Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A MythTV box for the lounge room: Part 2: Choosing the box to build

Making sure that I could get something displaying on my TV was the main stumbling block with the build of the MythTV PC. Since it was overcome in my last post, I was now free to get on with speccing up a machine. The major requirements for this were:
  • It had to use a minimal amount of power, as it would likely be running 24/7 (the nvidia binary driver means suspend doesn't usually work).
  • It had to be able to handle 1080i playback of recorded or live TV, flawlessly
  • It needed to have an S/PDIF output, either optical or coaxial to connect to my existing receiver
  • It needed a wireless network connection, as it was at the opposite end of the house to where my router was.
  • The overall cost had to be similar to the price of buying a DVR + IceTV subscription
This meant I had a few different options, which are detailed below.

Option 1 - Mini-ITX, using an Intel Atom/Nvidia ION board
Motherboard: Zotac IONITX-A
CPU: Intel Atom 330 Dual core 1.6GHz
Graphics: Onboard Nvidia 9400
DDR2 ram slots
Onboard Wireless-N adapter
90W Power supply included (laptop-style)
Case: Lian Li PC-Q07

Lowest power usage of all options
Everything integerated on the board
Power supply included, and can be located away from PC case - less heat
Small size will fit into TV cabinet
Can use existing DDR2 RAM I already have

Not useful for much else if this project doesn't work out
Not the cheapest option

Option 2 - Separate CPU/Motherboard, budget option
Motherboard: Gigabyte G41M-combo
CPU: Intel Pentium E5400 2.7GHz
Graphics: Nvidia GT210
DDR2 ram slots
Case: Antec NSK3480 (with PSU)

Better performance than Atom CPU
Can be used as general purpose PC later
Cheaper than option 1
Can use existing DDR2 RAM I already have

More power use than option 1
Will need an S/PDIF bracket for optical out
Takes up more room with full-size case
Need separate Wifi card

Option 3 - Separate CPU/Motherboard - higher end
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-H55N-USB3 Mini-ITX
CPU: Intel Core i3-540
Graphics: Nvidia GT210
DDR3 RAM slots
Case: Lian Li PC-Q07
PSU: Corsair VX450

Best performance of all, no problems handling all jobs, even concurrent ones
Good power efficiency
Same small form factor as ION

More power use than option 1 (maybe not much more)
Need separate Wifi card
Lots more expensive than other options
Newer CPUS now out (Sandy Bridge)

Of all these options, I went with Option 1 - the Atom/ION combination. It had the best compromise of the three, with the lowest power usage. That is important to me, as I wanted to reduce the ongoing costs as much as possible. That's what eliminated option 2 as well, along with the fact that a larger case would have to sit behind the TV cabinet, in amongst the already messy tangle of cables. Option 3 was the most attractive performance-wise, but was really getting quite expensive compared to the others, and getting a little hard to justify the price for something that is just for watching TV, after all.

In the next part, I will go over the build of the box, setting it up and what my experiences have been with it.

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