Subject: Motherboards | September 10, 2012 - 01:29 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: mini-itx, htpc, fusion, biostar, APU, amd, a68i-350 deluxe, a68
While Intel has gotten a lot of Mini-ITX love lately, AMD is not out of the game yet. Motherboard manufacturer Biostar recently launched an AMD Fusion APU powered Mini-ITX motherboard that would make for a nice little HTPC. The A68I-350 Deluxe is based around some of the latest technologies including support for DDR3, PCI-E 3.0, and USB 3.0 standards.
The A68I-350 Deluxe motherboard measures 17 cm x 17 cm and comes with a bundled dual core AMD Fusion 350D APU. A heatsink and passive cooling for the south bridge are also provided in the package. The graphics card, memory, storage and other accessories are up to you, however. The Mini-ITX board features two DDR3 DIMM slots that support a maximum of 16 GB. Located in the lower right-hand corner are three SATA 3 6Gbps ports. Below that is a single PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot for a graphics card or other peripheral. Additional internal IO includes:
- 1 x printer header
- 2 x USB 2.0 header
- 1 X front panel audio
- 1 X front panel header (hdd, power, reset, ect)
- 1 x S/PDIF-OUT header
- 1 x CPU fan header
- 1 x system fan header
- 1 x serial header
According to Biostar, the motherboard also uses all solid capacitors to improve longevity.
Rear IO on the board is not quite as extensive as some of the other offerings available, but is still fairly good for the price. It features two PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse, one HDMI out, one VGA output, two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, one Ethernet port (Realtek RTL8111F Gigabit controller), and three audio output jacks (Realtek ALC662 6-channel HD audio).
The AMD APU that comes with the A68I-350 Deluxe features Radeon 6310 graphics, which are not the fastest but will still provide plenty of oomph for watching videos on the big screen. While it has not yet shown up at online retailers like Amazon and Newegg yet, it is reportedly already shipping and will have an MSRP of € 66 (euros) or approximately $84 USD. Considering the Intel options that have recently surfaced are going for $100+ easily, this Biostar motherboard should provide a nice budget option for your next HTPC or small form factor PC build!
You can find more information on the A68I-350 Deluxe over at the Biostar website.
Subject: Systems | August 31, 2012 - 06:56 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: trinity, SFF, htpc, Arctic MC101, amd, a10-4600m
There is a lot to like about the Arctic MC101 HTPC, from the brushed aluminium exterior to the Trinity based quad core A10-4600M and HD7660M graphics core that comes with the A10. Bjorn3D thought it was rather strange that the system ships without a remote control but thankfully it does have an IR sensor so a Windows Media Centre type remote will work perfectly. Connectivity is quite good, USB 3.0, combo USB 2.0/eSATA port, a headphone jack and a 4-in-1 memory card reader, along the front and sides. The back panel has even more, TV antenna, an audio out port, a line-in jack, SPDIF audio out, 4 USB 2.0 ports, two more USB 3.0 ports, HDMI-out and an ethernet port. At ~$750 it will set you back a bit to purchase and after reading Bjorn3D's review you may be willing to spend it.
"Arctic’s latest home entertainment system user an AMD A10-4600M APU, bringing a powerful combination of CPU and GPU in a tiny little box. Packed with WiFi, TV Tuner, 8GB RAM, and 1TB of storage, the MC101 brings us plenty of power for our media needs and is also able to deliver decent gaming performance."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Arctic MC101-A10 Home Entertainment Centre @ Kitguru
- Mede8er MED1000X3D review - 3D media player without Android @ Hardware.info
- 128-inch silver screen for your viewing room @ Hack a Day
- Pivos XIOS DS Media Play! Android Media Player @ Tweaktown
There is something alluring about packing high-end motherboard hardware into a mini-ITX form factor, and it looks as though EVGA will be joining the small form factor game with its first Z77 mini-ITX board. German enthusiast site OCaholic managed to get its hands on the board for a short preivew, and with dimensions of 17 cm x 17 cm, the motherboard packs a ton of overclockable hardware into an attractive design.
