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Thread: Building An AMD APU Based Home Theater PC

  1. #1

    Default Building An AMD APU Based Home Theater PC

    I previously, I built myself a Home Theater PC that runs XBMC ( XBMC ) a free open source home theater system derived from a project that started on the classic Xbox but it's now available on nearly every platform. Mine is a bit of an all in one dream machine, powered by an AMD A8-3870K and running Windows 7 under it, it runs XBMC along with SABNZBD, SickBeard and CouchPotato which allow it to automatically download TV shows and movies as they are released, as well as the Transmission daemon which we use in my condo to torrent things. Recently I also got it running Steam Big Picture Mode, so it can now switch from XBMC to Steam BPM seamlessly... It's basically the ultimate game console now. Just waiting for the Steam Summer Sale. But we can talk about that older build later.

    My roommate enjoyed my machine and her older hacked Western Digital WDTV box is hitting a wall with certain MKV containers (The WDTV is missing a few things from the MKV spec) and 10bit encoded anime. I won't be building her an all in one box but rather be building a Linux based XBMC machine that will run the custom version of XBMC, designed to have the machine operate the most like an appliance, OpenELEC. ( OpenELEC Mediacenter - Home ) She also loves Linux so it's her preference. :P The parts have been ordered and arrived today, putting it together and taking photos as I go.

    CPU: A6-5600K ($61.99)
    MOBO: MSI FM2-A75MA-E35 ($59.94)
    RAM: Corsair CMV4GX3M1A1333C9 4GB ($23.99)
    WIFI: TP-Link TL-WDN4800 450MBPS Dual-Band Wireless N PCI-E Adapter ($29.99)
    PSU: Thermaltake TR2 500W Power Supply ($39.99)
    Case: Nmedia HTPC-6000B ($74.99)
    Remote: Mediagate GP-IR01BK ($27.99)

    One of the main goals here is to construct a box that, while a bit pricy, will also last 4-7 years and it will play any kind of media file and even access various online streaming services which make having a cable TV connection obsolete. HTPCs aren't the most demanding machines but video codecs evolve and they require either more CPU power or newer hardware acceleration. 10bit h.264 encoded anime is not capable of being decoded on hardware accelerated video decoders so a lot of low end systems that rely on GPU video decoding hit the wall, the software shifts back to CPU decoding instead of GPU decoding and CPU doesn't have enough power. This will also be an issue as h.265/HEVC and Google's VP9 codecs come out. This is where little boxes fueled by Intel Atoms or AMD E-350 or E2-2000 boxes will become an issue. As they are embedded CPUs they can't be upgraded either, the entire box needs to be replaced. The A6-5600K on the other hand, with dual 3.6ghz cores should have enough power to decode h.265/HEVC and VP9 when they become standard, well, at least at 1080p. For 4K either a CPU upgrade or modern GPU with hardware support for those codecs will be necessary. By using a larger machine with PCI-E ports and an upgradeable CPU socket, either option is viable and the rest of the machine doesn't need to be upgraded. There is even a 4.4ghz quad core APU compatible for this motherboard coming out next week that could readily popped in.

    I'll post assembly and setup/installation photos and maybe we can talk about HTPCs while we're here. I'm actually a big fan of them and my HTPC box has saved me a lot by letting me cut the cable TV connection entirely, saving $75 a month.

  2. #2

    Default

    Obligatory Pile Of Boxes Photo:
    http://i254.photobucket.com/albums/hh100/AshleyAshes2/IMG_0071.png

    Not exactly the most space efficient case, but it has no shortage of expansion room to keep it up to date:
    http://i254.photobucket.com/albums/hh100/AshleyAshes2/IMG_0080.png

    It looked a lot smaller in the photo on NCIX. Well, it fits...
    http://i254.photobucket.com/albums/hh100/AshleyAshes2/IMG_0083.png

    It's alive! It's alive! ~Weird Science~
    http://i254.photobucket.com/albums/hh100/AshleyAshes2/IMG_0087.png


    I am having an issue however. It's failing to make use of the GPU to decode any video. The CPU has enough power to do it but it's not the most efficient route. I'm using the latest 12.2 build of XBMCBuntu, any ideas?

