Upgrade considerations.

This looks like it'll be a long one... but I believe in having my bases covered.

It's nearing that time, again. I mean to build this thing around a soundcard (I'm just funny that way - I've also asked for opinions on soundcards at another forum, so you probably won't need to concern yourselves with that), but as for the rest I would appreciate input from (mostly) innocent bystanders like yourselves.

For the sound-setup, I'm planning something fairly wild, but I'll keep the details to myself for now. But the centerpiece will likely be ASUS's Xonar D2. Besides that, I have the following guidelines:
Low wattage
Environment-friendly (I know, consumer PC hardware is just not the forum for it, but IF POSSIBLE)
Lasting driver-support

For the wattage, I mean to say that if I can get a CPU using 95W while being slightly slower than a CPU using 125W, I'm fine with the slower one. I've noticed that AMD has nearly equal performance on their low- and high-powered CPUs anyway, but what of Intel?
On the GPU-side, it seems Nvidia's later offerings are just not an option (and, well, the games I play today work pretty well on their 9600GT, anyway). ATI, on the other hand, seem to have made their 5750 and/or 5770 for this requirement especially. At least, I've spotted some reviews pointing that way. I don't mean to be ATI-exclusive, though - I'll listen to any suggestion.

Eco-gear... :eek: Yeah, well, at least ASUS market their motherboards as compliant to some kind of standard, which Gigabyte doesn't. (ASUS, Gigabyte and Asrock appear to be in biggest supply in stores near me, but don't let that curb your imagination.) Samsung's Ecogreen HDDs seem to be in supply (and I'll probably need to get one regardless), and there are 'green' PSUs by Antec (at 380W and 430W - their wattage-calculator suggested a sample-system I threw at it would get by on 350W). Have I missed anything? Any RAM-manufacturer cleaner than the other?

As for the support's longevity, I actually hope to make this a Windows Post-7-setup - which, I know, is a precarious exercise so soon after 7's release - so I guess that would mean fairly recent hardware. And a flat 'Nay' to anything older than ATI's HD3xxx. See, I'm not sure I actually want 7, nurturing hopes the next release will suit me even better (and if it doesn't, THEN I'll get 7 in the blink of an eye). I like the idea of using 64-bit CPUs to their full capacity, though, and XP 32-bit's getting a bit tarnished by age. Runs like a dream, though.

Now, the ubiquitous question: Intel or AMD? (If Intel, LGA1156 or 1366?) I hear/read a couple of things about how the i5/i7s beating the Phenoms on just about everything - except price, depending on your perspective. Technically being a poor student sways me considerably towards AMD, but I'm not opposed to Intel at all. (Well, maybe they have some shady market-practices that I might file under 'ecologic concerns', being sued for essentially poor capitalistic sportsmanship and the like...) Well, I just haven't quite managed the 'poor' bit yet - but I'm working diligently on that.
Also: Dual- or quad-core? The games I play TODAY don't all use even two cores, no idea when quad-core will actually explicitly help me in that field, and I don't do anything exotic on my desktop that an Athlon X2 can't manage. I don't know what the future holds, though. I suppose it would be nice to give Winamp its very own core while I run X-Plane full tilt on the others, but... Maybe wattage should decide this. I may overclock, but I'm... apprehensive. If the how-to is good, and the procedure straight-forward...

So, what say you? I'll select RAM according to the motherboard I end up getting, but I suppose DDR3 would be a better choice (than DDR2) for future upgradeability.
 
Uh, I'm not allowed to edit? *Shrug - moderator for merging?* Oh well... I just wanted to tack on something about Win7, me getting it or not.
A new OS isn't meant to be part of this particular shopping spree, so if you really REALLY want to influence me, feel free to PM or e-mail me about 7's merits/downfalls - there's no need to debate that right here and now. It kind of costs me a graphics card and a half, you know, and my speaker-setup will NOT be cheap, and takes priority... As far as its application-/game-compatibility goes, though, I'm well capable of looking that up on my own, if needed. Just intel on the OS itself and how well some relevant bits and thingies work (or don't).
 

Mace

Vice Admiral
Every PC hardware manufactor has to comply to ROHS standards, so as for the green standards you are okay whatever you buy.

Power supplys you need to be careful of, to get a quality power supply use a descent brand, like antec, or coolermaster. Also check on your CPU/Graphics setup. High-end PSU's from 800 up to 2000 watts tend to be a lot better, and can actually lower your electric bill, because they do not "waste" power.

