display is concerned and decent DD/DTS sound as well as an OK sound output for MP3’s and CD-Audio as well.


**************************************************

Here is a solid Midrange HW component list to select from:

AMD CPU


___AMD 1.33 GHz- XP 1500 +. This particular CPU is an absolute steal given it can be found on the web for less than $110.00 currently.

Intel CPU


___Intel PIII 1 GHz Coppermine FC-PGA Socket 370 CPU. The 1.0 GHz currently gives you great performance on an I815EP chipset today.

Intel I815EP chipset equipped Motherboard – Intel CPU


___This solution will include the ASUS TUSL2-C as mentioned in the Low-cost solution above.

VIA KT266A chipset equipped Motherboard - AMD CPU


___Again, the Soyo Dragon + as listed above is truly an excellent DDR based board.

CPU F/HS


___For the AMD T-Bird users, the Alpha PAL 8045 w/ a variety of 80x80 mm case fans would suffice as listed in the low cost solutions above. The SVC/Funnel/Silencer for the PIII based solutions is exactly the same as that listed above.

SDRAM/DDRAM


___My suggestion for a Midrange HTPC setup is to use 256 MB of Micron 7E CAS2 PC133 SDRAM/PC2100 CAS 2.5 DDRAM from Crucial Technology . This is the same suggestion as in the low cost solution except for the larger amount of SDRAM/DDRAM.

Video Card


___For a Midrange HTPC, I will recommend the ATI Radeon 7500 for some of the reasons the 7200 was recommended in the low cost solution:

http://65.119.30.151/productimage/14-131-187-01.JPG


___The 7500 has the same HQ display yet adds a DIE shrink for a faster core and includes faster memory in the retail in particular. To make this card silent, you will have to remove the included GPU F/HS combination and install a Zalman or similar passive cooling solution for long term reliability/short term stability. This is not a gaming card in my opinion as it is just a bit faster than its slower sibling in the 7200. For the heavy gamers amongst us, you can use both a PCI based Radeon and an AGP based GeForce2/3/Ti series card. The LeadTek Ti 200 GeForce 3 series of cards are amongst the best 2D/3D cards carrying an Nvidia chipset:

http://www.leadtek.com/graphics/gf3t...s/ti200LED.jpg


___These cards have a non-std Nvidia reference design in their output filtering for almost Radeon 2D desktop capability. They (the GeForce's) do not offer the same HQ DVD overlay quality of any of the Radeon's most are using but they do offer more stable driver sets, better synch capability for D-ILA owners in particular, and much higher gaming performance/compatibility than all but the 8500 series Radeon's today. This being said, you can find many forum members that have successfully removed the RFI inductors and caps on the output traces of their GeForce's for an even better 2D display at higher resolutions so this could be an option for you as well. Here is a link provided by one of the AVScience members (Pat otherwise known as hifipj) to the AVScience post GF2 MX Mod Success . The site he linked has both pictures of what is done as well as a small explanation of why it is done in case you were interested in taking on this task. In either case, only heavy gamers or D-ILA owners should consider the GeForce2/3 line today due to their less than “Best in Class†DVD overlay.

Sound Card


___Given this is a Midrange HTPC solution, I will definitely spec either the M-Audio AP2496 or Delta 410 . Not only are they the best I have heard for 44, 48, and 96 KHz output, but they are cheaper than the M-Audio DiO 2496/Delta 1010 they are replacing respectively. These are not gaming cards by any means but they can be used in some gaming situations. This is a great HTPC sound card so all I can do is post what I have heard with my own ears and that of many of the forum members who own one for themselves. It is truly amazing the difference between a Low-Cost AC-97 card and this one for 24/96 CD-Audio, std. CD-Audio, and MP3 playback in particular. As a caveat to this card, besides its lack of gaming compatibility, the AP2496’s S/PDIF connector is located on the additional cable bundle off the midi-port. If the back of your HTPC looks similar to a wiring harness from the Space Shuttle as mine does, this additional cable could add another bundle to the mess ;) The Delta 410 has yet to offer sound levels using the latest driver sets but we have been promised this feature soon. Hopefully sooner than later. The largest caveat in using the Professional cards is that they are particularly incompatible with older VIA chipsets for whatever reason. Some members have achieved non-stuttering audio playback using an M-Audio on a VIA chipset but most have not. This is of course not the only incompatibility when using an AMD/VIA chipset solution but it is the most detrimental for most.

