Rosher Consulting

Software Consulting and Development Services

Upgrade time - Quad core!

The Quad core machine todayBack in October of last year I finally bit the bullet and upgraded my main media center PC, I'd been speccing out components for months but since the current PC was working so well I couldn't justify the outlay, however since I was starting to watch HD content and I had a bit of money to spend it seemed like a good opportunity. 

I also decided to get a new case, while I'd been really happy with the Silverstone Lascala LC11 it was limited in that it only took micro-ATX motherboards and didn't have an LCD display on the front, besides I'd totally fallen for the Zalman HD135, which to me looked more like a piece of Hi-Fi equipment than any other HTPC case I'd seen before or since.

I went totally overboard in terms of the specs (my excuse was that it would last a while, but who am I kidding...):

  • Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 Processor
  • ASUS P5K AiLifestyle Series iP35 Socket 775 Motherboard
  • OCZ 2GB Kit (2x1GB) DDR2 800MHz/PC2-6400 x 2 for 4GB total
  • MSI 8600GTS Heatpipe Edition 256MB DVI HDTV PCI-E Graphics Card
  • LG GSA-H62N 18X SATA DVD±RW/DL/RAM
  • Seagate ST3160815AS 160GB Hard Drive x 2
  • Hiper 580W Type-R Modular PSU

Including delivery the total came to £643 (the case was another £170 on top of that!).

I arranged for next day delivery and it turned up on the Friday as scheduled, so once the kids were in bed I set about putting it together, this is when the first problem occurred. I'd bought a silent graphics card with heatpipes and without realising it the heatpipes stuck out from the top of the card meaning that it didn't fit in my nice shiny new case and being that this was the first PCI-E based GFX card I'd purchased I didn't have another one with which to get the PC set up with in the meantime. Argh!

I sent ebuyer an email explaining my mistake and they took the card back without any problems, I didn't order a replacement, heck I couldn't wait that long! At the time I was working just around the corner from Tottenham Court Road, so during my lunch on the following Monday I picked up another 8600GTS, I paid a bit more than I would have online but hey, I got it without any delays.

Problem solving So finally on Monday evening I got to put the new beast together and fire her up, unfortunately for me what you dread the most when putting a new machine together is that it actually boots up and in this case it didn't, it powered on and all the fans were running but nothing else, nada. I ended up stripping it all out and starting from scratch and testing each component as best I could in another machine, eventually it turned out to be something really simple, the CPU fan wasn't seated properly! When it finally booted up I can't tell you how relieved I was!

Finally booting and installing the OS

Once it was up and running I decided to leave everything hanging out of the case while I installed the operating system, just in case any more problems arose, it was only when everything was fully installed that I put all the components back in the case.

The machine when it was first installed I put the machine in the equipment rack and connected it all up, downloaded some 1080p test videos and enjoyed the show. I ran a few more tests to see what the quad core could do, specifically I started encoding four mpeg-2 videos to xvid at the same time, in comparison to any of my other machines it chewed through them like a hot knife through butter and I was a rather happy bunny. :-)

Since I built the machine last October I've added a Blu-Ray drive, replaced the GFX card heatsink and fan with a quiet Zalman model, added in a large 12cm fan to increase the airflow through the case and done a few other minor mods to keep the noise down. It now runs whisper quiet, all fans are at their lowest setting and the CPU idles at about 40 degrees, only going up a few degrees when watching HD content.

Here are a few more pictures of the machine and the TV setup in the lounge as it is today, the picture above was taken around October last year when the machine was first built, the two pictures with the machine in pieces were taken in the kitchen when I was building it.

The Quad core today running MediaPortal with the Aeon skin MediaPortal's TV Series plugin MediaPortal's MovingPictures plugin LCD The complete setup as it is today

Building a media server/bedroom HTPC

IMG_4182 After the success of my first file server I thought it was about time to upgrade to something a bit more meaty. The other half had also suggested about having a TV in the bedroom, need I say more... ;-)

As per normal I really didn't want to spend too much money on building this machine, my main criteria was to make sure the cost was no more than buying a standalone TV, at the time (December 2006) the cost of a reasonable 19" TV with a built in freeview tuner was around the £300 mark.

