Category Archives: Home Server

Building a Linux HTPC

It’s been a while since I have blogged not beacuse of laziness but because I am working towards having my own website where I could continue this blog and start many more interesting things. For this purpose, I have been learning Ruby on Rails as I think I want to build something on a new technology not PHP which I am not very interested in. I am also not wanting to use any CMS software. I want to build something from scratch; my own product! Anyways, so until that happens, which will take some time, I am going to post not so frequently. This post is just a quick update about something I decided rather spontaneously. Tonight I am going to create a linux machine for all HTPC purposes. I have researched on the internet long enough that I think I am now ready to jump into that. There are couple of reasons why I think Linux machine would be great. Hey, this by no means is getting rid of Windows. It will still be there not because of Netflix not available on Linux but because I like Windows, and I spent money on buying genuine license, and also looking forward to upgrading to Windows 8. The first reason, and probably the main reason for going with Linux is administrative power. I want to have control of my machine not just locally but remotely. I want to be able start, shutdown and manage it from wherever I am. Now, all that can also be done using Windows but Linux gurus will agree that Linux provides much control then Windows does. Second, Linux will act as a server for my Ruby experiments, and could possibly host my future website. I already have a Linux VM on Windows 7, where I play around with Rails but time has come to have a full fledged Linux machine! So, wrapping up, I am proceeding to install Fedora Core 17 with Virtualbox or VMWare Player (whichever looks best) for Windows 7 VM. I am going to use XBMC and try other media centers as well to see which ultimately fits my needs. On the Windows side, I will have WMC for Netflix. Hopefully Hulu works on Linux so that I can enjoy my plus subscription. Anyways, see ya in some time!

Adding a user to the sudo file

Configuring SUDO
1. Open a terminal.
2. In the terminal enter the following:

su –login -c ‘visudo’

3. Press enter, at the password prompt enter the password for root, then press enter.
4. A display similar to the following will be displayed:

# sudoers file.
## This file MUST be edited with the ‘visudo’ command as root.
## See the sudoers man page for the details on how to write a sudoers file.## Host alias specification# User alias specification
# Cmnd alias specification# Defaults specification# Runas alias specification# User privilege specification
root ALL=(ALL) ALL
# Uncomment to allow people in group wheel to run all commands
# %wheel ALL=(ALL) ALL
# Same thing without a password
# %wheel ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL
# Samples
# %users ALL=/sbin/mount /cdrom,/sbin/umount /cdrom
# %users localhost=/sbin/shutdown -h now

5. Below the line root ALL=(ALL) ALL add the user that you want to have root access as shown below:

sglaser ALL=(ALL) ALL

6. If you *want* sudo to prompt for a password, use the arrow keys to go down to the line that reads “# %wheel ALL=(ALL) ALL” and delete the # at the beginning of the line using the ‘x’ key (NOTE: it’s your own password, not roots).
7. If you do *NOT* want sudo to prompt for a password, use the arrow keys to go down to the line that reads “# %wheel ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL” and delete the # at the beginning of the line using the ‘x’ key.
Once you have uncommented one of the lines, press “ESC” then enter the following to save the changes :
:wq
8. OPTIONAL: If you want to be able to use sudo without having to type the full root path every time (e.g.: /sbin/fdisk), on a per-user instead of system-wide default, then you should prefix root’s command path to your user’s PATH variable in ~/.bash_profile. Change it to:
PATH=$PATH:/usr/sbin:/sbin:$HOME/bin

9. To add users to the Wheel Group from the command line perform the following:

su -c ‘gpasswd -a username wheel’

At the password prompt enter the password for the root user, then press enter.

Reference: http://fedorasolved.org/post-install-solutions/sudo

Building a HTPC Part 4

It has been a while since I have blogged about my HTPC project. I must say the project has progressed really well and I am happy with my HTPC. There have been a lot of enhancements done to my HTPC. Here are the ones I would like to mention:

Hardware

Blu-ray drive: My HTPC finally has a blu-ray drive, and it is rocking! Thanks to my generous girlfriend who bought me this for the Valentine’s Day. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827151222

Computer Case: I also replaced the outer case with one that is more spacious and ventilated. The old case was too cramped to put a blu-ray drive and play blu-ray movies. Fortunately, I got a really good deal on newegg.com for a case that’s awesome! http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811147060

Solid-State Drive: Besides, the blu-ray drive and a new case, I also put a Solid State Hard Drive in the system and this has really boosted the performance of the system, especially the booting and shutdown. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005F30IJK/ref=oh_o01_s00_i00_details

USB3.0 Card: I had to replace the USB3.0 card as it had issues of intermittent connectivity losses. The one I have now works great. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003UDCPEI/ref=oh_o02_s00_i00_details

PC Remote Control: The remote control finally arrived and works great with Windows Media Center, Boxee and XBMC.

Sound Bar: I got a cheap Vizio sound bar for less than 50 bucks at Goodwill. The model of  the sound bar surprisingly is fairly new and works great! http://www.vizio.com/vsb205.html

In all I have invested about $450 in my HTPC but I am satisfied with the results. What next would be to replace the replace the motherboard and processor, but that’s not until the end of this year.

Software

I have reverted back to Windows Media Center as the main system for my HTPC. The reason to choose it was that neither XBMC nor Boxee supports playing blu-ray movies off the disk. Windows Media Center though does not natively support blu-ray playback, an extension by ArcSoft can provide the functionality from within Windows Media Center.

Connectivity

This week I will be getting rid of my cable including cable internet replacing it with DSL. Why? Price! Time to fully embrace the HTPC 🙂


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. 🙂

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!