Review Index:

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

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Microsoft

Installing Windows and Preparing for Media Center

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

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.


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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). 

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  • 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.

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Now that we have our motherboard BIOS/UEFI ready to go, continue reading for the installation and preparation of Windows 7!

Video News

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:

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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:

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.

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? then of course you have to have 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.

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