Monday, February 10, 2014

Building a low-cost HTPC from the Bay Trail NUC

The new Bay Trail NUC, the DN2820FYKH, is a very good candidate for a HTPC build. It does not pack that much power, but since the hardware can take care of video decoding, you will not need that much CPU power. It also does 23.976Hz video properly and can handle high bitrate 1080p streams without any problems. DTS-HD and True HD passthrough works.

Building up a Bay Trail NUC is easy, because you don't have much options. You have a single slot for memory, so you will get either 2, 4 or 8 gigabytes of memory. Then you have a slot for a single 2.5" drive, so unless you use an external USB 3.0 drive or run a diskless system that boots over the network you will need to buy a 2.5" SSD drive or a hard disk.

In order to start, you will need to make a decision: Windows 8.1 or Linux. Windows 7 is not yet supported by Intel, so Windows 8 is the only option today. Intel says they will bring Windows 7 support in a bit later though, which might or might not happen. As I said, the Bay Trail NUC is a bit lacking in the CPU department, so I would tend towards OpenELEC, which is a light weight Linux distribution that is built from scratch for just one purpose: to power your HTPC with the XBMC media center. I've been using OpenELEC with my i3 NUC for a month now and really liking it.

Then you will need to think what you're going to do with your HTPC: Will your movies be stored on the box or will you just stream them from an external source (like a server, NAS, an internet video service or even a live TV broadcast using a tuner). I've got a Synology NAS that I absolutely love, but your requirements may be different. If you stream only, you will not need that much storage space. If you want to store the files on the NUC, you'll need as large drive as you can afford.

Let's look what we have here then.

Recommended configuration (Streaming/OpenELEC)

  • The DN2820FYKH NUC
  • Crucial 2GB DDR3 SODIMM 1.35V
  • Kingston 60GB SSDNow V300 drive
  • Price (approx): $200 / 200€

In this configuration you have a 2 gigabyte memory module (That's plenty for OpenELEC, trust me!) and a 60 gigabyte SSD drive for those ultra fast boots. OpenELEC will be ready in a few seconds after pressing the power button on your remote. Yet the 60 gigabytes is enough for live TV timeshifting and some recording. Since the SSD drive does not contain any moving parts, this is as quiet as you can go without replacing the case to a fanless one.

Recommended configuration (Storage/OpenELEC)

  • The DN2820FYKH NUC
  • Crucial 2GB DDR3 SODIMM 1.35V
  • Hitachi 1.5TB internal hard disk drive
  • Price (approx): $270 / 250€

In this configuration I swapped out the SSD drive and added a 1.5TB hard drive instead. Boot time is a bit slower, but the amount of storage is much larger - 1.5TB will store quite significant amount of data.

Recommended configuration (Large Storage/OpenELEC)

  • The DN2820FYKH NUC
  • Crucial 2GB DDR3 SODIMM 1.35V
  • Kingston 60GB SSDNow V300 drive
  • Seagate 3TB External USB 3.0 drive
  • Price (approx): $310 / 300€

Finally for twice the storage, a configuration with a 60GB SSD drive for the fast bootup times and snappy behaviour and a large 3 terabyte external hard disk drive. Do note that this external drive is a normal 3.5" drive that needs an external power supply (that comes with the drive). This is also the loudest option, as the external 3.5" drive will be making some noise.

Recommended configuration (Windows)

For any Windows setup, just replace the memory module and instead choose a 4GB module or even an 8GB module.


Issues

The NUC itself is a bit work in progress it seems. Most of the things are working fine, but there are some glitches. It's recommended to update the BIOS to the latest one, if you haven't done that. BIOS updates can be found from Intel Download Center. Furthermore, the operating systems are still adding support for the NUC, so be prepared to use cutting edge software and update often for the first couple of months! I'm sure the little gremlins are ironed out of the software soon, but as of today that's the situation

Linux

Some people have been having problems booting up anything from a USB stick, including the installer of the Linux distribution chosen! For example, it's not possible to install OpenELEC with certain settings. What you need to do is to change your BIOS settings in the following way:

  • Press F2 when prompted during boot to enter BIOS Setup.
  • Press F9 to set all BIOS options to default values.
  • Select Advanced.
    • On the Devices and Peripherals > USB menu:
      • Set USB3.0 (XHCI mode) support to Enable
      • Check USB Legacy to enable it
    • On the Devices and Peripherals > SATA menu, set Chipset SATA Mode to AHCI.
    • On the Devices and Peripherals > Video menu, set the IGD Minimum Memory to 512 MB.
    • On the Boot > Boot Priority menu:
      • Uncheck UEFI Boot to disable it
      • Check Legacy Boot to enable it
    • On the Boot > Boot Configuration menu:
      • Check USB under Boot Devices to enable it
  • Press F10 to save your changes and exit BIOS.
  • Proceed with the installation of the operating system.

OpenELEC

For proper support, the latest stable OpenELEC version 3.2.4 will not do. You will need to install a nightly build. The nightly builds are located here (choose the most recent x86_64 version!). Furthermore during the installation phase, when prompted if you want to use a GPT partition, you must select no.

A lot of good is hidden in this massive thread at XBMC forums.

Windows

The DN2820FYKH NUC has not entered service without hitches and it's good to be aware that some problems still remain. Currently the Windows drivers available do not permit DTS-HD audio pass through to your receiver. There's a discussion of this issue here at Intel's community pages.

Monday, February 3, 2014

First look at the Bay Trail NUC @legitreviews.com

Legit reviews have posted a quick preview of the Bay Trail NUC. In case you don't know about the Bay trail NUC, that's the sub $140 / 140€ NUC that comes with a very low voltage Celeron processor and a case that fits a 2.5" hard disk drive or an SSD disk. A very promising low cost HTPC rig!

Get yours from Amazon today!