Key Components and Alternate

By Dave Salvator  |  Posted 2003-04-10 Print this article Print

Options"> Case: We chose the Yeong Yang A201-X03, because of its slender form-factor, and its slender price-tag. One of Shuttles XPC case/mobo combos would also work nicely here, but itll set you back another $150, and we decided to save that money to keep our bill of materials cost as low as possible. Other good candidates for cases on a box like this are CoolerMasters 600 Series and Antecs new home theater PC case, both of which have the same dimensions as typical home A/V gear components. This means the server can live in your entertainment centers component rack. But again, the issue with both of these cases is cost, since the CoolerMaster is going for around $230 and the Antec home theater PC case is expected to also carry a pretty stiff price tag, compared to the Yeong Yang case we found.
Motherboard: We opted for an nVidia nForce 1 motherboard, leveraging its built-in Ethernet, audio, and even its built-in graphics -- if you dont require TV output. If you want to route this boxs output into your TV via an analog video output, fear not, well address that later in this article.
The primary advantage of using nForce 1 is how little else this system requires in terms of add-in components. A small form-factor case, a CPU, some memory, a hard-drive and a CD spindle of some kind, and youre good to go. The only difference between having this box capable of performing TV/TiVo functions, rather than being just an audio-only animal, is the cost of a TV tuner card. But even with that addition, the bill of materials cost is below $520, if you dont need a dedicated display (monitor). CPU: We chose an AMD AthlonXP 1.47GHz, because its cheap, and this box doesnt have to be a screaming performer to get its job done. For real-time encoding of video, such as recording TV using Freevo, you wont want to have anything less than a 1.47GHz Athlon CPU. This CPU should provide plenty of horsepower for this task. The goal of a rig like this is to be an absolutely reliable, crash-free, and versatile consumer electronics appliance. However, if you decide to do media ripping and encoding, thats another story. To save money, we recommend that you perform that work on your high-performance system, and then copy the resultant output over to the server once the encoding work is done. That choice is yours, and is essentially a function of how much you want to invest in this servers CPU. If youre looking for a faster, but still cost-effective CPU, consider the Athlon XP 2700. Memory: We went with 256MB of memory for a simple reason: its all you need for this type of server. TV Tuner Card: For the tuner card, there are essentially two options: Hauppauges WinTV PCI, or ATIs TV Wonder. Both use the BrookTree decoder chip, and so both rely on the same bttv driver that ships with Red Hat. We went with the Hauppauge for our config, because we found it for about $10 less than the ATI card. The Hauppauge card also has support for stereo audio, whereas the TV Wonder from ATI only supports mono audio currently. If stereo audio isnt a high priority, then either of these cards will get the job done. You could use an ATI All-in-Wonder card for this server, and if you have an older model whose 3D GPU is now a senior citizen, that might be a good candidate for this rig. As a rule, many types of home servers are great for installing aging hardware, giving it a second life. Graphics: Integrated on the motherboard. Were not worried about 3D performance, and you dont need a ton of GPU MIPS to listen to music or watch TV. Hard Drive: If you plan on TiVoing a lot of video, you may want to consider a really big honkin hard-drive, like one of Western Digitals 200GB monsters. But if this box is going to be audio-only, you can put in an 80GB drive, and even leaving 20GB free for the OS, which is way more than it needs, you can rip and store over 400 CDs at a bit-rate of 320Kbits/sec (4.4:1 compression) using your codec of choice. Although its getting long in the tooth now, MP3 does very well at this bit-rate. Sound Card: We used the motherboard-down audio found in the nForce chipset, which for our purposes will do just fine. Unfortunately, theres currently no driver available that can take advantage of the nVidia MPCs ability to encode Dolby Digital in real time. Instead, the audio processor looks like an AC 97 codec to the OS, which provides basic audio services. In Part Two of this story, well be showing you how to configure Ogle, a DVD player application, which should be able to use the included S/PDIF output to hand off a Dolby Digital or DTS stream to an external decoder. DVD-ROM: Were going with Toshibas SD-M1712, and used in conjunction with the Ogle DVD player (mentioned above), this media box can also play your DVD movies. Media App: We came across the Freevo project page on SourceForge, and after downloading it and installing it, we were impressed with its polish and current state of development. Its not 100% ready for prime-time, but its got a lot of the bases covered. It lets you watch TV, record TV, play back wave and MP3 files, watch digital video clips, and view digital still images. And its UI works well on a standard TV. Installation is pretty simple, since the three RPMs you need to install it include all the needed helper apps.

Dave came to have his insatiable tech jones by way of music—,and because his parents wouldn't let him run away to join the circus. After a brief and ill-fated career in professional wrestling, Dave now covers audio, HDTV, and 3D graphics technologies at ExtremeTech.

Dave came to ExtremeTech as its first hire from Computer Gaming World, where he was Technical Director and Lead (okay, the only) Saxophonist for five years. While there, he and Loyd Case pioneered the area of testing 3D graphics using PC games. This culminated in 3D GameGauge, a suite of OpenGL and Direct3D game demo loops that CGW and other Ziff-Davis publications, such as PC Magazine, still use.

Dave has also helped guide Ziff-Davis benchmark development over the years, particularly on 3D WinBench and Audio WinBench. Before coming to CGW, Dave worked at ZD Labs for three years (now eTesting Labs) as a project leader, testing a wide variety of products, ranging from sound cards to servers and everything in between. He also developed both subjective and objective multimedia test methodologies, focusing on audio and digital video. Before all that he toured with a blues band for two years, notable gigs included opening for Mitch Ryder and appearing at the Detroit Blues Festival.


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