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New Computer!

New Computer!

So i finally built a new computer. My last one was almost 8 years old. (Jesus that’s a long time) I built it in 2007 and it was finally starting to show its age. When i built it the machine was a beast. It played most of the games i liked to play very well. It treated me well but it was finally time for an update.

The Ancient One:

My old machine consisted of an Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 Dual-core 2.4Ghz CPU, 4Gb of ram, and an Nvidia 8800Gtx with 768MB of vram. Over the years I’ve upgraded the internal hard drives. About a year ago i had to replace the motherboard (Free, thanks to the evga lifetime warranty) and power supply. When i replaced the power supply i did so with the intention of using it in the new PC. I also bumped up the ram to 8GB at some point. Other than that, the machine has remained the same. 

The New One:

When I finally convinced myself to buy a new computer i decided to wait for good deals rather than purchasing on a whim. It just so happened that all of these deals came over the Black Friday & Cyber Monday weekend. I ended up buying everything but the SSD from NewEgg. I think i ended up with a great system and and saved a lot of money. While it may not be the fastest gaming PC out there it suits my needs and will give me a lot of room to grow. 

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CPU: Intel Core i5-4670K 3.4GHz Quad-Core Processor
     ($239.99 @ Newegg) (I paid $209.99)
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z87X-UD5H ATX LGA1150 Motherboard
     ($219.99 @ Newegg) (I paid $159.99)
Memory: G.Skill Trident X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-2400 Memory
     ($94.99 @ Newegg) (I paid $64.99)
Storage: Samsung 840 EVO 250GB 2.5" SSD
     ($175.95 @ Newegg) (I paid $119.99)
Video Card: Sapphire Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition 2GB Video Card
     ($192.55 @ Newegg) (I paid $129.99)
Case: Corsair 400R ATX Mid Tower Case 
     ($99.99 @ Newegg) (I paid $59.99)
Power Supply: Corsair Enthusiast 650W ATX Power Supply
     ($83.98 @ Newegg) (I paid $0)
NewEgg Total: $1107.44
My Total: $744.94 (Savings of $362.50) 

The above spec also assumed that I already have monitors, operating system, keyboard, mouse, and speakers/headphones. In addition, i also moved over a 2TB 5400rpm SATA drive with all my files. If i were to have bought those items the build price would have been much higher. 

The main reason the video card was so cheap was that NewEgg was trying to clear out stock of the older AMD 7870 models to make room for the newer r9 270. (Almost identical card and performance) 

The motherboard was also kind of a weird buy. I had no intention of going with the high end UD5H when i was specing out the system. I had initially decided on the UD3H. When i went to purchase the UD3H i noticed that the UD5H was actually a few dollars cheaper due to a significant price cut and black friday rebate. While i love this motherboard, if it were not on sale I would NOT have purchased it. I just don’t feel you get much for that extra $55. 

Room to Grow:

One item i regret not buying is an aftermarket CPU cooler. I decided to stick with the stock cooler. While the stock cooler works great it does not allow for any overclocking. Within the next month or so i do plan on buying an aftermarket cooler as well as several more case fans. Then i can start cracking up the CPU. 

The other area where i cut cost is with the video card. While the 7870Ghz i bought won’t be able to run all games on ultra at 60FPS, it will run all of the games I play right now on high settings without stuttering. I just don’t game enough to warrant spending 3 times as much on a higher end graphics card. For the price i paid for the 7870Ghz, when i do upgrade to a better card, I won’t feel as though i threw away money.

Moral of the story?

There isn’t really a moral of the story i guess. There are always great deals to be had. And, as with all technology, as soon as you buy something it is going to be outdated. However, I would say that if you can afford to wait and search for good deals, do it. You can save a lot of money this way. Just be sure not to wait too long. Then you’ll end up with an 8 year old PC like I did. 

Plex – My observations and experience

Plex – My observations and experience

So yesterday i got fed up with the crappy Windows Media Center Netflix app and decided it was time for a change. My first thought was to check on Boxee’s Netflix app and see if they had improved it at all. Nope. It is still shitty as ever. Apparently they have a nice new clean version on the d-link box but aren’t planning to release it to the desktop software for quite a while. Someone on the forum mentioned they had switched to Plex for this very reason. Having never heard of or even used Plex i decided to check it out and see if it was any good. The following is my experience with Plex as well as some of my observations of the product. 

