Introduction

The build process and thermal performance of a fanless Ivy Bridge HTPC was covered in detail last month. I had indicated that the piece would be the first of a three-part HTPC series. Today, we are looking at the second part of the series. My original intention was to present the HTPC oriented benchmarks and aspects of the PC as it was built in the first part.

After a few experiments, we had to do some updates to the build in terms of both hardware and software (OS). The first hint of trouble came when I was unable to reproduce the performance of the i7-3770K Ivy Bridge HTPC with respect to madVR despite having DRAM running at 1600 MHz instead of 1333 MHz. The second was more of a decision to test out what Windows 8 offers to HTPC users. As you will see in later sections, Windows 8 offers a host of advantages to the HTPC user while also presenting some roadblocks. 

In our initial build, we had avoided filling up the second DRAM slot because the DRAM heat sink ended up scraping against the capacitors in the Nano150 PSU. Unfortunately, this meant that we had halved the memory bandwidth available to the processor. madVR, in particular, is very sensitive to bandwidth constraints. We fixed this by deciding to allow the heat sink to touch the capacitors and ended up increasing the installed memory from 4 GB to 8 GB. In order to install Windows 8, we added another SSD to the system and set the unit up in a dual boot configuration with both Windows 7 and Windows 8. We were able to perform sensible power consumption comparisons between the two operating systems in this scenario (same hardware and software configuration except for the OS itself).

In the rest of the piece, we will be looking at the general performance metrics, network streaming performance (Netflix and YouTube), refresh rate handling, HTPC decoding and rendering benchmarks for various combinations of decoders and renderers and revisit the power consumption and thermal profile of the system. Before proceeding further, the table below summarizes the hardware and software configuration of the unit under consideration.

Ivy Bridge Passive HTPC Configuration
Processor Intel Ivy Bridge Core i3-3225
(2 x 3.30 GHz, 22nm, 3MB L2, 55W)
Motherboard Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe
Memory 2 x 4GB DDR3-1600 [ G-Skill Ares F3-2133C9Q-16GAB ]
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4000
650 MHz / 1.15 GHz (Turbo)
Disk Drive(s) Corsair F120 120 GB SSD
OCZ Vertex 2 128 GB SSD
Optical Drive Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo (Philips Lite-On DL-4ETS)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
802.11b/g/n (5GHz/2.4GHz Dual-Band access) / Bluetooth 4.0 (2T2R Broadcom BCM43228 in AzureWave AW-NB111H)
Audio Microphone and headphone/speaker jacks
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (optical SPDIF/HDMI)
Operating Systems Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Windows 8 Professional x64

 

General Performance Metrics
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  • Gigaplex - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    It's usually pretty good with the proprietary NVIDIA drivers. Other platforms, not so much, you're generally better off with Windows in terms of performance. Reply
  • powerarmour - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Pretty good with the Intel Mesa drivers too, VA-API is quite well supported now, especially in XBMC. Reply
  • Fx1 - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    Home Theatre PC? LOL

    My Panasonic GT50 will play MKV ripped full 45gb Blu rays right off a HDD without problem

    i have netflix and a ton of other video stuff right on the TV.

    I fail to see why you would spend any money on a HTPC any more.
    Reply
  • Bob Todd - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    Your Plasma TV has built in CableCard tuners and terabytes of storage for DVR duty? CableCard leases are usually ~$2 a month vs. ~$10-20 a month for DVRs from your cable company. It's easy to have 8+ HD tuners with basically limitless storage with WMC. HTPCs can be a lot more than glorified media streamers, and your TV doesn't come anywhere close to fulfilling all of the use cases a HTPC can. Reply
  • Fx1 - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    For a start the UK doesnt suffer your cable company issues. We have 2 providers that are not that expensive and include DVR for FREE. Plus you can connect a 2TB HDD to the TV and play Blu ray rips and record like a DVR on the same drive. God knows why you would want to store all those TV shows anyway they are pretty much on every torrent website anyway. Quite frankly a HTPC in this era just isnt worth the money. No matter how you spin it Reply
  • ganeshts - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    Problems start cropping up when the decoder in your GT50 refuses to play the MKV off the torrent site.

    I bet your GT50 doesn't do HD audio bitstreaming, and I am pretty sure the online experience (quick check up of something on the browser or automatic metadata downloading) doesn't work out to be the same as that of a HTPC.

    Even without using tuners, I would recommend going the HTPC route if you can afford it.
    Reply
  • jeffkibuule - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    I just recently ran into the problem where my Samsung TV would play some, but not all MKVs I've downloaded. Plus, the interface for playing video files on a NAS is terrible on all devices. Pretty much any app is better. UI, metadata, and remembering how much of a video you played is just as important as being able to watch a video. Reply
  • Bob Todd - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    DVRs usually aren't really "free", they just increase the package price to compensate. My HTPC has already paid for itself and is now saving me money every single month. That isn't "spin", it's just a fact. And your entire post is ludicrous considering you are pointing out geographical differences and that your situation doesn't match everyone else's, then turn around and say nobody has a reason to have a HTPC. Your provider gives as many DVRs as you want for free? Here some providers include one "for free" but the package is really another ~$20 a month vs. leasing a CableCard. And every 2nd/3rd/4th DVR or STB you need is more money out the window every single month. It cracks me up how myopic people like you can be and how you think your single use case applies to everyone on the planet. Reply
  • Fx1 - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    Our 1TB DVR is free and quite honestly not that much of a big deal. There must be some weird American obsession with recording tv shows that the rest of the world doesn't share. To build a pc for the sole purpose is pretty extreme.

    Also I have yet to have an mkv that won't play on the Panasonic tv. I was surprised myself but really this review just shows how a htpc is just an excuse to build a pc
    Reply
  • philipma1957 - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    WELL I don't think that I am obsessed.
    I record Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon , Craig Ferguson and I record Saturday Night Live. That is about 21.5 hours of tv a week. Now Sometimes they are repeats and sometimes they are lousy . So I don't watch 21.5 hours each week. They also run at 1130 pm to 130 am and they compete for time.

    The bottom line is I need 2 tuners and 2 dvrs to do this. Why is that> I use 100 percent free tv with an antenna. So my cost is that of a pair of mac minis and a pair of eyetv tuners.

    Watching these via the net results in poor quality video due to my net connection . No matter what I would pay for a net connection the best is that of optimum online 15 down 2 up speed . Now if I buy the cheapest cablevision for tv my 50 dollar net fee bundles with cable tv basic . I go to 64 plus 6 for each box is 76 plus 6 for each dvd is 88. So to be able to time manage my tv via cable it is 38 a month. vs 0 I have had some type of dvd/vcr for 20 years do the math. more then 9000 saved.
    Reply

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