Building an HTPC Part 3

I am very satisfied the way this project has progressed so far. I have successfully upgraded my system to have more RAM and a dedicated Graphics card. With all the upgrades in place, I connected the system to my HDTV using the HDMI cable and also to the router using a CAT5 cable.

Sweet! Isn’t it? I am playing around with Windows Media Center software at present which comes standard with Windows 7. I have also downloaded Boxee which is another HTPC software. So far, both of them work nicely. I will continue to play with them and look for more until I find a single one that suits all my needs.

For now, I am taking a break. Tomorrow is the start of the Florida Trip. Leaving for Memphis early in the morning.

P.S. I have ordered a USB3.0 card and a PC remote from Meritline. It’ll take 2-3 weeks for the items to reach here. I should be able to play with them after I’m back. Perfect. ūüôā

Building an HTPC Part 2

So, I mentally calculated how much the upgrades are going to set me back by. RAM – probably $50 or so, Blu Ray drive about the same, graphics card about $60 or above and USB card about $30. Total about $200. I could do that!

There was one more thing. I figured from online research, that my motherboard could only support RAM up to a maximum of 2GB. That shattered my plans. However, I was still keen on giving a shot to adding more RAM. “If it doesn’t work”, I thought, “I will return the RAM”.

The first purchase I made was at my local BestBuy store. I bought the following:

  1. EVGA GeForce GT520 2GB PCI Express Graphics Card for $79.99
  2. PNY 2GB DDR2 RAM for $34.99
  3. Thermaltake 430W ATX Power Supply for $64.99
  4. Dynex Mini HDMI to HDMI cable for $29.99

The last 2 were unplanned but were necessary because of the graphics card. First, the card wouldn’t work with power supplies with wattage less than 300W (my computer probably had a 250W power supply but I wasn’t sure). Second, the card had a mini-HDMI output port requiring a converter. I could see it was already getting expensive.

I also bought a CAT5 cable from a nearby Goodwill store for less than 3 bucks. I figured paying more than that for a stupid cable is absolute insanity.

Items bought

At home, I first confirmed the wattage of the old PSU (Power Supply Unit). This would have been quick if there were clear markings on the PSU. After spending few minutes looking at the numbers on the PSU and also searching on the web, I ended up concluding that it is indeed 250W. This meant I need to replace it with the new one.

Old PSU

Replacing the old PSU was easy. However, I noticed the new one had only one SATA connector. I had two devices that required SATA connectors – my HDD and the DVD drive. With the only connector, it was either DVD or HDD. Fortunately, I had a converter cable from my previous external hard disk enclosure that never worked. I used that converter cable to successfully connect the second device.

Converter Cable

I also added the RAM to one of the two slots, making the total RAM to 3GB. With my fingers crossed, praying that the system boots up and shows 3GB RAM, I turned the system on. It did start, so PSU was accepted. Next, I entered the setup to check RAM, and voila! It showed 3GB!

Total memory showed 3GB

I was super-excited because the 2GB limitation obviously wasn’t true!

Next, I put the graphics card in the PCI express slot and confirmed it worked. The performance had certainly increased and the Windows Experience Index confirmed it. Before the upgrades, the rating was 3.1, now it was 4.2; a good increase. I was happy!

Windows Experience Index increased from 3.1 to 4.2

Building an HTPC Part 1

Few weeks back, during the week of Black Friday, I was thinking of buying an Xbox to play video games on my HDTV. I have a Nintendo Wii but there’s only so much you can do with it. Not that I don’t enjoy playing games on it. I do. However, the type of games you can play is very limited. So, why did I buy the Wii? Well, it is fun to play on it against my girlfriend. But, the tech enthusiast in me wants to do more with it. First, I looked online to see if I can get it to play DVDs. It can with some messing around, basically illegally, but I didn’t risk voiding the warranty so dismissed the idea. So now I wanted a DVD player or perhaps a Blu Ray player, and also a gaming console to add value to my HDTV. I looked online for the prices. While the Xbox was going at around $199 (without Kinect) during that time, the decent Blu ray players were about $60 and above, a combined investment of over $250. Is it worth it? I thought and then I got an idea about a system that can do all of what an Xbox can do and what a Blu ray player can do, that is, play games and movies including Netflix. Then I thought what if I have a computer connected to my HDTV that does all of it? And that was the beginning of the building of HTPC or Home Theater PC (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_theater_PC).

