My Bulldozer HTPC Build

Posted by: Allen

My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 02/23/12 09:19 AM

Finally got an excuse to buy a Bulldozer CPU and HD7xxx GPU. Built a Home Theater PC (HTPC).

As usual, a verbose description of how it turned out. Maybe some parts will be of interest to folks like cjcrank who are looking for a new system.

System and delivered prices (used a lot of spare/leftover/experimental parts to keep it cheap – I give original price of spare parts all bought on sales):

CPU: FX-4100 4 core Bulldozer $100
Cooler: CoolerMaster 212 Spare part – $20
GPU: HD7750 (ASUS brand) $117
DRAM: 8GB DDR3 1600 Patriot $33
MB: ASRock 890GX Pro 3 UEFI AM3+ Spare part – $110
HD: Seagate 1TB 7200.12 Spare part – $60
OptD: LG BluRay player, DVD burner $40
PSU: PCP&C 750W Silencer (overkill) Spare part – $70
WiFi: Rosewill PCIe card Spare part – $15
Case: Antec 300 gamer case Spare part – $50
KB/Mouse: Microsoft Wireless Spare part – $45
Remote: Firefly Model R1000 Spare part – free

Total New $290
Grand Total $660 (including spare parts)

A spare copy of Windows 7 Upgrade originally $50 $710

Not a bad HTPC for the extra cost I paid – made affordable by using left over stuff. A hi-end gamer system would upgrade to FX8120 for $90 more and upgrade to HD7950 for $330 more (today – but these not on Sale today smile ). Thus a hi-end AMD Eyefinity capable gamer system based on the same parts bought all new on sale = total price probably under $1129. Personally, for hi-end system, I recommend ASUS or Gigabyte 990FX MB – a cheap one – have one of each in the house installed in Phenom II X6 systems smile

NOTES:

In practice, the Antek 300 case turned out better than I thought at first glance. I bought it on sale a while back, opened the box, and didn't like what I found. However, that was a too-hasty conclusion. Its well laid out. Thumb screws (for almost everything) are easy to use – virtually tool-less. Its fine for an HTPC or small gaming computer. However, the small fans are audible if they have to move a lot of air. Moreover, extra fans bring the price up. And, its a bit on the small side overall (good for HTPC). Still prefer HAF922 on super sale for an all-out gaming rig.

Used huey-Pro color calibrator. So, color/contrast balance is excellent. Best TV picture we've had. An advantage of HTPC (vs standard stand-alone HDTV) is the ability to use a color calibrator. With calibrated colors and HD7750, the 54” Panasonic plasma makes a very good computer monitor for day to day – even at closer distances – which it did not in my previous experiments.

Only need 300 to 400W PSU. But what I had “in stock” was a spare 750W CrossFire ready unit (taken out of my gaming system of a couple years ago).

Had to flash ASRock BIOS to get it to work. Used their procedure which FAILED. Needed to buy a new BIOS chip for $15 delivered – no hassle otherwise. In the future, I'll stick with ASUS and Gigabyte for the extra few dollars. Gigabyte has dual BIOS – just in case one's flash fails – so no worries.

FX4100 stable OC to 4.5GHz at 1.45V. AMD says one can get 4.6 on 4 cores and 5.0 on 2 cores. I believe that – as there seemed to be something left in the tank. Got 4.9 to POST – accidentally – didn't continue to try and get it stable due to risk to already installed full Windows 7 system and applications software (didn't want to have to reinstall all that). But, who knows – some folks do claim 5GHz for 8 Bulldozer cores on air. Anyhow, FX4100 is a “defective” FX81xx with 4 cores fused off – so, mine did well.

After experimenting with the high OC, I set FX4100 to 4.14GHz 1.4V and enabled Cool-n-Quiet for 24/7/365 HTPC use. Very conservative “day in day out” OC that should not cause “aging” of the CPU.