Before i begin, here is my HTPC setup:

My HTPC is a Core 2 Duo 6600 w/ 4gb of ram. It has a AMD/ATI Radeon HD 6450 graphix card. The box also has a Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1600 capture card for capturing OTA HDTV. The box is running Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit. I use the builtin Windows Media Center application as my primary HTPC interface. I use WMC mainly for its DVR functionality. From WMC i have several launchers installed that can open Boxee and Hulu. I use Boxee to watch all of my local media as well as media from sites like Crunchyroll and ESPN3. I use Hulu (Rarely) when i’m extremely bored and want to watch low quality commercials. 😉 

I should also mention that i’m spoiled when it comes to Netflix apps. I have a PS3 and used that Netflix app for a year before i setup my HTPC. I have yet to see any other Netflix app compare to the awesomeness of the PS3 Netflix app. 

With that out of the way, here is the rundown of my Plex experience. 

1) Plex doesn’t make it clear what applications you need to download and what these applications actually do.

When you go to their site and click on download (I clicked on the Windows icon) it takes you to a page with three buttons. It doesn’t really say what the three applications do. 

At first i downloaded the Media Server app only to realize it was just the server and not a player or client app like Boxee or XBMC. I immediately uninstalled the app and downloaded the Media Center app. Of course about 20 minutes later i realized that you need BOTH the server app AND the Media Center app for anything to work correctly. I actually stared at the following screen for at least 2 or 3 minutes before i realized i need to reinstall the server app. For some reason i was thinking this meant the app was connecting to a Plex server on the web. Not the case. 

To top things off, the Media Center app completely locked up and wouldn’t respond after I pressed Cancel. I had to end the task via task manager exit the app so i could install the server. 

2) The Channel Directory is completely broken.

Once i had the server app re-installed i launched the Media Center again and went to the Channel Manager to try and install the Netflix plugin/app. I clicked around to all of the different areas (Featured, What’s New, Most Popular, etc) and found the same blank screen everywhere:

The “Check for Updates” button even locked the app up and forced me to end the task and start over. 

3) Lack of documentation and helpful information 

Finding it hard to believe that this nice looking App could be so terrible, i began searching the wiki for answers. The wiki offered no help what so ever. I couldn’t even find a section for the Windows Desktop client. The only place in the Wiki/FAQ that even mentioned channels or plugins simply said “Access the ‘Channel Directory’ section of the client to find the channel you want and install it from there.” As i said, no help. 

I then decided to try the forums. After a bit of searching i finally found a post titled “0.9.5.0 – No Plugins/Channels.” After trying several different user’s suggestions i was finally able to fix the problem by deleting a random XML file from the server app’s Preferences directory. 

4) Inconsistent and broken experience

Upon opening the Media Center app i was pleasantly surprised to find that the Channel Directory was now properly listing apps. I quickly located the Netflix plugin and  installed it. The only problem was that after installing the plugin i couldn’t figure out how to access or even start the plugin. Nothing showed up on the main page. And when i went to the channel directory and selected the Netflix App all i saw this menu:

None of the listed options really did anything. I restarted both the Media Center app and the server app several times as well as the PC. Finally, after the PC restarted, i opened the Media Center and two new items showed up on the main screen. “Video Channels” and “Music Channels.” However, neither option listed the Netflix plugin. (Even when i selected both options to see more than just the recently used channels) They both just listed iTunes. 

At this point i was already 45 minutes into my very first Plex install and was very frustrated. I decided that this software wasn’t ready for public use and promptly uninstalled both the media center and server applications. And that’s where we are today. 

My observations as a geek

The idea of Plex is good. The problem is the implementation. The main problem i see is that the website lacks clear information on what the product is and how to use it. The front page has a bunch of unless marketing mumbojumobo and doesn’t even have a “What is Plex” type of page explaining what it does. 

Similarly, the website doesn’t tell you what applications you need to download or what the difference is between the various applications. Aside from offering a download button for the Media Center and Media Server, i could find nothing that described what they were used for and which i needed to install. And on top of that they didn’t bundle required software together as one would expect. (E.g. bundling the server with the Media Center) This lead to guessing games on my part and really irritated me. (Install, Uninstall, Install, Re-install, etc) 

The other thing that really irritated me were the basic bugs and interface problems as described above. This, to me, signals laziness on the part of the developers. These types of bugs are easily caught and squashed with a simple round of QA. I was able reproduce all of the above errors today on a clean test machine without even trying. (This is where my screenshots came from) It took me all of 10 minutes. 

Perhaps i’ll try Plex in the future when they finally leave beta. For now it doesn’t seem to be ready for the public. It feels more like a late alpha or early beta product meant for dedicated users who are willing to help the developers test and locate bugs.