My new home theater Plex box

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by Cave Man, Apr 22, 2009.

  1. Cave Man macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    I've relegated my home theater 2 gHz GMA950 Mini to other duties. I've built a hackintosh on the Asus P5N7A-VM mobo with a Q8200 quad core processor to run my home theater/media server. Here are its specs:

    • 2.33 gHz Core 2 Quad cpu with stock fan (Q8200)
    • Asus P5N7A-VM mobo with nVidia 9300 gpu and shared 256 mb vRAM
    • Samsung 750 gb boot drive (with some media, principally for my Eye TV Hybrid and iTunes)
    • Seagate 1.5 tb media drive
    • G.Skil 4 gb RAM
    • Gigabit ethernet
    • 1 eSATA port
    • 10 USB2 ports (all work; 4 on the front, 6 on the rear)
    • DVI/VGA/HDMI (video only, no audio)/DisplayPort
    • Optical audio port (and legacy analog miniplug ports on the back and front)
    • IN WIN IW-BL631.300BLP black MicroATX slim case with 300W power supply
    • MacBook Pro IR board and cables
    • OS X 10.5.6
    Total cost = $775 (including a retail copy of OS X 10.5.6)

    There's no Firewire, infrared, Bluetooth or wifi with this mobo. However, I have a MacBook Pro IR board on the way ($35) and will install it so I can use my Harmony/Apple remotes with it. It's big (8x the volume) and ugly compared to the Mini, but it's pretty quiet, especially when the Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 audio is shakin' the walls. :)

    With this box I am able to concurrently watch high bit rate Blu-ray rips with no dropped frames (ok, maybe a dozen or so over the duration of the movie), stream a movie to my Apple TV from iTunes and transcode a recorded Eye TV show. The temps of my cores peaked at 72 C and my drives reach the high 50s to low 60s C while doing this (nominal under no load is about 53 C for the cpu and 40 C for the drives), and the fans are audible only during moments of silence in the movie. DTS and AC3 passthrough by optical port work fine, too. While I'd like to have firewire, I really don't think it's necessary for my uses. All and all, a nice improvement.

    Attached are a few pics.

    Attached Files:

  2. richardhunt macrumors regular

    Oct 2, 2007
    You should have ZERO dropped frames on a quad system. Are you using CoveAVC?
  3. spice weasel macrumors 65816

    Jul 25, 2003
    Pics or it didn't happen! Ok, just kidding. But seriously, mind posting some photos of your new box? Sounds like a pretty impressive setup for the cost.
  4. Cave Man thread starter macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    The dropped frames occurred right at the beginning, so it might be a cache issue or HD spin up issue. At any rate, not even perceptible. I'm not sure what you mean by coreAVC - I'm just using Plex for my Blu-ray playbacks (many of which are encoded in AVC) and DTS (or DD to a lesser extent).

    I'll try to get a couple of pics up tonight. (Done now - forgot I had my camera with me!)

    Here're the box and board. This thing was a piece of cake to put together.
  5. TurboLag macrumors member

    Feb 24, 2004
    Looks like a great build. I see that MB supports RAID5, will you be using this? I am currently using RAID1 on my mac mini, and am looking for a cost-effective upgrade path to increase storage.
  6. Cave Man thread starter macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    No, not planning on using RAID. Right now I'm in pretty good shape and it's unnecessary for my uses.
  7. gkarris macrumors 604


    Dec 31, 2004
    "No escape from Reality..."
    oooh, oooh, oooh... (raises hand...)

    Is it possible to build a box like this for under $300? Can Plex use Linux?

    New to the Plex thing - will be downloading it tonight....
  8. Capt Crunch macrumors 6502

    Aug 26, 2001
    Cleveland, OH
    Are there good motherboards that have a smaller footprint to be put in an even smaller box?
  9. Cave Man thread starter macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    No, not with buying all of the parts, including OS X. Without OS X, you can build a pretty lame one.

