Piecing Together The Home Theater PC: AMD's Amplifier-Augmented Maui Platform
While AMD might be on the ropes right now, past history suggests that it’d be a mistake to prematurely award Intel the KO. And while AMD is frantically working behind the scenes to get the consumer-targeted Phenom II variant of its Shanghai 45nm server CPU into production (widespread rumour suggests a launch at CES…I know, but can’t yet say), near term the company’s continuing to come out with interesting ideas for its existing products. Take, for example, Maui (as showcased in this HotHardware clip):
EDN’s regularly covered Class D audio amplifier technology over the years, from a variety of perspectives; sonic quality, output power, semiconductor integration capability, board space savings, efficiency, etc. Those last two Class D qualities have always been particularly compelling to me, because they enable robust audio amplification within system form factors that Class A, B and AB circuit configurations don’t allow. Maui is a perfect example of this Class D strength; in addition to including traditional PC components, AMD and partner MSI squeezed a 5.1-channel Class D power amplifier design developed by D2Audio (recently acquired by Intersil) and based on the DAE-3 chipset onto an add-in card:
Key specifications include:
- Output power: 100W peak, channel drive, 8 Ω (per-channel output power not specified)
- Non-linear distortion: THD+N: <0.1%, 1kHz, 1W
- Signal-to-noise ratio: >105dB
- Frequency response: ± 0.5dB (20Hz-20kHz)
- Efficiency: 93%
3.1 through 7.1 channel preamplifier configurations are also available:
The reference platform AMD provided to reviewers is based on MSI’s MS-7411 micro-ATX motherboard:
The mobile-tailored core logic chipset’s integrated graphics core has, AMD claims, sufficient video processing horsepower to robustly decode MPEG-2, H.264 and VC-1 streams coming off Blu-ray discs. As a result, the company paired it with two relatively underpowered (but, key for this particular application, also low power consumption) CPU candidates; a Phenom 9350e (2.0 GHz, 65W-max quad-core) and Athlon X2 5050e (2.6 GHz, 45W-max dual-core). AMD also tossed in a TV Wonder HD 650 Combo PCI Express add-in card for reception of ATSC, NTSC, clear-QAM cable and FM radio transmissions. Retail bundle options are currently available from Newegg.
The home theater PC segment has historically underperformed the hype, at least in the United States, for a variety of reasons such as:
- The hot (translation: noisy-fan) Pentium 4 CPUs that dominated the segment prior to the advent of Intel’s Pentium M and Core microarchitecture-based products, whose development was motivated by AMD’s competitive success
- The necessity for either cobbled-together third-party software suites or a custom Media Center version of Microsoft’s operating system in the Windows XP days, prior to the advent of the MCE-inclusive consumer variants of Windows Vista, and
- A traditional dearth of PC-centric entertainment content…a trend which has clearly shifted in a much more positive direction in more recent times.
However, space-constrained entertainment spaces in other geographies (as well as in North American college dormitories) are more amenable to the all-in-one system pitch, which is even more compelling now that AMD and Intersil have also embedded the multi-channel amplifier. And Media Center Extenders such as the Xbox 360 create an opportunity for Media Center system sales even if the PC isn’t installed within the home theater equipment stack.
For more information on home theater PCs, check out the following chronologically ordered and recently published links that I collected for you:
- Home Theatre System Using Laptops (Slashdot)
- Audiophile Journeys with a PC (AnandTech)
- Ars Ultimate Home Theater PC Guide: 1080p HDMI Edition (Ars Technica)