Ok, so I finally got around to building a Mini Media Center. I originally had planned on using an Atom processor or maybe even a Sodaville SoC (Intel CE4100) processor. The problem with the CE4100 is finding a motherboard with one on board, or design and build one yourself, which is out of the question for most people, i.e. everyone.
I started thinking of using Intel’s Atom processor on a Mini ITX motherboard, but I couldn’t find a combination that had all the features I wanted.
My Specs were pretty strict:
· Ceton InfiniTV6 CableCard Tuner - Recording on all 6 tuners (Not available yet, but it must be able to do it.)
· Playing and Ripping BluRay disks
· Full HD 1080 play
· Digital Audio S/PDIF
· HDMI output
· Multiple Sata
· eSATA 6Gb/s
· 1 – PCIe 1x
· Gb Ethernet
· Wireless N
· Low power consumption. 65 – 150w max!
That 65-100w max pretty much ruled out the Atom. So, I started looking at the AMD Fusion Processors, specifically the Zacate E-350, which not only uses much less power than the Atom (18w!!) it has better performance and has the Graphics Processing Unit as part of the processor core.
The AMD Fusion E350 (Code named Zacate) is a Dual Core 1.6Ghz processor with 1Mb of L2 cache. The GPU part of the die is an AMD Radeon HD 6310 GPU with 80 cores running at 492Mhz and DirectX-11 built in.
Now I had to find a Motherboard with the E-350 and all the other features that I wanted. After comparing a bunch of MoBo’s I settled on the Asus E35M1-I Deluxe. Yes, almost the whole motherboard is covered by one massive heat sink!
ASUS E35M1-I DELUXE Fusion AMD E-350 APU Mini ITX Motherboard/CPU Combo
I also picked up:
G.Skill Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1066 (PC3 8500) Desktop Memory Model F3-8500CL7D-8GBRL More on this RAM later.
Western Digital Scorpio Black 320GB 2.5" SATA 3.0Gb/s Internal Notebook Hard Drive -Bare Drive
LG Super-Multi Slim Blu-ray Combo Drive CT21N - Bulk
Antec ISK 300-65 Black Computer Case
And a Ceton InfiniTV4 Digital CableCard tuner (I eventually hope to be selling Ceton products direct from NEDMUG.com. That ought to tell you how I feel about the quality of their products. Since I never sell any products directly)
The installation of the motherboard into the case was dead simple the hard drive/optical drive trays come out with a thumb screw and 3 Phillips screws, giving you easy access to motherboard mountings.
After mounting the motherboard and running all the power and front panel cables, I installed the RAM, ran the SATA cables for the front panel eSATA, HDD, and BD drives. I then installed the Optical Drive tray, installed the BD drive and ran the power and SATA cables for the BD drive. The case power supply comes with the special MiniSATA power cable and it also comes with 2 TINY screws for the slim BD drive. The screws are threaded into the optical tray on the right side for safe storage (I was going crazy looking through the supplied pack of screws looking for them, and then I just happened to notice them when I lifted the tray to look under it).
After mounting the BD drive I installed the hard drive into the HDD tray, slid the tray into place and secured it to the optical tray with the thumb screw.
Next, I installed the Ceton InfiniTV4 tuner card into the PCIe slot. This was made a little more difficult because all the front panel, SATA and audio connectors are VERY close to the PCIe slot. I had to make some awkward bends in the SATA cables to route them around the tuner card. But I got the card installed and the drives still appear to be working. ;-)
That completed the box build. Or, so I thought. I put the case cover on and screwed it down using 3 thumb screws. I then hooked up all the cables to the back. The brick power supply, Gb Ethernet, optical S/PDIF audio, HDMI and Digital CableTV cable.
I grabbed my Fios M-Card and was about to install it when I realized that the hinge piece that holds down the PCIe card was in front of the CableCard slot. It’s only by about 1/8”, but that’s enough to make the card not fit. I took a pair of needle nose pliers and bent the hinge up enough that it should have been out of the way, and then realized that the hinged cover itself is in the way now.
I popped the case cover off and unscrewed the hinge and removed it. I used just a plain screw to hold down the tuner card. I put the cover back on and took a look at the back to see what removing the hinge did. Not much, there was a small ¼” gap at the top of the tuner card, not enough to worry about. It’s barely noticeable unless you look for it, and it shouldn’t affect air flow at all.
The size difference between this unit and the original is amazing! My old Media Center was a Full-Tower Thermaltake Armour that was originally built to house 4 tuner cards and 8 hard drives. When I built my Windows Home Server with 6 internal drive bays and the Rosewill RSV-S8 external drive bay, I took all but 2 of the drives out of the Media Center and moved them to the WHS. When I installed the Ceton InfiniTV4, I got rid of all the ATSC tuner cards that were in the Thermaltake case. Having that giant tower next to my TV was a complete waste of space and electricity.
I hooked the system up to my TV and Audio Receiver and started the Install. I’m moving the Xbox to the other side of the receiver.
I created a Windows 7 install thumb drive following my own procedure here and then installed windows and configured Media Center following this guide.
Once the Windows install is complete, you will need to install the drivers from the Asus Utilities DVD. Windows 7 will recognize most of the hardware, but the Fusion Processor is too new, you'll need to install the Video and Chipset drivers at a minimum.
After Windows was installed and Media Center configured I installed the Ceton Tuner software and drivers. I also did a firmware update on the tuner hardware, I had one of the first tuners released and had never updated the firmware. The new Ceton software makes this a simple process, just go to the update tab and hit Update Now. Once the software is installed and the firmware was updated, I started up Media Center and went into the Extras menu item and selected Digital Cable Advisor. Follow the step by step instructions. You must do this step or Media Center will not use the cable tuner!
After the Digital Cable Advisor completes, you then go to the Tasks/Settings/Set up TV Signal menu and re-run the configuration. It should now detect 4 new Digital Cable Tuners, install the tuners and download the new guide.
The only additional software I installed was AnyDVD, ArcSoft Total Media Theater and MyMovies, to connect to my movie database on my home server. You can see that process here.
That’s all there is to the build.
But, I’ve been having a lot of Blue Screens and lockups with this unit. After doing a bit of research, I’ve come to find out that this motherboard is extremely picky about the type of RAM used and the speed settings of the RAM. The RAM that I used was listed on the G.Skill site as compatible, but not on the Asus HCL. The motherboard has a MemOK! button on it. If you hold the button while booting, it will go into a RAM testing mode. The system will try different speed setting to attempt to find a setting that will make the RAM compatible. I ran the tests and it did find setting that made the system more stable, but it’s still not quite there. I downloaded an updated Asus Qualified Vendor List (QVL) and ordered RAM that was on that list.
This is the RAM I ordered. It is on the QVL:
G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Desktop Memory
When it shows up, I’ll install it and update this post with the results.
The new RAM arrived and I swapped out with the original RAM. 24hrs later and no BSOD! The system has been stable.
There's still a couple little bugs I have to work out.
When the TV monitor is turned off for several hours, the Media Center seems to sleep the video even though I have it set to "Never". To get the picture to display I hit the guide button on the remote and play a random LiveTV show, the video will wake up and be fine until the next time I turn off the TV for more than a few hours.