Here we go again. For the third, perhaps, fourth time, I’m investing in a replacement AGP video card with DVI-out for my media center PC. The last few efforts to get the most out of GeeXboX resulted in me returning them – usually along with the DVI-I cable for either store credit (Discount Electronics, bah) or a refund (Fry’s, woot) because I couldn’t run GeeXboX at the higher resolutions I was aiming for, at least in combination with my HD TV.
After streaming Soylent Green through Netflix’ relatively new “Watch Now” feature this weekend, I realized that I would prefer to watch these movies on the living room TV, sitting on the sofa, instead of on my gaming PC monitor, sitting in that dreaded computer chair. Mother says I need to get out more anyway, and I take it she means my room. My ass hurts enough from late night weekend gaming sessions.
It turns out that, in order to stream, you must use Internet Explorer (Firefox is incompatible), which means there’s no way it will ever be integrated into Linux-based GeeXboX. That means I’d have to go the Windows route, which I was considering doing anyway, in order to play HD content from my NASLite+ file server. So, now I have two excuses to install Windows Media Center Edition 2005 on my media center PC that’s currently running GeeXboX.
Since GeeXboX is a bootable CD, I can easily choose to run either OS upon booting. Either press a key on the keyboard to boot to GeeXboX, or don’t and it will boot to MCE 2005 off of the hard drive. Unfortunately, hard drives are noisy, but I’ll just have to live with it (at least, until I can get a great deal on a CF card, and use a CF-to-IDE adapter like I have in my IPCop firewall). But I’m not getting another CF card and adapter until I know MCE 2005 runs (well) on this hardware, so I’ll use a spare WD 20 GB HDD in the meantime, for testing purposes.
Considering my current MSI Radeon 9250 AGP 8x video card is limited to S-Video out (which is the best I can do with GeeXboX, so it’s a great fit), and that MCE 2005 can run HD resolutions, I took a look on austin.craigslist for an older, passively cooled ATI video card with both DVI and S-Video out, and DirectX 9 support, and I found exactly what I was looking for: an ATI Radeon 9550 AGP 8x for $40. $40 was a little steep but I got started on this project last night (playing around with MCE on existing hardware) so I don’t feel like waiting for something to ship. Now, now, now! I’m gonna pick up the video card from a “short guy with a gray shirt and jeans, holding a video card” at Starbucks on Parmer around 7 this evening.
I did some research on MCE 2005 hardware requirements and it turns out that:
Media Center has higher hardware requirements than other editions of Windows XP. MCE 2005 requires at least a 1.6 GHz (or equivalent) processor, DirectX 9 hardware-accelerated GPU (such as a recent ATI Radeon X series or nVidia GeForce 6 series), and 256 MB of System RAM. Some functionality, such as Media Center Extender support, use of multiple tuners, or HDTV playback/recording carries higher system requirements.
It installed on my system last night, with my 9250 that only supports DirectX 8, which makes me wonder how much of a requirement DirectX 9 really is. Maybe that’s just a way of differentiating “modern” video cards with older ones. Still, it seems confusing to call it a requirement instead of a recommendation, if it will let me install the OS using something that doesn’t fit the requirements. The same goes for my 1.3 GHz Athlon XP 1500+ CPU.
Anyway, I see no reason why the Netflix streaming service won’t work with MCE 2005 and I’m more anxious to see how “taxing” HD content is on this hardware, which is another reason for upgrading the video card: the new one has twice the amount of DDR memory.
The info below was mainly for personal use while doing (compatibility) research, but I may as well leave it here to assure you’ll fall asleep if you haven’t already.
Mobo is AGP 3.0 compliant (up to 8x @ 0.8V)
Current video card: MSI Radeon 9250 (DirectX 8) 128 MB – Universal (1.5V & 3.3V) physical interface.
New video card: Radeon 9550 (DirectX 9) 256 MB – 1.5V physical interface.
They say “you learn from your mistakes”, but I say “only if you remember what you learned”. I forgot that my HDTV doesn’t play well with ATI cards when it comes to DVI, until I scratched my head yesterday after installing the new card and connecting it via DVI. There’s still hope, though. After looking through old posts (which, in retrospect, I should have done before getting that card yesterday) I recalled that two nVidia cards worked just fine using DVI to connect to the HDTV, whereas 3 ATI cards didn’t. With that in mind, I’m throwing another sixty bones at the project in hopes that this XFX PV-T44A-WANG GeForce 6200 256MB AGP 8X DDR Video Card w/TV-Out & DVI will follow the nVidia compatibility trend. I checked pricegrabber and filtered 256 MB, DVI, nVidia, AGP and this was the cheapest passively cooled card. I’m very glad to see that a 6 series was available without a fan. Also, I guess you can call me a XFX “fanboi”. My 6600 GTs were XFX, as is my 7600 GT. They seem solid so far, so I’m gonna stick with what works. Specs here. By all means not a gaming card, but hopefully works well for my HTPC (home theater personal computer) application. I read on Wikipedia that “there are still reports of people successfully unlocking pipelines and overclocking the newest 6200A NV44A chip ranges, using older Geforce drivers.” Turns out that this card has a GeForce 6200 A chipset, but I’m not certain if it’s a NV44A. Still, presumably it is, since the model name is “PV-T44A-WANG” (note that T44A portion). I’ll see what google has to say regarding “unlocking 6200A NV44A”.
