The weekends aren’t long enough.

By | April 4, 2011

Geek OutI had most of the weekend to myself this weekend as it was just me and my 2 year old son with the rest being out of town, but it still was just too short.  I had a lot of things planned, but with sleep being a necessity, there’s just not enough hours in a day it seems.  I still got a few things done…but it seems there are even more to finish now.

Saturday morning, after running a few errands, I took off for Fry’s and MicroCenter with my 2 year old.  I had a little money to spend and I was determined to find some core replacement parts for the living room HTPC.  It had been in very reliable service for over 3 years and while it was still working well, it was just time.  You know how it is.

I would be replacing an Abit IL9 Pro motherboard, Intel E6300 Core2Duo, Gigabyte Radeon HD 2600PRO video card and the mix of modules making up 3GB of DDR2-667 that was in there.  I would be keeping the Cooler Master Cavalier 4 (black) case w/350W PSU, trusty NEC ND-3550A DVD drive (yep, it’s IDE) and 250GB Seagate 7200.10 HDD.  I aslo have a SiliconDust HDHomeRun network TV tuner that is shared between a couple of HTPCs providing ClearQAM.

Anyway, here’s what I looted on Saturday:

  • Biostar A780L3G motherboard and AMD Phenom II 560 Black (3.3GHz) in a $99.99 bundle.
  • 4GB (2 x 2GB) Crucial DDR3-1066 for $42.99 (regular $47.99)
  • The week prior I picked up an Asus Radeon EAH5450 Silence 512MB video card for $37.99 w/$20 mail-in rebate.

So for around $160 and tax, I got a  nice boost to my core components and I will be able to bitstream HD audio formats when I get around to replacing my Onkyo receiver with one that can decode them.

The build went well and the board is quite nice.  Biostar is a probably a step or two behind Asus and Gigabyte, but I’ve had good experience with them in the past.  They have been reliable if nothing else and from what I’ve learned over the last decade of HTPC use, that is one of the most important factors.  Being a mATX board, I had a lot of extra room left in the case once it was in there (the IL9 Pro is full ATX).  Of course, after changing out hardware I did a fresh install of Windows 7 Ultimate w/SP1, except this time I went with 64-bit so I could get every MB out of the 4GB I put in.  My install is very basic and I include only what I absolutely need:

  • Latest drivers.
  • Patch it up.
  • Microsoft Security Essentials.
  • HDMIYo! to resolve the blank screen from standby I sometimes get with my Samsung plasma.
  • RealVNC for remote access.
  • HDHomeRun driver and software for ClearQAM.
  • Haali Media Splitter.
  • ffdshow x64 for all multimedia playback.
  • Win7DSFilterTweaker to override Media Foundation codecs.
  • My selected Media Center plugins (after configuring Media Center).
    • Built-in Netflix
    • Media Browser
    • MacroTube
    • Starz Add-on
    • Heatwave
  • IrfanView (for screenshots that I need to post here)

This new AMD-based system also is MUCH quieter than the Intel was and it’s mostly due to the lower heat output in conjunction with Cool’n’Quiet and auto-fan control.  I don’t think it has ramped up even once, with reason – in playing back some high-bitrate 1080p sample files, CPU usage never went above 30%.  Having a ffdshow DXVA-compatible card is very nice.  No longer do I have to rely on more than one codec package to playback all my multimedia – plus I get hardware accleration and subtitles to boot!  I’ve still got a little configuring to do since I like to transcode stereo audio sources to 7.1 using ffdshow and there are some equalizer tweaks to be made, but I’ll tend to that later on.  I watched a movie on it Saturday night and was very pleased with the intial results.

New AMD-based HTPC core

New AMD-based HTPC core

As well as that build went, I had just the opposite experience with the ASRock Zacate system.  I spent the majority of the time I set aside Saturday evening and Sunday fighting with drivers and codecs; just trying to get anything to work.  I’m going to save most of my experiences there for a separate post, but I did eventually get things straightened out with a fresh install of Windows 7 Ultimate x64 and the latest ATI video drivers.  I’ve still got a little tweaking to do on it also, but it has been solid once I figured out a winning combo.

