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I was wondering how low you could go with hardware that would still be able to smoothly run HD movies.

My current plan is around $215 CAD w/o a hard drive: Intel Pentium 4 @ 3.2 GHz - 1GB DDR/SDRAM - 512MB X1600 Pro AGP - 350W PSU - ECS P4VXASD2+ - Bluray/DVD-RW drive.

As for the hard drive, could I just get a 7200RPM IDE HDD? Also, I'm planning on installing XP Pro SP3, unless Ubuntu somehow has an advantage.

I'm not wanting this to be a media center only computer... just want it to be a normal computer with just enough oomph to play HD movies.

Thanks in advance.

EDIT1: Forgot to mention that the Bluray/DVD-RW drive is SATA, but I was planning on getting an SATA-IDE adapter or a PCI card with SATA.

EDIT2: Oh yes... if I get a PCI card with SATA, would you then recommend I use an SATA hard drive as well? That would leave all the IDE ports on the motherboard unused... is that a good idea?

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The CPU should be fast enough, but it maybe too close. Depends what else you have running on the system.

About HDD, if you are buying a new one, by all means go for SATA. It's a newer standard and most of the modern drives you buy now would be SATA. It also supports higher overall speeds, although it is doubtful your HDD would actually be bound by the interface limitations.

If you already have an IDE drive, that would be fine. It may not be the best option, but it most likely is not going to be the limiting factor for playing 1080p movies.

As for SATA-IDE or PCI SATA card, by all means go for the PCI SATA card. It's the better option and probably cheaper too.

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Yeah, if I'm running a 1080p movie, I probably won't have anything else running in the background. I googled it and saw a forum post where someone managed to play 1080p movies with a mere 1 GHz processor. Still I wouldn't do that, since I have the option of a faster processor anyways. Thanks for your answer! – Wesley Mar 6 '10 at 5:06
I had a Core Duo 1.8Ghz system that couldn't do 1080p :) it was almost there, but it would chugg on high-action scenes. Mind you, it was doing fine on raw .ts streams, but it couldn't handle x264 encoded streams. – Ivan Peevski Mar 9 '10 at 8:44
An update, on another machine, I have an Intel e7300 and mplayer under Linux (Ubuntu) still can't keep up with 1080p - firstly, there is no graphics card hardware acceleration, and secondly I suspect it's mostly due to a bad compile settings / optimizations of the package that comes with Ubuntu. If your CPU doesn't cope, it may pay-off to look around for the best optimized binary you can find. – Ivan Peevski Mar 20 '10 at 5:28

It depends a lot on the software you use to. A heavy player like WMP might not run, but a lighter option, say VLC, might. I don't think your going to get a definitive answer, theres too many variables.

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Well, you've given me an answer for software. Do you think the hardware will run it though? – Wesley Mar 5 '10 at 6:00
I think with VLC it will. I have a netboo (dual core 1.66 2 gig of ram) running linux, and i watch 1080P on there all the time, with no lag, even when running other things in the background. However, I do rip the DVDs so I don't have to use the USB external DVD drive while watching it. Handbrake is an amazing DVD ripper if you want to use this method. – alpha1 Mar 7 '10 at 17:31
Alright. I don't have the Atom N330; I have the N270. Still, I mainly use my netbook for school and I'm often on the move, so I wouldn't leave it hooked up to a TV. But I'll use that software if I happen to need a DVD ripper, thanks! – Wesley Mar 8 '10 at 15:40
mine is actually the N280 not the N330, the only difference between mine and your is a slightly better videoboard. – alpha1 Mar 9 '10 at 17:40

A SATA-IDE is very much not recommended. And just don't use the old IDE ports at all, just forget about them. Otherwise I would guess your hardware is enough to play 1080p.

Try mplayer if VLC does not work out for you. I have found it to sometimes be a little faster.

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Alright, I wouldn't be very confident with an SATA-IDE adapter either. Just threw it out there to see what people would say. I'll also give that software a try once I complete this build. – Wesley Mar 6 '10 at 5:03

You can view HD movies (on an external monitor) on most netbooks running VLC in Linux (and probably Windows as well). Your processor should be fine, and the data transfer speed on even the cheapest disks will be plenty fast enough. In the case of a netbook though, I wouldn't count on running anything else while actually playing a movie.

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Yeah I've tried running some higher quality movies on my netbook. All it requires is that I put it on max performance and everything is smooth. If it's on normal or power saver, the movies lag a bit. – Wesley Mar 6 '10 at 5:04
The P4 CPU you've specified has much better performance than an Atom N270 in a netbook, so you should have no problems. – Nerdfest Mar 6 '10 at 14:02
My options have changed and I realize that the CPU I mentioned has a higher FSB than the board. I'm getting a P4 2.40A GHz CPU. Would the performance still be better? – Wesley Mar 8 '10 at 15:38
I believe so. Of course all of this also ignores any hardware acceleration you'll get out of a well supported graphics card. – Nerdfest Mar 8 '10 at 18:21

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