Home network upgrades

After a recent conversation with a certain Austrian Otaku about Home Theater stuffs, I decided it was about time to do an update of what I’m using at home. Since my last overview, I’ve made a couple changes and upgrades through the house. Some have already been talked about (like the TV upgrade) but others haven’t. Here we go…

The biggest change of late has been that I’ve finally retired Belldandy from service. After nearly 7 years of duties ranging from gaming machine to media PC to home server, it was time for her to be sent to greener pastures. The day I parted with her was pretty emotional, though I know someone will put her to good use.

In her place, I welcome Tsukasa into my home network as the bedroom HTPC. Sporting the same case used by Konata, her beginnings were conceived when I bought an Athlon x2 7750BE from someone at the office for $20.

IMG_3416

After pairing the CPU with a Gigabyte GA-MA785GM-US2H motherboard, 2GB of RAM, and a Lite-on Blu-ray reader, she was ready to go into service serving up movies, music, and high definition content.

In addition to adding Tsukasa, I’d also decided to mount the TV to the wall and add an XBOX360 to the bedroom. The wall mount allowed me a bit extra space on the dresser to put things and generally tidy things up. I also have a wire management plate, however I’ve yet to install that and neaten things up.

IMG_3415

I think the next step here will be to drop some CAT 5e to the bedroom. Currently, the XBOX is not connected to the network (PC is 802.11n), but I’m thinking it will be cheaper and better in the long run to have it hard wired.

On the Windows Home Server front, Kagami got a slight upgrade in drive space, now sporting 3 1.5TB hard drives and 1 750GB drive. At this point, I’ll probably wait for the 2TB drives to come down in price before adding any more.

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Microsoft had also released Power Pack 3 for Windows Home Server. This update introduces a couple nice new features, some of which were previously handled by 3rd party add-ins.

Windows Home Server Power Pack 3 improves the Windows Home Server experience with Windows 7 and Windows Media Center by providing the following features: Backup and restore of computers running Windows 7, Windows 7 Libraries integration, enhancements for Windows Media Center, and better support for netbook computers.

I particularly like the integration with recorded TV, as Media Center will now automatically move recordings over to the Home Server, making it easier for all PCs in the house to access them. The integration of the console into Media Center is nice as well, however it isn’t a feature I use much.

So to take stock, here’s what I have on my home network…

Name CPU RAM HD Type
Chikane Intel C2Quad Q6600, 2.4 GHz 8GB 300GB WD Velociraptor, 750GB SpinPoint F1 Primary
Kagami Intel Pentium E2180, 2.0 GHz 2GB 5.25TB (4 drives) Home Server
Konata AMD Athlon x2 4850e, 2.5GHz 2GB 36GB WD Raptor HTPC, BD/HD-DVD player
Tsukasa AMD Athlon x2 7750BE, 2.7GHz 2GB 750GB SpintPoint F1 HTPC, BD player
Freya Intel Atom N270, 1.6GHz 2GB 250GB Netbook

Everything (with the exception of Kagami) is running some flavor of Windows 7 (either Ultimate or Home Premium). For media integration, I’m also using Media Browser and Arcsoft’s Total Media 3 Platinum. For anyone looking to use a Windows-based PC as a Blu-Ray player, I’d highly recommend paying for TMT3. Compared to PowerDVD (which is typically bundled with drives), it is a much better product and also features decent integration with Windows Media Center. It also comes with the SimHD plugin, which does a decent job upscaling standard definition DVDs.

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4 thoughts on “Home network upgrades

  1. Wow, 7 years? That’s a quite long time, Belldandy sure worked hard. What were her specs again?
    Nice bunch of PCs you have there, would really need a home server too.
    Thanks again for introducing me to Total Media Theater, seems to work really great. Together with Media Browser I guess I won’t need any other apps on my HTPC. Seems like MediaCenter has problems with some subtitels though. Are there any plugins to fix this?

    • Bell was a 2.4GHz P4 Northwood w/ HyperThreading and 2GB of RAM. The video card changed over the years, from a 9800Pro, to a GeForce 6800 (worst upgrade I ever did, IMO), and then eventually setting on an x1550 in the final iteration. The CPU was a very nice overclocker, I used to run it somewhere in the 3.1 range on stock voltage and air cooling, I get the feeling I could put it up to 3.5-3.7 if I decided to tweak the voltage. I got burned really badly by nVidia’s (lack of) driver support during the Vista beta phase, so I’ve pretty much been pure ATi since then. ATi has had it’s share of bumps, but nothing that caused BSODs every 15 minutes…

      I use the Shark007 codec pack for all my PCs. It may not be as hardware efficient as CoreAVC, but it includes all the filters to play pretty much anything in one easy to configure package. It even has overrides for the stock h264 encoders included in Win7, which (by default) WMP and WMC prefers.

      • P4, so she was a hawt chick?^^ Oh my the good old 9800Pro, still have one of those lying around in my spare parts box, just can’t throw it away.

        As for the codec pack: Was testing some stuff with WMC on my main system for now. CoreAVC supports WMC in version 2.0 but for some reason it stopped working in WMC for now. Mkvs work still fine (has W7 some sort of hardware acceleration for WMC built in?) but *.ts rips seem to stutter, the Cpu is still around 10% usage though.
        Really weird. Lets see how it’s gonna work on my HTPC. It’s not that I need a MediaCenter software but would be nice.

        • The 2.4 P4 came in a couple flavors, the “best” was the 2.4C. Most were actually higher clocked CPUs (like the 2.8) but with the multiplier locked to a lower value. They were based on 130nm process (seems huge by modern standards) and was one of the best overclocking Intel CPUs given the low temps and low multiplier. There was another one that came afterwards, based on the 90nm Prescott architecture, but those chips ran notoriously hot. The hottest computer I actually owned was a 1.2GHz Athlon. It was really hard to keep that thing cool…

          In Win7, Windows prefers the codecs that it comes bundled with for its own apps. Both WMP and WMC will default to the bundled codecs, even if others are installed on top. It’s stubborn like that… I’ve actually found the built in codecs to work quite well on lower powered hardware, my netbook plays h264 a bit better using the built in codecs instead of FFD. 720p is just barely passable, though I still get a bit of lag. I’ve also not had any problems playing DVD VOB files on the netbook, so that’s my preferred method of bringing movies with me. I use the WMC Movies interface for that, typically.

          Keep in mind the netbook is stock Intel 945g, which has pretty crappy integrated graphics.

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