Tips on Buying a UPS?

After moving to Bangalore, it turns out that I would need to get one or more UPS’s for the machines at home. The place we will be moving to in a few weeks does have power backup, but if/when there is a power cut it takes a few minutes for the generators to kick in and is not instantaneous as I was thinking.

I have never bought a UPS until now and don’t have any experience with it – what are the things that I need to consider? I will have the following equipment running which will need to be powered up for about 15 minutes:

  • 4 Desktops (including a MCE and WHS)
  • Two 17” LCD Monitors
  • A set of powered Speakers (optional)
  • Few switches
  • KVM Switch
  • VOIP Phone
  • Wireless Router
  • DSL Modem

Would it make sense to buy a few smaller UPS’s instead of one big one? Which is a good one? How much wattage/capacity should I look to get? Can one get second-hand ones – are they recommended? Does the UPS required any maintenance or are they maintenance free these days? 😕

Of all the machines, the WHS is one of the most critical ones. Is there any UPS’s which work well with some Add-Ins? I am interested in WHS shutting down in an orderly fashion so as to save all the data whenever the UPS battery gets low (in case for some reason the generators don’t kick in).

Media Centre Pictures

Sorry this took so long (been extremely busy lately), but as promised here are pictures of the media centre during the various stages of being built. Clicking on the thumbnails below, will show you a larger version of the photos.

Also given my previous experience with the MCE, the wife is always very sceptical whenever I say anything about ‘fixing’ the MCE. Moral of the story (as I learned the hard way) the MCE is a ‘production’ class machine which does not get touched without adequate planning with fall back options planned.

Of course since I build this in the summer of 2009, I don’t suppose this is “new” anymore. 😳

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Allowing remote desktop with blank passwords on Win7

I finally got the time to upgrade my MCE with the RTM bits of Win7 (was running an old RC build until now). Given this is a dedicated MCE with nothing else on it and an on an isolated part of the network, I don’t have a password set for the Account I use to login (of course not a recommended practice). Now, I wanted to RDP to the machine and I realised then that Win 7 does not allow RDP with blank passwords by default (Vista behaves in the same fashion). The workaround is a simple fix – to update the group policy as Dan shows in this post. Even though that post is for Vista, its the same steps for Win 7.


I build my first MCE a few years ago and since then not looked back – despite a few of my screw ups. In our household the MCE is used a lot and it really has changed the way we watch TV. One starts taking things for granted such as the ability pause live TV or rewind when you did not quite catch the last dialogue. And this was brought more in focus when during the transition from the old MCE to the new MCE (more on that in a second).

I decided to build another MCE– mainly as the old MCE had started dying. It was not dead (yet), but had started to hobble towards its grave. There were a few things which were bugging, such as:

  • Every few minutes the display card would stop for a second or two and then start working on its own – and the frequency of this occurrence was slowly increasing.
  • I already had changed the memory once as it got corrupt. Also this was only 1 GB and Vista was quite slow.
  • Disk space while not an issue was something to keep an eye on.
  • Channels were not being changed reliably – which meant you had to remember to change the channel to whatever before say going to bed at night so it can can record that program, etc.

I wanted to buy a MCE instead of building it and had my eye on the Sony TP Series – which in my opinion is a beauty. Unfortunately, the sales guys were not sure if this can be used with Sky (that’s Satellite TV for those not familiar). I did not want to buy it and then if it did not work get in the whole hassle of returning it.

So I decide to build one again. Looks were important as this sits in the living room and cannot look like a “computer”. Also efficiency and noise both were important. Wanted this to be green and quite.

Here is the config of the new MCE:

I got Win 7 RC1 running on it without any issues and its lovely! I have pictures I took along the way and will be uploading them here sometime soon.

Cumulative Update for Vista MCE

You might have noticed this via your Windows Update that Microsoft has released a cumulative update for Vista MCE! It is supposed to fix a number of issues, though I have not seen any changes (but then I was not having any issues in the first place). You can get details on what this update contains.

lifeStation's upgraded to Vista

If you recall I talked about lifeStation last year and Simon from Passive Technologies posted a comment letting me know that they have upgraded all their machines to MCE Vista from MCE XP. There is also a new lifeServer which boasts 6TB of storage and RAID 5 (though I cannot find out anywhere if this is 6TB of total storage or usable storage). On a separate note, this might be a good candidate to run Windows Home Server.

I think these are very cool machines though I don't own one and the fact I still cannot find prices on their site suggests the target market is custom installers and not poor folks like me. Smile

Life without an MCE

I must say after getting used to viewing TV (and Movies) via a MCE – not having one is sorely missed. Recently the machine was randomly hanging and a few blue-screens and as it turns out one of my memory sticks went bad which was causing the issues.

