Leon's Weblog

May 9, 2014

Bringing New Life to an Aging HTPC

Filed under: Gadgets,Personal — Leon @ 10:20 am

SSD I last wrote about Designing an HTPC back in 2010 and 2011 so I figured that it’s time for an update. Overall, the setup is still very much functional but can benefit from some new technologies. Below are some upgrades that I have made over the years.

Boot Time
Waiting for the HTPC to boot was one of my biggest annoyances in its day-to-day use. Fortunately, due to rapidly declining prices of Solid State Drives, there is a quick and inexpensive solution. The challenge was figuring out how to add another drive into my existing Antec MicroFusion Remote 350 HTPC case which only had one 3.5″ bay. I didn’t want to replace the existing 2TB HDD which was good enough for storing media or loose the bluray drive so I looked for another place to mount a 2.5″ SSD. The easiest solution was to use one of the spare PCI slots and mount the new SSD drive to it using a bracket (several options are available on both Amazon and eBay). The drive that I picked out was the Samsung 840 EVO-Series 120GB 2.5″ SSD which I think is the perfect size for storing the OS and applications partition.

With the second drive installed, migrating the operating system to it was trivial using the free Partition Master program from EaseUS. The program has an option for OS migration with a straight forward wizard to guide the process (as well as SSD optimization). Just note to size the Windows recovery partition accordingly because Partition Master does not do it correctly (100MB for Windows 7 and 250MB for Windows 8). It took about 15 minutes to copy over the OS partition from the HDD to the SSD. So, for about $100, this upgrade reduced the HTPC boot time to under 10 seconds while making the box run slightly quieter.

Wireless Speakers (Multi-Room Audio)
The multi-room audio setup that I had relied on a patch to XBMC which allowed simultaneously outputting audio to two devices (a feature Windows had in XP that was later removed in Windows 7 and up). Unfortunately, until recently, this patch was available only for XBMC versions 10 and 11. I looked for alternatives using custom sound drivers but it just wasn’t the same. Fortunately, a new dual audio patch is now available for XMBC 12.3 so I can finally upgrade to the latest version without loosing existing functionality.