Monday, October 30, 2006

A race to the core2

It's a race... will the price of Core2Duo machines drop below my pain threshold in time to buy one for the wife for Christmas? She wants (and actually probably needs) a new computer... it's been a long while. She mentioned wanting a DVD burner in passing a week before our wedding anniversary, but I've got bigger plans: a whole new computer that will blow her socks off. The question is who will deliver on price?

I watched prices very closely last Christmas (and almost bought her one then), and that I saw, Microcenter had some killer deals on a few select models. The question will be if the models I'm interested in will be available this Christmas. Other big box places like Best Buy, Circuit City, and Fry's ( have decent deals, but still a step below Microcenter. currently has an HP Pavilion a1640n 1.86GHz (E6300) Core2Duo with 2GB RAM 250GB hard drive for $820. I am really hoping for an E6600 for something around $600 in three months... but will it really fall that far from the current ~$1100? I'm not impressed with system prices on, and pricegrabber has almost no selection. has even less. Tigerdirect will hopefully have something, and maybe ones I don't normally think about like Costco, Sam's, CDW, Office Depot, or Office max. Staples seems to have some outstandingly crazy prices sometimes as well.

Or maybe I should just build my own like I used to when I had lots of spare time research the good parts to do such things.

Or maybe I should lower my sights a little to an E6400 system. Mid-post-update from 8 months later: Core 2 is out in force and lots of performance numbers are available. The E6600 is indeed a kick-ass processor, but you can overclock almost any Core 2 and have it kick-ass. Tom's hardware has CPU comparison charts, and they seem to pretty well show that the E2160 is even on most tasks (except heavy duty transcoding) with the E6300 and E6320. Not all that surprising since the clock rate is so close. The E6400/E6420 is a noticable step up in performance (and price) from there, and then then the E6600/E6650 is a noticable step up again. But in reality, the E2160 is almost unbeatable in terms of price per performance - even before you over clock it!

There are a number of posts and reviews online which seem to indicate that playback of H.264/mpeg-4/AVC/JVT/H.26L streams is considerably aided by a decent graphics card, but even then, it requires a CPU with decent HP. Any Core 2 duo running ~2 GHz or faster (overclocked or not) should be able to keep up though. And AMD X2 5000+ or FX-62 would probably also do it, although I'm guessing power would be noticably higher. To keep the power low and the system small (after all, you don't really need a hard-drive if you boot from CD-rom - and just one high-end video card), what about a mobile on desktop (MoDT)? Intel has the following (surely incomplete) list of motherboards:
  • Gigabyte: GA81945GMMFY-RH
  • Aopen: i945GTm-VHL / i945GTt-VFA (available through ASI Corp and Ingram Micro)
  • MSI: 945GT Speedster-A4R (available through ASI Corp)
  • Asus: N4L-VM DH (available through ASI Corp and Synnex Corp)
And system vendors:
  • Shuttle
  • MSI
  • FIC
  • Gigabyte
  • ECS
  • Aopen
There are sites dedicated to silent components... like this one.

And there is a new generation of motherboards just starting to come out that have onboard video cards with digital outputs (DVI or more likely HDMI). Forums are going crazy about them. Sounds like there are a few growing pains (vendors leaving off Firewire, or placing SATA connectors in strange places), and there are questions if 1080p High-def stuff like Blu-ray or HD-DVD will play back at full-frame rate - but those will get solved with time. The biggest wait is going to be for one with a video chipset that Linux (and therefore Mythtv) supports (and which can make use of the hardware acceleration). Cause evidentially, there is a big mis-communication going on about HDCP support (or lack there-of by most video card manufacturers). Or at least, there used to be. Eventually real HDCP support is finally appearing, although perhaps still not for Linux. H.264/mpeg-4/AVC/JVT/H.26L is still lacking eventually. More confirmation here. Hrmmm... Via might have it, although some have said it stinks. Are there others?

A huge motherboard matrix is available here.