ASUS HD7750 stock clock 1GB GDDR5 graphics memory. The new AMD GPUs are great at Tessellation and Compute skills. Even this little one ran Heaven 2.5 benchmark smoothly at 1920x1080. Min visual FPS was about 20. 3DMark11 ran well but FPS not smooth enough (as expected with this 512 shader low-clocked card). Overall, HD7750 outperforms HD5770 and HD6770 in DX11 games according to on-line reviews.

FX4100 at 4.14GHz, Skyrim at 1920x1080, all in-game graphics maxed (except 0AA and 8AF), all Bethesda and 3d party “mega” textures installed: System gave over 20FPS minimum even in the slowest parts. No stutters or hesitations. Extremely playable with no down-side. Skyrim is CPU limited. Got the same performance after disabling 2 cores (i.e. ran Skyrim on 2 core CPU as an experiment). So, I conclude that the FX4100 can actually do the CPU job for most games – as most games use 2 or less cores. Don't recommend it though. Considering the total cost of a gamer system, go FX8120 – or FX8150 to hit the max possible OC.

Found a great OC article for AMD Bulldozer fans. Best single OC “how to” I've personally read:

http://www.overclock.net/t/1140459/bulld...-results-coming

Found Prime95 can be flaky as a Bulldozer stress test during OC procedure. Learned about “Intel Burn Test” in above article and used it for stress testing. Claims to be a tougher test than Prime95 (don't know if that's true). Final OC also tested with Prime95 for 3 hours.

The HTPC performs its function. I'll say a bit more for anyone interested in HTPC (don't claim to be an expert).

We use a Ceton InfiniTV PCIe tuner card (~$250 on sale). It has 4 tuners that can be used independently to watch and/or record 4 HDTV cable channels at once. It uses a “cable card” which costs just under $3 a month to rent. That's the total added cost of using the Ceton tuner. We have Time/Warner cable which does not charge per TV so is economical for a house with 6 TVs plus several computers that can be used to watch TV. We only have one “set top box” at $11 a month (“premium” channels included in price) and the Ceton tuner at $3 (which also includes premium channels) to cover “everything” (of course, we pay a base rate of around $60 in addition).

The Ceton tuner self-integrates “seamlessly” with Windows 7 Media Center – and is used via Media Center. A show recorded on one computer can be watched on any other computer or HTPC in the house. Media Center manages the recorded video sharing transparently – just go to Media Center recorded video page that lists all the recordings on all the computers in the house – then click to watch any one you want regardless of where it is. Exception, some DRMd shows need to be watched on the recording computer – which is why we spread the tuner “assignments” around. The 4 Ceton tuners are independently “assignable” to any computer on the home LAN. My wife has 2 assigned to her office computer (she likes to do fun-work and watch TV, records a couple shows a day). I have one tuner assigned to my gaming rig (in my office) – tuner rarely used. One tuner assigned to the new HTPC which is used with a Panasonic 54” plasma 1920x1080 – will be recording daily.

“Old” Firefly remote works well with fresh software download. Integrates “automatically/seamlessly” with Media Center. Also operates PC mouse, etc. Still selling one that looks like this one I got for free (with some other items).

The total HTPC system works for cable HDTV, movie disks, and, apparently, for games.

In summary, FX4100 can actually be a gaming CPU on a budget – but needs OC. HD7750 is a real step up in an inexpensive GPU. Ceton “cable card” 4 channel Tuner works with Windows Media Center “seamlessly and transparently” across many computers on a LAN.

Well, there it is – verbose as usual. A few facts and thoughts about my HTPC build. Hopefully, some of them will be of interest to Gamers considering a new system.


Here's the obligatory photo of the insides.




Here is the HTPC in our TV room -- on top of the far right side of the cabinet (watching Golf Channel via Ceton tuner). Setup also includes: Hi-fidelity 7.1 surround with Polk speakers (surround speakers are 8" woofer) sounds as good/loud as theater, a Wii gaming system, and other stuff expected in a TV room. My wife and I and Grandkids use this room (guests are entertained elsewhere).