$2 for 1-2 day shipping, so hopefully it will be here by this weekend, so I don’t have to stay up late during the weeknights like I have been, fiddling with this stuff.
Oh, I’ll probably sell those ATI 9250 and 9550 cards on craigslist after this works and market them as “FANLESS, GREAT FOR HTPC!”.
The nVidia 6200 does output via DVI to the HDTV as I suspected (and hoped) it would. I’m running 1080i now, technically a little less than that due to overscan compensation, to shrink the video to fit better to the screen.
Brother and I initially spend some time trying to troubleshoot why the process of playing a video (even small ones, to rule out large/taxing videos being the problem) would make the computer “take a dump’, the way brother put it. Different media players didn’t make a difference, nor did 3 different drivers (2 from nVidia and 1 from the XFX CD). Videos would play immediately using no driver (essentially, the Windows built-in VGA driver). It turns out that, surprisingly, a 4th older nVidia driver did the trick. Isn’t that something? Anyway, we started testing HD content and some are choppy (although not that bad) and some have lots of artifacts), so the latest hurdle is figuring out “why?”. As far as choppiness is concerned, my best guess is that it’s due to the CPU, which is an Athlon XP 1500+ (1.3 GHz, first core)), so I’m going to upgrade it to the fastest the mobo can handle, which is a 3200+ (2.? GHz), since I recall glitch telling me that a better CPU is more important than a video card when it comes to playing videos (as compared to gaming). I’m currently seeing what austin.craigslist has to offer, regarding Athlon XP CPUs, and trying to sell the 9550.
The 9550 sold for $35. I probably could have gotten a lot more for the card, since I must have gotten 10 or so responses. Anyway, the first responder got it and that’s that. We met in the back parking lot of Threadgill’s on Lamar. I always feel like people in the area (that notice) are going to think a drug deal is going on, when I make these kinds of craigslist transactions, as cash is traded for a mysterious item. Yes, I worry too much about other people.
Picked up a 3200+ on craigslist for $50. The guy said the CPU was suspect – not in those words, but I like to use that word, since I borrowed it from when I worked at a computer sales and service shop that I won’t name – and was initially hesitant to even sell it, since the computer that it was in would reboot periodically. We both agreed that, more likely, the problem was due to the motherboard. I trusted him on his offer to refund my money within a week if the CPU seemed bad. It took a BIOS tweak to get the BIOS and XP to properly recognize it. I was a little worried at first that it might not be compatible, even though I had already done research and determined 1) that mobo supports up to 3200+ Barton core and 2) the only 3200+ have Barton cores. I need to stop second-guessing myself so much, give myself more credit, etc.
The nVidia 8800 780p demo plays great now – big difference. I’m also able to play a couple of racing games (Live for Speed and Richard Burns Rally) at full resolution/graphics settings and get playable frame rates. On top of that, I can stream a 1080i video over the network from the file server and it’s just barely choppy. Good stuff! Now I need to get more HD content, heh. Right now I mainly have demo videos.
Speaking of racing games, I picked up a Microsoft Sidewinder force feedback wheel (w/ pedals) at GCW for $10. Ironically, the week before, I went there to specifically look for a force feedback wheel and I settled with a non force feedback Microsoft Sidewinder wheel (again, w/ pedals), because it was in great shape and appeared sturdy. They’re both USB and work like a charm. Oh, the ff wheel didn’t come with an AC adapter, so I grabbed one from the AC adapter bin at Goodwill that, IIRC was a marginal amount of current/amps lower than required. At any rate, it works, so I “won’t argue with success” (another term borrowed from my old boss at that computer shop). I love me some force feedback, as it (obviously?) makes the experience more realistic. Brother seems unsure. I’ll get a picture and/or video of the driving setup in the living room. It’s really nice sitting there right in front of the 36″ TV instead of at my computer. I’m sure other games that have more text, like RPGs wouldn’t be ideal for this computer, since small text is difficult to read after the conversion and what-not, but for racing games, where you’re spending most of your time driving, it seems like an ideal setup.
So that’s that, right? Project complete? Of course not. Now I have a noisy hard drive to deal with. Since I’ve been spending too much money as of late (mainly on a Wii and games), I’m going to start off by trying some basic, inexpensive methods to reduce the HDD noise. silentpcreview.com has some interesting ideas involving foam and elastic bands, to name a couple. Also, once I find out what size chassis fan (well, technically you could call it a CPU fan, since it cools the “radiator” that’s attached to the CPU as a heatsink), I may get a fan that got favorable reviews on that website for being quiet, but only if I can get a good deal, because I’m already using the “ultra low” fan setting in the BIOS and it’s pretty darned quiet without the hard drive.