Modem


___If you need a 56K modem, I will only recommend one of the highest quality HW controlled PCI modems and that is the 3Com/USR 56K/V90 w/ Voice model # 2976. It is not the performer of the older ISA based 3Com/USR 56K/V90 1491’s/1785’s but it is a HW controller-based modem nonetheless with excellent connection rates and throughput in my experience. There are V92 solutions available from USR and other lower tier manufacturers today but at a cost that is quite a bit higher or of lower qulity in terms of connection rates. You can save a few dollars by purchasing a Winmodem based version as described in the Low-cost solution above but for the utility, I still recommend a voice modem. Can you imagine an ATI Radeon/LeadTek Ti 500/M-Audio AP/PIII 1 GHz + equipped HTPC relegated to answering your phone in 3 years? If it isn’t, you will have sold it off for an upgrade to something newer, faster, better …

Network Interface Card or NIC’s


___Again, the Intel Pro 100 S or 3Com 905B NIC’s are still my choice for a Midrange HTPC but any of the Lower-end NIC solutions will work equally well.

S-Video Capture/TV tuner card for the DScaler users


___The Hauppauge cards have been known to have a decent output from a Brooktree 869 chipped card and for non-DScaler users, the SW capabilities that comes on these board is second to none. I prefer not to suggest a particular model since we all have differing expectations of a TV Tuner cards use but I will leave you with a link to the entire list of Hauppauge tuner cards that are currently available to us as well as the DScaler teams own supported Capture card HW solutions. The Hauppauge 401 in particular with its relatively clean S-Video in and PAL compatibility could be the card of choice for DScaler.

Hard Drive


___You could consider either the SeaGate 60 GB or larger Barracuda ATA IV drives or the latest and fastest IDE drives made today in the Western Digital 40 – 120 GB drives. Not only are the Seagate 7200 RPM drives extremely quiet, they are decent performers. The WD 40 GB/platter monsters have throughput second to none but do cost quite a bit of money unless you find a rebate deal or similar. The WD 1000BB-SE 100 GB drive with its 8 MB of cache is the fastest drive and when used in combination with an I815E, KT266A, SiS 645, I845/850 based chipsets with native ATA100 controllers, nothing can touch it. As described above, once HDTV recording becomes common place, we will all be purchasing the 100 GB + capacity drives and will be looking for more …

CD/DVD-ROM Drive


___I like either of the black Toshiba SD-M1612 16X/48X CD/DVD-ROM or the black Pioneer 106S 16X/40X Slot Load CD/DVD-ROM drives as mentioned above. I like the Pioneer’s because they look so nice with the slot load action but you have to apply a patch to slow them down for quiet operation during DVD playback. The Toshiba is the same one spec’ed as the Low-cost solution and is very quiet for DVD playback out of the box. It can read DVD-RW discs and with its included 512 KB of cache, it can be considered a good data transfer performer as well. Given this is a Mid-range spec'ed solution, we will be using all-black peripherals.

Floppy Drive


___I will include the TEAC 235’s in black as well as the Sony’s but I do not believe Sony is actually making their own FD’s? You can expect to pay in the neighborhood of $20.00 - $25.00 for either of these FD’s in black if you so choose.