I'd just built a new PC for a friend and luckily for me he said I could keep everything from his old PC, which included a Lian-Li PC60 case, I already had some spare hard drives and a keyboard and mouse lying around as well.

The system didn't need to be particularly meaty, so the following is what I ended up ordering for a total cost of £293.59 including delivery:

  • Belinea 1925S1W 19" Widescreen
  • AMD Sempron 3000+ 64Bit (1.8Ghz) Socket 754 Processor
  • ECS 755-A2 SiS755 SKT 754 motherboard
  • Corsair 512MB DDR 400MHz/PC3200 Memory
  • Microsoft OEM Media Center Remote Control Inc Reciever
  • Hauppauge WinTV-Nova-t PCI Freeview Receiver
  • Belkin G Wireless USB Adapter

The Hauppage card does actually come with its own IR receiver and remote, but I prefer the Microsoft media center ones, mainly because they're USB and can bring the PC out of standby.

When all the bits came I built the machine and also attempted to use MediaPortal's TV Server for the first time, which is a client/server based TV app, unfortunately this was in the reasonably early stages of development at the time and didn't work too well, so I stuck with the standard MediaPortal TV engine.

Once everything was up and running I then wanted to put the machine into the loft and just have the monitor in the bedroom, so that the PC was tucked out of the way and we wouldn't have to put up with the noise. The loft itself didn't have any power points, so I spurred off of a point in the kids bedroom, went through the airing cupboard (which as stated previously in my last post already had cabling running through it) and put in a single socket, which I then plugged in a surge protected 4 socket extension lead.

IMG_4179 The power was now sorted, but I then had to think how I was going to get the cabling from the loft down into the bedroom to the monitor, luckily for me we had yet to decorate (and we still haven't!) so I could afford to be a little messy and then worry about clearing it up at a later date, so I just punched a hole in the ceiling and dropped the required cables through. It doesn't look pretty but it does the job!

I was now able to put the machine in the loft and connect everything up, this is when I realised that perhaps going wireless wasn't such a great idea as I couldn't get a signal with the USB receiver in the loft, so I ended up having to drop this through the ceiling as well using a USB extension cable.

At this point I was able to decommission the old file server and transfer the 2 external hard drives to the new server, re-adjust the sharing folders on the kitchen and lounge media centers and that was it, the new file server/media center was up and running and has been for the last couple of years. It's since been rebuilt and had lots of storage added, but I'll talk about that in a future post, in the meantime here's some more photos of the system.

TV Series Browsing the TV guide Watching TV Music The PC in the loft

The desktop that became the kitchen media center

In my last post I mentioned that I'd created a media center PC in the kitchen based off of my (at the time) desktop rig, so I thought it would be worth going into a little more detail about what I actually did. 

To give some background, the PC in question was my main PC before I really started getting into the whole media center thing and before I had multiple computers around the house. It used to live in the lounge and was exceedingly noisy, in fact it wasn't until it was moved into the kitchen that I realised how loud it really was and hence how loud we were having to have the TV as a result, I'm surprised the neighbours didn't complain! 

In the process of decorating our house we knocked through from the kitchen into the dining room to create a kitchen/diner area, this included installing some kitchen cabinets in the corner of the dining area, next to the fireplace. The lounge and dining room was originally all in one and we put up a new wall to now separate them, what this effectively meant was that there was no longer any room for my computer desk and large chair, so the logical choice seemed to be to get rid of the desk and chair and move the pc into the kitchen. Installing it inside a kitchen cabinet also seemed like a good idea.

Of course it was at that point that a light went off inside my head and I though: TV in the kitchen? media center in the kitchen? A quick perusal of ebuyer.com for a freeview TV card (Hauppage Nova-T) and my mind was made up.

I placed the desktop itself inside the kitchen unit next to the fireplace, ordered a wall bracket for the monitor and some cable trunking and fitted the monitor to the wall. Had it not been for the fact that the kitchen had only recently been decorated then I would have channeled out the wall for the cabling as it obviously looks much better, but I was reasonably happy with how the trunking turned out and it does provide easy access.   

