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We Test Our BYO HTPCs With Intel's DHCAT

Intel's Digital Home Capabilities Assessment Tool

Psychologists delight in sharing with colleagues and outsiders the apparently counter-intuitive notion of cognitive dissonance - namely, the idea that the more something costs you, or the harder it is to acquire, learn, or master, the more you'll value it. We're also compelled to invoke this principle when approaching the Intel Digital Home Capabilities Assessment Tool (DHCAT). But before we explain its relevance, let's begin with an introduction to what DHCAT is and what it does - or rather, what it measures.

Introducing DHCAT

Among the many areas of computing capability that Intel pursues in its design of CPUs, chipsets, motherboards and more, is what the company likes to call the digital home experience. In many ways, its ardent pursuit of high-definition audio, ever more powerful video, and faster, more capable I/O chipsets, might be viewed by some as an attempt to further the state of media PC arts, and by others as a straightforward attempt to dominate yet another niche in the overall computing market. We're neutral on this issue ourselves, and we like Intel's notion that DHCAT is designed to "focus on actual capabilities rather than just raw speed" so that "it tests a computer the way you are really going to use it." The introduction to the help file for the DHCAT materials - available by request through the company's Capabilities forum - goes on to sum up the tool as follows: "These assessments are experiential in nature and present results that are straightforward, meaningful and understandable."

We can't take issue with any of these claims. We like nearly all of what DHCAT does, and feel like anybody who takes the time to dig into the surrounding materials can understand its whys and wherefores. What we don't understand, even after spending nearly two weeks of full-time effort in installing and experimenting with the scaffolding necessary to make DHCAT complete successfully and present those results, is why it invariably proves difficult to create a working installation. To explore that further, we provide a laundry list of all the pieces and parts necessary to run DHCAT to completion, and explain some of the issues we encountered along the way.

We also don't understand completely why Intel chose to require access to a digital media server as a key ingredient in meeting its criteria for a complete digital home system. We'll explore their thinking on this subject, make some observations about differences between Intel and AMD systems that this requirement exposes, and share some viewpoints on this same topic from other industry players on this subject later on in the story. We will also report on DHCAT results obtained for six systems we've benchmarked recently, with links to detailed configuration information for each and every such system. The following table provides a brief summary of those systems, with links to further details for those interested in learning more about them.

Common Computer Components
Intel T7200Asus N4L-VMWe build four HDMI-based HTPCs
Intel T7600Asus N4L-VMWe build four HDMI-based HTPCs
AMD 4800+Asus M2A-VMWe build four HDMI-based HTPCs
AMD 6000+Asus M2A-VMWe build four HDMI-based HTPCs
AMD 4600+Asus M2A-VM HDMISystem Builder Marathon (Media PCs): Day 1
AMD 6000+Gigabyte GA-MA69G-S3HSystem Builder Marathon (Media PCs): Day 2

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