Apr 22 2015

Review - Intel Compute Stick STCK1A32WFC HDMI Dongle HTPC

Intel Compute Stick STCK1A32WFC HDMI Dongle HTPC

The Intel Compute Stick caused quite a stir when it was announced at CES 2015, and it’s easy to see why – Intel managed to stuff an entire Atom based PC into an HDMI dongle. The STCK1A32WFC model includes an Intel Atom Z3735F processor, 2GB of DDR3L RAM, 32GB of storage, 802.11bgn Wi-Fi (Realtek RTL8723BS), and Bluetooth 4.0 built-in for around $150. This is the Windows version, so it’s spec’d a bit higher than the Linux rev (should run around $110 and sacrifices RAM and storage), but either way you won’t have to pay for the OS because includes Microsoft Windows 8.1 with Bing. Of course all of this was announced back in January, so let’s find out if this PC, err Compute Stick, has the chops to be a home theater PC (HTPC).

Mar 31 2015

Review - Intel NUC Kit NUC5i5RYK Mini PC

Intel NUC5i5RYK

When it comes to sleek small form factor (SFF) home theater PCs (HTPC) Intel pretty much perfected it with their Haswell based NUC systems--offering an excellent media experience in a chassis with built-in IR, the potential to add HDMI-CEC, and optional hard disk drive (HDD) all from a quiet, low power system. Seeking to build on this success they recently released the Intel NUC5i5RYK and NUC5i5RYH (2.5” hard drive support) mini-HTPC kits based around a Broadwell Intel Core i5-5250U with HD 6000 graphics. We’ve heard a lot about Intel’s focus on increasing graphics performance and lowering power consumption with the new CPU, so it will be interesting to thoroughly test the system and see if it can deliver on its $390 price tag and be a worthy successor to the last-generation NUC.

Apr 30 2014

Review - Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) DN2820FYKH - Celeron/Bay Trail SFF HTPC

Intel NUC DN2820FYKH

A small home theater PC (HTPC) driven by an Intel Atom is not a new idea. Both NVIDIA’s ION and Broadcom’s Crystal HD offered solutions that coupled the chip’s TDP with specialized hardware that overcame its shortcomings--one with a complete GPU, the other providing just hardware accelerated video decoding. Neither of these products truly delivered on the concept of a quiet, low power HTPC that just works without undue compromise in many areas. To be fair, some of the blame clearly belonged to Intel because the CPU in yesterday’s Atom was slow and the GPU inadequate. Fortunately increased competition at the low end of the market and the shift towards mobile has provided the necessary impetus to address both of these deficiencies, with modern “Bay Trail” system on a chip (SoC) offering significantly improved CPU performance alongside a much more capable GPU, so much so that the integrated processor graphics (IPG) powering the Intel NUC DN2820FYKH comes to us today wearing Intel’s budget desktop moniker “Celeron” instead of “Atom”.  Marketing labels aside, if the $139 system can deliver the perfect low power small form factor (SFF) HTPC, “steal” would be the best way to describe it.

Mar 13 2014

Review - Gigabyte Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R Mini-PC

Gigabyte Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R Mini-PC

For home theater PC (HTPC) “small” is another word for “compromise”. Thankfully, the amount required by our miniscule content consumption devices has decreased exponentially over the last few years. There is still a price demanded however, tiny systems require slower mobile integrated processor graphics (IPG) to drive them. We have to choose between size and performance; it is simply not possible to fit desktop capability in a five inch PC. But what if it were not? What if you could slip a 65W desktop chip inside a 2.4” x 4.3” x 4.5” chassis? Is it possible to cool it and extract desktop level performance from a physically diminutive system? Gigabyte asked exactly that, but was not content to use just any desktop CPU, instead opting for the 3.9 GHz (turbo) Intel Core i7-4770R with Iris Pro 5200 graphics - creating the $650 Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R. Putting so much CPU in a little box is sure to have its own set of trade-offs however, let’s find out what they are.

Jan 24 2014

Review - Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) D54250WYKH - "H" is for 2.5" HDD Mount

When Intel brought out their Haswell Next Unit of Computing (NUC), inclusion of features like SATA made it clear that they had bigger things in store for the little system. They were honest that some of this promise will require 3rd party case OEMs to fully realize, but Intel quickly announced that they would be creating their own chassis with 2.5” drive support a bit later. Providing this feature is interesting to two groups of users: those who have, or want to leverage a 2.5” SSD instead of mSATA or anyone who wants local, rotating, storage in the NUC. As it happens, now is the time, and when I sat down with Intel at CES to talk NUC they had one of the new 116.6mm x 112mm x 51.5mm enclosures for me to take back and run through the paces.

