MythTV on an Asus Pundit-P1 AH2
I built my first MythTV box a few years ago based on an Asus Pundit-R. While in theory the little barebone was perfect for a multimedia PC, the reality was quite different. While it looked great, the case was fiddly to work inside, had limited expandability and was just too noisy for my living room. I eventually replaced it with a bigger, silent PC.
Fast forward to 2007 and there's a new version of the Pundit available. All of a sudden it makes much more sense; 500GB disks, dual core CPUs, WiFi dongles and dual tuner cards should all help to cure its expandability problems and give it the capability to match its looks.
- Asustek Pundit P1-AH2, socket AM2, 250 Watt PSU
- AMD Athlon 64 X2, 3600 dual core 1.9GHz
- Samsung 500GB Hard Drive, 16MB 7200RPM
- Kingston ValueRAM 1GB
- LiteOn DVD RW, 20x SATA, Black
- Hauppauge WinTV Nova-T 500, Dual DVB-T PCI TV card
Upon opening the box, the first thing that struck me was that the case is identical to the old Pundit-R. That's by no means a bad thing. The only change being the new "ab" (Asus Barebone) logo on the front. The case is about the size of a DVD player and looks nice and understated on a Hi-Fi stand with its blue LEDs flashing away.
Unfortunately a couple of niggles have remained - the cover is a pig to get on and off and even after years of ownership I've never mastered it. It's also still a bit fiddly inside, especially in the gap between the back of the drives and the PSU. Hopefully the exclusive use of SATA cables will sort that out.
Putting it Together
As I knew the space at the back of the drive cage was small, I opted for SATA for both the DVD and HDD. While the lack of ribbon cables helped immensely with both ease of installation and air flow around the case, it did throw up a big issue - the case only comes bundled with single SATA data and power cables. As it's very hard to source such short cables I find this an unforgivably penny pinching exercise on the part of Asus. With the proliferation of SATA optical drives this oversight will leave lots of new owners with stillborn systems while they get on the 'net and order a second cable.
I opted for the new Hauppauge Nova-T 500 dual tuner card and its low profile PCB slotted neatly into the confines of the Pundit. This is another leap forward from the old days when you actually had to file-down some full sized cards to get them to fit!
All in all, the build went well and the cool blue lights burst in to life on the first attempt. Immediately impressions were that it sounded quieter than the old model. I guess it must be something to do with the new Athlons being more efficient than my old Celeron. I wouldn't describe it as silent, but I'm sure most people could live with it in their front rooms (Note: I've had reports that the stock AMD fans are quieter than the Asus unit, so if you get one with your CPU it might be worth trying that first.).
I went for the 64-bit version of Ubuntu and the installation went without a hitch. Once installed I could see both CPUs and the frequency scaling was working to conserve power. There was also a nice 425+ GB of space free for recordings. That's about 9 full days' worth!
I followed my own MythTV Installation Guide to get the system up and running. It's a pity that the Nova-T 500 doesn't work out of the box, but compiling the modules is straightforward. I was a bit disappointed that the bundled remote control isn't yet supported, especially as I've been using the exact same model on my single tuner cards for years. Still, that's a fault of the card and not the Pundit. I'm sure that it will be resolved in a future release.
This is where our diminutive hero really starts to shine. Those double barrelled 64-bit cannons allow the sexy black box to punch way above its weight. It flies through the MythTV menus with a user-friendly responsiveness, recordings appear very shortly after selection and it changes channels as quickly as I have seen. It even boots from cold to Myth Frontend in 45 seconds dead. Very, very impressive.
Graphics and TV-Out
The inclusion of the nVidia Crush graphics card is another area where Asus have starred. Compared to the misery which the old ATi card caused (literally having to hack at the binary driver with a hex editor to get TV-Out to work), it's a breath of fresh air.
It needed the proprietary nVidia drivers for everything to work, but Ubuntu's new Restricted Drivers Manager made installation a foolproof exercise - I simply selected System->Administration->Restricted Drivers Manager from the menus, ticked the NVIDIA accelerated graphics driver box and followed the prompts. After a quick restart the drivers were there. Plus, as proper packages they'll be updated automatically whenever I upgrade.
TV-Out was a simple matter of plugging in the S-video cable and sitting back on the couch! The
nvidia-settings utility took care of any overscan required so I didn't even have to touch the xorg.conf file. There's also a DVI output, so those of you with an LCD or plasma TV can use a DVI to HDMI cable to get a fantastic picture. I even know of people using this method to get their MythTV boxes to drive 1080p TVs at their native resolution.
Technology has caught up with the Pundit and, thanks to modern processors and components, it now makes a great multimedia PC. The socket AM2 has a good range of processor options, from ludicrously cheap Semprons to monster dual core Athlons, making it a very flexible an upgradeable proposition.
- Small and compact, nice looking.
- Full sized optical and hard drives can be fitted, reducing cost and increasing capacity.
- Very well supported by Linux. Ubuntu amd64 installs smoothly.
- Simple to assemble.
- A good range of connectors - 2xSATA, 4xUSB, Firewire, DVI, VGA, S-Video, S/PDIF, Compact Flash, Memory Stick, SD Card, Gigabit Ethernet, etc.
- Socket AM2 gives access to a great range of CPU options. Even the cheapest dual cores will make it a very capable MythTV frontend/backend.
- nVidia Crush graphics are well supported.
- Only one hard drive bay. In these days of external drives that may not be too much of a problem.
- Quiet, but not silent. There is scope to fit a quieter CPU cooler, but passive solutions are out due to the lack of space in the case.
- No rubber mounts in the drive bay.
- S/PDIF optical audio out is on the front panel (I can't believe they haven't sorted that out yet).
- Only 2 PCI slots. Not much of a problem due to modern USB devices.
- Difficult to get the cover on.
- Only a single set of SATA cables supplied.