By February 8, 2010

An unexpected detriment to being an environmentally friendly HTPC user

I run up to six computers in my house. I turn them off or suspend them in order to save money and reduce my impact on the environment. I recently discovered a problem when doing this, though. I want to watch a television show or movie when I power on my HTPC. When I shut them off or suspend them most of their “lives,” all of the system health stuff runs at the same time I am trying to watch a program.

For example, I run Grisoft’s AVG antivirus software and Windows Defender. Both run on schedules and both can take a fair amount of CPU, RAM, and hard disk I/O resources. If you leave the machine off long enough, it’s possible to have both programs running at the same time.

This makes the rest of the system run slowly. This is particularly annoying when watching a 720p HD show via Boxee, which takes a pretty healthy dose of resources up on its own.

One of the design / cost decisions I made was to use the least expensive Core2Duo processor possible. I also tried to get lower-voltage processors, which use less power than their full-strength counterparts. Unfortunately these are at the lower-end of the horsepower spectrum. I arm each machine with 2GB of RAM, which sounds like a lot for a machine built a few years ago but will barely get the job done today. As such, I consider this my machines to be the “bare minimum” spec wise.

The hardware and price choices, combined with the anti-virus software, leads to a really sub-par user experience when everything is running at once.

This puts me in an odd position. I can leave the machines on all day, which uses more power but allows the anti-virus software to run on its preferred schedule. Or I can turn them off to conserve power but suffer the demands of PC health check plus multimedia playback.

I don’t have a solution for this yet. I think I may wind up running the downstairs computer 24/7 just because it has a higher probability of being used on a more regular basis. Unfortunately this is a trade-off I didn’t want to make, but having an HTPC that is usable when I want it is more important to me than a computer that is power efficient.

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7 Comments on "An unexpected detriment to being an environmentally friendly HTPC user"

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  1. Gremlin says:

    Why do you fear virus problems on a HTPC? Do you browse the internet on it? With a good add blocker, I just don’t worry about virus programs on the HTPC. It just doesn’t have any chances to really get them.

  2. Ric says:

    The best thing I’ve found for cold weather riding are handlebar muffs, as they put your (gloved) hand into still air. They also trap heat from heated grips.

    The disadvantages are they’re incredibly unaesthetic, and you need to be careful that the airflow can’t blow them back onto the handlebar levers. Riding not being able to see your hands takes a few minutes to become familiar.

    I suspect some of your cold hands problem is due to what looks like fairly low body fat levels, but I don’t think a solution of fattening up would be popular.

  3. Jon F says:

    I run my computers in S3 sleep (standby) mode which is a very low power mode. I have an over-the-air HDTV tuner card which records broadcast HDTV programs and it will wake from sleep to record the show then go back to sleep when the show is over. You should be able to use the task scheduler to schedule the computer to wake up to perform the scan, say, in the middle of the night. Not sure what OS you’re using but this should give you an idea of what to do:

    http://www.vistax64.com/tutorials/135388-windows-defender-automatic-scanning.html

  4. drfaulken says:

    Gremlin: Good point about possibly not needing virus protection on these HTPCs. They are net connected, although that’s not my main virus concern. I am concerned that another computer in the topography will get infected and spread it around to the other machines. I guess I’m paranoid. :

    Hi Jon: That is a great idea. I’ll give the article you linked a read and try it.

  5. Gremlin says:

    How often do you see virus notices on your main machines? Paranoia is a time honored tradition. Try this, disable all file sharing on that machine. If the other machines can’t touch it, they can’t infect it.

    • drfaulken says:

      I get them a few times a year.

      The problem with turning file sharing off is that my HTPCs are all networked to my file server. I’ve been using an Xbox1 and XBMC for years to stream media from my file server to my televisions, but the Xbox1 doesn’t have the horsepower to play 720p content.

  6. Agreschn says:

    Hey doc,

    I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I just wanted to give you a heads-up that there’s actually XBMC front ends for Windows, Mac, and Linux now.

    I have no clue how it works on an actual PC as opposed to an Xbox, but I know there are a lot of people in the A/V forum at ars that have mentioned using it.

    Not that this will solve your problem any, but would allow you to use a familiar program to continue to stream shows.

    Edit: Huh, guess a website would be nice to have to, eh? ;) http://xbmc.org

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