Posted by: SkateZilla

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 02/23/12 10:48 AM

Nice, I currently use my system for everything (Games, Editing, and TV), as I have a ClearQAM tuner in it.

Might look at the Ceton tuner to drop my 2 Cable DVRs (totaling $39/month Rent/DVR Serv. Fee), and trade it for a $4.99 cable card fee.
I would be able to set it up so I can access 1 Tuner on my PC, another on my brother's, another on my parents laptop, while still being able to hook it to the TV in the mainroom.


Did you notice any type of VDroop on the FX CPU?, mine seems to have a Vdroop issue that i havent been able to resolve without being overly aggressive with the LLC or Vcore settings in the bios, whenever I launch a full load Program, after a minute at 100% total CPU usage the VCore starts to drop and gets to below 1v, and the CPU throttles back to maintain stability. Im also going to look at some other things in the BIOS, as I think it might be AMDs APM doing this, to stay under the 125w limit of their junk cooler. I think i idle close to that with all the cores on (not parked).

Posted by: fatty

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 02/23/12 11:07 AM

How's the fan noise when the system's under load with a Blu-Ray or something similar?
Posted by: Allen

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 02/23/12 02:43 PM

As my setup has been running a day and a half in completed form, something unexpected may happen. I may have to update my thoughts at some point.

Today, I'm watching the Golf World Matchplay Championship for a few hours using the HTPC and the Panasonic plasma (rather than the set top box provided by Time/Warner). So, my wife's computer has the tuner. The signal travels by Ethernet cable to the router. Then, it travels wirelessly to the HTPC (only about 8 feet through a wall).

Regarding and in answer to above:

Ceton warns that using wireless may result in picture corruption -- due to poor signal or interference from other wireless devices. I noticed that I got occasional corruption when the signal was 4 (out of 5) bars in my basement work area. If I absolutely have to, I can "hard wire" the HTPC to the LAN. Right now, its working fine since the transmitter is close and the signal strong.

I read that the computer with the Ceton 4 tuners, ideally should have one core and 1GB RAM per tuner. My wife's computer is a Phenom II X6 1090T at stock clocks with 8GB.

Did not see voltage droop. Or had it but did not know it. Did have to use Intel Burn Test in place of Prime95 during initial OC testing. The voltage did jump around with Prime95. But, that seemed to be due to the system up and down clocking as threads initiated and stopped.

Fans audible in a quiet room -- but not aggravating. Don't get louder running DVD. The Bluray drive when running at top speed is the loudest thing I've ever heard inside a computer. But, it does not run at top speed playing DVD. Have not tried Bluray, yet. All in all, I think I can set the fans to be quieter in BIOS and do not expect the HTPC to get noisy at any point in actual use. I'm watching golf now. In the next day or two, if nothing goes wrong, I'll mess with the fan speeds.

As alluded above, all in all, I don't hear the fans in use. However, I think they should be quieter. I used up all my quiet 120mm fans -- didn't have enough for the HTPC. I'm thinking of buying some for the HTPC. Bigger fans would be better -- big is quiet. But, only 120mm fit in the diminutive Antec 300 case.
Posted by: Allen

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 02/23/12 06:40 PM

Update:

Since SkateZilla indicated interest in using the Ceton on multiple computers, tried all 4 Ceton tuners simultaneously (not the way we ever intended to run). Wife's PC with the Ceton tuner -- watch one channel while recording a second channel. My PC watch a third channel. HTPC watch a forth channel.

Result: Slight image defect (a thin horizontal line of breakup) every so often on the HTPC (wireless connection) -- sometimes 10 to 15s apart. Sometimes a couple minutes. Watched that way all afternoon. Would not really bother me -- but, would bother someone wanting perfection. Other two PCs (hard wired) had much fewer defects -- actually didn't see any on one PC.

