Friday, October 12, 2012

A new MusicPC

A few weeks ago, I made some changes to my dedicated MusicPC.  Here are the changes and the things not changed:

old  ==> new configuration

Intel G6300 Core 2 Duo CPU (1.8 GHz)  ==> Intel G530 Sandy Bridge CPU (2.4 GHz)
2 GB RAM  ==> 8 GB RAM
Intel G945 based micro-ATX motherboard         ==> Intel H67 based micro-ATX motherboard
(2 PCI slots)                                                          (1 PCI slot)

Windows XP Professional                         ==> Windows 7 Home Professional
JRiver Media Center 16  ==> MC 17
UltraVNC remote control s/w                    ==> not installed yet

(no KVM switch)                                     ==> KVM switch (USB keyboard and mouse)

Antec Solo case                                       ==> no change
Seasonic SII 380W power supply            ==> no change

Seagate 500 GB 7200 RPM hard drive   ==> 128 GB Crucial m4 SSD (OS boot drive)
Western Digital 2 TB 5400 RPM 3.5" hard drive ==> no change (music storage)

Some notes:

1. I was feeling cheap.  I kept parts that still worked well and chose new parts that were adequately fast and not expensive.  The changes cost about $ 400.  The process took time of building the new system took time and was not fun but it was very routine.

2. The G945 motherboard had been a trouble free sweatheart for over 5 years but a couple of USB ports had failed.  I wanted to switch to a new system before a wider failure occurred.  Windows XP had been fine but I wanted  to have support for > 2 TB hard drives (for backup) on the MusicPC.

2. IvyBridge components were available but I chose a Sandy Bridge CPU and motherboard.  The G530 CPU chip was fast enough and cheap.  The Intel H67 based uATX motherboard was cheap and had a PCI slot that allowed me to continue to use my ESI Juli@ soundcard.  The H77 based equivalent motherboard was significantly more expensive and did not have a PCI slot.

3. I had been operating the MusicPC using UltraVNC software for remote control from other PCs (my PC, my spouse's PC and a laptop.)  Now I'm using a KVM switch to control the MusicPC from my personal PC and JRiver's TRemote functionality to control JRiver MC from other PCs.

4. I did only minimal tuning on the new configuration.  I turned off Windows update, hard drive indexing, no anti-virus and no system restore checkpointing.  I wanted to preserve network functionality and normal support for Windows applications.  I monitored activity using various system tool including the DPC latency checker, Task Manager and Process Explorer.  When I'm playing music with MC, there isn't much else going on.  I am not conscious of a change in sound quality between the old system and the new one.

5. The MusicPC boots and start MC in a bit under 30 seconds.  That's about the same as for the previous more optimized Win XP based system.  Power use is down from 75-80 watts to 35-40 watts.  I think a modern Seasonic G350 power supply would make a difference of close to 10 watts.

I expect this MusicPC system to remain in use for at least 5 years.  When it needs to be replaced, a compact form factor PC like a Mac Mini will be a likely choice.  Either a 2TB 2.5" drive or 1 or 2 SSDs storing 2 TB will be sufficiently cheap.  I'll move to completely USB based audio output on the MusicPC by then.

I've felt for some time that computer based music playback was becoming mature.  Building a new generation MusicPC felt like a concrete step toward that maturity.  The old system worked just fine and the new system works equally well.