ITX PVR/HTPC build and review

spyder viewer

Distinguished Member
Recently, I submitted a request for suggestions for a new project. I had a TBS DVB-S2 card and DVD writer and asked for suggestions for suitable components.

http://www.avforums.com/forums/home-entertainment-pcs/1543920-new-itx-pvr-htpc-project.html

I look for novel solutions to problems, for a low cost approach which meets the requirements of the original design specification. I tend not to build in uneccessary features or costs. The overiding design issue for this build was that it should be small!

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Asus F1A75-I DELUXE AMD A75 Hudson FM1 DDR3 mITX (F1A75-I DELUXE) - dabs.com
AMD A4-3400 FM1 2.7GHz 1MB 65W (AD3400OJGXBOX) - dabs.com
In Win case BM639 mini ITX desktop / tower black with 160W PSU- microdirect.co.uk
CT2KIT25664BA1339 - 4GB kit (2GBx2), 240-pin DIMM , DDR3 PC3-10600 from Crucial.com
LITE-ON DS-8A5S Internal Slimline SATA DVD Writer at cheap prices | PC World
Interface Cards from PC World - Get Interface Cards online here
Akasa AK-CB050 SATA cable for Slimline Opticals: Amazon.co.uk: Computers & Accessories
3M Metre HDMI High Speed Cable Lead HD V1.4 1080P Gold: Amazon.co.uk: Electronics
TBS Dual DVB-S2 High Definition Digital Satellite Tuner: Amazon.co.uk: Electronics

Reclaimed HD from dead network drive.

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The case comes only adequately-packed in a single-wall corrugated cardboard carton. It has the usual expanded polystyrene cheeks to protect the case which is further enclosed in a plastic bag. There is a plastic bag containing the self-adhesive feet and a selection of screws. There is no documentation whatsoever or warranty card. The 160W psu comes ready-mounted, there is no mains lead provided. The case and psu are made in Taiwan.

The case is made of anodized steel plate and the top, bottom and sides are spray-painted black with a satin finish. The front panel is shiny piano black plastic with the edges of the front panel being satin to match the metal panels. The front panel is divided in half: the LH side is a push to open/push to close door hiding the place for a slim optical drive and floppy drive/media reader or alternatively, a full-height optical drive. Down the centre are power on button, power on led, hard drive led and a reset button. The shiny surfaces are covered with a protective self-adhesive plastic film. At the bottom are 2 usb 2.0 sockets, mic and headphone jack sockets. The base and side have 4 each round recesses to take self-adhesive feet (contained inside case) to enable tower or desktop operation. The top of the case has a grill with an 80cm fan labeled YS.TECH. The rear has the usual aperture for the motherboard, iec power socket and two snap-out pci card blanks.

The side panel is removed by lifting two plastic clips and pulling them back and away. Doing this reveals two clips that hold the front panel on, these are simply lifted and the panel drops down and away. The floppy/optical drive cage is retained by two screws and lifted away. At this point, all the important features are clearly visible. The 160W psu is already fitted. There is no power isolation switch. The psu has the usual 20+4 pin plug, 4 pin cpu lead and a third lead with two sata power plugs and a single 4 pin molex. More on the psu later. There are the usual ribbon cables for front panel switches, leds, audio sockets and usbs. There is a "speaker" fitted and an 80cm case fan. All these leads are clearly marked on the plugs. All the important cut edges to the case are turned over but in any case, I couldn't feel any sharpness on those that weren't. Obviously the usual care should be taken to avoid cuts and scrapes. The hard drive is held to one side in a cage that is removed by undoing the retaining screw and sliding the cage forward. There is a swing out kensington lock. The plastic front panel has two removable inserts to permit the fitting of a slim line optical drive and a media reader. I suspect a second hard drive or SSD could be fitted instead of the media reader (psu permitting).The pci card back panel is pre-perforated to allow the openings to be created. The flange for the pci card screws, folds out and extends beyond the back panel, the edges are a little rough but not sharp, not going to be an issue once there are cards fitted and it's on a shelf against a wall. The mobo is supported by stand-offs that are pressed into the base of the case.

