Getting Started

The first thing that we need to do is get our hardware list ready. Obviously, all of our hardware has to work with Linux and Windows Media Center Edition (WinMCE), and we have to watch out for some "gotchas" with lirc (our remote control program) and MythTV. Although not the best distribution on which to install MythTV, we will use SuSE 9.1 for our base Linux install, since we are familiar with it and we use it for all of our other Linux benchmark testbeds. As a result, we first make sure any hardware that we use works with SuSE; listed in the hardwaredb. If a particular hardware that we pick out requires a bit more extensive installation, we can live with that as well, just so long as we can compile our own drivers.

Determining what hardware is supported on Win MCE is a bit more difficult, although there are some resources to help. Fortunately for us, we do not have to determine specifically which hardware MCE runs, since it only ships pre-installed on devices such as our whitebox Media Center. We will try to keep the components of both machines as similar as possible.

Below, we calculate the cost of the whitebox and Linux device:

Whitebox Windows MCE Device Price
CPU Sempron 3100+ -
MOBO Undisclosed -
Audio Integrated (VIA) -
Ethernet Integrated (Realtek 10/100) -
VGA GeForce 4 MX440 128MB -
Tuner Hauppauge WinTV PVR-250MCE -
HDD Western Digital 80GB WD800JB -
RAM 512MB Micron DDR400 -
Optical Sony DDU-1613 -
Remote Undisclosed -
Case Undisclosed -
OS Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 -
Total $699

AnandTech Linux Device Price
CPU Sempron 3100+ $125
Audio Integrated (VIA) -
Ethernet Integrated (Realtek 10/100) -
VGA GeForce 4 MX440 64MB $40
Tuner Hauppauge WinTV PVR-250 $130
HDD Western Digital 80GB WD800JB $60
RAM 512MB Corsair DDR400 $75
Optical BenQ 16X OPAL-OC1 $24
Remote Included with PVR-250 -
Case Opus TT-501 $100
OS SuSE Linux 9.1 -
Total $635

As you can see, our Linux device is priced out cheaper and we even went fairly frivolous on a lot of items. Another SFF case favorite of ours, the SuperFlower SF-101, sells for $40 with power supply and looks just as good, if not better. We threw a Sempron 3100+ in our test rig for easier comparison between the MCE device and our own, but as you will see later in the analysis, there are some other benefits to using the additional computing power, such as background encoding to Xvid.

Going with a Tuner card for the Linux machine gives us many options. Originally, we had scheduled to run all of our tests with the Hauppage WinTV Go card, which does not have any hardware encoding at all - this card is actually better supported by SuSE as well. However, since we would later be comparing our test rig to a MCE unit that relies mainly on hardware encoding, we thought it best to keep the playing field level on both machines. The MCE unit uses a slightly better version of the PVR-250 card (it has onboard FM support), but for our purposes, the vanilla PVR-250 works just fine (and it comes with a remote).

If you intend to replicate our hardware setup for your own MythTV machine, choosing a WinTV Go card may save you additional cash, but you will definitely need as much crunching power as possible. Combining a software encoding with a slower processor is a recipe for disaster.

Putting all the hardware together only took about 15 minutes; our total time for installation is right now at 15 minutes.

Index Installing the OS and Drivers
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  • NullSpin - Saturday, September 4, 2004 - link

    I can't tell you how long I have been waiting for this article. I have been waiting to buy components for almost a year but did not want to wade into this project with no idea of what hardware was reccomended. I'm also really interested in seeing the process of adding an nfs server into the mix for additional storage.
    Maybe you could price out a 'quiet' system and the various form factors for htpc's.
    Can't wait for part deux.
  • sisyphus - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    I have just one thing to say about MythTV:

    Save yourself some time and grief!

    Use KnoppMyth!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Nnyan - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    Just had another thought, how does MythTV compare to other applications like Freevo?
  • griffy - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    Great job, thanks.
    In your next article, could you let us know a little more why you chose the hardware you did, and maybe what you think the minimum might be?
  • archcommus87 - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    Wow, goes to show me that there are still topics out there I know NOTHING about. Most of this article was over my head. Is that because I'm not familiar with Linux or something else?

    Just the whole part about getting the card setup, the commands to run, the Myth database, etc. WHOOSH.
  • Resh - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    Thanks for replying Kris, but your reply makes me cry. My Hitachi doesn't have a DVI or VGA-in so unless I can get the TV-out on the vid card to work under Linux, I'm dead in the water.

    If anyone has seen any good directions on making Suse, Fedora, or Mandrake work with the TV-out on currently available nVidia card or Radeon 8500, please let me know! llama at rogers dot com

    Kris, if you can cover this in the next, or a third, I'd have your children (although my wife might object). ;-)

  • Nnyan - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    Cool article. My only complaint is that I would have liked to have read which distros DID work well with MythTV and perphaps the PVR-250. Perphaps in part 2?

    Thanks to skeptic for the mention of KnoppMyth distro.
  • JoeNiner - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    Please please please include a KnoppMyth install in a follow up!
  • KristopherKubicki - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    Resh: We only used a PVR-250, so there is no passthrough. We just hooked the DVI out on our GeForce card up to the TV :)

  • meksta - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    mythTV is perhaps the most versatile piece of software I have come across. You can build a system for cheaper if you want. I am running myth on a XP2500+ cpu and Chaintech 7nif2 mobo (built-in s-video out). I also run two el-cheapo tv tuner cards for some simultaneous recordings.

    With a PVR250, that does hardware encoding, you really don't need a kick ass cpu at all.

    I agree it takes a while to set up. But once I had it up and's been happily stable since.

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