Storage, Screens And Sounds (Part 1)

6/26/2012 11:24:57 AM

Ian Jackson discusses the three S's: storage, speakers and screens


Some form of storage will be necessary for your HTPC, even if you're serving your media over a network. If you plan on storing your media locally instead, then you'll need something a lot more spacious, because high-definition movies, lossless digitally stored audio and high-resolution photos use up more and more space. Most HTPC cases allow you to install one or more 3.5" desktop hard drives. These are generally more affordable for the same capacity compared to 2.5" equivalents and come with a much higher ceiling when it comes to overall capacity.

Description:  The HTPC would be attached to that unit for all of its major storage needs

 The HTPC would be attached to that unit for all of its major storage needs

When it comes to storing the operating system, we strongly recommend you consider a solid-state drive for an HTPC. As well as greatly improving performance, an SSD is also completely noiseless, meaning the conspicuous grinding and ticking of a hard drive will be absent from a network attached HTPC altogether. If you're using an HTPC with locally stored multimedia, you can have the secondary hard drive set to power up only when in use, thereby reducing system noise and power consumption.

Solid-state drives have plummeted in price in recent months, with 60GB drives available for as little as $96. These aren't even 'cut down' variants either; we've seen Corsair's Force 3 and OCZ's Agility drives at this price, both of which use SandForce's fantastic 500MB/s+ controller in them. If you need a little more space for applications, a 120GB drive will offer even better cost per gigabyte, with 120GB variants costing only a little over $160.

Description: STORAGE

A solid-state drive offers far more than just better transfer rates however. The access time is two orders of magnitude faster, making small file random accessing (i.e. most of what Windows does all the time) vastly quicker than a mechanical drive. A solid-state drive will also enable you to accomplish multiple tasks without slow down - if an automated backup or virus scanning task starts in the middle of playing a film when you have an SSD installed, you won't even notice. If the same happens on a mechanical drive, it'll quickly be reduced to a stuttering mess.

The mechanical drive market has slowly been whittled down to just a few manufacturers. With Seagate's acquisition of Samsung's Spinpoint line, it's now only a three-horse race between Hitachi, Western Digital and Seagate. When it comes to raw capacity, Hitachi currently offers the largest drives on the market, with its 4TB variants peerless in capacity. These come in two flavours: an energy-efficient 'Coolspin' model and a performance-centric 7200rpm model. Although we normally recommend the latter for desktop PCs, the former is actually better for HTPCs. Its 130MB/s transfer rate is more than fast enough for any multimedia requirements, and its audio output of 25dB is quieter than most. This is a step forward for Hitachi, which has a fairly poor reputation for noise levels across its range. These ultra-high capacity drives don't come cheap, however. At over $325 for either variant, the cost per gigabyte doesn't really add up unless you need this much space and simply can't accommodate more than one physical disk.

Description:  Samsung Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB SATA II 3.5'' Hard Drive 32MB Cache

 Samsung Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB SATA II 3.5'' Hard Drive 32MB Cache

Had this article been written 12 months ago, our drive of choice would have been easy. Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB (HD103SJ) drives are well renowned for both their excellent performance and stunning low-noise characteristics. With the boundary between Samsung and Seagate blurring considerably, however, these are increasingly hard to find. If you know where to look, however, these drives can still be found. Now under the Barracuda product family, they're now commonly referred to as the Seagate ST1000DM005. These retain excellent performance and low noise, and remain a good choice if you can find them.

The F3 is no longer the fastest drive on the market, however. That crown goes to another Seagate drive, this time one of its in-house creations. The 7200.14 family is the first drive family to feature a platter density of 1TB, allowing transfer rates at never before seen speeds. The 1TB and 2TB variants (ST1000DM003 and ST2000DM001 respectively) both have a massive 64MB cache and are capable of shifting data at 200MB/s - that's faster even than Western Digital's Velociraptor 10,000rpm drive. These drives are surprisingly quiet as well, although they do emit the occasional slightly disconcerting high-pitched squeak. Initially we thought this might be indicative of a fault, but having seen more than ten of these cross the labs now, it's a trait consistent with this model.

