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Old 01-06-2012, 07:38 PM   #1
JohnLocke
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Linux HTPC build help / compatibility


Hey all,

I've looked in a few other places, but am trying to figure out a linux build to run XBMC on a small, quiet box.

To get the box to be quiet, a low power CPU is called for. Also, if possible, skipping a non-integrated graphics card.

That said, one thing to look at would be the AMD A6-3500:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16819103951
It even is supposed to be HDCP compatible.

Next step is the mobo. An FM1 mobo with HDMI out is required. Preferably with CIR. ASRock makes a few in ATX, ITX, and micro-ATX (I can find a box to fit the mobo, not the other way around).

Otherwise, there's simply not much componentry to it. Maybe a blu-ray drive. This box (for me) just needs to stream 1080P movies with HD Audio from

So ... I was hoping to hop on here and see if anyone has run one of these CPU's / motherboards? I've been an Nvidia guy because of linux for quite some time (always been easier), so the AMD chipset makes me a little more nervous, especially an integrated chipset. On top of that, getting specialized ports working on a motherboard has been an issue in the past (CIR, HDMI).

Even if no one has run this /particular/ setup, is anyone running an XBMC / HTPC build that wouldn't mind sharing how well it's working?
 
Old 01-07-2012, 11:50 AM   #2
macemoneta
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The Raspberry Pi is what you want. It will be available in a couple of weeks, and it will run XBMC with HDMI out. $35 USD, and it will run Debian or Fedora.
 
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Old 01-08-2012, 09:59 AM   #3
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Hi, I built an HTPC based on the nvidia ION plaform (intel atom + nvidia 9300)
Quote:
so the AMD chipset makes me a little more nervous, especially an integrated chipset.
Easy fix : find a local retail store, find a PC with this (or very similar) AMD hardware, bring your USB with a Live distro on it, and try it out in the store.

Even though it's nvidia, I'm using the nouveau driver, it simply works better. Not for native video decoding, but xbmc supports decoding video using GLSL, so 720p videos are no problem, and 1080p are watchable (difficult scenes aren't though). The opensource radeon state being much better than nouveau, I think it's safe to assume that video decoding wouln't be a problem.
What I hate about xbmc is that it locks the cursor into its window. Normally that wouldn't be an issue, but I have connected a normal screen +mouse+keyboard to make it a quick web access point at home. I still haven't figured out how to get the cursor out (actually, I did, with xbmc 10.0, with 11 no luck).
The PC has 11 hard drive (+1 USB), 2 optical units, a front LCD/IR panel and under full load draws < 45W (Still a lot). Unfortunately, due to xbmc's legacy of console programming, it keeps a constant refresh rate of 60 FPS, which means no idling

I documented my work here on LQ
Quote:
The Raspberry Pi is what you want
Indeed it seems it is I just might get one to play with, thanks for the tip.

Serafean
 
Old 01-08-2012, 06:44 PM   #4
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I have an A6 that I use for htpc. It is in my opinion the best solution between low power and quality of picture and speed.
 
Old 01-08-2012, 07:30 PM   #5
JohnLocke
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jefro View Post
I have an A6 that I use for htpc. It is in my opinion the best solution between low power and quality of picture and speed.
Ah! Someone who's using it!

Which chip are you using? I was looking at the 3500. Which distro? Are you running XBMC on it? How's the 1080P playback on demanding video? Do you get HD audio through that as well? How about heat? What do you need for cooling? Let me know some details!

Last edited by JohnLocke; 01-08-2012 at 07:33 PM.
 
Old 01-09-2012, 03:12 PM   #6
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I bought this gateway but it is really like an acer or something. SX2370-UB30P which is supposed to have a A6-3600. The only time I use it is from a live usb with opensuse on it. The video on my tv doesn't support more than 720p but the computer does allow 1080. For now I have the system on a kill-a-watt and the only time it went very high at all is when using handbrake. It rips a dvd pretty quick, much quicker than an older amd athlon 2 but less than a core i7 but not by much more time.

I think it would run full HD just fine. It doesn't seem to be under any load but I also loaded on the amd drivers from their site. I feel kind of silly that I just clicked on a few choices when installing without trying to hi-perf it any.

All these devices tend to have two discrete audio devices so you just have to be sure the correct one is selected but I think this even knew the the normal audio didn't have a speakers so it automatically selected the hdmi audio. I suspect you could select the internal audio for some audio device.