The Z77 motherboard features an Intel LGA 1155 socket that can accept either Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge processors in the i3, i5, and i7 flavors. To the left of the CPU socket is an 8-phase power phase with International Rectifier IR3550M MOSFETS. There is also an additional power phase dedicated to getting clean power to the memory. To the right of the CPU socket are two DDR3 memory slots capable of supporting a maximum of 32GB of RAM.
The top right corner of the mini-ITX motherboard features red power and reset buttons as well as an LED display capable of displaying error codes should you push the board too far and it fails to post. The EVGA motherboard features a UEFI BIOS from which you can overclock or reset the board to defaults that should be similar to the company’s current offering.
Along the bottom of the Z77 motherboard is a PCI-E 3.0 X16 slot for adding a graphics card. Directly above the PCI-E 3.0 slot (from left to right) is a USB 3.0 header, mSATA connector, southbridge, and four SATA ports. Two are SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports (Intel RAID 0, 1, 4, 0+1), and the other two are SATA 3.0 Gb/s ports that support Intel RAID 0, 1, 5, 0+1, and JBOD. While it should not be a problem for most users, the SATA ports and RAM slot are packed in really close to the PCI-E slot, so if you are using a graphics card that utilizes a large heatsink, you will probably want to avoid this board. Unfortunately, that’s just one of the compromises necessary to get a motherboard this small though. At least the SATA ports are above the PCI-E 3.0 slot and not to the right of it (like some boards are set up).
Rear IO on the EVGA Z77 mini-ITX motherboard is pretty impressive for a board of this size. You get two USB 2.0 ports, Bluetooth, a small clear CMOS button to reset the BIOS to defaults, four USB 3.0 ports, 1 mini DisplayPort (or possibly Thunderbolt) port, two eSATA 6.0 Gb/s ports, 1 HDMI port, 1 Gigabit LAN port, five audio output jacks courtesy of a Realtek ALC898 8-channel controller, and one optical audio output (S/PDIF).
Unfortunately, there is no word yet on price or availability. Talk around the internet seems to suggest a release date sometime in September and price above $150, but as always you should take those numbers with at least a few grains of salt. Even so, this is an interesting motherboard, and I’m always glad to see more competition in the small form factor and mini-ITX hardware space.
The EVGA board has now joined the Gigabyte GA-H77N WIFI and the ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe in the Z77 Mini ITX game. Here’s hoping the increased competition can bring prices down so I can get to building a nice Mini-ITX powered HTPC like the one Ryan built with an AMD APU (and desktop Trinity’s launch date seems to be getting further away rather than closer).
You can find more photos of the EVGA Mini-ITX motherboard over at OCaholic, and as always PC Perspective has you covered on mini-ITX motherboard news. Stay tuned for more details on this EVGA board as we get them!
Subject: Systems | August 9, 2012 - 07:17 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: htpc, amd, nvidia, cyberlink, arcsoft, transcoding, Intel
If you have built yourself an HTPC then you have also built yourself a machine which is relatively good at transcoding video if you get the right software. Not only can you watch movies, you can edit or manipulate your own movies. The Tech Report delves into the current state of both hardware and software transcoding tools in their recent article. They check out the performance of Cyberlink's MediaEspresso, ArcSoft MediaConverter and Handbrake on an Intel based system using the native GPU on the chip as well as tossing in AMD and NVIDIA GPUs to see how it changes the performance.
