Mac Media Center Discussion : Hardware

Posted by: w2ed

Mac Media Center Discussion : Hardware - 11/23/09 02:18 PM

First, please note that this is one of two discussions I am starting here, and this is based on the hardware side of it. (Look for me in the programming forums for the software side at .)

I have a Mac that I have pieced together from parts online. it is a Quicksilver Powermac G4 Dual 800 Mhz processor with maxed out (1.5 gigs, in case you didn't know) RAM, 3 hard drives (6, 80, and a 160) and a DVD burner, currently running OS X 10.4 and OS 9. It has a 5 USB/3 Firewire (1 of each are internal) card, an Alchemy TV/DVR Card (should be 2, but the cable part of one is busted, and it may not be much good anyways), the Airport card, and an ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128 Mg Graphics card. The motherboard recently got upgraded to the 2002 version, meaning it can now take full advantage of the 160 gig HD in it (although it will need a reformat to do so.) To top it off, I have a Griffin Radioshark AM/FM tuner and an external 500 Gig WD MyBook.

There are a number of things I want to do to it or ask about:

#1.) This particular case has heating and fan problems galore, and if possible, I'd like to completely change the casing. Since it's going to be the Media Center computer when done, it would make sense to either retrofit an existing PC Media Center Case or build one from scratch. Which would be the better option, and where would the best place for materials for both silencing and cooling be found?

#2.) What would be the best way to add an internal hub setup? There are certain components such as BlueTooth and 802.11n wireless, as well as adding front USB and Firewire ports, to which this would be handy.

#3.) If I have to build the case from scratch, there are a few things I will want: Front function buttons, a Volume knob, some sort of Audio output (for headphones) and a small touchscreen LCD to act as a second monitor for functionality. The volume knob will be the easiest (hack a Griffen Powermate, hook it up to said hub in question 2), but what about Mac-compatible function keys and the small touchscreen?

#4.) I want to keep everything internal and eliminate as few external components as possible. I'd also like, however, to try to use 10.5, if possible - something the DVR card is not capable of. Since I'm interested in upgrading the sound and adding SATA, and since I know the Alchemy card itself is essentially a modified Hauppage card, would I be able to buy and modify the parts to replace this card with something more up-to-date? It'd be nice to add a dual tuner on one card without having to buy two or three USB dongles (though, of course, I could use the setup from question 2 for this, I suppose...)

#5.) Are there working PATA SSD's that would work for a boot drive? If not, would making a boot drive from one or two USB Flash Drives also work?

#6.) I've seen a few listings on eBay for Mirror Door Drive CPUs that say they're compatible with my motherboard. Is this, in fact, possible? Is there any limitations to be aware of? If not, will I see great DVD-MP4 conversion gains or dual DVR capabilities by upgrading to the 1.6/1.8 duals currently found online?

#7.) Finally, there is a cost factor to consider - If I have to upgrade the processor to see the best speed gains on my DVR/Mp4 conversions, I might want to go the route of the hackintosh, since I'd gain heavily on speed at a fraction of the cost. (Some of the stuff would remain the same - I need to upgrade the HD's anyways, and it'd be nice to have the Bluetooth and other stuff built-in.) Which route sounds better?

Posted by: TCPMeta

Re: Mac Media Center Discussion : Hardware - 11/25/09 09:34 PM

Your best bet is to build a case from scratch. You can use a PC ATX style case that comes in hundreds of styles but you would have to hack it up to make things fit. You would be spending at the most 50 bucks to build the case if you go for the proper materials.

All you would need really is some metal snips, a hammer, a saw, a drill, pop rivet gun or plenty of bolts.

For the function buttons you just need a push button for the power and maybe a LED to indicant power. You can just soldier onto the function board or if you're creative build your own function board.

As for a SSD you could use a IDE/ATA to compactflash adapter and toss in a 4GB or 8GB card and use that as the primary drive for OS X then use the 160GB drive for media.

Your current CPU is plenty for DVD and MP4 media. Even if you upgrade the CPU it won't really make conversions any much faster.

You can buy a cheap-o USB bluetooth dongle and it will work just fine. To add a internal USB hub you can buy a USB expansion card that has a internal USB connector so you can just plug in the hub and use a extra drive molex connector to drive 5 or 12 volts to the hub. Or since you're turning this into a DVR you can sodier directly to the logicboard and go the wireless keyboard and mouse route on the hub you plan to install.

