Author Topic: Hardware spec questions  (Read 1436 times)

jamo

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Hardware spec questions
« on: May 29, 2012, 09:24:48 am »
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
    • 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?
    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.
    Thoughts?
    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 !!
 

posde

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Re: Hardware spec questions
« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2012, 08:09:35 pm »
Go and get something from Dianemo (if you are in Europe) or from lmcecompatible.com (if you are in the North America)

jamo

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Re: Hardware spec questions
« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2012, 09:32:42 pm »
Go and get something from Dianemo (if you are in Europe) or from lmcecompatible.com (if you are in the North America)
South Africa  ;)

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Re: Hardware spec questions
« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2012, 11:20:26 pm »
From my experience;

If you go with Intel, make sure the CPU is up to snuff. Atom N270s probably won't cut it, few Atom CPUs will, actually. Go for Dual Core or better, like i3 CPUs...

Capture is more a matter of needs vs. wants vs. opinions. I personally opted for HDHomeruns for ease of set up, and sticking exclusively with the QAM digital content my cable co. supplies. I set my digital channels like the analog channels for WAF...
See my User page on the LinuxMCE Wiki for a description of my system configuration (click the little globe under my profile pic).

jamo

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Re: Hardware spec questions
« Reply #4 on: May 30, 2012, 09:25:12 am »
Thanks, JaseP, useful comments.

Regarding the Atoms.... presumably these will be ok for just playback and you're referring to capture machines requiring something more beefy? I had a look at the HDHomeruns... nice piece of hardware but quite pricey!

I was also looking at the Hauppage colossus PCI card for capture. Anyone have any experience with that one? Search on wiki/forums came up blank.

JaseP

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Re: Hardware spec questions
« Reply #5 on: May 30, 2012, 05:12:39 pm »
Atom N270s? Nope. Play back is subject to occasional stutter,... worse with Live TV. I suppose an Atom D510 could hold up (true dual core, and multi threaded), but your mileage may vary... Caveat emptor. Note though that an Atom N270 is largely OK with VLC playback. I, however, have not attempted to sub in VLC playback in any capacity.

If you want reliable performance with an Intel chipset, go with Dual Core or i3 ( or greater, if it's a supported graphic chipset). Best support would be found with the highest performing chipsets that are 2-5 years old.

Oh, and the newer low end HDHomeruns have 2 digital tuners per channel, and a retail of about $130 US, or $65 per tuner. Theoretically, you can get multiple streams per digital channel (say, 66-02, 66-12, at the same time). I haven't attempted that either. Small too,... fit in the palm of your hand...
« Last Edit: May 30, 2012, 05:23:37 pm by JaseP »
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purps

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Re: Hardware spec questions
« Reply #6 on: May 30, 2012, 07:50:00 pm »
I haven't read your whole post, but anyway...

Avoid hybrids, it means disturbing whatever is playing when you (inevitably) tinker with it. Get a dedicated core, and have low-power MDs (like atoms for example, some nice fanless ones out there) coming off that. I use gash PCs built from old bits in workshops, garage, etc as well.

As for choosing hardware, bog-standard is good. Cheap(ish) is good. Keep it simple, don't go for crazy motherboards with rocket launchers and flame-throwers, LMCE doesn't need it.

It's all AM3 processors and DDR3 RAM these days, so go for that. Assuming you are installing 1004 (you should), then most stuff should work. Cheapish dual cores or cheapEST quad core will do you, I've always used AMD. Cheap cases as well (I put the core where nobody can see it).

Also check out the user setup pages on the wiki.

Cheers,
Matt.
1004 RC :: looking good :: upgraded 01/04/2013
my setup :: http://wiki.linuxmce.org/index.php/User:Purps

jamo

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Re: Hardware spec questions
« Reply #7 on: May 30, 2012, 10:05:36 pm »
I haven't read your whole post, but anyway...
lazy  ;)

Thanks for the thoughts. I echo most of the sentiment. I do have my hidden-away 10.04 core running quite nicely now but the reason I'm tinkering on the MD side is I'm trying to look at what sort of setup a less geeky person (than me, not you) might have- LMCE is all about devices, right, and what kind of lunatic has a server closet in his home? So if my father in law wants a setup, for example, I can't tell him to go "reboot the core"... no telling what he'll get up to. He needs a machine that sits next to the TV to put his beer on.