As each tuner was "turned off", the occasional image defect on the HTPC happened less often. Just turning off one channel on my wife's machine, nearly eliminated the defects (but not completely). At the end running only the HTPC, there were no image defects noticed over a 15 minute period.

In addition to stress on the LAN or PCs being the cause, we have over a dozen wireless items in the house that may be causing interference. Don't know where the issue is coming from or if it can be "fixed". May or may not happen with someone else's system.

So, Ceton works well. But, with 4 channels tuned simultaneously across 3 PCs, its not literally perfect. Beauty in the eye of the beholder smile
Posted by: SkateZilla

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 02/23/12 11:13 PM

Can i get a Link to the Intel Burn-In App.
Posted by: Allen

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 02/24/12 07:02 AM

Intel Burn Test by AgentGOD

A thread started by the author with a link to his/her program. Apparently, V2.53 is the latest as of December.
Posted by: Allen

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 02/29/12 06:33 AM

Ceton 4-tuner cards have dropped in price. Both the PCIe version and the USB version are $199 at Amazon. They were $300 not so long ago. Competition has increased and one can get cheaper Cable Card tuners now. However, the cost per tuner seems to be around $50 per internal tuner (Ceton cards have 4 tuners). Ceton is the "Cadillac" according to a Time/Warner cable person I spoke with. Worth the extra cost, to me. Competition is good smile

If someone is considering that route: The Ceton tuner works, installs easily, and mates with Media Center easily.

HOWEVER, the Cable Companies apparently sell very few cable cards -- so the Cable Companies do NOT know what they're doing.

Getting the cable card to work right can take a few phone calls to the Cable Company. I was one of the "first" with Time/Warner, and I've spent literally hours on the phone with them. The last time they were much more efficient. Time/Warner does try to make it easy and gives you a great package for self installation (includes a free "tuning adapter" box -- looks very expensive). However, getting it to hook up can take a half hour or more on the phone with a (very friendly and wanting to help) Time/Warner representative -- who has to set things up on their end. Should only take about 5 minutes. Maybe by now, that's all it does take at Time/Warner. User comments indicate cable-card-setup efficiency has been rare at any Cable Company. Hopefully, that will change with time for the better.
Posted by: Allen

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 03/04/12 03:51 PM

Update:

I changed some things around. As I hate "loose ends", here's a short update.

Wanted to update Exercise Room HTPC. Decided Antec 300 case was best for that.

So, I took the subject TV Room HTPC apart and put the TV Room parts in a Rosewill Challenger gaming case. I also changed the 750W PSU to a 630W Antec PSU (that I had overlooked when I was putting the original HTPC together).

Here's the New TV Room HTPC Rosewill case in place (watching golf again).




Used the Antec case to update the Exercise room HTPC (Phenom II dual-core, HD5450 video card, ATI Theater 650 tuner).




FWIW, another view of the Exercise Room. Early in my life, "power building" was my main sport. Biking came into play. Now, its relatively light weights, ballroom dance competitions (International Standard style), and golf. Been seriously exercising over 50 years -- newest piece of equipment is over 10 years old -- oldest over 50 years old.




All in all, I now recommend the Rosewill Challenger gaming case at $55 delivered as the cheapest good case (I have two). And, I still like the $80 (on sale) Coolermaster HAF922 (with an extra side door 200mm fan -- $16 on sale) as the all out gaming case (I have three).
Posted by: SkateZilla

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 03/04/12 04:01 PM

same case I bought for my brother's system, nice for $50.
Posted by: SkateZilla

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 03/08/12 09:13 PM

in a few months i wil most likely be building 1 master Tuner box.

as COX is about to raise rates again, and im paying out $40 for 2 DVRs that have limited space and Tuning ability.
(only 2 tuners in each box, limited to 160GB in each box (limited by Cox in the Firmware, expansion ports are disabled)