Although I had bought the memory from Crucial, over two years ago – they have a lifetime warranty. I called them and they immediately volunteered to change both the sticks (as I was running them in dual-channel). I was running the machine fine on one stick albeit a little slow, but I decided to send in both sticks and get things back to "normal". Now I have been waiting for just over a week to get back the replacement memory. Which means for just over a week and we don't have a MCE running at home and boy I was surprised that we miss it! Surprise

Watching "Live TV" is just not done now – not to mention the fact the guide in Sky is quite irritating with the stupid music and the full-screen mode – where the whole screen switches back to the guide hiding whatever you were watching.

On a little different note, I was quite amazed with the service and professionalism of Crucial while dealing with them on the phone. Yes it has taken a little longer than I was told (although to be fair they said turn around is "quick" and I was not given any specific time – but at the same time I did not ask for a timeline). I just got off the phone with them and I have been told the memory should be shipping out today with express delivery! I just wish there were more companies who did such an excellent job of customer service! Yes

"Jerky" Movie playback in Vista

I don’t know if this is a Vista x64 issue, but when I am watching a DVD on the laptop the movie playback is quite jerky and as a result very irritating. I have tried both Media Player and Media Center and unfortunately get the same result. Interestingly though, a few weeks ago, between the two (Media Player and Media Center), one of them was jerky but the other was smooth (I forget which was which), but now both are the same. The movie itself plays fine, it just seems to buffer up every 2 seconds (sort of in a loop) and then quickly catch up. I tried all combination but no luck. The only thing I could think of that has changed since the last time and this was that I added the mp4 codecs. All this means is, in the end it gives you a headache. Sad.

Cool MCE

I recently came across this advertisement in one of the magazines. There is a company called Passive Technologies who have released a pretty cool looking MCE machine called lifeStation. It looks like an appliance and still runs MCE 2005; I would recommend to wait when they upgrade to Vista. I don’t own one, so I don’t have any first hand experience. I also don’t know how much it costs, but it is bound to be pricey.

The specs are pretty impressive, it runs a Core Duo Mobile (making it run cooler), supports HD (has both HDMI and HDCP), 750 gb of storage, and is supposed to be “near silent”. If anyone has tried it, please drop me a note here with the feedback.

New MCE Cases

I am quite happy with the case I have for my MCE, but I came across the following to new cases, which if I had to buy now I would seriously consider – they are on opposite end of the spectrum and depending on what you need and your budget one might be a better fit than the other.

  1. DIGN X15e Aluminium Enclosure
  2. Enlight 7473 Home Media Chassis

Drool on! 🙂

MCE Update coming out soon

According to Neowin, MS is going to release the Rollup Update (code names Emerald) to MCE soon, which will incorporate:

  1. 2x HD Tuner supported
  2. No CableCARD
  3. No QAM
  4. DVD Changer
  5. Xbox 360 Extender support
  6. Sonic DVD Burning fixes
  7. Slight improvements in Media Library performance

The update will be free and available via Windows Update.


MS also released some information at the PDC about Diamond (Windows Vista MCE) and Neowin has some screen shots on their site and some more pictures here.

How to screw up your MCE?

Well on one  lovely weekend when there were clear blue skies (big deal here in London), I thought what better way to spend the day then mess up the MCE and stay indoors all day to fix it. And how does one go about doing that? Well here is what I did and lessons learned (hopefully) :).

Firstly, just because there is a new update for the BIOS don’t be compelled to update it (as I did), remember the age old advice, don’t fix it if it ain’t broken. So, when I update the BIOS, which of course was not required, Windows for some reason did not like that and it stopped booting up – I would get a blue screen. Could not even boot up in safe mode, and the recovery console did not help, so all in all the machine was hosed if I may say.

Now that the computer was effectively dead I was glad that the data was on a different drive than the OS itself, so when I reformatted and reinstalled Windows, I would not lose the data. But installing it and getting it to work was a pain in itself. I upgraded the OS on Sat morning and by the time this got up and running it was Sunday afternoon – and in between that time was three complete reinstalls!

So, what was the problem? Well, the OS was installed OK, but when I tried to configure my Tuner card for the TV, it just won’t work. Every time I got a decoder error. But I knew that the TV feed was OK. After the first time it did not work I wanted to roll back the BIOS update, and just the sound of that makes you cringe – assuming it was even possible. In my case it was, but it was quite tricky. Another thing to point out, I don’t think this was an issue just with my TV Tuner card (I have the Hauppage PVR-500 MCE), but I think its with other cards too and is probably more of a OS thing.