  3. #3

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    Very cool, I've been casually looking into an AMD APU box to replace my aging Athlon X2 machine whose parts were scrounged from 4 dead PC's, but necessity hasn't forced the issue yet.

    That case is a little biggish, but aside from its depth it fits well enough - and considering it's the most expensive part listed, you really seem to have put together something great for a small amount of cash. I see a hard disk, but no specs listed for it either, are you storing everything in the machine or on a file server?

    Not sure about the video decode issues, maybe it's a driver or software issue with the Ubuntu version of XBMC? I actually didn't realize XBMC leveraged video cards for decoding - we learn something every day!

    Very cool regardless, thanks for sharing and inspiring!

  4. #4

  5. #5

  6. #6

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    I like the looks of the case. How many hard drives can you fit in it?

  7. #7

    Default



    Quote Originally Posted by Hobbes View Post
    Very cool, I've been casually looking into an AMD APU box to replace my aging Athlon X2 machine whose parts were scrounged from 4 dead PC's, but necessity hasn't forced the issue yet.

    That case is a little biggish, but aside from its depth it fits well enough - and considering it's the most expensive part listed, you really seem to have put together something great for a small amount of cash. I see a hard disk, but no specs listed for it either, are you storing everything in the machine or on a file server?

    Not sure about the video decode issues, maybe it's a driver or software issue with the Ubuntu version of XBMC? I actually didn't realize XBMC leveraged video cards for decoding - we learn something every day!

    Very cool regardless, thanks for sharing and inspiring!
    Working on getting the hardware acceleration working, getting close, had something to do with fglrx which is the AMD driver for Linux. The Linux stuff is new to me so mostly blindly following forum posts that talk about similar problems. The hard drive is a tiny 20GB HDD salvaged from an Xbox 360 enclosure, it only houses the OS and any library information. My roommate however DOES have plans to later install large storage drives but right now her own drives are on her desktop in another room and are accessed over LAN. As for MY media I do have a HTPC/Storage Server/Steam machine. I built an A8-3870K machine (Originally an A6-3500 but when AMD killed off the FM1 socket I jumped at the best CPU I could get for the box on Boxing day to fend off it's own obsolecense). My machine runs Windows 7 with XBMC but can also run Steam in Big Picture Mode so it's sorta like a great game console. It also had 10TB of storage in it spanned across 2x2TB and 3x3TB of drives (OS and Steam games are on a 320GB drive that's separate). That's where my giant hoard of movies and TV shows are. BTW, I'm fairly pleased with the casual gaming performance the A8-3870K offers (Considdering that the whole CPU cost only $75 on Boxing Day), I bet the newer APUs are even better.

    Beware with older machines, sometimes their other hardware is tricky, like trying to get graphics cards for them if they lack PCI-E or limited SATA support. My FIRST machine was an Athlon 64 with an AGP slot, it took a lot of monkeying to even make it work and in less than a year I retired it and swapped all it's guts for my first APU system. Not to mention the CPU wasn't enough for stuff that couldn't be GPU decoded. Oh and it only had two Sata ports, which only worked at SATA1 speed and couldn't negotiate with SATA2 or SATA3 drives to slow down so it'd fail to recognise them.



    Quote Originally Posted by lilaznboy View Post
    I like the looks of the case. How many hard drives can you fit in it?
    It can hold seven if you make use of the 5.25" optical bay to hold a hard drive. It was the roommates specification. I woulda just bought an ATX tower and turned it sideways but she wanted something that looked the part for a living room. My choice woulda been ATX tower or if it wasn't going to have media storage, a much smaller case with room for only a couple drives. Hey, it's her money.

