Crunchbang media center - Part 1

Some people go for Smart TVs, some have little media players, but for the most flexible solution I've had last few years I've had a Dell Studio Hybrid mini PC sitting under my TV. This is the first of a couple of posts about upgrading that setup, some of the things I learnt while putting it together, and a nice reminder of everything on it that's still broken.

The old way

The Dell Studio Hybrid was a compact PC Dell made around 2009, they're a pretty good unit for a media PC - essentially a box of laptop components without battery and screen.

  • Intel Core 2 Duo
  • HDMI out (which is kinda handy for connecting to a telly)
  • 3GB Memory
  • 320GB HDD
  • Windows Vista (ewww), but came with a free upgrade to Windows 7

Dell didn't make them for long, transitioning to the Zineo? line of mini PCs which looked a lot more like a mac mini, and then... well I don't think they even sell an equivalent any more. I had it sitting in my loungeroom running Windows Media Centre with a USB TV card plugged in, and everything ran pretty nice. Then I ended up running it in tandem with XBMC for some things, and of course flicking over to Firefox to watch iView, YouTube, and The Daily Show. Even better there was a small amount of music stored locally shared out through Squeezebox Server to a couple of Squeezebox Booms.

Unfortunately after years of faithful service, the machine was struggling a little. A bunch of crap drivers, Windows Updates that failed midway through and then never quite recovered, and probably some poor configuration decisions resulted in a lot of little things being a broken. Windows Media Centre no longer wanted to play Live TV, (which is a damn shame given how good it is at it.) XBMC started to break as well, there was something going on with the audio output that I never quite diagnosed. Squeezebox stopped liking being available on the network (and they EOL'd the entire system, which I'll complain about more later.) In the end we were just playing videos with VLC and occasionally hoping the flash plugin in Firefox would behave enough to watch The Daily Show - not exactly a seamless loungeroom experience any more.

Also, I'd previously bought a bigger HDD so we could have have my music collection ripped to FLAC and available locally. So instead of reinstalling Windows (or attempting to copy the partition over to the new drive), I thought I'd give a Linux machine a go, which would have the advantage of giving me an always-on SSH connection to my home and y'know, free (as-in-freedom) software is always good. Right?

So first of all I had to install the new HDD. So this is the unit:

Sussudio all together

Cute right? Err... Yeah. Anyway, that red plastic cover and stand just comes off.

Sussudio with the case off

One more screw and the top comes off

Sussudio with the top off

A couple more screws and the drive cage comes off.

Sussudio with the cage out

and from there swapping the hard drive was easy.

Which OS?

Well I gave this away a little given the title of this post... But I picked Crunchbang.

I did initially have the thought of running a more media-center focussed distro like openelec, but decided it might not be flexible enough: The plan was for this machine to also be my music & file server, my remote point into my network over SSH and host anything that I need running inside my house.

Actually, maybe openelec can do all of that... But I like .deb based distros and am a little distrustful of ubuntu these days.

Installing

Installing crunchbang was easy, I installed off a disc burned from a downloaded ISO.

Install screen

Of course my Studio Hybrid needs a name, and what a name:

Say the word, ohhhh

and from there, we're straight into the Crunchbang desktop with a prompt to run through a startup script.

Coming up next time:

  • Ejecting discs, for fun and profit
  • DPI settings and you
  • Networking for schmucks

and of course actually installing and configuring all the software I want.

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