Case


___We are discussing the Midrange solutions so we will now include the all black cases and peripherals that were previously listed. I like the Hydraulic Midtowers in black w/ a 350 W Enermax PS as well as the Antec SX1030B Midtowers and KS788b Desktops but finding them in black is another matter. I really do not have a good recommendation for a HQ DT case in black just yet. With the ABeer modded Antec KS780b’s just about all wrapped up due to the discontinuance of the case itself, I am still looking for a good solution. There are a number of DT cases offered by HTPC resellers that I have tried and I can’t really say anything good about them. My number 1 choice would be the Hydraulic Midtower in that I have more room for additional peripherals later on and I have a very quiet and true black case to begin with. For the OC’er, the Antec 1030B would make more sense as the airflow design is superior to just about anything you can purchase today. Another item of note is that you do not really have room for a custom insulation install on the Desktops whereas with the Midtowers, you do.


___This concludes the Midrange solution, which will give you the best output as far as your HD display and sound are concerned.


**************************************************

Now for the High End component list:


___I am leaving this area open as a work in progress since I have already spent 8 hours updating it to this point. I will say that the MB HW will consist of chipsets including the I815EP B step in the Asus TUSL2, I845-D in the form of an MSI 845 Ultra, an I850 in the form of an Asus P4T-E, a SiS 645 in the form of an MSI 645 Ultra, and an nForce in the form of again, an MSI board. Namely the MSI K7N420-D, and again, the Soyo Dragon + with a mention of the slightly faster KT266A Soltek based boards. CPU’s will revolve around PIII's at 1.2 GHz, XP +’s at 1900 + and P4’s revolving around 1.9 and up frequencies as well. Memory will include 512 MB’s of SDRAM/DDRAM from Crucial listed above as well as Samsung PC800 RDRAM for the I850 in particular. Sound cards will include the M-Audio AP2496 and Delta 410 as listed above and cases include one of the monster tough 4U rackmounts available from Digital Connection. I would definitely include the AccessDTV card in the list for the best display and the HiPix OTA card for its unencrypted files for manipulation by any number of programs and possibly the Zalman 300 W PS for silent operation. The ATI Radeon 8500 will be left out of the list until such time the cards drivers are fixed for good whereas for the gamer, the LeadTek Ti500 would be the number one choice for that type of HTPC’er … I will get back to this in the very near future but will add that even today, I believe the I815EP may be our best choice in the short run due to its miserly power consumption and the ability to make HTPC’s equipped with this type of HW practically silent without any extreme solutions …


___That just about does it as far as the Low-cost, Midrange, and High-End component suggestions are concerned. As for the SW, the OS of choice is not as easy as it once was. Windows Millennium currently offers you everything in terms of the HW/SW interaction available to us. Windows XP would be my second choice in that it offers the month long type stability of the NT Kernel but is missing a few pieces in terms of 24/96 audio and HW acceleration from the Radeon’s when using the TheaterTek player in particular. Windows 2000 Pro is another choice but with Windows XP’s handling of multimedia app’s, this OS has been surpassed in terms of stability when running these type applications in my experience with my current triple boot Win ME/2000 Pro/XP Pro based HTPC. The SW DVD Players you should have on hand include PowerDVD XP 4.0 , WinDVD 2000 ver. 2.8 , Zoom Player , and the “Best in Class†player IMO coming in the form of the TheaterTek player itself. You should also have both PowerStrip 3.12.245 or beyond from Entech , Jim Ferguson’s YXY 1.6 for use with WinDVD and PowerDVD in particular, and DVD Infomatrix’s DVD Genie 4.05 which is very useful for basic DVD SW player manipulation. You should also include at a minimum one of the following: WinAmp 2.78 , MusicMatch Jukebox 7.0 , and or one of DC’s favorites, Sonic Foundry’s Siren Express to round out the package on the MP3/CD-Audio side of the equation.


___We have quite a bit of performance available to us today. The AMD/Ali/VIA/SiS DDRAM capable chipsets are available but they are not quite as stable as their Intel counterparts according to a number of reviewers on the web. I have used some of these chipsets with varying results but one thing I can say, they are much closer to Intel type quality now than they were just 6 short months ago.


