Halt and Catch Fire – Trying Windows Media Center

April 26, 2005

So, after all of my talk about SageTV vs. MCE, I just ordered a copy of Windows Media Center Edition 2005…


Well, it’s one of those stories… My SageTV setup had been built in a small form factor case that had heat problems already, and I had it in a cabinet with glass doors.  I knew this was problematic, but in typical geek fashion, I solved the problem by leaving the doors gapped slightly open, and everything went smoothly.

Unfortunately, someone (who had no reason to know not to) was by the other day and closed the doors.  I didn’t happen to catch it, and yesterday evening watching a bit of TV on the box, the damn thing actually caught fire…

Well, sort of, anyway…

Smoke started coming out of the box. 


On investigating (and discovering the doors fully closed) I opened the case, cooled it off, and eventually decided that the problem was a drive cable (in a vinyl sheath) that had been too close to the the processor heat sink.  I reoriented it, let everything cool down, and started it back up to see what would happen.

Everything was fine, for about a half hour, and then one of the drives went through a spectacular meltdown. Lots of (really really nasty) smoke, and the youngest swears he saw sparks or flames.

So much for that. 

In all the ways I’ve ever seen a hard drive fail, this is the most bizzare one.

The drive was expendible (it was a small drive I just used for boot/OS, and probably long past its prime), but I really can’t rule out damage to the power supply and motherboard. 

Since the case had heating problems anyway, I decided to replace all three components. 

I’ve ordered a nice looking Silverstone HTPC (Home Theater PC) case with good cooling, a power supply rated as extra quiet and cool-running, and since the new case has room for a full-sized ATX motherboard (I was running a Micro-ATX), I went with one with onboard SATA (I’ve been using a PCI SATA controller) and enough slots to consider adding a second TV encoder card down the line.

That now put me ordering enough new hardware that I “qualified” to purchase an OEM copy of Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005.  It just so happens that I needed to free up an XP Pro license anyway, and for roughly the same price, I’ll use this on the new HTPC and move the license it had been using to another box.

Throwing in a Microsoft Media Center Remote (to replace the despised Firefly), this will give me a chance to actually give MCE 2005 an honest try, and do my own comparison with SageTV.

More soon…

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