I'm semi-converging on a E4300 OR E4400 overclocked to around 3 GHz. No-one has high hopes for H.264/AVC hardware acceleration support under Linux, so I guess we'll just have throw more GHz at the problem. The sticking point is the motherboard and graphics card. I'd like to support Intel with their open source efforts, and the G35 chipset is coming out next quarter which supports integrated HDMI. It will be very tempting. I'm thinking booting up on a flash stick to avoid the noise and heat of a hard drive.

On thing to be on the lookout for is overscan issue(s)... some drivers output a signal that assumes that the t.v. will be overscanning, but not all t.v.'s do... some are 1:1.

G33 motherboards with digital video outputs built in supposedly:
  • ECS G33T-M (was supposed to have DVI-D, but almost looks like it was not produced and DVI was dropped on -M2?)
  • Intel DG33T (or is it TLM ?) (DVI port but 1080 may require an ADD2 card?)
  • Gigabyte GA-G33M-S2H (HDMI, but according to this, and THIS, the PCIe x16 slot only supports x4!)
  • Shuttle SG33G5 (HDMI)
G33's without digitial video out:
  • Foxconn G33M-S: Intel ICH9R, but only 4 SATA, RTL8110SC PCI GbE and ALC888-8chan Azalia audio codecs
  • GA-G33M-DS2R: Supposedly a good combo of features and ability to overclock, although perhaps not for CPU's with 800 MHz. Also missing S/PDIF out on the rear panel: only an internal connector
G35 motherboards:
  • Gigabyte: GA-G35M-DS2R (G35+ICH8R) Internal: 2xPCI + (PCIe x 1) + (PCIe x 16?) + 4 DIMM (DDR2-1066) + 2xGSATA (Gigabyte branded JMicron SATA) + 4xSATA. Dual heatsinks. Smallish
  • Gigabyte: GA-8IBL-G also a G35 board??? Internal: 1xPCI + 4x(PCIe x 1) + 1x(PCIe x 16) + 4 DIMM slots + 8xSATA. Heatsinks on north and south. biggish
  • ASUS:P5E-VM (G35+ICH9R) Internal: 2xPCI + (PCI-express x 1) + (PCI express x 16?) + 4 DIMM slots + 2xSATA + 2xSATA. Smallish
  • ECS: G35T-M (G35 + ICH9DH) uATX G35 + ICH9DH w/DDR2 HD Audio 8ch (Realtek) GbE by Intel and HDMI. Internal: 2xPCI + (PCI-express x 1) + (PCI express x 16?) + 4 DIMM slots + 6xSATA. Heatsink only on north(?). Smallish
  • Albatron PXG35 (G35+ICH8). Realtek HD Audio. Dual Gigabit Ethernet. Internal: 2xSATA+ 4xSATA+ 2xPCI + 2x(PCI-express x 1) + 2x(PCI express x 16?) . 5-phase power? No floppy drive connector?? Bigish
  • Biostar G35D2-M7 2xPCI + (PCI-express x 1) + (PCI express x 16?) + 4 DIMM slots + ?xSATA internal. No heatsinks. Smallish
  • Foxconn G35M-S (G35 & ICH8R): 1 PCIe x16, 1 PCIe x1, 2 PCI slots, 4 DIMM slots (dual channel DDR2-800 - 8GB max), 4 SATA II, 12 USB 2.0, 2 IEEE 1394a, 1 ATA 133. 7.1 audio. Heatsink on north and south Smallish
  • Note that some list the Foxconn G337MA-8EKRS2H as (Intel G35 + ICH9R), but it appears to probably be a G33 (also has integrated graphics) with 4 x SATA II and supports DDR2-1066/800/667/553.
  • Jetway G35DAG-PB 2xPCI + 2x(PCI-express x 1) + 2x(PCI express x 16?) . At least 3xSATA, possibly 6xSATA. Considerable heatsinks. floppy + IDE? 4-phase power? Bigish
  • MSI G35M (MS-7362??) original prototypes (mid-2007) Internal: 2xSATA-something + 4xSATA-something + 6 SIMM slots + 2xPCI + (PCI-express x 1) + (PCI-express x 16??) + IDE + floppy?. Smallish
  • MSI 7358?? (soon to be production G35M? or was it a G33 board?): 5+1 SATA, 7.1 sound+PCIe 16X+1 PCIe 1X +two PCI ports+ 4 SIMM slots. IDE connector. Passive supplies on north and south. 4 phase power? No mention of HDMI/DVI/or not.
  • MSI G35M-FI also?? Internal: ?xSATA-something + ?xSATA-something + 4 SIMM slots + 2xPCI + (PCI-express x 1) + (PCI-express x 16??). Smallish. Big heatsinks. Beware of G33 part number boards being advertised as G35's on these -FI's.
  • AOPEN IG35 Internal:1xPCI + (PCI-express x 1) + (PCI-express x 16??). 4xSATA. No heatsinks. No floppy?
There is a list of some of the known issues in Linux/MythTV with G35 on the ubuntu forum.
It's quite possible not many will have HDMI ports. Here's why: It is understood that any vendor launched HDMI products required to Digital Content Protection LLC to provide 10,000 US dollars each year in royalties, and product certification fee of 6,000 US dollars each, each sold an HDMI products need to pay 0.15 US dollars, such as HDMI products bearing the logo with pay 0.05 US dollars, the above amount does not include HDCP support. HDCP annual fee of 15,000 US dollars and 1,000 dollars to buy 10,000 HDCP Key, 2,500 dollars to buy 100,000 HDCP Key, and 5,000 US dollars can be bought 1,000,000 000 HDCP Key.Any unauthorized manufacturers make HDCP Key, a maximum fine of one million US dollars and 8 surcharge will be retroactive to all the illegal use of HDCP Key products authorized payments.

