May 20, 2012

My Silent HTPC - part 3

Finally, the day (or evening) arrived! Time to assemble the hardware and get this show on the road. Both the motherboard and the chassis included manuals, so starting off as any pc build.

After removing the base for the stock CPU cooler, attach the supplied nuts to the holes. I had no problems with them not sticking well, but that may be because I had some hours break before trying to screw anything into them.

The chassis already had spacers for a m-atx board in place, so just align the IO shield and board and secure it using the provided screws. With so many similar screws it might have been better if Streacom supplied a number on each bag indicating which screw goes where, but you should be able to figure it out anyhow.

Install the CPU, the RAM and SATA cables (if you're installing the optical drive). The RAM should be installed because it's easier now - when the heatpipes are in place, you'll need a very small finger to push the "release button". The optical drive totally blocks the SATA connectors.

Asus F1A75-M Pro

Now, mount the CPU cooling block. I was afraid of overtightening mine, but using the criss-cross method and stopping when it "felt right" - the steel brace was just getting a little bent - I had no problems. Though I think the supplier could have done better here. Either with some springs or spacers or whatever. Anyway probably better to go to loose in the first run than too hard, and end up crunching your CPU.

A word on applying the TIM (thermal inducing matter) to the CPU, I always relied on just a "drop" of TIM onto the center of the headspreader before, and I did again. It's a lot easier than trying to spread the TIM by hand, and the block does a pretty great job at spreading it out even when you press it down. If the whole heatspreader isn't covered it's not really a big deal; most of the heat comes from the center.

Time to attach the heatpipes! First, do a dry run. It's messy with the TIM applied. Luckily, I did a dry run, and what do you know - the pipes don't fit. The long ones run just too far. The short ones were no problem. As it turns out, copper is a very soft metal. So you can bend them very easily, without applying any heat or force. Two things to be aware of:

  1. They are filled with gas or liquid, to aid with the heat dissipation. 
  2. They can crack... 
You don't want number 2 to happen because of number 1. So, use as little force as possible, and dont bend them too far. If the heatpipe is straight, you probably shouldn't try and bend it to a ninety degree angle. If it cracks open, you'll risk the contents getting in your face, and you'll have a hard time soldering the broken pipe back together. Make sure you insert the heatpipes in the blocks before bending anything. If not, you'll have to be very careful when forcing them through the block later, or in the worst case, bend them back.

Heatpipes in lower part of CPU  block - dry run.

Heatpipe inserted in block? Good. To adjust the heatpipe, I just clenched my fist a little tighter around it and that bent it just enough for me to insert it into the chassis. It's a tight fit because of the power button. I also had to bend the part that goes into the CPU block, but very very slightly, and keep the part that goes into the block straight! When the heatpipes are aligned and tightened to test, you can apply the TIM. 

Heatpipes in block, bent and with TIM applied.

I know the manual suggests applying TIM to the heatpipes while in the block, and then spin them - I did not. I figured you want the heat to spread from the inside of the chassis, out to the cooling ribs on the outside - it makes sense to apply the TIM only on the ouf-facing side of the heatpipe. So I attached the bottom screw in the side-wall blocks, left some drops of TIM in there on the heat pipes, attached the other screw and tightened. The TIM should now be spread out evenly and without leaving a mess.

Finally mount the top part of the CPU block, first of course laying a very thin line of TIM in the ridges on the lower part of the block, then applying the same amount of TIM in the ridges of the top part, and finally put them together and tighten screws. Done!

Click here for part four!

May 13, 2012

My silent HTPC - Part 2

So the day finally arrived! Actually, it did last week-end, but I've not had any free time until now. I had to do the classic "hardware shoot":

Nice, huh? Not much to say about the different items packaging really, it's all pretty standard. Except maybe for the heatpipes and CPU block of the Streacom FC5 chassis:

That's what I like to see, well-protected from rough handling in shipping. The printed instructions could have been better, but there's a more in-depth manual with the chassis as well.

So far I learned that the optical drive uses a special kind of SATA connector, a slim-line SATA where the power and data connector are together on one connector. I don't have one like that, so I had to order one now. I guess it applies to more slim-line drives than the Sony BC-5600S - so watch out.

Next part - installing the hardware!

May 3, 2012

My silent HTPC - Part 1

Three years ago, I got a Syvio 200a NMT (Networked Media Tank). I was quite happy with it at first, since I could play1080p on my TV, when I didn't have a blu-ray player. Over time, I got less and less happy with it, because the media collection on it grew, and it became slower, and slower, and... well.

Now I've decided to upgrade to a tailor made HTPC. And I figured, why not blog about the experience. After all, I have no experience building this kind of PC (I've built a lot of regular deskop PCs) and I imagine some other could learn from it.

So, part 1: Deciding on what to get. I had some requirements:

  • Obviously, 1080p playback via HDMI
  • Slick UI - like oversight on the Syvio
  • Small
  • Little or no noise
  • Fit in with the rest of my stereo components

The Syvio is very small, but I don't need quite as small a box. In fact it'd be more convenient if it were a standard width component. I quickly landed on the Streacom FC5 OD. This is a completely fanless chassis, which supports mini-ITX and micro-ATX, up to 65W CPU. A drawback is the price, of course. Also, the 150W Pico-PSU and the IR receiver are not included. So if I were on a budget, I'd go for the Aplus CS-160 mini.

Image from

Now to choose the platform. In a HTPC system, graphics performance is pretty important. With that in mind, and what I could read on numerous forums, the AMD Llano (FM1) APU seemed the right choice (Intel is more expensive, and, until Ivy Bridge, their GPU did not beat AMD's). I went for the A6-3500 since it had a triple core for multitasking, and a better GPU than the A4 series. ALso the more powerful A6 and A8 APUs are rated at 100W. For the price, it's certainly worth trying anyway. And it may be possible to add a discrete card later (using a riser card), for getting CrossFire performance!

Since the chassis has specific requirements to which board can be installed, I went for the Asus F1A75-M PRO, which is listed on their list of supported motherboards.  I also happen to like Asus' products. The A75 chipset also gives you SATA 6 Gb/s and USB 3.0 interfaces.

Image from Asus

Unfortunately, it's a micro-ATX board, which means the 3.5" HDD mount screws are unavailable. So I  got the only TB 2.5" drive I could find, WD Scorpio Blue. (Not having a NAS I have to rely on local storage, and I figured SATA 6 Gb/s interface is overkill for playing movies, I've never run into issues before with my SATA 2 drive. If space is really an issue there's another 2.5" bay available for another TB later).

The optical drive was really a no-brainer since the chassis supports only slim 3.5" drive with eject button to the left, and the only one I could find like that was Sony's BC-5600S. It's the only one I could find that matches that.

Finally I need some memory and ended up with Corsair Vengeance DDR3 1600MHz 8GB CL9, probably overkill with 8 GB but you never know. It has standard timings and voltage, and I've read that it works without issues with the motherboard.

As for the software, I've not yet really concluded, it'll be up to the next parts of this blog. I'm really leaning towards Ubuntu with XBMC installed, XBMCUbuntu or Open-Elec. If I run into too many issues with drivers etc, I may consider Windows, but from what I've found I should be able to run XBMC on linux with this. (I even checked, the IR remote is usable with ubuntu).

If you live in Norway, has my shopping list. (Though I'm in no way affiliated with them)

Click here for part two!