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The psu is of an unusual type: it is a long square section box 50x50x190mm. It is clipped to the base of the case and held in place by a screw. There is a 40mm fan at one end and the other end is partially opened by a ventilator grill. The psu is branded POWER MAN and is made/designed by In-win. Invariably with cases made by less popular manufacturers using out of the ordinary psu manufacturers, the biggest concern for some users is the pedigree of the psu. Having had some experience in manufacture of switched-mode psus and electronic assemblies, I have tried to make some assessment of the build quality of this psu.

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I removed the psu from the case and also removed the cover of the psu to examine the circuitry. I saw nothing to concern me with the various wound ferrites, transformers or other components. The power rectifiers and regulators etc were fixed to two substantial aluminium heat sinks with castellated top fins to allow greater heat transfer and improved passage of air. A thermistor (or similar) was fixed to a prong of one of the heatsinks and controlled the variable speed fan on one end of the psu. In order to make further assessment of the psu I powered it up and connected the 12V 10A output to a halogen car headlamp (nominal rating 115W). There is only a single 12V rail. The no load voltage was measured at 12.1V and under load this reduced to 11.8V. The ac ripple using my simple AVO digital multimeter was a few millivolts although this is hardly a comprehensive result as I have no idea what the frequency response of the AVO is. Using a simple plug-in power meter, the power consumption was shown to be 118W. I estimate the efficiency of the psu to be 80-85%. I ran the psu under load for ~3 hours. The case temp rose to 40-45 degs and the 40mm fan turned at a low and inaudible speed. There was no change in the measured output voltage. It would be a simple matter to remove the psu and replace it with a Pico type should a builder so wish.

A word about ESD. Make no mistake: static kills. Buy and wear a decent wrist strap (Maplin etc). If you don't use a wrist strap or similar, and haven't been affected, you aren't immune: you're just lucky (or unlucky and undetected). I usually plug the mains lead into the wall socket with the socket switched off. The pc psu will then supply an earth to the case. Clip the wrist strap to the grills of the case.

Assembly was straight-forward: the case was easy to work in with the floppy/optical drive cage removed. Tie-wraps were used to keep cables tidy and out of the way. The space between the mobo and the hard drive cage was large enough to stow excess cabling in. Snapping out the pci back panel slots was a little bit fiddly but it can be made easier by inserting a philips screwdriver into the crosses stamped into the metal and levering. All the case leads are clearly marked and there is a clear if small drawing of the mobo layout in the handbook. Fitting the AMD cpu and stock HSF was much easier than the Intel type. One drawback: there is only a single usb twin header on the mobo so a choice had to be made between media reader and case usb sockets. The mobo does have a usb3.0 socket on it so maybe this can be pressed into service somehow. A little on slim-line dvd drives. As these are invariably sold to replace laptop drives, they may not come with the tiny mounting screws (mine didn't). Fortunately, In-win includes 4 in the screw pack. Mounting the drive is quite fiddly: use a slightly magnetized screwdriver, line up the hole and flex the metal of the cage away from the drive slightly to create a recess to drop the screw into. Also, the drive I purchased doesn't come with a combined sata data/power lead so one will need to be obtained separately. Depending on the additional components in the case, a molex splitter cable may be required; I needed to use a splitter to provide power to the DVB-S2 card. Refitting the drive cage, front panel and lid are simple reversals of the opening and gave no problem. The supplied wireless-N aerials are a little obtrusive and untidy but have magnetic bases so I attached them one to each side. I might replace them with a pair of the black stalk type. Fitting the DVB-S2 card was without issue although one might have problems with longer cards because of the general lack of space! The maximum unconditional length for any pci-e card is 180mm although at maximum length, routing the mobo power lead would be affected and it would have required an extension for this particular mobo. Air movement over the component side of the dvb-s2 card is negligible. There is a possibility that air might be drawn in behind and under the hard drive although I suspect unlikely unless the HD draws it in. However, the HD is closely caged in the HD mounting frame which in turn is closely held to the case which should provide good passive cooling.