IF the budget allows it, get yourself a core I7. Don't go for the low-cost intels, then you are better of buying an AMD.

As for motherboards I'd say you are always safe with ASUS, ofcourse you could go for an original Intel motherboard, If you can find a store that sells them in your town.

As for the GPU, it does not really matter if you choose Ati or Nvidia, Nvidia tends to have less compatibility issues, and Ati is cheaper. Both give great graphics.
 
[ROHS] Alright, sounds good.

[PSU] But... 2kW?? WTF? Honestly, though, I'm not sure they are available... but I'll look into it. Um, care to explain how they don't waste power? Though I know a lot of things, there are... gaps.

[CPU] I don't think I should get the idea I have money for an i7 - and then I'd probably have to go for the cheaper ones anyway. I pricey CPU tends to prefer a pricey motherboard, but I suppose it's too early to safely say exactly what I can afford or not. I take it you prefer Intel instead of AMD? :) Any particular reason?

[GPU] Good graphics out of both, yes, and performance isn't important right now (and I won't lose sleep over reducing settings later, either), but power-drain and heat varies - and seems to mostly favour ATI's middle-end 5xxxs (with honourable mention to some 4xxxs), going by what little I remember of the reviews/comparisons I've read to date.
(As for compatibility issues, I've seen more complaints against Nvidia, actually. But I seem to have been in the clear so far, regardless. *Shrug* Maybe select bits of the FreeFalcon crowd are remarkably vocal.)
 

Andrewas

Rear Admiral
Power supplys you need to be careful of, to get a quality power supply use a descent brand, like antec, or coolermaster. Also check on your CPU/Graphics setup. High-end PSU's from 800 up to 2000 watts tend to be a lot better, and can actually lower your electric bill, because they do not "waste" power.

Its better to go too large than too small, but these things lose efficiency when underloaded as well as when overloaded. Very few, if any, gamers have enough of a system to justify a 2KW power supply. For the system under discussion, a 500W or so PSU would be more than adequate, provided its from a decent maker.
 

Wedge009

Rogue Leader
I haven't really looked at computer hardware much since building a new main PC at the end of 2008.

My understanding is that kilowatt-rated PSUs are really only for those who drive multiple devices - multiple graphics cards are a huge energy guzzler, as well as high-performance CPUs. Multiple hard disks can also bump up your energy consumption. I agree with Andrewas, a PSU rated about 500-600W will give you enough power for adding more components later, yet still run those that you want right now efficiently. In particular, look for PSUs which are officially rated with the 80% efficiency, especially those at the bronze, silver and gold level of certification.

Historically, my understanding is that AMD CPUs generally offer better performance-to-watt ratios, but that was before even Intel Core 2 days. I have not read many reviews on CPU energy efficiency recently. Similarly, ATi Radeons tend to be more energy efficient than their GeForce counter-parts, at least at the time I was doing my research, but I don't know if things have significantly changed now. I would suggest reading the relevant energy efficiency articles at Tom's Hardware - it's a US-based site, certainly, but it was helpful for me in making decisions when I had to build a new computer.
 
http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/pc-power-consumption,review-29696-9.html <- Food for thought, though it's three years old. It might not land you at the beginning, but...
(I also couldn't help noticing that i7 motherboards (LGA 1366 - 1156s are noticeably cheaper) cost about twice as much as AM3-boards, while only the i7 920 and 860 are in a reasonable price-range today. Keyword being 'today', of course. I won't bank on price-drops, but I'm all the same not assembling this beast tomorrow.)

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/cool-n-quiet-power-management,review-31845-5.html <- Only tests AMD CPUs, but there are some... interesting conclusions about the Phenom II 945. You know, I might just settle for that on the AMD side. I found a test where the 555 was being compared to an i5 720 (actually a Pentium G6950, but they busted the Pentium), by which it was soundly beaten - and I believe that i5 is affordable... The world gets interesting.
 

Mace

Vice Admiral
[ROHS] Alright, sounds good.

[PSU] But... 2kW?? WTF? Honestly, though, I'm not sure they are available... but I'll look into it. Um, care to explain how they don't waste power? Though I know a lot of things, there are... gaps.

[CPU] I don't think I should get the idea I have money for an i7 - and then I'd probably have to go for the cheaper ones anyway. I pricey CPU tends to prefer a pricey motherboard, but I suppose it's too early to safely say exactly what I can afford or not. I take it you prefer Intel instead of AMD? :) Any particular reason?

