Papa Loves Mamba

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Media Center is alive and well! Yes, you can buy a proper no-noise Media Center appliance that just works out of the box, does satellite and terrestrial TV, and looks good on your TV stand. You can even watch the YouTube video on it that inspired the title of this week's rambling post.

Our current I-US Media Center box is struggling. It's had a selection of new hard disks, and is on its second button cell memory BIOS backup battery and third video card. It sounds like a bag of bolts when it's cool, and evolves into a jumbo jet by the time it's warmed up and is recording two concurrent TV programs. Vacuuming five years of accumulated crud from the heat-pipe radiator did help a bit, but the fact that it sometimes takes three reboots to find the hard drive makes me increasingly nervous about its longevity.

So it's being replaced by a shiny new one. Or, to be more accurate, a matt black new one - the attractive-in-an-understated-way Mamba from a local company here in the UK called QuietPC.com. It looks superb, feels really solid, and has an impressive component spec. Even the packaging is glorious, and you get all of the manuals and O/S disks you could ever want - including a magnified photocopy of the Windows product key in case your eyesight is failing and you can't read the label on the back of the case.

So far the initial setup experience has been excellent. It comes pre-configured for use as a TV with all the proper BIOS settings, there's no junkware installed, and it's absolutely silent when running - without showing any signs of getting beyond mildly warm. No doubt the separate power supply helps, and the solid aluminum case. We'll see what happens when it's under a real-life load recording two programs at the same time as my wife is watching yesterday's episode of Coronation Street. Mind you, the O/S is on an SSD and the main data drive is a hybrid beast with SSD cache, so it should be fairly speedy.

As usual, the hardest part of the setup is deciding on the name for the new PC. I was tempted by "Dendroaspis" (as in Dendroaspis polylepis, the black mamba tree snake), but that seems a bit too esoteric. There is a Finnish schlager band called Mamba, but their best-known songs are all unspellable words, and I'm not sure you can use accented letters in a BIOS network name anyway. I can imagine trying to solve some weird errors that might cause in my Active Directory and WSUS servers. In the end I settled on MAMBA-TV in case I forget what it is next time I'm doing my pretend-to-be-a-network-administrator thing.

The one "not quite fully prepared" bit is Media Center itself. I specified Windows 8.1 O/S, so I had to buy and install the Media Center add-on for a few pounds. Which would have been fine except that the credit card payment system they use was broken that day, so I ended up having to open a PayPal account and then close it again afterwards (part of reducing my attack surface). At one time you could just use PayPal to make a payment with needing to open an account - but I guess (like most other sites) they want to capture your personal information to sell to advertisers.

And how come the printer driver that Windows Update offers for my old Dell 5100CN printer is broken? Every attempt to print something just raises an error. I had this issue on another 8.1 machine, though it did start working after a few uninstall/reinstall passes. But as I'll rarely print from this machine, that's a minor issue. I installed a driver that's similar and works instead, even though it has fewer image adjustment options.

However, my custom screensaver that displays our photos when nothing else is happening is a necessity, and unfortunately I compiled it to use .NET 3.5. I had the usual error 0x800F0906 "Download failure" when it tried to install the .NET 3.5 framework because I use Windows Software Update Service (WSUS) to manage patching on my network. The solution, and a description of why it occurs, is in this blog post.

Now I just need to spend a day setting up the final bits and pieces, and adapting the wiring and the ventilation holes in the cabinet in the lounge where it will live. And configuring the TV setup and channel guide for the twenty or so channels that are worth watching out of the 600+ channels of junk that arrive over Free-Sat...

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Papa Loves Mamba