A New Media Streaming Computer

Part of my network revamp plan was to replace the full blown living room home theater PC (HTPC) with a streaming device. My dedicated server would host all media files and would become the primary location for TV recordings. I chose the following components for the new living room system:

  • Apex MI-008 Black Steel Mini-ITX Tower Computer Case and 250W Power Supply
  • Biostar NM70I-1037U Dual-Core 1.8GHz Intel NM70 Mini ITX Motherboard/CPU/VGA Combo
  • G.SKILL 4GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) RAM
  • Adata Premier Pro SP900 2.5” 64GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
  • LG UH12NS30 12X BD-ROM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM SATA BluRay Disc Drive

Total cost without shipping and handling was $237.

The APEX case is a tight squeeze. The case shell uses conventional screws rather than thumb screws. All components fit and there is space and brackets for an additional hard drive. A little planning is required to install the components. I temporarily removed the power supply to install the motherboard. Otherwise there is no finger room to connect everything to the motherboard.

The Biostar NM70I-1037U motherboard is a nice board. After using the board for a while I see potential as a desktop or even server board. Surprisingly, the motherboard came packaged with a simple PC speaker to help with POST beeps.

The BIOS emits a beep when first powered on. I have been debating whether to keep the speaker enabled. The noise is not annoying and is a single beep. Like my previous full blown HTPC, I did not connect the hard drive red LED. The continual blinking is annoying when watching movies with the room lights dimmed.

The case power supply and CPU fans are surprisingly quiet. I have to get quite close to the case to hear anything. Playing any kind of media prevents hearing anything from the case.

Installing 4 GB of RAM probably is overkill for a streaming system, but I like the breathing room. I never know how I use my systems months down the road or what kind of emergencies might arise for temporary alternate purposes.

The Adata SSD is not the fastest storage device yet is more than adequate. From power on to a stable graphical desktop requires about 40 seconds. I start services such as SSH and NFS, which contribute to the boot time. Apps load and start faster than with a mechanical drive. Other than GPT partitioning, I did little to prep the drive. To the system fstab I added the noatime and discard options, but for many years I have been using the noatime option in all of my systems. The Adata SSD came with its own 3.5 inch adapter tray.

I do not own BluRay disks yet I thought having that feature would be nice when people visit.

The case power button is a tad stiff and requires a conscious push to engage. Because of the way I have the case on a lower shelf, I press my fingers on top of the case as a brace and use my thumb to press the button. The power button LED is pale green rather than the fad popular blue.

There is no case option for a motherboard reset button. The power supply does not provide a common external rocker switch. I prefer both but thus far have not had a need for either.

The motherboard supports wake-on-lan. With the device only providing streaming options that option is not critical, but when I am in the office the option is handy when I want to perform remote maintenance.

The built-in CPU Intel 3rd Gen Core processor Graphics Controller is more than capable with HD video streaming. Because the GPU is Intel, there is no headaches dealing with Nvidia or AMD drivers.

The motherboard supports a VGA and HDMI port. I am using the HDMI port to connect to my TV. The native resolution of the TV is 1920 x 1080 and the GPU handles this nicely. I have not yet looked into how I might configure HDMI CEC with the TV’s (LG) SimpleLink. Might be nice to concurrently control both devices. I have been living with two remote controls for many years so no urgent need. Yet probably not possible because the computer connection is not an approved or recognized SimpleLink device. Proprietary thinking sucks.

I am using a Media Center RRS9002-86XXF RC6 remote control. That device came packaged years ago with an Hauppauge HVR-1250 TV capture card. While the motherboard supports USB wake, I know of no way to wake the motherboard using the remote control, despite the infrared device being connected through a USB port.

With my first HTPC I bought a Logitech Pro 2000 Wireless USB Keyboard and Logitech RX700 Wireless USB Optical Mouse. I still have those components stored on the shelf along side the new Apex case. While the Biostar motherboard supports several backside USB connectors, the Apex case has a nice front cover hiding two USB ports. I plan to connect the keyboard and mouse using the front connectors, which allows me to use the two components elsewhere in the house without needing to reach behind the case.

I am using the same Logitech S220 Speaker System that I had with the original HTPC. The speakers use about 5 watts idle, 7-10 watts normal listening, 20-25 watts max. I have to manually power on the speakers. I use an extension cord with a built-in switch. I installed the cord in a manner not to be an eye sore and installed the switch within arm’s length of the system case.

Like my server and office desktop, the system is running Slackware. I plan to look at other options and other desktop environments but I am in no rush. My first immediate migration goal was get the system running and working with the new server. A systemd operating system is unlikely because of some scripts I have customized through the years. Those scripts control the shutdown process.

Energy consumption of the new system is about 26-33 watts when using XBMC and about 21 watts idle. The BIOS supports suspend to RAM. I am unlikely to use that feature often because of the flashing power LED.

Hibernation on the other hand might be nice for this system. That provides the benefits of suspend to RAM, avoids the boot process, and creates the illusion of booting from firmware. Restoring from hibernation is about 25 seconds.

As I made most of the migration changes when I moved the original HTPC into my office and used a refurb system as a temporary streaming device, all I basically had to do was migrate the hard drive data and then install the case.

I am well pleased with the new system. Very quiet. Energy efficient. Handles HD without a sweat. Boots fast.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

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