[GPU] Good graphics out of both, yes, and performance isn't important right now (and I won't lose sleep over reducing settings later, either), but power-drain and heat varies - and seems to mostly favour ATI's middle-end 5xxxs (with honourable mention to some 4xxxs), going by what little I remember of the reviews/comparisons I've read to date.
(As for compatibility issues, I've seen more complaints against Nvidia, actually. But I seem to have been in the clear so far, regardless. *Shrug* Maybe select bits of the FreeFalcon crowd are remarkably vocal.)

Yeah, I know a 2KW would be overkill, if you want a logo that qualifies, check for an "80plus" sticker. http://www.80plus.org/manu/psu/psu_join.aspx (500/550 watt is enough for most systems.

As for intel vs. AMD, I do vote for the underdog. But if the budget can handle it a Core i7 is a good investment. If you go for a cheaper option, then you get more "bang for the buck" if you choose an AMD.
 
80+, right. Looks like Antec's EarthWatts-series should basically fit that bill. But I will look closer as it nears time.

i7 or Phenom II 945 will have to be decided when the time is nigh... nigher, even. Though the current prices put the LGA1366 i7s at about three times the price of the Phenom, counting motherboards. Maybe if I wait until Christmas...? :)

And the graphics card looks like it will almost certainly be an HD5750. 'Kay, I guess this topic has served its purpose, as far as I'm concerned.
 

Wedge009

Rogue Leader
I would suggest that if you're going buy something, do it now. Don't wait until Christmas, the problem with the computer market is that things are always improving. You may as well dive in or not at all. :)
 
Well, the key thing is actually the speaker-setup I'll hook this into - no ordinary computer-speaker-setup, but hi-fi home cinema, 5 speakers, though not top-of-the-line - and that'll be expensive, mark my words, even if I don't go for 100% new speakers (already got four, and they will be re-used)... Piecing together a computer with this degree of modern...ness is a relatively extensive undertaking, and expenses will be in proportion. I'll see what my economy can take in late May. (I'm studying in another country, and will be back on the correct territory then.)
A new case is a given, though. Time to ditch that vicious bugger that's burned two graphics cards for me...
 

Wedge009

Rogue Leader
I only meant that you shouldn't delay for the sake of hoping for prices to improve. If you have other reasons to delay, then sure. You know what's best for your own situation, of course.
 

Worf

Vice Admiral
Hooking your PC to your A/V receiver is trivial - I've done it for many years now.

The most basic is just hooking the digital out of your PC to the receiver - you'll get 2channel sound for PC, and 5.1 for DVDs and Blu-Rays (using dolby digital/dts passthrough).

A slightly more advanced form is getting a soundcard that does Dolby Digital Live or DTS Connect, which simulate a 5.1 soundcard, encode it into a Dolby Digital or DTS stream, and outputs it over digital to your receiver.

The most advanced connection is to use an HDMI sound card, or a modern ATI 5xxx video card. The former accepts a DVI signal from the video card, and converts it to HDMI adding the HDMI audio streams, adding in HDCP as required. An ATI 5xxx (I've not seen if the nVidia series supports it yet) series card can output HDMI+HDCP directly.

Now, you can get ATI 4xxx cards that have HDMI+HDCP outputs as well, but the ATI 5xxx cards support "protected audio path" which enables use of HDMI audio passthrough (i.e., you can playback Dolby Digital TrueHD/DTS Master Audio streams (Blu-Ray) and have your receiver do the decoding rather than the PC). Without this, the only HDMI audio output you get is PCM.

I've tried all the methods - the second I had a Sondigo Callisto Home Theatre Adapter, which is a nice USB dongle doing the DTS encoding. I also have an Asus Xonar series card which gave me 7.1 via HDMI PCM (and supports HDMI passthrough). Now I have a ATI 5570 which means I just go HDMI from the video card direct to the A/V receiver - HDMI audio and passthrough supported. I use this method because the Asus driver sucks - half the time on startup, the Asus utility consumes 100% CPU - you have to kill it. Plus, when outputting 2ch audio, the ATI card sets the PCM to 2ch mode, so the surround enhancers on my receiver works. Of course, 5.1 output sends PCM 5.1ch to the receiver automatically. And blu-ray just passes through, activating my receiver's decoders.
 
