Setting Up A Media Server on a Second PC. Questions/Advice/Help

Hey kids, how are y’all? I’m writing because I’ve been given a second computer, a Dell desktop (Dimension 4600 with a Pentium 4 2.8 GHz processor) and I’m wondering if, once I upgrade the memory and the HD space, it would be feasible to make a media center out of it for my TV.

If so, I would want to do the following.

  1. Put all my video and music on it so I could watch it on my TV. I’d also like to stream Netflix and Pandora through it. So far Boxee is looking like the best option, but I’m up for suggestions.
  2. Control it from my primary PC remotely, as if it was another desktop on my main PC. Is this possible?
  3. Rip my DVD’s onto this media center PC so I could watch 'em without having to load 'em. Could this be done?

If it’s not feasible to run a media center on that kind of PC, please let me know that too. Thanks in advance for all of your help. ^_^

I’ve got a media center PC that I use for all that.

  1. Boxee will certainly do all of those things. I’m partial to XBMC, myself, but I don’t know if it’s got plugins for Netflix etc.

  2. How do you mean? If you just want to use the same keyboard and mouse and have it switch from your main PC to your media PC when you scroll off the screen, there’s Synergy. If you want it more remote, there’s TightVNC or other remote desktop viewers. I usually manage mine from the command line over SSH. If you mean a remote control, Windows Media Center remotes can be had on the cheap and work quite well even with XBMC (and thus, I assume, with Boxee).

  3. Definitely, although some DVDs may have copy protection that makes ripping them a bit tougher. Handbrake is pretty solid for ripping and converting.

If the PC is set up for it, you might look into a cheap, quiet graphics card. I’ve got a fanless Radeon 4350 in my media center. Cost less than $50 on Newegg and is more than enough power for my media and snazzy XBMC interfaces.

Only problem I can see is that your processor is a little slow for tasks like transcoding (i.e. ripping DVDs). It should handle playback just fine, though, especially if you invest in a video card.

XMBC? I’ll look into that. Thanks!

And as for the remote thing, I was hoping – once it was set up – to just have it be in the corner near the TV without a monitor or a keyboard or anything, and if I need to access it, I could do so remotely from my main PC through a remote interface. Does that make sense?

Sounds like you’re talking about remote desktop - fire up a program on your main PC that displays in a window your media PC’s desktop. For that, I use TightVNC. Run the server on your media PC and the client on your main PC.

Oohh, that looks neat. Will that work over a wireless connection?

Yep. It’ll also work from outside your home network, although it’s best to tunnel it over SSH in that case.

I’ve no idea what “tunnel it over SSH” means, but so far it sounds great. Sorry if I sound ig’nant, just never done this before. ^_^

There’s no reason civilians would know such things. When you tunnel over SSH, you establish a connection over SSH (Secure SHell), then you send other protocols over that connection (the tunnel). SSH is encrypted; VNC is basically unencrypted.

Oohhh, so if I wanted to access the media server from somewhere else, I’d need to set it up as a secure, encrypted connection? I only plan to access it from the other PC in the same apartment, but still, this is interesting.

Well, if you like to live dangerously, you can do it without encryption.

I don’t generally like to live dangerously, no. This looks like just what I need though.

Now I just need to upgrade the Dell’s memory (it currently has only 256MB, I want two gigs) and give it a bigger hard drive (it currently only has 50 GB). The inside looks weird though, like it’ll be tough to work with, especially with the HD. It’ll be a fun project though.

What’s a good amount of HD space for a media center? 1 TB?

Oohh, that looks neat, Rei. I’ll be using my own PC of course, but the rest of it looks handy as hell. Thank you! ^_^

The wife and I saw that Acer at frys the other day and let me tell you what it is amazingly small. I am actually going to get one in the near future to do exactly what that link says.

really, the revo can be had for $295 new. it’s worth it vs putting in costly DDR1 RAM and an IDE HD into an old P4. unless you already have the parts, getting more RAM into that P4 and finding an IDE HD would run around…$100-200.

So it’d be more worthwhile to get that mini PC and a big hard drive for it rather than beef up the old pentium I have?

It MAY be. It also is a lot smaller and quieter.

A new SATA laptop 2.5" HD in 500GB is $80 approximately.

Or consider the Asrock Ion 330 which has an optical drive, 320gb vs 160 but no OS which is a plus should you want to run xmbc.

Depends if you have more time or spare parts vs. money. Newegg has the Asrock with MCE remote for 410 after rebate. I paid 400 for my Revo 3600.