Intel Upgraded HTPC Nettop

Intel Upgraded HTPC Nettop
Component Product Name Price
CPU + Mobo ASRock A330ION (Atom 330 + NVIDIA ION) $120
Memory Patriot 4GB (2x2GB) PSD34G1333K $40
Case + PSU Antec ISK310-150 Black/Silver + 150W PSU $80
Storage Samsung SpinPoint MP4 HM640JJ 640GB 7200RPM 16MB $60
Optical Drive Sony Optiarc BC-5500H-01 BR-ROM/DVD-ROM $90
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit $100
Extra Software CyberLink PowerDVD 11 Ultra $100
Total Price $590

For our upgraded configurations, we’re going to look into making something that’s a bit more capable as an HTPC. On the Atom side, the only way you can do that is if you get a better GPU than the 3150, and the easiest (and cheapest) way to do that is to purchase an ION motherboard. With the arrival of AMD’s Brazos, most motherboard manufacturers are shifting to that platform. It certainly doesn’t help that when Intel moved from the original Atom platform to Pine Trail, they integrated the Northbridge into the CPU package and essentially killed off the ION chipset, so now you’d have to get a Pine Trail board with a PCIe slot if you wanted a discrete GPU. The result of all this is that we’re sticking with the older Atom 330 + ION for our upgraded Intel configuration, which is not without drawbacks.

For this setup, we’ve selected the ASRock A330ION board, but availability and pricing can be a little sketchy on any of these older ION boards. As one of the major flaws with the Atom platform was its inability to play HD video smoothly, NVIDIA used their ION (a rebadged 9400M chipset) to address this issue. Paired with the dual-core Atom 330 CPU, this platform can play HD videos and even Blu-ray content—though not 3D Blu-ray. The ASRock board also has VGA, DVI, and HDMI ports. We first looked at the ION platform almost two years ago, and you can still get a good idea of its capabilities and limitations from our original assessment. For the memory, we’re again using desktop DIMMs, but now we’re upgrading to 4GB (2x2GB) of Patriot memory. The basic desktop DDR3 kits seem to have bottomed out at around $40 shipped without rebates. 2GB is sufficient, but the $18 extra can provide more headroom for multitasking.

The remaining components once again depend on the case selection, and we’ve selected the upgraded Antec ISK310-150 this time. We like this case a lot because it comes with a reasonably quiet 80mm fan, typical minimalist Antec aesthetics, and uses an external power adapter (which makes no noise, and is more efficient than internal power supplies—especially considering these low-powered nettops draw at most 25-30% of even a low wattage 150W PSU). It’s also available with a black bezel if you prefer that to the silver bezel. As with the ISK 100, this case uses 2.5” laptop hard drives, not 3.5” desktop hard drives. We’re only using one HDD again, but this case can fit two drives so SSD + storage drive is again an option.

For the hard drive, we’re going to offer an alternative to the 500GB Seagate that has seen so much use in laptops during the past year. Samsung recently launched their 640GB 7200RPM SpinPoint MP4 HM640JJ, at the same $60 price point as the Seagate. The higher areal density should improve sequential transfer speeds, and it will certainly be faster than the 5400RPM laptop drives. For the optical drive, you could stick with the same Samsung mentioned in the basic Intel configuration, but our upgraded nettops are going to take more of an HTPC role so we’re going the Blu-ray route. Slim BD-ROMs are difficult to find for less than $100, and in fact this is the only slim BD-ROM Newegg currently stocks. Note that it’s a DVD-ROM as well, so there are no burning capabilities to speak of—we suggest you use a different system for burning, and particularly video encoding/transcoding as such tasks can be painfully slow on Atom.

If you’re going to watch Blu-ray movies, you’ll also need appropriate software. The software included with the Sony drive is underwhelming, and CyberLink’s PowerDVD Ultra tends to work well with a variety of platforms. It also happens to cost $100, so you might want to start with the basic Blu-ray software and only upgrade if you want access to other features.

