The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

HTPC Geriatrics

Posted by Deliverator on January 12th, 2010

I’ve been using a Shuttle SN25p as the basis for my Home Theater PC for 2.25 years now. I built this system on the cheap out of hand-me-down components including a low end AMD 3800+ X2 processor and 6800 GT when I upgraded my main system to an Opteron 185 processor and 8800 GTX. I’ve since upgraded my main system yet again to a Core i7, allowing the Opteron to trickle down to the Shuttle and the 3800+ X2 to trickle down to my friend Ryan. This worked out fine, but for one problem…

In upgrading to the Opteron, I inadvertently pushed the power intake a little past what the power supply could handle..but only at boot. Many electrical devices use a lot more power when you attempt to start them up than when they are fully running. This is a phenomena sometimes referred to as inrush current. The kludgey short term (&cheap) fix was to unplug the video card’s auxiliary PCIe power connector when cold booting the system and then plug it back in immediately after POST, but before Windows started booting. This was inconvenient, but I cold boot the system so seldom it hardly mattered. Recently, the system got powered down while I was away and I really needed some files on the system and because of the power-up issue couldn’t simply have a family member hit the power button. I finally decided to fix the issue.

I looked at spreading the power load more evenly across the system’s internal power connectors, but met with no luck. My guess is the power supply is of a single rail type design and so it didn’t matter which combination of power connectors I used, as they were all drawing from the same place. I tried leaving the optical drive and hdd power connectors unplugged, to see if using lower power versions of these might work, but the result was the same. I doubted this would work, but I always try cheap/free solutions before resorting to buying something.

I ended up looking for video card to replace the old and fairly high power using 6800 GT. I ended up deciding on an Nvidia GT 240 card 512 MB of GDDR5 memory made by eVGA. This card is something like 4 major product cycles newer than the 6800 it replaces. Anandtech seems to be fairly underwhelmed by the GT240, as it is an oddball new offering that comes between several other cards in terms of performance, but doesn’t offer much in the way of price savings. However, it happened to be one of the few cards I could source locally which met all of my requirements. Namely:

-The GT240 has one of the lowest power requirements of any reasonably performing cards on the market. It uses less than 10 watts when idle and something like 50 watts measured running full tilt. This was a big consideration given the Shuttle’s slightly too anemic power supply. The GT240 uses such little power that it doesn’t even need a PCIe auxiliary connector, it can get all the power it needs from a standard PCIe x16 motherboard slot.
-The eVGA card uses a single slot cooling solution and is fairly short as non low-profile cards go. A lot of other manufacturer’s cards have a cooling solution which takes up the adjacent slot or have a heat-sink which wraps around the back. I have a card in the adjacent slot and the case sides run very closely to the back of the x16 card slot, so I really needed a single slot solution.
-The eVGA card isn’t fanless, but the fan is extremely quiet, which is an important consideration in a HTPC.
-The GT240 has VGA, DVI and HDMI on one card. The HDMI implementation was particularly intriguing to me as this video card also has onboard sound which outputs over the HDMI. This may help me cut down on the rats nest of cables present in my shelf system and allow for simpler video switching in the future.
-The GT240 also supports some of the newest hardware video acceleration standards, which are of particular use for Blueray playback. The 6800 GT card it was replacing hardly supported any, requiring much more CPU for smooth playback. I’d noticed some minor frame skipping issues when doing some HD playback while running other stuff in the background, so this was a small but not insignificant consideration to me.
-The GT240 performs decently in a lot of games I play at the relatively modest 720p resolution of my projector. The 6800 in my HTPC really couldn’t cope with a lot of the games I play on my primary Core i7 desktop. I figure it might be fun to play L4D at 100+” sometime.
-The eVGA GT240 only cost me $90. I like cheap and $90 to keep this HTPC working for a while longer is a lot cheaper than upgrading to a newer Shuttle box and having to buy a new CPU, memory, etc.