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by AshleyAshes View Post
    Working on getting the hardware acceleration working, getting close, had something to do with fglrx which is the AMD driver for Linux. The Linux stuff is new to me so mostly blindly following forum posts that talk about similar problems. The hard drive is a tiny 20GB HDD salvaged from an Xbox 360 enclosure, it only houses the OS and any library information. My roommate however DOES have plans to later install large storage drives but right now her own drives are on her desktop in another room and are accessed over LAN. As for MY media I do have a HTPC/Storage Server/Steam machine. I built an A8-3870K machine (Originally an A6-3500 but when AMD killed off the FM1 socket I jumped at the best CPU I could get for the box on Boxing day to fend off it's own obsolecense). My machine runs Windows 7 with XBMC but can also run Steam in Big Picture Mode so it's sorta like a great game console. It also had 10TB of storage in it spanned across 2x2TB and 3x3TB of drives (OS and Steam games are on a 320GB drive that's separate). That's where my giant hoard of movies and TV shows are. BTW, I'm fairly pleased with the casual gaming performance the A8-3870K offers (Considdering that the whole CPU cost only $75 on Boxing Day), I bet the newer APUs are even better.
    Holy spacious storage, Batman - sometimes I think I have a lot of storage with my few terrabytes in different systems - it certainly pales in comparison. You should replace that teeny tiny 20 GB hard disk with an SSD though, I bet your living room experience will be much snappier - in those sorts of sit back environments I think OS and application load times tend to be even more apparent. And considering how happy I've been with my old Athlons of various core numbers, I have no doubt the A8 would make me a great gaming option (for a media centre). I've jumped ship to Intel for my own gaming/development needs, but for casual/media or server stuff I still consider AMD as the best option.



    Quote Originally Posted by AshleyAshes View Post
    Beware with older machines, sometimes their other hardware is tricky, like trying to get graphics cards for them if they lack PCI-E or limited SATA support. My FIRST machine was an Athlon 64 with an AGP slot, it took a lot of monkeying to even make it work and in less than a year I retired it and swapped all it's guts for my first APU system. Not to mention the CPU wasn't enough for stuff that couldn't be GPU decoded. Oh and it only had two Sata ports, which only worked at SATA1 speed and couldn't negotiate with SATA2 or SATA3 drives to slow down so it'd fail to recognise them.
    For sure - my Athlon II media computer is just seeing its end of days really - it's probably 6 years old now, and runs well for what I need it for, but it only has 2 SATA ports, and I won't be investing in any upgrades for it, I will just run it into the ground or turn it into a web server, and replace it with a system similar to the A class AMD you built above.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hobbes View Post
    I've jumped ship to Intel for my own gaming/development needs, but for casual/media or server stuff I still consider AMD as the best option.
    I totally vote for Intel for high end needs like dedicated gaming or work. AMD's high end stuff can come pretty close and are a bit cheaper, but they suck in huge ammounts of power in comparison and spit out a lot of heat as well. Intel's top end are just more efficient overall. My workstation for film editing s an i7 3770K for example. Though for the low and midrange I totally vote for AMD, they make lovely well rounded all in one chips.

    That said, my workstation has a Radoen HD 6850 in it and once that gets upgraded in the workstation, the 6850 will be moved into my A8-3870K box and the APU's graphics disabled in favor of the HD 6850. Though the 6850's fan is sorta noisy (bad bearing somewhere), I'll need to replace the cooler on it or it'll drive me nuts in my bedroom.

    I got the hardware acceleration on the A6-5400K box working and the experience overall is pleasant. The 20GB HDD was used for cost reasons. :P I also managed to set up XBMC to use MySQL so now both XBMC machines point to the same MySQL database... So I can stop watching a movie in my bedroom and resume it right where I left off in the living room. The episodes marked as watched and everything else are also shared.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by AshleyAshes View Post
    I totally vote for Intel for high end needs like dedicated gaming or work. AMD's high end stuff can come pretty close and are a bit cheaper, but they suck in huge ammounts of power in comparison and spit out a lot of heat as well. Intel's top end are just more efficient overall. My workstation for film editing s an i7 3770K for example. Though for the low and midrange I totally vote for AMD, they make lovely well rounded all in one chips.

    That said, my workstation has a Radoen HD 6850 in it and once that gets upgraded in the workstation, the 6850 will be moved into my A8-3870K box and the APU's graphics disabled in favor of the HD 6850. Though the 6850's fan is sorta noisy (bad bearing somewhere), I'll need to replace the cooler on it or it'll drive me nuts in my bedroom.

    I got the hardware acceleration on the A6-5400K box working and the experience overall is pleasant. The 20GB HDD was used for cost reasons. :P I also managed to set up XBMC to use MySQL so now both XBMC machines point to the same MySQL database... So I can stop watching a movie in my bedroom and resume it right where I left off in the living room. The episodes marked as watched and everything else are also shared.
    Cant you software "Crossfire" APU's and the 6000 series?

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