AMD Fusion E-350 HTPC with XBMC
After playing around with my Netgear NTV-550, I wanted something more user friendly, more powerful and more beautiful. So I decided to build an HTPC (Home Theater PC) based on AMD’s new Fusion E-350 APU (Accelerated Processing Unit). The E-350 APU offers low power usage, integrated Radeon HD 6310 graphics and slightly better performance than ION-based systems. My goal was to build an HTPC that is small, silent and able to play full-HD content on my network. I am using XBMC with the Aeon MQ2skin which allows the device to play every popular media format, be user friendly and look stunningly beautiful (screenshots ahead).
The hardware parts list
First some things about the hardware. I accidentally chose the wrong memory. The Corsair CMV4GX3M2A1333C9is officially tested by Gigabyte, but you can’t use the two modules at the same time: only one works. Yes, Gigabyte has mentioned that you can only use one at a time in the Approved Memory List, but it’s not very clear.
|1||Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3 motherboard||€ 130|
|1||Corsair CMV4GX3M2A1333C9 memory||€ 40|
|1||Intel 320 40GB SSD||€ 80|
|1||Antec ISK 300-65 case||€ 72,50|
|1||Noctua NF-R8-1800 80mm fan||€ 17|
I chose the Gigabyte motherboard because of the USB 3.0-ports, but you could also get an Asus or MSI motherboard that’s based on the AMD Fusion APU. In order to save some money you could use an USB-stick running XBMC Live or buy only 2GB of memory, which is enough (in fact I’m using only one 2GB memory module right now). Because the Antec fan included was not very silent (even in the lowest speed it generated an annoying tone) I replaced it with an 80mm Noctua NF-R8-1800 fan.
I’m using the XBMC Remote Android app, which works great! I can use it as a remote control or simply scroll through all of the covers and select the media I would like to play. It even has a feature that automatically pauses the video and shows a caller photo + name when you receive a phone call while playing media with XBMC. It’s available in the Android Market, more information at the XBMC website.
XBMC Aeon screenshots
Now it’s time to show the beauty of XBMC and the Aeon skin! Aeon supports many beautiful views (cover flow style, wall of covers, big list and many more) for movies, tv shows and music views. The second screenshot shows the ‘Poster’ view, but I’m currently using the ‘multiplex wall’ view because I find it more clear.
TV shows screenshots
XBMC categorizes TV shows in seasons, but I forgot to make a screenshot of the seasons view.
Settings screen screenshots
The Aeon skin is very easy to customize. You can change the location of on-screen objects, set backgrounds (rotating fan art is a great feature) and much more.
Audio over HDMI problem
The Gigabyte motherboard has an HDMI-out port which I connected to my tv. I did not manage to get anything better than stereo sound through the HDMI-out port (so that the TV can pass it through to an home cinema set), not even after trying different drivers. I eventually gave up and connected the S/PDIF-port directly to the cinema set, works great. The problem was that the tv ‘said’ to the htpc that it only has two speakers on-board, and the audio drivers then limit the audio output to stereo. You might of might not have the same problem with your tv. Everything else works perfectly out-of-the-box. XBMC fully supports DTS and AC3 and other audio formats. My HTPC perfectly plays 1080p content.
I’m using Windows 7. You could also use XBMC Live, or XBMC under Linux, but it’s not fully supported. If you want to use Linux you have to patch XBMC (or compile your own version) to support VAAPI (video hardware acceleration for Linux), see http://forum.xbmc.org/showthread.php?t=99487.