Media Center System
For those who already have a Media Center System, see Media Center Tips.
- Large tower with good, quiet cooling
- Reasonable speed processor with enough memory
- LARGE, fast hard drives
- High-speed DVD-RW drive
- High-speed, Dual Monitor Video Card
- Multiple TV tuners
- Remote Control System
- Optional: Media Reader
- Surround Sound System
Recommendations (with details)
- Personally I recommend a custom built machine, you'll get exactly what you want/need.
- Tower that will hold at least 2 internal hard-drives.
- Tower with good, but QUIET cooling. (January 2008 update: I highly recommend the Antec P180 tower. It has slide out drawers for SIX hard-drives (plus four 5.25 inch bays) and it comes with three very quiet built-in fans.)
- Reasonable speed processor, doesn't have to be the fastest. You'll get more computer for your dollar if you pick a processor a step or two down from the current fastest processor.
- I recommend as an absolute minimum 2GB for a Vista machine. If you want 4GB I recommend 2GB memory sticks, I understand that 4 sticks actually slow down your machine. (With Media Center XP it was 1GB of memory.)
- LARGE serial hard drives. Serial ATA (SATA) drives offer faster data transfer. A large buffer is probably more important than higher RPM. Look for the most cost-effective LARGE hard drives. (In 2006 I wrote: today 500GB drives are going for $0.63 per GB while a 320GB drive costs $0.39 per GB ... this means that for just a little more than the cost of one 500GB drive I could buy 3 smaller ones with total storage of 960GBs.) And in January 2008: 500GB drives go for about $100, or $0.20 per GB, while 1TB drives go for $275-300, or about $.30 per GB. In other words the premimum for the newest largest drives is still about 50% over the cost of the next size down. (750MB drives are going for $160-170, or only $0.22 per GB so are probably the best choice today.)
- High-speed DVD-RW drive. As yet there are very few serial DVD drives, but if you plan to burn lots of DVDs, the improved performance is probably worth the extra cost. One thing to be aware of: in 2006 processors only supported 2 SATA drives, this means that if you have a Serial DVD drive your second internal hard drive must be IDE. (SATA cards are available which will support additional SATA drives on a machine, but the bus speed at which the card operates may not make these drives any faster than IDE drives.) 2008 update: most processors now support 4 SATA drives. Because I wasn't all that impressed by my first SATA DVD drive I went with IDE DVD drives in my latest machine so I would have connections for 4 SATA hard-drives. Haven't seen much difference in the DVD write speed.
- High-speed, Dual Monitor Video Card. Unless you want to play games to, you need not buy the fastest video card. Instead make sure you get one that works well with Media Center.
- Multiple TV tuners - two at least. Check out the price of upgrading from one to two tuners. Also, since basic packages come with a single tuner, check out the price of just installing an additional dual-tuner card so you have a total of three tuners.
- Remote Control System. Comes as part of a real Microsoft Media Center package. Not only does it include a remote control and sensor, but also includes infra-red emitters to control cable or satellite boxes, etc.
- Optional: Media Reader. Depends on how you use your media center, I had one installed on mine but never use it because I process my digital photographs on another machine.
- Projector: I recommend the reviews and comparisons on this site: www.ProjectorCentral.com. Measure the room where you are going to use it. What is the distance between the projector and screen (or wall used as a screen)? What is the maximum width and height of the screen (or portion of wall available as screen)? Use the calculator associated with each projector on ProjectorCentral.com to verify it has a lens appropriate to the room.
- Surround Sound System: Different people perfer different speaker systems. Visit a good audio store with a room where you can actually compare speakers. Then check-out prices on the internet to make sure the local price is reasonable; if local price isn't that much more buy it locally where you'll get better support.
Before using your new Media Center System, see Media Center Tips.
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