I will prolly be building one with the Ceton Tuner (4 tuner w/ Cable Card), and set it up with a smaller water cooler, and put it next to the main TV in the Living Room/Den, from there My PC and my brother's will use the tuner via Networked Tuner (GBit/LAN) So I'll bite the price of building a 4 or 6 core PC for like $500, and drop $42.50 for 2/dvrs for a $4.99 Cable Card charge, and also have the ability to tune directly on my PC instead of being forced to the 2 tvs with DVRs, the 2nd HDTV is in the secondary/back Den where my brother's PC is, it'll be no problem moving HDMI from his Screen to the HDTV's when he wants to watch TV. Also will only be limited to space on the HDD, which will prolly be 1TB or 1.5TB.
Posted by: Allen

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 03/08/12 09:50 PM

We're happy with our setup.

The configuration we've been using almost since the beginning:

Wife's system has Ceton tuner with 2 tuners assigned to her computer. TV room HTPC has one tuner assigned -- used with plasma HDTV. My gaming system (one I'm on now) has one tuner assigned (rarely used). We can use all 4 tuners at once -- and we have.

As I mentioned above, occasional split-second artifacts in a picture -- particularly the computer connected using WiFi when the other tuners are also in use. They're normally a thin band that flashes across the screen for a second -- and they're a similar color to the image on the screen (like momentary scrambled pixels) so they don't "glare" at you. I'm to the point that I tune the occasional artifact out of my mind -- they were never a distraction to me.

I notice the Ceton price dropped to $200. They also have a USB box in place of the card also for $200 last time I looked. I'm sure it tries to work the same as the card; but, I don't own one so I don't know how well. Time/Warner cable was specifically set up for Ceton on their web page -- and a customer service person I worked with indicated it was a good unit in their opinion.

The issue is set up. Should be easy -- run Ceton software and it integrates with Media Center. But, Time/Warner had me going in circles on their end. Eventually, as mentioned above, they supplied a standard installation package with a tuning-adapter that works with 4 tuners simultaneously (no extra cost or hidden cost -- $3 a month total cost for the cable card). They were friendly over the phone but were confused on their end during activation. Hopefully, your cable company will make things less time consuming. I notice in customer comments that a lot of people have the same issue getting that first setup in place.

Repeating, overall, we're quite satisfied -- my wife loves it -- I'm sure she's watching right now on her system smile
Posted by: Moses

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 03/08/12 11:20 PM

what are the videos encoded too AVI? MP4?
Posted by: Allen

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 03/09/12 07:06 AM

They are encoded to wtv. wtv has a strong DRM that no one seems to have cracked for the public.

Most of the good stuff is DRMd. For example, if its something you can buy on a DVD or BluRay, its probably DRMd (e.g. movies and prime time series are DRMd, not sports usually). So, one can watch DRM only on the computer where it was recorded. You can move the DRM file to another computer, but it won't play. You can try to stream it using Media Center, but it won't play. Only way to play DRM content on another computer or TV in another room is with an "extender box" (XBox functions as an extender) or a long HDMI or DVI connector from the GPU to the monitor or TV.

Thus, the Ceton tuner comes with 4 tuners. Each tuner can be assigned to a different computer (even though the card is in only one computer). That way each computer in the house (up to 4), can record and playback the "good stuff".

Many daily shows are NOT DRMd and can be copied, moved, or streamed to other computers. Watching those on other computers is VERY easy because Media Center is designed to watch media located on other computers on the LAN. Those are also in wtv format -- but the DRM is not active. Those can be easily converted from wtv to AVI or MPG with free converter software.
Posted by: SkateZilla

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 03/09/12 09:31 AM

I’m looking at prices and making a "wishlist" on new egg, im at about $540 ish,
The main board I chose has an onboard GPU, but i dont know if it will be strong enough to do HDTV streams.

this prolly wont happen till summer, as Im still working on finishing my system (the rest of the screens etc). and I need a new TV for the living area anyway.

