Installing Windows and Preparing for Media Center
Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series? Catch up on them here:
- Cutting the Cord Part 1: The Assessment
- Cutting the Cord Part 2: Building your HTPC – The Hardware
- Cutting the Cord Part 3: Building your HTPC – OS Install and Tuning
- Cutting the Cord Part 4: Building your HTPC – Installing and Configuring Windows Media Center
- Cutting the Cord Part 5: Wrap up - Media Center Add-ons and Options
Now that we've walked through installing all our hardware in our previous article, we’re ready to install our operating system and configure it to get the most out of Media Center. As I mentioned before, I originally was planning to do this build with Windows 8 Professional and the Windows 8 Media Center pack, but there’s a few things that Microsoft has removed from Media Center in the new version that make using it for a Media Center a non-starter in my opinion. Not being able to boot directly into Media Center and having to boot into Metro and then launch Media Center is a deal breaker for me so I fell back to what’s been working great for me these past few years, Windows 7 Home Premium.
Before we even start with our Operating System install, there are a few settings you are going to want to configure in your BIOS/UEFI for the best system performance and stability.
- First, ensure that your Hard Drive/SATA controllers are in “AHCI Mode” as opposed to IDE or Legacy IDE. AHCI stands for “Advanced Host Controller Interface” and offers some features and performance improvements over the old IDE interface such as hot swapping of drives and NCQ (Native Command Queuing).
- Some motherboards will allow you to detect if there is a mouse and/or keyboard connected and stop the boot process if it does not see them. Since we’ll likely not be running the media center with a mouse/keyboard attached, make sure to disable this.
- Set the primary hard drive (your SSD or the big spindle drive if you don’t have a SSD) as the First boot device. You may want to temporarily set the CD/DVD drive to be the First boot device to complete your Windows installation and then go back in and change the First boot device back to your primary hard drive.
The Dell All-in-One
Reviewers, at times, can be somewhat myopic. I speak for myself in this particular instance. My job as a writer is to test hardware on a daily basis, and as such I have a very keen understanding (or so I hope) of the intricacies of computer design. If I need to build a machine, whether for test purposes or something that my wife can play Song Pop on, I have a near infinite variety of components that I can choose from to fit the needs of the project. As such, we often forget that not everyone has that level of expertise. Most people, in fact, just want to be able to buy something that not only fits their needs, but also simply just has to work.
Dog is unimpressed with packaging. UPS complained profusely though.
This is the reason why we have the Dells, HPs, and Lenovos of the world. The vast majority of people out there are unwilling to build their own machine and support it themselves. They neither have the time nor patience to dive in and learn the ins and outs of a modern PC and the software that runs them. This is not a bad thing. Just as I do not have the patience to learn how to sew, I still like wearing clothes. At least during our podcasts. For the most part.
We must also admit that we are moving well away from the typical beige box that dominated the 90s and early 2000s. Manufacturers have a much better eye for not only functionality, but also aesthetics. No longer do we have the hulking CRTs of yesteryear, and neither do we have the large boxes that are nearly indistinguishable from one or another. Multiple form factors abound and these large manufacturers have design teams that pay very close attention to things like compatibility, power consumption, and thermal dissipation. With these things in mind, they are able to create unique devices that not just serve the needs of consumers, but also just simply work.
Apple has been at the forefront of this type of design for quite some time. This is a company that has prized fit, finish, and functionality far more than they have pursued cost cutting and homogenization. This has lead to much higher margins for the company, and a nearly rabid following by the people buying their platforms. We certainly can argue that they probably perfected the “all-in-one” machine back in the Macintosh days, and since that time they have not stood still. The iMac was a further advancement in that field, but the introduction of relatively inexpensive and large LCD panels allowed them to further shrink the all-in-one. It also allowed them to further sculpt the design into what we see today.
Everything is nicely supported in the box.
Obviously people around the industry have noticed this trend, and noticed the devoted following of the Apple consumers. It is hard to miss. The world is a big place though, and surely there are people who crave the type of design that Apple pushes, but do not necessarily want to jump on that particular bandwagon. Dell has recognized this and created their XPS One lineup of products. Not everyone wants to run OSX and pay the Apple tax. If this is the case for a reader, then this might be the product that catches their attention.
Subject: General Tech | August 22, 2012 - 12:51 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: windows 8, Windows 7, upgrade, microsoft
If you are finding it difficult to delay the purchase of that shiny new computer until after Windows 8 comes out, Microsoft has a solution for you. Thanks to the Windows Upgrade Offer, you can buy a new PC now and be eligible to upgrade to Windows 8 for $14.99.
