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Almost all present-day memory modules are at least DDR-1333. Depending on the APU chosen, the reader should go for DDR3-1600 or even DDR3-1866, as the added bandwidth can improve the iGPU performance in particular, and there is not much point in purchasing a module with lower speeds than what the APU natively supports. It is always possible to run higher rated memory modules at lower speeds if one wants to save power or reduce heat, and it is generally better to purchase modules with lower latency specifications, as this has the potential to improve performance in games and sometimes even for renderers such as madVR.

For most HTPC applications, 4GB of memory is more than enough. However, if you are repurposing the HTPC for other tasks such as intenstive video and photo editing, it might be worthwhile to invest in 8GB of memory. While performance typically does not vary between brands (assuming the same timings and clock speed), reliability might. It is therefore essential to choose the memory vendor and model carefully.

Some of the memory kits we recommend for the lower-end APUs (A4-3300 and A4-3400) are below. While all memory modules should work with all motherboards in theory, in practice that's not always the case, particularly if you're going to run low voltage modules. We recommend checking motherboard vendor compatilibity lists if you're not willing to deal with the potential need to return your memory kit for a more compatible set.

  • G.SKILL Sniper Low Voltage Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600: This kit operates at a lower voltage (1.25V) compared to similar kits, and can run cooler. The timing is also quite good at 9-9-9-24 when operating at 1600MHz. Coming in at $52, this is one of the best kits for a low power HTPC.

  • G.SKILL ECO 8GB (4 x 2GB) DDR3-1600: This kit also operates at a lower voltage (1.35V) and has excellent timing parameters of 8-8-8-24. However, it is a quad channel kit and can only be fully utilized with an appropriate motherboard. Priced at $100 it's somewhat expensive, but it may prove more compatible for some systems than 1.25V kits like the above Sniper Low Voltage.
  • AMD Entertainment Edition 2GB (1 x 2GB) DDR3-1600: This is one of the cheaper alternatives, coming in at $16. It operates at the standard 1.5V with timing parameters of 9-9-9-24.

For the higher-end APUs, we recommend memory kits rated for DDR3-1866. At these speeds, it is not possible to get low voltage kits.

  • G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB): This kit comes in at $75, operates at 1.5V, and has timings of 8-9-9-24. Users have reported that it overclocks effortlessly to 2133MHz. This makes it an idea candidate for HTPCs that will also serve as gaming rigs.
  • Crucial Ballistix 2GB (1 x 2GB): Coming in at $21, it is quite cheap compared to the G.SKILL kit above, but you only get one fourth the total memory. It operates at the same 1.5V and has the same timings. Of course, the drawback is that even with four of these in an appropriate motherboard, you only have 8GB of memory while the previous kit can give you 16GB.

Moving on to storage options, the reader will have to take a stance on the HDD vs. SSD debate. While a cheap SSD might sound very tempting (and may even prove excitingly fast in the initial days), the choice must be made only after careful consideration. At AnandTech, most of the SSDs that get reviewed go into production machines. I have been using an OCZ Agility 3 240GB SSD in my personal laptop. It is based on the SandForce SF-2281 controller. Unfortunately, I have experienced annoying random BSODs whenever I try to hibernate or put the laptop to sleep even with the latest firmware. A quick search on the various SSD forums indicates that SandForce-based SSDs usually don't like hibernation or sleep mode. This is just something to keep in consideration, because it is quite common to put HTPCs in sleep mode when not in operation.

If you plan to use your HTPC just as a front-end for local media residing in a NAS/optical drive, a 128GB SSD should serve you well. On the other hand, if you are planning to use your HTPC as a recording or download machine, it is suggested that you go in for a 2TB or 3TB hard drive in addition to having a 64GB SSD as a boot drive. If the HTPC is to be used in the backend as a media server/download or recording machine (and a media streamer or some other device is going to be used in the front-end), a SSD is not needed at all.

We've selected an SSD and hard drive for use with HTPCs below:

  • SAMSUNG 830 Series MZ-7PC064D/AM 2.5" 64GB SSD: Samsung's 830 series was well received by us, and Samsung has a good track record of reliability. At $90, the price per GB is much higher than the budget drives, but trust us, a worry-free experience even with unusual HTPC usage scenarios is worth it. If you want more storage in your SSD, a more cost effective purchase would be the SAMSUNG 830 Series MZ-7PC256B/WW 2.5" 256GB SSD that is currently on sale for $250.
  • Seagate's Barracuda 3TB (ST3000DM001): This hard drive is currently priced at $158 on Amazon. It has 3x1TB platters and delivers better performance than the initial 5x600MB hard drives. For users that like to record TV shows and/or download media files, 3TB is definitely not overkill when it comes to hard drive capacity.

APU, Chipset and Motherboard Power Supply and Chassis
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  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    I think one of the best scenarios to support this need is capture of high definition game play from a XBox or PS3.

    For most legal media, I also suggest grabbing at the encoded source :)
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    I do agree about this being a niche market which the major companies wouldn't want to touch..

    I think there are some Hauppauge and AverMedia cards which do what you want (record to hard disk). They can always be burnt on to a Blu-ray if necessary.
    Reply
  • ImThat1Guy - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    I'm so confused in every way. Do any of you think you can explain? Or maybe just point my in the right direction and recommend a good one? I'd like to record maybe 2, 3 channels at a time (at maximum- usually not recording anything), and I have what I guess is standard US cable. The computer will function as a DVR-enabled cable box, correct? Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    Definitely :) If you want to record premium content from cable, you will need a CableCard -- and that can help you effectively replace the cable-co supplied DVR box.

