More Linux!

Well I haven’t updated all week so far so I thought I’d give it a go today.

Been busy getting stuff off of Freecyclers (check out http://www.freecycle.org, it’s great) where I’ve been getting free computer parts like cases, motherboards, power supplies, DVD drives, RAM, etc., basically collecting parts to make a couple of ‘new’ computers.

=But Frank, you’ve already got an uber-powerful 64-bit system with a window in the side, silver cables, blue lighting, etc., what the hell do you want two more computers for?

Well basically I’m on this Linux kick now and now that I’ve gotten used to using it on a daily basis (been using Ubuntu Linux for a month) I want to make what amounts to a media PC. Basically a computer that will work as file storage for recorded TV shows, pictures, music files and other stuff, that will sit in a room somewhere and record TV shows and movies and ‘serve’ the recorded shows to other rooms of the house.

With this software setup called MythTV (www.mythtv.org), it’s possible to have one media server (central computer) act as the ‘hub’ of an entertainment network that allows you to:

play back recorded TV shows (the main reason to have it),
use as a picture viewer on the TV, and
play back music & movie files through the entertainment system or TV

These are the most common reasons people might have a media PC, but there are also these really cool things you can do with MythTV:

read news feeds (RSS) over the internet
play emulated games (basically, any old Nintendo, Sega, arcade and other games)
and there’s more you can do, I just can’t remember what exactly 🙂

=Wow, that sounds like it’ll be able to do loads of things!

Well…yeah 🙂 The only trouble is, it will take some patience to set up because even the most user-friendly of Linux installs (Ubuntu, by all accounts) can require some finagling to get working just the way you want it, and with MythTV you have to install and set up various software and hardware components and get them all working properly. You can get support online through mailing lists and forums, but you have to have a decent knowledge of what you’re doing in the first place, plus the confidence to add, rearrange and customize your computer system – and I’m not just talking about adding some RAM or a hard drive either!

OK so I’ve gotten enough computer parts off Freecycle to set up a couple of computers, plus bit the bullet and bought a couple of bits off eBay to complete the media box – an AMD CPU to fit a motherboard I was given, plus the critical component of a Hauppage dual tuner TV card. Two tuners means I can record two shows at once, or watch one show and record another, or watch AND record a show while I record another. The beauty of the MythTV setup is that I could add more tuner cards so I could record several shows at the same time, but I don’t see having ‘just’ two tuners being a problem yet. I have been in a situation where I couldn’t watch a show I wanted to watch because my housemate’s digital TV recorder was recording two other shows, but I reckon this will be rare – and besides, a second card with a single tuner is about £25 on eBay so it wouldn’t be a big deal to upgrade I think.

The final part I need to complete the media box is a big hard drive, and I have two big (120GB) drives in my main computer, but of course they have stuff on them! What I’ll probably do is buy a big (320GB) SATA hard drive (these are about £50 online), put that in my main computer, partition it accordingly, install Windows XP and Ubuntu on that, and use the two 120GB drives in the media PC. That will give me loads and loads of room to record stuff, store music files and everything. Eventually I’ll want to get two SATA drives of the same size and use them in a RAID array so I have total backup and everything, but that will mean getting a new motherboard that has SATA capability, which will mean I’ll want to upgrade the CPU and RAM as well, and that will be about £300, so it’ll be a while before I can do that.

So with the third computer, I’m planning to use that as a generic ‘test mule’ machine, basically installing various types of Linux operating systems on it and giving them a try to see how I like them. It probably won’t be used very much, as my main computer will be probably four or five times faster than this one and used daily.

Overall, this is how the computers will break down once I’m done getting everything hooked up and running:

main computer – daily use, internet, DVD copying, gaming
AMD 64FX-55
1GB RAM
250GB or 320GB SATA hard drive
ATI x1600 graphics
2 DVD 16x burners

test mule – playing about with different Linux distributions
Intel Celeron 733
256MB RAM (roughly)
10-20GB hard drive
onboard Intel graphics (3D at least)
1 DVD drive (won’t be used much for burning)

media Linux box
AMD Sempron 2600+
512MB to 1GB RAM
120GB to 240GB hard drive (frikkin’ WEEKS of recording time)
nVidia FX5700 graphics
1 DVD drive (won’t be used much for burning though)

Complicated? Yeah…

Overly complicated? Probably, but if it gets working the way I want it to, it’ll be absolutely smokin’ 🙂 It will certainly take some time and lots of effort but I’m sure it’ll work out fine.

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