Friday, March 8, 2013

Home Theater PC upgrades

Over the past couple of years, the cheap Gateway PC I've been using as an HTPC / home server has grown a rats nest of external USB hard drives. Partially to consolidate and partially for the hell of it, I decided to take advantage of Microsoft's low early-bird pricing on Windows 8 and upgrade to an SSD at the same time. I had a 60GB SSD in another computer that wasn't being used for anything intensive, so I planned to steal that and transplant it into the HTPC for the OS and applications, and store documents and media on an external drive.

I also decided, in the hopes that it would make my life easier, to upgrade the OS from Win7 to Win8 on the original 1TB hard drive, than restore an image of that drive on to the SSD.

This was a horrible, horrible idea. Just do a fresh install.

Regardless, after searching a lot of forums (thanks, Google!) I managed to shrink the 1TB system image into something that would fit on the puny 60GB SSD, backup to an external drive, swap out the HDD for the SSD, and restore from the backup to the SSD. At which point I had to get rid of the 15GB hidden restore partition, move and expand the boot partition and then convince windows it was ok to boot without the hidden restore partition.

I swear, just to a clean install. Finding old program licenses would have been way faster.

Once the SSD was in place, I realized there was actually plenty of room inside the mini-tower for both the 2.5" SSD and the 3.5" HDD. I could have my media disk safely inside the case and connected over SATA rather than outside and connected over USB 2.0. Hurrah! I left the original disk outside on the counter, shucked the plastic casing from an external 2TB 3.5" drive - which conveniently had a two-week old copy of my documents and media already in place - and connected it via SATA data and power cables stolen from the DVD drive.

This, of course, left me without a DVD drive, which is not ideal in a Home Theater PC. After inspecting the motherboard, I was forced to conclude that I had no additional SATA headers. I did, however, have an unused USB 2.0 header. A trip to Fry's Electronics yielded a SATA power splitter (which would drive the SSD and DVD drive) and a SATA data to USB 2.0 converter. It took some hacking to make all the cables fit correctly, but I now have an HTPC running Windows 8 on an SSD with 2TB of internal storage and a functional DVD drive!

In the future, it should be pretty easy to swap out the DVD drive for an internal Blu-ray drive. The 2TB internal HDD should last me for a good long while, and the only external drive now attached is a 3TB backup drive.

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