Repurposing an old PC as a HTPC; will it play BluRay movies etc.?

willardthor

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UPDATE (2014-05-13 20:37 CET): After discovering that I can get all my needs covered by basing this HTPC on Linux instead of Windows, I have decided to base it on Linux instead, thus dodging the need to buy a Windows license, and a license for a proprietary BluRay player software.

***

Hi,

Inspired by these lines, I want to build a XBMC-on-linux-based HTPC along (with the BluRay plugin for BluRay playback, NetfliXBMC for Netflix, etc.), using some ancient hardware that has been sitting around in my storage for years. Here's what I have:

CPU:
Athlon XP 3000+(400 MHz FSB)

Memory:
Advance Modules 2x1GB AM1GD16A16C-N1-PC3200 400MHz CL3

Motherboard:
Asus A7V400-MX (CPU and memory are optimal for this board)

Optical Drive:
Samsung SH-B123L (DVD & BluRay drive)

(it has other crappy hardware that is not worth mentioning)

To complete this setup and speed it up at minimal cost, I plan on getting

Graphics:
Radeon HD 3650 512MB 128-Bit GDDR2 AGP 8X

I am considering getting the following SSD, if it makes a difference:

Hard Drive (SSD):
Samsung 840 Evo MZ-7TE120 120GB

The motherboard has an AGP 8X slot and no PCI-E, which limits options for graphics cards (I chose the above graphics card because I saw people recommending it for BluRay playback on old machines with AGP 8X slots).

I picked the above SSD over e.g. Kingston SSDNow V300 since the Kingston drive is apparently unreliable (depending on who supplies the memory in the drive, the drive might perform poorly).

The motherboard has 1xSATA1 and 1xSATA2 ports. I plan on plugging the BluRay drive into the SATA1 slot (seems it does not support SATA2 anyway), and the SSD into the SATA2 slot (the SSD is a SATA3 drive, but SATA3 devices are backwards-compatible with SATA2 sockets, from what I understand).

For Linux distribution, I'll either go for aptosid or Arch Linux.

***

Now the questions:


    ■Will the proposed build be fast enough to run XMBC, play movies from BluRay disks, play movies from Netflix, etc.?
    ■Is 2GB RAM sufficient, or will the computer constantly be swapping to disk?
    ■Will HDCP be a problem?
    ■Do you recommend any different/additional hardware to make this build cheaper / more viable?
    ■How big a PSU do I need to run this machine? Any suggestions for a SFX form factor PSU? (that way, I avoid having to modify my case).


(please indicate clearly which question you are addressing, if you are answering a question).

Cheers!
Willard.
 

ssddx

Glorious
Moderator
what is the maximum that you would want to spend on a HTPC?

i would not waste money buying components for that old computer. its not worth the money at all.

instead, i would spend the money on new hardware. yes you may spend a bit more, however you will have a machine which isnt almost useless and should last you for many years. you can get an amd A series based system up and running for a fairly moderate cost. for just the system probably around $300-400 depending on what you pick. you dont need a ssd either.

if you are willing to go with a new build i could pick some parts out for you.

to play bluerays you will need software and that is not cheap. blueray drives also arent super cheap.
 

willardthor

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I can shell out $500 for a build similar to the one I URL'ed, or even more for a better one, and I almost did, until I discovered that I might be able to use that old fossil of mine as an HTPC. How much I spend depends on what I get for it, and I want to try to get away with spending as little as possible to get a HTPC up and running. If all I need is a used graphics card, Windows 7, and PowerDVD, that sounds like a bargain. If what I need starts stacking up to significantly more than that, then yes I agree with you; a new build would be better.


I already have the BluRay player, but I purchased it OEM, without software. I'll be using XBMC for playback, but I gather I still need a proprietary player, since they provide a piece of software I need to decode BluRay media. Do you have any recommendations of which proprietary player I should get?
 

ssddx

Glorious
Moderator
yes, you need the codecs to play blueray. for that you need paid software. i've always liked powerdvd. remember to get the correct version! (they have different versions, some are basic and cheaper but lack blueray support). i've heard mention that nero showtime is decent as well but i havent used it.

i'm not sure about windows 7 but vista absolutely would not run well on my old amd64 3500+ when i tried it out cpu useage was up around 35% just idling. another thing is that you might not have support for those old parts in the new operating system

i looked it up... and many sources said that it should be able to play the movies as you want. i cant vouch for super high performance though.

its a shame... i have a 3500+ cpu and a dfi lanparty df4 ultra-d which supports overclocking and a gtx7800 in a garbage box right now that i'm trashing. normally nobody wants such old hardware :lol:
 

Wolfshadw

Splendid
Moderator
PowerDVD by itself, requires at least a dual core processor for Blu-Ray playback. I think dual core AMD processors first came about with the AMD socket 939 (just after 462, I believe).

@ssddx - Is that DFI LanParty a socket 939 motherboard? Can you provide a link to specs? I have an AMD Athlon X2-4800+ just gathering dust (well the original box it's in is gathering dust).

-Wolf sends
 

hang-the-9

Titan
Moderator
Get a used small form Core 2 Duo system for about $100, stick the BlueRay drive in it. You may need to add in a video card in it depending on the video chip used. I have a very small Lenovo system I was able to pick up for $40 but it does not play BlueRay due to the video card restriction. http://www.geek.com/review/review-lenovo-m57p-eco-ultra-small-computer-575039/

Something similar with an add-one video card or a more modern or better video card onboard can handle BlueRay.
 

willardthor

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Thanks for the replies so far. Based on what I have discovered yesterday, I have now decided to scrap Windows and the proprietary BluRay player software idea, and will be running XBMC on Linux instead (I updated my original post to reflect this).

