Top
Bottom
Top

Scott's Column
Building An Inexpensive Media PC & Web Hosting

July 1, 2008
By Scott Lewis

This month I am finishing up the hardware part of my PC Resurrection project. All the parts are in place and the computer is running. You can find out exactly what I ending up with. Next I will spend some more time going over the options for hosting my web site. Last month I moved. This month I will go over the options I had for moving my web site.

Current Topics:

PC Resurrection Part III

This month we will go through the steps I went through as I researched the recovery of my damaged desktop PC. I did end up building something, so at the end of the you will see what I eventually bought. The May 25th Best Buy flyer had a Samsung 220WM 22" LCD monitor for $219.99. Let's put this into our "casual" gaming setup from last month and see what we get:

Intel Core 2 Duo E6850 Conroe 3.0GHz LGA 775 65W                 184.99
ASUS P5N-E SLI LGA 775 NVIDIA nForce 650i SLI ATX                119.99
Kingston HyperX 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066        66.99
GIGABYTE GV-NX85T512HP GeForce 8500GT 512MB x16 SLI Supported     67.99
Samsung 220WM 22", 1680x1050 LCD MONITOR                         219.99
                                                                -------
Sub-Total                                                       $659.95

I really don't want to go over $600 for a budget gaming machine. Notice that I kept the fastest CPU I had priced below $200 (so far). To bring this setup up to Crysis' performance needs means we would have to add either two 8800 GT cards or one card faster than the GT. Here is a configuration with a single 8800 GTS card to keep it simple:

Intel Core 2 Duo E6850 Conroe 3.0GHz LGA 775 65W                 184.99
ASUS P5N-E SLI LGA 775 NVIDIA nForce 650i SLI ATX                119.99
Kingston HyperX 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066        66.99
MSI NX8800GTS 512M OC GeForce 8800GTS (G92) 512MB SLI            224.99
Samsung 220WM 22", 1680x1050 LCD MONITOR                         219.99
                                                                -------
Sub-Total                                                       $816.95


Now we are over $800... being this is an upgrade, it is a lot to spend.

Because the 8800 GT would take two cards to get decent performance in Crysis, plus it means a more expensive motherboard, I ultimately decided to take the inexpensive route. I decided to build a super budget Media Center PC with casual gaming capabilities. I went with the the least expensive GIGABYTE motherboard that fit these criteria:

  • ATX Design. I am putting this in a really old ATX case and didn't want fit and finish issues.
  • Support for both 1066 and 1333 front side bus (FSB) speeds. This means I can upgrade to Quad Core CPUs with the 1333 MHz FSB later.

I also decided that since this price point won't run Crysis at a decent frame rate I would not even try. So I went with the cheapest CPU that fit the following criteria:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 1066 MHz FSB

This brought me down to the E7200 Wolfdale Core 2 Duo running at 2.53GHz. This should be more than enough power to run old games, and run media tasks just fine.

This is the final list of products I purchased:

GIGABYTE GA-P31-S3G LGA 775 Intel P31 ATX Intel                  64.99
Intel Core 2 Duo E7200 Wolfdale 2.53GHz LGA 775 Dual-Core       131.99
Kingston HyperX 1GB 240-Pin DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) 30.99 x 2       61.98
ASUS EN8500GT SILENT MAGIC/HTP/512M GeForce 8500 GT              57.99
Hauppauge WinTV HVR-1250 Video Recorder 1196 PCI-Express         59.99
Samsung 220WM 22", 1680x1050 LCD MONITOR                        219.99
                                                               -------
Sub-Total                                                      $596.93

Notice that I "cheaped out" on the video card. In the earlier articles I used a name brand vendor for the 8500GT. Since I had given up on playing Crysis I also decided to save a few bucks and get a no-name brand video card. The one part that makes this a Media Center PC I is the Hauppauge HVR-1250, and I choose this PCI-Express model because it was 10 bucks cheaper than a USB TV tuner card and it included a remote control.

It was all worth it, because I was able to get a full blown Media Center PC for under $600. Remember, I am re-using my case, power supply, DVD drive and hard drive. I will eventually upgrade the CPU and video card when a single video card will play Crysis at 60 fps for a decent price.

Next month I will cover the software and setup of this media PC and how I managed to get TV shows on my Zune 80, the main reason for being a media PC.

Top

Web Hosting Part II

Last month I told you about my IP address changing and the possibility I might go back to using a domain name again. A domain name is something like www.mywebsite.com or www.google.com. You can get whatever you want... as long as you get it first. I will not get into the notion that all the good names have already been taken.

Here are some names I briefly thought about:

www.scottlewis.com - Taken.
www.scottlewis.net - Taken, sort of. Expired and I am not willing
                     to pay someone for it.
www.scott-lewis.com - My old domain name, taken by a real estate agent.
www.scott-lewis.net - This is close to my old one, and the .net
                      implies it is not commercial which it is not.
www.scottmlewis.com - This is most likely, but I kind of want
                      something more "catchy."
www.scottssite.com - I wanted this, but I don't like the double ss.
                     I suspect a lot of people would have trouble
                     typing it correctly when told it verbally.
www.scottswebsite.com - Taken.
www.scottswebsite.net - This might work better than scottssite since
                        there are no double ss to confuse typing.
www.sml.com - Taken.
www.thesite.com - Hmmm. Short, easy to type, catchy, but it doesn't
                  mean anything. One search showed it was taken and
                  one didn't. It turned out to be taken.
www.computersandcars.com - Taken.
www.carsandcomputers.com - Taken.
www.miscellaneous.com - Taken.
www.miscellaneousstuff.com - Taken.
www.classiccarwatch.com - Taken. Besides, it only covers 1/3 of what
                          this site is about.