A few other pics (possibly taken at the same show) are here. Nope, different show. The number of populated SATA connectors on the MSI board is different. Yet another set is here.

Southbridge choices:
  • ICH9R = RAID support (but "cheap" RAID solutions are supposedly no better than software RAID, and in fact, can create hardware compatibility/migration problems. 6 SATA connectors
  • ICH9DH = same as R, but without RAID. 4 SATA connectors
  • ICH9DO = same as R, but noViiv support (i.e. no support for Quick Resume technology) - 4 SATA connectors
Hopefully Native command queuing (NCQ) is supported by these chipsets - I think it is, via the "AHCI" driver. dmesg (or kernel log) should show something like:
ata2.00: ATA-7, max UDMA/133, 321672960 sectors: LBA48 NCQ (depth 31/32)
Hot plug is something that a number of people recommend, also.

JSata is supposedly just a cheap device to provide IDE support, and must go through the PCI-e bus.

Speaking of hard-drives, Seagate yanked out the acoustic management from the Barracuda series right after the 7200.7. Their 750 GB doesn't have it. Samsung T166 does, as does Maxtor. But makes access times slower. Here's a recent hard drive review and here. Storage review also seems worth checking out. Other items (performance differences) regarding Seagate. But is Maxtor owned by Seagate now, complete with the same firmware? Also, each brand appears to have drives marketed more towards 24/7 operation: Seagate: NS drives and Barracuda ES (enterprise) drives. Maxtor: MaxLine. Western Digital: RAID edition (RE, I think. RE2's have five year warranty). Or do I just go with lowest power and quietest drive, the Caviar GP (500G p/n: WD5000AACS and WD5000ABPS). Maybe one of these and one other brand.

It would be nice if the motherboard included the ADD2/SDVO option, but if it doesn't here's some lists of possible sources:
How much memory do have? Here's a good discussion on 32-bit vs. 64-bit OS's and limitations.

Update: maybe rather than a G45-based system, I'll try for mythTV front end based on a Centrino Atom processor technology (Menlow):

* Atom processor (Silverthorne; a new processor architecture, LPIA, Low Power on Intel Architecture)
* SCH (System Controller Hub; Poulsbo; a single chip) with GMA 500 graphics (=Imagination’s POWERVR SGX graphics and POWERVR VXD multi-standard HD video technologies) supporting 1080i HD video
But will any of those devices have a way to attach HDMI? The datasheet seems to imply so!


Post a Comment

<< Home