Off the shelf PC to double as HTPC/home office PC?

#1
Now that I understand HTPCs a little more, I am ready to start investigating what will work best for me. My main reason for wanting to set one up in the first place is to integrate OTA TV, Hulu and other free services (I know I'll need a plug-in for Hulu, etc...I found a good article on how to do it here, and Netflix, which is the only media service I plan to pay for besides an internet connection from here on out. Finally, I want to be able to pause, rewind, and record live TV just as we do now with our satellite company DVR. The key thing here is going to be selling it to my wife who is skeptical. She too hates paying for TV, but does appreciate the convenience of satellite, the DVR they provide, etc... She also is not exactly tech savvy-I need something that she can operate with a remote control, which seems doable with Windows Media Center.

My plan is this-we need a new computer anyway. We both have laptops which are both fine for web browsing and checking e-mail, but over the years we've ended up with important documents, photos, and other stuff saved who-knows-where on each computer. It would be nice to just have ONE computer where we save everything (backed up of course). That computer could also be located in our home office, adjacent to the family room where the TV will be located. It would not be difficult to run an HDMI cable through the wall to the TV from the PC. The PC could chug away (I understand that dedicated HTPCs are much quieter) in the other room without bothering anyone. With an RF remote like this one I should be able to control the HTPC from the family room without a problem.

So basically I'm looking for a computer that can serve as a web browser, a place for my daughter (currently 4 months) to learn to use the computer in a supervised way, a repository for photos, documents, etc...and something to pay our bills, do our monthly budget, so forth. Since I don't need a dedicated home theater PC that is ultra quiet and is packaged in a sleek case that looks like it belongs on a media center rack, I'm hoping that I can get a good deal on something off the shelf from one the major electronics retailers either brick and mortar or online. I see that a lot of companies are even selling refurbished PCs now-if one of those works and it's the right price I'm sold. The problem is I have ZERO knowledge of what I need in terms of processor speed, hard drive capacity, RAM, etc...in order to have a viewing experience that is comparable to cable or satellite. I'll break down the requirements/questions so that people much more knowledgeable than I can hopefully recommend something:

Storage - I have no concept of how much is enough, too much, or too little. The DVR we have now (Dish Network) will store 800 hours of SD programming. that seems to work fine for us-in fact, it's probably too much. I don't think we've ever reached capacity on it and we record lots of cable junk that we never watch. We will be recording the major network shows (that's all we'll be getting with OTA TV anyway) and catching up on them over the weekend. I see us recording maybe 5-10 hours of TV a week and deleting it the following week. Other than that, we'll be making use of the pause/rewind feature pretty often.

As I said before, also on this computer we plan to store our library of digital photos and important documents. The digital photos probably number around 4000 or so high quality images (9 Megapixel) at this point and will continue to grow as our daughter and our family grows. I have them all backed up on a thumb drive now and I think they take up about 3GB. Important documents are mostly Excel spreadsheets, PDFs, Word documents, but everything we'll ever put on there will probably fall short of 1GB. Given that, how much storage will we need? I see that this refurbished PC has a 1TB hard drive. Will that be enough to store all of our stuff plus function as a DVR?

Speed/RAM/Cache - I'll readily admit that I don't entirely understand these things, but I do know that they affect how fast you can access/process all of that stored information. How much processor speed do I need? The computer referenced above has the following:

Intel® Pentium® processor G620
Processor Speed 2.6GHz
Cache Memory 3MB
System Memory (RAM) 4GB
System Memory (RAM) Expandable To 8GB
Type of Memory (RAM) DDR3 SDRAM
Hard Drive Type SATA (7200 rpm)
Hard Drive Size 1TB
Graphics Intel® HD
Video Memory Up to 1696MB total available

Is this adequate, not enough, too much, etc...?
 

MrPogi

Moderator, , Webmaster of Cache Free TV
Staff member
#2
I really would avoid "sharing" a media center PC. Doing 2 things at once can really screw things up. To run a combo home office / HTPC I'd think a minimum of a 3 Ghz multi-core processor would be needed.
Plus, the setup you describe would need to be dual monitor. Some (okay most) video card / TV / monitor combinations are going to "freak out" at some point if one of the display devices is turned off. And good luck getting it back, I have trouble with it here at work sometimes, and I deal with a dual monitor situation every day.

Consider a dedicated HTPC like the one you are considering. You can probably get away with a slower and less expensive computer for the office PC, as long as you are running nothing more intensive than MS office.

If you network it all together, you can share hard drive space easily.
 

CptlA

DTVUSA Member
#3
The G620 should be fine for what you need. Windows Media Center is so nice for ease of use and controlling, especially with a Windows Media Center remote. 1TB for storage is enough too. I was going to suggest even using an Apple Mac Mini, but for the price of the G620 and specs, I don't think you can go wrong.
 
#4
I really would avoid "sharing" a media center PC. Doing 2 things at once can really screw things up. To run a combo home office / HTPC I'd think a minimum of a 3 Ghz multi-core processor would be needed.
Plus, the setup you describe would need to be dual monitor. Some (okay most) video card / TV / monitor combinations are going to "freak out" at some point if one of the display devices is turned off. And good luck getting it back, I have trouble with it here at work sometimes, and I deal with a dual monitor situation every day.

Consider a dedicated HTPC like the one you are considering. You can probably get away with a slower and less expensive computer for the office PC, as long as you are running nothing more intensive than MS office.

