Connect: Home Sweet PC

Gordon van Zuiden
January 2006
p. 44-46

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Your next computer purchase may be your most important.

No longer is a computer just for Microsoft Office applications. The
home PC can be used to store, catalog and distribute all of your
digital music, your digital photos and even your personal video
collection throughout your entire house. Like it or not, the venerable
old PC is now at the center of home technology solutions. So how do
know you're buying the right PC for today's technologies? What are all
the important new features to consider? The obvious factors include
price, processor speed, storage size and amount of memory. The less
obvious but nevertheless crucial considerations are the various
interconnects that today's computers need to attach to other devices in
your home.

Many of the features you need will mean that your next home computer
may not be in the $500 to $1,500 range but cost $3,000 to $5,000.
However, the entertainment value these new servers bring to your home
and family can justify the costs. Here are some things to seek when you
shop for that whole-house PC.

High Speed Get a PC with the highest-speed network connection card
you can find, preferably a gigabit connection -- and not just a 10/100
Ethernet card. If you want to move video from the office computer to
the family room HDTV, you'll need a lot of bandwidth, and gigabit
Ethernet can deliver it.

High Res Look for a computer that has DVI (digital visual interface)
and/or HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) ports, which are the
latest high-resolution video connections. While VGA (video graphics
array) is still the most common computer video connection, the newer
HDTV sets have DVI and HDMI video inputs. These ports will send a
sharper, clearer picture from your computer to your TV.

Media Center Purchase a computer loaded with Microsoft's new Media
Center Edition software, which is an extension of the standard Windows
XP operating system now running on many personal computers. Media
Center machines will run all of the standard applications and serve as
a control, storage and distribution platform for your music, video and
photo collections.

A Silent Partner Look for a computer that is quiet and that boots up
quickly. If you want a computer in the family room entertainment
center, it should be as quiet as its consumer-electronic neighbors. It
should also start up quickly from sleep mode. After all, we don't want
to wait two to three minutes to show our vacation pictures to friends
and family. Also look for computers that are ViiV-compliant this year.
These new chipsets from Intel are designed to improve the PC

Multitasking Consider buying a PC with multiple processors. A single
processor is fine if only one person in the family uses the computer at
any given time. But if it is to serve video to multiple televisions in
the home, one processor may not be enough. If everyone wants to stream
a recorded show or movie from the Media Center PC to various TV
locations at the same time, the processing load on a single-processor
computer might result in poor performance and jerky video at each TV.

A Bigger Drive A big hard drive is more important than ever now.
Storing all of your songs and movies requires lots of disk space. In
fact, hundreds of gigabytes may not be enough. PCs with terabyte-size
drives should be given serious consideration. And with all of your
music, pictures and video content digitized, you'll want that content
backed up, so seek a system that offers RAID (redundant array of
independent disks)-level protection or mirror backup features.

Full Frontal Connectivity Look for connectivity ports in the front
of the computer. This machine will serve as the storage center for all
your home's music, photos and videos, so it should have all the input
ports you need in an easily accessible location. For photos, it should
have SD, Compact Flash and xD interfaces; for music and video, it
should have a FireWire (IEEE1394) port and composite and/or component
audio/video jacks.

Gordon van Zuiden is founder of home integration company cyberManor,


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