Dejan Levec

HTPC: Windows vs Linux

When it comes to choosing operating system for HTPC you have only two options: Windows 7 or Linux distro (probably Ubuntu). This is a bigger problem than you think, because both are supposed to provide HTPC’s main ability: audio and video playback. My HTPC is 1 year old and consists of:
– i3 540 3.06GHz
– Asus P7H55M
– 4 GB RAM
– 200 GB hard drive

I tried both operating systems, firstly at the time of purchase, and secondly a few days ago and following is my experience with both setups.

Windows 7

Setup of Windows 7 took about 20 mins and I spend addional 10 minutes installing needed drivers (VGA and sound). After that I installed Chrome for web browsing, MPC-HC for watching videos from Explorer and Boxee for music/video playback (which is being used 90% of the time). So I got HTPC enabled PC in about 40 minutes which is not that bad, considering it might stay like that for a few years.

I can’t really complain about any major problems. 1080p video playback works surprisingly good (without a hitch) even on modest integrated graphics card. One minor problem I have is with 150% font scaling (kinda needed to use PC from the couch), Google Chrome and Flash. Taskbar stays visible when you use fullscreen. Only solution I found so far is to use alternative browser, IE in my case.

Pros/cons:
– cost: from 0 to 80€ (MSDNAA Pro version or Home Premium at Amazon)
+ great driver support
+ Flash for YouTube, Vimeo, Grooveshark and other sites

Ubuntu 11.04/12.04

It. just. works sucks. Plain and simple.
I like Linux and think it’s quite great, however, I still use Windows 7 as my main OS. I never trusted Linux much with video playback and driver support, but I didn’t want to give up at the beginning. So I downloaded Ubuntu and installed it. Installation was faster than on Windows and I didn’t even need any additional drivers considering that Intel keeps great relations with open source community.
After initial installation I added XBMC which at the time (1 year ago) meant adding their repository from terminal and using apt-get to install it. Everything went good, until I found out that Intel hardware accelerated video decoding wasn’t available in any useful way at the time. And not only that, software decoding wasn’t good enough for 1080p (you can’t blame the hardware, because it works on Windows).
What could I do? After some googling I found cheap graphics card that supports hardware decoding under Linux, which added 50€ to the cost of my build. Sadly, I found out, that it doesn’t work smoothly with every video, and that was the point when I gave up with Linux for this build. Don’t want to even start mentioning other things, such as constant crashing of Boxee client (yeah, I know Boxee box runs Linux) and completely useless sleep/hibernate function.

Pros/cons:
+ cost
– drivers
– software

Conclusion: Windows wins
After spending 50€ for something that I don’t even need, I got worse performance with hardware video decoding on Linux than with software decoding on Windows. And the price for this graphics card was just short of 20€ for Windows Home Premium. Don’t want to even mention, that I threw it out when I found out it’s the main noise (and probably heat) generator in my build.

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