Wednesday, June 13, 2007

VMWare, Wireless Network Adapter and Bridging

If you're using VMWare Server on Windows Vista with a Wireless network adapter, you might have problems using native VMWare bridged networking. NAT networking works ok to give your guest OS internet access but isn't so good if your guest is a server.

A good alternative is to create a windows MAC bridge between the VMWare "virtual" network adapter and your wireless adapter.

I recommend using the VMWare Network manager to create a new network adapter rather than using the existing number 1 and number 8 adapters (used for host only and NAT only respectively).

By default, VMWare won't allow VMWare network adapters to take part in a windows MAC bridge. You can allow individual VMWare network adapters to take part in a windows MAC bridge by by following the instructions documented in this KB article.

Monday, June 4, 2007

My new HTPC

I bought a 46" Sony Bravia V-series LCD television a few months back. The TV is awesome but my old media center XBOX really let the TV down. The XBOX can be modded to output NTSC widescreen but the output quality is really blury and color faded when compared to the output quality of a PC when hooked up the the TV's VGA input.

I had temporary hooked the TV up to a PC set up as a media center but because of the noise plus the negative aesthetic qualities of having a standard mini-tower PC next to the TV I decided to build an entirely new HTPC.

The components were:

  • Case: SilverStone Lascala SST-L16MCR

    I had originally looked at the Zalman HD160 all aluminium case (I love all-alumium cases!) but it was twice the price and the volume knob was too small, flimsy and cheap. At $650, the Zalman case (without a PSU) would have cost almost as much as an XBOX 360!

    I wanted a case that looked like a HiFi amp rather than a computer. The case needed a VFD or LCD display, a volume and front accessible USB, FireWire and audio ports as well as an inbuilt set of memory card readers. Be sure to get the LC16MCR not the LC16MC if you want the memory card readers.

    The VFS on the case is an iMON and comes with a remote with an inbuilt IR mouse. The VFD display works well in Vista including the spectrum analyzer which I wasn't sure would work at all. You have to enable the "Stereo Mixer" recording device in Vista and use that as the source. I'm glad the motherboard I got came with an onboard sound card with a stereomix recording channel.

    I'm very happy with the case. It turned out to be a great choice.

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 6420

    I didn't need a grunty processor and this one had the right price/performance qualities. The processor needed to be dual core (increases responsiveness) but had to run cool. The Core 2 Duo idles around 23 degrees with the cooler I got.

  • Cooler: Thermalright Si-128

    Choosing a cooler took a long time. I wanted to get a cooler with as quiet a fan as possible. The SI-128 comes with no fan as you get to choose your own).The Zalman 9000 has an inbuilt fan so it would not have been easy to replace the fan.

    The other big issue was that the cooler had to fit in the case. Most quiet or fanless coolers are 15cm or higher which would have been a couple of cm too high for the case (that's really saying something since the LCM16 is a really big case). I was pleasently suprised when I found that the SI-128 cools the processor to 23 degrees using only the system case fans for airflow. I didn't need to buy a fan to clip ontop of the cooler so the cooler is 100% silent.

  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GS-965P-DS3P

    I was originally going to go for the Asus P5B-E but they're EOL and I couldn't find anyone who had any stock. I don't regret ending up with the DS3P as it's an excellent motherboard. The only thing that worried me was that it only has 2 PCI slots (but has 4 extra PCIe slots). The PCIe slots would be great if I could find any non-graphics PCIe devices in NZ!

    The things I really looked out for in a motherboard were: Passively cooled chipset, Optical SPDIF audio out, FireWire support, RAID support.

  • Memory: 2xApacer 1GB DDR6400 800Mhz memory

    Nothing fancy but the memory does come with heatspreaders.

  • Video Card: Asus 7300GT

    An excellent video card (only $120 NZD). Fast enough to run the Vista Aero interface and play videos without a glitch. Older cards like the FX5200 will struggle with full screen video if you have the 3D Aero interface turned on. The card uses passive cooling so there's no noisy fan.

  • TV Tuner: A Leadtek PVR2000.

    Just a TV tuner I already had. I plan on getting a card based on the ATI Theatre 550 chipset as I hear the picture quality is better.

  • Optical Drive: ASUS 18X DVDRW with Lightscribe

    Around $65 NZD and works
    extremely well. This drive is a short profile drive which means it won't take up as much case room as normal sized bigger drives. The drive, like most optical drives is noisy when it first starts spinning but it's very quiet while running.

  • Power Supply: SilenX 450W power supply

    A quiet power supply (not perfectly silent) but not bad.

  • Case Fans: 4 SilenX 80mm Fans

    I use SpeedFan to software control the fan speeds so they run almost silent.

  • Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium

    Not as expensive if you buy an OEM copy (about $170). Vista Media Center is one of the best products Microsoft have released.

The system is setup with xmlTVNZ to support NZ guides. I get information about the current program (much more than a normal Sky Box) and can set the HTPC to automatically record my favourite shows (single screening or the entire series as it shows). Rewinding, fast-forwarding, and pausing and of live TV works perfectly as you'd expect.

If only those people buying mySky could see what an HTPC could do :-)

I'm will be posting photos in the next few weeks..

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Windows Media Center Store Update Manager Crashes

If you're messing with the MCE guide settings in Vista you may end up with Windows Vista Media Center Update Manager constantly crashing. It will crash everytime you try to update your guide or when performs a scheduled guid update.

In my case, I was configuring the guide to work in New Zealand with with xmlTVNZ. The problem is that somehow Media Center's database (which is, curiously, a Sqlite database) gets corrupted and one of the fields can't be converted into a DataTime.

The solution is to delete the file C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\eHome\mediacenterdatastore.db. If the file is locked, you will need to shutdown the media center process as well as the ehrec.exe (use the Task Manager to kill the process or the Services manager to shutdown all the services with names starting with "Windows Media Center").

Saturday, June 2, 2007


PowerMenu is a small application I wrote back in 1998 that some extra menu items to the windows control menu in addition to the standard "Close", "Maximize", etc options. The extra menus are: Always On Top, Transparency and Minimize To Tray.

Along with this new blogger-based website, I've created a simple one click installer for PowerMenu.

Download Installer

Download Installer-less Version (not recommended)

PowerMenu is free but please consider making a donation:

Thanks to everyone who have donated money. I've got a full time job and am not always able to send a personal thanks. Your donations help pay for the hosting for this website.

PowerMenu 2.0 coming soon (10 year anniversary). Follow me on twitter for updates!