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Linux Home Theater PC - HTPC

  • Wednesday, April 21 2010 @ 10:05 PM UTC
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Our digital media collection was ready to exceed the disk space of the old home file server. For the past few years I used a small, quiet, low-power PC to function as the home file server, print server, and staging/Intranet web server. This machine was powered by a Via C3 Samuel 2 processor and just couldn't keep up anymore. Most of the current Linux distributions are not compatible with that processor. I also wanted to get a faster computer in the house to make video transcoding less painful. I decided to solve all of these issues by buying an all-new Shuttle Small Form Factor (SFF) computer to be the file server and also function as our media player / HTPC (Home Theater PC).

Our home network consists of Linux, Mac, and Windows client computers. I bought a Samsung ML-2571N network laser printer for 70 dollars from http://geeks.com to eliminate the need for a separate print server computer. This printer is SO FAST and works with all three platforms. My Linux desktop computer has a color printer/scanner attached to it so if we do need to scan or print in color we just power on the desktop computer. Eliminating the print server functionality allowed me to put the new server in the entertainment center.

Our digital movies and music are now right there with the sound system and HDTV. The new machine allows us to watch full-screen flash video (such as Hulu.com). Video transcoding is about four times faster on the new server than my desktop computer (which I described in My Home Desktop Computer Runs Linux ).

Here are the specs of the new Server / Home Theater PC (HTPC):
Operating System: GNU/Linux - Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx, 64-bit AMD64
CPU: AMD Phenom II X4 940 Deneb 3.0GHz Socket AM2+ 125W Quad-Core Black
Motherboard / Case: Shuttle Glamor XPC SN78SH7 AMD Socket AM2+ / AM2
CPU Heatsink / Cooler: Shuttle Integrated Cooling Engine (ICE)
RAM: G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel
Hard Drives: Western Digital WDC WD20EADS-14R6B0, 2 TB (two drives in software RAID 1)
Video Card: onboard GeForce 8200
Optical Drive: LITE-ON Black 22X DVD+R iHAP122-04
Power Supply: 300W
Input: BTC 9039URF III 2.4 GHz wireless keyboard w/ trackball


The CPU is blazing fast and the latest Handbrake software takes advantage of the extra cores when transcoding to H264 video. The Shuttle cooling system is fairly quiet... it is certainly not completely silent but the fan noise is not loud enough to be annoying or distracting. The hard drives are also quiet and do not make distracting "clickety" drive head noises. Despite having a 125Watt processor, the machine does not seem to be a power hog (the CPU cores slow to 800MHz when idle).

Here is more tech info on the system:


# cat /proc/cpuinfo

processor : 1
...
processor : 3
vendor_id : AuthenticAMD
cpu family : 16
model : 4
model name : AMD Phenom(tm) II X4 940 Processor
stepping : 2
cpu MHz : 3000.000
cache size : 512 KB
physical id : 0
siblings : 4
core id : 3
cpu cores : 4
apicid : 3
initial apicid : 3
fpu : yes
fpu_exception : yes
cpuid level : 5
wp : yes
flags : fpu vme de pse tsc msr pae mce cx8 apic sep mtrr pge mca cmov pat pse36 clflush mmx fxsr sse
sse2 ht syscall nx mmxext fxsr_opt pdpe1gb rdtscp lm 3dnowext 3dnow constant_tsc rep_good nonstop_tsc
extd_apicid pni monitor cx16 popcnt lahf_lm cmp_legacy svm extapic cr8_legacy abm sse4a misalignsse
3dnowprefetch osvw ibs skinit wdt
bogomips : 6000.00
TLB size : 1024 4K pages
clflush size : 64
cache_alignment : 64
address sizes : 48 bits physical, 48 bits virtual
power management : ts ttp tm stc 100mhzsteps hwpstate


# lspci
00:00.0 RAM memory: nVidia Corporation MCP78S [GeForce 8200] Memory Controller (rev a2)
00:01.0 ISA bridge: nVidia Corporation MCP78S [GeForce 8200] LPC Bridge (rev a2)
00:01.1 SMBus: nVidia Corporation MCP78S [GeForce 8200] SMBus (rev a1)
00:01.2 RAM memory: nVidia Corporation MCP78S [GeForce 8200] Memory Controller (rev a1)
00:01.3 Co-processor: nVidia Corporation MCP78S [GeForce 8200] Co-Processor (rev a2)
00:01.4 RAM memory: nVidia Corporation MCP78S [GeForce 8200] Memory Controller (rev a1)
00:02.0 USB Controller: nVidia Corporation MCP78S [GeForce 8200] OHCI USB 1.1 Controller (rev a1)
00:02.1 USB Controller: nVidia Corporation MCP78S [GeForce 8200] EHCI USB 2.0 Controller (rev a1)
00:04.0 USB Controller: nVidia Corporation MCP78S [GeForce 8200] OHCI USB 1.1 Controller (rev a1)
00:04.1 USB Controller: nVidia Corporation MCP78S [GeForce 8200] EHCI USB 2.0 Controller (rev a1)
00:06.0 IDE interface: nVidia Corporation MCP78S [GeForce 8200] IDE (rev a1)
00:07.0 Audio device: nVidia Corporation MCP72XE/MCP72P/MCP78U/MCP78S High Definition Audio (rev a1)
00:08.0 PCI bridge: nVidia Corporation MCP78S [GeForce 8200] PCI Bridge (rev a1)
00:09.0 IDE interface: nVidia Corporation MCP78S [GeForce 8200] SATA Controller (non-AHCI mode) (rev a2)
00:0a.0 Ethernet controller: nVidia Corporation MCP77 Ethernet (rev a2)
00:0b.0 PCI bridge: nVidia Corporation MCP78S [GeForce 8200] PCI Express Bridge (rev a1)
00:10.0 PCI bridge: nVidia Corporation MCP78S [GeForce 8200] PCI Express Bridge (rev a1)
00:12.0 PCI bridge: nVidia Corporation MCP78S [GeForce 8200] PCI Express Bridge (rev a1)
00:18.0 Host bridge: Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] K10 [Opteron, Athlon64, Sempron] HyperTransport Configuration
00:18.1 Host bridge: Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] K10 [Opteron, Athlon64, Sempron] Address Map
00:18.2 Host bridge: Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] K10 [Opteron, Athlon64, Sempron] DRAM Controller
00:18.3 Host bridge: Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] K10 [Opteron, Athlon64, Sempron] Miscellaneous Control
00:18.4 Host bridge: Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] K10 [Opteron, Athlon64, Sempron] Link Control
01:08.0 FireWire (IEEE 1394): Texas Instruments TSB43AB22/A IEEE-1394a-2000 Controller (PHY/Link)
02:00.0 VGA compatible controller: nVidia Corporation C77 [GeForce 8200] (rev a2)



The 2 TB drives were more problematic than expected since I wanted to use Linux software RAID and include mirroring of my /boot partition. 2 TB drives require a GPT partition table. Not all of the Linux installers can deal with mirroring /boot using software RAID on GPT partitions. At the time of this writing, Sabayon 5.1 (with the lastest installer) and Ubuntu 10.04 Beta 2 are able to correctly install grub and mirror the /boot partition on my 2 TB drives.

Other than the RAID install issue, this hardware appears to be compatible with all of the current major Linux distributions that I tested (CentOS 5.4, Debian 5, Ubuntu 9.10, Ubuntu 10.04 Beta 2, Fedora 12, Sabayon 5.1, and Linux Mint 8).
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