HTPC Upgrades and HD
I ran out of space on my media centre a while ago, but with the floods pushing HDD prices up so high I held off ordering a new drive. They haven’t quite dropped back completely yet, but there were low enough so me to consider again. Freeview HD has also made it to my region at last, so I figured I would give the machine a bit of an upgrade in time for the Euros (football on ITV was always very soft on my big screen).
After a lot of hunting around there appeared to be just two HD dual-tuner cards around, the Blackgold BGT3620 and the TBS 6280. In the end I decided on the TBS for two reasons: it was cheaper (by £30) and it had an aerial pass-through so I could feed it on to my existing card without having to split the aerial feed (again).
For the hard drive, well, I’ve got all Western Digital drives in the machine and they’ve always served me well, so it made sense to pick another Caviar Green to go in with the others. Looking at the pricing, the 2TB drives were offering good price-per-GB (the 3TB drives were better by only a few pence).
I had a problem in that I’d used up all the SATA ports on my motherboard, so I could either pull out one of the smaller existing drives, or buy an expansion card. Having checked I had power, I opted to expand (figuring it can be re-used should I upgrade the rest at some point as few motherboards go beyond 5/6 SATA connectors). I spent a lot of time digging around looking at various makes and models from different stores, prices varied wildly and, while I didn’t need speed, it seemed a good idea to go for a SATA III card to future-proof it.
So I ended up with:
- TBS 6280 HD tuner – £89.95 including postage via Southern Satellite’s eBay store (hyper_electronic)
- Western Digital 2TB Caviar Green – £89.06 from Amazon
- Syba 2-Port SATA III PCI-E card (SY-PEX40039, although it also says it’s an Asmedia ASM1061) – £20.99 from Amazon
The only part of the installation I needed a screwdriver for was attaching the HDD to the sled in my Fractal Design Define R2 case, the rest just required undoing a few thumbscrews and everything went in nice and easy.
I put the Syba SATA controller into the x16 PCI-E slot despite it being tiny as I’d read reports the x1 slots are throttled, it’s version 2.0 compatible which meant I was able to get full speed out of the card (earlier versions max out below 6 Gbps on SATA III).
The Syba card included a SATA lead which was nice.
The TBS tuner went into the x1 slot and again, it isn’t a massive card (though it does get quite warm). I do need to get a smaller aerial cable for the pass-through to the Nova T 500 tuner that is also in the box.
To get it all up and running I first installed the drivers for the Syba card from the supplied CD, all went fine and I rebooted to find it displaying at POST although it didn’t detect the HDD. I went to the Syba site and downloaded newer drivers and then I realised it was because I had connected the SATA lead but not the power. With that attached it found it fine.
It still wasn’t showing in the list of drives yet, so I headed to Disk Management and found I had to initialise the drive (I picked MBR type rather than the other option) and then I could format it and voila, drive visible and showing at full 6 Gbps.
The tuner took a bit more effort as when I did the scan in Media Center with the new card it found no HD channels. Slight worry. After a bit of reading I found that Media Center will use the first tuner installed to scan, as the non-HD tuner was first in, it was using that. The easy way around that is, when Media Center does the tuner scan and asks if you want to continue the setup, you select the manual option, deselect the other tuner, then when it prompts to setup another signal do the remaining tuner(s) and it should scan using both and I ended up with both SD and HD channels showing correctly.
So all in and working correctly. Next I grabbed a copy of the Guide Tool to let me remove some channels I didn’t want and move the HD channels that were down in the 50s up further. I still need to work on that. I’m also thinking about trying to increase the number of channels visible in the guide (with something like the My Channel Logos tool).