Saturday, May 10, 2008

Media Center Upgrade

About two weeks ago, I gutted my Media Center box and rebuilt it so that I could take advantage of optical HD media now that the format war is over.

New components:

  • Motherboard: EVGA NF77 with nForce 630i and a GeForce 7150 GPU built-in. Onboard HDMI with HDCP* plus optical and coax digital out/in (respectively). Supports RAID 0/1/0+1/5.
  • CPU: Intel Q6600 (Quad Core 2.4GHz).
  • RAM: 4GB DDR2, 800.
  • PSU: Rosewill 400W. (I needed a 24-pin and 8-pin power connectors for this new motherboard. I was sad to introduce a fan, but the one big 12cm fan is silent for all intents and purposes. Plus, the way the heat sink lies right up against it means better CPU cooling, too. I am very happy, though I didn't think I'd be.)
  • Optical Media: LG Blu-ray/HD DVD ROM plus DVD/CD/RW, SATA.

Reused components:

  • Hard drives: 2x160GB hard drives in RAID-0/Stripe for 320GB storage.
  • Heat sink: Silverstone NT01V2. I still love this thing, and was ecstatic that it was still compatible!
  • Case: Silverstone LC10 in Silver. I still love the VFD in front showing me media information. It makes it look like a real theater component, not just a hokey home-built computer.

Overall: very happy, A+ system. The motherboard/CPU combo is my best yet, and it takes about 33% CPU to play a Blu-ray title (with all four cores humming). All of the Media Center functionality moves better, too (like pulling up the guide and filtering by category, which used to strain the system, is instantaneous now). I subscribed to Netflix to, as a friend said, "have some pretties on my TV." Between Netflix and the HDHomeRun, I (finally!) have more HD content than I can consume, even with just local channels over Clear-QAM


*I have to point out the importance of HDCP (if you're considering Blu-ray on Vista, take note): without it, Vista downgrades the video quality over digital outputs (like DVI or HDMI) to 480i/p. The intent is so that you can't rip a pure digital, HD, unencrypted stream of video from the wire and pirate movies. HDCP keeps the content encrypted from the source (disk/network) through the Vista video stack, out the video card and over the wire, where it's finally decrypted by the TV just in time to be displayed. This is called Protected Media Path. Further reading. If you want to play Blu-ray (or future HD formats from Hollywood), make sure your video card and display/TV support HDCP. (HD titles you download in XviD/MKV/etc aren't affected by this since they're not encrypted.)

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