So it’s been a while since I posted anything. There’s a ton of excuses, like Gretchen got sick, the kids got sick, and then I got sick. And I’ve been trying to get my antenna tuned in to get all of our local channels so that we can finally drop DirecTV. And then there’s building my new toy, the Media Center PC that will act as our DVR, or Digital Video Recorder for those who might not know what a DVR is.
My New Toy
I set out to build a PC for the sole purpose of acting as our DVR, but when I had picked out and ordered about 75% of the parts, our previous Desktop PC decided that it was done. It died, and no matter what I did it would not come back. So I had to beef up the new PC a little bit more so that it could act as our main computer and our DVR.
So what’s in this new computer? Here’s the specs:
I chose the Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 2.66GHz Processor because of its ability to multitask. The quad cores allow this processor to complete more tasks at the same time, so it won’t have to take any processing power away from the Media Center application to run Photoshop while I’m processing my thousands of pictures of the kids!!
I’ve always been a fan of Asus motherboards. I think I bought my first Asus board back in 1997, and almost every board I’ve bought since has been Asus. I chose the P5E-VM DO Desktop Board because of its size and it’s RAM capacity – up to 8GB. It’s no secret that RAM gets you the most bang for your buck when it comes to system speed, so I wanted a board that could handle a lot of RAM. I currently have 4GB in the system, and I chose Kingston HyperX 4GB PC2-6400 – Non-ECC DDR2 SDRAM Memory Module – 4GB (2 sticks x 2GB each). I had good luck with this particular type of RAM in my last PC, so I decided to stick with what works and put the same type, but faster, of course, into the new one.
For hard drives, my decision was half made up for me, when the old PC died. I had one Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB SATA drive in the old PC, and transfered that one into the new PC as well as adding a new one, giving me 2TB of storage. Almost half of that storage is already taken up with Pictures and videos of the kids, and the operating system. We’ll have to wait and see how much I can dedicate to the Media Center. But I do see another drive in our future.
For video cards I chose the ATI Radeon 4670 1024MB GDDR3 PCIe 2.0 Graphics Card because it had 1GB of dedicated RAM, and an HDMI out as well as a DVI and RGB out. This allows me to extend my desktop from my 19″ flat panel LCD monitor onto our VIZIO 32″ LCD HDTV. The Media Center is displayed on the VIZIO, and looks and acts just like any other DVR. More on that later.
For the tuners, I chose two ATI TV Wonder 650 cards. These cards have one digital tuner and one analog tuner each. I’m not sure why they still have analog tuners, but they do. With these two cards, we can watch one show while another is recording, just like with our DirecTV DVR.
For the case I went with the Antec NSK 4480B II Chassis Mini-tower with 8 Bays. I have been very impressed with this case, it’s sturdy, well built and easy to work with. It’s got plenty of room for all of the drives and accessories that I want in a fairly small, compact case. The only drawback was that it came with a 380 watt power supply, which I swapped out for an Antec EarthWatts EA650 Power supply. This will ensure we have enough power to keep the video card, two tuners and all of the drives happy.
We debated which operating system to install, XP or Vista, for a while, and we finally decided on Vista Ultimate 64-bit. We got the 64-bit version of the OS because the 32-bit versions do not recognize more than 3GB of RAM. You can apparently put more than 3GB in the system, but the OS won’t use it. The 64-bit versions will use what you put in. Okay, I’m sure the 64-bit versions have their limits, too, but I don’t think I have to worry about those limits!
So far I’ve been happy with Vista. It runs smooth and I haven’t had a compatibility issue – that I didn’t expect – yet. The Vista Media Center has worked well so far. No issues with the dual tuners. It has recorded the few shows that we’ve scheduled. It warns us about conflicts with the schedule – if we try to record three shows at once, etc. All in all, it’s a nice DVR software package. I know there are a lot of extras also packaged into it, but I just haven’t had time to dive into all of those yet.
So that’s that, there’s my new PC. And the cost, well, let’s just say it was about one year’s worth of DirecTV.