The heat would be slightly more than the atom based one I used to use based only on watts used. This tends to be about 50 watts. That is more than I'd like but the atom just wasn't quite good enough. This has worked just fine as long as you get the video drivers from amd.

I have never heard the cpu fan spin up too much and from the speeds it runs has stayed on the slower side. I was ready to replace it in case it did make too much noise. The unit is quiet but if it were to be within 4 feet it might be noticed as too much on soft audio media.

Last edited by jefro; 01-11-2012 at 12:30 PM.
 
Old 01-09-2012, 03:32 PM   #7
JohnLocke
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Interesting.

I've been talking on another forum (xbmc) with some of the AMD / ATI folks, and I think I'm going to shy away from it. It sounds like it's very close to supported well in the community, but that there are still some issues with full streaming (some tearing, issues with pausing and resuming, as well as with the computer sleeping and resuming).

Especially since I can grab a low power dual core celeron with something like a fanless GT 430 and still have a power rating under around 80W, but definitely have more power than I'd need for full streaming and also get the bonus of the well-supported nvidia chipset.

I'd hate to get a chip like the 3500 (which does look really tempting) and find out that it's got to run high fan all the time during a movie, or find that it just isn't supported quite enough, which is what I'm hearing on user forums.

Thanks for the input, that helped!
 
Old 01-11-2012, 08:58 AM   #8
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The 'A' series APU is still getting code added to xorg. It should run fine with distros with newer code (slackware-current, debian sid, etc etc.). Most of the problems I've seen with the 'A' series APU is from people trying to run older distros.

Its possible to get an 'A' series CPU/chipset, and run it with an nVidia video card if you feel like it, which is what you would have to do with a celeron anyway (nVidia chipsets from intel have gone the way of the dodo, to get an nVidia card with curent intel CPUs/chipsets will require a video card).
 
Old 01-11-2012, 12:34 PM   #9
JohnLocke
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cascade9 View Post
The 'A' series APU is still getting code added to xorg. It should run fine with distros with newer code (slackware-current, debian sid, etc etc.). Most of the problems I've seen with the 'A' series APU is from people trying to run older distros.

Its possible to get an 'A' series CPU/chipset, and run it with an nVidia video card if you feel like it, which is what you would have to do with a celeron anyway (nVidia chipsets from intel have gone the way of the dodo, to get an nVidia card with curent intel CPUs/chipsets will require a video card).
Agreed, but since I'm not only running a distro, but also XBMC on top of it, I still think I'll shy away from the ATI chips, embedded or otherwise.

I'm going to try the intel graphics chip first from a G620 and see how that does (since I'm going to use something like it anyway as my CPU). If it doesn't do well, then I'll jump back to Nvidia's welcoming arms.
 
Old 01-11-2012, 01:30 PM   #10
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I can see why you would...but IMO this is another example if the old 'ATI/AMD sucks for linux' idea.

G620 is another 'sandy bridge' based CPU. Its not like the sandy bridge video chip has been totally trouble free with linux either. Possibly less trouble than the 'A' series APU though.

For linux HTPC use, for the moment I'd suggest an nVidia GPU over ATI/AMD. AFAIK the XvBA (ATI/AMD hardware video decoding) still has a few issues, VDPAU (nVidia hardware decoding) is better. VAAPI used by intel video chips (open source hardware video decoding, can be used by ATI/AMD GPUs/APUs as well) usied with an intel video chip uses more CPU than the ATI/AMD or nVidia hardware decoding.....mostly due to the very weak nature of the intel video chips. If intel wasnt bundling the video chip into the chipset, and now the CPU, virtually nobody would buy them. They sure didnt last time intel released a video card, the horror that was the i740 lasted about 15 months in the market, with awful sales.

You probably shouldnt need VDPAU, or XvBA, or VAAPI with a G620, it should have enough power to decode at least 720p, and it probably would even do 1080p, on the CPU alone. That will make the CPU run hotter though, and the fans spin up harder, and use a fair amount more power than the system would using hardware video decoding. BTW, I've got an older single core AMD 64 system here that I use for watching media. Without VDPAU, decoding a 720p stream was using 70-90% CPU, an would occasionaly skip if I did anything apart from watching video. When using VDPAU, CPU use drops to 3-7% (and I think thats even with the CPU throttled down as well! hmm, I should check that). With VDPAU any current CPU should be able to play 720p/1080p with minimal CPU use, even stuff with far less power than the 'A' series CPUs (things like intel atom, AMD 'fusion').

