miniITX HTPC; seeking APU vs Haswell, case advice

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miniITX HTPC; seeking APU vs Haswell, case advice

Postposted on Thu Sep 12, 2013 2:27 pm

Greetings, Gerbils!

I'm HTPC-ifying the home entertainment setups, and looking for options on lightweight systems. At the moment, I'm exploring options for a system just powerful enough to ensure I won't have problems with any 1080p streaming, and potentially support some very light gaming. (E.g. indies or older games in my Steam backlog)

It's been a long time since I've done anything but an Intel build, but the AMD APUs seemed pretty tempting. I was initially thinking something like a Zotac ZBOX AD06, but I've heard enough problems with E2-1800 (specifically media apps which don't support accelerated decoding) that I think I need to step it up performance-wise to be safe. I'm still trying to go SFF, though, so IGP/APU only.

That leaves two realistic options: Intel Haswell IGP or AMD Richland APU.

Intel: I know you can't actually buy a GT3 Haswell, let alone GT3e, so that leaves the 4400 and 4600 GT2s. Sticking with 54W parts, that probably leaves the $130 i3-4130 (4400) or $150 i3-4330 (4600), both dual-core.

AMD: Sticking with 65W parts. As far as I can tell, A8-6500 should meet or exceed the performance of the Haswells, and the the A10-6700 should beat them, for similar prices ($120, $150). But if I have the option of going much cheaper here, too. The A4-4000 and A6-6400K are only $45 and $80, respectively. Either one should do streaming with no hiccups I believe, but I think we're starting to look at clearly lower graphics performance which will even further limit gaming.

Given that media is my first priority here: First, any holes or errors in my assessment? Any specific recommendations, or what I should avoid? Does driver support (Windows 7) and media acceleration support push you one way or another?

Also, I'm stumped on cases. NUCs and thin mini-ITX are too underpowered or expensive, and I don't need something I can stick in my shirt pocket. The Antec ISK-110 and IN WIN BQS are pretty small (about 8"x8"x3"), and currently at the top of the list, but not particularly attractive. If I'm going bigger than that, I'd consider something like the SilverStone ML05 where I could add a low-profile 7750 and make this a much more capable system (for a price). But I feel like there have to be small cases designed to fit a CPU/one disk/no GPU that I'm overlooking, right?

Thanks in advance for any suggestions!
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Re: miniITX HTPC; seeking APU vs Haswell, case advice

Postposted on Thu Sep 12, 2013 2:58 pm

Choose your case first and then decide on chip. Unfortunately the AMD options are compelling only if you have a gaming focus and more cooling headroom (a larger case with active cooling) to play with.

Intel's TDP figures are typically conservative and real-world, power-at-the-socket tests show that the AMD A-series actually suck down a lot more juice, and I think (citation needed) that Intel's TDP figures are theoretical maximums, whilst AMD's TDP figures are "power targets" meaning that they're long-term averages or something.

For teeny-tiny cases, stick with an Intel HD4600 solution. Quicksync is pretty spiffy and Intel's drivers are good enough for HTPC and light-gaming duty. The Antec ISK 300-150/310-150 are reasonably attractive mITX options with support for proper optical drives (or extra bay space for mechanical storage). They'll probably handle an AMD APU's heat too, but don't expect silent gaming.
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Re: miniITX HTPC; seeking APU vs Haswell, case advice

Postposted on Thu Sep 12, 2013 3:10 pm

I have an AMD E350-based board that actually does 1080P streaming & light gaming just fine. any reason you're not looking @ something like this E450 board from Asus?
Your ideas intrigue me; I would like to purchase stock in your company.
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Re: miniITX HTPC; seeking APU vs Haswell, case advice

Postposted on Thu Sep 12, 2013 4:13 pm

_
Thanks for the feedback so far!

eitje wrote:I have an AMD E350-based board that actually does 1080P streaming & light gaming just fine. any reason you're not looking @ something like this E450 board from Asus?


That's pretty similar to the current E2-1800, like the Zotac AD06 barebones. And yeah, it was under serious consideration. The problems I remember reading about were e.g. NetFlix being stuck on an old Silverlight version that didn't support acceleration and so it had problems with the highest-quality HD. So it would probably be fine for virtually everything, but an A4-4000 for $45 with an $85 motherboard should be substantially faster and reduce the risk of badly-behaved apps not working happily. Throw in about $50 for some fast RAM and a $70 case/PSU combo, and the total is no more than the AD06 anyway. I'd also probably do some DVR tasks with it (I have an HDHomeRun), so extra performance headroom is probably smart for that reason as well.

Chrispy_ wrote:Choose your case first and then decide on chip. Unfortunately the AMD options are compelling only if you have a gaming focus and more cooling headroom (a larger case with active cooling) to play with.


The Antec ISK-300 doens't look bad, but it's in what I've determined is a "7-liter" category (approx 9"x13"x4"). I was trying to see if I could get something in the 3-liter category, like the ISK-110 (8"x8"x3"). Once you get into the 7-liter size, you can get a low-profile discrete GPU like the 7750 and make something more serious for gaming. I might go down this route as well (funny that I'm calling 7 liter cases "large"), but I have multiple rooms to occupy, and I'm pretty sure at least one of them I'd like to go with an IGP-only smaller-size case.

You point on power consumption is a good one, though. I'd think with both the ISK-110 or the similarly-sized BQS-656 from In Win (both the "3-liter" category with external power bricks), their massive open mesh tops would make for sufficient cooling. But at least on the AMD APU front, I think it might be wise to play it safe and stick to the dual-core options, i.e. the A4 or A6. (Does the A4 really only take 1333? That'll cripple its IGP performance...) As you point out, even though they're all 65W officially, something like the A10-6800K is likely to be much higher in actual use than these dual-cores with fewer shaders.
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