Sunday, January 2, 2011

For Linux XBMC machines, there is no ATI... only NVIDIA

< View Part I

When selecting a video card for a Linux machine, there is no ATI... only NVIDIA. NVIDIA is actively writing Linux drivers for their awesome PureVideo and other high end video cards while ATI (to my knowledge) is writing zero Linux drivers.

So the video card choice was pretty simple. Pick the best NVIDIA card with PureVideo (more about this in a few minutes) for the best price. Now I say the choice was pretty simple, however there were actually several factors beyond just the price that needed to be considered. Since we're using the very compact Dell GX620 SFF...

1. Must be PCIe x16
2. Must be low profile
3. Must have no less than 256MB RAM
4. Heat sink/fan must be very thin
5. Must be low power consumption

And the winner for just a little over $30 is...

The Zotac NVIDIA 8400GS with PureVideo is exactly the card we needed for this machine and it's only $31.99 at Amazon!

We spoke about NVIDIA PureVideo above and I mentioned getting back to that so lets do this now. PureVideo was an absolute, unwavering, can't-live-without requirement for this video card. PureVideo is NVIDIAs high definition video processing hardware and software technology. PureVideo technology is what will allow us to play 720p and 1080p high def movies beautifully smooth on the relatively weak single core P4 2.8GHz machine. You can read more about NVIDIA PureVideo here. The Zotac NVIDIA 8400GS will handle nearly 90% of the video rendering heavy lifting. This will leave the low horsepower PC processor gently idling during movie playback.

If the Dell GX620 SFF case were larger (but then we wouldn't have chosen it for this XMBC HTPC machine right?) you could chose from a few different NVIDIA PureVideo cards. One of the biggest factors in choosing the Zotac NVIDIA 8400GS over some of the other NVIDIA PureVideo cards is it's wonderful thinness. Because of the rather cramped quarters inside the Dell GX620 SFF case, there is a very small amount of space between the PCIe slot and the side of the hard drive cage. About 3/4" of space is available for the heat sink and/or fan. The Zotack NVIDIA 8400GS fits very nicely within this space.

Even if we had extra space for a larger heat sink and fan, the power consumption requirements would start to become an issue. The Dell GX620 SFF comes with a non-standard shape 275 watt PSU. Because of it's shape, it will be very difficult to impossible to upgrade. A lot of high end video cards come with fairly large PSU requirements. The Zotac NVIDIA 8400GS does not.

Click the Zotac NVIDIA 8400GS pic or link above to buy one from Amazon. Heck, buy 2 or 3 for the additional XMBC HTPCs you know you're going to build ;-)

Coming up in the next post... Bump up the RAM