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Hardware HTPC face-off: VIA EPIA EX versus AMD 690G

Discussion in 'Article Discussion' started by Tim S, 27 Jul 2007.

  1. Tim S

    Tim S OG

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    http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/2007/07/27/epia_ex_vs_amd_690g/1

    VIA's EPIA range goes from strength to strength and the latest upgrade to the EX provides a 1.5GHz CPU, DDR2, DVI and component output on-board, with frugal power requirements compared to anything else on the market. How does it stand up to the mighty AMD 690G chipset? We find out.

    :eeek:
     
  2. sandys

    sandys Well-Known Member

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    Yup I made the mistake of buying an Epia setup, similar to what you have tested but I guess my PSU is not as efficient as your tested setup as my Epia sits around the 45w mark.

    It wasn't powerful enough for me so opted for the AM2 route with the ASUS board mentioned in the review along with an X2 3600 (1.9Ghz) and 1Gb RAM, I have it overclocked to 2.2Ghz but am running on 1.0v, max load on 2 cores orthos with 3 Tuners and a 7200rpm drive is 60w, it idles at about 45w.

    Plenty of grunt for ffdshow image processing to upscale divx/dvd etc to 1080p unlike the Via chip, that had a hard time playing 2 mpeg2 streams simulataneously. :rolleyes:

    Absolutely no benefit to an epia system IMO, my X2 system is even quieter than the EPia, its running off a Passive PSU ( as found in the Silverstone LC19) and uses the thermal control for the CPU fan which spins between 800-1k rpm and is not even audible over the hard disc.
     
  3. Guest-16

    Guest-16 Guest

    For a HTPC, no benefit, but for niche users it still offers some benefits.

    I actually tested the EPIA in a Silverstone LC19 :) We're trying to find a 1U AM2 cooler for a 690G system to test the case.
     
  4. sandys

    sandys Well-Known Member

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    I am using this one in my LC19, just fits.

    I am using CrystalCPUID to control clockspeed/voltage rather than CnQ as I can choose my own voltages and multipliers this way.
     
  5. yakyb

    yakyb i hate the person above me

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    i bought a k9agm2 the week they came out for my home server. and i love it. it runs 24/7 serving 3 other computers whilst running irc and almost constant video encoding it is an excellent purchase.

    when i replace my gaming rig ill move the k9agm2 into the front room to act as the media centre its designed to be for £45 + a x2-3800ee + dvdrw + 7200.10 ~ £175 you cannot go wrong even for a second PC for you GF/wife im yet to test Vista but i reckon it will be fine
     
  6. Flibblebot

    Flibblebot Smile with me

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    I've got 2 EPIA systems running beside me at the moment: one is running a Smoothwall firewall, the other is a Linux e-mail/file server. I'm planning on adding another in the next couple of weeks to act as my Trixbox server.

    They're great for niche applications like that, but I'd never use one in a desktop machine, nor in a machine that requires any grunt.
     
  7. Guest-16

    Guest-16 Guest

    £150+ to run a smoothwall or email server though?
     
  8. yakyb

    yakyb i hate the person above me

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    well as i as said it does loads of video encoding so needed to be quite powerful but i bought with the idea of replacing it with my current gaming comp when i upgrade and using it as a HTPC. at which point ill hope to get all the extras working. what i was trying to highlight was how reliable it has been for me so far
     
  9. Max Spain

    Max Spain New Member

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    As a proud owner of a Via system, I have to respectfully disagree with the conclusion of this article. I use as my main system, a $60 PC-Chips 1.5Ghz Via C-7D system. I bought it because I wanted to experiment and I didn't want to deal with AMD's Presidio or Intel's LaGrande (which was reported to be present in all Core 2 Duo's at launch - turned out to be false and I now own an E6600.) As an aside, this is what Via has to say about all of that ;):clap: Of course, as a previous Bit-Tech article covered, LaGrande has been renamed to Trusted Execution Technology and is now present in several 1333 fsb C2D's.

