ZBox AD10 and XBMC

This is my first post in English, which makes sense since it is my first post since I arrived in England.

Last week, I bought an HTPC on Amazon. After looking at some tests and reviews, I bought a Zotac ZBox AD10 (an HTPC barebone with an AMD E350 processor), a WD Scorpio Blue 500GB hard drive and 4GB of Crucial RAM. Instead of using the hard drive to install the OS, I decided to use a memory card (Sandisk Ultra 8GB), which I hoped would be faster than a 5400 RPM hard drive.

So, a few days later, I received my packages (2 packages, the really fragile stuff delivered by a carrier, and the rest by mail, but as usual with Amazon, very well protected). So it was on for the setup.

1. Hardware customization

It was quite easy to install the RAM and HDD. To open the box, I just had to remove 4 screws (which are also the stand of the box). Then I just had to plug the RAM and screw the HDD to its support and srew the support in the box, and it was done!

2. OS installation: XBMC Live

My goal was to build an HTPC, so I searched for HTPC OS. I mainly found XBMC, which is

an award-winning free and open source (GPL) software media player and entertainment hub for digital media (source)

As I didn’t want to install Windows, and didn’t want or couldn’t install OSX, I chose the Ubuntu version, which is available as a Ubuntu distribution called XBMC Live or XBMCbuntu. Like any Ubuntu distribution, it’s really easy to install from a USB thumbdrive, so it took me less than an hour to create the installation USB stick and install the system on my memory card.

Then I had to format my storage hard drive, which was still really easy after looking for it on Google.

3. Testing

After installing the OS and formatting the hard drive, my system was ready to use. I uploaded a few videos via FTP and could directly start watching them. It’s really nice when everything works directly out of the box, and you don’t have to install a s**tload of drivers.

But after a few hours, I noticed 2 problems:

  • when I wanted to shut down the box, instead of shutting down, it closed XBMC and returned to the Ubuntu login screen,
  • the Zotac remote control started to act weirdly, and when I pressed an arrow key to navigate in a menu, it just kept going in this direction.

So after searching for a resolution for the remote control problem, and not finding it, I decided to test another OS.

4. OS installation: OpenElec

When looking for an OS, I found mostly results for XBMC. But I also found forum posts where OpenElec was mentioned. So I looked at it, and found this description:

a small Linux distribution built from scratch as a platform to turn your computer into a complete XBMC media center (source)

So it’s the same idea as XBMC Live, but with a very lightweight custom Linux distribution instead of Ubuntu.

It’s also really easy to install (with this procedure), and faster than installing XBMC Live.

Installing OpenElec solved my shutdown problem (when I ask my box to shut down, it does), but not the one with the remote control. To “fix” it (or at least remove the problem), I had to unplug the external IR receiver, and use the internal one.

5. Conclusion

I could write a few more pages (if this was on paper) on the different plugins XBMC proposes, the methods to make your box scrape your movies and TV shows to retrieve info from website like TheTVDB or IMDB,… but it won’t be for today.

My point is that XBMC is really good right after the installation, and excellent if you take some time tuning it.

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