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Upgrading Older HTPC to 4k etc

ubertrout

Junior Member
Apr 4, 2011
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A decade ago (almost exactly) I built a HTPC powered by an Intel Core i3 2100t. I used it for a few years and then put it in storage for a few years (I made a thread about building it here: https://forums.anandtech.com/threads/core-i3-2100t-in-a-small-case.2155549/). I've moved to a house where there's no PC near the entertainment center, and I'm thinking of bringing the HTPC back and using it in my system. But...I don't think the 2nd gen Core i3 and HD Graphics 2000 will keep up terribly well with my entertainment system, with is 7.1 and 4k through a Sony AVR. Also, weirdly, I've noticed that the system is struggling to put out 1080p video via the HDMI port (it does it fine through the VGA port), and seems to max out at 1024x768 via HDMI. I've updated Windows and drivers but no difference.

Is there a cheap way to bring this system into the modern era for 4k and the like? I'm thinking maybe an older graphics card or something (there's an unused x16 PCI-E slot on the system although it probably needs a low-profile card).
 

boed

Senior member
Nov 19, 2009
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I really don't think you want an i3. Maybe just buy a used PC on ebay? i5, 8gb ssd. or buy a shield for plex if that is what you are playing. $200 for the pro - just got mine last night.
 

mindless1

Diamond Member
Aug 11, 2001
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How cheap is "cheap"? :)

An i3 should handle 4K video as long as some of the work is offloaded. Low profile video card with HDMI2 (needed for 4K @60Hz), & semi-modern codec support would be something like at least a GT 1030, or better still a 1050 or 1650 for improved shader performance if your playback software can leverage that for useful visual effects like sharpening filters on lesser res. video upsampled to 4K.

You can get the video card and then decide if with it, the system is sitll struggling and needs a CPU upgrade. You might check the chart on this page to see what each newer generation of GPU will get you in the way of GPU hardware decoding, but of course your video player software has to support it too, otherwise you still need HDMI2 output but will need a faster CPU to compensate.


A tip about using the minimum video card possible, is that they're going to be running at low clock speed and may not upclock even at full % load doing the video playback, so in nvidia control panel, you'd set the 3D settings, manage 3D settings, program settings tab, power management mode, to "prefer maximum performance" for your video playback app. so that it's running at full speed. There may be other alternatives for this, but I found it useful when i was in that situation.

Keep in mind that your current case cooling is probably insufficient. The better two above mentioned cards are relatively low power at about 75W TDP (or 30W for GT 1030) but in that topic you mentioned you didn't even have a case fan. If you want smooth 4K playback it is going to take more watts of power, heat to get there.
 
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ubertrout

Junior Member
Apr 4, 2011
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So, I had to install a lot of Windows 7 updates - I don't think I'd powered it on since 2014, but even after all the driver and Windows updates the HDMI out doesn't seem to work for anything but 1024x768 - if I try to set it to 1080p or 4k the video crashes. I suspect there's a CPU bottleneck with the low-voltage 2nd gen i3, or a driver issue, or whatever. The system has no problem outputting 1080p via the VGA connection, not sure what that means. I want to make clear this is strictly for 2D playback, beyond stuff like SCUMMVM I don't plan to use this for gaming - I have a gaming system with a Ryzen 2700X and a RX580 upstairs.

As far as I can tell, I have four basic options. The first is to muddle along, and use it for old-school gaming on my TV and such. This isn't really attractive since most of the point is video playback and if it can't do 4k what's the point? This is going to a LG C6 OLED and 1024x768 on it is a waste.

The second is to put in an older or lower end GPU and hope it fixes the problem. I just need something that can output 4k video and high-res audio properly via a single HDMI port. I'm looking more at something like a GT 710 - would that still be a heat problem?

The third option is to get a new mini-itx/cpu/cooler combo with modern onboard graphics. Would need a newer low-profile cooler for that, so we're probably talking about $300 plus the time of a windows reinstall (and probably an OEM copy of Win10 as well).

The fourth option is to take a step back and just say to heck with it. My LG TV has Netflix and other major services as on-TV apps, and I also have a Sony X800 connected for physical media and similar streaming options - and it can play files off my NAS too. A HTPC would be more versatile, but the real reason I don't want to spend a ton of money on upgrading is that I already have decent parts in my system without the HTPC.

Edit to add: eyeing the ZOTAC GeForce GT 730 Zone Edition with 4GB (of DDR3, slower, I know). This would strictly be for 2D, no 3D or gaming (might use it for Steam Link, but even then the processing would be by the gaming PC).
 
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mindless1

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Aug 11, 2001
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It's not a CPU bottleneck, that would just cause stuttering for video playback (and you'd see CPU load maxing out in task mgr), not cause it to fail. You might have some OS file or driver corruption, hard to say but I have a Win7SP1 x64 box with an nVidia 750ti GPU that does do 4K over HDMI.

Did you install the full Intel driver from their site? If you are just using whatever was pushed to you through windows updates it might be a crippled driver.

A GT730, is a questionable choice to buy today for 4K because without HDMI2, it can only do 30Hz, "maybe" a few % higher with custom resolutions but definitely not 60Hz or more over HDMI. This would make a GT1030 the better choice and can be had new for a little under $90. Either are relatively low power, low heat cards, but only you know if your system has enough airflow for them.

I would still keep investigating why you can't get the existing setup to even do 1080p as that is free to fix except for the time spent, unless 1080p is worthless then no point in it.
 
