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Cutting the Cord Part 3: Building your HTPC - OS Install and Tuning

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Microsoft

Tweaking Windows 7 for Media Center - Part 3

Running a Media Center PC has different power requirements than a normal PC.  While you normally would want a PC to go to sleep or hibernate when it’s not used for a long period of time to save some money on your power bill, doing that on a Media Center PC can cause all sorts of issues with scheduled recordings, streaming content from your media center to other machines or even losing connection to USB attached devices like your IR/Wireless receiver for your remote.

My Experience:  I’m not a big fan of letting a Media Center fall asleep at all.   While it’s nice to save a few watts in power, I’ve had all sorts of issues with Media Centers waking up and all the components coming back online properly.

  • Click on the Start Button and then choose “Control Panel” in the right hand bar.
  • Click on the “System and Security” heading and then choose the “Power Options” link.
  • By default, Windows uses a “Balanced plan” which will work fine for our HTPC with a few minor tweaks.  Click on the “Change plan settings” link to the right of the Balanced Plan.
  • Half way down the screen, click on the “Change advanced power settings” link.  Once in the Advanced Settings, scroll down through the settings and configure them as follows:
    • Expand  the “Sleep” setting and:
      • Expand the “Sleep After” setting and if it’s not set to “Never”, set it to 0 Minutes.
      • Expand the “Allow Hybrid Sleep” setting and set that to “Off”
      • Expand the “Hibernate After” setting and if it’s not set to “Never”, set it to 0 Minutes.
    • Expand the “USB Settings” section and:
      • Expand “USB Selective Suspend Setting” and set it to “Disabled”
    • Expand “Power buttons and lid” and:
      • Expand “Sleep Button Action” and change it to “Do Nothing”
    • Expand “Multimedia Settings” and:
      • Expand “When Sharing Media” and set that to “Allow the Computer to enter Away Mode”
      • Expand When Playing Video and set that to “Optimize Video Quality”)

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Away mode is an interesting power saving mode that works perfectly with (and was built for) Windows Media Centers.  I'm still experimenting with it and not 100% sure how well it works, but apparently away mode will shut down some components like video and audio signals, PS/2 devices, etc., but still lets most processes continue to run in the background.  For a deeper dive into Away mode, check out the “What does Away Mode Do, Anyway?” blog over on Microsoft’s MSDN site.  If you have any personal experience with Away mode, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.

Since we will not be using the Sleep or Hibernate functions, we can wipe out the large file Windows sets up to write the contents of your memory to when it goes into Hibernation mode.  For example, if you have 8 GB of RAM, Windows sets aside 8 GB of hard drive space to write the memory to and it’s worth recovering all that storage space.  To remove the file, do the following:

  • First, check your C: drive and just note how much space is listed as “Free”
  • Start an “Administrator Command Prompt” by clicking on the Start button, opening “All Programs”, Opening the “Accessories” folder and then right clicking on the “Command Prompt” and choosing “Run as Administrator”
  • In the Administrator Command Prompt type ‘powercfg –h off’ without the quotes.  You won’t see any status update other than the command prompt popping up again, but if you check your hard drive, you should see your free space has increased.

 

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There’s one more location that we can look to free up some space by yanking out some unneeded Windows components that are not used with Media Center.

  • Click on the Start Button and then choose “Control Panel” in the right hand bar.
  • Under the “Programs” heading, click on the “Uninstall a program” link.
  • On the left side you will see a link to “Turn Windows features on or off”, click on that.
  • All the folders are features and components of Windows that can be added or removed.  There are a few that are installed by default, but we don’t really need with Media Center and can safely be removed.  Simply unchecking the box next to them and hitting OK will uninstall them from Windows.  To remove them, uncheck all of the following:
    • All the “Print and Document Services”
    • “Tablet PC Components”
    • “Windows Gadget Platform”
    • Both “XPS Services” and “XPS Viewer”
  • Then simply click on “OK” and Windows will uninstall them all with a reboot or two.

