Ok, so we have the base Windows Media Center Edition PC out of the box and reviewed all of the specs with you. We're missing a few things, so luckily we saved some budget money for more memory and a graphics card. Let's face it, the on-board Intel graphics accelerator might be good enough for analog television, but we'll be pumping out up to five times the resolution!
We have to pick up a few items to add to our base:
- 1 Gigabyte of PC3200 RAM running at 400 Mhz = $99 after rebate
- 1 PCI-Express ATI-powered graphics card with 128 MB of memory = $99
One nice aspect of the Gateway system we purchased is that it opens up quickly and easily. There are two hand-tightened screws on the back left area of the case that you can remove in a matter of seconds. Be sure to remote the power cord from the PC before working on it.
Once those screws are removed the entire side cover of the case simply slides right off and exposes the PC's blood and guts. (Don't say we didn't warn you!). I've labeled the open slots we'll be using in the high level picture below.
I have the WMCE PC on its right side, so with the left side case panel off, you can see the entire system. If you notice on the bottom left we have two open slots: one PCI and one PCI-Express.
We'll be using the PCI-E slot for the ATI graphics card. Making sure you are fully grounded and have discharged any static electricity, you need to unscrew the fastener that holds the metal cover next to the slot. Here's a pic of the screw that holds the cover.
Once the fastener is removed, the silver metal cover can be pulled straight up; this exposes the back of the computer with an opening, but don't worry as there is a corresponding metal cover on the PCI-E graphics card.
For the graphics card, we chose VisonTek's Xtasy ATI Radeon X300SE for value reasons. This card was only $99 after instant and mail-in rebates, which is a good price for a base card. The card is powered by a 325Mhz VPU and has 128MB of on-board RAM. Additionally, the card will use another 128MB of system RAM if needed. There are plenty of better choices, but our budget held us back. Additionally, we'll ultimately be streaming our HDTV from the upstairs office to the downstairs big screen HDTV via an Xbox 360, so the card isn't going to be used that much.
Speaking of the graphics card, you can take the card out of its protective sleeve, align it with the open slot and firmly push it straight down. You really can't insert it incorrectly, but don't force it. If it is inserted right, it will be snugly seated in the PCI-E slot and there will be a new metal cover that closes up the back of the machine. Replace the fastener you removed so that the card is secure.
NOTE: It is possible on some systems that you need to disable the on-board graphics. This was not the case with the Gateway system, making it simple and easy to expand our graphics capabilities.
While the case is still open, it makes sense to add the extra 1 Gigabyte of RAM memory. We went the inexpensive route and grabbed a gig of PNY memory for $99. There are more prevalant name brands such as Kingston and Crucial, but remember our budget goal of keeping the system under $1,000.
You really can't insert the memory incorrectly as there are cutouts on the RAM circuit board that prevent you from inserting it backwards. Next to the open RAM slot, you will see little tabs or arms. These can be opened outward to accept memory. Be gentle but firm and insert the memory straight down into one of the open RAM slots. Once seated properly, the little arms will snap in place to hold the RAM.
NOTE: Some systems require you to add memory in a particular configuration. When you boot your system, verify that all of your memory is recognized. Example: we now have 1.5 GB of RAM. If Windows sees less than 1.5 GB then you may need to move the memory from one slot to another; when in doubt, check the support site of the PC manufacturer. Again, the Gateway system made life simple; I tried various memory configurations and all of them worked properly.
Once I installed the graphics card and the memory, I closed up the case by sliding the panel back on and then I secured the two hand-tightened screws. Why did I do this instead of just installing the next component? I wanted to verify that both the graphics card and the memory were properly installed before proceeding.
Upon rebooting, Windows will attempt to recognize new hardware; in this case, the graphics card. You may be prompted for drivers or other software and I did have to insert the ATI included CD-ROM.
Next step: Installing the HD tuner card and faking WMCE out!