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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  • zlandar - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    This is a ridiculous amount of hardware to play Blu-Ray and stream Youtube and Netflix. The Core2Duo system posted by another Anandtech writer would be more than adequate to handle any of the listed activities:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/6670/dragging-core2d...

    "I would strongly suggest HTPC users relying on WMC (irrespective of the OS) to move on to other platforms."

    As other posters have already remarked how the hell are you supposed to watch cable programming through a Ceton or Prime using a Cablecard without WMC? What other "alternatives" support tuners utilizing a cablecard to watch encrypted programming?

    I suggest you actually list activities that require a HTPC. Like watching and recording shows through a TV tuner. Different types of storage options for handling all the HD recorded shows. How your build can handle commercial skipping of recorded programming.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    Different people have different definitions for HTPCs.

    At the minimum, a HTPC should be able to play back videos in different codecs in a power efficient manner and should have a good network connection (both to the Internet and to the local network). Beyond this, people might want to use CableCard tuners (in the US) or OTA tuners (elsewhere and also in the US). But, these are strictly optional.

    Sometimes, users might have a cable TV connection and feel there is nothing wrong in sourcing content off questionable sources online. From content provider / the cable company's viewpoint, there is no monetary loss when people do that or actually record shows and do commercial skipping (but, for the law, that is not quite right). This is a tangential discussion.

    I also strongly suggest people who ask me for HTPC building advice to do their TV show recording / place Internet downloads on a NAS rather than one of the HTPC drives itself. Personally, I have seen quite a few setups where a iSCSI drive is mapped for 'local storage' on a HTPC.
    Reply
  • Booty - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Ethics of grabbing TV rips from "questionable sources" aside, there are shows that just flat-out aren't available... I DVR a variety of such shows, from DIY stuff on HGTV to live music on Palladia. I need CableCard support. If all I wanted was to stream online content I'd get a Roku or Boxee box.

    Also - you complain about WMC being a $10 add-on in Windows 8, yet suggest a $50 piece of software (JRiver) as a potential replacement?

    Finally - network storage is not for everyone. Personally, I have a file server... but I have built HTPCs for a number of friends and relatives, and for them it's not a practical solution.

    I was excited to see a new HTPC related article posted... and am extremely disappointed with the content. Sorry, but reading the article was a complete waste of my time.
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    I agree totally with ganeshts but can understand why some people do not see the point of an HTPC.

    I have built an HTPC recently which I use most days. It had to look part of my AV equipment (most streamers do not), I have a large collection of movies on a NAS (which is a total pain to work with W8 - allegedly this is a design security feature as opposed to MS not understanding how people work), I use Lovefilm regularly (Netflixs has not got a big enough same library in UK) even though the streaming is inconsistent (and I have a very fast braodband) particularly for HD films.

    I have moved to W8 Pro and WMC (but with My Movies add on). W8 makes more sense than w7 on an HTPC as the UI works well from the Sofa. But WMC is a tired application whose only advantages are that it is (a) free until 31 Jan (b) has an EPG and therefore does well for TV recording (but I use the cable st top box for that) (c) if I stick a blu ray into the optical drive PowerDVD will play within WMC.

    I would like to move to XBMC but... (a) TV front end is not mature and has no UK EPG (b) working with files on a NAS is even more painful than W8 (c) with my luck I would no doubt find that all the movies will filed in the wrong format for XBMC! (d) XBMC cannot play blu-rays natively and there is no program (yet) which links seamlessly to XBMC to handle that.
    Reply
  • cjb110 - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    I was running XBMC on my Win7/Fusion and I'm just trialling the OpenElec distro (very nice so far).

    90% of my content is on my Infrant ReadyNas, only BluRay/HDDVD rips are local. I've had no issues with XBMC and this setup, just add the source and tell it the type.

    I think XBMC prefers the Movies\Movie Name [Year] structure over everything else, but it seems to be fairly flexible.

    I'm also using meta<browser> to auto-sort the TV shows and manage the metadata for everything.

    I think the latest Frodo release improves the blu-ray compatibility a bit, supports HD Audio at least, but agreed its not there yet. Though using Windows its fairly easy to setup XBMC to use a third-party blu-ray software.
    Reply
  • zilexa - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    @cjs150, XBMC works perfectly with NAS, and has no file format issues.. actually most active forum visitors use it like this. Works flawlessly. Also with the latest XBMC release the TV frontend is mature. No idea if it works for your specific need in the UK. And with the new version, there is native bluray support.. although I never missed it.. prefer to download to good rip instead of working with optical discs. Unfortunately its impossible to buy hq bluray rips...... Reply
  • babgvant - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    I don't agree with the point around recording to a NAS device. It can work, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who isn't intimately familiar with designing a solid network and server infrastructure. Unless your NAS has a good CPU and NIC (most don't) this is an invitation for problems. You'd be surprised by how many HTPC can't even using muti-tuner network setups reliably (i.e. anything with Realtek integrated NICs).

    Obviously there are benefits (less noise & heat in the HTPC), but you take on risk by adding additional points of failure to the system. Also, if you're doing anything interesting with the files (e.g. commercial scanning) the NIC takes a lot of unnecessary load shuttling significant amounts of data around - only aggravated by the use of network tuners.
    Reply
  • zilexa - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    thats a very specific need, 1 type of card necessary to watch specific content.. never even heard about it. With tv subscriptions available via DVB-T, DVB-C, DVB-S and now much, much more popular IPTV (unfortunately encrypted by all providers except 1), it's impossible to interpret generic recommendations from a reviewer for very specific needs..

    I lost the need to use a tv tuner since the necessary dvb hardware is too expensive, not much options and way to difficult to setup. Since tv broadcasts really suck in my country.. I dont need to record it or anything. XBMC fulflls all needs and the tiny IPTV box from my provider is more then sufficient for the rest. But thats just my specific situation ;)
    Reply
  • nevcairiel - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    "This is because there is currently no support in the open source native DXVA2 decoders for interlaced VC-1, and hence, it is done in software."

    This is wrong. LAV Video supports DXVA2 of interlaced VC-1 just fine - just not on Intel.
    The problem here is Intel. They don't support the "standard" VC-1 DXVA as specified by Microsoft, and instead use a proprietary interface, which they don't document, and only expose through the Media SDK (which the QuickSync decoder uses)

    This is also not limited to interlaced, but all VC-1
    Reply
  • nevcairiel - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    And while i'm on the topic of DXVA:

    madVR supports Native DXVA2 in recent versions now.
    Reply

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