Old PC as an HTPC and File + Game Server... Help Me Make It Happen!
January 23, 2013 3:01 PM   Subscribe

I have an old computer I'm thinking of turning into a home theatre PC, as well as a dedicated FTP and multiplayer game server. Can it be done, and what do I need? Tech specs and more detailed questions inside.

I have an old computer just laying around taking up space. I had considered selling it on eBay but it quickly became apparent I wouldn't get much for it. I figured out how to hook it up to my living room TV and started getting grand ideas about turning it into a HTPC and a dedicated server. But I'm new to most of this and the research I have done so far offers more questions I can't seem to find answers to. I would appreciate some advice.

Before we begin, the PC's tech specs are as follows;

CPU: AMD Athlon XP 1.6GHz
Video Card: ATI Radeon 9600 X1050
Sound Card: NVIDIA nForce 2 MCP-T (onboard the motherboard, an ASUS A7N8X-E Deluxe)
Hard Drive: 320GB 7200RPM

My questions are as follows.

SOUND: Because this PC doesn't have an HDMI port, I've hooked it up to my TV via the RGB port. Looks great in widescreen, but I'm not getting any sound. According to my research, the sound card is capable of real time Dolby Digital 5.1 encoding with hardware accelerated 3D audio.

This page of the motherboard manual shows us we have an S/PDIF out jack to play with. This seems my best bet of getting the best 5.1 sound. I've always understood S/PDIF to be a TOSLINK cable. But the jack doesn't seem to fit a TOSLINK cable. So my questions here are;

1) What kind of cable would I need to hook this up to the back of my 5.1 surround sound AV receiver?
2) Would I be better off using the various line out ports to connect it to the back of my TV? What kind of cables do i need for this?

Here's an actual pic of the back of the computer, if it helps.

HOME THEATRE: I know and love Plex. I know and like XBMC. My research suggests neither of these two clients will work with windows XP, which is the best OS this system can run. I know of some other alternatives, but some recommendations would be appreciated.

FILE SERVER: So my research to date suggests the best thing to do to operate my own file server is to sign up a free dynamic DNS service, modify some settings in my modem configuration, and then get a free program like FireFTP. Sounds easy enough. Too easy. Am I missing something, or is this setup going to be harder than it sounds?

GAME SERVER: This I know less about, and what research I've done confuses me.

I'd like to install a Minecraft server at the very least (which I know how to do) and probably some other games like DayZ and a FPS (haven't decided which yet). The games themselves would be played on the other computers in my network and possibly remotely by my friends.

Problem is, those two computers are Macs (an iMac and a Mac Mini). So my questions are;

1. Can Macs play on a game server hosted on a Windows XP machine?
2. Is the Windows XP machine even up to the task?
3. How do I let friends (or even strangers) remotely join my server?
4. I'm guessing there's no grand, unifying software that lets you run multiple servers for different games?

Thanks in advance for all your help!
posted by Effigy2000 to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'll see your questions, and raise you some questions:

Could it be a mini-toslink? If so, and you have a free toslink input on your amp, I'd grab an adaptor and use that.

Is linux out of the question? I'd be a little nervous about running a fileserver on the internet on XP.
posted by pompomtom at 3:36 PM on January 23, 2013

OpenELEC is a Linux distribution with XBMC pre-configured. It's intended to boot from a USB disk or SD card, so you can witness the awesome power of XBMC without mangling Windows or touching the hard drive.

And make sure you're setting up an sFTP server and client. Plain old FTP is seriously insecure. You can also set up a file server as a normal Windows file share (CIFS) instead of FTP.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 3:44 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It could be a mini-toslink! I'd have to buy a cable to check (I don't have one in my pandora s box of cables, sadly) but yeah, it might be indeed!

Linux isn't out of the question but I have exactly zero experience with Linux. I'm not not willing to learn how to use it, but better the devil you know...
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:45 PM on January 23, 2013

An Athlon XP is not going to handle all those things together. Heck, it would even struggle with a minecraft server. My home server was very similar to yours (1.8 GHz Athlon XP, 1 GB RAM, Radeon 9200, onboard sound) and I know I wouldn't have been able to use it as an HTPC with any decent quality except as a dumb monitor - e.g. setting up the TV card for direct passthrough to the screen.

Your best bet is to install and learn a minimal Linux OS. I haven't seen OpenELEC before, but it looks like your best bet to start with. It's unlikely you'll be able to watch/record video and host a minecraft server at the same time, though, with only 1 GB of RAM.
posted by WasabiFlux at 5:33 PM on January 23, 2013

better the devil you know...

Not necessarily. With either of (a) no Linux experience or (b) Windows XP as a server, you are going to be facing difficulties in getting things to work.

Using Linux in a server role, you can be quite confident that it will be able to deal with whatever requirement you have of it, if you're persistent enough; there has probably been more attention paid to the Linux networking stack than to any other aspect of the system, and there are no important differences between a desktop Linux and a server version. With a desktop edition of Windows, not so much: the main Windows design goal seems to have been reducing the inconvenience inherent in managing huge fleets of workstations, and there are lots of networking things that work OK on Windows Server editions that have been deliberately crippled on or left out of the desktop editions.

XP, for example, is licensed to accept at most 10 incoming network connections at any time, and has technical measures in place to enforce this. You can of course work around those if license compliance is not a priority for you; personally I have a fairly visceral reaction to a software manufacturer attempting to tell me what they will deign to allow me to do with my own computer and am therefore much happier using open-source stuff, but ymm naturally v.

If you have no current Linux experience, setting up a server strikes me as a pretty good project to use for getting some.

The other nice thing about using Linux for this job is that having learned and tweaked and fiddled and fussed for months to get the thing exactly the way you want it, all you'll have to do if you want to upgrade your hardware is transplant your existing hard drive into a newer box and switch it on. All that's required to make that work is keeping the kernel up to date. Windows takes much less kindly to hardware variation than that.
posted by flabdablet at 5:47 PM on January 23, 2013

1. Yes, you should have absolutely no problem connecting to a Windows server from a Mac.

2. Running multiple game servers might require a beefier computer - Minecraft in particular is a RAM hog. How many players at a time would you have?

3. To have people join your server remotely without problems, you'll want to make sure of two things: that the traffic gets routed properly (so you don't expose the whole network), and that people can access it from the Internet.

For the first, you'll want to check your router's settings. The second is typically solved with a "dynamic DNS" service, like no-ip. With that solution, you get a fixed domain name you can give out to people, and a program you run in the background to make sure it's linked to the server.
posted by GenericUser at 12:48 AM on January 24, 2013

Which was basically what you suggested for the file server. Apologies for scanning past that bit.
posted by GenericUser at 12:53 AM on January 24, 2013

« Older Coke Is It!   |   Help me help my daughter. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.