A home entertainment center that uses a general-purpose computer as its controller and storage has long been one of the big goals of computer marketeers. Until recently, however, the hardware and software needed for even a reasonably useful entertainment system was well beyond the reach of any but the most tech-knowledgeable (and, even more important, high-salaried) folks.
In the last year or so, though, things have changed. Mainstream users are (finally) starting to want their computers to manage media. But what is out there that fulfills this want? What works with a PC? A Mac? What can the middle-of-the-road user -- someone who wants power and flexibility but can't afford to buy a lot of top-dollar equipment -- get out there these days?
That's the question I set out to answer.
Assembling The Basics:
I started out with two fairly typical desktop computers: A MacBook and a Fujitsu PC notebook. The MacBook came equipped with a 2Ghz Intel Core Duo processor, 1GByte of 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM, an 80MB hard drive, 1GB of RAM, two USB 2.0 ports, a Firewire (IEEE 1394) and a gigabit Ethernet port, and a built-in 802.11g/n wireless card. It used OS X 10.4.10.
On the PC side, I was able to obtain a Fujitsu LifeBook N6420 notebook available with a 2GHz Intel Core Duo T7200 processor and 2GB RAM. The Lifebook came with a few more bells and whistles on it than the Mac had, including a memory card reader, PCMIA and ExpressCard slot, five USB 2.0 ports, FireWire and Ethernet ports, and 400MB of hard disk space. The system came pre-installed with Vista Premium Home Edition.
Fujitsu LifeBook N6420