Starting June 2nd 2012, if you purchase a new PC with Windows 7 you are eligible for a discounted upgrade to Windows 8. This ensures that you are able to run the latest Microsoft operating system even if you buy a new PC before it is released. Eligible PCs include any OEM machine pre-installed with the following operating system SKUs using a valid product key:
- Windows 7 Home Basic
- Windows 7 Home Premium
- Windows 7 Professions
- Windows 7 Ultimate
This does include OEM machines with System Builder (COEM) versions of Windows 7, which means if you buy a system put together by a DIY builder, you are still eligible for the discounted pricing. One caveat is that computers with Windows 7 Starter are not eligible for the discounted Windows 8 pricing.
Further, there is a maximum of five upgrades per customer and one per machine, so at most you could get five upgrades to Windows 8 at the $14.99 price when you purchase five or more new PCs.
The $14.99 price gets you a downloadable upgrade version of Windows 8 Pro. This version can be used on any computer with a previous version of Windows installed to upgrade from. In that respect, it is just like any other upgrade version of Windows 8 and could be given to someone else if you wanted to stick with Windows 7 on your new PC. Microsoft is further willing to provide a physical copy of the upgrade, but it will cost you an additional fee (exact fee not stated).
The other limitation is that this upgrade version comes without the add-on pack that includes Windows Media Center. If you want that feature, you will have to pay for it at an undiscounted price.
The promotional period ends January 31, 2013 which is the same day that the $39.99 promotional upgrade price for everyone else ends. (No word yet on whether there will also be student promos like Windows 7 had, however.)
Microsoft’s registration page recently went live. If you are interested in getting the discounted pricing, you will need to register for the deal and provide purchase information and the product key for version of Windows that came pre-installed on your computer. Once Windows 8 is officially released on October 26, 2012 Microsoft will email you a download link and product key.
Windows 8 is somewhat controversial release but at least Microsoft is pricing it attractively.
Subject: General Tech | May 16, 2012 - 06:31 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Windows 7, windows, microsoft signature, microsoft
Microsoft’s Signature program is a Microsoft Store and online service where the company resells OEM partners’ computers without all the traditional bloatware programs. The company puts a clean install of Windows on the hardware, installs Microsoft applications–including Microsoft Security Essentials, Live Movie Maker, and Live Mail–and optimized the OS for that particular machine’s hardware. This Signature install of Windows has only been available to users that purchased a new computer from Microsoft–until now.
According to Ars Technica, Microsoft is now offering to turn any OEM PC running Windows into a Signature edition of the operating system for a one-time fee of $99. DIYers and enthusiasts are likely to scoff at the nearly hundred dollar price tag for popping in a Windows 7 install disc and doing a clean install, but the Signature service is most certainly not aimed at the technically savvy market to begin with. Rather, this is a service for ordinary computer users to get the most performance out of their computer while avoiding the numerous “optimize my PC” scams and malware-programs-masquerading-as-Windows-utilities minefield. Doing a clean install and then optimizing the OS can take at least an hour (though enthusiasts can generally shave that time down quite a bit), and a straight fee of $99 is a lot less than consumers are likely to find elsewhere (especially since that includes 90 days of tech support). And that’s where I think this program is okay, and even a good thing. Most OEM systems come pre-loaded with a bunch of unwanted programs and trial offers that serve no real purpose besides making the OEM more money. There is also the issue of security. The majority of OEM systems come pre-loaded with some form of trial antivirus (usually Norton), and customers are notorious for not upgrading to the paid edition after the trial period or replacing it with (better) free antivirus applications. For $99, Microsoft will take the OEM machine and spruce it up to be the operating system that it should have been running in the first place. Besides price, the other barrier to this catching on is that customers need to bring the PC into a Microsoft Store (which are few and far between).
That statement is where many users are not pleased with Microsoft. They believe that Microsoft should exert more control over what OEMs are allowed to do with its operating system. Certainly, that is the ideal solution, but Microsoft is not Apple and they do not have the same level of control over the resulting hardware and what is bundled into the OS after it is purchased by OEMs. The Signature program is at least a step in the right direction and making the best of the situation. Also, it is an optional service that consumers are free to shop around to find a better price (or learn how to do it themselves by checking out guides online). It may not be the best thing, but at least Microsoft recognizes that there is a problem and is offering an alternative.
