Introduction

The build process and thermal performance of a fanless Ivy Bridge HTPC was covered in detail last month. I had indicated that the piece would be the first of a three-part HTPC series. Today, we are looking at the second part of the series. My original intention was to present the HTPC oriented benchmarks and aspects of the PC as it was built in the first part.

After a few experiments, we had to do some updates to the build in terms of both hardware and software (OS). The first hint of trouble came when I was unable to reproduce the performance of the i7-3770K Ivy Bridge HTPC with respect to madVR despite having DRAM running at 1600 MHz instead of 1333 MHz. The second was more of a decision to test out what Windows 8 offers to HTPC users. As you will see in later sections, Windows 8 offers a host of advantages to the HTPC user while also presenting some roadblocks. 

In our initial build, we had avoided filling up the second DRAM slot because the DRAM heat sink ended up scraping against the capacitors in the Nano150 PSU. Unfortunately, this meant that we had halved the memory bandwidth available to the processor. madVR, in particular, is very sensitive to bandwidth constraints. We fixed this by deciding to allow the heat sink to touch the capacitors and ended up increasing the installed memory from 4 GB to 8 GB. In order to install Windows 8, we added another SSD to the system and set the unit up in a dual boot configuration with both Windows 7 and Windows 8. We were able to perform sensible power consumption comparisons between the two operating systems in this scenario (same hardware and software configuration except for the OS itself).

In the rest of the piece, we will be looking at the general performance metrics, network streaming performance (Netflix and YouTube), refresh rate handling, HTPC decoding and rendering benchmarks for various combinations of decoders and renderers and revisit the power consumption and thermal profile of the system. Before proceeding further, the table below summarizes the hardware and software configuration of the unit under consideration.

Ivy Bridge Passive HTPC Configuration
Processor Intel Ivy Bridge Core i3-3225
(2 x 3.30 GHz, 22nm, 3MB L2, 55W)
Motherboard Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe
Memory 2 x 4GB DDR3-1600 [ G-Skill Ares F3-2133C9Q-16GAB ]
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4000
650 MHz / 1.15 GHz (Turbo)
Disk Drive(s) Corsair F120 120 GB SSD
OCZ Vertex 2 128 GB SSD
Optical Drive Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo (Philips Lite-On DL-4ETS)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
802.11b/g/n (5GHz/2.4GHz Dual-Band access) / Bluetooth 4.0 (2T2R Broadcom BCM43228 in AzureWave AW-NB111H)
Audio Microphone and headphone/speaker jacks
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (optical SPDIF/HDMI)
Operating Systems Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Windows 8 Professional x64

 

General Performance Metrics
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  • ganeshts - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Hendrik,

    Thanks for chiming in with the necessary corrections.

    I will make a note of DXVA support for VC-1 on other platforms when I put out the third part of the HTPC series.

    Btw, how does Native DXVA2 work in conjunction with madVR? Wouldn't it mean that the decoded frames need to get copied back to memory (and in that case, wouldn't it be same as DXVA2 Copy-Back?) Maybe, I will carry this discussion offline.
    Reply
  • dcaxax - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Without meaning to be negative I found this article a bit lacking in depth. In the spirit of constructive criticism, I have the following comments:

    First, we did not see detailed settings for the software which is not only relevant but also useful to beginners who look to articles like this to learn.

    Second, there was no real discussion of Windows 8 vs Win 7. As far as HTPC users' needs go, my opinion is that you get nothing over Win 7. Quick boot is not important considering S3 sleep works fine on Win 7 and the loss of WMC has to be a major negative even if you don't use it now. Why would you choose to not have it for an HTPC?

    Many people also use plug-ins for WMC like Mediabrowser which has all the advantages of the XBMC UI with the DVR capabilities of WMC. Its free, takes 5 minutes to configure and works out of the box with external players if needed (with the MS media remote automatically configured).

    XBMC on the other hand, despite massive progress is still a bit awkward to set up properly. I am testing v12 RC3 right now and as soon as I needed to step beyond the basics, I had to edit a configuration text file. I do see it as a genuine alternative in the future but it still has a way to go.

    Before suggesting XBMC and JRiver as the only solution, it would be appropriate to least list other alternatives, especially ones that work with WMC. In fact a review of the interfaces would be nice for a future article.

    The differences in rendering quality should also be clearly stated - I find the rendering capabilities in XBMC inferior to both MadVR, as well as plain old ffdshow filters, even on a high end system. It's not that visible on BluRay quality content, but there's a lot of SD video out there and will be for many years.

    Lastly (my pet peeve), I felt the extreme focus on power consumption, overshadowed issues of picture quality. I would have liked to see more on frame rates/frame drops and processing time, and less on exact temp measurements on a particular box that few will actually buy.

    I'd argue that scaling quality and GPU postprocessing are more important, than a 10% reduction in power consumption. If we were talking about 50%, that would be something else.
    In fact, people who care more about low power than PQ, are now best served by a decent media player for ~ $100.

