Been trying to plan and spec the hardware for a Media Director/ Hybrid and I've been having the following thoughts and questions that I'd love to get some comment on....
Firstly, the departure point here is to USE SUPPORTED HARDWARE. Most of my setups so far have been with hardware that is, to some degree inherited or lying around or just cheap and available or whatever. Often when people use such hardware and try to get it working I've noticed they get advised on the forums etc that it would be a lot easier just to use supported hardware. Of course, that makes a lot of sense, but it is a wee bit more tricky than it seems! Unless, of course, I'm missing a bunch of obvious things that I hope you gentlemen will point out.
I'll explain my thinking here and the assumptions I'm working with and I'd be most obliged if anyone can point out where I should look/ what assumptions are wrong or questionable or how I'm overthinknig or overcomplicating things... many thanks in advance.
OK, so this is what I'm trying to do-
I want to spec a machine that can be built as a Hybrid or (with some components left out or swapped for lower spec) a Media Director. I'm thinking it will be a machine that sits in the TV Room/ Home Theatre, probably visible so it needs to be pretty slick looking and quiet.
In full configuration it needs to achieve the following goals-
1. Store media (1 or more hard drives required)
2. Playback HD content 1080p video and HD surround sound audio to satisfy a medium level audiophile
3. Read and play DVDs and audio CDs
4. Capture High Def video from a settop box for streaming to MythTV or DVR
5. Act as a hybrid (ie dual NIC)
6. Be controllable by gyro-type remote
So.... the first thing I think is I need a neat HTPC Chassis. Not cheap but I think I have one that sounds nice - Antec Fusion 430. I think it comes with a power supply but it is ATX PSU so if necessary I can swap it for a bigger one if required. OK... main thing the choice of Chassis determines is the motherboard form factor- micro ATX.
OK, so the next step, I imagine, is the motherboard. This is really tricky. There are many, many out there and all I know at this stage is that I need it to be micro ATX (or smaller?).
So Mobo choice:
- Form factor: micro-ATX/mini
- CPU socket?
I don't really know how this affects things... I'm presuming any relatively new motherboard will support a powerful enough CPU to do the hybrid/MD job and most are going to be compatible with Kubuntu 10.04.
- Memory format/capacity/speed?
Again, I'm not thinking I need much more than 2Gb and that is pretty much stock standard minimum these days so I don't think this will drive mobo choice.
- SATA drive support
Needs to support DVD drive and 1 or more hard drives. Presume this is pretty standard.
- Onboard Nic (1)?
Definitely needs to be Gigabit speed. Chipset? Something to check on... I've had some issues with an Atheros chipset on the Sony VAIo and some other one on my HP Probook... but probably not critical at this stage.... likely to be supported/supportable.
- Onboard Nic (2)
Some mobos do come out with dual lan ports on board but they seem to be pretty pricey and overkill if this is to be used just as a Media Director. So I need to reserve a PCI port for a 2nd NIC if this is to be used as hybrid. So requirement at this point grows to at least one PCI slot.
- Graphics GPU
This is a big one. The questions are - chipset (Nvidia, ATI, Intel?) and onboard/ card. Firstly, I know Nvidia has been traditionally strongly advised for Linux and LMCE support. Is this still the case... I know l3mce is doing great work with the other chipsets. Should I still go for Nvidia at all costs? And, if so, what version? Then, what about onboard vs card based? The reading I've done seems to indicate that a decent pcix16 card will generally outperform onboard graphics. Is that still the case? The main reasons I like the onboard option are
Which brings me to my other point Graphics card/chipset selection- HDMI out. I'm presuming that HDMI is pretty much the standard that is emerging so I'd like to ensure whatever card / onboard GPU is used, it has HDMI out and, ideally, that the sound can be output over that as well.
- You know it's compatable with the mobo (not going to get any conflicts or strange issues)
- Doesn't occupy a PCI slot that could be used elsewhere
- Doesn't require potential additional power
- Sound over HMDI assumed to work without having to connect S/PDIF headers or do any special config?
If Onboard Nvidia is the way to go then I'm now looking for a mobo with an Nvidia chipset (version?) with HDMI out. That does cut down the number of boards quite a bit.
- Video Capture ?
I know you can get USB based HD capture units like that Hauppage one but I want to go for an internal one so as not to have extra clutter around the TV station. So this requires an extra PCI card and therefore slot
So... the above questions make quite a big difference to the type of board I go for... If onboard video and nic2 are out I need at least 3 additional PCI slots available and then to find appropriate cards to fit the appropriately sized slots and I can go for a motherboard with slightly lower onboard specs but still with gigabit lan, decent onboard sound with S/PDIF headers that can connect to the video card, micro-atx form factor and a few usb slots where I can plug in IR blasters/ receivers, bluetooth dongles etc. Phew....
And then, after finding that ideal motherboard (which is jolly difficult because most sites don't allow you to search on the above criteria), I then go after the component cards which must, in turn, be linux/LMCE compatible if possible.
Am I over-complicating things? Is there an easier way to approach this. Any comments/ suggestion welcome.
I have to say, using this type of thought process it is no wonder I end up with a bunch of pieces that may or may not work and then I just do my best to make them work at the risk of getting the "why not just use a compatible bit of hardware" comment ;-) In some situations it may actually be easier to get an incompatible bit to work than to upset your whole selection process because the last piece is a problem !!