Ah, now we're talking! Some hands-on experience of what I mean to try! I am in fact going for one of ASUS' Xonar-cards - Linux-support, except the HDMI-I/O in the HDAV! - so I'm interested in anything you have to say about your experience with it. What card was that?
Since none of the cards I'm considering do HDMI, though (it's accepted by the amplifiers, on the other hand) - TOSlink, rather - that particular bit is not terribly important to me. I also don't trust video-cards to have much sound-capability - am I in the wrong here? What's the deal with sticking sound-output through them, anyway?
 

AD

Finder of things, Doer of stuff
What's the deal with sticking sound-output through them, anyway?
If you want to use the specialized high quality formats on blu-ray disks you cannot use regular digital audio output. It pretty much has to go to your amp through the HDMI cable for your AV reciever to process. A video card with HDMI out wouldn't be processing the audio, it would just be passing the stream through to your reciever. There shouldn't be any sound quality issues. For your PC to output the audio separately it - in most cases - will downmix to regular dolby digital/DTS quality. It's both a copy protection and a bandwidth issue.
 
*Sarcastic smirk at copy-protection getting in the way - thank you, Microsoft/Intel...*
Hm... So... I would hook the sound card up with the graphics card, THEN the HDMI-cable to the receiver, and be merry? (But I can still get output to the computer monitor, right? No mucking about connecting the receiver back to the monitor then, I hope?) Blu-ray is out of my budget anyway, but it would be good to know for sure.
 

Mace

Vice Admiral
I you are going to use TOSlink, and it's primary for playback, you could just go with a mainboard with onboard TOSlink.
 

Worf

Vice Admiral
You're in trouble if you want a Linux HTPC. The options are slim to none.

First, HDMI is practically a no-go because of HDCP restrictions. Potentially your video driver may be fine and enable HDCP. That's why the HDMI I/O isn't supported.

Secondly, Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect are software solutions - they rely on the host CPU to encode the audio into those formats. Not a big deal since a modern CPU will take < 1% at it.

Now, if you want to use Windows, your options are open - HDMI soundcards like the Asus Xonar works OK (like I said, drivers are the issue). Even better is the ATI 5xxx series of video card, which combine both video out AND audio out over HDMI.

HDMI audio is somewhat tricky on a PC - if you use an HDMI video card that isn't an ATI 5xxx, or an Asus Xonar, then the best audio you'll get is PCM, and depending on your card, support for 5.1 or 7.1 and sampling of 96/192kHz. If you use an ATI 5xxx card or an Asus Xonar, they support "Protected Audio Path" feature in Windows Vista and Windows 7, which lets you bitstream the high-def audio formats (Dolby Digital Plus/TrueHD, DTS Master Audio). This is somewhat of a wierd call, since TrueHD and Master Audio are... lossless formats, as is PCM. (Of course, it's nice to light up those lights on the receiver!).

Additionally, the only program that can bitstream Blu-Ray audio out over HDMI is Arcsoft's Total Media Theatre 3, more or less.

As for how the audio flow goes with the Asus Xonar, you hook the HDMI/DVI output of your video card to the HDMI input of the Xonar, and connect the HDMI out to your receiver. An advantage is the HDMI output will encode HDCP if your video card doesn't support it. HDCP is often required by many modern receivers - they will not handle unencrypted connections.

Personally, my HTPC I got used from work was a Pentium 4 3GHz/Hyperthreaded with a x16 PCIe and a PCI slot, so I had to get the Xonar Slim (the only Xonar that supports PCI). But while investigating some issues, I replaced the ATI 4xxx + Xonar Slim with an ATI 5570. According to the AVSForum guys, the Xonars have issues with nVidia cards, and Asus has somewhat lousy drivers. Personally, I found they work, but one of the utilities they auto-install just upped and consumed 100% CPU on startup and had to be killed.

I personally prefer the all-in-one solution of the ATI 5xxx series cards - they really work, and ATI updates drivers more frequently than Asus does. And of course, the 5xxx series supports PAP and will bitstream. The only thing the ATI card does not do versus the Xonar would be all the fancy 3D audio and surround enhancer crap. Which isn't a big deal since in 2ch HDMI audio mode, the receiver can do that stuff.

If you're gaming, most games natively have 5.1+ output modes, and all you really want is to output those 5.1 channels straight to the receiver. HDMI is easy, but S/PDIF or TOSlink require a DTS Connect/DDLive soundcard (those formats only output bitstream or 2ch audio), in which case your Xonar is the best bet because it is one of the few that support it.
 
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