I first wanted to use my laptop and some kinda wireless video¬†adapter¬†to stream content to my HDTV. Wireless because I didn’t want the hassle of connecting my laptop to the HDTV every time I wanted to watch a movie. Wireless video is a great idea and with an investment of about $80 or so I can wirelessly stream video to my HDTV. However, my laptop is not a powerhorse and probably not built for playing games and watching Blu ray movies and the thought of adding RAM, a graphics card and a Blu Ray drive to my laptop didn’t excite me a bit. So, I dismissed the idea of HTPC until one day my girlfriend told me she has no use for her old PC. I had recently given my Lenovo laptop to her when I bought my HP laptop and so she had been using that a lot instead of her old computer. Immediately, my mind starting running reviving the old HTPC idea, “Man I can do a lot with this PC!”. An Intel Pentium Dual Core 2.0Ghz, 2GB RAM –¬†I took it home – joyous.

The first plan was to increase the performance of the system. First, I knew the processor was capable enough but I wanted to upgrade the RAM to atleast 4GB. Second, I didn’t want to upgrade the Hard disk as I already had a 2TB and a 1TB external hard disk where I stored all my content. I could easily attach those to the system and access the content. However, there was an issue the system had only 1 USB2.0 port and that too was in the front. Therefore, I wanted to add a USB2.0 or perhaps a USB3.0 PCI card to be able to connect my external hard disks and access content faster. Third, I wanted to be able to play decent games and watch Blu Ray movies but using the onboard graphics chip was something I wasn’t very keen on doing. So, I needed a dedicated graphics card. Fourth, add a Blu Ray drive to the system to be able to read Blu Ray discs. There were also upgrades I thought about but dismissed as not necessary. For example, Wifi connectivity. I thought Wired connection would perhaps be faster than the Wifi and reliable too. Also, I wasn’t looking for a TV Tuner at this time as I had a Cable connection already. “Maybe in future but not now”.

So, there it was, in my mind a crude plan and a representation of what I wanted. If I put it on paper, I wanted a system as shown in the picture below.

If I could get this set up it would be amazing!

A week for the finals

Next Tuesday is my first final for this mod. That is followed by two more finals, one on Wednesday, and the other on Thursday. At the end of Thursday, I would be a free man… well at least for some time. I have plans to utilize the long holidays. First 10 days I am going to work on my career strategy and hunt for some internships. GBP’s result comes out on the 10th. So, if I am shortlisted I have to chalk out a plan to learn Portuguese, Chinese or Thai depending upon which country I get. If you’re confused, let me tell you about GBP. It is a wonderful program that tests your knowledge and skills against real world situations. Basically, you’re put in a team of MBA students from different schools. As a team, you work on a project from a client who is in a country outside of the US. The work starts in Spring and¬†you’re given 10 weeks to complete the project. First 8 weeks you spend in US, working on the task remotely and collaborating on the internet. Last 2 weeks you spend in the country where the client is located to finish off the project before your summer break. Though you pay for it, GBP is an excellent opportunity to apply classroom concepts to practical situations and at the same time gain exposure to working with global organizations. To get in, one must follow a competitive online application process where you answer a lot behavioral questions and also give your preference for the country you want to work in. This year GBP has selected Brazil, China, India and Thailand, and my preference is Brazil followed by China, India and Thailand. Needless to say, one must learn the foreign language if they were to go to a foreign country, and this aspect of the program adds another level of complexity to the overall challenge. You might want to ask, why I chose India if I am an Indian. Well, another significant part of the overall challenge is to become a person who is fluent with the foreign language and who can act as a guide for the team during the in-country stay; a great leadership opportunity. I am very excited about GBP and anxiously waiting for the results. Hopefully, I would not be disappointed. *Fingers Crossed*

Second part of the holidays I am planning to spend in Florida. This is going to be a road trip from West Lafayette, IN all the way to Key West, FL and back covering over 3000 miles. I haven’t finalized the trip yet but it is going to be very exciting!

More about GBP:

http://www.krannert.purdue.edu/centers/ciber/students/masters/gbp.html

http://www.krannertlife.com/krannert/ciber/

Internet Censorship..? C’mon India!

Latest on Internet Censorship, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal asked Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft to screen content deemed “inappropriate” from social media websites.¬†Apparently, the example shown to the company representatives was related to the president of Congress, Sonia Gandhi. Interestingly, there have been many “hate India” campaigns too in the social world, however, minister does not seem to have noticed those. Anyhow, I feel it is ridiculous to censor the internet content. Government “can” monitor some content but putting¬†censorship¬†is just against our freedom of speech; my view point.

Full article –¬†http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/05/india-asks-google-facebook-others-to-screen-user-content/?src=tp