Etc.


— 11:05 AM on December 31, 2012

So... after getting a taste of couch-based PC gaming recently, I decided to go whole hog. That meant, essentially, building a new HTPC. Which I did in a day-long marathon build session.

It was time, anyhow.

And I had better parts laying around. My old HTPC has a single 500GB hard drive for storage, not enough to hold many top-flight PC games alongside hours of recorded HD video. The new box boots from a 64GB SSD and stores data on dual 1TB Green hard drives. The upgrade moves me from a nice but cramped nMedia case that won't allow a full-sized video card to a larger (though older) Silverstone LC17. From a Radeon HD 5770 to a GeForce GTX 660. From a low-power Athlon II X4 to a Sandy Bridge-based Core i3-2100. And from Win7 to Win8, with the possibility of Modern UI apps on the big screen.

HTPC builds are harder than others, I have to say. Some of the difficulty comes from the cases, which are more compact and, generally speaking, harder to use than the latest desktop enclosures. The software is more difficult, too. To get Media Center for Win8 Pro, I had to request a special key from Microsoft, which is just the start of the special knowledge you need to make a competent DVR system. Getting the thermal and acoustic tuning right is critical and arguably tougher to achieve. And it seems like I always run into little bugs and hardware quirks in HTPC builds that aren't a problem in my desktop systems. Maybe the issues are just magnified by the fact that the whole family depends on a "production" HTPC system—or that troubleshooting in the living room always seems more painful than at a desk.

Anyhow, I'm close now. I have the system built, the software installed, and over 300GB of controller-friendly games installed. Stability testing and thermal/acoustic tuning are complete.

I was even able to improve the Media Center functionality by using a new tool, relaunch, that lets you add icons for outside programs to your Media Center Extras menu. I now have single-click entries for Hulu Desktop, Steam's Big Picture, the slick new YouTube TV interface, Google Play, Amazon Instant Video, and Chrome. I've long wanted that kind of capability, but hacking Media Center has always seemed more trouble than it should be.

The next step is to rip the tuner card out of the old box, install it in the new one, and swap out the two systems. If all goes well, I may do a quick write-up on the new system. I'm looking forward to playing some high-fidelity Assassin's Creed on the big screen.

   
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