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Build Your Own Media Center PC, Part 1
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Graphics Card

The graphics card was optional for me because the MSI 945GM2 motherboard already contains a built-in graphics card. However, I want my system to support dual monitors so I looked for an affordable graphics card that supports dual monitors. My hunt stopped at the Asus Extreme N6200TC TOP/TD/128M ($55; see Figure 20), which has a DVI and VGA output.

Figure 20
Figure 20. The Asus Extreme N6200TC TOP/TD/128M

The Asus Extreme N6200TC TOP/TD/128M has the following specifications:

Graphics engine NVIDIA GeForce 6200 with TurboCache
Video memory 128M/64 bit DDR2 onboard
Effective memory size 256MB
Engine clock 400MHz
Memory clock 700MHz(350MHz DDR)
RAMDAC 400MHz
Bus standard PCI Express 16X
Max resolution 2048x1536
VGA output Standard 15-pin D-sub
Video output Composite
DVI output DVI-I
Second VGA output Yes

If you plan on putting your media center in the living room, you should equip it with a remote control. Until recently, Microsoft did not directly sell the Windows Media Center remote control to end users , they were only available to system vendors. Fortunately, you can now get one from a hardware retailer (see Figure 21).

Figure 21
Figure 21. The Microsoft Windows Media Center remote control

Of course, if your TV tuner comes with a remote control (like the Hauppauge's WinTV-PVR-500 MCE-Kit), then you don't need to buy the additional remote control.

A better option is to buy the Remote Keyboard for Windows XP Media Center Edition ($80; see Figure 22), which is a wireless keyboard/mouse. It has a stylish look and can be used in a 30-foot radius.

Figure 22
Figure 22. The remote keyboard for Windows XP Media Center Edition

Monitor/TV

If you already have an existing monitor, you can skip this section. However, if you have the budget to splurge on a new display, you have a couple of options. First, if the primary use for your media center is 80 percent work and 20 percent watching TV/DVD, I suggest you buy an LCD monitor. Figure 23 shows the Dell 2407WFP 24" UltraSharp wide-screen flat panel LCD monitor, which sells for about $750 (I think it's a pretty good buy).

Figure 23
Figure 23. The Dell 2407WFP 24" UltraSharp wide-screen flat panel LCD monitor

Alternatively, if you are mainly using the media center as your living room entertainment device, then I suggest you buy an LCD TV. In this case, the Samsung LN-S1951 (see Figure 24) is a good choice. The Samsung LN-S1951 is not only a TV, but is also PC-compatible (you can connect your PC to it via the D-Sub VGA connector). The 19" screen size supports maximum resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels, which is a good resolution even for computers.

Figure 24
Figure 24. The Samsung LN-S1951 19" TV with PC-support

A typical TV has the connectors shown in Figure 25.

Figure 25
Figure 25. Typical connectors found at the back of a TV

Note: Figure adapted from the LN-S1951W/ LN-S1952W Owner's Instruction Manual (PDF).

If your graphics card has DVI output, you can connect the PC to the TV using a DVI cable. Or you can connect via the D-Sub connector (labeled as PC IN).

Wireless and Sound Options

Depending on where your media center is located, you may need to buy an optional wireless adapter card (assuming you have a wireless network at home). If you have a spare PCI slot to spare, you can add a Linksys WMP54G Wireless-G PCI Adapter (see Figure 26).

Figure 26
Figure 26. Linksys WMP54G Wireless-G PCI Adapter

Alternatively, you can add a USB wireless adapter such as the Linksys Wireless-G USB Adapter WUSB54G (see Figure 27).

Figure 27
Figure 27. Linksys Wireless-G USB Adapter WUSB54G

For a speaker system, if you are connecting to a TV, you can use the sound system in your TV. However, if you have the budget, you can go for the ultimate--Creative GigaWorks S750. However, this is will set you back a whopping $500. In any case, you can always use your existing speaker system.

What's Next?

Now that you have all your hardware chosen, what do you do next? In my next article in the series, I'll show you how to build the system, and begin using it.

Wei-Meng Lee (Microsoft MVP) http://weimenglee.blogspot.com is a technologist and founder of Developer Learning Solutions http://www.developerlearningsolutions.com, a technology company specializing in hands-on training on the latest Microsoft technologies.


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