    • IN WIN IW-BL631.300BLP Black Steel MicroATX Slim Case Computer Case 300W Power Supply - Retail $59.99
    • Western Digital Caviar SE WD800AAJS 80GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Hard Drive - OEM $33.99
    • G.SKILL 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model F2-6400CL5D-2GBNQ - $29.99
    • ASUS P5N7A-VM LGA 775 NVIDIA GeForce 9300/nForce 730i HDMI Micro ATX Intel Motherboard - Retail $114.99
    • Intel Celeron E1400 Allendale 2.0GHz LGA 775 65W Dual-Core Processor Model BX80557E1400 - $49.99
    Total $288.95

    If you could spend $400 and are a student (to buy OS X at the student rate) you could get a very decent system.

    Unfortunately, no. This is why the Mini is expensive relative to its power - it has amazing engineering.
  10. dynaflash macrumors 68020

    Mar 27, 2003
    Love it Cave. Necessity ... the mother of invention.
  11. Cave Man thread starter macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    Yeah, it's pretty nice. I discovered it's a Bad Idea to stack two desktop drives on top of one another. I put one of the drives into my DVD bay (since it's unused) and now my drive temps are about 10 C lower than before.

    I think I'll offload all my Handbrake transcodes to this machine, too. I've had enough processor warnings on my OC'd Q6600 caused by Handbrake's speed. :)
  12. bt22 macrumors 6502

    Feb 15, 2009
    Cave Man does creating a Hackintosh require the above listed components in order to work? Or could I just buy a Acer computer from say best buy and just add OS-X to it? I've started a thread on here about getting a Mac Mini and was just curious why you chose to build the Hackintosh V/S the Mac Mini...? I would like to have a Media Server computer in my Living Room much like yours, but I would like to have OS-X as I have promised myself not to buy any more windows computers.

  13. akm3 macrumors 68020

    Nov 15, 2007
    Nice rig. I'm confused though, it seems like you could have gotten a new Mac Mini and had firewire, bluetooth, etc for similar money.

    Does the new mini not have enough 'oomph' to play blu-ray rips? If it doesn't, then I completely understand why you'd go the route you did
  14. ZackAttack77 macrumors newbie

    Mar 4, 2009
    Nice setup........did you actually get the audio working over hdmi with OS X?
  15. Cave Man thread starter macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    There are several mobos that are hackintosh-friendly, but the one described here is about the easiest. Plus, it has the nVidia 9300 gpu, which is, for all intents and purposes, the same as the 9400 in the current Minis, iMacs, MacBooks and MacBook Pros. So OpenCL in Snow Leopard should be able to use it (provided SL can be hackintoshed).

    It's possible, but without knowing the mobo and cpu model in the computer there's no way to know for sure. My advice is that you should buy the components with running OS X - and only OS X - in mind.

    This one has a quad core cpu, heat, 2.25 TB of hard drive space, heat, three audio-out ports, 10 USB2 ports, eSATA, DVI, VGA, DisplayPort, HDMI (sans audio), heat and 5 internal SATA ports. Did I mention heat? You're not going to get those with a Mini. With the Mini, you get a nice small package, not a big ugly box. Trade-offs all around.

    Yes, it does play most Blu-ray rips just fine (there are a few troublesome ones that have very high bit rates). Where I had a problem was if my Mini was doing other things, such as streaming to the Apple TV or recording/transcoding with Eye TV. I could not watch a Blu-ray movie on the Mini without stuttering if either of these were occurring.

    No, no audio over HDMI. Only optical, rear and front analog ports (which is fine by me because I have a projector-based home theater), and I know the mobo has audio over DisplayPort (although it's unlikely to be usable since Apple does not support it in OS X). My optical goes to the receiver and I have front headphone ports if I want to watch quietly.
  16. gkarris macrumors 604


    Dec 31, 2004
    "No escape from Reality..."
    Where are you getting these prices from? Plus, I have OS X already and some parts, I would just need the case, MOBO, and CPU...

    Will a 5400 rpm drive work?

  17. Cave Man thread starter macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    NewEgg. You should look at upgrading the processor (775 series with SSE3 or better).

