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    For quite a while now I have been enjoying my HTPC with everything working perfectly.  I finally got lossless audio (TrueHD and DTS-HD) as well as the Blu-Ray integration I was looking for, working the way I expect them to.  My HTPC has been the center of all my entertainment needs for quite some time and I consider it one of the more critical components of my audio/video setup.  When Intel released the Clarkdale platform, I was intrigued by the possibility that I could “streamline” and simplify my HTPC by utilizing the integration that this platform offered.  In theory I would use less power since it would not need the use of a discrete audio or video card.  Even though the Core I3 has a 73 watt TDP, that includes the CPU, Video, Audio, as well as the onboard controllers.  In addition, the possibility of a single driver would help simplify updating going forward.  Since I can never leave things well enough alone, I decided that it was time to upgrade my old HTPC and test out the latest technology to see if there was an overall benefit in several categories such as power consumption, performance, stability, and of course playback results as compared to my initial setup.  I was especially interested in verifying functionality now that Arcsoft had just released an update to TMT 3 that included support for the Clarkdale platform.  Specifically, TrueHD and DTS-HD pass-through to my receiver.

     

    Specs before upgrade

    Item Description
    Case Silverstone
    Mother board Gigabyte 965P-DS3
    CPU Core 2 Duo E6400
    Video Card nVidia GT 240
    Sound Card Asus Sonar HDAV1.3 Slim
    Memory 2 Gigs of DDR2
    Power Supply Thermaltake 600 Watt (4 Rail)
    Hard Drive OCZ Agility SSD (60 gig)
    DVD Pioneer BDC-202 Blu-Ray Player/DVD RW

    Specs after upgrade

    Item Description
    Case Silverstone
    Mother board Gigabyte H55M-S2H
    CPU Intel Core I3 - 530
    Memory 4 Gigs g.Skill 1600 DDR3
    Power Supply Cool Master Silent 600 (single rail)
    Hard Drive OCZ Agility SSD (60 gig)
    DVD Pioneer BDC-202 Blu-Ray Player/DVD RW

    Build Impressions

     

    As home builds go, this upgrade was fairly painless.  Having been a Gigabyte fan for more than 6 years now, I naturally chose one for my build.  I find that they provide the best value/performance/compatibility/features for your money.  Since this was an upgrade, I reused my existing Silverstone Case, my existing OCZ SSD, and my Pioneer Blu-Ray DVD player.  I attempted to reuse the existing power supply which was a Thermaltake 600 Watt multi 12V rail supply however as I have experienced many times before during upgrades or builds, the older multi-rail supplies simply do not work on Core IX products whether it is the I3, I5, and certainly the I7.  It does not seem to matter that the processor does not require much power, it just simply refuses to boot with some of the older supplies.  To be fair, most of the problem supplies have been from the older Thermaltake products, however I have seen it on others as well.  Do yourself a favor and get a power supply that is efficient and uses a single 12 Volt rail.  This will eliminate having problems upgrading or building up a Core IX system.  Once I replaced the supply everything came up, the system posted as expected.

     

    Windows Index HTPC

     

     

    Power Efficiency

    Before Upgrade After Upgrade
    Power at Idle 104 Watts 48 Watts
    Power under BD Playback 117 Watts 55 Watts

    Playback Impressions (stability, software, picture quality, and performance)

     

    It is nice to save power but how well does it work?  Despite being more power efficient as well as contain an onboard audio/video chip, the Core I3–530 is a more powerful and faster processor than the older E series chip that I removed from my system.  My overall impression was the system was more responsive, quicker in loading applications, and visually faster than it was before.  One of the critical things for me was whether or not it would handle TMT 3 since it is layered on top of WMC and allow for smooth Blu-Ray playback as that is mostly what I use it for.  Since support of the Clarkdale platform requires a patch from Arcsoft, I downloaded the patch and installed it.  Before going too much farther, I spent a little time adjusting the display graphics properties so that I could fine tune the scaling to match my plasma display (see screen shots below).  After the adjustments I went straight to a Blu-Ray movie to see how it would perform.  The Blu-Ray playback was very smooth and I had no issues with TMT 3 during the short time I have been testing it.  I also tested the upscaling of standard DVD’s and found it was outstanding.  Unlike my recent experience with current ATI cards, the upscaling of the Intel graphics was superb and showed none of the color washout that I saw on the ATI 5750 playing standard DVDs.  It was at least on par with current generation nVidia cards and possibly even better.  Navigation within WMC was also very fast and smooth.  Despite pulling content from two different WHS servers, scrolling through the menus, features, and browsing through all my content was very smooth and mostly lag free.

     

    Overall Value

     

    Weighing in all the factors that help make a purchasing decision such as price, performance, compatibility, value, and future proofing, the Core I3 chip is the ideal HTPC chip (IMO).  The CPU itself is not cheap but is reasonable ($124) and a motherboard will cost you approximately $90.  If you shop around for deals on memory, case, and power supply, you can put together a great system that will handle all your media playback, lossless audio support, and enough CPU power to support virtually any add-in software, all while drawing minimal power.  The components I selected for my build I already had, but much cheaper equivalents are out there to lower overall cost.  If you shop hard enough you could put together a decent box for around ~$450.  I am not saying that it is at the same price point or power efficiency as an Atom based system, however considering the extra headroom in CPU power as well as lossless HD audio/video, it may help take you well into the future without suffering from performance issues.  With the Core I3 you are able to buy high end features without having to spend a fortune to get them.  Although it is certainly not one of the cheapest solutions, it may provide the best cost of ownership in the long run.  If you buy a little more CPU power for your HTPC than you need right now, you may be able to get more life from it and do more with it along the way.  Speed and performance have always been important to me and this fits the bill without breaking the bank.

