Saturday, March 23, 2013

Asus C8HM70-I/HDMI ITX Motherboard Pseudo Review

Well I'm putting together a Win 7 HTPC for someone and went through all the pain of seeing what integrated Mini ITX boards are around these days...

I looked at the AMD offerings (which was AMD-350, then AMD-450 which seem to have dried up and now they are doing the C60) but the CPU performance when compared with Intel's offerings is pretty average.

Intel seem to have re-categorized their Atom CPUs and have gone back to the Celeron naming for integrated CPUs aimed at the desktop (Atom seems to be their mobile device offering now).

The board I found has an Intel Celeron 847 which is a cut-down Sandy Bridge CPU with integrated graphics (which the reviews say, software decoding on CPU is good enough for 1080p MKV and if you're using a player that supports DXVA then the CPU usage is less than 10%) coupled with an Intel HM70 chipset.

If you check out the Intel ARK for this CPU you'll see it's actually been around since Q2 2011.
The difference is that this is the first time it has appeared on a Mini ITX board (and not in a laptop).

Even though it's not super-new, it's spec is bang on for what I wanted.

The things that really made this board stand out for me were:

  • SATA 3 6GB/S Support (Although SATA2 is usually quick enough for an SSD with bandwidth of 375MB/s, you might as well give yourself some headroom).
  • 2 * USB 3.0 Ports (Ever had to copy large files to an external HDD on your way out the door? USB 3.0 is a must-have).
  • PCI Express Slot (USB TV Tuners tend to overheat and can be prone to power issues - I much prefer a PCI Express card-based twin tuner).
  • Active Cooling (Some people complain about the noise but in Australia active cooling in Summer is a must-have, even if it's purely to extend the life of the product).
With these features it makes the perfect board for a HTPC.
The only immediate drawback I can see is the lack of SPDIF out.
There are two things you can do to get around this however (if you need this type of audio connection - e.g. your amp doesn't support HDMI).

The first is to simply use your tv as a pass-through device and use the SPDIF out on your TV (if it has one) and pass the sound through to the amp.

This method is quite good as whatever AV input you have selected on the TV will be passed through with no amp changes required.

The other is a HDMI to HDMI + SPDIF splitter which goes for about $30 on ebay.

So, being that the board ticked all the boxes on paper I thought this would be ideal for use in a HTPC I was putting together for a friend.

Although I couldn't find too much info from independent sites regarding those board, I was pretty confident that it would function no problems.

I'm happy to report that this board does everything I expected it to perfectly and the onboard Celeron 847 CPU in conjunction with 8GB RAM has more than enough grunt to run Windows 7 Media Center perfectly.

Installation was a breeze and fit nicely inside a Coolermaster Elite 120 Advanced:

When designing the system my intention was to offload as much decoding as possible to the onboard GPU (Intel HD 2000) and I'm happy to report this worked flawlessly for both MP4 containers (divx / xvid) and MKV (h264) up to ~25mbps with CPU not creeping above roughly 30% using standard MatroskaSplitter and XVID codecs.

Blu-ray playback was also flawless using TotalMedia Theatre 6, again with CPU only just reaching over 30%.

SATA3 and USB3 performance was also excellent with file transfers from an external USB3 2.5" 7200RPM hard drive to the internal Seagate ST3000DM001 7200RPM 64MB SATA 3 hard drive averaging around 70mbps for large transfers.

Dual DVB-T recording also works nicely using an Avermedia Twinstar A188D PCI-Express TV Tuner Card.

This board is highly recommended for HTPC builds.

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