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If you’re still running tight on space or want to squeeze every last drop of storage out of your C: drive, there are two other advanced options available.  Because they are advanced, I won’t step through them in detail and I would suggest not doing either of these unless you really know what you’re doing and know enough to do them without a walkthrough.  The two options are:

  • Shrinking your page file size.
  • Turning off System Protection for your C:\

Now that we’ve finished cleaning up unneeded components we need to make sure our Media Center is ready to be controlled by a remote control.  Whatever remote you are using, it should have a USB based Infrared or Wireless receiver.  Without a receiver your HTPC won’t be able to pick up the signals from your remote.  Plug the receiver into your HTPC and make sure that Windows recognizes the receiver and installs whatever drivers it needs for it.  Windows should recognize and have the drivers for it by default, but if not, you may need to get a driver package from the remote/receiver vendor. 

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Last, but not least, I suggest you do one final run through of Windows Update (Start -> Control Panel -> System and Security -> Windows Update -> Check for Updates) to ensure that with all these tweaks and changes to our Windows Installation there are not additional patches or drivers available.

With that, our Windows 7 installation is streamlined and ready to run Windows Media Center.  In our next installment, Cutting the Cord Part 4, we’ll walk through actually Installing and configuring Windows Media Center on your HTPC.


Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:

December 7, 2012 | 02:38 PM - Posted by YTech2 (not verified)

Thanks for showing the Win7 Install process. I tend to miss this portion because I am so used to older WinOS where it takes hours to install. Then I usually go for coffee, etc.

Thanks for the note about the Activation Key :) Will remember that in the event a components choose to be defective.

Nice note about auto-login. I was wondering about a feature like this to use the computer as a wake-up alarm system, etc. Is there a feature like this available on Windows XP?

Nice Guide :)

December 7, 2012 | 03:13 PM - Posted by Chris Barbere

Yeah, there's actually the capability to autologin in Windows XP as well, just takes a little bit of registry hacking.

Check out the MS KB article on how to do it: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/315231

December 7, 2012 | 02:41 PM - Posted by KTL

I didn't set the SATA controller to AHCI mode during setup and left it at IDE mode, would switching to AHCI mode now require a reinstall?

December 7, 2012 | 03:10 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Let me point you to our MOST POPULAR forums thread ever: 

http://forums.pcper.com/showthread.php?444831-HOWTO-enable-AHCI-mode-aft...

December 7, 2012 | 03:13 PM - Posted by Chris M (not verified)

No it doesn't but you do have to go through some steps before you make the switch over.

http://www.neowin.net/forum/topic/987378-how-to-switch-from-ide-to-ahci-...

Those are the instructions I ended up using when I had to do it.

December 8, 2012 | 05:49 PM - Posted by KTL

Thanks for the information (to both), I was able to switch to AHCI from IDE and W7 home premium was able to boot up properly, recognize the drives (HDD & ODD), install the drivers, and restart.

December 7, 2012 | 08:36 PM - Posted by allen (not verified)

Where's the linux love?

December 8, 2012 | 01:43 AM - Posted by Jason Nevins (not verified)

Hope you mention the gory codecs details next.. i've been using Shark007's set which has been awesome so hopefully that's still the way to go? shark007.net then of course you have to have mediabrowser.tv then your HDMI with audio via AMD video card. Then you have your Steam Big Picture Mode and you're SET.

December 8, 2012 | 10:27 AM - Posted by Chris Barbere

Hmm, what kind of codec issues are you running into?  There's only thing I install to get MKV's working, otherwise I just run with what's out of the box.  99% of what we watch video wise is avi, mpg or mkv.

December 8, 2012 | 12:57 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I see you covered making sure your system time stays up to date. That's pretty darn important when you are recording TV shows on a set schedule. For my HTPC I don't rely on Windows to get it right so I use a 3rd party app that syncs every hour.
http://www.thinkman.com/dimension4/

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