Sunday, April 24, 2011

Multimedia Computer: Part 5

The first real (I don't count the PCjr) computer I bought twenty years ago had a CD-ROM drive.  It wasn't a 48X or a 32X or a 16X or even a 2X.  There was one speed and that was the speed it ran at.  There wasn't even a tray; there was a CD caddy which was a little case that you put your CD in and then slid it into the computer.  Since those days we've seen an increase in speed in the CD-ROMs, a switch to DVDs, and now a switch to blu rays.

In those early days, there was an idea that CDs were a better way in which to store your information.  This was because CDs are not affected by magnetic fields, so there wouldn't be a change of them being damaged in that way.  Well, as the old Indian said, only the rocks live forever and it is now known that CDs and their successor optical media aren't perfect.  This having been said, if you are going to have a computer, you need an optical drive.  DVD drives are now standard; Microsoft assumes you will have one if you are going to install its operating system.  If you are going to build a multimedia computer, then, it stands to reason that you will need a blu ray drive as that is the bleeding edge.  (It might be a significant insight that entertainment is leading the way in technology. Maybe that has always been so.)

I've chosen this particular blu ray drive. The first consideration for me was brand name.  Samsung is a name I trust.  It could be that they are famous for producing crappy optical drives, but I've not heard that.  The second consideration was price.  At $70 this was within my comfort zone.  For this I get at 48X CD drive, a 16X DVD drive, and a 12X BD drive.  It will also write DVDs and CDs for me, but not blu rays.  I don't think this last will be a handicap, and I do know one thing.  The blu ray drives will become less expensive after "the next big thing" comes along.

This raises the question, what is the next big thing?  Well, as I mentioned earlier, entertainment leads the way.  Entertainment seems to be pointing toward the Cloud, as it were.  The success of Instant Netflix and all of the other services that are trying to copy their model is leading me to say this. 

With something that is on a media, you have to have space to store it.  You if there is a format change, then you have to buy it again on the new format because your old player will break down and they don't let you fix stuff anymore.  The Cloud eliminates that.  While there will always be collectors and folks who like to hold it in their hands, what most people want is access.  With the Cloud, you can have access to your movies on something like instant Netflix.

We are already beginning to have the same sort of model with our photos.  You upload them to your favorite sights and they will store them for you and every once in a while insist that you buy something.  It is but a small step from there to charging a small monthly fee for the storage not only of photos, but other media as well.  Remember, the computer/information industry operates under a drug-dealer ethic.  Today we give you a free sample and once you are hooked you pay, pay, pay.

Amazon lets you buy access to electronic books and allows you to access them from different devices. Wouldn't it make sense if iTunes started doing something like that as well, rather than just allowing you to move your songs from computer to computer a limited number of times?

I don't know if they'll be a new format beyond blu ray.  Maybe there will.  But to me it looks like we will be moving to the Cloud.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Multimedia Computer: Parts 3 & 4

This blog has been silent the last couple of weeks as my attention has been taken with other matters.  I've been taking care pre-enrollment and being kept busy in its wake at school.  I've been feeding my Redneck Math blog.  And I've been spending my Saturday and Sunday afternoons doing yard work.  That having been said, the multimedia computer has been progressing.

The first bit of progress is the choice and acquisition of memory.  I chose memory that would fit the motherboard.  Because of the design of the motherboard, I had a choice between DDR2 and DDR3.  I chose DDR3 simply because I hadn't tried it before.  In selecting this memory, I had to take its speed into account.  I also had a choice between getting 4GB and 8GB. In the old days, I would've thought that 8GB was the clear choice, I don't believe that a multimedia computer will require that much, so, because of price, I chose to go with 4GB.

I have also purchased and received a CPU.  It was the case again that, because of the design of the motherboard, I had a choice among several.  I chose the Intel Celeron.  Again price drove my choice.  This was the least expensive available.  One thing nice about this CPU is that it came with its own fan.  Buying cooling fans separately is boring. You have to match up the specs like with socket-type and fans, somehow, just aren't as sexy as chips.

