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The End of An Era and The Beginning of a New One

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This Saturday we lost electricity... and along with it my old Dell Zino. I first wrote about it when I looking to do my digital media overhaul in August 2011. It's a fun article to reflect upon. I had two $99 HP Touchpads coming to the house the next day. That's how long the Dell Zino was with us.

The Dell Zino was an Home Theater PC (HTPC) that we used to elminate our cable box rental fees along with this SiliconDust HDHomeRun Prime and a very cheap cableCARD from your cable company.

The combination of an HTPC, Microsoft Windows Media Center, and the HDHomeRun Prime, gave us almost everything that we'd get from renting a DVR from the cable company. We didn't get OnDemand, but we also had a full computer for running, Netflix, Hulu, a Plex Server, and the incredible PlayOn TV.

The Dell Zino was $550 and the HDHomerun Prime was a couple of hundred on top of that. It wasn't exactly a cheap solution to avoid paying cable fees, but it felt good. Now that we are sending Zino the Wonder Television to the eternal entertainment center in the sky, I can finally calculate how much it might have saved us.

Yesterday I went to the Cox store to get a replacement box. The idea was to get a short-term solution while I wait for the successor. I could get a box for $1.99/mo. that essentially allowed me to watch TV. For $8.50, I could get a digital guide and OnDemand. For another $15 (on top of the $8.50), I could get DVR functionality. That's $23.50/mo. for what I had with the Zino (again, minus OnDemand). That's $282 or $1410 over the 5 years we had the Zino.

That set-up cut our DVR costs in half! If you count that the HDHomeRun Prime is still fine it wouldn't be too much of stretch to say it saved us nearly $1000.

I'm not sure if getting 5 years out of the Zino was good or bad. I rarely have a computer last that long, so that's good. On the other hand, it didn't have to do too much. It usually ran one application. I would expect it to last a long time.

The Replacement May Be a Problem

I knew that the Zino was on its last legs. I had been looking for a replacement, but I knew it wasn't going to be easy. Microsoft ended Windows Media Center in Windows 10. It simply isn't available in any form. It was the only software that works well for all the premium channels. With Windows 8 you had the option to get Windows Media Center, but you had to pay extra for it.

So ideally, I'd be looking for a computer with Windows 7. That's not easy to find as most new computers are sold with Windows 10. I noticed a deal on a rare Windows 7 computer Amazon Prime Day, but I didn't pull the trigger. I simply didn't want to spend another $600 that day.

What a difference a weeks makes.

It seems like my luck comes in two forms: extremely good and the bad. This is a case of extremely good luck. I happened to go on Slickdeals where I saw the deal originally. The original deal expired, but it happened to be back!

For those who aren't tech nerds, the processor in my old Zino scored 1782 on a Passmark benchmark test. The new processor scores a little over 10,000 on the same benchmark test. Roughly, the brains are 5.5 times faster... but there are a lot of other speed enhancements as well (faster memory, faster graphics, etc.). I wouldn't be surprised if it was 10 times faster in practice.

The price was ~$620 with taxes, so not too much more than the original Zino. It's a bigger computer, but not too big.

Here are the full specs for technology nerds:

  • Intel Core i7-6700 Quad Core 3.6GHz CPU
  • 16GB DDR3L Memory
  • 2TB HDD
  • AMD Radeon R9 360 2GB GDDR5
  • 2x USB 3.0
  • 4x USB 2.0
  • 1x HDMI
  • 1x VGA
  • DVD-RW
  • 802.11bgn WiFi + Bluetooth 4.0
  • Windows 7 Professional 64 Bit (Includes Windows 10 Pro License)

There's room for improvement like an SSD, more USB 3.0 ports, a Blu-Ray drive, and 802.11ac wifi. I may end up putting an SSD in it, but I'll give the traditional HDD a shot first. I had zero 3.0 ports, so having 2 is nice. I have an external portable Blu-Ray drive, so that's not a big deal. I typically use the Ethernet connection for the media center since it needs to be near the cable connection anyway. Thus the WiFi isn't a big deal.

I'm excited to have a processor that fast with that much memory. I have been using laptops that are designed with chips to save power for years. Even the Zino used chips designed for a laptop. I imagine it will be quite an increase in performance to go back to the power of a full desktop.

I'm hopeful that it will be relatively easy to get Windows Media Center set back up. I'll let you now how it goes.

Posted on July 19, 2016.

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2 Responses to “The End of An Era and The Beginning of a New One”

  1. Shawn says:

    I had a very similar setup to you. But I had 2 Hauppage internal Tuner cards and an OTA antenna.
    I could watch and record 4 channels at the same time. My OTA antenna picked up about 30 local stations and no cable bill at all.

    I was not paying attention and clicked OK to update to Windows 10 and lost media center.

    I have since replaced the PC with an android box. and still have the antenna hooked up to the TV. I can watch any of the local stations live on the antenna and stream anything I missed instead of running the PVR.

    I spent $100 on the box and already had the antenna. So essentially I have spent a total of $100 on tv for the past few years and I don’t miss any of the shows I was watching before. My inlaws who just recently got rid of their satellite package were paying over $100 a month to watch TV.

    • Lazy Man says:

      That’s an awesome frugality feat Shawn. I didn’t know that Android had the software to do that.

      We rely pretty heavily on the DVR, though we may replace that with PlayOn.TV someday. Since we moved from California to Rhode Island we don’t get as many channels and the kids really love Nickelodeon. Cutting cable would be difficult for us.

      I want to try more video editing, so getting a powerful computer will help.

      I could also just be justifying getting a super-computer toy that I can try stuff without fear of slowing it down.

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