This week has been an interesting time in the Linux driven portion of the household. After struggling with my HTPC in the lounge getting slower and slower, it was finally taking longer to boot up than I had patience - which meant that I had to find some time to have a look at it.
I put the machine together a few years back, it's based on an old Asus A7N8X Deluxe MOBO running an AMD Athlon XP 1250 that I fitted into an Origen AE case. I installed XP Media Centre on it and pretty much left it at that - that is until I decided to try and fix it.
I tried all of the usual suspects - but none made any difference, I ended up trying a repair from the install disk, but the problem with XP MCE is that the media centre part is a hacked on extension to Win XP and not really part of the core. Needless to say - the recovery didn't fix it either,
So left with the choice of a complete reinstallation or updating to Vista I decided to look elsewhere. The XP install would be relatively painless but as support will no doubt end soon upgrading is the sensible option. The only problem with that is that Vista is not really much of an upgrade- I had it on my laptop for less than a week and then junked all Micro$oft apps in favour of open source alternatives - Ubuntu / Open Office etc.
On the subject of Windows... Being a long time user of windows (3.11 > 95 > 98 > 2000 > XP) The transfer from 2000 to XP was a big step. I abstained from changing to XP for a long time as it had a lot of issues running the software that I used (IDE's for Industrial Robot and PLC programming). I nicknamed XP 'Windows for Girls' as it seemed to have no real benefit over earlier versions apart from the horrible little animated icons that automatically appeared to tell you how to do something that you already knew how to do. Whilst it may have looked more polished around the edges, it did not run that much better. It also gave me headaches by forcing me to migrate from a perfectly good VB6 to VB.Net.
The most amusing thing with XP was that not long after it was released SP1 appeared to fix massive seciurity issues (XP was advertised as more secure / faster / etc) The irony was that the patch to fix the security issues slowed the machine down massively and also broke most of the software that was released as XP compatible (afforementioned IDE's etc). As a result many of us ran XP without the SP1 update for quite a while.
When I bought my most recent laptop it came pre-installed with Vista. So I decided to give it a go.
If XP was 'Windows for Girls' Vista was like 'Windows for Danny La Rue'
(As you can tell, I didn't take very well to Vista)
I use my PC for work, it needs to be a productive working envoironment, I use a lot of shortcut keys, rarely use the mouse (it's almost impossible to use a mouse when your laptop is perched on top of a machine in the middle of a factory and a touchpad simply isn't productive - I get frustrated watching people struggle to line the pointer up and click on something when pressing a key would be easier) the very last thing I need from an operating system is things to make it look prettier. This especially enfuriated me when I have to wait for the OS to do something like a search in files (which incidently hasn't really worked since properly windows 2000. I hate having to wait for the PC to catch up when copying data between multiple file instances - (how can I be quicker than the PC at selecting a block of text in one window, changing to another winndow and pasting it???) These are simple operations - the last thing I need is a nodding dog.
Anyway - Rant over...... Vista simply wasn't an option.
I had looked at the various Linux flavoured MCE opponents when I had originally put the machine together, but none really matched up to the XP MCE system. Fortunately this is no longer the case. I recently looked at Linux MCE, but it failed to run correctly on the harware of my test machine (which is a LOT faster than the old ASUS in the HTPC). I toyed with the idea of swapping the MOBO's but the A78NX has digital surround sound and also is a 5 slot board whereas the test machine isn't. I also decided that I wanted to run a RAID 1 setup as I still haven't got around to setting up a central server. I also didn't really want to go out an buy a new machine if I could avoid it.
After a little research I decided on MythTV . It has a nice XP MCE style theme which should be good for the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor ) and it has plugins to hanldle images and music, which means that it does pretty much what the XP MCE install did.
With all of this in mind I went out and bought two 500Gb SATA drives and set about installing Ubuntu on the machine. I hooked the drives up and installed Ubuntu 8.10 on one of the drives. I tried to install the RAID 1 setup at installation by manually partitioning the drives etc (as outlined in varous how-to's), but unfortunately it did not give me the option to select 'Physical volume for RAID' as the type for the partitions. So after deciding I could always mirror the drives later I installed Ubuntu on one of the drives.
I chose Ubuntu as the primary operating system as I use it on my other machines, but also because it makes a good base for MythTV (mythbuntu) which I decided was going to be the new driving force for the HTPC -I am also watching Elisa with interest - currently it does not offer support for TV cards and recording but this appears to be devloped for a future release.
As usual the Ubuntu installation was completely painless, and after a little hiccup with a BIOS update to make the board boot from the SATA drives, all the normal stuff simply worked (wireless card, monitor, DVD Re-Writer, networking, etc, etc...)
It was whilst I was fixing up the BIOS issue that I decided I should really post some of my findings on the site to help others. Invariably, problems like this one draw on information from various sources and a few hours work can be saved for others by correlating all of the info and creating some 'how to's - hence the Bios Update how to. My previous contribution to the world wide wobble was DMCMS, but this has slowed recently, taking a back seat to things like fixing teh HTPC and work, so it made sense to try and keep my kudos points high by contributing in a different way.
I am curretly still setting the MythTV box up, at the moment it has one functioning TV card, the Music library and Photos are copied across, the old MCE remote is working, which only really leaves me with setting up a second (and maybe third) TV tuner card and then creating the RAID 1 mirror and setting up the RAID controller (and then moving it from my office back into the lounge).
I will let you know how I get on.