Before putting any money into it make two price lists. A list to mod the QS to the way you seem fit and a list for a hackintosh. This way you can go with what is cheaper and also think about future ideas for the DVR.
Posted by: w2ed

Re: Mac Media Center Discussion : Hardware - 11/26/09 07:32 AM

Thanks for the input - a few points to make:

- The drives are the only planned upgrades in the near future that are definite: apart from a boot disk, I want bigger media drives, and from past experience, my DVD collection won't fit onto one 500 gig HD. I want to get at least a couple of 1 TB drives, which will require SATA, but at least with that route I will have enough storage space for most of my stuff.

- Have you tried watching Hulu or Youtube from a G4 lately? With MP4 playback, I had issues with playback until I finally upgraded the video card; unfortunately, that's now at its max. even with files native to the computer, it can hang up - for example, "The Dark knight", the digital copy i downloaded from Apple, plays back poorly on my machine. If that's not compelling enough for a processor upgrade, don't know what is.

- The USB/Firewire card I have has internal connecters, but they're the same as their outer connectors.

- If I get a media reader, it will be for camera and phone stuff, not for OS booting - good idea, though.

I'll probably play a little tomorrow with a pricing list for comparison - should have thought of that first. Like the idea for the internal hub - ow if I can find some big enough for my needs... smile
Posted by: w2ed

Re: Mac Media Center Discussion : Hardware - 12/04/09 10:36 PM

So after doing a little research, I came up with a price comparison for this machine, which I have here. Missing from this list are parts for the case alone (which would more likely than not be custom parts), components I plan to transfer between machines, and a few key components and accessories: TV, Amplifier, iPod Touch, Blu-Ray Player, Surge Protector/battery backup, Speakers, and connectors/plugs.

Common parts between the two machines:
1 $007.99 $007.99 3.5 Inch USB Front Port (Will be used internally)
1 $029.99 $029.99 D-Link Bluetooth Module (Will be used internally)
1 $063.99 $063.99 32 GB USB Flash Drive (Will be used for startup device)
1 $024.99 $024.99 Gearhead Wireless Keyboard/Mouse Combo
1 $039.99 $039.99 Wireless: EdiMax 802.11 b/g/n PCI Card *
2 $099.99 $199.98 TV Tuner: WinTV-HVR-950 for Macs and PCs
3 $024.99 $074.97 MacAlly Web Cam
3 $004.99 $014.97 Microphones
4 $084.99 $339.96 1 TB Western Digital Cavier Green HD's

Total $593.85

Custom-Built PC Parts Alone:
1 $089.99 $089.99 Power Supply: Rosewill Green Series 630W Continuous 80 Plus Certified *
1 $084.99 $084.99 Motherboard: Gigabyte LG 775 Intel P43 ATX Motherboard *
1 $167.99 $167.99 Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 Wolfdale 30 Ghz
1 $129.99 $129.99 Graphics Card: PNY NVidea GeForce 9800 GTX+ *
1 $006.99 $006.99 Processor Thermal Compound: Arctic Silver 5
2 $096.99 $193.98 Memory: Patriot ViperII 4 Gig (2x2) DDR2 SDRAM 1066

Total $673.93

Mac Parts:
1 $039.99 $039.99 SATA Card: SYBA SATA II PCI Controller Card
1 $799.00 $799.00 Other World Computing ( Processor Upgrade: Newer Tech MAXPower G4/7448 Dual 1.8 Ghz G4 Processor Upgrade

Total $838.99

* Denotes where listed rebates - Prices are before adding in the rebates.

First, a huge note: I tried to get parts that were either listed as Mac-Friendly on these sites, or in the case of the hackintosh builds, were listed or proven in a couple of online forums as compatible. As always, parts can change, and as a result prices.

Second, I did not include operating system costs. In both cases this is an upgrade; however, in the case of Intel-built, I could add an extra Thumb Drive and Windows for a dual-boot machine (or to use Windows in a Virtual Box.) If I were to stick with the Mac, I'd be looking for OS 10.5, aka Leopard, since Snow Leopard, aka 10.6, has no support, official or otherwise, with my machine currently. (Good luck finding it for less than $200 - the cheapest I saw was on for $211.00. Snow Leopard is not only easier to find, it's much cheaper as well.)

Finally, I could have made the PC Parts more expensive, just as I could have added more to the Mac side, easily. There's only one thing that can not be fixed, however: The cost-to-performance ratio. Everything on the PC side outpaces the Mac Side by significant numbers, which will result in fast RIPS, more reliable DVR functionality, and certainly more machines it will be capable to emulate. As much as I want to argue with common sense, it would be far cheaper to start from scratch than it will be to upgrade.

It's worth noting, though, that the upgrading with Mac Parts has one key advantage over the build-from-scratch PC Parts: there will be little-to-no hacks necessary to complete this. The counter argument, however, comes from the software side.

Sorry for the delay in doing this.