I have got a ATI 5450, but I havent had time to test it with XvBA yet, and its possible that if I tested it and it worked I would change my opinion. If the 5450 worked in my media box, I would have tested it ages ago, but the crappy nVidia chipset its using wont work with ATI/AMD PCIe 2.0 cards. :/ But for now, I'd still go for nVidia. Its possible that I would suggest nVidia for a while, even if XvBA worked 100% for me, in part because I'm using a fairly 'cutting edge' distro for my media boxxen (aptosid) and in part because I dont want nVidia to disappear, even though I'm not the worlds biggest nVidia fan. (that is also one of the reasons why I support AMD over intel, long term market effects)

BTW, the G620 video chip has quite a few features that are on the standard 'sandy bridge' video chips disabled. I dont know if it will have any impact on VAAPI.

Last edited by cascade9; 01-11-2012 at 01:33 PM.
 
Old 01-11-2012, 01:52 PM   #11
JohnLocke
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cascade9 View Post
I can see why you would...but IMO this is another example if the old 'ATI/AMD sucks for linux' idea.

G620 is another 'sandy bridge' based CPU. Its not like the sandy bridge video chip has been totally trouble free with linux either. Possibly less trouble than the 'A' series APU though.

For linux HTPC use, for the moment I'd suggest an nVidia GPU over ATI/AMD. AFAIK the XvBA (ATI/AMD hardware video decoding) still has a few issues, VDPAU (nVidia hardware decoding) is better. VAAPI used by intel video chips (open source hardware video decoding, can be used by ATI/AMD GPUs/APUs as well) usied with an intel video chip uses more CPU than the ATI/AMD or nVidia hardware decoding.....mostly due to the very weak nature of the intel video chips. If intel wasnt bundling the video chip into the chipset, and now the CPU, virtually nobody would buy them. They sure didnt last time intel released a video card, the horror that was the i740 lasted about 15 months in the market, with awful sales.

You probably shouldnt need VDPAU, or XvBA, or VAAPI with a G620, it should have enough power to decode at least 720p, and it probably would even do 1080p, on the CPU alone. That will make the CPU run hotter though, and the fans spin up harder, and use a fair amount more power than the system would using hardware video decoding. BTW, I've got an older single core AMD 64 system here that I use for watching media. Without VDPAU, decoding a 720p stream was using 70-90% CPU, an would occasionaly skip if I did anything apart from watching video. When using VDPAU, CPU use drops to 3-7% (and I think thats even with the CPU throttled down as well! hmm, I should check that). With VDPAU any current CPU should be able to play 720p/1080p with minimal CPU use, even stuff with far less power than the 'A' series CPUs (things like intel atom, AMD 'fusion').

I have got a ATI 5450, but I havent had time to test it with XvBA yet, and its possible that if I tested it and it worked I would change my opinion. If the 5450 worked in my media box, I would have tested it ages ago, but the crappy nVidia chipset its using wont work with ATI/AMD PCIe 2.0 cards. :/ But for now, I'd still go for nVidia. Its possible that I would suggest nVidia for a while, even if XvBA worked 100% for me, in part because I'm using a fairly 'cutting edge' distro for my media boxxen (aptosid) and in part because I dont want nVidia to disappear, even though I'm not the worlds biggest nVidia fan. (that is also one of the reasons why I support AMD over intel, long term market effects)

BTW, the G620 video chip has quite a few features that are on the standard 'sandy bridge' video chips disabled. I dont know if it will have any impact on VAAPI.
Good comments, and echoing my sentiment for the most part.

One good thing is that I can buy these things discreetly. The G620 isn't a "bad" chip by any means and it's fairly cheap and low power. So I'll grab that for my box and just go ahead and see how the intel graphics perform at 1080P ... take some measurements. If the heat / power / skipping gets to be too much, it's trivial to add a 430GT to the system. Then the CPU pretty much won't matter, but it's an inexpensive CPU anyway, so I won't have lost anything.

And no, I'm not worried about it having features disabled (the CPU). This box is /only/ a HTPC that's streaming media from a NAS. Nothing too complicated. If it can handle that one thing, I'm done!

So I'll test it out and see. I'm hoping to order hardware this weekend. I'll postpone ordering a case and the GPU, because if I /need/ a GPU or if I need a bigger HSF for the CPU, that will drive the case selection.
 
