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guys can i have some advice on CPU/MB/RAM selection for HTPC !!

Discussion in 'Computer Components' started by stuthemong, Oct 16, 2004.

  1. stuthemong

    stuthemong
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    Guys,
    please help me, im mightily confuzzled

    I need more graphite in my PC pencil, as i want to run FFDshow at a fair whack (video processing for HTPC's), which requires a modern vidya card, and 3GHZ + CPU. And my windows install has started giving up on me (damn Spyware, if i get my hands on that damn coder!!!!), so i need a re-format, and figure i may aswell upgrade at the same time.

    looking around i have no idea on what to get. northwoord/prescott / AMD (though i am an intel man on the whole). It seems intel havent moved for about a year - i bought a 3.2 GHZ HT for my car 9 months ago!!!!!!!! Maybe AMD are beating intel now?

    anyway, i was looking at teh 3.4ghz prescotts, <£200 for a good CPU is fair, but i am not going to pay the stupid premium on having the 'latest fastest' speed, i always tend to buy the 2nd/3rd in line.

    Presently i have a 2.4Ghz P4, i know ill need a new MB, as my MB does not support HT and such like. I figure i will have to sell my old MB, 2.4 GHz CPU, and 2x512 MB of pc2700 ram (and AGP card if i go pci express). and get MB CPU and new RAM.

    I will also have 4 monitors (3 17" lcds, and 1 projector, ae700 or hs50) so graphics cards are going to be interesting. I dont know whether to get a modern PCI express video card (like a 6800), and a seperate PCI dual head for the other displays. If you know of any motherboards with 2 inbuilt displays (VGA and DVI) that would be sweet, and save an extra card.

    Can anyone offer some advice to get me moving

    Thanks
    Stu
     
  2. KraGorn

    KraGorn
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    Northwood's are rapidly disappearing it seems to me, only Prescott's listed at a couple of component sites I buy from .. also Intel has moved to 775-pin packaging so Prescotts look like they're on the doomed list to at some time in the not too distant future it seems to me.

    IMHO the choice is between 775-pin P4s and AMD 64s for an HTPC, though the AMD range is also a bit confusing to me these days. Of course, 775-pin means PCI-e, AMD's PCI-e offering is due very soon I believe.

    To some extent the choice depends on how much processing you need ... a statement of the obvious, true :) ... what I mean is do you use post-processing like FFDSHOW which can eat up a LOT of power depending on options. What about WMV-HD? Without hardware support, eg. nVidia 6600GT from what I read, again needs a lot of processor.

    Never seen a mobo with built-in dual displays, in any case I've never seen a mobo with a DECENT single-display graphics system.
     
  3. stuthemong

    stuthemong
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    hmm, we can get WMV-HD hardware support?? didnt even know that :) :) - something like that could be ideal.

    ill need ffdshow to resize a DVD to 1280x768 do some sharpening, saturation, that sort of thing. my current setup cant do it, it keeps blurting up to 100% cpu usage and dropping frames (even on resizing alone). I think my old graphics card probably isnt helping too much either (quadro mx). I think ill get a new MB and graphics card, and swap my CPUs over from car/home. This should buy me some time :)

    also my 3rd, and 4th monitors wont need any decent graphics cards, they wont be 3-d stuff, only text, so i guess a £35 dual (old) PCI card will do the trick.

    Cheers for your help.

    stu
     
  4. KraGorn

    KraGorn
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    I believe the 6600GT has hardware support for HD decoding, though I could be wrong as I'm a bit confused as to what on-board video processing these will have.

    I've just been running ZoomPlayer with the nVidia codecs from TT2, FFDSHOW resizing to 1440x1152 with sharpening and denoise .. on my 2.8P4 it peaked around 90% CPU. Trouble is, playing with FFDSHOW it's easy to get carried away and over do it. :)

    As for Northwoods, perhaps they're not as rare as I thought, Overclockers seem to have them still in their lists and they're cooler than Prescott's .. decisions, decisions. :D

    Not sure how much processing the GPU does, remember with FFDSHOW the DXVA support is disabled and all processing is done in software, leaving I'm not sure what for the GPU to do.
     
  5. Rob.Screene

    Rob.Screene
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    Deciding on a 800fsb Northwood S478 or a LGA775 Prescott is a difficult one right now.

    I bought an Asus P5GD1-VM motherboard for a new desktop, thinking it might be good for HTPC one day.

    Firstly, I do currently have two relatively big issues which may effect many S775 motherboards:-
    1. Windows XP installation doesn't recognise or provide any suspend or hibernate features. Tries a few bios settings, upgrades, inte inf files, integrated XP sp1a XPsp2, etc. I think it may be an issue for many i915/i925 or just i915G motherboards?

    2. Once I have installed the Intel Graphics driver, selecting 1280x1024 of my LCD monitor causes an immediate reboot. I think this may be a driver issue, and seems fine at 1024x768, but that's not my LCD's native resolution. I think the accellerator is required for DirectX9 support. I've tried a few different driver revisions and bios settings to no avail.

