Media Centre Extender

(Or what I got up to over Christmas apart from CRM 4.0)

I have been using Windows XP Media Centre for 2 and a bit years now and I has totally changed the way I watch Television. I built my system around an Asus Pundit-R which is a compact desktop machine with a 160Gb SATA drive, LG DVD drive, Intel Celeron D335 2.8Ghz CPU and 512MB DDR RAM. I use 2 DVB-T (Freeview) tuners from Black Gold which allow me to record one programme and watch another or even record two programmes at the same time and watch another recorded programme.

The only drawback is it that the Pundit is noisy. The noise is down to the small cramped case and the small fans which spin very fast. A BIOS upgrade and use of the ASUS QFAN utility made a lot of difference but you can still hear the Pundit humming away.

The Pundit sits in the living room and I use WebGuide to control and view recordings from my PC. However, this still means plain ordinary TV in the bedroom which is, frankly, really frustrating.

Ian Dixon (Media Centre expert and Microsoft CRM user) put me onto using the new Xbox 360 Arcade as a Media Centre Extender as it has an HDMI port.  I thought this would be ideal for the bedroom.

The Xbox 360 arrived for Christmas and I duly connected up the Xbox to my home network using a couple of HomePlug PowerLine devices. I was able to connect the Xbox 360 to the Media Centre but had trouble viewing recorded programmes for more than a few minutes. This was due to a couple of things;

  • First the Media Centre was connected via 802.11b Wireless running at 11Mbps which isn’t good enough for video so I replaced my trusty Netgear ADSL modem/router and wireless access point with a new X-Gate ADSL modem/802.11g wireless device from GSEC1 [we use the GSEC1 Prodigy security device in the office].
  • Secondly, using a Media Centre Extender adds to the memory footprint and CPU load on the Media Centre and this caused the Pundit to run at high CPU usage and low on physical memory – a quick upgrade to 1Gb solved the memory problem and reduced memory paging and CPU usage.

I now am able to use the Xbox to access Media Centre and I am to say impressed with how it works. I have also linked the Xbox to my Windows Home Server for music and this is quite excellent. The issue is the noise from the Xbox which is too much for a bedroom.

I am still having a few problems; as both PCI slots on the Pundit are taken up with TV cards I have had to use USB for WiFi and it has a habit of dropping its connection, and CPU usage is higher than before leading to more heat, faster fans and an even noisier Pundit. I have ordered another PowerLine device to replace the WiFi connection. Now to address the noise.

I found this article on silencing a Pundit last year and bought an 80mm quiet fan, 70mm to 80mm adaptor and other bits and pieces from Quiet PC but never had the inclination to attempt this level of mod until now. I didn’t bother changing the hard drive but concentrated on the CPU fan and after much cutting with the Dremel and trimming of the adaptor I managed to fit a larger quieter fan. I also found that changing the fan direction to blow hot air out made a significant difference in the new setup. Now I cannot hear the CPU fan at all. CPU, case and hard disk temperatures have dropped about 10C. This has the added effect of reducing the PSU fan which is the remaining source of noise.

After much hunting of the Internet I have found a suitable replacement PSU fan which I have duly ordered. I also bought a Pentium 4 Northwood 2.4Ghz CPU on eBay to replace the Celeron CPU. The reasoning for this is that the Celeron D335 is from Prescott family which runs very hot. The later Northwood family of processors (which the Pundit supports) runs cooler at 68W vs. 83W so this should reduce heat and I may be able to run the fans slower reducing noise further.

So when the fan arrives I will hopefully have a near silent Media Centre which brings us back to the need for a quiet Media Centre Extender as the Xbox has failed the noise test. I have been ‘told’ whatever goes into the bedroom must be silent so I am considering this from Tranquil PC and using WebGuide to stream TV.

Update: I have fitted the replacement PSU fan and I now have a near silent media centre system and which is running at lower temperatures than before.


About Julian Sharp

I have worked with Dynamics CRM/365 since 2004 and have been involved in over 100 CRM projects. I am a Dynamics 365 MCT and teach Dynamics 365 and Azure in the UK and across Europe
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