I’ll admit that I reacted unfavorably when I first read about the program, especially since it seemed so expensive for what comes as second nature to me. But not everyone wants to muck around in settings and for those with more money than time the Signature program is not a bad deal. It’s not for me, but I can see situations where it will work well. What are your thoughts on the program; do you see it as useful or is Microsoft way off base here?
Subject: General Tech, Systems | May 14, 2012 - 03:34 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 8, Windows 7
Microsoft is expected to announce their upgrade promotion for users to purchase a Windows 7 PC after early June and move up to Windows 8 when it is released. Unlike past promotions, such as Office 2010 and Windows 7, it is expected that you will have the option to be bumped to the Pro level SKU -- but not for free. While this does not rule out the potential for a free upgrade to Windows 8 Home, Mary-Jo Foley of CNET seems to have not heard that from her sources.
People constantly mock computers for having a very quick apparent turnaround time.
There tends to be a desire in consumers to put off purchasing new equipment. Users know that patience will very often yield more for the same cost. Software is no different which is why Microsoft and others offer initiatives to allow users to upgrade to impending releases with the purchase of the current version.
But wait, if you order now -- you can order later!
On or around June 2nd, Microsoft is expected to unveil their upgrade program for users who will purchase a Windows 7 machine. According to Mary-Jo Foley of CNET and her sources, this time you will be able to upgrade your Windows 7 machine to Windows 8 Pro. This upgrade will not be free but is expected to be under a hundred dollars according to leaked promotional content. Targeting June is designed to prevent sales of Windows 7 PCs dropping off for back to school.
The upgrade to Windows 8 Pro makes sense as it allows the addition of Windows Media Center and other features that were available in the lower end versions of Windows 7. I think you could imagine what a user would feel like if they updated their operating system and lost features that they could not even add back in to their “upgraded” version.
Of course the better option would likely have been to rethink removing features if they feel as though vanilla Windows 8 is not an apples-to-apples comparison to Windows 7 Home Premium.
For those wanting the “best of both worlds” in their tablet, they are in luck. ViewSonic’s newly announced ViewPad 10Pro combines the Android and Windows 7 operating systems into a 10” tablet. Powered by an Intel Z670 Oak Trail processor at 1.5GHz, the 800g tablet is capable of playing 1080p video, and has 32GB of onboard storage to hold all that media. The IO of the tablet includes a 3G and 802.11 b/g/n WiFi radio, bluetooth 2.1, Micro SD card, USB port, charging port, 3.5mm audio jack, and HDMI out.
Subject: General Tech | May 12, 2011 - 03:32 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Windows 7, SSD test, performance testing, PCMark 7, Futuremark, benchmark
When it comes to hardware testing, PCMark is a widely known and tested benchmarking suite. Developer Futuremark has now deployed PCMark 7 for WIndows 7 alongside PCMark05 for XP and PCMark Vantage for Vista users.
Designed to test a wide range of hardware from low cost notebooks to high performance gaming systems, PCMark utilizes numerous subsystem tests to provide a final composite score for the computer which can then be accurately compared to other users’ scores.
In the same manner as its predecessor PCMark Vantage, PCMark 7 uses traces of actual Windows’ programs to score a system based on actual usage scenarios. For example, the benchmark suite’s storage tests have been designed to allow both home and business users the ability to compare benchmark scores across systems and upgrades (of the same system). Whether using a solid state drive or a mechanical hard drive, PCMark 7 uses recordings of actions in well known Windows applications, including “Microsoft Word, Windows Live Photo Gallery, Windows Live Movie Maker, Windows Media Center, Windows Media Player, Internet Explorer, Windows Defender (Security Essentials) and even World of Warcraft” to replicate how someone would use the computer in a real world situation. The reasoning behind the use of program traces versus pure synthetic testing is the reliability and benefits of real world comparison. Especially when comparing benchmark scores between a base and upgraded system, synthetic benchmarking can show the potential performance increases; however, program traces can more closely showcase the real world performance increases.
With three versions of the benchmarking suite, there is a version to fit various needs and budgets. The Basic Version, Advanced Version ($39.95), and Professional Version ($995.00) offer increased control over the process. Each can be purchased or downloaded from PCMark.com.
"A benchmark is a highly complex and sophisticated piece of software, yet PCMark 7 is easy to use and requires no specialist knowledge or set up," said Jani Joki, Director of PC Products and Services at Futuremark. "Better yet, PCMark 7 Basic Edition is available as a free download so all PC users can benefit from this industrial strength PC test."
Will you be using PCMark 7 in your next benchmarking run?