So far, only question 4 has been answered (by hang-the-9) (I interpret ssddx's remark about question 1 as "probably", and hang-the-9's remark about question 4 seems to imply a "probably not" for question 1).


I want it :pt1cable:

Seriously, that's perfectly good hardware, that you should at least give to a poor college student, and not just scrap ;)

Do you think this computation demand comes from the fundamental difficulty in decoding and playing BluRay movies, or from the fact that Windows and PowerDVD are bloated?


Are you suggesting the above because you think the build I suggest won't manage what I plan on throwing at it? Because it's cheaper (and easier) to buy a used AGP graphics card, than it is to hunt down a better used computer.
 

Wolfshadw

Splendid
Moderator
Do you think this computation demand comes from the fundamental difficulty in decoding and playing BluRay movies, or from the fact that Windows and PowerDVD are bloated?
Probably a combination of both, but more likely because of PowerDVD needing the cycles to decode the HD content.

@ssddx - How about this: You send him you motherboard and graphics card, I'll send him my dual-core processor and then he can safely do what he needs?

-Wolf sends
 

ssddx

Glorious
Moderator
@op, nobody really wants old hardware or i would have. people are very picky even when getting free handouts often expecting something better even though its free.

--

@wolfshadw

the 7800gtx has already been disassembled. i just mentioned it as an afterthought saying that i was trashing such hardware. i scrapped the aluminum heatsink off it for the aluminum pile and the screws are trashed already so no hope of recovery on this one.

i do still have TWO dfi lanparty nf4 ultra-d motherboards, one of which still has a amd64 3500+ chip on it. i also have a bfg7900gs oc graphics card, 2x512mb ocz value ram and 2x512mb ocz performance ram. these things are in the box but probably still completely useable. please note that the 7900 may not be hdcp compliant (research it if you want). http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814143070

i honestly dont mind getting rid of them by shipping them out (so either you or wolfshadw could have them) but i'm not paying for shipping so that would need to be paid via paypal if someone wanted it. i would have to pack & weigh the box before i could give an estimate though. keep in mind that i say they *should* be in working order. they were when i disassembled them (both pcs were ran to pull files off) but i wasnt exactly careful with them as i would be with active hardware. i didnt discharge any static shock into them when pulling them out though.

the site notification system seems to be down right now so i will send a pm to you both about this to let you know i replied. the team is currently working to resolve this issue but i cannot say when it will be done. feel free to send a pm to let me know if you were interested in the offer or not (if not or if i dont get a response i'm just going to trash them eventually)

--

you mentioned that you didnt get answers to all questions...

1.Will the proposed build be fast enough to run XMBC, play movies from BluRay disks, play movies from Netflix, etc.?
i've never tried to run bluerays or netflix on this old hardware so i cant say for sure. i have played dvds on this hardware in the past and it worked great but other than this i cannot say with certainty.

2.Is 2GB RAM sufficient, or will the computer constantly be swapping to disk?
if you are just using it as a media player it is might be sufficient however that also depends on how much background tasks you run and what os you run. i would suggest throwing some extra sticks in. i'm on windows 7 idling with just chrome open with a few tabs and i am hovering at 2.38gb used so you would want more for win7. i'm not sure what linux requires for ram but if its like xp then you are fine. if its more like windows7 then maybe not.

3.Will HDCP be a problem?
not if your graphics card supports it. HDCP was supported quite awhile ago so you might be able to get a card which can support it. you will need to look up whether the graphics card you want to use supports this.

4.Do you recommend any different/additional hardware to make this build cheaper / more viable?
afaik the codecs needed to play bluerays have a cost associated with them so all "free codecs" are illegal. at least that is what i've heard. you might end up stuck paying for a program just for the codec. we cannot help you with anything which might be borderline on the legality side (which is why i suggested the paid software). using linux though would cut costs (it would help if you are familiar with linux though) as you noted. i would probably get some additional ram. you might want a dual core cpu (but not sure if its required or not). there are many "ifs" which i'm not sure we are able to answer for you since most of us arent using such old hardware anymore for tasks like this.

5.How big a PSU do I need to run this machine? Any suggestions for a SFX form factor PSU? (that way, I avoid having to modify my case).
what size psu do you have now? brand/model? what case? normally a ps2 size power supply is what most cases take. if you have anything around 400w or more its probably fine and i wouldnt worry about it at all for any hardware of that era but if you have the complete specs you could get an estimate here http://extreme.outervision.com/psucalculatorlite.jsp by selecting the components you will be using. just make sure to stay a fair margin above whatever it gives you as an answer.
 

hang-the-9

Titan
Moderator


The reason I only answered one question is that because I doubt what you have will run HD media well. Since you need more RAM and possible a faster CPU and a video card, you will spend as much or less money on just getting a full used system. Since the best solution is to not use the system, questions 1-3 and 5 are moot. Well, 5 is not fully moot, but you can do with a good 250-300 watt PSU and still get great video quality and performance for movies.

Instead of the SSD, get a Core 2 Duo computer and a cheap video card. An SSD will not help the slow CPU or low RAM work better.
 
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