___I included as much HW as I have had my own hands on and/or have read quite a bit about. I also tried to give a little synopsis as to what I like and dislike myself. If you yourself find a component that does not meet your needs in your build no matter what components you have chosen, please E-Bay it off to someone who is looking for that exact component for him or herself. If you come into possession of HW that exceeds your expectations, by all means post your positive experiences to the forums and tell us what you found so amazing. Again, this is simply a guide and a living document at that. I would like the new HTPC members and builders to use it as such given my experiences over the past year in the HTPC field and 7 years in the PC performance chase as well. It may help you as I have been helped in learning the ins and outs of the HTPC over these past 18 months by some of the Advanced and Special members myself. You guys all know who you are … I cannot thank the regulars from Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe, and of course the US in the HT Computer forum enough for the education I have received and I hope you gain as much from this forum as I have.


___As always, Good Luck and enjoy your HTPC(s) to their fullest.


___Wayne R. Gerdes

___Hunt Club Farms Landscaping Ltd.

___ [email protected]


___As a rather lengthy edit, I revamped the HW and associated costs as well as particular HW, SW, and broken links as new information has become available (Circa early January. 2002). I would have liked to include more pictures as well but the server was rejecting that idea ;)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,169 Posts
Wayne, congrats on your 1000th post and...WOW!!...what a great post! http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/cool.gif


You know we really ought to have a Technical White Paper section of the forum to park, in read-only fashion, post such as this. While I'm a big fan of the search feature too, a lone parking lot with summary information that the community agrees is valuable should be parked aside somewhere for all to see in one place.


Again, nice post and thanks for taking the time to write it up. Of course, now you've got me thinking its time to upgrade my PIII 700! http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/rolleyes.gif


Tom
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,650 Posts
Hi Wayne,


Thanks for the great post. I have an old SB Live value card w/o the external SPDIF connector and bought the Hoontech NX DB I for $12 http://www.hoontech.com/english/prod...roduct6_1.html (see bottom of page) from http://www.tracertek.com/sblive.htm. It has one optical and one coax output. It seems to work great. Do you know if has an "in spec" SPDIF output? I have a Yamaha receiver and it seems to work fine. I think this might be a good option for people with old SBLive cards and people who don't need the all the other connectors of the SB DB II. I did a simple A/B test between the SBlive and a standalone Sony DVD player with a 5.1 DVD and I could not tell the differnece in sound quality. Thank again for all the great posts.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
343 Posts
Great post Wayne!


I'll 2nd/3rd the motion to put content like this into something like a FAQ area... sure would help the newcomers get up to speed fast (and I include myself in that group)...I particularly appreciate your value oriented approach which doesn't seem to get enough attention. For most of us, in order to stay cutting edge, we have to buy right and upgrade often!


...it'll be 2002 before I get up to a 1000 posts! http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/rolleyes.gif


Kirby

 

·
Registered
Joined
·
235 Posts
If a FAQ is something that everyone wants, and there's a need for it, I'd be happy to set up a database, write the interface and host it if someone would like to tackle being the moderator/maintainer.


-Mike
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
6,092 Posts
That's hitting 1000 with style!


As an AVS special member, We will have to call you Sir Xcel from now on.


-Mr. Wigggles


------------------

The Mothership is now boarding.
 

·
Central Scrutinizer
Joined
·
8,301 Posts
Yes, Wayne, I too want to congratulate you on your 1000th post! I consider you a good friend and mentor with everything computer related, with this post in particular clearly demonstrating your continuing efforts to help your fellow enthusiasts with a most difficult subject matter. I know a lot...a lot...a lot (there goes that darned WinDVD stutter again...hehe) of technically oriented people in the computer field, but you always have the answers to the questions that others just can't figure out. Many thanks for all your great help. I don't know what I'd do without ya.


Bob
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
171 Posts
Wayne,


It's all your fault. I was all set to get the Cinematrix mod until I read your extremely informative post. I will have to seriously think about building a HTPC. I'm excited. Thanks! I agree that it would be great to have your post archived in a FAQ section.


