Saturday, December 8, 2012

HTPC & Home Server Build Part 1 - Hardware

I moved over the summer and I now get 14 Channels of free over the air TV (up from 3) and yet there's still nothing on. It seems all the good stuff is on when I'm busy (or sleeping). So I've been messing with MythTV on a old P4.

It worked pretty good except for a few drawbacks:
  1. It is kind of noisy.
  2. It's a bigger power hog than I anticipated. It consumes about 100W idle. I figured it out as costing me about $85/yr in electric. Not bad for my TV bill, but a little irritating too.
So I was looking around on black friday and found a nice little mini-ITX motherboard with 8GB of ram included for $65. It's no Phenom X6, but since it will spend a lot of time idle or under light loads I think it's a good fit.

  • Biostar Deluxe A681-350 (AMD E-350 1.6GHZ Dual-Core APU)
  • 8GB of G.Skill Ripjaws X DDR3
  • Hauppauge WinTV HVR 950Q (may swap with a Sabrent TV-DGUSB eventually, but I have to re-compile a kernel module for that)
  • Salvaged 250GB Sata Drive (someday I'll upgrade to a 1-3TB Sata)
  • Salvaged ATX case
  • Repaired Ultra D0408 ATX PSU
  • Total idle power consumption measured at 40W
Biostar A681-350 and G.Skill Ripjaws X DDR3
Motherboard with ram installed
All Assembled
I'm still figuring what all I want it to do, so far I've got:
  • MythTV, that's the big one, the main purpose of the whole project.
  • File and Backup Server
  • Local web server for development, testing, etc.
I will do a series of posts covering the software installation and configuration eventually.

Curiously the my complete setup with the P4 consumed approximately 100W idle and 200W with the screen on. The new one consumes 40W idle and 100W with the screen on. I don't understand it, it's the same screen! Could the video card in the P4 detect the screen was off and power down? Would a video card consume nearly 50W? Is my Kill-A-Watt Broken? Tune in next week...


  1. Can this put out 1080p video? and also how loud is the fan? Thanks!!

  2. 1080p:
    I believe so. I don't have any 1080p video to test with at the moment, but it's very smooth with 1080i from the ota tuner. I'm grabbing some 1080p footage now for testing. My screen res is 1920x1200 over vga. It does hdmi and I need to try that out sometime.

    It has a (only one) pcie x16 slot so you could put a better video card in if needed.
    I've never liked the shared-ram thing, but like so many things, it's a compromise between performance and price.

    Initially it was quite loud. After adjusting the settings in the bios I hardly hear it. (it is in a case, so that will muffle it a bit too) I'll add a video that hopefully gives an idea of the noise level. Of course the fan is thermally controlled so the hotter your house and the higher the load the louder it will be.

    1. Just tried some 1080p video, used David Attenborough - Wonderful World from Youtube in full 1080p (I downloaded the mp4, about 70mb for 2 min) It played beautifully. Smooth, no jitters, etc. It's software decoding, (ffmpeg & xvideo) so the cpu keeps up good too.

      I tried to take a video of it playing and it turned out awful.

      Same with the fan noise. My video had a noise that drowned out the computer completely. I did determine most of the noise I can here is the harddrive, as I unplugged it for the test, then I stopped the (cpu) fan with my finger and could hear no difference. The psu has a temp controlled fan so I can barely tell it's on either, but I'm not sticking anything in there :) The harddrive easily drowns out everything else and it's not loud at all. It's cool in here at the moment, we'll have to wait and see how it works this summer.

  3. I have this same board and tested it playing 4 1080 video simultaneously in 4 different video windows and it played them fine without any jitter, audio problems or anything. It took for video to put the cpu at near 100 percent and a fifth video of course presented jitter and audio problems. So, I was impressed with it for all it really is in terms of hardware. Video is one of the three things AMD cpu in my experience tend to excel at ant actually do better than Intel if you are comparing laptop cpu to laptop cpu. I would never compare this to an i3, or better but it tend to beat Intel's M processors vor video rendering. I have seen the M cpu stutter just playing one video.

