View Full Version : Building a Media Centre PC

6th Oct 2007, 06:49
Hi All;

Since I received a new laptop, I'm looking at turning my old Desktop into a media centre PC. I'm not looking at buying a whole brand new machine for the job, as I prefer to build my own.

I was wondering what sort of specs I would need for one, mainly what processor, RAM, TV Tuner Card and Graphics Card would be suitable.

My old computer is an Athlon 64 3200 processor (single core)
1 GB Dual Channel memory
Ge Force 5200 Graphics Card (AGP)
Creative X-Fi Xtreme Gamer Sound card
Creative 7.1 Surround Sound Speakers.

Obviously the Sound Card, Speakers and DVD Drive won't need to be upgraded. The Graphics Card does need to be upgraded as it stuggles to run a 20" widescreen monitor, so it won't cope with HD output.

Any advice would be fantastic. Thanks.

6th Oct 2007, 08:31
It all rather depends on which flavour of media centre you want to use, Vista, xp , media potal or the lesser known varieties.

In my experience (just built my third media centre) what makes the difference has been ram, processor & storage. Media centres are not particularly heavy on the gpu, even for tv.

www.thegreenbutton.com is full of questions like yours & has detailed answers too - a good place to start.

The late XV105
6th Oct 2007, 13:42
Agree with previous comment, though I purchased mine tailor made to my spec from MESH as I didn't have an old machine to start from and this was highly cost effective (as well as giving a guarantee).

Basic spec as follows, noting I decided not to touch Vista just yet and opted for XP Media Center Edition instead.

Motherboard: P5N32-SLI Premium
Processor: Intel Core Duo 6600 2.4Ghz
Memory: 2.0GB 667Mhz
HDD Capacity: 2x 320GB Seagate Barracuda ST3320620AS + external LaCie HDD
Graphics Card: NVIDIA GeForce 7600GT
Optical drives: 2x Sony 18x "all format" CD/DVD read/writers

The result is a wonderfully swift and capable machine on which the only real problem has been a crap Kworld TV USB tuner. I am replacing this with a Black Gold device. The Barracudas are superb discs being quiet in operation, reliable, and with very fast access times. I am just as happy with them as this review (which helped me choose them) would imply: http://tinyurl.com/3565dy

I have recently got in to video authoring - where head movement and seek times can quickly become a bottleneck - so will also add two more HDDs giving four in total. This will then give me one for the o/s and application, one for video source, one for audio source, and one for authored output. As I have done already, these HDDs will be carefully partitioned to try and help keep performance up including to allow me to use them for storage as well as their "temporary file" function during authoring.

Finally, for the partitioning I use and am most happy with Acronis, for defragmenting I use Diskeeper Pro, and for crap cleaning (temp files, browsing history clutter, etc) I use the free utility of that name, CCleaner. Nearly a year on and now with loads of data and installed applications, the PC flies along as well as it always has.

Good luck.

6th Oct 2007, 15:21
I built one from my old desktop components six months ago:

Intel Pentium M 750 1.86GHz
1GB Corsair DDR2 RAM
Nvidia 6600GT passively cooled GPU
400W Tagan semi-silent PSU

I put this in a....
Antec Fusion case
along with...
Samsung 500GB Spinpoint HD
PCI card DVB x2 tuner (x2 tuners allows you to record one channel and watch another) I can't remember the brand off hand!
Wireless mouse and keyboard
Windows XP Media Centre.

6th Oct 2007, 15:29
My latest, built this week, is an Antec fusion V2 case, Assus P5VL-M mobo, 8500gt Asus Graphics card (overkill really), Creative audigy 7.1 soundcard, Hauppauge Win Tv 500 dual dvbt tv card, 2 gig DDR ram & 2 x 500 gig Western digital caviar HDD's on Vista home premium.

Where I would expect Vista to be a pain, I've found the biggest difficulty to be the Antec vfd display,which doesn't work very well. However, everything else is humming. Something to bear in mind - if you intend to build a media centre to watch tv & videos with, then I would recommend getting hold of Nvidia pure video decoder & using ffdshow tryouts for a video codec. Don't use xvid or divx with windows media centre - xp mc will not play mpegs/avi files & Vista mc will just crash. Ffd which is a free download works across the board.

One irritation, I build my systems with OEM copies of windows. This time, I removed Vista & formatted the HDD in my old machine, rebuilt it with XP & then built my new one with my copy of Vista. So fair enough it comes up as already activated, so I phone MS who refuse to activate it because OEM copies are for one build only, even though it's only on one build, they won't activate it because it's been on a previous build.

I would have done better to lie & say my HDD died & that's why it's been rebuilt. I think that's harsh, so I've got round it my own way, which I won't divulge on here since it's probably not legal, but I'm not coughing up twice for a copy of windows for one machine.:ugh:

6th Oct 2007, 16:28

Some of the tech podcasts I listen to have mentioned that the activation for OEM Vista was going to be a lot more restrictive than XP if you change hardware config. Looks like that supposition has been borne out by your experience.

They reckoned that if you're a regular upgrader, the retail version of Vista was the one to go for, rather than OEM.

6th Oct 2007, 17:00
Well, I have broken the rules as laid down by MS, but it seems unecessarily restrictive since I'm not trying to run one copy on multiple machines but hey ho.

6th Oct 2007, 23:18
Thanks all for your help.

I should clarify that for the most part I will be recording TV onto it, as well as watching DVDs and encoding them onto it as well. Due to the fact the only TV I can get comes through a Satellite Decoder, so I can watch the TV with one output from the decoder, and record on the computer from the other output. I have seen TV turner cards for PCs that accept the smart cards that go into the decoders. But then I need to get a second card from the satellite company, and they charge for that like wounded bulls!

I think at the moment, I will be replacing the Mobo, CPU, RAM and graphics card, and will get an extra HDD for it too. The graphics card I am looking at is an MSI Geforce 8500GT with DVI-D, VGA and HDMI outputs, mainly for future use when I replace my current TV with LCD/Plasma.

The mobo and processor will be replaced mainly because the processor is single core, and the mobo doesn't accept PCIe cards (AGP cards all of a sudden have become expensive!!).

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