    I suggest you take a look at AVSForum for immediate guidance.
    Reply
  • ImThat1Guy - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    AVS Forum is down, at least for me.

    Would something like the Hauppauge WinTV HVR 1250 work, and work with Ubuntu and XBMC (or better yet UbuntuTV)?
    Reply
  • ImThat1Guy - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    No reply? Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    It is down for 12 - 18 hours :) Patience please.. Reply
  • Coup27 - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    Is there a reason why Lian Li's PC-Q07, or any of their other PC-Q range of enclosure's dont get much internet traction in these articles? They look to me as some of the most stylish ITX enclosures about. Reply
  • randinspace - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    From the conclusion:
    "High quality madVR rendering is not possible with the integrated GPU (it is not possible with the Intel Sandy Bridge HD 2000 / HD 3000 series either)."

    What's your definition of "high quality" here? I hadn't even dreamed of trying to utilize madVR with an APU until last week actually, but on my A8-3800 the more or less default settings for madVR in MPC-HC with LAV filters installed (long story short: I spent a day on Doom9), yields better results than CPU/software acceleration on otherwise large/annoying files...

    This is revealing a bit more about my tastes than I would like, but the "annoying files" I'm thinking of are episodes of anime encoded in 1080p at 10 bit color depth (AKA hi10/hi10p) with FLAC audio and as many as 4 subtitle streams (dialogue in english, background song in english, karaoke for said song in both romanized japanese and actual japanese...) displaying at a time during a flashback (grainy filtering placed over the top of everything) scene. On my old junk setup I would occasionally have to turn the subtitles off even in (really poorly encoded) 720p in order to avoid MASSIVE lag, but madVR runs anything I throw at it with a few caveats:

    (images safe for work, BTW)

    http://bayimg.com/aapGDaaDA madVR, windowed even though it doesn't particularly like being run in windowed mode in order to display the AMD sysmonitor readout. Feel free to note the 0 dropped frames, but ignore the delayed frames which were almost entirely resultant from PEBKAC as I kept hitting pause break instead of prtscn and had to reload the scene a bunch of times until I realized it...

    http://bayimg.com/aaPGBAADa same scene in EVR (with xy-VSFilter for subtitles so I don't have to resort to EVR custom Pres./MPC-HC's internal subtitle renderer).

    Note the ridiculous gulf in GPU utilization between the two scenarios (also that I probably should've upgraded my RAM instead of buying an SSD). I can't do math since I majored in Liberal Arts, but a 12% load when the GPU is chilling out at 282 mhz (as low as it clocks itself while still running, I believe) is obviously better than 76% load at 600mhz which causes the cpu/apu fan to all but max out. I can only imagine how loud this would get with the 95-100w+ (through overclocking) APUs, and quite frankly madVR doesn't look THAT much better than EVR when you're using the same (LAV) filters otherwise.

    Still, after setting things up I ran all kinds of crap I had (which I suppose is an important distinction from all kinds of crap period) using madVR to check for stability and never saw GPU usage go too far past 80% for long, and more typically saw numbers in the 40-70% range which again I could see as being a bit below ideal depending on one's intended hardware configuration (noisy fans, aiming for low temps to stick with passive cooling, etc.). Conversely GPU usage in madVR is unsurprisingly much more comfortable when rendering standard/8-bit color depth encodes than hi10p, in 720p files instead of 1080p, etc. but the entire point of having the hardware in the first place is making the most of it yeah?

    Of course either way I never watch anything that surpasses the baseline 24x FPS (because Japanese are cheap :P) so if your definition of "high quality" is above that (I'd certainly be bummed if I spent a lot of money having my wedding digitally filmed and encoded in 1080p60p and then couldn't play it back on the TV with my usual profile...) then fair enough. I just found the comment unusual since I considered my experience with madVR to be a relatively pleasant one. More importantly was my realization that if desktop A8 Llano could run madVR then it seemed to follow that (particularly at 720p) mobile Trinity would be able to. Obviously the downside of mobile Trinity is going to be the junk ram and so/so audio that one finds in laptops, but madVR running at 35 or potentially even 17watts? If you're crazier than me (bought an HP Pavilion desktop just to get my hands on an A8-3800) and can't wait for the desktop parts I could see a case made (literally) for gutting a ~$5-600 laptop for the sake of building a low profile HTPC...

    Pfft... now that I think about it, I suppose this is ultimately one of those "posts from an irate reader who has other requirements" that you were trying to avoid. I'm not really irate though, just loquacious and taking the opportunity to procrastinate from editing...
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - link

    Your post is quite informative :) In fact, these sorts of comments are what makes AnandTech articles even better for the rest of the readers out there.

    madVR vs. EVR : For all Llano lovers out there, better learn not to fall in love with madVR :) Personally, I don't mind either of the renderers (and actually love EVR because it is so lean on the system resources).

    You caught me out on the point that the iGPUs are not good enough for HQ madVR rendering. I should have qualified that with the fact that HQ madVR rendering is not advisable with the Llanos for interlaced videos.

    Can you repeat your tests with some 480i60 / even 720p60 (where 720p must get upscaled in both luma and chroma components to 1080p) / 1080i60 content (quite common in US broadcast recordings) ? I believe the iGPUs should start to hiccup under those circumstances.
    Reply

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