Once the TV card turned up and I had that installed, I needed to get the cable from the aerial in the loft down to it, luckily for me we have a back boiler behind the fireplace and all the pipework runs adjacent to the chimney stack and is nicely boxed in, so a few mangled metal coat hangers later, time and lots of perseverance I got the cable from the upstairs bedroom down into the kitchen. Going up to the loft was easy as directly above the kitchen is the airing cupboard and there were already cables going up into the loft so I was able to use the same for the arial cable.

 

 

I originally installed Windows Media Center 2005, but moved onto Media Portal at some point in 2006. Overall the PC gets plenty of use as both a regular PC and as a media center. It's great when I'm cooking dinner and I don't have to miss the football match on Sky or if we want to watch something while eating dinner or perhaps listen to some music. Of course these days the PC itself isn't exactly cutting edge (P4 3Ghz, 1gig ram etc.) but for what it's used for it does a perfectly good job and I've been really happy with it. 

Paul.  

My first file server

A couple of years ago I moved what was then my main desktop PC into the kitchen (not quite as drastic as it sounds!), fitted a tv card into it, placed the monitor on the wall and combined with a wireless keyboard/mouse combo plus the addition of a remote I had another media center in the kitchen as well as a pc that could be used sitting at the kitchen table. The addition of this second media center was what prompted me to consider creating a file server as I'd record something on one machine or download a movie/tv episode etc. and then at the point I'd want to watch it, it would inevitably be on the opposite pc to the one I wanted to watch it on! I'd also begun ripping all my CDs to the computer and I was manually keeping the two pcs in sync with one another, which created its fair share of problems...

As per normal I didn't really want to spend any money if I could get away with it and being the tech geek that I am I also happened to have some stuff laying around, such as an old laptop, which while not the fastest in the world (celeron 1.2gig, 256MB ram, 20gig HD etc.) it would certainly suffice to send a few files across the network. Additionally I'd recently acquired a 160gig USB external hard drive, which I could use to store all my music and tv episodes. The only thing that I needed to purchase was a wireless network card, which I think at the time cost me about £20.

My only cause for concern was that the laptop had USB1.1 ports that I wasn't sure would be able to handle streaming large files across the network, especially if both clients were connecting at the same time, luckily these reservations were unfounded as ultimately the speed of the wireless network caused more problems than worrying about USB1.1!

I tucked the laptop away in a cupboard upstairs so it was out of site and to minimise the noise although being a laptop there was hardly any. So now I had my very first file server, this system worked really well and saved a bunch of hassle between the two systems, it also increased the WAF level enormously as no longer did I need to be consulted about where such and such show was as it was now always available.

Of course, 160gig in this media day and age does not go too far and I soon acquired another external hard drive, this time with a capacity of 250gig and naturally this filled up reasonably quickly as well, so what does your average tech geek decide to do when you're running out of USB ports and there's only so many external hard drives one can buy?!? That's right, you decide to build a big, better and badder file server... :-)

My very first media center

I thought I'd start off by describing my very first media center and how it came to be before I move on to my existing setup.

Like most people that dabble in media centers I first started off with some components that I had lying around after a couple of system upgrades, initially there was no tv card, remote or nice case, but using Windows Media Center 2005 it was very effective at showing off what could be done. This eventually turned into my main media center used in the lounge, which had the following specs:

  • AMD Athlon XP 2000
  • 512Mb ram
  • 40gig HD
  • 80gig HD
  • Silverstone LC11 case
  • Hauppage PVR 150
  • Windows Media Center Remote

This system worked well for me for a good couple of years and was primarily used for listening to music, archiving shows off of the Sky+ box and watching a few download tv shows. After a while I started looking into other Media Center applications as I was starting to find MCE2005 a bit limiting, I ended up trialling BeyondTV, SageTV, ChrisTV, GBPVR and MediaPortal, eventually I went with MediaPortal because it had a ton of features, lots of plugins, it was opensource and best of all it was free!

It was only towards the end of last year that I started looking into upgrading this system as I was looking for better performance and the ability to play HD content, but I'll get to that in another post...

Welcome to Rosher Consulting

Welcome to my first blog post! I'm intending this blog to be dedicated to topics on media centers and general geek related stuff. Occasionally I may deviate as the mood strikes me, but that's the intention anyway, we'll see how we go... :-)