Over the last two years, the launch of every major desktop CPU family from both AMD and Intel has been accompanied by a dedicated HTPC-oriented article. This coverage has been complementary to Anand's extensive analysis from a general computing perspective. Haswell will be no different.  The advancements made from Llano to Trinity and from Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge had rendered entry level platforms good enough for casual / mainstream HTPC users. Advanced users still require discrete GPUs for using some video renderers and obtaining accurate display refresh rates. Each vendor has their own quirks when it comes to driver features and stability. This has made it difficult to declare any one solution as the perfect HTPC platform. Intel has hyped up improved GPU performance in the lead up to Haswell.

Has Intel improved the GPU performance and video-centric features enough to make discrete GPUs redundant for HTPCs? More importantly, how much of an improvement do we have over the HD4000 in Ivy Bridge? This question will be looked at from multiple angles in the course of this review. We will determine whether the shortcomings of Ivy Bridge (rendering benchmarks and refresh rate support, primarily) have been addressed. Also of importance are the HTPC configuration options, stability and power efficiency.

In this review, we present our experience with low-power desktop Haswell as a HTPC platform. We have listened to feedback from our earlier HTPC reviews at launch time and made efforts to source a low power CPU suitable for HTPC duties. In earlier HTPC reviews put out at launch time, we used the highest end CPU sampled by Intel / AMD. This time around, thanks to ASRock, we managed to get hold of an Intel Core i7-4765T CPU along with their mini-ITX motherboard, the Z87E-ITX.

In the first section, we tabulate our testbed setup and detail the tweaks made in the course of our testing. A description of our software setup and configuration is also provided. Following this, we cover the video post processing options provided by the Intel drivers. A small section devoted to the custom refresh rates is followed by some decoding and rendering benchmarks. No HTPC solution is completely tested without looking at the network streaming capabilities with respect to some of the popular OTT (over-the-top) services. 4K is the next major upgrade stop for the casual HTPC user. Haswell does have 4K display support and we will have a dedicated section to see how well it works. We are finally at a point where GPU encoders have become stable and popular enough for mainstream open source projects to utilize. A section is devoted to Handbrake's integration of QuickSync capabilities. In the final section, we cover miscellaneous aspects such as power consumption and then proceed to the final verdict.

Testbed and Software Setup
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  • jhoff80 - Sunday, June 02, 2013 - link

    This article and the power consumption stats just make me wish that Intel would just make it easier to get a hold of their -T chips for end users. A 35W or 45W chip would be great for me, but the only thing that has full retail availability is the 65W one. (And it's not because it's so early in launch, it's always been way too difficult to get -T versions.) Reply
  • EnzoFX - Sunday, June 02, 2013 - link

    Not to mention expensive! You get the same results by undervolting/underclocking, typically. Reply
  • Laststop311 - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    You are correct in a way but you could undervolt the T series as well and get better thermal performance then the 65 watt version. atleast that is my experience. If i was making an HTPC i would use the i7-4770t or the i7-4650t if thats the equivalent of the i7-3770t this year. The power consumption is amazing and proper 24hz is great for 1080p24 playback. upgrade to the htpc just isn't in my budget right now and ivy bridge + gt 660 isnt a bad htpc. MY PC budget is going to an ultrabook upgrade this year. The increased battery life and performance is insane. i7-980x desktop still does not have a large enough upgrade to make it worth it. Ivy bridge-E is not THAT much faster and I dont think even haswell-e next year will be enough to upgrade the desktop. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, June 04, 2013 - link

    "but you could undervolt the T series as well and get better thermal performance then the 65 watt version."
    Not to the same extent. The T series will already be driving much tighter voltages than normal SKUs. While you may save 15% power consumption by undervolting normal SKUs, undervolting already power efficient SKUs would result in sub 5% probably.
    Reply
  • vnangia - Sunday, June 02, 2013 - link

    Well, it helps that there are 35W parts this time around - at least on the timeline. IVB didn't get any 35W parts, so the HTPC is still on SNB, and yeah, I could definitely use the incremental improvements to QuickSync. Reply
  • jhoff80 - Sunday, June 02, 2013 - link

    Yes, but I'm not talking about only 35W specific chips. The i7-3770T was just as difficult to get as any other -T series chip, because they don't sell them to end-users directly. Reply
  • vnangia - Sunday, June 02, 2013 - link

    I'm agreeing with you! What I was trying to say is, Intel did announce low-TDP SNB parts and delivered: SNB had a bunch of -T versions available to end-users at both low (G4xx, G5xxT, 2100T, 2120T) and high end (2390, 2500T). I bought my 2100T at Microcenter B&M for instance.

    By contrast, Intel didn't announce any end-user -T (and just a handful of -S) parts and we saw that IVB had virtually no -T parts available. I'm optimistic that now they've announced a few -T parts at the high end, we might actually see these materialize in the retail chain and hopefully it bodes well for -T parts at the low end.

    Fortunately (*knocks on wood*) the current SNB-based HTPC is still going strong, so I don't feel the need to upgrade. If and when I do, though, I expect that it won't be so clear cut - I may end up going with AMD's lineup, despite the relative paucity of AMD ITX boards.
    Reply
  • jhoff80 - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    Sorry, I must've misunderstood. Reply
  • Krysto - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    This is insane. Why use a $400 Intel Haswell media box for 4k video, when you can use the much cheaper and much more efficient Mali T622-based media boxes that should be appearing next year?

    http://blogs.arm.com/multimedia/977-a-new-branch-f...
    Reply
  • NirXY - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    "should be appearing next year" Reply

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