The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

New HTPC, Windows 7 Headaches

Posted by Deliverator on January 18th, 2011

My last set of upgrades to my HTPC managed to eek out one more year of life, but it finally succumbed under an avalanche of high bit-rate video, new surround sound encoding schemes and other tasks which proved too much for the aging Shuttle boxes’ older dual core AMD CPU and bandwidth challenged DDR400 memory to handle. I ended up being able to scrounge most of the parts for the new HTPC from my spare parts bins, so the only purchases I needed to make were the CPU and ram. The new system has the following specs:

-Core i7 950 cpu

-4GB of Kinston DDR3 ram

-MSI X58 Platinum motherboard

-750 GB Seagate HDD

-Blu-ray reader / DVD burner

-600 W OCZ power supply with modular cables

-Lian Li desktop style aluminum case

-Nvidia GT 240 graphics card

-Windows 7

Putting together the system was pretty straight-forward. The Lian Li case I had on hand doesn’t have the best cable pathing and won’t accommodate longer video cards, but it had the virtue of being free. Thanks to the modular cable system on the power supply, I was able to keep the internal rats nest down to a bare minimum. The noise level is higher than on my old system due to an increased number of fans and and fairly loud head seeking of the Seagate HDD. I’ve been using SSDs pretty exclusively for my boot drives for the last few years, but needed more storage for this system than is cheaply affordable in an SSD and I was trying to keep the cost of this upgrade to a bare minimum. I might clone the HDD drive to an SSD at some future point if the head seeking becomes too annoying, but for now the projector fan largely drowns it out.

Software setup was a bit more of a challenge, as some of the audio/video software I use still doesn’t play nicely with Windows 7. I was able to get my HDTV DVR software, Beyond TV, working with my tuners, eventually, but it took some doing.

I switched from coaxial digital audio to optical Toslink, due to my newer motherboard not supporting coaxial out. This went fairly smoothly; I was dreading having to deal by touch with the maze of barely accessible wires coming out of the back of my surround receiver.

The biggest sticking point of the whole project was that my Optoma HD20 projector did not want to display anything but gobbledygook when hooked up to the Nvidia GT 240 video card. I had used this same card, cables and everything with the previous system without issue. Updating to the latest beta 126.635 drivers finally got an image up on the screen, but at 1080p60 resolution, the computer would momentarily lose sync with the projector every 5-15 minutes and the projector would seek for 3-4 seconds before relocking. VERY annoying when watching a film. Setting the refresh to 30 hz or a lower resolution gets rid of the problem, making this appear on the surface to be a video bandwidth/cable length issue, but this same video card, projector and cables behaved perfectly well under XP, so I have to conclude that Nvidia’s Windows 7 drivers are pretty much made of fail.

It would really piss me off to have to buy a new video card or a video amplifier/HDMI repeater in order to solve this problem. The HDMI cables aren’t that long (35′ if I remember correctly) and were of the higher quality type designed for full 1080p spec use at longer lengths. They are plastered in the ceiling, so replacing them isn’t really an appealing option!