    Steve, I was just wondering at what setting you set the BIOS settings at to get it more quiet. I still hear a hum even at the typical 100-102 degrees. Another problem I noticed is that from coming out os sleep, the cpu fan kicks up full sleep and the cpu temp reading is instantly at between 126-155 degrees and the cpu fan never winds down. So I think there is a problem getting acurate temp reading after coming out of sleep.

    1. Yep, I like mine, I'm running linux on it and doesn't do HW video decoding (yet), so it's pretty taxing on the cpu. but it works. My fan will speed up under load, but isn't excessive, the fan in my psu just stopped working, and my spare psu is 2-3x louder than the old one, even though it has a thermally controlled fan too. So you might want to look at that.

      Bios Fan Settings:
      Check if it's a 3pin or 4pin(wire) fan and set that option accordingly (mine was 3pin).

      Run the calibration, it will set the start and sensitivity settings for you, as I recall.

      My settings are:
      Off=30 (86F)
      On=40 (104F)

      You can tweak these up a bit if you want. Absolute max temp is 90C (194F) so even if you ran 40-50(122F) off and 50-60(140F)on you'd still be fine. It's PWM though so when it first turns on it should be really slow and then increase as temps rise

      There's a BIOS update that says it fixes cpu temp on s3 resume, Hopefully that will sort it out for you!

    2. This was a build for my step mother. I put this this in an ITX Thermaltake case and the PSU fan isn't a problem as its quiet. Its only the CPU fan that winds up full speed when it resumes from hybrid sleep and sound the same as it does when you first turn the unit on and does POST before it takes a CPU temp reading and slows down. It never seams to make an acurate temp reading after that and never quiets down so sleep mode has been disabled for now. I need to fix that as her other HP pc this replaced was pretty quiet. The BIOS update may actually be the ticket and will have to check that as S3 is what con trolls hybrid sleep awakening.

      Were you saying that your CPU fan settings made initial start-up more quiet as well? Oh I just noticed the Start setting and that must be what that is for right? I am not sure what the sensitivity setting does, do you? Or, the 'Manual' setting ..... does that just allow you to set adn on/off setting instead of it always being on?

      I tried to search HW video and only came up with Hardware Video.

      Like I mentioned, I was impressed that it would play 4 HD videos at one time even though the CPU was at 96% and the fifth one is what was too much. That was on Windows XP which was just to test and haven't run the same test after Windows 7 was installed. Those were compressed HD videos it was playing so it had to do a lot of decoding.

    3. I think your resume problem is exactly what the BIOS update describes (do the update, it will probably fix it)

      Mine does make a loud fan noise for 3-5 seconds on initial boot, I would say it's normal, it's part of the power on self test (POST). Then it goes whisper quiet.

      XP might need a cpu driver for frequency scaling, Vista / 7 / 8 will not. I have Vista on a laptop and in the advanced power settings it defaults to "minimum processor state = 100%". That disables scaling, forces the cpu to run flat out and generates a lot more heat. I set it to 5% and it runs way cooler. I've got 7 on another laptop and I think it defaults to some thing sane. The E-350 can vary between 800mhz and 1.6ghz depending on load.

    4. Just rebooted to check the fan settings. The defaults are pretty noisy. Here's how to fix them:

      Set the control to manual and run the calibration. It will speed up the fan and slow it down then give you two numbers. The start and sensitivity. Put them in their respective fields and use them as-is. Next set the off to 30 and the on to 40. After you save and reset it should be really quiet unless it's under heavy load or can't get sufficient airflow through the case (in a closed desk or something?). It should still be loud for a few seconds during the POST.

  4. I ran the calibration and may have tweaked the recommended settings but its quiet for now. I didn't do the bios update as I wanted to wait a couple months to see how stable and if there were any HW RMA issues that would show up early. I was't worried about sleep too much as this system is about 1/4 the power draw of their 2004 pc it replaced. I told them to leave it on all the time 24/7 for the first month. I will probably now do the BIOS update. Thanks for your help.