This is an exciting time for buying HTPC devices. They come in really small sizes, they are efficient and yet can playback 1080p video and boot in under 30 seconds. The most exciting hardware (for me anyway) is the ION platform from nVidia. These are tiny motherboard and CPU combos that do wonders considering their size and power usage. I had my eye on this one for a while now. It looks great and for once I can put my HTPC in front of everyone in the living room. But there are a couple of reasons I keep reconsidering. First the bare bones HTPC has a small 2.5" 320 GB hard drive. Well I guess that is what gives it the small size. And the second reason is that it does not have a PCI slot. The tv tuner card I have sits in a PCI slot. Of course I can buy the latest and greatest USB tv tuner card, but I have my reasons to not to.
I have painstakingly configured my PCI tv tuner card in Gentoo (my favorite OS). When I brought the tuner card the drivers were still buggy and you had to use the latest kernel and even then there would be problems. Luckily I use Gentoo so using the latest kernel is no big deal. And since I compile the kernel from scratch I can modify the kernel source code too. And I did just that. I had to tune a few parameters in the v4l driver for my tuner card. Then I had to hack around with mplayer to get everything right. Anyway that was back in the day. The linux drivers have improved a lot since then. At least for the old tuner card that I have, I didn't need to modify the latest kernel anymore. Things just work now.
Yet I don't want to part with the PCI card and go for a USB tuner, because I think the latest tuners will still not be supported by linux yet and I will have to invest a lot of time to get it to work again. And I don't want that. So my next best option would be to use an ION platform that has a PCI slot. That means I will have to build the HTPC from scratch which is fun for me except that it might not look as nice on the exterior. I will probably have to hide it again. At least I will save some on my electric bill if nothing. Running a full desktop PC 24/7 with 4 hard drives and a lot of power hungry components like the very powerful graphics card is not helping my bills :). So in my next post I will try to find an alternative to the barebones ION HTPC and perhaps I will have better luck.