Ubuntu media center for 500€

ASUS X51RLIn december 2007 my laptop was stolen and almost at the same time the old TV broke down. That made me decide to look for a more complete media center solution, aiming to have in the end a home multimedia server that can provide several services: media center, P2P download manager, web server, DHCP server for the rest of the devices in the house, firewall, video-surveillance server, etc.I know that the list is too ambitious for only one machine and is not even advisable to have so many services on the same machine, because it can be more vulnerable to attacks. But, for now, I would like to try it so I will see how far I can get.

Apart from all of that, I want to look for a relatively cheap, low noise and low consumption solution, because the machine will have to be working for 24 hours a day. This last premise eliminates the option of having a powerful server, because it consumes too much and can be very noisy (except that you spend a lot of money to reduce the noise).

And finally, of course, the solution has to be based on open source software (GNU/Linux).

Given these conditions, the viable alternatives that I found were these:

  • a barebone PC (that can easily exceed 300 euros)
  • the new AppleTV (around 250 euros)
  • a NAS like the Linksys NSLU2 (about 80 euros plus an USB disk).
  • a media player (starting from 300 euros with internal disk) like this or this.
  • a notebook (starting from 500 euros) like the one I’ve bought ASUS X51RL AP019A.

I finally decided to go with the cheap notebook for a series of reasons:

  • Power consumption (with the screen turned off): about 20 Watts/Hour.
  • It can be used as a laptop computer in case I have to travel or to work at home, and I don’t need to have so many devices at home ;-)
  • It’s easier (at least for me) to install Linux on a notebook (using the most used distros, like Ubuntu, that have lots of packages available).
  • It has a more powerful processor and more memory available than the other devices designed for “less functionalities”.

On the other hand, it has some limitations, like:

  • VGA output exclusively. My TV also has VGA and the quality of the movies that I will watch doesn’t justify better quality (considering that I can always use the DVD that I already have)
  • 80 Gb hard drive: For now it seems enough space, but maybe in the future I need to buy a second USB disc.
  • Doesn’t have remote control, but I already have on that I will try to use… or I could even try to use a mobile phone connected using Bluetooth.
  • It heats too much: I still have to check this, because I’ve read several posts from people that have kept it on 24 hs. a day and haven’t got any problems.
  • A notebook hard drive is not designed to work continually: I’m hoping that it lasts enough !! ;-)

Summing up… it’s clear that the decision depends on the needs of each one. I believe that when the media centers improve their capacities and come prepared for installing complete GNU/Linux distros easily, that would be the best option.

I will keep everyone informed of my progresses.

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