Where my HTPC comes to life

So, after much pondering and googling and guessing, I got myself my little nice HTPC…  I considered the much praised WD-TV gadget, which in fact I had the chance to test and is a nice piece (smooth mkv HD videos play).  But even though it has been hacked and extended with custom firmwares that add wifi, torrent and more to it, it seemed not what I was looking for… I think I had just got too used to enjoying XMBC.

So I decided to build a full blown, though tight on budget home theater – PC (my HTPC)This is what I made it from:

  • Mainboard: Zotac ION-ITX-A. So, this is a small (mini-ITX factor) board, that includes out of the box an Atom 330 processor, Wifi and external power supply. It is also loaded with an nvidia graphic card of the 9xxx series (I think it is 9600), great for GPU video decompressing, with HDMI out. Detailed specs here
  • 4 GB DDR-3 memory
  • 1 TB HDD (yes, well, I love it…!)
  • Old keyboard, mouse, and MCE remote from an old HP PC.
  • Sound via a simple 2.1 system

Zotac_ION_ITX_A-E_440

Regarding the software, it was clear from the very beginning that I would use XBMC. This open source media center is available in many flavors… I tested it in this particular machine under Windows XP and Ubuntu 9.04, and kept both with dual booting.

Under Windows XP everything works fine, except the remote (funny, it is a Microsoft MCE remote and I was not able to run correctly -tries evenghost, and some other pieces of software), and of course, 720p and 1080p videos are jerky at best… why? The XBMC for Windows does not support GPU decoding of movies… yet? (a DirectX port seems to be in the making, but…).

Second try: Ubuntu 9.04 and XBMC following this guide designed for the Asrock 330 PC, based on the same ION architecture. It worked, remote and all in my first try. So it is what I am using now! Great 720p and 1080p performance. I am using the Transparency! skin with custom backgrounds, and all my movies and TV series info and covers automatically scraped by XBMC itself.

Wonderful.

Just a word of caution: this model has external power supply, and no on-board connection for other power supply, so if you find a nice ITX case for your HTPC, you might as well get it without power supply… it will be useless (yes, well, I will try mine for my CNC, so I can get all the electronics in a nice small aluminum case, replacing my current ATX power supply).

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