    Anyway, back to the article. Via based systems are a niche product. The Via C7 processor does not support out of order execution (Intel introduced this with the Pentium Pro) and only has 128k L2 cache. Improvements over its predecessor the C3 include a full speed FPU, a doubling of the L2 cache to 128k, and the addition of SSE2+3. These are not intended to replace your gaming pc (most don't even come with a PCI-Express slot.) They are intended to be small, low power pc's. Almost all of their "extreme" performance is derived from hardware acceleration. Via's have an excellent Padlock Security Engine that accelerates encryption/decryption tasks and comes with 2 hardware based random number generators. Security performance is ridiculously fast when you consider its shortcomings in other areas. The other accelerator is for video. However, in order for it to accelerate anything, the software needs to be capable of utilizing the hardware. Now, I only used windows on this system for maybe a day or two (to test it out), but I just tried watching a dvd in linux and my cpu% ranged from 7-20 (vlc with openchrome.) All you need to do is google for people using Vias for Myth TV boxes and you'll see that they perform that task flawlessly. Unfortunately Via did away with HD video acceleration with their new generation of chipsets, so I cannot watch hw accelerated hd video in fullscreen, and doing it in software is understandably slow :sigh:

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that a Via can be a perfect fit for you, but it depends on your application. If you want a high-end gaming machine that you can overclock on LN2 and set WR's in benchmarks, then you need to look elsewhere. If you want a low-power, quiet system, with excellent hw acceleration for security applications and standard def media, without drm, that can handle day to day workloads like e-mail, web browsing (even serving), music, movies, and can fit in your car (the list goes on) then you've come to the right place. I am fully satisfied with my purchase (especially for that price ;)) and I intend to purchase two new 2Ghz models unless I can wait for Isaiah in '08.
     
  10. Guest-16

    Guest-16 Guest

    Thank you for offering a constructive criticism :) It's very much appreciated.

    As for DRM: Noone will bother using the VIA solution, Trusted Platforms are here to stay unfortunately. The VIA C7 as a main PC must be PAINFULLY slow for you unless you enjoy doing one thing at once. Not having out of order execution is criminal, although probably heavily patented still by Intel. It's not like VIA doesn't have hardware acceleration in its chipset either.

    Padlock security, meh, who really cares? It obviously hasn't accelerated encryption/decryption in our winrar compress+encrypt testing and the AMD system annihilates it. What's the point on an anally low power system if it doesn't do anything? How much is your time worth? The rest of the lighting/heating in your house while you wait?

    If you go to the extreme of forcing yourself to use linux and VLC then fair enough, but for DVDs I'll go buy a £10 Asda DVD player, an Xbox with XBMC thanks, or the AMD 690G system does it with superior AVIVO video quality at 4% CPU in Windows. The future is also in HD and VIA just can't do it. You also wouldn't use a system designed for a media centre with component, etc as a home system, hence the HTPC face off. It only has TWO USB as well?! No manual, no extra PCI brackets??

    I watch almost exclusively HD stuff now if I can find it, and more people will as well as the months continue to progress. As for playback and recording for example, you might have to worry or optimise a VIA system = cost in time and effort. Or, you could buy a 690G system and low power AMD CPU, not bother worrying, and have a huge chunk of change left over. It's NOT about high end gaming or anything: the 690G/45W CPU system I showed was appreciably low power and the money you save can go on your electric bill if you insist, but you'll get stuff done in 1/5th of the time it'll take the VIA anyway offering a 70% energy saving if you wait for it to finish what it's doing. You can even run it off the same 120W PSU as the EPIA, and the choice of TV or sound system you make will have a greater effect on your energy usage then these two systems.

    The VIA isn't a capable system for the board its soldered to: you have to obsess over what codec you watch, the bitrate, how much you do at once, what OS you run etc. No one cares about hardware security applications, I have never seen a press release saying "Now supporting the hardware accelerated C7 processor!!", because the AMD BE-2350 or Intel 2140 can do the same thing in half the time without the need for a developer to specifically code for the accelerated path.

