Andrew Breese

Musings of a professional geek

old laptop becomes htpc

My 4 year old laptop died about 6 months ago due to a horridly corrupted Windows issue which I found basically impossible to fix. Over the past months I’ve been trying to fix it, and find a new use for it as a home geek project. The issue was My account (yes, a non-admin Account with slightly elevated privileges) and the admin Account was unable to write files anywhere on the local disks. This meant that programs crashed, nothing would install, and likewise nothing could be removed. I went as far as booting into safe mode and trying all sorts of permission hacks (which looked like poor imitations of CHMOD) and new Account hacks before ensuring I had a good backup and wiping the damned thing.

I still have no idea what I did to corrupt the OS that badly and half expect it was either a drastic virus infection or a stupid “are you sure” prompt where I should have said “nooooooo!”. Without a root cause I’ll blame myself for the mess and move on.

So the laptop has been wiped clean and a fresh Windows 8.1 install is now running smoothly. I also caved in and bought a new laptop to muck about in and play games (a great gaming laptop is like a slow desktop gaming machine except it costs twice the price). The old notebook became the new “spare” laptop. It still a solid pc as it was nice when I grabbed it in late 2014. It has multiple IO ports, VGA HDMI and a good stack of ram and hard disk space. It got me thinking of a home theatre pc (htpc as the kids used to say).

First I tried an install if KodiBuntu for the OS but found the new disk management didn’t like installing from DVD or USB! Same for another version of Linux which was a frustrating waste of a few evenings. I gave up on using a Linux distro quickly after that. Windows 8.1 isn’t a great OS anymore but it’s already installed and I paid for it so might as well use it. KodiBuntu isn’t available for 64bit Windows 8.1 easily either, so it’s gone.

Aside – I wouldn’t use a Windows OS on a dedicated “appliance” pc by choice without a very good antivirus & firewall like Sophos home and ensuring the OS runs on an account that isn’t an admin. Call me paranoid? I’m considering an additional layer of protection by only allowing the laptop to connect to a dedicated and segregated wifi network on the router, however its not in place yet so still pondering. That may also mean upgrading my home router too, which I do not want to do just for that config option.

Then I installed Kodi (the renamed XBMC) tool and its working well. I was able to quickly add my old media box as a video source and I’m now starting to ponder how to use this theatre pc better, and what mods might be handy. Kodi made it very simple once i adapted to how the menus work.

My plan is to have a good “spare” laptop which can be lent, borrowed, moved about when needed and also used up play videos which are using codecs which my old WD media box does not play. The WD is even older and suffering from Codec fatigue, a nd I also worry that the WD is not supported and might be a little insecure by today’s standards.

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