So, .net or .com. that is the question. Most people still think .com anytime they have to type an address. That may or may not matter to my ultimate traffic. .Net implies it is not a commercial site, which would be correct. I have never put an ad or charged a penny for anything on my site. That is one of the best things about it. It is completely devoid of banners and gimmicks. Just me and my opinions writing about what I want to write about.

But what if that changed. What if I wanted to start advertising to get some money. Everyone else seems to do it. I can't think of many popular sites, even those by people like me, that don't have "Ads by Google" or some other form of advertising. I have an idea for a web application/service (more next month). This would have a real cost to it, though as we will see that cost is pretty modest... initially. Say my idea takes off and I have to get serious. Then I may want to have a .com address. I suppose it doesn't matter. I see so many .net addresses selling stuff, and doing advertising that I don't think the common Internet surfer knows the difference anymore. And that is the reason to stay with .com anyway... the common user is used to typing it.

So, .com it is. What was the list of available names:

www.scottmlewis.com - Accurate, but not catchy.

I didn't like that enough so I went with www.scottlewisonline.com. Alright, this is not an article about picking a worthless name. It is an article about getting a domain and figuring out how to host it. I did a little digging and found some real options. Here are the three main options I am seriously considering:

Option 1: FreeDNS

FreeDNS is a free (as the name implies) DNS service that will allow you to use a dynamic IP address and point a domain name to it. You basically setup your domain name with them. You can then either login to their site to update your IP address when it changes or you can download a utility that will do the update for you. In my case I would run the updating utility on my server. After all I don't want to worry about running it from my laptop. What would happen while I was out of town. It might try to point my web site to someone else's address. To work with FreeDNS I would need to get a domain name myself. I did a really fast check of GoDaddy, and they can get you a domain name for $9.99 a year. This is clearly the lowest cost option I could find.

Option 2: easyDNS

aasyDNS is similar to FreeDNS, however, they will also get you your domain name. The least expensive package they had that included the domain name and the service to connect it to a dynamic IP address was $35 a year. This is much less than I was paying the last time I was paying for full hosting. easyDNS has nice tutorials to show you how things work. In a nutshell you setup your IP address and domain name and then install a small client application that acts as a communication back to easyDNS. This way as soon as your IP address changes it will be changed with easyDNS. I prefer this to any system that requires you to manually check and then log into a site when your IP address changes. easyDNS will do it automagically.

Option 3: Full Hosting

My third option is to just get my site hosted. I would need at least 1 GB of disc space. I really don't care much about anything else. Since I was already on GoDaddy's web site I looked up there hosting costs. The package that covers all my needs... and then some... costs $48.96 a year. Again, this is a lot cheaper than the last time I had my site hosted (about $69 a year plus extra for disc space, but I don't remember exactly). For this fee I would get 10 GB of disc space and up to 10 MySQL databases or 1 Microsoft SQL database with up to 200 MB of space. The databases may be useful if I ever build a real web site. The Windows option allows for support of ASP 2.0, which is what I will be programming at work in the near future. Regardless, for straight hosting of my static web site this is more than good enough.

Pros, Cons and Features

There is a saying that keeps coming to mind, "you get what you pay for." FreeDNS is cheap, but what if it stops working. With easyDNS it costs more than getting your domain name yourself, but it could be more reliable. $35 a year seems reasonable to keep me going. It took 2 years for my IP address to change. Will I have to wait 2 years before I find out which of these is better.

Going with the dynamic DNS solution has its own pros and cons. Hosting the site myself is technically against Road Runner's rules. You are not supposed to be running a server from home. But my site is very, very modest. I have been hosting it at home for about 3 years now, and Road Runner hasn't said a thing. But if I ever did get serious I would have to move it to a real hosting service. At home I have to be worried about being hacked as my router must let traffic in from the outside on port 80 (the port that web pages use). This is a security issue. With static HTML pages I would feel pretty safe, but with database access and .Net development I might have to take a more active role in managing the site to keep it safe.

Security is not a problem with a hosting service. That becomes their problem. As does backing up the server. I only backup my server occasionally. I have copies of most stuff on other computers so it is not a huge deal. I am contemplating getting an external hard drive to backup the server and all the laptops in the house, so backups may become a moot point.

Obviously I have to pay more to host the site elsewhere and then I have less flexibility with what I want to do. Hosting it myself I can do anything I can figure out how to do. I have heard some horror stories about cheap hosting services. I have not heard a lot of bad things about GoDaddy yet, but at the low price they must be taking shortcuts somewhere. I don't want to pay $10 a month, or more, for robust service either. That is overkill for this site. It is a static HTML web site for my own whim. GoDaddy's 50 bucks a year is probably good enough.

Bandwidth also comes to mind. I have limited upload capabilities. I assume having it hosted would give me faster upload speeds (meaning faster download speeds for you).

At this point I am not looking for database access or anything else like that. But the idea may happen. I have an idea for a new application for myself, and it might be a decent web app/service. The application I am thinking of would require a database. I expect to use a database with it as a local application, but having it as a web service means that a real database would be mandatory, if for no other reason than to store each user's information.

When I look for a web host I will need to find one that will let me have two domain names, one for this web application as well as one for my own personal web site. I believe a sub-domain on the hosting service will work. I would just have to buy the second domain name and point it to a sub-domain on my main site.

All this is getting crazy. I could search online forever. There are probably cheaper services that will meet my modest needs, but the idea is still here. For $10 - $50 a year I can get a domain name and host it myself or have it hosted for me.

Next month I will tell you how www.scottlewisonline.com is being hosted.

Top

Conclusion

Next month I am going to tell you how I setup my Media Center PC, which direction I went for hosting my web site, and I am going to leak the idea I have for a new application.

Bottom