    I do know people like you, who will only do one thing at once and light PC use, but you're a rare breed I'm afraid. Also, why have you made yourself suffer firstly, a PC chips motherboard! and secondly it's on microATX: you could have got the 690G and run ANYTHING.

    People said what you've just said about the Isaiah, when they heard about the the 1.5 C7: and it's still seriously underpowered. It was the same with the 1GHz Nemiah, which I also owned and swapped for a Pentium M laptop which was oodles faster and quieter. The 2GHz won't change anything and by then you'll need a HD capable system even more.
     
  11. Sea Shadow

    Sea Shadow aka "Panda"

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    I too am a proud owner of an EPIA system, though mine is a bit older (EPIA MII 12000). While most of the points you brought up are true, I think most people who are purchasing these systems are fully aware of the lack of power behind them. I put my system together so that I can take my music/video collection with me wherever I go. When I am at home it sits in my stereo cabinet in my room and I use it to listen to my tunes while doing school work or sketching. When I go to visit my friends I use the outputs to hook it up to their TVs to share random videos or to watch TV shows that aren't out on DVD yet (I record them on my HTPC at home and just copy them over the network).

    While the future is in HD we need to remember that not everyone has adopted it or has the cash to spend on it, and in some cases there isn't a need for it. In my situation as a college student, only those who are theater buffs have HDTVs and they spend every dime they earn on more gear. For all of my other friends it's just a mix of old boxes and LCDs. And that is where I love having my EPIA system, it is almost the size of a text book and takes seconds to hook up at their apartments. I can even take it down into the commons areas and hook it up to the TVs there while we play ping-pong or billiards. If I had to deal with breakout cables or adapters it would make it alot more difficult to haul my system around and would require me to keep track of cables. With this I just have a short set of RCA cables tucked away in my car, and most of the time I just use the ones already hooked up to their VCR or DVD player. All I need is the remote, the computer, and the power brick.

    While a larger system would have been much cheaper to build it would also be much larger and more awkward to move around. My setup takes up less space than most of my friends large CD wallets.
     
    Last edited: 27 Jul 2007
  12. sandys

    sandys Well-Known Member

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    Theres just no excuse for such a poor system, I can think of no niche where this pathetic attempt at a low power system can justify itself.

    I just checked to make sure I do have the Epia system similar to the review setup and its similar I have the EPIA-EN15000G with the C7 1.5Ghz and it struggles to do web browsing as well as watching a DTV stream (MPEG2, it has hardware it shouldn't have a problem) at 1280x720, one bit of flash advert or something and it croaks. I don't know why anyone would suffer it. It wasn't even cheap, it was about £130 before adding the Gb of ram, my X2 setup was approx £40 for mobo, approx £40 for the CPU and about £20 for 1Gb of RAM, it was only that expensive because I wanted 2 cores and the Ati chipset, if I went single core or/and Nvidia 6100 I could have knocked £20 of the total and it would still be 5 times quicker than an Epia and use even less power.

    Anything you can do with and Epia ITX system you can do with an AMD/Intel system and within the same power envelope and form factor.

    The pico and nano are another kettle of fish if you want something really small not much will touch it.
     
  13. Guest-16

    Guest-16 Guest

    But you can do the same thing with a cheap notebook or xbox and xbmc. The notebook is still far more portable and you can get them with svideo out etc. I understand it will fit some applications and there are those that like it and find applications that fit the bill but look at the board and features it's paired with and tell me that you'd still buy the epia for more money and less capability. You can play hdtv back on pc monitor as well. Most collage students DOWNLOAD their TV i'd assume, and watch it on their PCs. Like I said, if you find the size particularly to your tastes then it will work, but Albatron and EQS also do 690g mini itx boards too. We'll probably see NV7050 boards in time as well.

    One breakout cable that you keep plugged into your other cable is no less hassle at all, and HDMI is a single cable compared to 3-5 on component or composite? The old EPIAs even had an S/PDIF/composite jumper on the board so you could use the same phono jack for either output.