Old 01-12-2012, 08:41 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnLocke View Post
One good thing is that I can buy these things discreetly. The G620 isn't a "bad" chip by any means and it's fairly cheap and low power. So I'll grab that for my box and just go ahead and see how the intel graphics perform at 1080P ... take some measurements. If the heat / power / skipping gets to be too much, it's trivial to add a 430GT to the system. Then the CPU pretty much won't matter, but it's an inexpensive CPU anyway, so I won't have lost anything.
I would really doubt that you will get any skipping problems with 1080p, but it will be at a higher power draw (and heat output) than with a low level nVidia card using VDPAU. I havent crunched the numbers, and it would depend on local electrickery pricing, how much you use your XBMC boxxen and how long you plan to have it for, but its more than possible that the lower power draw of using VDPAU to decode video would actually be cheaper in the long run than CPU decoding. Even though you would have to spend $40-80 on a video card.

I probably wouldnt get a GT430. They arent bad cards, but they have a higher power consumption than a G210 or GT520. The G210 would do the job, but the GT520 which is prety much the same cost as a GT430 has a newer VDPAU feature set, with much better performance with some codecs. They also have TrueHD and DTS-HD bitstreaming, which the earlier cards dont do.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnLocke View Post
So I'll test it out and see. I'm hoping to order hardware this weekend. I'll postpone ordering a case and the GPU, because if I /need/ a GPU or if I need a bigger HSF for the CPU, that will drive the case selection.
Case shouldnt matter at all. Even if you get something really tiny, like an ITX case, they still take 1/2 height cards (I havent seen an ITX case that wont take a 1/2 hight card.....possibly they exist, but I've never run across one). You can get 1/2 height G210s, GT430s and GT520s.

Its a bit harder to get a low profile CPU heatsink. A good low profile CPU heatsink would still be better than the not so great, built to a low price point stock heatsinks used by intel or AMD. There is also the 'mod it yourself' option- rip off the stock heatsink fan, replace it with slow rotation 92mm/120mm fan. Cheap and effective.
 
Old 01-12-2012, 11:54 AM   #13
JohnLocke
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cascade9 View Post
I would really doubt that you will get any skipping problems with 1080p, but it will be at a higher power draw (and heat output) than with a low level nVidia card using VDPAU. I havent crunched the numbers, and it would depend on local electrickery pricing, how much you use your XBMC boxxen and how long you plan to have it for, but its more than possible that the lower power draw of using VDPAU to decode video would actually be cheaper in the long run than CPU decoding. Even though you would have to spend $40-80 on a video card.
Lol ... I highly doubt the power draw over a two or three year life of a box is going to pay for a video card, but I like the reasoning . Those CFL light bulbs, which are only $10, barely pay for themselves over 10 years!

Personally, I'm less worried with the total power draw, and more worried about the noise. If this solution works well without the card and is virtually silent, then I'm done. If it required 80% of the CPU, it still might not be loud since it's only a 65W CPU (that generally runs at 35, even under heavy load).

Quote:
Originally Posted by cascade9 View Post
I probably wouldnt get a GT430. They arent bad cards, but they have a higher power consumption than a G210 or GT520. The G210 would do the job, but the GT520 which is prety much the same cost as a GT430 has a newer VDPAU feature set, with much better performance with some codecs. They also have TrueHD and DTS-HD bitstreaming, which the earlier cards dont do.
Interesting. I thought the 520 was similar in most regards to the 430 / 420, though had worse performance. I also was of the impression (since several people are using it for this) that the 210/220 did HD bitstreaming (as does the 430/510/most of the modern NVidia chipsets ... even the HD2000 does it). Is there something I'm not understanding?

Several folks on the XBMC forums recommend the 210 as powerful enough to do 1080P, but also having bitstreaming (though I'm given to understand that linux itself can't do bitstreaming yet on any chipset).

Quote:
Originally Posted by cascade9 View Post
Case shouldnt matter at all. Even if you get something really tiny, like an ITX case, they still take 1/2 height cards (I havent seen an ITX case that wont take a 1/2 hight card.....possibly they exist, but I've never run across one). You can get 1/2 height G210s, GT430s and GT520s.
For the case, I'm waiting to see if I want a 1/2 height card. If the heat values are pretty low in general, I might consider going fanless on both the cpu and the video card (and there's no half height fanless video card). Also to see if there's a good low profile CPU HSF I like ... there's three or four that look pretty good, but if I have a video card in there, width might be a problem as well, so I might not be able to go totally low profile. The micro-ATX boards put the CPU and GPU very close together.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cascade9 View Post
Its a bit harder to get a low profile CPU heatsink. A good low profile CPU heatsink would still be better than the not so great, built to a low price point stock heatsinks used by intel or AMD. There is also the 'mod it yourself' option- rip off the stock heatsink fan, replace it with slow rotation 92mm/120mm fan. Cheap and effective.
Indeed! I've done that before and like the results.
 