Oct 04 2013

Review - Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK

Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK

For home theater PC (HTPC) enthusiasts the news that Intel was leaving the retail motherboard market cut deeply. After all, many of the features we have come to expect, like an Intel network interface card (NIC), consumer infrared (CIR), and outstanding stability along with innovations specific to our market, such as the custom solutions (aka HTPC) header, looked likely to slowly fade away. Fortunately--at least for now--these concerns have proved meritless because the output of that decision, the Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK contains each of these features along with something that was previously unattainable to DIY – a 15W TDP integrated processor graphics (IPG). Running $342 in bulk, the cost of the 1.3-2.6GHz Intel Core i5-4250U makes up much of the $360 (estimated SRP) we expect the D54250WYK barebones to retail for. While not cheap, it certainly appears a good value if the Haswell iteration of the NUC can deliver the perfect client HTPC.

Jun 24 2013

Review - Intel HD 4600 - madVR Performance

Intel Haswell CPU

As many in the home theater PC (HTPC) community are aware, madVR produces an unparallelled level of flexibly and performance. Producing results that rival some of the best dedicated video processors available in the market. It was not that long ago that utilizing this advanced video renderer was limited to those with a high-end discrete graphics processing unit (GPU) and a penchant for mixing PC usability with HTPC use cases. Time and Moore's Observation (er... "Law") has changed this with the feature available through 10' friendly user interfaces (UI).

The previous generation HD 4000 GPU found in Intel integrated processor graphics (IPG), "Ivy Bridge", was the first Intel graphics solution to combine decent coverage for this feature and modern CPU performance. It was hoped that the 4th generation "Haswell" IPG would finally unlock the full capability of madVR, but as was mentioned in our first look at the Intel Core i7-4770K the HD 4600 could not. Having spent more time with the platform, it was time to revisit this issue and provide a more detailed look at what is, and is not, possible.

Jun 20 2013

Review - Intel Quick Sync: Examining Haswell Performance

Intel Quick Sync

In the recent release of 4th generation (Haswell) Intel Core integrated processor graphics (IPG), Intel placed significant focus on changes made to Quick Sync transcoding technology included with the HD graphics portion of the chip. As the review developed, it became evident quite quickly that this aspect of the Intel Core i7-4770K warranted specific coverage outside of the more general platform/system/performance characteristics that are usually covered. The detailed why and how of Quick Sync, or specifically what has changed versus the previous generation is beyond the scope of this discussion; this somewhat because Intel has already published a reasonably detailed whitepaper on the topic for those with academic interest, but mostly it is because results matter more than technical diagrams. In the pursuit of this goal the differences in Quick Sync speed and quality between 3rd and 4th generation Intel Core IPG will be detailed as well as how it compares with x264 when it matters the most - archiving high-bitrate material.

Jun 01 2013

Review - Intel Core i7-4770K (Haswell) / Intel DZ87KLT-75K and Intel DH87RL Motherboard - First Look

For home theater PC (HTPC) enthusiasts, the 4th generation Intel Core “Haswell” family of processors has been greatly anticipated. Expectations have been set both for its GPU performance, and that the long-standing issue with refresh rate accuracy will finally be put to rest. Unfortunately time with the new integrated processor graphics (IPG) was limited to just a few hours, but a significant amount of information was gleaned in the available window, with the high-end Intel Core i7-4770K and two Intel motherboards, the DZ87KLT-75K and DH87RL, provided for testing. Of course, because this is a desktop IPG “high-end” speaks only to the CPU half of the chip. Unlike previous generations, Intel’s GPU breakdown is much more complex this time around with the high-end “Iris” graphics not available on the i7-4770K; it provides only Intel HD 4600 graphics. This will limit our ability to truly examine how far 4th generation graphics have come, hopefully something that can be addressed at a later point as the lineup widens. Now let’s get into our first look.

Apr 24 2013

Review - Intel Next Unit of Computing - DC3217IYE


With a 17 watt integrated processor graphics (IPG) in a four-by-four inch chassis, Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (NUC) is of obvious interest to home theater PC (HTPC) enthusiasts. This footprint and low-power consumption, coupled with Intel HD 4000 graphics, promises to deliver an incredibly capable client system. It is small enough to hide away, or place discretely next to the other little-black-box content consumption devices; its laptop CPU doesn’t  make much fuss either. This does not come cheap however, with the commanding a $300 MSRP for what is essentially a “bare-bones” system. You will need to add RAM, an mSATA SSD, and, strangely, a power cable to make it go; let’s find out if it lives up to the potential or ends up just an expensive curiosity.

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