How to Select Components for Your LinuxMCE Computers
The selection of the mainboard is probably the most crucial decision when building a LinuxMCE computer. An entire guide is dedicated to just to mainboard selection. This guide is meant to help you select the other components that go into a LinuxMCE computer.
Many aspects of building LinuxMCE computers are no different from building any other PC. There are plenty of resources on the internet to help you select, purchase, and assemble the components of your LinuxMCE computers. There are even guides on how to build a computer if you have never done that before.
For any component you are contemplating, read as much information as you can about it. Oftentimes the most useful information about a component is posted in the form of a review -- either by another purchaser of the same component (like the reviews on product pages at newegg, amazon, or NCIX), or by a web site (like this) or blogger that has candidly reviewed the component.
Google is your friend when researching components.
You might consider a nettop computer for use as a core or media director. Nettop computers are usually purchased fully integrated. This means that what you buy is actually a mainboard with a power supply, hard drive, memory, case et cetera all put together and ready to use. If you are considering a nettop computer, you should still scrutinize all of its components to assess its appropriateness for your LinuxMCE installation.
Note: Cores and centralized media directors are often kept in a closet, utility room, or basement where their noise emission does not matter. If that is the case for the computer you are building, we recommend selecting components for better cooling rather than low noise.
Media directors will be in your living space unless they are centralized, so it is important that they are not so loud that they are distracting or disturbing. Generally, cooling fans are the biggest noise makers. Fans can be found on CPU coolers, power supplies, graphics cards, and integrated into cases. We recommend that you find reviews that comment on the noise generated by any components with fans that you are considering.
Note that fans are designed into components for a reason --- to keep them cool. This is also an important aspect of component selection. Expect to compromise between cooling capability and low audible noise when selecting components.
Mainboards, RAM, CPUs, GPUs, Network Adapters, and Audio Chips
The selection of mainboards, RAM, CPUs, GPUs, network adapters, and audio chips are closely related to one another and crucial to a successful LinuxMCE installation. Their selection is covered in detail in the mainboard selection article.
We recommend an optical drive that is connected to your mainboard using either SATA or PATA. SATA and PATA optical drives generally work with LinuxMCE out-of-the-box. If you are considering an optical drive connected over USB or FireWire, be sure to verify that other Linux users have had success with the model you are considering.
The optical drive that you select should at least support reading compact discs and DVDs. Optical disc writing capabilities are not used by LinuxMCE, so an optical drive capable of burning discs offers little advantage over read-only drives under normal use. You might, however, want to include an optical drive capable of writing on your core computer, in case you want to copy data for maintenance or backup purposes.
Blu-ray playback is not supported from optical drives built-in to media directors. Blu-ray support can still be integrated into your LinuxMCE system in other ways. The blu-ray playback limitation is inherited from Linux itself. That is, once Linux supports blu-ray playback, LinuxMCE will likely support it soon after.
For purposes of hardware selection, it is helpful to divide the storage of a LinuxMCE system into two categories:
- System Hard Drive - This is the hard drive that the core boots from. All system files in the entire LinuxMCE system are stored on the system hard drive.
- Media Storage - These are hard drives used to store media like videos and music.
System Hard Drive
We recommend that you include a hard drive in your core that will be used only for storing the LinuxMCE system and the operating system it is running on. This drive should be a physically separate drive from any drive that is used to store your media. It should be connected to your mainboard using a SATA or PATA connection.
When you install or upgrade LinuxMCE, the process will normally require overwriting the entire partition where LinuxMCE is installed. If you keep media on that partition it will be deleted. Keeping your media on a partition separate from your system drive allows your media to survive upgrading and reinstallation of LinuxMCE.
Media kept on a separate partition from the system drive on the same physical hard disk can survive re-installation of LinuxMCE. However, the risk of permanently losing access to the media on the media partition is much higher than if it were on a physically separate hard drive. Because of this, we recommend that media be stored on a physically separate hard drive from the system.
The system hard drive on the core will store the operating system and LinuxMCE software for both the core itself and each of the media directors. This has two effects worth noting:
- No hard drive is needed in media directors. Hard drives can be connected to media directors to store media but will not be used to host LinuxMCE system files.
- Each media director you include in your LinuxMCE system will require its own space on the core's system hard drive.
Any hard drive connected to either the core or any of the media directors can be used by LinuxMCE to store media. In addition, any network attached storage on the INTERNAL network can also be used by LinuxMCE for media storage. The best way to store your media depends on a variety of factors.
The following are common locations for media storage used by other users:
- hard drives connected by SATA or PATA to media directors or the core (in either JBOD or RAID configurations)
- hard drives in external enclosures connected via USB to media directors or the core
- networked attached storage devices
Most computer cases that can physically contain all of the components of your LinuxMCE computers will work just fine. We do recommend that you select the appropriate style or form factor of case for the location where the computer will reside. There are four different styles of case that are commonly used to house LinuxMCE computers:
- Tower - A normal desktop PC case. They are typically used for cores and centralized media directors and kept out-of-sight in utility rooms, closets, and basements.
- Rackmount - Also used for cores and centralized media directors and kept out-of-sight. The advantage of rackmount cases is that they can be neatly mounted in a rack alongside other computer and network equipment.
- HTPC - Used for hybrids and media directors where the aesthetics are important and there is room for home theater components. These cases generally look like other home theater components.
- Nettop - Small form factor, used mainly as media directors, where hiding or unobtrusive mounting of the media director is important. Nettops can often be mounted completely out-of-sight behind the display.
TV Tuner Cards
The Hauppauge PVR-150, PVR-250, and PVR-500 are the officially supported TV tuner cards. They work out-of-the-box with LinuxMCE. These are all standard definition TV tuner cards. Some of these cards are difficult to find new, however, they are widely available used.
Many LinuxMCE systems incorporate multiple TV tuners. This is because each tuner can only be tuned to one channel at a time. The number of tuners you need is the sum of the following:
- the maximum number of media directors you want to be able to simultaneously watch different channels
- the number of channels you want to be able to record simultaneously
If you intend to record two programs in adjacent time slots on different channels you should budget two tuners for that task. This is because the beginning of the second program may start before the end of the first.
Suppose, for example, you have two media directors. Using four TV tuners would allow you to simultaneously record two channels and watch different channels on each of the media directors.
TV tuner cards can be incorporated into the core and any media directors. They are shared throughout the system regardless of where they are physically located.