I digress...
Anyway, what *is* interesting is that you are pushing AMD.... which I haven't really looked at but will. And that, contrary to JaseP's previous quote, you seem to think Atoms will handle as MDs no sweat. Hmmmm.

JaseP

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Re: Hardware spec questions
« Reply #8 on: May 31, 2012, 01:58:27 am »
I have a server closet in my home,... .what are you saying?!?!

By the way, with regards to Atoms,... There's a lot of difference between Atom CPUs there,... And a glut of the single core versions out there,.., easier just to avoid them... I DID say that a D510 could probably handle use as an MD. But wiki the Atom processors for a comparison. It's telling that there are 32 bit, 64 bit, multithreaded, multiple core, and various clock speeds out there. .that's why I said Caveat Emptor.
« Last Edit: May 31, 2012, 02:07:05 am by JaseP »
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golgoj4

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Re: Hardware spec questions
« Reply #9 on: May 31, 2012, 02:20:15 am »
lazy  ;)

Thanks for the thoughts. I echo most of the sentiment. I do have my hidden-away 10.04 core running quite nicely now but the reason I'm tinkering on the MD side is I'm trying to look at what sort of setup a less geeky person (than me, not you) might have- LMCE is all about devices, right, and what kind of lunatic has a server closet in his home? So if my father in law wants a setup, for example, I can't tell him to go "reboot the core"... no telling what he'll get up to. He needs a machine that sits next to the TV to put his beer on.

I digress...
Anyway, what *is* interesting is that you are pushing AMD.... which I haven't really looked at but will. And that, contrary to JaseP's previous quote, you seem to think Atoms will handle as MDs no sweat. Hmmmm.

As a former general contractor, server rooms / closets are _not_ uncommon in todays increasingly connected homes. At a minimum, newer homes and bigger remodels tend to incorporate a communications panel tucked away in a closet where all the centralized drops arrive. I have installed a couple myself, and seen the larger installs on projects i was working on.

Also, my amd runs just fine. its shouldnt have much to do if you have a quality video card.
-golgoj4
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l3mce

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Re: Hardware spec questions
« Reply #10 on: May 31, 2012, 02:35:46 am »
I run an nVidia ion1 MD.
Performs flawlessly. VDPAU, HD, Myth... dunno why anyone should expect any issues.
I never quit... I just ping out.

jamo

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Re: Hardware spec questions
« Reply #11 on: May 31, 2012, 09:00:54 am »
Thanks for the comments guys, this is the kind of thing I want to hear.

JaseP, you're not a geek. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. And I hear your warning about Atoms and Atoms....

GolgoJ- good to  know that in the rest of the world this is happening and I thnk we'll catch up here in Africa too. I'm coming out- I have a server closet!!! But one of the many awesome things about LMCE (to me) is the scalability of the system. For those that don't, it can still work and work well! Enjoy your comments about letting the discrete cards do the work as well. That makes sense too.

l3: don't use yourself as an example- you could make a commodore 64 play 1080p with sound over HDMI....

Keep em coming. Any other h/w setup comments welcome.

purps

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Re: Hardware spec questions
« Reply #12 on: May 31, 2012, 10:05:16 pm »
lazy  ;)

Thanks for the thoughts. I echo most of the sentiment. I do have my hidden-away 10.04 core running quite nicely now but the reason I'm tinkering on the MD side is I'm trying to look at what sort of setup a less geeky person (than me, not you) might have- LMCE is all about devices, right, and what kind of lunatic has a server closet in his home? So if my father in law wants a setup, for example, I can't tell him to go "reboot the core"... no telling what he'll get up to. He needs a machine that sits next to the TV to put his beer on.

