Carnal Self-Knowledge, A DIY Multimedia PC

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Overclocking a CPU is something you may have heard about. It’s speed for free. In this article on how to build your own multimedia PC as the core of your smart home entertainment system, we’re using an AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000 CPU. AMD CPU’s are notorious overclockers, and the CPU I am using in this home project is no exception.

I was able to bump up the speed of this CPU from its factory stock 2.60 GHz clock to slightly over 3 GHz, and without any stability problems. Seeing as how the AMD Athlon 64 X2, 3 GHz 6000 CPU costs about $110, I just pocketed a few bucks. Speed for free, indeed.

The motherboard I am using in this DIY project, the Biostar TF7050-M2, less than $80 on-line, is quite inexpensive in comparison to other motherboard products that tout serious overclocking capabilities. But this little board gives up nothing to its bigger and costlier competitors when it comes to wringing out the GHz cookies.

Expansion options for the TF7050-M2 include 10 USB 2.0 jacks (four on the rear I/O, six via headers), a PCI Express x16 slot for video cards, a PCI Express x1 slot for high bandwidth peripherals, and two 32-bit PCI slots for legacy devices. Several of the board’s built-in features include four 3Gb/s Serial ATA II ports (RAID 0,1, 0+1, 5), one IDE channel, a Gigabit network jack, and, ta-da! An HDMI port for High Def A/V that sends digital streams to any A/V receiver or any other compatible audio system and/or video monitor, as well as an HDTV set. HDMI is made possible thanks to the board’s using the nVIDIA GeForce 7050PV/nForce 630a chipset.

In addition to high def video, up to 1920x1080i, you can also send out audio from the board’s HDMI port—BUT—only 2-channels worth. Big Bummer. The motherboard and its Nvidia chipset do support High Definition Audio (HDA), though, which can deliver 192 kHz/32-bit audio quality over eight channels, but only via its multi-port audio jack, and not over HDMI.

This motherboard, HDMI audio limited though it may be, nonetheless comes out of the box ready to go as the system centerpiece for your high def smart home. Equally important, the nVIDIA GeForce 7050PV/nForce 630a chipset supports HDCP, an acronym with several definitions. The most common is High-bandwidth Digital Copy Protection. However you define it, it’s a way to copy protect “high definition” content from piracy. 

If your HDTV or projector has a DVI connector but does not support HDCP, you are seriously screwed as nothing will play. Thus, the fallback position of using lower quality analog connections, like S-video or component, presuming, of course, this output option is available to you. Thus, it’s worth noting that S-video TV-out is supported on the Biostar board, as is DVI-D and analog VGA.

Hollywood studio paranoia has sown mass consumer confusion with HDMI/HDCP, and naturally, it just gets crazier. HDMI is an evolving standard. HDMI 1.0 was the first pass.  It was OK, but it had many performance restrictions. Following the iterations of HDMI 1.1 and 1.2, HDMI 1.3 is finally out. HDMI 1.3 lets HDTV sets display billions, not just millions of colors.

More to the point, HDMI 1.3, which started appearing on consumer products in 2007, provides a significantly better looking picture as it offers increased contrast ratio, better tonal transitions, and a slew of other improvements, including much improved lip synching, which, if skewed, can cause a movie to sound like a badly dubbed Hong Kong Kung Fu special. HDMI 1.3 can also carry what is known as “high-definition” (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio) audio for greatly improved sound quality. As with v.1.0-1.2, HDMI 1.3 is backwards compliant with DVI compliant devices.

If you have not bought a HDTV set or projector yet, make sure they have an HDMI 1.3 interface--Just be sure your set top box and other A/V gear also support HDMI rev. 1.3. If they don’t, you still can run your display connections via older spec HDMI, but you won’t get all the new goodies 1.3 has to offer. If you want to discover that Easter egg, it means junking your current DVD player, surround processor, etc. Ouch. 

Biostar does not specify what version of HDMI the TF7050-M2 is using, but it’s a safe bet it’s HDMI 1.2 and probably lower. Oh well, at least the TF7050-M2 makes system overclocking a snap, as we will see in the next page.

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