"The market is rife with hardware video transcoders and software that can take advantage of them. However, making sense of that jungle of disparate offerings can be tough. We've tried to make sense of it all, comparing the latest transcoding logic from AMD, Nvidia, and Intel in three major video conversion applications."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Streacom FC5 review: Passively-cooled HTPC chassis @ Hardware.info
- Bitfenix Prodigy Mini-ITX PC Chassis Review @ eTeknix
- Antec ISK110 VESA ITX Case @ Funky Kit
- Shuttle Barebone XS35GTA V3 Review @ Madshrimps
- Silverstone GD07 HTPC Chassis Review @ eTeknix
- Silverstone Fortress FT03 Mini @ techPowerUp
- Giada A51 Ultra Mini PC @ Pro-Clockers
- Gigabyte SkyVision Wireless HD Video Sync Review @ HardwareHeaven
- Control Your HTPC With A PS3 Remote Control @ Computing on Demand
- Shuttle Barebone XS35GTA V3 Review @ Madshrimps
- 5 Addons Every XBMC User Should Have @ Computing on Demand
- Sony BDP-S590 Review @ TechReviewSource
Subject: Systems | August 8, 2012 - 06:43 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: zotac, zbox id84, SFF, htpc, gt 520M, atom d2550
Two new ZOTAC ZBOXes were announced today, both with an Atom D2550 and an NVIDIA GT 520M 512MB inside. The ID84 Plus ships with memory and a hard drive already installed, the non-Plus version is at a lower cost as you must provide your own DDR3 and 2.5" drive, either hard or solid depending on your preference.
As you can see below, the reason that ZOTAC specifies VESA compliant mounting holes is so that you can attach your ZBOX directly to the back of a monitor. With the right OS you can get support for a touchscreen, making your own all in one PC with very little in the way of wiring or peripherals. For external storage and other devices, you will be glad to know that there are a pair of USB 3.0 ports to allow you to quickly move large files back and forth between the ZBOX and your external storage solution.
No word on pricing
HONG KONG – Aug. 8, 2012 – ZOTAC International, a global innovator and channel manufacturer of graphics cards, mainboards and mini-PCs, today delivers a new ZBOX with NVIDIA GeForce GT 520M graphics processing. The new ZOTAC ZBOX with NVIDIA GeForce GT 520M graphics incorporates class-leading features and stunning visuals to form a perfect home theater PC.
“We’re pleased to inject the power of NVIDIA GeForce graphics to our award-winning ZOTAC ZBOX for users that demand energy-efficiency with a graphics kick,” said Carsten Berger, marketing director, ZOTAC International. “The new ZOTAC ZBOX with NVIDIA GeForce GT 520M graphics delivers phenomenal high-definition video playback capabilities to make it the perfect home theater PC as well.”
The new ZOTAC ZBOX with NVIDIA GeForce GT 520M graphics is available as a barebones or with memory and hard drive preinstalled. Operating systems such as Windows 7 (x86 and x64) and OpenELEC are fully compatible with the new ZOTAC ZBOX with NVIDIA GeForce GT 520M graphics to transform the system into an everyday casual use PC or outstanding home theater PC capable of high-definition video playback.
It’s time to play with the new ZOTAC ZBOX with NVIDIA GeForce GT 520M graphics.
- ZOTAC Delivers New ZBOX with NVIDIA GeForce GT 520M Graphics Processing
- ZOTAC ZBOX with NVIDIA GeForce GT 520M
- Intel Atom™ D2550 (1.86 GHz, dual-core)
- NVIDIA GeForce GT 520M w/512MB DDR3
- DVI & HDMI outputs
ZOTAC ZBOX ID84 Plus
- 2GB DDR3
- 320GB 5400RPM HDD
ZOTAC ZBOX nano ID84
- 2 x 204-pin DDR3-1066 SO-DIMM slot
- Support 2.5-inch SATA HDD
- 2 x SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports
- 4 x High-Speed USB 2.0 ports (2 on back panel, 1 on front, 1 on top)
- Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n WiFi & Bluetooth 3.0 technologies
- Bundled MCE-compatible remote w/ USB IR receiver
- Bundled VESA75/100 mount
- Bundled MCE-compatible remote w/ USB IR receiver
An HTPC Perspective on home theater PC technology
We conducted a reader survey a few weeks ago, and one of the tech topics that received a surprising amount of interest in was HTPC coverage. You, our awesome readers, wanted to know more about the hardware and software behind them. I’ll admit that I was ardent about the prospects of talking HTPCs with you. As a relatively new entrant to that area of tech myself, I was excited to cover it, and give you more coverage on a topic you wanted to see more of!