I digress...
Anyway, what *is* interesting is that you are pushing AMD.... which I haven't really looked at but will. And that, contrary to JaseP's previous quote, you seem to think Atoms will handle as MDs no sweat. Hmmmm.

I've always used AMD, more "bang for your buck" in my opinion. However I do use atoms as MDs which are intel of course. I always get dual core, I always get nVidia ion (has to be really), and I always get 2 GB RAM (and dedicate 512MB to graphics).

And I've got a server cupboard in my new place as well, it's the only way!

Cheers,
Matt.
1004 RC :: looking good :: upgraded 01/04/2013
my setup :: http://wiki.linuxmce.org/index.php/User:Purps

l3mce

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Re: Hardware spec questions
« Reply #13 on: May 31, 2012, 11:42:41 pm »
I will tell you this... working from the graphics detection side of things for a while now...

Outside of the latest sandy bridge stuff... the intel graphics with the latest acceleration compliment is awesome. My archaic crap runs UI2 flawlessly. My newer intel stuff runs flawlessly and faster than my tried and true nvidia stuff.

nVidia has a lot of overhead not experienced by the intel stuff. Working on the backend... I am becoming a fast convert to intel fanboidom... now that we can use it :)

And for the record, I have never had to massage the ion1 at all... it just rocked out with its cock out by plugging it in and setting it to use vdpau in web admin.

If JaseP has encountered issues it would be my suspicion that EITHER he did not set vdpau in webadmin/media directors or he chose nvidia tnt2 or whatever over "standard video card" in webadmin/media directors.

I am not sure WHY this intuitive selection results in poor performance, but it does. It is my habit to disable the screensaver, because it is just a resource hog, but it runs without a hitch on that silly little Acer Revo 1600r

JaseP should drop into chat sometime.
I think things we would come to a less tentative relationship if he did. Limiting our interaction to 12 or so posts leaves a lot of misunderstanding in its wake, and he is a very smart guy who has helped me immeasurably, whether he knows it or not.

I think he thinks I don't like him, because I get frustrated at certain posts and have impulse control issues. I firmly believe he could be invaluable to the project if our conversations were not limited to misunderstandings.
« Last Edit: May 31, 2012, 11:52:00 pm by l3mce »
I never quit... I just ping out.

purps

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Re: Hardware spec questions
« Reply #14 on: June 01, 2012, 12:17:24 pm »
I will tell you this... working from the graphics detection side of things for a while now...

Outside of the latest sandy bridge stuff... the intel graphics with the latest acceleration compliment is awesome. My archaic crap runs UI2 flawlessly. My newer intel stuff runs flawlessly and faster than my tried and true nvidia stuff.

nVidia has a lot of overhead not experienced by the intel stuff. Working on the backend... I am becoming a fast convert to intel fanboidom... now that we can use it :)

And for the record, I have never had to massage the ion1 at all... it just rocked out with its cock out by plugging it in and setting it to use vdpau in web admin.

If JaseP has encountered issues it would be my suspicion that EITHER he did not set vdpau in webadmin/media directors or he chose nvidia tnt2 or whatever over "standard video card" in webadmin/media directors.

I am not sure WHY this intuitive selection results in poor performance, but it does. It is my habit to disable the screensaver, because it is just a resource hog, but it runs without a hitch on that silly little Acer Revo 1600r

JaseP should drop into chat sometime.
I think things we would come to a less tentative relationship if he did. Limiting our interaction to 12 or so posts leaves a lot of misunderstanding in its wake, and he is a very smart guy who has helped me immeasurably, whether he knows it or not.

I think he thinks I don't like him, because I get frustrated at certain posts and have impulse control issues. I firmly believe he could be invaluable to the project if our conversations were not limited to misunderstandings.

I haven't been following closely enough over the past few months it would seem - are you saying that intel GPUs are now the same, or better than nVidia? Do you have a thread dedicated to your intel GPU work?

Cheers,
Matt.

EDIT: Sorry, found it http://forum.linuxmce.org/index.php/topic,12458.0.html
1004 RC :: looking good :: upgraded 01/04/2013
my setup :: http://wiki.linuxmce.org/index.php/User:Purps