Pete
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
4,310 Posts
Discussion Starter #13
Hi All:


___I want to thank you all for the kind thoughts and words of encouragement today. Lets hope we can all grow old together while discussing the merits of the Intel and AMD CPU’s, WinDVD, PowerDVD, OTA HDTV and whatever else comes along for our HTPC’s …


___Jerndl: From past posts discussing Hoontech adapters, they all have close to in-spec SP/DIF outputs.


___Jeff_4242: The DB I has a single Coax and Optical output and has no inputs. Remember the I/O shield on the DB I is a non-standard looking item meaning you will be making an I/O shield of sorts. The DB II is a standard I/O shield w/ a Midi-input for Live Full’s only, 1-SP/DIF Input, 2-Coax and 1-Optical output. For our uses, the DB I will be fine.


___Dailo: I just checked with my dealer … If you get a custom spreadable tree fertilizer mixture, (See a Conserv FS Dealer near you) just spread ~ ½ cup per inch of trunk diameter around the dripline. After Halloween is best time being that this late in the fall, the tree is mostly dormant and should not attempt to grow into a deadly frost. Do it again in the spring when you have started your bedwork. Twice a year at these time intervals should be fine http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/smile.gif This is in my region however. Do you even get frost in Sacramento?


___Good Luck and thanks to you all for making this forum so enjoyable for me.


___Wayne R. Gerdes

___Hunt Club Farms Landscaping Ltd.

___ [email protected]


[This message has been edited by xcel (edited 09-28-2000).]
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,735 Posts
Wayne,

a reference post, and 1000 to boot. Thanks for all the hard work.


Don O
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
471 Posts
Hi Wayne:


It seems like only yesterday when you helped me overclock my PIII 600 Coppermine to 744Mhz to gain your "Senior Member" level with your 200th. post! 800 more posts since then? And none of those one line sandbaggers, either. Man, you're a posting machine!


My ISF guy, one of the top dudes in the business, Jim Doolittle, just e-mailed me for some build info. It seems his friend is putting together a HTPC. Jim was in awe of my HTPC when he ISF'ed my Runco 940 FPTV last month. The first thing I told them to do was to lurk around this forum. The second thing I did was to e-mail him a copy of this great post.


What's that old saying? "Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery" In this case, I should change it to "My plagiarism of your great work is the most sincere form of flattery!"


Thanks again, you're the best,


------------------
Bob Sliwa
"Like a Midget at a Urinal, I was gonna haf'ta stay on my toes...."
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
6,660 Posts
As for the greatest bang for the buck HTPC, it appears that the MODIFICATION route is the final place to go, and can be applied to the low cost units as well as the front runners. The returns are well worth the effort. A modified set-up on a low cost HTPC can easily bring about DVD quality that easily surpasses the highest priced HTPC system.


Great post! Highly informative! I will have to read it all...., exept if I do that now, I will be late for my meagere (and sometimes entertaining) part-time job.


------------------

---Place Signature Here---
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
719 Posts
^


Great post. I will be in the market for a HTPC next month, and this will be very helpful.


Jeff
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
350 Posts
Thank you for the very informative post Wayne, appreciate it a lot. Congratulations!!!


------------------

:)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
4,310 Posts
Discussion Starter #20
Hi Karl:


___First, remember that as this post ages, you will see more HW and SW being replaced by something that we find to be of higher quality for performance, stability, sound and visual quality, quieter, and lastly, less costly. I really should update my initial post with the low and mid-range AMD/VIA solutions as well so just keep that in mind when you are about to lay down the VISA ... Those AMD Duron’s w/ the closed L1 bridges are giving many performance minded individuals an almost guaranteed 900 MHz for < $45.00 as another option. My VIA chipset ideas are still valid but costs are a large concern as well. I may even pull the Pioneer CD/DVD-ROM drives because they are noisy but look oh so good … The KT133 chipsets are still going through some growing pains and even the BIOS releases for the I815E CUSL2 (which is probably my favorite board right now) has to be fixed in regards to the HW monitoring issues I have seen. 1002.005 should take care of my issues with the board as far as CPU temperatures are concerned and they were minor given no one else that I know of is placing CPU Temperatures, CPU Fan RPM’s, Case Temps, and System Resource monitoring on their systems. I do just in case but I know I am the minority …