Today we won't be talking about home theater PCs in the sense of a computer in the living room AV rack (Ryan covered that earlier this week), but rather a related technology that makes the HTPC possible: the CableCARD-equipped TV tuner.
I will forewarn you that this article is quite a bit more informal than my usual writings, especially if you only follow my PC Perspective postings. In the future, it may not be that way, but I wanted to give some backstory and some personal thoughts on the matter to illustrate how I got into rolling my own DVR and why I’m excited about it (mainly: it saves money and is very flexible).
Despite my previous attempts to “cut the cord” and use only Internet-based services for television, me and my girlfriend slowly but surely made our way back to cable TV. For about a year we survived on Netflix, Hulu, and the various networks’ streaming videos on their respective websites but as the delays between a shows airing and web streaming availability increased and Netflix instant Streaming started losing content the price of cable started to look increasingly acceptable.
She was probably the first one to feel the effects of a lack of new content – especially with a newfound love for a rather odd show called True Blood. It was at some point thereafter, once she had caught up with as many seasons offered on Netflix of various shows as possible that she broke down and ordered U-Verse. U-Verse is an interesting setup of television delivery using internet protocol (IPTV). While we did have some issues at first with the Residential Gateway and signal levels, it was eventually sorted out and it was an okay setup. It offered a lot of channels – with many in HD. In the end though, after the promotional period was up, it got very expensive to stay subscribed to. Also, because it was IPTV, it was not as flexible as traditional cable as far as adding extra televisions and the DVR functionality. Further, the image quality for the HD streams, while much better than SD, was not up to par with the cable and satellite feeds I’ve seen.
Being with Comcast for Internet for about three years now, I’ve been fairly happy with it. One day I saw a promotion for currently subscribed customers for TV + Blast internet for $80, which was only about $20 more than I was paying each month for its Performance tier.
After a week of hell Therefore, I decided to sign up for it. Only, I did not want to rent a Comcast box, so I went searching for alternatives.
Enter the elusive and never advertised CableCARD
It was during this search that I learned a great deal about CableCARDs and the really cool things that they enabled. Thanks to the FCC, cable television providers in the United States have to give their customers an option other than renting a cable box for a monthly fee – customers have to be able to bring their own equipment if they wish (they can still charge you for the CableCARD but at a reduced rate, and not all cable companies charge a fee for them). But what is a CableCARD? In short, it is a small card that resembles a PCMIA expansion card – a connector that can commonly be found in older laptops (think Windows XP-era). It is to be paired with a CableCARD tuner and acts as the key to decrypt the encrypted television stations in your particular subscriber package. They are added much like a customer-owned modem is, by giving the cable company some numbers on the bottom of the card that act as a unique identifier. The cable company then connects that particular card to your account and sends it a profile of what channels you are allowed to tune into.
There are some drawbacks, however. Mainly that On Demand does not work with most CableCARDS. Do note that this is actually not a CableCARD hardware issue, but a support issue on the cable company side. You could, at least in theory, get a CableCARD and tuner that could tune in On Demand content, but right now that functionality seems to be limited to some Tivos and the rental cable boxes (paradoxically some of those are actually CableCARD-equipped). It’s an unfortunate situation, but here’s hoping that it is supported in the future. Also, if you do jump into the world of CableCARDs, it is likely that you will find yourself in a situation where you know more about them than the cable installer as cable companies do not advertise them, and only a small number of employees are trained on them. Don’t be too hard on the cable tech though, it's primarily because cable companies would rather rent you a (expensive) box, and a very small number of people actually know about and need a tech to support the technology. I was lucky enough to get one of the “CableCARD guys,” on my first install, but I’ve also gotten techs that have never seen one before and it made for an interesting conversation piece as they diagnosed signal levels for the cable modem (heh). Basically, patience is key when activating your CableCARD, and I highly recommend asking around forums like DSLReports for the specific number(s) to call to get to the tier 2 techs that are familiar with CableCARDs for your specific provider when calling to activate it if you opt to do a self-install. Even then, you may run into issues. For example, something went wrong with activation on the server side at Comcast so it took a couple of hours for them to essentially unlock all of my HD channels during my install.