    If it takes up space then most of your friends large CD wallets, just buy a laptop, then you get an LCD and case already as well. It's low power, has all the outputs youll need and just has a power brick too.

    The Pico and Nano are a completely different kettle of fish and I dont even consider them consumer devises like a PC. They are really specialist and fit their design perfectly, but when will VIA pull its finger out and start pushing them more in the right areas? We've seem tech demos of them for years.
     
  14. Max Spain

    Max Spain New Member

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    Thank you for your reply and your initial article. While our opinions may differ, you do express yours intelligently (sometimes a rarity on these intarwebs.)

    Now that Vista has been released and the major hw companies are incorporating DRM into their products to stay in M$'s graces, there are two ways to view these changes. You can view them as Digital Consumer Enablement or as Digital Rights Management. It would appear that you subscribe to the first point of view. I obviously hold to the latter. I will never purchase Windows Vista. I will never purchase a gfx card with HDCP. I will never purchase a Blu-Ray or HD-DVD drive for my computer. I will never purchase a CPU/MOBO/HDD with Trusted Computing. I simply will not knowingly purchase PC products (hw or sw) that are designed to limit or control what I can do. The PC started out as an open platform, and I don't want my personal computer to turn into somebody else's X-Box.

    As far as my usage goes, I would gladly limit myself to only doing one task at a time to maintain control over my own pc, but fortunately that isn't necessary. Perhaps it is because I run Ubuntu, but even when my processor is loaded doing other things, my system remains responsive to user input and I am easily capable of using Firefox alongside whatever proggy is running. Besides, for a media center pc, why would you need to be multi-tasking (unless you had two screens :jawdrop:) I also don't "force" myself to use linux and VLC. I find the interfaces to be very intuitive, I don't have to worry about security (aside from the obvious), and I can install more apps than I can count at the click of a button. Ubuntu is gaining a lot of popularity for its ease of use and capabilities and I highly recommend anybody interested in something new to try out their live cd. Having said that, I would find it very interesting to see this article revisited using Myth TV and a couple of tuners...

    Your comments on the hardware acceleration not working in the applications you tested in remind me of a time several years ago, back when I was a big AMD fanboy. I remember reading a forum thread about one of the pi benchmarks (super pi, pifast, or whatever) and a new patch that took advantage of Intel's new SSE (2 or 3, I don't remember). Some of the posters said that the patch made comparing Intel processors to AMD processors unfair, because the processors wouldn't be on an even playing field. Other posters said that it was perfectly fair because it showed what those new Intel chips were capable of. ViaArena has a page devoted to downloads for free software that utilizes Via's unique features including this one that deals with their Padlock Security Engine. In it you can find programs that could be extremely useful to you if you run windows on your via box.

    I disagree with you here. In fact, I believe that it is we (power users) who are the rare breed. Everybody I know (except gamers) don't really have a need for the new hotness in computer components. As far as my family is concerned, they would ALL be better off with small, low power, inexpensive Via computers. All they do is browse the web, write e-mails/letters, listen to music, and watch the occasional movie. A Pentium II would suffice for those tasks. I'll agree with you on the PC Chips mobo :D, but this one has run surprisingly well considering the $60 I spent on it. As far as microATX goes, that's a feature ;)

    I won't argue with you there. I have never used a C3, but considering the improvements that were supposedly made on the C7, it must have been painfully slow. That said, a REALLY smart guy I used to work with used one and loved it. Also, I do have a Pentium M laptop and it never felt fast to me (and it's a Dothan) :confused:
     
  15. Sea Shadow

    Sea Shadow aka "Panda"

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    I looked into those options, and at the time I built it (and even today) there was no way a $500 notebook could have near as much storage. And lugging around an Xbox is more akin to lugging around a large VCR than a college text book. Besides, even if I had gone that route there still is no way that a rock bottom notebook or a modded xbox is going to be handling HD content anytime soon. As it is my current EPIA does everything I need it to, and runs smoothly. It's a stripped down version of XP home running a front end that is normally used in Car PCs (which it will hopefully be someday) so its not like the processor is even used that much. I use it to fill a niche, not as an HTPC.

