So the quest begins…
(cue dramatic music here)
I got this hair-brained idea to build my own mediacenter pc. Well, it isn’t *that* hair-brained, or at least I like to think so. If you know me, you have probably heard me refer to my “ghetto tivo” at some point or another. Usually as you are looking over my shoulder watching the TV show from last night that you missed which I am now watching on my office computer or laptop. You “Ooo” and “Ahh” as I explain how I recorded it with a TV tuner card in my home computer, compressed it over night, loaded onto my MP3 player for transport to the office and now watch in a corner of the screen while I work on your project (because i can multi-task).
Well, the dilemma with this setup is that my computer which I use for work as well as play is frequently tied up either recording or compressing these shows. So if I need to do some work on it I have to either wait, or use it when it is running at less than 100%. Or sometimes what I’m working on will affect the recording (thats really frustrating).
So I decided to take the plunge and get a dedicated box that will solely handle recording TV shows for me. I’m undecided as to whether I want to move my music collection over to it and play audio thru it. Thats a bridge I have to come across at some point. Actually I’m in the midst of deciding as I write this (while waiting to pick up my brother from the airport). What it definitely needs to do is record TV shows, compress them so I can either watch later, or bring into the office to watch. At the moment I don’t need to concern myself with HDTV or surround sound…. Or do I?
OK, well HDTV is definitely out. An HDTV is way out of my budget range right now, and I don’t even subscribe to HDTV service.
Well, what about surround sound? Well, I don’t currently have a surround sound setup, but I may in the near future. Soooo… It is a factor.
Hmmm. Now the other parts I need are a hard drive, video card, TV tuner, motherboard, processor, memory, wi-fi card, power supply and a case to put it all in. The TV tuner I already have so I can just yank that out of my current rig. I have a spare wi-fi card lying around, so no biggie there. For video, that is relatively minor. If the motherboard does not have a satisfactory on-board video solution then I’ll just put in an inexpensive video card.
The hard drive I’m undecided on. I have an IDE drive in my current rig (next to 2 SATA drives) that I wouldn’t mind using to keep the cost down, and I can purchase a new one for the desktop when I upgrade the whole thing (something I may do right now too). The alternative is to purchase a new HD, and this has the significant benefit of letting me choose a drive specifically for its low-noise and low-heat profile. Specifically one of the Western Digital 500GB hard drives has claimed the quietest HD title or at silentpcreview.com. However the pricetag is a bit high ($180 at newegg.com), so I may go with one of the Samsung Spinpoint models ($90 for a 320GB or $115 for a 400GB) as they are always quiet and real miserly on power consumption.
The processor is fairly easy too. I figure to go with one of the AMD socket939 chips. Yes I know they are a bit dated, but they still give pretty good performance by todays standards (for single-core chips), they don’t use anywhere near as much power as Intel competition at same performance level and, most importantly, they are dirt-cheap. Seriously, I found them on newegg.com for about $60. To get similar power consumption from an Intel chip I’d have to get one of the Core2Duos and those are more than 3 times the price. The other advantage to this is their motherboards use older memory, meaning the same type I have in my current setup (DDR not DDR2) so I can re-use that memory in this machine.
The tricky part, and I am right now sifting through newegg’s selection to find a good pick, is which motherboard to use. The big difference is I can choose a ATX size or microATX size. This affects what type of case I get so this has to be decided first. Plus depending on the features the card has is whether I need to get additional cards for video or sound or anything else.