Subject: Systems | July 17, 2012 - 08:46 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: htpc, HTPC case, Wesena ITX5
Good looking, functional HTPC cases tend to be expensive, especially if they are designed to blend in with other stereo or TV components. Wesena found a way to deliver a good looking ITX sized HTPC enclosure for under $100 with their new ITX7. Part of the price drop is the removal of an optical drive bay, which makes a great deal of sense when you are trying to cut the cost and size of a box. The aluminium exterior with a brushed black finish is quite attractive and the system that Missing Remote fit inside the case included a Core i5-2400S, 4GB DDR3 and an SSD and HDD. They also verified the fit of two TV Tuner cards, the Ceton InfiniTV 4 and AVerMedia M780 as well as a GT430 and HD5550 though you won't be fitting a passively cooled GTX680 in here. Check this case out if you have been suffering sticker shock from other HTPC case manufacturers.
"Boasting clean lines, the right look, and solid construction for Mini-ITX based systems the Wesena ITX5 all-aluminum enclosure offers capabilities very similar to the ITX7; by removing optical drive support in a slightly lower cost ($80) package. Building a name for quality takes time and attention to feedback, so it was fantastic to examine the generational differences between the two small form-factor (SFF) home theater PC (HTPC) chassis from Wesena. As a refinement on the previous iteration we hope to see the niggles around fit-and-finish addressed."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Xigmatek Gigas mATX SFF Cube Case @ Pro-Clockers
- Silverstone GD07 HTPC chassis @ Guru of 3D
- SilverStone Grandia GD08 @ Computing on Demand
- ASUS O!Play LIVE HD Media Player @ Benchmark Reviews
- Silverstone Grandia GD08 HTPC Case @ Kitguru
- Patriot PBO Alpine Android 2.2 Media Player Review @ Hi Tech Legion
- SilverStone Grandia SST-GD07B HTPC Enclosure @ Benchmark Reviews
Subject: General Tech | July 14, 2012 - 06:39 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: quad core, arm, SoC, Android, xbmc, htpc, mini-itx
This week has been rife with ARM computers. The latest ARM system comes in the form of a mini-ITX form factor motherboard and quad core ARM processor combination from embedded system manufacturer Kontron. Named the KTT30/mITX, it measures 17 cm x 17 cm, the little motherboard provides a plethora of IO ports and the relatively short (depth-wise) motherboard would be great in a HTPC box, assuming the software is there (an XBMC release ported over from the Raspberry Pi build would be nice to see, for example).
The motherboard is paired with a quad core ARM Cortex A9 processor running at 900 MHz, video hardware acceleration coprocessor, and up to 2GB of DDR3L memory. It is reportedly capable of playing back 1080p H.264 videos. Internal connectors include two SD card clots, a SIM card socket, and two mPCIe connectors. Rear board IO includes three USB 2.0 ports (one micro, two regular-sized type A), an HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet NIC, S/PDIF audio, two RS232 serial ports, and three analog audio output jacks.
It looks like a neat little board, though only if the price is right. If it is prohibitively expensive, it may be bumping up against AMD’s APU and accompanying motherboards. And because the APUs can utilize x86-64 software, that is a big positive in its favor. With that said, if this board is cheap enough, it could make sense as the base of a cheap HTPC.
Read more about the Mini-ITX ARM-powered system over at Fanless Tech.
