Sunday, November 15, 2009

Teaching an old Dell new tricks

For the past week or so I've been using our Macbook Pro as the backend to the HTPC setup. Technically, it works well, but Shanna (the wife) and I both use it for other things so I really would rather it not be tied down doing HTPC stuff. Therefore my current project has been to resurrect my 2003 vintage Dell Inspiron 1100 notebook PC as the HTPC backend. Here's what I want it to do, roughly in order of importance:
  1. A video file server to the WDTV for videos
  2. Record TV from the HDHomerun
  3. A Bittorrent client for when that's appropriate
  4. A file server to the Mac for iPhoto, iTunes, and file backup.
  5. A media server to the XBox 360 since I don't like how the WDTV does photos
  6. A music jukebox, preferably controlled from the Mac or one of our iPhone
My first task was to get it up and running with Linux. It, of course, came with a version of Windows, but with Windows up to date date it ran remarkably slow. Besides I wanted to learn something about Linux. In principle a Linux server should also work well with both the WDTV and the Mac.

I decided to go with Ubuntu. I recently set up version 9.04 on a old HP tc4200 tablet PC for Shanna and it worked great. (She ultimately needed Windows on it, but I wanted to make sure it worked before I went through the trouble of installing Windows). Ubuntu 9.10 is available now but I already had the 9.04 CD so I figured that was good enough. Unfortunately, I really should have done more research before I attempted this on the Dell because apparently Ubuntu has problems with the Intel video chipset in this particular model. 3 different flavors of Linux later (all from ancient CDs I already had) it ended up working. The trick was to disable the splash screen, upgrade Ubuntu to version 9.10 and use the Intel video driver. It almost certainly would have been easier if I installed Ubuntu 9.10 from the get go. Oh well.

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