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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  • damianrobertjones - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    It's hardly difficult to use Windows 8! Heck a few of the ladies in work purchased laptops for their kids over xmas with Windows 8 and they're having no issues.... WHy are you??? Makes no sense at all
  • lotharamious - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    No real useful advantages. But, it's $40. Oh yeah, and new task manager, new file copy dialog, storage spaces, data deduplication, WAY less naggy updates, fast boot (way faster than 7), extra dimension in your start menu for more stuff.

    Nothing at all.
  • ol1bit - Friday, January 25, 2013 - link

    My Win 7 HTPC works just fine with my network streaming Silcon Dust dual tuner.

    I rebuilt by gaming PC with Windows 8 and after a week I couldn't take it anymore, re-installed Win7-64bit.

    -Stupid UI
    -Dumbed down for Grandpa and Grandma
    - Stupid colors in office (aka none per se)
    - COD4 and older games don't work.

    Win7 has none of these issues, so if the only benefit I get is a netflix app that uses a tad less power, and a crappy UI forget it.
  • JlHADJOE - Sunday, January 27, 2013 - link

    "Fast boot" is fast because it changes normal shutdown to "hibernate".

    If you force the OS to do a proper reboot, there's no improvement over 7.
  • justniz - Monday, February 11, 2013 - link

    Actually you can do a lot more with Linux than just surf YT. Check out MythTV. It is a VERY capable PVR/HTPC suite.
    In my opinion, much better than any product available for windows, and free too.
  • SantaAna12 - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    Aii yii yii!

    No I dont have Windows Pro up!
  • a2f - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    Is there any way we could get a look at how you have configured the various settings for the LAV filters and madVR for our own personal testing?
  • Mangix - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    in regards to the refresh rate issue, which i am not too familiar with, have you tried modifying the EDID in the registry to help fix it?

  • dubya911 - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    How do the final capabilities of this compare to the plethora of android mini PCs floating around? Things like the MK802, G-Box etc seem to have a beta version of XBMC with network storage support now. Or if you want to move upscale a bit googleTV, Roku etc?

    Other than the fun of putting it together is there an upside? My napkin math puts this build north of $600. That is a lot of delta to make up.
  • edlee - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    You are absolutely right.

    I have a set up One Raid -5 Xeon E2-1235 file server with a bunch of different DLNA servers programs to work with different client devices.

    for example:

    PS3 media server for my PS3
    Servio for my Sony blu-ray players and smart tv devices
    Plex for my roku
    Qloud Media server for my android clients

    This way I dont have to setup an expensive HTPC in every watching location, and the Xeon e2-1235 is comparable to i7-2600 so it has all the processing power to handle video transcoding in software, until these apps update their encode engine to take advantage of quick sync.

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