    The above is not intended as a rant, but rather as a differing viewpoint to inform future articles and I hope it's seen as such. I do enjoy all the HTPC articles here on Anand and appreciate all the hard work that goes into writing them. Thanks!
    Reply
  • Activate: AMD - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    I couldn't agree more. Why are we "highly recommending" Windows 8 here again? A 15w reduction in power consumption while using the Netflix app? SERIOUSLY?! Maybe if we were talking about video playback on a laptop or something, but on a desktop where power consumption is often a secondary concern to flexibility and/or performance, basing the conclusion about Windows 8 on power is ridiculous.

    This article completely failed to answer the most basic of questions about upgrading to Windows 8. Does it offer anything whatsoever from an HTPC perspective that is significantly improved from Windows 7? If you're telling me a 10% power reduction in a single task, and 1-2W better in a few others is it, then Windows 8 is completely pointless. None of the plugins that make WMC so usable were considered, there was no discussion about TV recording (OTA or CC).. just netflix power consumption tests. what a joke

    I also agree that this article lacked any of the necessary depth with regards to the MadVR and EVR-CP benchmarks. There just simply isn't enough context for those who are not familiar with the details.
    Reply
  • zilexa - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    wow 15w is huge for a HTPC thats on most of the time.. I actually considered a 18w system.. that alone would make me choose win8 for sure.

    the only thing an OS needs to do is be a platform for software and be as light in resources and power consumption as possible. 15w less means win7 is burning 15w for nothing, absolutely nothing. Because what ever version of Windows I use, I will be working with XBMC only.. so all HTPC benefits come from XBMC features (or alternatives like Mediaportal).

    also very suprised there is still a big group of people using WMC. But that must have to do with tv tuners.
    Reply
  • dcaxax - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    TV tuners are not the only reason for WMC. I find it easy to use, it gets out of the way and works out of the box.
    The mediabrowser plugin Makes it look better than xbmc, and is much easier to set up. Using it SI an external player is also seamless and easy. Zero configuration required.
    Why would I choose something that gives me less but asks for more (time, effort etc)?

    As for the 15w, I really don't get this. Why is an HTPC on all the time? Are you watching movies all day long?
    I mean if you are, assuming you can support yourself doing that, you should probably get out and go for a walk ;-)
    Sorry, just kidding, but seriously, no HTPC needs to stay on all day. 1st , sleep works fne on modern PC's - I have mine on 45 mins of inactivity. Second, just because it's on, doesn't mean it's working full power. PCs shift to low duty cycles when idle.
    Third, but most important, if you care about power consumption, don't worry about the PC, but about the TV which I assume is also on all day (otherwise whst's the point of the pc being on?). A large LCD/LED uses between 100-300w all the time, and has no power mgmt. Comparatively a pc will uses between 30-50 when idle.
    Reply
  • zilexa - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    Its mostly on because its also my downloadserver... downloading tv show eps when they become available. And it contains all my music, so that I can listen to it while @ the office (we have airtunes systems in the office, now I can stream music from home and play it in the room).

    15w is big deal for me since my previous HTPC only used 30w under load. I dont get why people say it only matters in laptops... thats just being ignorant. also, if I would have access to Netflix and watch a movie or couple of tv eps, I would be wasting 15w for a while. Can you explain why you would want to do that? And in my experience win8 is a smaller and more efficient os with a lot of legacy shit removed (finally). So I will definitely not stick with win7. No benefits there.
    Reply
  • Activate: AMD - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    Don't get me wrong, I prefer an HTPC system that runs cool and quiet, my current system is an E350 setup that uses a miniscule amount of power. That said, you completely missed the part where the 15w difference was only 1 or 2 active tasks that are clearly outliers that could easily be the result of Netflix's poor app coding. In pretty much all other cases (including idle) the difference was 1-2w . Thats less than $0.01 every day on your electric bill, if the difference is even statistically significant. I'll let you figure out how long its going to take to pay back the Win 8 + WMC fees by saving a penny every other day.

    You say no benefits to windows 8.. I still see NONE for HTPC use in this article. If someone has their Win 7 WMC setup the way the like it with all the plugins working, Windows 8 doesn't make a great case for tearing it all down and setting up again.

    Oh, and maybe the reason a big group of people use WMC is because we actually pay for our content (CableCARD)
    Reply
  • BuddyRich - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Though results seem to be mixed, Silverlight can not GPU decode PlayReady DRM content, or the CPU overhead used by it is too great for a Nettop like device such as an Atom ION or E450 setup to play smoothly. An i3 or i5 could obviously handle it but used more CPU in the process. Metro app uses HTML5 and the "appliance" streams that are for the PS3/ATV (hence being 1080p).

    http://connect.microsoft.com/VisualStudio/feedback...

    or

    http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/silv...
    Reply
  • powerarmour - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Odd, I have pretty much the same system, and my Win8 WEI scores are much higher (DDR3@1600 also) :-

    http://img201.imageshack.us/img201/3023/captureqvl...
    Reply
  • gibber33 - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    You used XBMC for eye candy but did not like the lack of customization. Mediaportal is an excellent alternative with:
    a) built-in PVR functionality
    b) pretty good eye candy / gui
    c) Ability to specify codecs and renderer in the setup menus
    d) Ability to automatically change refresh rate to match source
    Reply

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