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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  • HighTech4US - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    Agree, I see no other overall complete platform that would be better (or even equal) for a 4-OTA Tuner DVR with unlimited storage (only limited by disk size) with free EPG that Windows 7 Media Center provides.

    And by tricking out 7MC with MediaBrowser, MediaControl, SHARK007 Codecs I have a complete on demand system that can play any type of media.

    I use MediaCenterMaster to get program meta information, backdrops and thumbnails for MediaBrowser.

    I also use MakeMKV to rip my DVD's and VideoReDo TVSuite h.264 to edit recorded TV shows and convert them to H.264 MKV's.

    Oh and 7MC can show your digital pictures as a slide show on your big screen with background music.

    I also love the screen saver where it shows random pictures from your picture library then zooms to one (or more) from a folder. When I first got this enabled the wife spent 45 minutes just watching the screen saver.
  • powerarmour - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Agreed, WMC is only EPG based Tuner app that can correctly use Freeview HD DVB-T2 Tuners in the UK, there are no other usable HTPC alternatives.
  • psuedonymous - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    Question: why was the obsolete 2-pass method used instead of the faster (and more common) CRF? Was the encoding benchmark intended as an artificial CPU-stressing benchmark rather than a 'real world' encoding benchmark?
  • ganeshts - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    Hmm.. that is what Graysky's benchmark does, and it keeps the setting consistent across different systems when you want to see how much better or worse your system is, when compared to someone else's.

    FWIW, pass 1 stresses the memory subsystem, while pass 2 stresses the CPU.
  • ganeshts - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    Thanks for the info. I was looking at the FAQ hosted by TechARP here: ;

    Also, look at Ian's test with various memory speeds here using the same processor (last section on this page):

    There is definitely an impact on pass 1 performance using different memory speeds and the impact is more than on pass 2.
  • Iketh - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    Why is Prime95 v25.9 used? That is grossly outdated. The latest official 27.7 is needed to tax Ivy Bridge with AVX instructions. All those temps and watts you got will increase significantly. Please revise your Prime95. An oversight like this is unacceptable.

    Not to mention the latest Intel compilers have been implementing AVX instructions for like 6+ months now even if the programmer didn't specifically write for it. AND Handbrake has been using AVX in about that same timeframe and is only increasing.....
  • ganeshts - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    I will definitely do some experiments with the new Prime95 and report back.
  • ganeshts - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    I repeated the CPU loading with the latest Prime95 (v27.7):

    The readings didn't go up significantly, but, yes, there is an increase. The power consumption at the wall increased from 58.25 to 62.56 W.

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention, and we will make sure future reviews use the updated Prime95.
  • ganeshts - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Oh, but, with full GPU and CPU loading (using Furmark 1.10.3 - latest), the power at the wall is only 89.77 W (compared to 88.75 W earlier). The ~40 W / ~15W TDP distribution between the CPU and the GPU still remains the same.

    I don't expect the steady state temperatures to be that different because the power increase at the wall is only 1 W.
  • ganeshts - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    Yes, the scaling algorithms affect the performance a lot.

    That is why I mentioned that we used the default settings: Bicubic with sharpness 75 for chroma (no anti-ringing filter), Lanczos 3-tap for image upscaling / Catmull-Rom for image downscaling (no anti-ringing filter or linear light scaling),

    We will look at other scaling algorithms and their performance on the HD 4000 / GT 640 / AMD 7750 in the third part of the HTPC series.

    Also, a note that if you are using HD 4000 (or any other Intel HD Graphics), I would strongly suggest looking at DXVA Scaling. Users might be surprised at the quality delivered without taxing the GPU too much.

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