Having made both of these choices because of cost, let me say one thing. There is a truth in the universe that you get what you pay for.  Sometimes, though, the extra cost is because of novelty.  This is to say you get to say that you were the first.  There can be value to that, but it is not the case in this instance.  I am doing this for two reasons:
  1. It is a hobby.  It gives me something to do that I can write about and give guidance to those who know less than me.  There aren't many of those, but there are a few.
  2. I want to have a multimedia computer for the Family Room.
Given those two reasons, spending money unnecessarily is no virtue.  I have to stretch my hobby money as far as I can. This is especially important as yard work begins.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Multimedia Computer: Part 2, The Motherboard, addendum

I did my writing last night at the end of a long day that ended a long week because my family had gone to the movies and I was too tired to go with them. Let me add a little to that post as I slept like the righteous dead last night and am in a high energy period now. Ten hours of sleep and a pot of coffee will do that. Imagine.
Last night I'd mentioned this motherboard having PCI Express slots for expansion and those opening more choices for expansion cards. Well, having slept, I wondered whether those would match up with the slots in the back of the case so as to be accessible. Having had a surprise with PCI cards being to wide for a small form factor case last time, this was a legitimate worry. The way to resolve this--it seemed to me--was to open the case, install the motherboard, and see how everything matched up.

Imagine my joy, nay, my glee, when I discovered that not only were all of the expansion card accessible from the back of the case, but there had been more care taken in the design of the case than I had ever imagined or dared hope.

The case had a removable tray that the motherboard sits in. Instead of having to enlist my tiny-fingered daughter (who had gone shopping with her mother, anyway) to help, I was able to just slide the tray out. This allows the tray to be installed  in a much less stressful manner.  It also gave me the opportunity to examine the motherboard with greater detail.  It has a lot of options.  While there are plenty of USB plugs, there are also old-fashioned plugs for keyboards and mice.  Indeed, there is an additional serial mouse connection. What's up with that?  And there is a parallel printer connector; I thought those were like the coelocanth.

Anyway, after that closer examination, I was able to install in with easy and just slide it back into the case.  Pretty cool stuff if you ask me.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Multimedia Computer: Part 2, The Motherboard

When you first begin building a computer, there are infinite possibilities, but as decisions are made these possibilities decrease until the final decision producing a unique computer. The choice of the motherboard decreases possibilities, but it gives direction. Many decisions are made by virtue of the choice of the motherboard.

As I have mentioned before, putting a computer together is now like making tinker toys or putting Legos together. The important part is being able to get it to all click together at the end. In order to insure articulation, the motherboard is the guide.

The first part to consider is the form factor, i.e. what are the dimensions of the motherboard? My last two computers were based on the mini-ITX form factor motherboard. These are small. The current motherboard is a micro-ATX (not to be confused with a mini-ATX). It isn't quite as small as the mini-ITX but isn't as big as the ATX. It kind of makes sense. The form factor will determine the type of case you get. In case you are worried, the engineers have it all worked-out that the holes match up in the right way.

The motherboard also determines the type of CPU. It does that via the type of socket. The socket, clearly enough, is where the CPU plugs in. This wasn't an issue in my mini-ITX computers as the CPU came attached to the motherboard. I will have to buy a CPU for this and there will be a choice as the motherboard has an LGA775 socket which will accept a variety of different chips.

The type of memory that will work in the computer is determined by the motherboard. It turns out that this motherboard has slots for DDR2 memory and for DDR3 memory. According to the manual, there is no mixing and matching on this board; I've got to choose either DDR2 or DDR3. So I still have a choice to make there. However, there is more to know. I have to know what speed of memory is compatible. For DDR2, this board supports 1066/800/667 MHz and for DDR3 it supports 1333/1066/800 MHz.

Then are the various drive connectors. This board has one IDE connector and four, count 'em, four SATA connectors. I've discovered that one really has to go out of the way to get an IDE drive anymore, and I doubt that I can even find an IDE blu-ray drive, but if I can find a cheap one, I do have that option.

The board has two PCI expansion slots. I will use one of there for a TV-card and the other for a wireless network card.

In addition to the two PCI slots, there are a couple of PCI Express slots of different sizes. I am not to familiar with these other than I know you can plug cards into them that will do cool stuff. That might enable me to have more choices in my TV-card or wireless card.

I will confess that this motherboard is a bit more complex than I thought it would be. I hope that doesn't turn out to be a headache for me, but this is a hobby. I am doing it to learn. Sometimes headaches are part of the learning process. I will keep you informed.