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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  • shiftomnimega - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    Looking forward to part 2.
  • Brazen - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    No win32 distribution for MythTV :(
  • skeptic - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    Try the Knoppmyth distribution. IMHO it is the best and easiest to use. Total install time for me was around 20 minutes and I had previously unsuccessfully fumbled around with mythtv on red hat.

    My setup uses the Huappauge PVR 350 card which has a whole set of issues when attempting to get the tv-out on the card to work, but man the quality was actually better than on my TIVO. One month after I had it working I called up TIVO and cancelled - it felt so good. I have been running knoppmyth for over 6 months now and its fantastic.
  • reboos - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    Thank you for the article.
  • Aquila76 - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    From Page 2: "Originally, we had scheduled to run all of our testes with the Hauppage WinTV Go card"

    Let me know how your testes run after that! ;>)

    Seriously though, great article. Interesting that there's only a $60 savings (up front) for the Linux PVR over the WinMCE box. Tells you the cost of WinMCE is actually pretty cheap! If only they'd make it available for purchase, but they probably won't because of DMCA or something.
  • Kishkumen - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    Nice article. I've been a fan of MythTV for quite some time and have enjoyed experimenting with it. The biggest detriment to my full time usage has been a lack of viable Linux HDTV drivers for my particular card based upon the Teralogic TL880 chipset. However, I look forward to becoming more involved with it as more HDTV capture cards with good Linux support become available.
  • Adul - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    Kris, nice article. I am glad you wrote it. Now I want to build my own :D
  • Resh - Friday, September 3, 2004 - link

    It's late. I was about to go to bed when I saw this article. I leapt with glee! After a quick skim, I can't say that I saw any discussion of how SuSE dealt with the TV-Out. Did it work? Were you using TV-out during this whole process. Some explanation in this area would be great, either as an update, or as the opening to Part II.

    Looking foward to reading it, and the follow-up, in detail.

    I love AT! :)

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