Old 01-12-2012, 11:57 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnLocke View Post
Lol ... I highly doubt the power draw over a two or three year life of a box is going to pay for a video card, but I like the reasoning . Those CFL light bulbs, which are only $10, barely pay for themselves over 10 years!
Your probably right, but it would really depend on the local enegy prices and how much you use it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnLocke View Post
Personally, I'm less worried with the total power draw, and more worried about the noise. If this solution works well without the card and is virtually silent, then I'm done. If it required 80% of the CPU, it still might not be loud since it's only a 65W CPU (that generally runs at 35, even under heavy load).
Even low wattage CPUs can be noisy, if they have crappy fans and/or heatsink (like most stock heatsink fan setups).

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnLocke View Post
Interesting. I thought the 520 was similar in most regards to the 430 / 420, though had worse performance. I also was of the impression (since several people are using it for this) that the 210/220 did HD bitstreaming (as does the 430/510/most of the modern NVidia chipsets ... even the HD2000 does it). Is there something I'm not understanding?

Several folks on the XBMC forums recommend the 210 as powerful enough to do 1080P, but also having bitstreaming (though I'm given to understand that linux itself can't do bitstreaming yet on any chipset).
Correction- the GT430 does bitstream TrueHD and DTS-HD, at least with windows. The G210/GT2XX (and earlier) cards dont. Its not really as major thing, the lossless audio codecs like TrueHD and DTS-HD arent that common.

The GT520 is a newer design, with better power consumption. Yeah, its 'slower' than a GT430 for gaming, but not for HTPC use-

http://www.anandtech.com/show/4380/d...us-shootout/11

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnLocke View Post
For the case, I'm waiting to see if I want a 1/2 height card. If the heat values are pretty low in general, I might consider going fanless on both the cpu and the video card (and there's no half height fanless video card). Also to see if there's a good low profile CPU HSF I like ... there's three or four that look pretty good, but if I have a video card in there, width might be a problem as well, so I might not be able to go totally low profile. The micro-ATX boards put the CPU and GPU very close together.
Theres a lot of half-height fanless cards.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...=1&srchInDesc=

Thats just the nVidia cards as well, AMD/ATI probably have more fanless half-height cards than nVidia.
 
Old 01-13-2012, 12:15 AM   #15
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Your probably right, but it would really depend on the local enegy prices and how much you use it.



Quote:
Originally Posted by cascade9 View Post
Even low wattage CPUs can be noisy, if they have crappy fans and/or heatsink (like most stock heatsink fan setups).
Absolutely. I imagine I'll probably end up with either a replacement fan or a whole new HSF unit, depending on the output. The stock HSF will mostly let me test load and heat values without purchasing something right away. If (by some miracle) the stock HSF is actually decent (I've seen one or two that were) and the CPU load is actually pretty light, there may be no reason to purchase anything else. If, more likely, the CPU load is higher, I might get away with just a $10 silent fan. If it's 80% or higher, I'll go with a full new HSF to move some more serious air.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cascade9 View Post
Correction- the GT430 does bitstream TrueHD and DTS-HD, at least with windows. The G210/GT2XX (and earlier) cards dont. Its not really as major thing, the lossless audio codecs like TrueHD and DTS-HD arent that common.

The GT520 is a newer design, with better power consumption. Yeah, its 'slower' than a GT430 for gaming, but not for HTPC use-

http://www.anandtech.com/show/4380/d...us-shootout/11
Thanks for the correction /and/ the link! I hadn't really considered the 520 since I've mostly known it as a "crap" card, even worse than the 210 in a lot of ways and often beat by the 220 in performance tests. But I didn't think about using it with more modern drivers and linux support. Looking now, most places are comparing it favorably to the 210 and 220 ... which are the cards the XBMC guys seem to recommend the most. So if it can stand up to 1080P (which everyone seems to say it can) and it's only $30 (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16814121475), then why the hell not?!

Still going to test it without, but I think you've changed my mind on which card to get if I don't like the HD2000 support or graphics or heat draw.
 
  


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