I still have not had the chance to finish the Amahi review either.  I normally have to scrape to find things to write about, but it just so happened the past few days have given me more than I can deal with, so I have had to prioritize – priority being getting things in my home working.  Hopefully I will get to continue that later this week.  Some more to come soon!

13 thoughts on “The weekends aren’t long enough.

  1. Adam

    I never had much luck with HDMIYo! but was able to resolve the standby problem permanently by using Moninfo to create a suitable profile for my monitor and receiver. It involved creating a profile for the TV, then a profile for the receiver and merging them. Found the instructions on avsforum.com. After that, I haven’t had a single issue with resuming from standby with my equipment.

    Reply
    1. Jon Post author

      Well, my issue is due to the initialization of devices and not EDID. Occasionally the HTPC will intitiate the handshake before the AVR or TV has had a chance to send/receive it, so there’s a blank screen. By using HDMIYo! to reset the HDMI after 4 seconds, I never run into that. I’ve spent more time than I want trying to configure my Harmony remote delays when turning on devices and I’ve come to the conclusion that it just doesn’t always do what it’s told :)

      Reply
      1. Adam

        That’s what I thought too, but moninfo resolved things for me. I don’t remember if I’ve tweaked the delays on my Harmony, but I think they’re they defaults. I’m assuming your Onkyo is a bit older than my Integra 9.9, but I’d imagine the boot time for both devices is similar.

        Reply
        1. Jon Post author

          I’m pretty sure my culprit is the old Samsung plasma. Takes a looong time for that thing to come up.

          Reply
  2. Ken

    Never heard of HDMIYo! going to try it tonight when I get home. I have the same problem with my Magnavox when it goes on standby.

    I noticed you didn’t mention CoreAVC in your list of todo for the new box, and just after your post on it too.

    Reply
    1. Jon Post author

      I only tried CoreAVC with the Zacate system when I had trouble getting ffdshow DXVA working with the intial Windows install. After a subsequent reinstall, it worked fine, so I had no need for CoreAVC.

      Reply
      1. Ken

        Ah, that makes sense. I’m going to re-install my HTPC this coming weekend after picking up the MicroCenter 64GB SSD. Will give your list a go on my install.

        Reply
        1. Jon Post author

          You’ll be quite happy with that. I may pick up another soon as I really miss it. I thought it was the cause of my resume problems, but as it turned out, it was that buggy PSU. I don’t have the time or desire to do a bunch of hard drive swapping again, so I’m just going to add it to my “To Purchase” list again :)

          Reply
  3. Ken

    Hey Jon,

    I can’t find HDMIYo! – looks like the website is dead, where did you grab it from?

    Reply
  4. Adam

    Hey Jon,

    Im wondering… You run MediaBrowser on your main HTPC right? If thats the case, it would definitely be running on Windows 7 MC…
    How are you planning on bitstreaming the HD audio? Do you run everything over HDMI? Or run the audio dedicated from an optical out?
    I’ve been having issues bitstreaming HD audio from my ATI Radeon HD5450…
    Dolby Digital seems to be picked up fine, but DTS/DTS HD MA just register on my AV amp as “stereo”… I seem to remember reading something about Media Center itself not supporting bit streaming of the HD audio codecs, but not sure if theres something that can be configured to allow this to function…
    Any guidelines would be great…

    AV amp: Pioneer VSX-LX70
    Essential Media Center specs: ATI Radeon HD5450, running Windows 7 Ultimate x64, using the Shark007 codec pack (with the 64 bit components), with both audio and video going over HDMI.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Jon Post author

      Default Media Center codecs won’t do it, but ffdshow does. You have to configure proper codecs to pass it through.

      Reply
      1. Adam

        Aaah nice… Will have to look into getting that set up… Been bugging me for a while, just haven’t found the time to go ahead and figure it out…

        Thanks

        Reply

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