First thing I had to do was download the old BIOS and per their instructions boot up using a floppy, run the update and voila I am done. The only problem my computer does not have a floppy drive. After a lot of googling, the answer I came up with was downloading a boot image from Bootdisk, where I could also get a ISO for a floppy image called FlashCD that then I can burn to an CD and boot from that. But, then how do I add the bios updates to the ISO, so when in DOS mode I could update to the older version of the BIOS? The answer again was provided by Bootdisk and it was to use a program called UltraISO which did the amazing job as recommended. Finally I was able to boot in DOS and flash the BIOS to the older version.

Now, that the BIOS was in the old state, I was back to where I had started, but now I had to reinstall the OS a second time. After going to that, and fingers crossed, I was back to square one, I was still getting the Decoder error. By this time it was quite frustrating, and each install was more than the OS, it was also all the drivers (which was about 7-10 different CD’s for the various devices), patches, anti virus and more updates – all of this while sitting on the floor using the TV as the monitor since I was too lazy to unplug everything and move the MCE to the study and hook it up to the KVM switch.

To cut a long story short, after more googling and trawling through newsgroups, the third time I hit up the solution and got it back up and running OK. And the key difference was, once the base OS was installed, install all the device drivers to get all the devices up and running, but don’t install any of the updates and patches, instead configure Media Center and after checking your signal install the relevant patches and updates.

Here is the sequence I finally followed the third time (and by then it was the next day – remember started on Sat and already into Sunday – and I did not want to experiment more and see what else could happen) the advice that I found on this Australian site.

  1. Install the OS
  2. Install all the drivers
  3. For the TV Tuner card make sure you use the right version. E.g. for Hauppage they also make non-MCE compatible cards, make sure you install the MCE drivers for the card.
  4. In my case I got the nVidia display, so I made sure I got the MCE version of the drivers too.
  5. I got a nVidia DVD Decoder as well.
  6. Uninstalled any other DVD software such as Power DVD, etc.
  7. Rebooted (of course)
  8. Voila, we are back in business.

Here are some pictures from the ordeal:

Installing MCE

Tired after going through the painful process – this I think was the second time

This is what the MCE looks like – my earlier post did not show the finished case.

Very tired, to get this to work – looks like in the middle of installing from the looks of the screen.

That is surely a painful smile. 🙂

This was I think the third time.

Stack of driver CD’s and I was also eating there – no food breaks – had to get this back up.

All in all, the moral of the story was, one, keep your data on a different drive than the OS and don’t install updates for the heck of it. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it! Was an interesting weekend for sure. 😉

Media Center Pictures

A few of you have asked me to upload some pics here of the MCE; and here they are – sorry it took a while, but better late than never. In case you are curious, this is my MCE configuration.

Me and Karan assembling the box – as you can see we just finished screwing in the motherboard

Here is what the finished CPU looks like from the inside – the PCI Express graphics card is on the left rear side (you can see the silver heat sink), also the fan less power supply on the right.

Here is what the front looks like (without the dvd drive cover mounted).

And here I am installing the dvd driver cover so the front has one flush look.

The VFD says “Bahree Khandan Media Center”; Khandan is the Hindi word for Family

Problems with the MCE Remote Control – repeats the keys you pressed

I had this very irritating issue with the remote control of Media Center, where mostly whatever key I pressed, got pressed more than once (even though I pressed it once); it it would cause things like as you move around – very irritating as you would skip over channels you wanted to change or navigate to music or pictures, etc. But it seems like this issue of Stickiness is because there are two buffer overruns in the eHome infrared receiver (read Q331913), and although Microsoft has this patch to fix it, I would recommend installing the new Update Rollup1 for the eHome receiver as the earlier patch was released in 2002 and even though I have MCE 2005 it was a suspect of not fixing the issue (mind you I did not do extensive testing).

But I did installed the Update Rollup1 for eHome Receiver and it does fix the issue with the sticky remote and also adds support for the MCE Keyboard – which is soon to be released.

Update: Had a grammer error in the title, just fixed that. And yes, spellings are still overrated 😉

DVD Audio not loud enough

Well, we have a very nagging problem on the MCE, Live TV, Recorded TV, Music, Radio – all was fine, the only issue was whenever we saw a DVD, even with the MCE and Windows volume all the way to maximum, the sound was not loud enough to hear and quite often we had to switch on the sub-titles just to follow what is going on.

Finally, though it seems I have found a fix – and it seems to be working. I was using the AC3 filter and the DTS/5.1 encoding. In the AC3 Config, you need to change the preset default to an aptly one names Loud, which fixes the issue.