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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  • lexluthermiester - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    I've run many tests doing the 8 VS 7 comparisons. Not only have you left out many of the comparing scores for 7, but your power usage numbers don't seem right.

    I have a Kill-A-Watt power usage adapter that plugs right into the wall, which measures total power running through it. Last night I ran tests using Netflix and 8 vs 7 on two different notebooks. The first is a Gateway P-7811FX[P9700 2.8 ghz C2D, GF 9800m GTS] and the second a Toshiba L655-S5150[i5-480m 2.66ghz, Intel HD]. The numbers for the Gateway were 67.3[8], 64.4[8 app] and 66.1[7]. The Toshiba's numbers were a bit better, 50.9[8], 47.1[8 app] and 50.8[7].

    Now I could go one for days about game benchmarks and compatibility between 7 & 8. But real issue here is the your power numbers don't seem realistic. The Netflix app does have a small advantage, but nothing as dramatic as what you are showing. The difference between 8 VS 7 numbers are statistically insignificant. I ran battery tests as well. And those numbers are also statistically insignificant.

    I'm not willing to accept your results as valid and quantifiable, unless you declare the testing equipment used and OS config setup.
  • lexluthermiester - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    And before anyone states the obvious, yes the CPU's in each of those notebook were upgraded from their factory offerings. Both have 4GB of ram. The gateway has a WD 500gb 7200rpm HDD and the Toshiba has a Seagate 320GB 7200rpm. But remember these notebooks were not compared to each other, only themselves using one OS vs the other.
  • ganeshts - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    I stand by my numbers, and the tests were repeated multiple times to confirm this. Our configuration of the testbed itself is described in the first page of the review.

    For power measurement, we use the UFO Power Center from Visible Energy with a custom power measurement script described here:

    I see that both the CPUs you used have old Intel HD Graphics (yes, Clarkdale and Arrandale were released when Intel HD Graphics wasn't that great). I think a lot of the advantage for the app version has to do with very good hardware decode acceleration (improved GPU and drivers).
  • Gigaplex - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    You're claiming that minimal power savings with old architecture CPUs on notebooks (were the batteries plugged in?) as measured by you invalidates Ganesh's measurements on a desktop platform? Just... no.
  • Galatian - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Does the Windows 8 GUI actually bring something on the table for a couch potato like myself? I just retired my old gaming rig which now serves as a HTPC and I kinda tasted blood with Steam in Big Picture mode. I'm planning on running a power efficient yet graphically powerful HTPC once Haswell (or perhaps a new AMD A10) is out, but I would really like for Windows 8 to be completely controllable by an XBox controller? Has Microsoft actually included support for that or was their only new feature touch support?
  • lexluthermiester - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    You can control Windows 7 with a 360 controller? Didn't know that. Is this something natively supported? Or is it a hack? Wait... I'm on the net I'll look it up... Very cool if it works though.
  • Galatian - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Never said it did...not sure were you red this in my post??? I was just curious because for me the tile based start menu of Windows 8 would seem to be a perfect fit for a XBox controller support, hence my question. At least this would be one place in my house were Windows 8 might be useful. If not I'll jus stick to Windows 7
  • Gigaplex - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    If your TV is 720p rather than 1080p, then absolutely not. "Metro" apps don't run at 1280x720, an error message pops up telling you to change the screen resolution whenever you try to launch one.

    And no, sadly an Xbox controller doesn't work with "Metro".
  • coolhund - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    LOL seriously?
    I mean I know that the minimum is 1024x768, but hell, everyone knows 720p is often used and thus I thought they were smart enough to allow that resolution, even if its not quite as high in the vertical. The stupidity of MS never ceases to amaze me...
  • powerarmour - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    Unfortunately the Metro/Modern UI is neither remote friendly, nor controller friendly.

    Waste of time for a HTPC tbh.

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