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DAPUNISHER

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Aug 22, 2001
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So, I had to install a lot of Windows 7 updates - I don't think I'd powered it on since 2014, but even after all the driver and Windows updates the HDMI out doesn't seem to work for anything but 1024x768 - if I try to set it to 1080p or 4k the video crashes. I suspect there's a CPU bottleneck with the low-voltage 2nd gen i3, or a driver issue, or whatever. The system has no problem outputting 1080p via the VGA connection, not sure what that means. I want to make clear this is strictly for 2D playback, beyond stuff like SCUMMVM I don't plan to use this for gaming - I have a gaming system with a Ryzen 2700X and a RX580 upstairs.

As far as I can tell, I have four basic options. The first is to muddle along, and use it for old-school gaming on my TV and such. This isn't really attractive since most of the point is video playback and if it can't do 4k what's the point? This is going to a LG C6 OLED and 1024x768 on it is a waste.

The second is to put in an older or lower end GPU and hope it fixes the problem. I just need something that can output 4k video and high-res audio properly via a single HDMI port. I'm looking more at something like a GT 710 - would that still be a heat problem?

The third option is to get a new mini-itx/cpu/cooler combo with modern onboard graphics. Would need a newer low-profile cooler for that, so we're probably talking about $300 plus the time of a windows reinstall (and probably an OEM copy of Win10 as well).

The fourth option is to take a step back and just say to heck with it. My LG TV has Netflix and other major services as on-TV apps, and I also have a Sony X800 connected for physical media and similar streaming options - and it can play files off my NAS too. A HTPC would be more versatile, but the real reason I don't want to spend a ton of money on upgrading is that I already have decent parts in my system without the HTPC.

Edit to add: eyeing the ZOTAC GeForce GT 730 Zone Edition with 4GB (of DDR3, slower, I know). This would strictly be for 2D, no 3D or gaming (might use it for Steam Link, but even then the processing would be by the gaming PC).
Legit retail channel win 10 pro can be bought for under $15 now. Add a GT 1030, Staples has an EVGA model for $90 in stock at the moment, and that old system should do just fine. The 1030 has gen 8 purevideo where the 730 is gen 5 and lacks some modern hardware decode support. The prices are too close to each other not to get the 1030 imo. Spend a little over a $100 and be good to go.
 
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ubertrout

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Apr 4, 2011
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Legit retail channel win 10 pro can be bought for under $15 now. Add a GT 1030, Staples has an EVGA model for $90 in stock at the moment, and that old system should do just fine. The 1030 has gen 8 purevideo where the 730 is gen 5 and lacks some modern hardware decode support. The prices are too close to each other not to get the 1030 imo. Spend a little over a $100 and be good to go.
Looks like that Staples version is DVI-only, but there's low-profile HDMI versions for only a little more like the MSI G103024PC.

I'll futz around with the drivers some more first. I thought I installed the full Windows drivers from Intel directly, but I could be wrong.

Oh, and how important is Windows 10 here? I feel like 7 is probably fine for a HTPC but I'm open to correction. I understand it's not getting updates anymore.
 
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mindless1

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Aug 11, 2001
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I have no problem using Win7 for multimedia playback, but it depends on what you want to do, the interface, control, apps. What I would do is get the video card and install it and see how it goes. You can always move to Win10 after the fact, aren't losing significant time to just install a video driver on win7, if nothing else just to test the card for non-DOA and stability when you receive it.
 
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VirtualLarry

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Aug 25, 2001
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Legit retail channel win 10 pro can be bought for under $15 now. Add a GT 1030, Staples has an EVGA model for $90 in stock at the moment, and that old system should do just fine.
This!

You WANT Win10, for a modern HTPC. You just do.

Secondly, a GT 1030 should fix your resolution problems, as well as allow hw-accelerated 4K decoding, which your i3 CPU would never be able to handle on it's own (unless it was Kaby Lake or newer / 7th-gen or newer).

Go to www.nerdgearz.com , they have an MSI GT 1030 LP-ready version single-slot for $79.95, use promo code "RABIDMINING" for like 1-2% off. (Yep, still in stock as I write this.)

Yes, this is a "mining" site, but they also carry various video cards, including the 1030.

I just did this last night. I ordered a GT 1030 from Newegg two days ago, it was $114.99!
 
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ubertrout

Junior Member
Apr 4, 2011
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This!

You WANT Win10, for a modern HTPC. You just do.

Secondly, a GT 1030 should fix your resolution problems, as well as allow hw-accelerated 4K decoding, which your i3 CPU would never be able to handle on it's own (unless it was Kaby Lake or newer / 7th-gen or newer).

Go to www.nerdgearz.com , they have an MSI GT 1030 LP-ready version single-slot for $79.95, use promo code "RABIDMINING" for like 1-2% off. (Yep, still in stock as I write this.)

Yes, this is a "mining" site, but they also carry various video cards, including the 1030.

I just did this last night. I ordered a GT 1030 from Newegg two days ago, it was $114.99!
The i3 2100t is a 2nd gen i3 I believe - Sandy Bridge :).

I almost ordered last night but tried it out one more time first. I am using the latest (really the EOL) driver for Intel HD2000 graphics. For whatever reason I changed the resolution in the Intel tool instead of the Windows built-in settings and it went to 1080 just fine. No clue why, but I'll take it for now. If the problem comes back I'm ordering a 1030.
 
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