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Minimum Specs for Entertainment Server


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#1
michaelkatcher

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So I'm moving to a new apartment, and I've decide to attempt a no-cable-TV set-up. I'm hoping to survive on downloads (like iTunes) and streams (like Hulu) alone.

I've got a laptop, but I don't want to have to constantly connect it via S-Video. I want an always-on type solution.

I was thinking of getting a cheap computer and hooking it directly up to my TV and using a wireless keyboard and mouse. It would access downloads via an external harddrive hooked up to my wireless network and streams via Firefox. Ideally it would have a fast boot operating system.

I'm pretty familiar with computers, but I don't know a lot about hardware and I've never really mucked about with Macs or Linux.

What would be the minimum hardware specs and ideal OS specs for something like this? I'm aiming for as cheap as possible, but fast enough that it wouldn't lag when streaming.

Any ideas?
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#2
Titan8990

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What you want is known as a HTPC. HTPC have yet to hit mainstream and they are still more or less in development (not to the point they should be yet). Here is a decent article that will get your started: http://www.anandtech...doc.aspx?i=3301
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#3
michaelkatcher

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Thanks for the article... it's definitely along the lines of what I'm looking for. I may decide to ultimately build my own box, but at least to start, I was thinking of using an old computer lying around my parents house, wiping it, and installing Linux for fast boot.

Do you have any sense of the minimum RAM/CPU speed necessary to smoothly play video, both stored and streaming?
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#4
Titan8990

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If you have an old machine laying around just test it. I am a big fan of Linux but unfortunately nearly all HTPC software is developed for Windows. If all you need to do is stream video than a Linux box w/ VNC media player will work fine but you will lack many of the features a lot of "pay" software offers for Windows in the HTPC market.

I would think that a P4 with 512mb of RAM and a low end discrete video card would get the job done but I can't say for sure as I am still researching this area as well.

Your best bet is probably searching around the internet to see what others have done.
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#5
michaelkatcher

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Okay, thanks. Here's an article that also seemed helpful if you're building from scratch:

http://www.engadget....-practical-htpc

I'm not really looking for Media Center type functionality, where it scans your media and gives you a neat UI to browse it in. I just want a light media player like VLC for watching downloading movies stored on a networked hard drive and Firefox for watching streamed stuff.

I wanted to go with Linux because I'm under the impression it has almost immediate boot, but I've never worked with it before so I don't know if that's true or not.
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#6
Titan8990

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It depends on the distro and how you have it configured. Ubuntu under a fresh installation boots up slightly faster than my Windows XP. Back Track 3 (a slackware distro) boots in under 1min.

If you have never used Linux there IS a learning curve to it. Outside of a distro like Ubuntu much of the administration is done from the BASH or KORN shell. Outside of Debian or RHEL based distros all programs must be compiled from source which can be a daunting task to Linux beginners.

In Debian based distros installations, IMO, are easier than they are in Linux. For example:

$sudo apt-get install vlc

Will download, and install vlc media player and it's dependencies and place it's shortcut in the multimedia menu. In a distro such as slackware the installation would like more like this:

Go to VLC website.
Check for library dependencies
Download library dependencies
Check THEIR dependencies and download them
Compile dependencies
Compile VLC

Compiling from source happens like this:

#cd ~/vlc
#./configure
#make
#make install

So basically the faster and more lightweight the Linux distro the less it has GUIs and features to assist beginners.

Edited by Titan8990, 24 July 2008 - 01:33 PM.

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#7
michaelkatcher

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A minute still seems like a long time. It wouldn't really be worth it in that case. What about Mac OS?
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#8
Titan8990

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No experience with OS X. You can't just install it on any hardware as it's against their TOS.

OS X is typically faster than Windows, in fact, just about every OS is faster than say M$ Vista.
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