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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  • lockdown571 - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Did you guys mention anywhere that most of the Metro apps included Netflix can't be controlled with a remote control and are thus unsuitable for most HTPC users? I realize the focus of this article was on performance, but what's the point if you can't actually control the application.
  • zilexa - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Is the high price of a Core i3 HTPC (expensive CPU, mobo and fanless case) worth the benefits? I am considering to build my new HTPC. It will most likely be a AMD Brazos e2 1800 (zotac ad12).

    An Intel Core i3 55w/HD4000 is much pricier.. and I would need an expensive case. As HTPC the only benefit of an Intel Core i3 is it can work with MADVR while still being supersilent/fanless.

    But if you just use XBMC, Youtube, Netflix, and don't care for MADVR, a much, much cheaper system is more then enough right? Plus you don't have framerate issues with the cheapy Brazos.

    I do like this article, I have made 3 shopping lists, one for the Brazos/Zotac, one for exactly this setup (Core i3 2225/55W/HD4000) but different mobo and much cheaper case with a very silent fan and one for AMD but it lacks a motherboard since there are no FM2 mITX out there that i like.

    I especially like the Intel setup because mobo's with mSATA are available, and its cool to be able to experiment with 8GB/dual channel and play with MADVR.
  • ganeshts - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Strongly suggest avoiding the Brazos because many tasks end up being CPU bound. You will have no luck playing 1080p60 material (becoming more and more common because of cheap cameras like the new GoPros) with that GPU.

    Go for the i3-3225 if you don't care about accurate refresh rate. You can go for a cheaper case and mobo, no issues. Main point of using passive chassis from Streacom is because it was built and described in the first part of the HTPC series.
  • zilexa - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Actually my dad has a Brazos E-450 and one of those small cams.. I thought it was 1080p60 because the htpc played it perfectly... must have been 1080p60.

    I would prefer an AMD based system build by myself instead of Zotac, but AMD lacks good mITX FM2 mobos and I would have to buy a 65w APU (A10-5700) and underclock it a lot to make sure my system is still absolutely quiet in my small living room during load. So it's Brazos, wich leads me to Zotac or Intel (I don't like the Arctic barebones using AMD mobile APUs, way too expensive and they have stuff I would never use like tv card).

    About the i3-3225, I really dont need >3GHz if I just have Win8, XBMC, uTorrent and a browser right? would be a nice follow up test (!) to see how far you can underclock the i3-3225 and still be able to playback 1080p60 using dxva (not necessarily via MadVR)
    If the i3 would work fine with a cheap but neat LC-Power LC-1320mi case and stay cool enough with a Scyte Kozuti cooler.. it might be supersilent..

    but still, if you compare prices:
    - Zotac AD12 + Crucial M4 SSD + 1x4GB = €313 (I live in Netherlands).
    - i3 3225, Gigabyte GA-H77N-WIFI, Crucial 2x2GB 1,35volt DDR3-1600, Crucial m4 msata, LC Power LC-1320mi case and Scythe Kozuti cooler = €370
    and 2x4GB DDR3 would make it €390.

    It's 80 bucks more expensive and only adds 1080p60?? it will most likely not be able to support 4K.. if I spend this much money I still want to use it in 4 years..

    I'll wait till the final part of this review for the 4K results.. Hurry up Ganesh :) if you have time, would a very short chapter about underclocking be possible?
  • zilexa - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    -edit first sentence, the camera was 1080i30 someting, not 1080p60.
  • ganeshts - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    The only cheap 1080p60 action cam is the GoPro HD Hero 3 Black Edition, and it is around ~$400 here in the US. Everybody else is on 1080p30 or 720p60.

    720p60 is more stressful for madVR when displaying on to a 1080p screen.

    What OS are you going to use? If it is Win 7, then, please spend the extra 80 bucks. (Not sure if Netflix is available yet in Netherlands, but the Win 7 version uses Silverlight and it is CPU intensive. Also, YouTube HD using Adone Flash is CPU intensive too). Unless you want to be on leading edge, I guess 4K will not be a concern at least for the next 2 - 3 years. 4K decode is possible on the Ivy Bridge, but output is not possible with most motherboards.

    If you are going to run XBMC with other programs in the background, you will appreciate the extra CPU headroom provided by the i3.

    As for underclocking - I think it is more trouble than it is worth. The CPU adjusts its clock frequency based on the load, and it only goes up to 3.3 GHz when we run Prime 95 or those sorts of loads. I will include a section on detailed CPU usage (including operating frequencies) in the next piece.
  • zilexa - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    You actually convinced me. The Zotac/E2-1800 solution is definitely not futureproof. I was planning to buy the Gigabyte H77N-WIFI wich has dual-HDMI so perhaps, if the drivers can make use of it, it might be possible to experiment with 4K in the future. It also has WiDi, so already advantages over Zotac. Would be possible to create an 'office' room or office corner with a wireless touch display and keyboard. No more need for 2nd computer.

    Unfortunately Netflix is not working in NL, thats why torrents via rss or newsgroups are very, very popular;)

    I sold my 780G based system including Silverstone ML02 case last weekend (still got €170!) cos I planned to buy the Zotac this week.. but I will wait and save some more... at least I will have plenty to watch on the macbook or when I get the i3 system :)

    I planned on using win7 or win8. Also thinking about Ubuntu but no linux experience and I do want a fully working firefox browser and torrentclient with good rss support (utorrent) so I probably stick with Win8 because its just easy and fast.

    A section about operating freqs would be nice. I am used to AMD Athlon X2 and had to use RMClock to get the CPU silent, Cool'n'Quiet didn't do that.
  • nellieboy - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    ive recently upgraded my htpc .hfx classic case fanless silverstone psu already had. same processor as in this article but with asus p8z77-m and 8 gig samsung green ram .all works extremely well scary quiet.but the tv card i want blackgold 3600 is out of stock at the moment.while browsing the blackgold website it seems there is a problem starting this year with the epg not working in windows media center.turns out microsoft have not renewed the license for the epg .i dont know if they have plans to renew but it seems in europe at least were stuffed .microsoft will phase out wmc or at least no longer develop it . just something to think about shame really because that was the best part of wmc.heres the link this is only for terrestrial tv i think dont know about satellite
  • tyvoyde - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    my 3225 on a gigabyte h77n gets a wpi of 5.7 and 6.4.... obviously your 4.7 and 6.2 wpi are not the 'best'
  • powerarmour - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    My point also, I get 6.5/6.5 for graphics/gaming graphics :-

    Though I am running the Haswell 15.31 2885 Beta drivers.

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