     

    Conclusion

     

    I am very pleased with the outcome of the upgrade and would certainly recommend this platform for either an HTPC or a mid range desktop.  I have never been a fan of integrated graphics however I was very impressed with how fluid even the most demanding video tasks were handled as well as the video playback quality of both DVD and Blu-Ray.  Throw in some outstanding audio with low power consumption and you have a great combo that can double as a workstation.  I would certainly not use the integrated graphics for gaming, but I will say that Intel has certainly done a great job outfitting this chip for HD playback.  This by far the most cost effective mid range HTPC platform I have had the pleasure of using.  If you are in the market to upgrade or considering a new build, you might want to have a look at a Core I3 before you make your final decision.

     

    Graphic Properties 2

     

    Graphic Properties

     

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    Nice writeup pcdoc, you just can't beat that setup, I totally agree. The huge performance increase is well worth the <$100 and a few watt difference to an atom 330 or 510 w/ion MB in my opinion. Have you used S3 sleep with this setup at all, any problems there resuming from a remote?
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    Wodysweb - Thanks for the comments. Have not tried S3 on this pc but have on another with no issues. I do not use power saver on this one due to wake up issues casued by the Onkyo HDMI receiver. ImTheTypeOfGuy - The HDX is exactly like the Popcorn hour A-110 network media player but nicer looking as I have one of each. Plays anything and everything. diehard - Thanks for the comments.
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    Hi pcdoc. Nice writeup and cool HTCP system. I'm in the process of building my own HTPC based on the Core I3 CPU, so it was nice to here about your experience with it. I'm still acquiring parts for mine, so it will be a few weeks before I get mine together. Can't wait. /Mike Biel
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    pcdoc - nice HTPC setup. Can you comment on noise? I see no mention of cooling. Are you running this with stock or aftermarket cooler (or fanless? looks like you could have room for a Ninja or similar heatsink in that case). What size fans and are they Silverstone, something else?
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    Excellent article. I have a couple questions. 1. Did you look at the H57 board from Gigabyte? Any reason not to use that one? Or the -USB3 boards? 2. Except for price, how about using the Core i5? 3. Given the low TDP for the chip, and low total wattage for everything, why use a 600 watt power supply? Or was this selected because it was the quietest? 4. What about remote control? 5. I noticed a cooling fan on your chip. What did you use? I am trying to build my first htpc. I want to record TV clear QAM HD, display picture libraries, videos, Blu-Ray, standard DVD, and play music (mp3) libraries. Probably use Win 7's Media Center as the main software interface. Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
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    Magicpinball, Thanks for the feedback and I am glad you found it useful. Here are the answers to you questions: 1. I did look at the H57 but there were fewer choices at the time, no significant difference for this application (just more USB, PCI slots, and Intel storage technology for raid), and a more expensive board. As for the USB 3.0, I am a fan but again this is dedicated HTPC and I do not have any storage attached to it as all media is pulled from a couple of WHS servers. I saved a couple of bucks as I have more than one HTPC that I upgraded. Either choice would work great and would depend on what the best deal you can get. http://images.anandtech.com/reviews/cpu/intel/cla... 2. The core I5 will work great but is a bit more power hungry in both video and processor. If you want a little extra headroom, it will work fine, but for a “straight” HTPC, the I3 is more than enough to handle all media playback and save a bit on the prices and the operation costs. 3. As for the power supply, the decision was based on the following factors, modular cables, noise, cost, efficiency, and a single rail operation (personal preference). When you filter all that there are not too many choices. I certainly do not need 600 watts but for the reasons above it is a good choice. With regards to noise, these are amongst the quietest I have ever used. You can use anything certified to work on the core I series at a much lower wattage. 4. I use the Logitech Harmony One on all my HTPC’s. 5. I happen to have that cooler (an older ARCTIC COOLING Freezer 7 Pro but the factory cooler on I3 is fine as it is pretty quiet and the chip runs very cool. For a core I5 I would try the factory cooler first but would probably recommend you get a better one if you are going to drive it hard. The only other suggestion I can offer is “if” you are going to do allot of recording of multiple channels of HD (simultaneously), while playing back other content such as blu ray, then definitely go for the core i5, fast drives (possibly raid) and extra RAM but other than that you will be driven by cost and personal preference. Some users want to record 4-6 HD shows at the same time while still using the system so your sub system (drives, ram) have to handle it. Good luck and let us know what you end up with.
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    Just to follow up and to say thanks for the recommendations. Purchasing a modular PSU with the Antec Fusion Remote was a must, given the restricted space. Also, without any over drastic overclocking (not needed for a HTPC) the stock CPU fan works fine. Here are the components I purchased: Antec Fusion Remote Black GIGABYTE GA-H55M-USB3 Intel Core i3-530 Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 COOLER MASTER Silent Pro 700 (at the time, cheaper than 600W) G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EARS 1TB 5400 RPM LITE-ON Black 4X Blu-ray iHOS104-08 GIGABYTE KM7580 Black 2.4GHz Wireless Keyboard EDIMAX EW-7128G PCI Wireless Card Link Depot 6 ft. HDMI TO HDMI A/V Cable (to TV) One note: I was planning on using my HTM MX-500 remote to control the system. Unfortunately, the MX-500 cannot learn the codes from the remote that Antec supplies. I will try the remote/IR receiver that comes with the TV card. For the time being, the wireless keyboard has dedicated MCE buttons that work. I know a lot of people use CPU-Z for monitoring their internal temps and fans, but I found another nice tool. HWMonitor from CPUID; nice, plus it gives you a history of min and max values over time. Now onto configuring Win7, MCE, plug-ins and other fun items.
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