Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Big Vista Sweep, part IV

Mind Transfer #3: The Alienware DHS-5

Alienware DHS-5 Media Center 2005 server
Native OS: WIndows MCE 2005 Professional, SP2
Memory: 2 Gig
Hard drive: 320Gig Onboard, 3 Terabyte RAID0 Array offboard.
Extra Devices/Features: Support for most digital memory sticks, high end graphics card/processor, dual Hauppauge NTSC Tuners, dual ATI HDTV Wonder tuners, Realtek 7.1 audio processor.

Ok...this could have gone faster, but I was kindofa dolt about some of this. For the most part, this installation would have (with hindsight) worked straight out of the box. (With a couple of exceptions - because Alienware doesn't sell this machine anymore, they really didn't have any drivers for it on the support website. I also swapped out the original tuner cards for a couple of Hauppauge PVR PCI II tuners. So, I spent a good part of the day hunting down drivers for the Hauppauge, the ATI Radeus 9800 Pro graphics card, and the Realtek 7.1 audio drivers. This was, of course, an exercise in futility, since these popular items already had drivers on the Vista upgrade DVD.)

A quick run through Vista Upgrade Advisor showed that the only bad Vista citizens on this MCE machine were the silly Alienware GUI enhancements (their trademarked "little green man" user interface), Nero DVD burning software, and the old Media Center Extender Server. (This has been replaced by new code inside of Vista MCE itself.) So, I removed these items, plus shutdown the Transcode360 software (more on that in a bit).... however, I was still twitchy from the last Vista upgrade, so I did a couple of idiotic things.

Before I start, I should remind everyone that this Alienware box is the main media supplier (all media) for my house. There are backups to machines elsewhere, but all video, audio and imagery in the house eventually winds up on one of the RAID arrays hanging off of this thing. Furthermore, it's in the basement in a rack, away from the main plasma display in the living room, so I can't see the teletales very easily on the box, and reading 10pt font on a plasma display is a challenge - even given my vampire eyes. (There, I believe that covers all of my excuses quite nicely.)

I start the upgrade late on a Saturday afternoon - and the machine begins its normal upgrade path - however, about 2 hours into the automatic install, the plasma screen goes black. After 20 minutes of blackness, I go into the basement, and the Alienware box looks inert. No telltales, nothing. I put my ear up to the box, and I could hear the hard drive whirring and clicking, but that could have been almost anything. I said a prayer and hit the reboot switch.

To Vista's credit, when the Alienware came back to life, whatever Vista had done undid itself, and the system restored to XP MCE 2005, and presented me with the terse warning "This machine was unable to install Vista." And...I went to bed.

I woke up the next day peeved...the Alienware is an ass-kicking machine loaded with standard equipment. There is no reason that it shouldn't have upgraded. So, I tried again - it went through the same routine... the plasma screen went dark, with a minimal amount of disk activity on the box. I just let it go, I had all afternoon...20 minutes...30...40...whir! Click! It rebooted....with Vista installed.

The machine basically came to life all in one motion, restoring its previous settings including all of the television recording information that I had scheduled. (A big fear I had was that the 30 or so recordings I had scheduled would have to be rescheduled. That would have been a pain.) I ran around the house to the XBox 360 Media Extenders to reboot them, get their UIDs and enter them into Vista Media Center - they came up too.

Then...I tried the remote control: dead. Setting up the tuners: dead. I could see the eHome remote control receiver that came with the Alienware light up, but nothing was happening. Three hours later (yes, three), after searching forums and looking for new occured to me that it could just be that the eHome was unsupported. I went to my office to pull the Sony IR receiver off my newly-Vista'ed desktop, plugged it into the Alienware...and: it immediately installed drivers and started functioning. The rest of the media center setup took 20 minutes.
(Idiot! God!)

So that's it - the Alienware is up and running. Now all I need to do is update Transcode 360...and more on that little gem of a piece of software tomorrow.

Verdict: Success.
Round-trip Rocket Time for Upgrade: 6 Hours - if I wasn't a nimrod: 3 hours.
Rocket Cost: Vista Home Premium ($150)

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