Mini Home Theater PC

In order to fill my need to endlessly tinker and upgrade my HTPC, I decided to build a new system using one of Intel’s Haswell CPUs. These are not only faster and more power efficient than past models, they also feature much improved graphics capability. I also decided to switch to external hard drive storage since USB 3.0 is not only well supported in Linux, it also performs nearly as well as internal hard drives. This allows me to more easily swap or add drives while keeping the size and noise of the HTPC to a minimum.

Parts List

The key to this build is the effectiveness of the USB 3.0 external hard drives. By moving to external storage I can use a much smaller case with an external power supply, all of which reduces the cooling requirements and consequently the noise of the PC. The only internal drive is the SSD which generates no noise and little heat. The only sound from this configuration comes from the CPU cooler which is somewhat oversized for the 35W CPU and therefore never runs at a high speed. The result is a versatile, snappy, power efficient, and very quiet HTPC.

Software

For this build I decided to go with Linux Mint as I have grown progressively tired with Ubuntu‘s UI tinkering. Otherwise my software choices are similar to past builds.

Network Sharing

For network sharing I use the Samba utility (repository package:  system-config-samba) which makes it easy to setup and manage shares with other computers on my network.

Backup

For backups I use the Scheduled Tasks utility (repository package:  gnome-schedule). With this I run various RSYNC scripts every night which synchronize my local hard drives with my FreeNAS server.

I am currently using a backup tool called Back In Time in place of my RSYNC scripts. I like it a lot and it provides significantly more functionality than a simple backup sync.  Back In Time creates snapshot style backups which allow for recovery of deleted files from past backups. It also has a lot of configuration options regarding how often backups occur, the exclusion of certain files, and the removal of old deleted files to save space.

Media Playback

  • VLC – media player
  • XBMC – media player and streamer (using plug-ins)
  • PLEX – media transcoder (works great through its Roku channel)

Bittorrent

  • Deluge – my favorite torrent client

Performance

Here’s an informal comparison between this build (bold) and my old HTPC (in parenthesis):

  • Time to import 227MB, 128kbps MP3 into Audacity – 0:53 (2:16)
  • Time to re-compress 227MB, 128kbps MP3 at 64kbps with Audacity – 6:40 (10:08)

While this is a sizable improvement these numbers don’t show how much snappier the system is in general, especially when multitasking.

Power Usage

While I anticipated a significant power consumption drop due to the lack of a video card, I was pleasantly surprised at how much of a drop I actually measured.

  • Old HTPC – 43W
  • Current Configuration (including external hard drives) – 30W

That’s quite a significant drop. From past experience I believe the video card used about 10W of power, therefore the Haswell CPU uses 3W less power on average than the Sandybridge model I was using previously.

Noise

This was another area of significant improvement. The combination of reducing the number of fans from 4 to 1 and swapping the stock cooler for a more efficient one results in this build being nearly silent.

2 thoughts on “Mini Home Theater PC”

  1. Damn you. Now I have to go out and spend a bunch of money on new equipment. How are you liking those red drives? I have been hearing some good things about them from an archival standpoint.

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