    Here's my reasoning for a S775 with embedded VGA (915G) type motherboard:

    a) This embedded Intel DirectX9 VGA graphics, plus a PCI Express x16 socket for a faster card in a year or so's time. It's my assuption that for movie overlay playback that the dynamic memory architecture (not AGP) should be fine for even 1080P playback, although I haven't yet checked.

    b) The board supports dual-channel DDR400 memory (6.4GB/sec), doesn't require the expensive DDR2 stuff. Ideal memory/fsb bandwidth for HDTV playback.

    c) Socket LGA775 will mean faster cpus available in a year or so time, which won't be the case for S478.

    d) I have read that Prescott P4 cpu's run several watts hotter than an equivalent 800fsb Northwood P4. I did however notice the auto cpu fan controller feature keeps is relatively quiet and usually 47/48 degrees. The Intel S775 boxed cooler seems very efficient.

    e) No add-on graphics card or network card needed, no fan on the motherboard either.

    f) Embedded 8-channel HD audio. Not really tried this though, probably causes stutters for TheaterTek, I'll test it with 1024x768 if I re-install the Intel Graphics Accellerator driver.

    g) Two IDE hard disk channels, as well as SATA support for once the native SATA hard disks start arriving and make the performance leap over IDE "p-ata" really happen. It needs an ITE driver floppy to install WindowsXP, but you don't have to let it install it during setup, then it's recognised as an Intel controller. In my mind, the less non-intel or non-whql drivers the better for stable HTPC use.

    h) Note: asus recommend a 24 pin power supply, but the minimum requirement is a 350W 20-pin one that can supply 15A on the 12V rail, which my Enermax 365W can do, just. This was a cost of jumping on LGA775 I didn't forsee.

    Hope this helps someone else avoid any setup pain.
    cheers,
    Rob.
     
  6. stuthemong

    stuthemong
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    rob, kragorn, thanks for taking the time to reply.

    i have been thinking about my options, and to be honest, it seems to me that CPU's aren't quite up to all the hi-def stuff yet.

    I think ill swap my car / home CPU's and RAM, which will slow my car pc down, but thats no biggy. Ill buy a cheap MB that will support HT, and ill whack the 3.2 GHz HT in - and do a re-install, and O/C if i can, so long as my zalman flower can remain quiet in the process.

    the one thing thats annoying is i dont think i can get a northwood chipset with a PCI-e slot can i? Otherwise id definitely buy something likea 6800, but i dont want to spend £££ on a card, knowing that when i upgrade in a years time to a 775 chip @ 4+GHz or whatever happens then, my AGP card will be useless.

    Do you have any suggestions for a decent video card for HTPC. I have a radeon 9600 se (IIRC) in my car, would that be up to the job, or am i best of buying a better card?

    EDIT: i did find this, its a lot cheaper than i thought a 6800 would be

    http://www.scan.co.uk/Products/ProductInfo.asp?WebProductID=132710

    dual DVI would be cool, thats a certainty.

    god im so confused. It just seems to me that unless i spend silly money now, im not going to have a PC that will playback all the proper HD stuff as i wish. So i need a 'stop-gap' for a year or so i guess.
     
  7. KraGorn

    KraGorn
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    AFAIK you're right in that there doesn't appear to be a 478 chipset supporting PCI-e.

    As for a grpahics card for an HTPC .. until recently the usual recommendation was a 9600 fanless with TheaterTek 1.5, now the card of choice beging touted is a 6600GT. That said, the 9600 you have will give excellent results and in any case there's no AGP version of the 6600 yet, and IMHO the 6800GT is a lot of money to pay .. that card you linked to I think is the base 6800 which according to what I've read is not as good as a 'GT' version, though admittedly no-one bother asnwering my question as to *why* it was inferior in an HTPC context.
     
  8. stuthemong

    stuthemong
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    ok then, i guess its looking like my car will inherit my 2.4, ram, and quadro. Ill steal its CPU, RAM, and AGP card, and get myself a MB that supports HT, £60 jobbie.

    This way i can wait until the new generation of CPUs come (the current 775's dont seem 'new' to me), and hit it hard then.

    the brucy bonus of this approach, is ill be able to afford my proj sooner, and maybe stump up to the hs50 if it proves good!

    Thankyou for all your help guys, now i just need to find a decent MB, with spdif out (optical), and some O/C facility, hopefully ill see 3.5 Ghz from this chip with no problems

    Stu

    :)
     
  9. KraGorn

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    I like ASUS mobos, but I also prefer coax SPD/IFs, not sure which if any support optical outputs, alternativley I also like Gigabyte which do but not great for overclocking .. I guess the crown there usually goes to ABit, but I rarley clock these days so haven't got recent experience of their newer boards.
     
