The build process and thermal performance of a fanless Ivy Bridge HTPC was covered in detail last month. I had indicated that the piece would be the first of a three-part HTPC series. Today, we are looking at the second part of the series. My original intention was to present the HTPC oriented benchmarks and aspects of the PC as it was built in the first part.

After a few experiments, we had to do some updates to the build in terms of both hardware and software (OS). The first hint of trouble came when I was unable to reproduce the performance of the i7-3770K Ivy Bridge HTPC with respect to madVR despite having DRAM running at 1600 MHz instead of 1333 MHz. The second was more of a decision to test out what Windows 8 offers to HTPC users. As you will see in later sections, Windows 8 offers a host of advantages to the HTPC user while also presenting some roadblocks. 

In our initial build, we had avoided filling up the second DRAM slot because the DRAM heat sink ended up scraping against the capacitors in the Nano150 PSU. Unfortunately, this meant that we had halved the memory bandwidth available to the processor. madVR, in particular, is very sensitive to bandwidth constraints. We fixed this by deciding to allow the heat sink to touch the capacitors and ended up increasing the installed memory from 4 GB to 8 GB. In order to install Windows 8, we added another SSD to the system and set the unit up in a dual boot configuration with both Windows 7 and Windows 8. We were able to perform sensible power consumption comparisons between the two operating systems in this scenario (same hardware and software configuration except for the OS itself).

In the rest of the piece, we will be looking at the general performance metrics, network streaming performance (Netflix and YouTube), refresh rate handling, HTPC decoding and rendering benchmarks for various combinations of decoders and renderers and revisit the power consumption and thermal profile of the system. Before proceeding further, the table below summarizes the hardware and software configuration of the unit under consideration.

Ivy Bridge Passive HTPC Configuration
Processor Intel Ivy Bridge Core i3-3225
(2 x 3.30 GHz, 22nm, 3MB L2, 55W)
Motherboard Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe
Memory 2 x 4GB DDR3-1600 [ G-Skill Ares F3-2133C9Q-16GAB ]
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4000
650 MHz / 1.15 GHz (Turbo)
Disk Drive(s) Corsair F120 120 GB SSD
OCZ Vertex 2 128 GB SSD
Optical Drive Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo (Philips Lite-On DL-4ETS)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
802.11b/g/n (5GHz/2.4GHz Dual-Band access) / Bluetooth 4.0 (2T2R Broadcom BCM43228 in AzureWave AW-NB111H)
Audio Microphone and headphone/speaker jacks
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (optical SPDIF/HDMI)
Operating Systems Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Windows 8 Professional x64


General Performance Metrics
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  • clarkn0va - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Mediaportal (I hadn't heard of it until your post) seems to really play up the fact that it's "free" and "open source" on their web site, and yet it only runs on a non-free OS. XBMC, meanwhile, runs great on Linux.

    Of course not everyone cares about software freedom, but some of us certainly do, which is why I'm sticking with XBMC for now.
  • guidryp - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    " I would strongly suggest HTPC users relying on WMC (irrespective of the OS) to move on to other platforms."

    What other platforms.

    The only reason anyone I know uses WMC is for recording with a Tuner. I have an HTPC and I use it for this reason alone.

    There really is no free alternative for EPG based Tuner recording.

    I see ZERO reason to consider Windows8. Win7 Home Premium comes with WMC and if you actually need WMC this is the sane choice while it is available.
  • Bob Todd - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    Very true about zero competition for people who use this for TV/DVR purposes (including me). It's probably worth posting this again even though someone else already brought it up.

    If anyone thinks they may ever want to run a HTPC on Windows 8 you can get yourself a free WMC key until the end of the month. Doesn't hurt to grab one and stash it away just in case.
  • guidryp - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    It is not free.

    First you need Windows 8, if you are not already there.

    You also need Win8 PRO, which is more expensive than Win7 Home Premium.

    Stick with win7.
  • amdwilliam1985 - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    I bought windows 8 pro over the weekend for $39.99.

    Yes it is windows 8 pro not just windows 8.
  • amdwilliam1985 - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    I bought it from Microsoft site, no special deal, no discount site, no special coupon.
    Just bought it from Microsoft official site for $39.99 with no tax.
  • guidryp - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    But that is an Upgrade price.

    So you are paying the price of Windows 7 + $40.

    So obviously it is $40 more than Windows 7.
  • lummoz - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    As mentioned before MediaPortal is a free (open source) alternative that allows for EPG based TV tuner recording while being a lot more flexible than WMC. It was originally forked from XBMC so it looks pretty fantastic as well.
  • jeffkibuule - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    Doesn't support CableCard.
  • guidryp - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    I tried MediaPortal and it's TV-Tuner recording is a MESS.

    I had better luck getting MythTV working under Linux. Pulling EPG from the DVB info worked in MythTV, but never really got it working in MediaPortal. Not that it is all that useful for guide recording anyway.

    So I still maintain there is no credible EPG-Tuner recording software to WMC.

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