___You can purchase PIII 1 GHz Coppermine’s all over the web for the ridiculously high price of just under $700.00 today. Remember, you will not need this much performance for any HTPC activity today. If SW HDTV decoders become available to us, well than maybe, but not today. Save the money and buy either a 700 – 800 MHz Coppermine or the Duron/T-Bird w/ VIA chipset combination. The 1 GHz T-Bird’s are just $360.00 today and you cannot beat that cost to performance except with maybe an OC’ed to 900 MHz + steal of a deal 600 MHz Duron …


___On to the performance, stability, and compatibility of RDRAM … I have posted Rambus information more than a few times in the past 6 months in regards to what I like to call the “Ripp-Off†called Rambus. Intel had to stop the release of the Rambus based I820 chipset just before the release date because DELL found that if all 3 RIMM slots were occupied, there was instability that went well beyond what they would accept in a performance minded desktop. The recall cost the MB manufacturer’s millions of dollars and this was just days before the first release. That did not hurt us so at least the consumer did not get hit here. What Intel did was to spec the removal of the third RIMM Slot so that it could not be occupied in any fashion. With the I820 and only 2 RIMM slots available, you now had a stable chipset but than there was the upgrade to more than 2 RIMM’s being unavailable and the huge cost issue. At the time of release, PC800 RDRAM cost ~ $900.00/128 MB RIMM. That is huge considering at the time you could pick up PC133 CAS2 SDRAM for ~ $150.00 or thereabouts. Another problem was if the I820 chipset was occupied w/ a PC100 SDRAM DIMM for those boards having the MTH (Memory Translator Hub). You saw a huge memory performance drop because of the conversion of the signals using the MTH. Some OEM’s started placing PC600 and PC700 RIMM’s to help on the cost side but when dropping down those levels, the performance was not even beating similarly equipped BX chipsets using PC100 SDRAM at 100 MHz FSB. Next came the recall of the MB’s w/ SDRAM. Intel offered all its own customers (Dell and Gateway are the two biggies here) a replacement of the board w/ a new I820 and RDRAM RIMM’s because of instability in the form of reboots and freezes. Not a bad deal for those that did have the ability to get their I820’s w/ SDRAM replaced … There were more than a few individuals that sold the new Rambus RIMM’s up on E-Bay and than purchased BX chipset boards w/ SDRAM and made money in the process http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/wink.gif The problem here was that not all owners of the I820 and SDRAM were compensated evenly. Many MB manufacturers balked at the issue entirely and told their customers that their boards were fine and would have to live with them. Here is ASUS’ take on the I820 MTH recall . After reading the article from just 6 months ago, which I highly recommend, ASUS mentions they are still manufacturing the I820 P3C series of boards w/ only the 2 RIMM slots. They are not which tells us something, doesn’t it. Today, not a single P3C is for sale … You will also notice the complete lack of MB’s derived from the I820 from ASUS except for the CUC2 I820E. What is the saying? Twice bitten …


___I will leave you with a list of articles from the time period with even more details than I have already mentioned briefly above.

___Even today a PC800 MHz RDRAM RIMM costs > $220.00 when you can pick up a generic PC133 DIMM for < $90.00. The Micron PC133 CAS2 at $144.00 today is still the memory of choice for its top of the line construction, compatibility, and performance well into the 155 MHz FSB range if needed.


___As for the latest performance numbers, take a look at Intel’s own benchmarks for the I815E vs. the I820 chipsets using the exact same SW and HW. Very interesting if I do say so myself.


___If you have any more questions, maybe another thread would be more appropriate since this one is way to deep to find the bottom easily http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/wink.gif


___Good Luck


___Wayne R. Gerdes

___Hunt Club Farms Landscaping Ltd.

___ [email protected]
 
1 - 20 of 150 Posts
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top