  10. Rob.Screene

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    I've tried installing XP using F5 to specify the classic ACPI HAL, having disable Hyperthreading, still to no avail.

    I really think it may be an issue for many i915/i925 or just i915G motherboards? I'm surprised nobody's bee complaining of lack of suspend/hibernate? Perhaps it's just this new asus board/bios?

    I think I'll RMA the asus p5gd1-vm tomorrow and try another 915G board with embedded graphics, this will rule out production sample and asus bios issue potential causes.

    I think the 9600SE will be fine for HD. I also suspect the 915G embedded graphics will be reasonably fine too, but can't eyeball it properly yet.

    I did install the intel extreme graphics driver at 1024x768 and run the WMVHD rating benchmark (first attachment), it's certainly looking good for graphics and memory bandwidth with an 800fsb speed (see attached gif). On screen looks plain wrong, like it's 8-bit or something, but again I think this particular board is a little poorly.

    TT2 playback of 1080i at 1920x1080P on my HTPC (P4 N/orthwood 2.8 at 3GHz/568fsb on asus p4b533-V) with Radeon9500 looks good on-screen, see second attachment, but the WMVHD benchmark looks way higher on the 800fsb/dual-channel DDR 915 system:

    I hindsite, get a P4 3GHz/800fsb northwood a month ago and stick with socket 478/agp for another year! Pity 800fsb Northwoods are fairly rare now. I think I did see someone stocking a 2.8/800 P4 northwood for about £120 which might be usefull if you have an 800fsb capable s478 board.

    regards,
    Rob.
     

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  11. stuthemong

    stuthemong
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    that looks massive rob. I think that with 800mhz FSB 3.2 gig p4 northwood, and a suitable graphics card (or the onboard if i go that route, though ill be an output short) should be up to the job, esp with a little o/cing.

    i think its looking like i ditch the onboard plan, and go radeon 9600 agp doing proj, and main display (for gaming and films), and a crappy pci card for 2ndary and 3tiary monitors :)
     
  12. Rob.Screene

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    I suspect is mostly due to the 800fsb with dual-channel memory at DDR400.

    In theory the unified memory gives the on-board graphics the full 6.4Gbps memory bandwidth, but the video bar doesn't really reflect that, as I guess it's bound by the 333MHz graphics core speed. Looks just the same as a my Radeon9500 over just 4x AGP!

    I think the 3.2 LGA775's may be clock unlockable, but it looks like my 3.0GHz is locked, even on a reportedly unlocked asus bios. In my troubleshooting I've noticed reports of 4.4GHz on a 1100fsb setting, but that sounds very unlikely. Even more unlikely to run reliably and quietly in a HTPC.

    cheers,
    Rob.
     
  13. stuthemong

    stuthemong
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    the 3.2 gig P4 northwood i have in my car, that should be o/cable though, i have gone off the idea of buying a new 775 just yet, ill use my 3.2 from teh car, and get a new chip when they get faster. I could do with saving the money :)

    i have been playing around with o/c my 2.4 gig p4 today with unbranded ram!!!, happily goes up to 2.7 no problems, and that really makes a difference on 720p stuff. I think i need the 800 FSB though to get it running perfectly smoothly - bring on teh projector :)
     
  14. james.miller

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    why not an a64? cooler and faster than a prescott. Doesnt make sence to buy an intel at all at this point in time surely.
     
  15. Rob.Screene

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    It never did. Well, except the P4 533 and P4 800fsb parts for a while.

    For HTPC and lack of pci timing issues/judders it's been shown again and again the the amd supporting chipsets for sis, via, etc always have a little problem waiting for someone wanting smooth playback all through a film.

    I just managed to find a dodgy Intel chipset/board too!

    cheers,
    Rob.
     
  16. KraGorn

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    Certainly with Intel hoping to raidly empty the channel of 478 chips, as I read somewhere today.

    So which A64 would you recommend .. or is it a case of the faster the better? :) And are they noticeably cooler than a Prescott, or just a little bit?
     
  17. stuthemong

    stuthemong
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    (james i agree totally, and its why i am not going to buy a new CPU at this moment, ill hold off a year)
     
  18. Rob.Screene

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    I just read the following, so much for my 6.4GBps assumption!:
    "All three of these north bridge chips talk to the other chip in the set, the south bridge—or I/O Controller Hub (ICH) in Intel-speak—via a new, PCI Express-like link, dubbed DMI, that has a data rate of 1GB/s in each direction for a total of 2GB/s."

    Thinking about it, for a HDTV capable HTPC, an i865 and 800fsb Northwood off ebay look like a good approach today. Perhaps even a lower 2.4/800fsb would suffice?

    cheers,
    Rob.
     
  19. KraGorn

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    For DVD playback my AMD 2000+ was more than sufficient, it's when you want to start fiddling with post-processing that the CPU usage rockets .. or WMV-coded HiDefs without hardware support.
     

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