Like Sands Through The Hour Glass
Well it's been awhile since my first blog "My Experiences setting up Windows Media Center 2005" posting on setting up a Media Centre and a bit of water has passed since, Vista SP1 released etc... I had a moderatey stable set up for Windows XP Media Centre but Vista came along and of course the system had to be upgraded and tbh the motherboard was never really quite up to it, mostly issues with power management, standby, resume etc, and I'd be well pushed to say that it had high PAF (Partner Acceptance Factor)
All I Want Is A USB2 Dual Digital Tuner That, Ummm, Works!!
For a couple of reasons, mostly to do with my existing HTPC case config and changes to new Motherboard layouts for expansion slots, moves away from AGP etc, I needed to go with an external USB Digital Tuner...
I did some digging around, tried a few external tuners (most were pretty crap) and I ended up purchasing (AU$128) the DigitalNow TinyTwin Dual Digital USB Tuner http://digitalnow.com.au/product_pages/TinyTwin.html from a review and recommendation off http://www.xpmediacentre.com.au and I couldn't be happier, it picks up all channels (I live in Melbourne), channels that were an issue for the Hauppauge Nova-t 500, notably ABC 1 & 2 work just fine with this turner with only the occasional frame skipped and yes it's a Dual channel tuner and runs nice and cool!! It ships with both 32 & 64 bit drivers, both sets of drivers are stable.
HD is great, no issues with recording etc, did spot on some forum that someone had hooked up two of these tuners and was recording 4 channels over USB2 without bandwidth issues - note, this wasn't with Vista Media Centre as not a supported config yet.
I did follow the recommendation to power the USB Tuner with a powered USB hub as I did spotted a few skipped frames when powered directly off the motherboard USB connector.
Vista 32 Bit or 64 Bit
I opted for 32 bit Vista Sp1 as I wanted DivX/Media Center Support which for now is 32 bit only - bar the somewhat shaky 64bit DivX libraries which blue screened my system. Interestingly enough the official www.divx.com codec is a bit sluggish on Vista SP1 and it was suggested I try Koepi's XviD Codec, yes it's very good, fast, stable etc, nice!!
I did originally built the system on 64bit and it was rock solid bar the DivX bit...
The Motherboard I Never Had
I also picked up the new Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H (http://www.gigabyte.com.tw/Products/Motherboard/Products_Overview.aspx?ProductID=2758) motherboard and it just rocks - everything built on to the motherboard you'd want for a media centre and it cost AU$115 from www.cpl.net.au, yup, about the price of a standalone graphics card.
I've installed an AMD 5200+ CPU and when recording two channels and playing back a recording it hits around 30% usage - max, when just recording two channels with this USB turner the CPU runs at about 15%.
I've 2 x 7200 SATA hard drives installed
Bit's on the motherboard that I wanted were:-
- Optical SPDIF Out for hooking up to a 5.1 Receiver - and the sound quality for the Optical SPDIF is grand!!
- Integrated ATI Radeon HD3200-based graphics (DX10)
- On board graphics with enough power to drive Blueray videos - so no additional graphics card required - not that I've tried Blueray...
- I installed 2 x 1 gig sticks of PC-6400 (800 mhz) RAM, the Vista 32 bit Graphics Perf Ratings is 3.6 for both desktop and 3d/gaming graphics, not bad for a integrated graphics chip, no fan, no noise etc
- I've allocated 256 MB of Ram to graphics - yes shared memory model
- The ATI graphics card driver is stable, nice colour depth on my Hitachi plasma hooked up via DVI
- Built in HDMI, DVI and VGA Video out - I run DVI to my plasma
- USB2, Ethernet etc...
There is a great review on uncle Tomshardware at http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/amd-780g-chipset,1785.html, actually the article is about the new "AMD's New 780G Chipset Has Powerful GPU" but the Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H motherboard is the reference board for the article!!
Oh I Love It When You Tweak Me There!!
I did a standard install of Vista with integrated SP1, loaded up the chipset, graphics, network drivers from the supplied motherboard CD, updated the ATI Graphics Driver from the AMD site and updated to the latest network driver from http://Realtek.com.tw as the driver supplied on the install CD bluescreened the system and the Windows Update supplied version caused intermittent issues - the latest driver off the Realtec site is rock solid!!
The hotfixes for the guide to operate correctly in Australia are integrated in to Vista SP1 but you need to activate then with two registry updates - see http://www.xpmediacentre.com.au/community/downloads.php?do=file&id=182, then reboot.
Going All Green
AMD Quiet'n'Cool works well, standby, resume is flawless (I run the system with S3 power management enabled, so fans etc all shut down in standby mode, so nice and quiet in standby and minimumal power usage.
The Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H is rated as one of the greenist motherboards on the market - I'm running the AMS 5200+ which runs at 68 watts, if I had my money again, I'd go for the new AMD AM2+ 45 watt range.
Most of the heat generated by the system is from the disk drives - I have two drives, one for the OS and a second for the TV Recordings, when I'm feeling a little more flush I'm gonna try out the Western Digital GreenPower Family of drives they claim 40% less energy usage - see http://www.westerndigital.com/en/products/greenpower/family.asp?language=en, there is also a bit of a discussion on these drives at http://www.westerndigital.com/en/products/greenpower/family.asp?language=en.
Why Don't You Back Me Up Baby
Yeah yeah, I know, backing systems up is for other people, but do check out the Vista "Backup Status and Configuration" Tool found on the Systems Tools Menu, you can backup the complete system to one DVD and should you need to repair/recover your system then this is going to save a LOT of time!!
All up very happy with this set up, it's just works and most integrated system I've set up and I like that!!