  •  300Mbps AV200 Wireless N Powerline Extender TL-WPA281
  •  Media Pc Hardware Round-Up (Part 3) - Memory,Video Cards, Sound Cards, PSU And Cooling
  •  Media Pc Hardware Round-Up (Part 2) - Processors & Motherboards
  •  Media Pc Hardware Round-Up (Part 1) - CASES
  •  Corsair Performance Series Pro
  •  AData S511 – It's not enough to enter High-End class
  •  Yamicsoft Windows 7 Manager 3.0.8
  •  Combine The Pieces Together - Third Party Windows Defragmenter (Part 3) - Raxco PerfectDisk 12.5 Pro, Auslogic Disk Defrag 3.3
  •  Combine The Pieces Together - Third Party Windows Defragmenter (Part 2) - Ashampoo Magical Defrag 3, IObit Smart Defrag 2.3
  •  Combine The Pieces Together - Third Party Windows Defragmenter (Part 1) - O & O Defrag 15 Professional Edition
  •  Buying Guide: CPU Cooling Equipment (Part 8) - SilenX EFZ-120HA5, Xigmatek Aegir SD128264, Zalman CNPS11X Performa
  •  Buying Guide: CPU Cooling Equipment (Part 7) - Gelid Solutions GX-7,Rosewill RCX-SC1U-1366,Scythe NINJA 3 Rev.B
  •  Buying Guide: CPU Cooling Equipment (Part 6) - Deepcool by Logisys ICE BLADE PRO,Enermax ETD-T60-VD, Enzotech Extreme-X REV.A
  •  Buying Guide: CPU Cooling Equipment (Part 5) - Antec KUHLER H2O 620,Arctic Cooling Freezer i30,Cooler Master Hyper 612 PWM
  •  Buying Guide: CPU Cooling Equipment (Part 4) - Thermaltake BigWater 760 Plus,Thermaltake Frio OCK,Zalman CNPS20LQ
  •  Buying Guide: CPU Cooling Equipment (Part 3) - NZXT HAVIK 140,Phanteks PH-TC140PE_BL, Swiftech H20-X20 Edge HD
  •  Buying Guide: CPU Cooling Equipment (Part 2) - Antec KUHLER H2O 920, Corsair Hydro Series H80, Corsair Hydro Series H100, Noctua NH-D14
  •  Buying Guide: CPU Cooling Equipment (Part 1)
  •  AMD A6-3500 - Llano integrated-graphics processors
  •  Samsung Series 7 Gamer
    Top 10
    SQL Azure : Database Growth-Management Strategies
    Huawei Ascend G300 On Vodafone
    IIS 7.0 Manager Customization and Extensibility
    BlackBerry Java Application Development : Networking - parsing the response
    UK tech skills crisis
    The AmigaOS and App News!
    Datacolor SpyderLensCal (Part 2)
    Exchange Server 2007: Design and Deploy Disaster Recovery Settings - Use Dial-Tone Restores
    Zotac D2700-ITX WiFi Supreme
    Water Cools The PC Better
    Most View
    SQL Server 2008 : Using Remote Stored Procedures
    Manage Server Core
    Shoot Your Best-Ever Portraits (Part 1)
    Parallel Programming : Introducing Parallel Computing
    Armaggeddon Nighthawk Kai-5 - The Fleldging Nighthawk
    Visual Studio 2010 : Understanding Solutions and Projects (part 1)
    Websites & apps at DoS risk
    Developing an SEO-Friendly Website: Content Delivery and Search Spider Control (part 3)
    Debugging Tools For Parallel Tasks
    Building Android Apps : Controlling the Phone with JavaScript (part 1) - Beep, Vibrate, and Alert
    Windows armed and ready
    Windows 7 : Exploring and Searching Your Computer - Exploring Your Documents
    Memory update to boost mobile devices : Manufacturer backing
    Windows 7 : Creating and Managing Groups
    All in One - The iDevice To Rule Them All
    Understanding SharePoint 2010 Extranet Security
    Easier ways to read files on the go
    Do More With Mail (Part 1) - Multiple iCloud aliases
    Iomega Storcenter Ix2 Network Storage Cloud Edition
    Cloud Computing for the Corporation