If you network it all together, you can share hard drive space easily.
Our HTPC doubles as a PC at home. Problem I see is having a youngin mess around with it. You'd be surprised what a little one can do as they're "learning" to use a computer.

We use a Celeron processor with our HTPC and we've only had a couple of problems with 1080p before. A dual core should definitely be more than up to the task.
 

MrPogi

Moderator, , Webmaster of Cache Free TV
Staff member
#5
Our HTPC doubles as a PC at home. Problem I see is having a youngin mess around with it. You'd be surprised what a little one can do as they're "learning" to use a computer.

We use a Celeron processor with our HTPC and we've only had a couple of problems with 1080p before. A dual core should definitely be more than up to the task.
Yea, the kids.. and learning is difficult for some adults, too.
One thing I found that was great for my HTPC is this Mini Wireless Keyboard (Built-in TouchPad/Laser Pointer)
Makes dealing with a browser a lot easier.

And the laser is a great cat toy.
 

Fringe Reception

Super Moderator, Chief Content Editor
Staff member
#6
... We both have laptops which are both fine for web browsing and checking e-mail, but over the years we've ended up with important documents, photos, and other stuff saved who-knows-where on each computer. It would be nice to just have ONE computer where we save everything (backed up of course).
Badfish,

I agree you should dedicate a Media Computer to one job and I strongly recommend either a portable USB hard drive or USB Thumb Drives for a backup of your documents, photos and other important files. 'Memory' is pretty cheap these days and unless you have reason to regularly access 6 year old tax files, keep 'em of of your Media System.

Jim
 
#7
Badfish,

I agree you should dedicate a Media Computer to one job and I strongly recommend either a portable USB hard drive or USB Thumb Drives for a backup of your documents, photos and other important files. 'Memory' is pretty cheap these days and unless you have reason to regularly access 6 year old tax files, keep 'em of of your Media System.

Jim
If you network it all together, you can share hard drive space easily.
It makes sense to me now why it would be a bad idea. As Fringe said, memory is pretty cheap these days but I would like to have everything in one spot. Can drive sharing be easily accomplished with just a wireless router? I'm familiar with the concept as we have shared drives at my office, but I have no clue how it works. I just know that when I want to save something I go to "My Computer," select the appropriate drive, and save it. If I can set it up that way we could keep the crappy old laptops and do our banking, work, etc...on them and save the files on the wirelessly networked PC hard drive. I already have two 8GB memory sticks which serve as backups for important documents now, so we can just continue to do that as a precaution.
 

Aaron62

Contributor
Staff member
#8
It makes sense to me now why it would be a bad idea. As Fringe said, memory is pretty cheap these days but I would like to have everything in one spot. Can drive sharing be easily accomplished with just a wireless router? I'm familiar with the concept as we have shared drives at my office, but I have no clue how it works. I just know that when I want to save something I go to "My Computer," select the appropriate drive, and save it. If I can set it up that way we could keep the crappy old laptops and do our banking, work, etc...on them and save the files on the wirelessly networked PC hard drive. I already have two 8GB memory sticks which serve as backups for important documents now, so we can just continue to do that as a precaution.
Networking used to really be a pain in the rear, but it really has improved over the past 5 years. Drive sharing can be pretty simple to setup. What operating system do you plan on using?

Speaking of backup, I'm on Apple now (except for my HTPC) which is soooo easy to set for automated backups with Time Machine to my external hard drive. I wonder if Windows 7 has an automated backup system yet?? Anyone??
 
#9
Networking used to really be a pain in the rear, but it really has improved over the past 5 years. Drive sharing can be pretty simple to setup. What operating system do you plan on using?

Speaking of backup, I'm on Apple now (except for my HTPC) which is soooo easy to set for automated backups with Time Machine to my external hard drive. I wonder if Windows 7 has an automated backup system yet?? Anyone??
I'll be using Windows 7 on each computer.
 

scajjr2

DTVUSA Member
#11
I think one thing you mentioned was DVR function. You will need a tv tuner card in the htpc to be able to do that.

As for using it as a htpc and office computer I don't think you'd have any issues as long as 2 people aren't trying to use it at the same time (one using it connected to the TV while another using it on a monitor in the office room).

Windows 7 networking is very easy to setup. Also if your laptops are running XP you will be able to transfer files to and from them to the Win 7 machine too.

We have 6 computers (2 wired, 4 wireless, all Win7), a Synology Diskstation network storage unit (with a 3Tb drive in it),networked laser printer, wireless Epson all-in-one inkjet, wife's iPad2 and a couple smartphones all connected using a Buffalo WZR-HP-G300NH router and a Trendnet 1Gb green switch. My computer and wife's desktop up in her office/craft room have TV tuners connected to the OTA antenna setup in the attic. I have dual 24" monitors on my setup so I can watch TV, web surf, play games. In our bedroom we have a mini computer with an Intel Atom 1.6Ghz dual core/4Gb ram/500Gb HD/wirelessN hooked to a LCD TV. I built a nice HTPC (AMD 3Ghz dual core/4Gb ram/1Tb HD/HD6850 1Gb vid card/Gb LAN/Antec Fusion Remote case) which connects to our plasma TV. I have all of our movies, shows, music on the Diskstation so any computer in the house has access to it all at any time.

We also use the same mini wireless keyboard as MrPogi, they work great.

Sam
 
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