    As far as watching HDTV on a PC monitor, how many kids in college even have a PC that has the processing power to handle HD content? Last time I checked the average college or university wasn't exactly riddled with powerful computer systems. And who wants to pack an bunch of people in around a tiny monitor when you can watch tv on say a 30-40" tube, sure it is a lower resolution but its not exactly like everyone is scrutinizing the image quality and watching for every little imperfection. They are there to have a good time, hang out with friends, and kick back and relax. As far as cables go: If one misplaces said breakout cable then they have to track down a new one, where as RCA cables are a dime a dozen. And as much as I would love to be able to carry around only an HDMI cable, that just won't work. The only people who own a system at their dorm or appartment that uses HDMI are the home theater buffs and they already have a dedicated HTPCs and ususally have subscriptions to various music services in addition to expansive colletions.

    I said that my system takes up less space than their CD wallets, it has a smaller footprint than most laptops with a ton more storage (granted it is much thicker).
     
  16. woodshop

    woodshop UnSeenly

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    I for one would love to see Kill A Watt (though you'll need a UK happy device.. something like this maybe) readings taken for both HTPC and regular PC setups, but especially HTPC setups because in my mind @ least they are what is on 24/7 waiting to record or recording what i want.
     
  17. Guest-16

    Guest-16 Guest

    I think the argument between us all is being lost: this particular EPIA isnt designed for the job it's made for, but others will fit the need in other applications. The EPIA concept doesn't score poorly, just this motherboard.

    In the UK, when I was at uni a few years ago most people had laptops and they could easily play back HD content in h264/xvid. It's obviously different in the states. Then again, how many collage students have an xbox 360 or ps3? You really do need something HD to use on them otherwise it's a complete waste of time as well.

    Got any pics of your book-epia? I'd like to see how you've done it :)
     
  18. sandys

    sandys Well-Known Member

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    I have that exact device, bought it from maplin when we were getting some large leccy bills and I wanted to find the cause only £14.99 there.

    but some example power consumption from machines I have are

    X360 = 160-170w
    PS3 = 175-185w

    Laptop (1.83Ghz C2D, 2Gb RAM, 160GbHDD, 7600GPU, DVDRW) = 35w typical (battery removed, with battery up to 90w) load upto 90odd.

    HTPC (X2, 2.2Ghz undervolted to 1v, 1Gb RAM, 500Gb HDD, 3 DVB-T tuners, DVDRW, x1250 in LC19) = 40w typical, max 65w load.

    old HTPC (s754, Athlon 2800, 1Gb RAM, 6100 mobo, 6200TC, 400Gb HDD in Antec Aria) =70-80w idle, 110w load.

    my ITX (Epia EN15000G, 80Gb HDD, 1Gb RAM in a Morex Venus 669 Case) = 45w idle and only marginally more on load.

    SLI game rig (FX60 @ 3Ghz, 2 Gb RAM, 2x7900GTX, Xfi, Physx, 4x80HDD in Raid, DVDRW etc) = a little under 200w idle and 480w load, interestingly with the old OCZ PSU it would pull 650w :eek: so these things can change with PSU used.
     
  19. Cupboard

    Cupboard I'm not a modder.

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    Whilst you mentioned that the VIA PC would definately not cope with Vista, you didn't seem to mention whether the AMD system would? I am wondering if i can make a cheap Vista box for my parents, and not have to buy a graphics card for the fancy bits.

    One other thing, i know the processor you used is a low power one, but what is it the low power version of? is it similar to an X2 3800?
     
  20. sandys

    sandys Well-Known Member

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    The x1250 is one of the first integrated GPUs to be Vista certified so would be fine.

    Its a low power X2 4000 I think.
     
    Last edited: 28 Jul 2007
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