Friday, November 30, 2007

Decisions, Decisions!

Since I posted my first entry in this blog, I've had occasion to re-think my plans as far as the hard drives on my system are concerned. It now appears that going with a fresh installation of Windows XP Home Edition, followed by installing Kubuntu 7.10 and Linux MCE 7.10, on my new SATA hard drive (which is due to arrive either tomorrow or Monday, December 3rd) makes the most sense. Then, too, I would still have the two old drives available for backup purposes.

The one major potential fly in the ointment, so to speak, will be porting over all of my old data files from my current primary hard drive to the new hard drive. While Windows XP does have a built-in facility to assist in this process, the fact that I have a dual-boot setup on my current system could pose a problem. It may, in fact, still be necessary for me to remove open SUSE 10.2 from my current system before I proceed with this step. This, in turn, would require that I use the "fixmbr" command to return the Master Boot Record in my Windows partition to its original state, a prospect that, to say the least, makes me nervous! Still, I may have no alternative to this procedure, unless I copy the data files over manually, which would take considerably longer.

Some readers of this blog may be wondering why I don't simply chuck Windows XP altogether, and simply go with a Linux MCE-only system. The answer is that there are several Windows applications which I am currently using for which I have yet to find a suitable substitute. Chief among these is Finale MusicPrint, a subset of the well-known Finale music notation program package. Because the church of which I am a member has chosen Finale as their preferred music notation software, and since I have several projects in mind for use by my church, it is necessary that I use Finale or one of its derivatives (MusicPrint in this case), which, of course, requires Windows XP. I am aware of the NoteEdit and Rosegarden packages for Linux, and have looked them both over. However, neither one of them has the specific features that I need for the kind of music arranging and writing I am working on, particularly with regard to organ scores. I may, however, see about using the Lily Pond package under Linux for typesetting purposes, since it is supposed to be able to accept Finale music files as input. I will need to go over Lily Pond's documentation to be certain on this point.

One other minor irritation at this point in time lies in the fact that the wheel in my optical scrolling mouse appears to have failed within the last few days. This will probably require me to buy a new mouse at some point in time. Unfortunately, the make and model of mouse I am now using is apparently no longer being manufactured. This, in turn, means that I will need to scour the Internet in an attempt to find a suitable replacement. With all the makes and models of computer mice now on the market, this will be a daunting task, especially with all the holiday specials and sales now underway. The amount of money involved probably will not be all that great, but the investment of time required, and the resulting aggravation, is quite another story! Still, it looks like I may have no other choice; this kind of research is basic to putting together ANY kind of computer system, no matter what the computer is to be used for.

In the meantime, since I am expecting my new DVD burner to be arriving any day now, I will also be checking on the Internet to see if I can download an "advance copy," so to speak, of the owner's manual for this particular drive. Hopefully, that document will have information as to what brands of blank CD and DVD media they recommend. I also hope that this new drive will not be as picky in this regard as my current drive is when it comes to writing DVDs!

The next few days are liable to be busy ones, as my new drives arrive, and I begin the actual process of installation of both hardware and software. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Linux MCE system--The Beginning

Greetings! One of the purposes of this blog will be to document the development of my PC into a full-fledged "poor man's" Media Center or Home Theater PC. Right now, my setup is as follows:
Generic mid-tower case
Ultra X-Finity 600-watt power supply
Gateway "Midway 2 PE" (Intel d865-GRH) motherboard
Intel Pentium 4 2.3 Ghz. CPU
1 GB of DDR400 (Corsair) Value Select RAM (2 x 512 MB)
GeForce 5200 video card (Nvidia) (AGP)
1-120 GB ATA/133 hard drive
1-80 GB ATA/133 hard drive
Sound Blaster Live! 5.1 sound card
ATI TV Wonder Pro TV tuner card
LG GSA-4163B DVD/CD-ROM burner
Westell WireSpeed DSL modem, operating in Ethernet mode
ISP: BellSouth DSL Extreme 3.0 (the highest speed DSL my phone line will accommodate)
OS: Dual-boot system using either Windows XP Home Edition with SP2 or openSUSE Linux version 10.2

I am currently in the final stages of planning a major upgrade/conversion to this setup. For one thing, I plan to switch my hard drive setup to a single, 400 GB SATA-150 hard drive. This will not only increase my total storage capacity, but my overall system speed as well. This will be especially important in terms of video playback and recording, particularly with regard to DVD and VHS playback. I have several VHS tapes that I wish to transcribe to DVD, but right now, my hard drives are simply too slow to permit this. Upgrading to a SATA hard drive will, I hope, help to solve this problem.

I am also preparing to upgrade to an ASUS LightScribe 18x DVD burner. This will help me in terms of labeling any CDs or DVDs I produce. Also, hopefully, the ASUS unit will be less "picky" as to the brands of blank media it will work with successfully, especially blank DVDs.

Later on, I will be upgrading from 1 GB to 2 GB of DDR 400 RAM. That, however, will depend on financial constraints. Later on, I may also add another SATA hard drive, depending on my finances, and on how the system as a whole operates.

The most important change, however, will be the removal of open SUSE Linux from my system, and the installation Linux MCE 07.10, which is due to be released within the next few days. (As readers may know, Linux MCE is an add-on to the Kubuntu distribution of Linux. For technical reasons, the version numbers of Kubuntu and Linux MCE must be the same in order for the installation to succeed.) This, in turn, will require me to remove open SUSE from my hard drive altogether, which I have never had to do before with a dual-boot setup such as I have. I am naturally somewhat nervous about this, and am checking to find out how best to proceed. My primary concern, as you might expect, is to prevent my Windows XP partition from harm, as I have a number of files there which I do not wish to lose, and I do not currently have a backup procedure in place that I can afford. I may, in fact, simply install Windows XP Home and Linux MCE on my new hard drives once it arrives, then copy my existing Windows data files onto it, keeping my two old drives as a backup system. Kludgey, I know, but that may be the only way that will work, given my circumstances. I will wait until my new hard drive arrives before making a final decision; by that time, I should have enough expert advice to guide me safely.

In days to come, I will be exploring other interests on this blog, but for now, I will center primarily on developing what I call a "poor man's MCE PC". Stay tuned!