Monday, January 30, 2006

A flirtation with geekdom

would be a pretty accurate description of my last four or five days.

I got back from The Philippines on mid Wednesday and went immediately to Frys Electronics to buy the bits for a Media/Home Theatre PC. I've wanted something like a Tivo for quite a while; with the amount of travel I do and the scarcity of British Comedy on American TV it was galling to keep missing stuff.

One Pentium Dual Core Processor and motherboard later with a gig of memory, 500 gigs of SATA storage, two dual layer DVD burners (the second one for my main PC), a copy of Windows XP Media Centre Edition and the quiestest computer case I've ever failed to hear later, I have a system that can capture 100 hours of TV and play it back so that I can't tell it's not live.

Incidentally, I'd rather have bought an AMD dual core processor; AMD are the only thing that have kept Intel pricing down but strangely enough the AMD chips at Frys were more than a hundred dollars more expensive; I'm not THAT one eyed about AMD.

Life is good :-)

Of course the project wasn't without it's pitfalls. Time was against me because I'm travelling again on Wednesday, so I didn't take as much time as I should have researching such minor details as the motherboard. I thought I'd bought one that had an AGP slot and onboard RAID. Having assembled it and installed the brand new AGP video card with S Video out it didn't bloody well work. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Not even a POST failure set of beeps.

Ok, let's relax and catch up on some episodes of Becker I'd recorded on this PC instead, drink some wine, sleep, and look at it all tomorrow (Thursday). Of course the geek in me couldn't leave it at that but I did content myself with merely reading the motherboard manual. At which time it became blindingly obvious that the motherboard I'd purchased didn't have an AGP slot, it had PCI Express. Don't ask how it was that I managed to install an AGP card into it (that way embarassment lies).

So I drove back to Fry's the next morning, returned the AGP card and drove home with a PCI Express card. It was about 70 bucks cheaper so I didn't mind the drive all that much. Plugged it in and away we went. All went well until I wanted to set up the pair of 250 gig SATA drives as a mirrored RAID array. Of course the motherboard I'd bought didn't do RAID did it?

I decided to live with it. It's one thing to unplug the wrong video card, box it up and swap it. It's quite another to remove the heatsink/fan and rebox that and the processor in such a way that you don't damage either the motherboard or the (expensive) CPU. And then you have to convince the folk at Frys that you're not pulling a swifty on em! So I set it up as 250 gigs system disk and 250 gigs video storage. *shrug* My wife and I had been considering adding a fileserver to our system anyway so the new machine is christened BigBoy!

So at the end of the day, did my thousand dollar PC measure up? Of course it does. This is one fast PC! I bought the cheapest Pentium D available (the 820 model at 2.8 GHz) but it's still way way faster than my main machine. Indeed, were it not for the fact that my main machine doesn't support SATA I'd have been tempted to swap em and use the new motherboard/CPU as my main machine. If SETI classic were still going that new machine would probably double my numbers!

The Antec Sonata II case is quiet! So quiet that I have to look at the power on LED to know it's powered up. Quietest case I've ever heard. So quiet that I'm tempted to buy one for my main machine and one for my wifes machine. You can't overrate the value of quiet! :-)

It was a lot more expensive than the Tivo would have been but hopefully it'll be more expandable. There are also no monthly fees (but at $12.95 a month current billing for Tivo the new system's going to have to last many years before Tivo becomes more expensive).

XP Media Centre Edition works a treat. Nice simple TV centric interface if you run the Media Centre part. If you don't you get the standard XP desktop which absolutely sucks on a TV set! What do you expect when you're comparing 2000's technology with technology from 1949!!

That wasn't the only PC related adventure I had this week (I've installed XP on four different PC's) but I'll relate the rest tomorrow night.

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