Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New addition to the home: welcome Denny!

This is just a little post to show my tech-pride!

My vision of a functioning networked home took a big leap forward in the past few days with the addition of a new home theatre PC for the den, christened Denny.

Denny is an off-lease IBM desktop PC with a 2.4 GHz Pentium 4, 512mb RAM, 40 GB hard drive with Windows XP installed. And what a deal -- $149 at a local used PC retailer. Given that XP itself goes for, what, $180, it's like buying Windows and getting a computer free. And I found it exciting because the last time I paid for a whole computer, a Pentium 4 was out of my reach, and I was spending a coupla thousand at the time. Sure, a P4 is anything but cutting edge these days, but for my purposes, it was a great deal.


I spent a bit more to add a 500 GB SATA hard drive, and ordered an equally outdated EVGA FX 5200 video card so I could have an S-Video output to the TV. Ordered a wireless keyboard/mouse combo. And in the household tradition of cannibalizing old computers to equip the new ones, I pulled the SoundBlaster Live!24 sound card out of Little Eddie Dingle (the existing home theatre computer) for its SPDIF digital output, and yanked the Hauppauge PVR 150 & 250 tuner/MPEG2 encoder cards. The Firefly RF remote went downstairs, and I dug up an old ATI Remote Wonder RF remote for upstairs. I raided Eddie for 1 GB of RAM, too.

I mooshed it all together, and it took more than a little tinkering to get it all to work. I had to roll the video card drivers back to what must have been 2006-era drivers in order for the machine to put a picture on the TV. And I must've done something wrong when installing the tuner cards, because only one worked until a complete driver-wipe and reinstall last night. But all in all, it works perfectly now.

Denny is now the monster, with 1.5 GB, 40 GB system drive, 500 GB SATA data drive, TV out digital sound output to the amp. Eddie is slim and trim at 512k with an aging Radeon 9000 putting a picture on the TV, and onboard sound rocking the speakers.

I'm running Snapstream Beyond TV on Denny -- so named because this is the computer for the den -- and running Beyond TV Link on Little Eddie, which remains in the living room. Denny will be a server and Eddie will be a client. Either machine can watch recorded television. Either machine can watch live TV. We can watch up to two live shows at a time, provided nothing's recording at the moment.

Now, Denny is one ugly mo-fo of a computer. IBM doesn't make a PRETTY machine, but the guts are super-solid and easy to get around. There's a ton of room in the case and you hardly need tools -- the hood just pops off, the drive trays are on hinges with handles, and the expansion ports even have a little lever above that lets you pop cards in and out, no problem. The beast runs quieter and cooler than the fancypants setups I'm running in the rest of the house.

And it's all possible because of the network! Yay, network! And yay used computers. Helluva deal!

One more little project... I couldn't put Eddie in the entertainment cabinet because alarms would go off warning me the computer was about to melt. I wanted to give it another shot with Denny. I drilled a(nother) hole in the cabinet to attach a fan.

I cut the wires off an old 80mm PC case fan in the junk box. I chopped an unused USB cable and stripped that, too. I attached the red to red, black to shield and soldered 'em together. Wrapped it in ugly electrical tape. And as the Americans say, wuh-luh! USB puts out 5 volts. The fan wants 12. So, the fan runs more slowly. Slower fan means quieter fan.

In the end, the whole thing still gets too toasty for comfort with the cabinet door closed. I'm hunting around for a 120mm case fan (bigger blades=more air) and an old AC-DC power adapter that's closer to 12 volts. That oughta help.

3 comments:

  1. You may be interested in this link then for your fans:

    http://www.silentpcreview.com/article6-page1.html

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  2. Traciatim: welcome!
    Interesting stuff in there! As much as I've considered myself some kind of nerd for a long time, that tangled mess of cables coming out of the power supply has always intimidated me, so I've steered away from doing anything with those plugs. I actually went outside my comfort zone on the weekend and replaced a dying 80mm case fan on Eddie...so now the whole house doesn't rumble with the sound of it chugging up and down. Anyway, long story short, I'm looking to build a solution that's more pluggable/unpluggable than one that would use the power supply fans .. but finding a way to dangle one of those plugs outside the case might make my work a lot easier, for sure.

    lilsis: mmm.... chocolate.

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