Subject: General Tech | June 29, 2012 - 02:17 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: sony, smart tv, htpc, google tv, google, Android
Yes, it does appear that Google TV is still a “thing” – though I am only reminded because Sony has not stoppsed releasing new boxes running Android. The NSZ-GS7 is a small box designed to sit between your TV and cable box to add additional smart TV-like functionality. It is running a dual core Marvell ARM processor, and has 8GB of storage space, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth radios. Rear IO on the device includes two HDMI ports (for HDMI passthrough of your cable box or other media device), optical audio output, an IR blaster port, Ethernet, two USB ports, and a power input port.
The interesting thing about these Google TV products has always been the remotes. There have been some strange designs in the past, but the Sony NSZ-GS7’s remote actually looks nice and comfortable. The front of the remote resembles any standard TV remote with a track pad added to it while the back of the remote features a full QWERTY keyboard. It also has an accelerometer and is allegedly capable of detecting which side of the remote you are using – and will turn off the buttons on the underside to avoid accidental key-presses.
I really like this remote. Image credit goes to Tom's Hardware.
Beyond the hardware itself, the Google TV box is running Android 3.2 Honeycomb. It is able to acts as an enhanced TV guide as well as providing web access and Google App functionality (for the few apps that have been modified to work specifically with Google TVs anyway). One of the cool apps available is one that can control a Parrot AR.Drone on the big screen with the TV remote, which sounds like fun (my dog would go nuts!). It is also capable of doing picture-in-picture where users can browse the web while also watching the TV in a smaller window.
Tom’s Hardware managed to gets a hands-on demo with the new device courtesy of Sony Canada. They managed to snag several good photos of the hardware and interface. They note that the NSZ-GS7 Google TV box will be coming out next month for those in the US and UK – a Canadian launch is following in August – for $199. You can find more photos at the link above.
Especially with the release of the Nexus Q, I have to wonder if Google is even aware that Google TV is still around, because it really feels like they launched it and then walked away from it. Now that they are focusing on “the cloud” for media playback, the Google TV has even less relevance to the company. On the other hand, I could see an perspective where both devices are able to coexist and flesh out total living room media functionality with the Nexus Q handling the social and cloud media playback and Google TV acting as a better cable box for “offline” media. I am curious though, what you think of Google TV. Do you like it, or would you rather have a beefier HTPC running Windows or Linux on x86/64 hardware? Where do you think the Google TV fits into the living room?
Other Google I/O News:
- Google I/O: Day One Announcements
- Google Glasses
- Google Selling Nexus 7 At Cost, Pushing Its Google Play Store
- The ASUS tablet that became the Nexus 7
- Google I/O talk on the PC Perspective Podcast
Subject: Motherboards | June 6, 2012 - 10:04 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Z77, msi, motherboard, mini-itx, Intel, htpc, computex
MSI is showing off a lot of motherboards at Computex 2012. One in particular that stuck out to me was a mini ITX motherboard that sported Ivy Bridge compatibility, four SATA ports (2 which are SATA 6Gbps), and PCI-E 3.0 compliant making it perfect for an high performance HTPC build. The motherboard in question is the MSI Z77IA-E53 and as the name suggests it is based around Intel’s Z77 chipset.
The mini-ITX form factor motherboard sports MSI’s ClickBIOS II UEFI BIOS and its OC Genie II technology as well as THX TruStudio Pro audio. Other features include an LGA 1155 socket for Ivy Bridge or Sandy Bridge (Core i7, i5, i3, Pentium or Celeron) processors, two DDR3 DIMM slots (up to 16GB of 2800MHz), and a single PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot at the very bottom of the motherboard.
On the back of the board, the Z77IA-E53 features HDMI and VGA video outputs, two USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, an eSATA port, Gigabit LAN, PS/2 port, optical audio outpu, three 3.5mm jacks for analog audio output, and WiFi and Bluetooth radios.
Unfortunately, there is no word yet on pricing or availability.