I 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
- Starz Add-on
- 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.
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!