With all of the upgrades and a copy of PowerDVD, the total system cost is nearly double that of the base Atom setup, though much of that comes from choosing to include Blu-ray support. $590 is a lot to pay for an Atom nettop, certainly, and we’ll discuss other options in our conclusion. If you want to skip out on Blu-ray playback, you can get the above system for $400. Using the same case and components, the difference in motherboard choice makes this platform $10 more than the basic AMD E-350 setup, or $37 more than the stock Atom configuration.

AMD Zacate Budget Nettop AMD Upgraded HTPC Nettop
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  • DNW - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    I no longer build my own PC's, so I am interested in a store-bought alternative. I will be using it is a dedicated HTPC, and it must have Blu Ray (I don't have a BR in my home theatre). What are my choices under about $500?
  • Roland00 - Sunday, April 24, 2011 - link

    For that price range you won't find what you want without going refurbished or adding the bluray drive yourself. If you don't mind adding an optical drive it is quite easy to obtain.
  • obarthel - Sunday, April 24, 2011 - link

    Zotac (Zbox, the one with the integrated BR drive) and Dell (Inspiron Zino HD 410) have small systems; Asrock too, but higher specs and more expensive.
  • aviphysics - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    I would really like to see anandtech incorporating a comparison to commonly available prebuilt systems in these guides. Last year after a lot of searching I found that a pre-built acer SFF box was about $100 cheaper then the cheapest equivalent custom rig.

    I love building custom systems but a good reality check would be very nice.
  • 7Enigma - Monday, April 25, 2011 - link

    Exactly, once you get below $500 it is EXTREMELY difficult to beat a prebuilt system. And a simple reinstall of the OS removes all the bloat...
  • CDew - Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - link

    I second that! I would love to see a system such as the Acer AR3700 used as a baseline for the Atom. It has a D525/ION (or ION 2 depending on whose specs you read), 2GB DDR3, and seems to offer the best possible Atom platform available today.

    How is that relevant to an article on building your own HTPC?

    If price and performance are the main factors in deciding on what to build, would anyone choose to build an HTPC if the best possible price/performance comes from a prebuilt system for $350? If you can build you own with better performance, then perhaps it's worth a bit of additional cost. But how do these Atom systems compare to a prebuilt Acer AR3700? We don't know.

    Unfortunately, in all the Brazos vs Atom articles that I have read, Brazos has a performance edge, but that's over Atom systems that seem to have lesser configurations than the Acer AR3700.

    Any chance that we could get an update with baseline prebuilt Atom and Brazos systems?

  • gfody - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    should've left the atom build out completely. it's worthless.
  • obarthel - Sunday, April 24, 2011 - link

    Not really, for a NAS: performance is no issue, power consumption not really, but Atom is still good there, and, above all, Linux/FreeNAS support is better.
  • AmdInside - Saturday, April 23, 2011 - link

    I used to have an Ion netop as a htpc and the performance is just too low. The reason for a htpc today insteadmof a internet device like apple tv or roku is to let you do a lot of other things and franks the cpu of the e-350 or atomis just terrible. I currently use a core i5 happily while my ion system lies lonely on the floor of my office.
  • will2 - Sunday, April 24, 2011 - link

    My 'Nettop Guide' interest is in a smaller size of Nettop than those in your review, similar to the Revo 3610 launched over a year ago (Atom330+ION1), that consumed 21W average, 26W on foll load. What would be of interest is the same 7.1x7.1x1.2" volume or LESS, same mix of ports/WiFi, that has a more power efficient SoC able to run Linux or W7, that has in addition to the 2.5" HDD, a mSATA slot to run the Intel 310 SSD.

    The recently released SNB i7-2657 17W TDP would make an interesting choice if it were not for the fact SNB prices are way above the NETTOP market. So the AMD E350 18W TDP, (or, perhaps its imminent AMD replacement) for now looks like the only feasible candidate to make for a cooler running Revo style Nettop with improved performance.

    Regarding your "you could buy a 60GB SSD for the OS and apps and add in a larger 5400RPM drive for mass storage"; - I was thinking a small 32GB SSD should be more than enough to run Windows 7 + the Average mix of Apps for a Nettop/HTPC. Is there any reason you picked 60GB ? Also, any links to a discussion of SSD sizing for OS+Apps appreciated.

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