    Sure, boots with SATA or PATA drives.
  18. kage207 macrumors 6502a

    Jul 23, 2008
    Does a Blu-Ray disc drive work on OS X?
    And do you use the on board ethernet?
    Then is there any suggestions besides the CPU you used to help create this Hackintosh setup?
  19. Superman07 macrumors 6502a

    Aug 28, 2007
    So how come you went this route instead of getting a new 9400 Mini to replace your 950 Mini? I know you have been quite an advocate of the Mini!
  20. Tilpots macrumors 601


    Apr 19, 2006
    Carolina Beach, NC
    He answered this a few posts up. If I remember correctly one of the reasons was heat.;)

    Question for you Caveman, why not add a blu-ray drive in there? I'm assuming you already have one to create your br rips, but if you took the time to build this beauty, why not add a br drive in there? If SL does incorporate br possiblities, could you add one in there pretty easily?
  21. Wild-Bill macrumors 68030


    Jan 10, 2007
    Nice rig, CaveMan!

    I am thinking about doing the same thing for my living room. Currently, I'm running an ATV in the bedroom which has a 37" 720p Sharp. In the living room I've got a 120Hz full 1080p Samsung 42".

    I was considering a Mini, but I don't agree with its pricing. I'd much rather build a nice, quiet HTPC Hackintosh w/ Plex. :apple:
  22. Cave Man thread starter macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    Yes, you can put a Blu-ray drive on a Mac, but you cannot play Blu-ray Discs because decrypting and HDCP algorithms must be in the OS, and OS X does not have them (i.e., "bag of hurt"). Blu-ray playbacks and rips must be done under Windows (e.g., Boot Camp, virtualization).

    Yes, I use on board ethernet.

    Read over at the forums about this board. It's in the Leopard installation subforum. I've also posted more details on my experience at the Plex forums. And please buy a copy of Leopard - it is worthy of our support.

    The Mini cannot play Blu-ray rips and concurrently serve up my Apple TV or record/transcode with the Eye TV Hybrid software. This means if a show is recording or transcoding, I cannot watch a Blu-ray movie. The new box does all three easily.

    I love the Mini. I think it's the second best computer ever made (next to the G4 iMacs :)). ATM, I think it's the only Mac desktop worth buying. But unfortunately, it doesn't have the muscle to play Blu-ray rips and transcode concurrently, two things I really need.

    Not really heat so much as multitasking. The Mini doesn't put out as much heat and by itself is nice and quiet. Unfortunately, with Blu-ray rips you have to have an external hard drive (mine was the 1.5 TB), which introduces a bit of noise. I still have a little noise to mitigate with my new box. The Mini clearly wins at noise.

    I have my Blu-ray drive in an external USB2 enclosure. I really don't use it that often, so I just drag it out whenever I get a new disc (which isn't often anymore; the wife put the kibosh on that :(). I connect it to my MBP and rip under Boot Camp (Win XP SP3). And I don't play DVDs on this box - all my DVDs have been transcoded with Handbrake and reside on hard drives. Plex accesses those over the network. I only need one DVD drive, and it's on my main desktop hackintosh (for ripping).

    The size and engineering of the Mini is why it costs so much. That has tremendous value to many people (including me), but not to others. It all comes down to personal preference. If Snow Leopard can really use CUDA on the 9400m through OpenCL such that Blu-ray playback and transcoding can be done concurrently, then I'll probably get rid of this box and buy a new Mini to replace it.
  23. Superman07 macrumors 6502a

    Aug 28, 2007
    I guess I just assumed you'd put the encoding an another machine you had and just use the Mini as your host and native Plex machine. :)
  24. akm3 macrumors 68020

    Nov 15, 2007
    Can you build a quiet (as in fanless, I assume) Hackintosh for less than $599? That has bluetooth and IR receiver? Including the $130 for Leopard?
  25. Cave Man thread starter macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    A little update. I've been having some heat/fan issues and have reduced the problem a little by removing the Asus cover off of the northbridge heat sink. It's just held there by adhesive, so you just have to wiggle it off. It's still a bit hotter than I'd like, so I've ordered a second 30mm fan that is supposed to be near-silent ($5) and some Arctic Silver 5 compound. I'm going to pull the cpu and reseat it with the AS5, which is supposed to get about 10 C heat reduction.

    If you're talking about the Mini, it has a fan but its generally not noticeable unless you're pushing it (e.g., Handbrake, Aperture). For $600 you can build a hackintosh that is better performing in processing and disk speed, and disk size with Bluetooth and IR, but you won't have the form factor nor will it as quiet (since the power supply will be internal and thus a constant heat source).

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