But one $500 unit controlling 4 tuners, I'll make that price up in a year of not having to pay $42 for the 2 Motorola boxes.

I dont think any tuners will be in use for WiFi, i may assign 2 tuners to the living area TV, and 1 to each PC on the GBLan/Router.
We have an Xbox 360 hooked to another TV on the same router that we can use as an extender.

As for Artifacts, I get those aplenty with the Motorola boxes we have now, a few channels have been unwatchable for almost a year now, but cox says the signal levels are fine, and My tests say the same thing, But These boxes have been part of Cox’s fleet since 2004, and I seriously doubt a Firmware update will make S.D.V. work on them as sometimes the channels work, but most of the time the Motorola Box says they are off air or they show like 1 frame with a scrambled image.

Cox has been promising to activate the eSATA/USB2 ports for years to be used as external storage, but it never happens. They've switched the On Screen guide provider at least 3 times since 2008.

I'd be happy with Windows Media Center Guide, and have Internet TV, Live TV, Recorded TV on 1 system.


Posted by: SkateZilla

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 03/09/12 09:48 AM

Then Again, they have these coming out soon:

http://www.engadget.com/2012/01/10/ceton-announces-multi-room-dvr-and-echo-extender-hands-on/


Main Box, 6 Tuners
http://cetoncorp.com/products/ceton_q/

Media Extenders:
http://cetoncorp.com/products/echo/
Posted by: Allen

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 03/09/12 09:51 AM

I've usually bought MB with on board video (can't get on board video with 9xx series chips).

On board video does work with TV in my experiments (many games are slide-shows). I have read that on board cannot provide the highest level of Blu-ray -- which seems to need the decoding speed provided by a separate video HD5xxx and above card. Blu-Ray plays, but features of the codec may not all be available. So, those with golden eyes might be disappointed with on board video when playing the highest resolution movies. I have not tried Blu-Ray with on board video.

On two of our HDTV, to cover myself, I simply bought the cheapest AMD HD5xxx graphics card on sale ($30 to $50 -- now one would be looking at HD6xxx). The most recent HTPC, I splurged on the HD7750.

P.S. That Ceton product looks interesting. Hopefully, the technology will continue to improve.
Posted by: SkateZilla

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 03/09/12 10:13 AM

it looks good, but determining factor is price, if its over $500 then i can just build my own.

funny, when i posted on cox's boards my plans, they were the ones that recommended the Ceton Q/Echo boxes.

The Q is the main box w/ 6 tuners, Windows Media Center Core, 2TB HDD, BluRay Player etc.

The Echo is the Extender that works with Live TV and Recorded shows,

the Q and Echo's both Link with any available Windows 7 PCs Libraries.
Posted by: Allen

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 03/11/12 10:57 AM

Tried Blu-Ray yesterday (watched a recent movie on our 54" Plasma). Looks just as good as playing it with our Panasonic Blu-Ray player -- directly to the Panasonic Plasma.

Used the PowerDVD 9 software that came free with the LG Blu-Ray DVD optical drive. No problem.

LG Blu-Ray Optical Drive

The drive only cost me $40 delivered because of a $10 "promo", a $10 gift card, and free shipping that day. Bargain of the century (slightly exaggerated smile ) for an HTPC optical drive. Even at the regular price, I think its worth it (not selling them smile ).
Posted by: SkateZilla

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 03/28/12 02:23 PM


is there an online guide for setting tuners to the LAN on the USB Version?
(EDIT: Found the PDFs on Ceton's Site......)





Posted by: JAMF

Re: My Bulldozer HTPC Build - 03/28/12 05:27 PM

How i would welcome a hardware tuner. But for cable in the Netherlands, there are only software tuners (Like the AnySee E30TC Plus). sigh