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In use, the issues of prime importance are: is it noisy, does the remote work and does it look good? The case fan is loud although more fan noise than motor hum. It's noisier than my Antec Fusion which has a psu and 2 case fans in. No amount of fiddling with the bios settings would calm it down in my application; this is the only form of forced extraction from the case. It will have to be replaced. In idle, the reported case temperature is 32deg c with a fan speed of 2250rpm and the cpu temperature is 28 degs c with a fan speed ~1500rpm, with the cpu fan being just discernible with my ear against the top vent. I've disconnected the case fan and the noise has reduced to just HD chatter. The Asus software has a useful sensor recording facility: to evaluate temperature, I ran a movie in WMC, and simultaneously converted a file from mpeg2 to mpeg4 (cpu activity showed ~99%) The power setting was low noise/energy saving mode. Total system power draw indicated on my wattmeter of 70W. Over a period of 15 minutes, the cpu temp rose to 62deg and the cpu fan speed to 2400rpm. The case temperature rose to 55degs. Reconnecting the case fan resulted in these measurements reducing to 45/2100/40. Cancelling the file conversion etc, after 5 minutes, the results reduced to 32/1700/34. Although the Asus software would modify the cpu temp/speed predictably (there's a useful graphic for setting this), attempts at influencing the case fan were fruitless (could this be that the cpu fan is 4 pin but the case only a 3 pin plug?). Clearly, a new fan and better understanding of operation is required here.
The Asus supplied remote: well here's an interesting product. The remote is 130X45x10mm. On one side it has it has a multi-use joy disk which can control mouse pointer up/down/left/right functions with l&r mouse button, power off, volume up/down, pause/play, full screen/reduced window. On the other side is a 41 button keyboard. It isn't (and Asus don't advertise it to be) a WMC remote but for occasional keyboard entry It would probably suffice. It can also control WMC using the mouse mode although it's extremely slow. I won't be getting rid of my Windows Media Centre Remote Control : Remote Controls : Maplin Electronics though!

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What's it like to look at: very small, very smart and un fussy. For me this is now the only way to go! For a Media centre/HTPC this has all I need and at a great price. The Asus mobo/processor combination appears to meet all my needs although I have no idea of its performance with bluray. I've been using a 22" HPw2207h HD on which everything looks great and will be moving it to my 32" HD Tosh as soon as I have a satellite feed in the wall. The power light is a rather piercing blue which is annoying if you look directly at it and the HD activity indicator is a pleasing peachy colour. As both lights are fed by light pipe some tape could easily be used to tone down the blue one. The power light flashes annoyingly when in standby. I have been unable to find anything in the bios to turn it off.
The system takes about 50 seconds to boot W7HP and about 15 to come out of sleep mode. The WLAN is flawless. Using a slim dvd drive has its drawbacks: read/write speeds are less than for a full-size one. There seems to be a lot of drive noise coming from my selected dvd drive. I've been unable to ascertain if I need Catalyst Control Center so I'm not sure exactly how the graphics is being processed and I have no way of changing any of the graphics settings that I know of.

The final build cost was £350 not including carriage, HD or operating system which together could add another £200 to the cost. I have no hesitation in recommending this case or motherboard as a value for money choice for a HTPC/PVR.
 
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Clansman406

Standard Member
Hi, I enjoyed the review of your build, it was very good.

Could i just ask about the case, I've already got a zacate htpc but i'm not happy with the case i've got, there's nothing wrong with it, but i was never happy with it's appearence. Anyway, on the link for the case the title says 160watts psu, but the description says 120 and in your report twice you say 150 watts. This case looks very good for me as i can fit 3 x HDD's.

Can you clarify?

Clansman
 

spyder viewer

Distinguished Member
Hi, I enjoyed the review of your build, it was very good.

Could i just ask about the case, I've already got a zacate htpc but i'm not happy with the case i've got, there's nothing wrong with it, but i was never happy with it's appearence. Anyway, on the link for the case the title says 160watts psu, but the description says 120 and in your report twice you say 150 watts. This case looks very good for me as i can fit 3 x HDD's.

Can you clarify?

Clansman

Sorry about the typo! The rating in the description is 120W and in the title on the suppliers web-site it states 160W. It also states 160W on the label of the psu. In-win also make a 120W variant which is available from Scan. I believe I saw a "silver" finish one and that was also 120W.

::::::::::IN WINcase::::
::::::::::IN WINpsu:::::::

You could fit a 2nd hard drive where the media reader is and at a pinch fit one along side the other drive.

Glad you liked the review: I enjoyed doing it. If you want any more photos or measurements, let me know. If you are near southern London, pop in and see it.
 

Clansman406

Standard Member
Thanks for the reply, I'll get one after christmas and make sure it's the one with a 160 psu. On my present htpc i've only got 1 x 2.5 hdd with with win 7 installed and xbmc.

I'm nowhere near London, but thanks for the invite.

Clansman.
 

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