posted by Thom Holwerda on Fri 30th Oct 2009 12:07 UTC
IconI'm in a bit of a pickle here. I have an Atom 330-based tiny computer which I use as my HTPC. It performed its job fine running Windows 7 and Boxee, and over the past few months, it ran Mac OS X Leopard with Plex. Now, however, I want to try Linux as an HTPC operating system, but I kind of ran into a roadblock there with Ubuntu 9.10 - so the question is: what is a good HTPC Linux distribution?

Since my preference in distributions lies with Debian-based systems, and Ubuntu in particular, I obviously went for the latest Ubuntu release, version 9.10. Sadly, Ubuntu 9.10 has major issues on Atom 330/Intel 945GC+ICH7 chipset machines; no matter what I do, it will always crash during installation. Sometimes even before starting the installation (while still in live CD mode), sometimes during. It's not the installer that crashes - the entire operating system hangs. I tried both USB and CD as installation source.

Google is not helpful in providing a solution, but it did reveal that I'm not the only one experiencing problems. A lot of people on Atom 330 machines, or machines with the 945GC+ICH7 and GMA950 video chip, are having problems similar to what I'm experiencing.

So, it's time to find another Linux distribution which would work well on this machine, acting as an HTPC. The specifications in more detail:

  • Foxconn 45CSX mini-ITX motherboard
  • Intel Atom 330 processor (dual-core, 2x1.6Ghz)
  • Intel 945GC+ICH7 chipset
  • Intel GMA950 graphics chip
  • Realtek ALC662 audio chip
  • Realtek RTL8100C ethernet chip
  • 2GB of DDR2 RAM
  • 160GB SATA hard drive
  • Aureon USB sound card with optical out (all audio is optical in my house)

I do have a few needs when it comes to this one. Most importantly - this HTPC is also my media server. All my media files (TV shows, mostly) are stored on an external hard drive attached to this system via USB. The Linux distribution for this machine must be able to share this drive easily with the Windows machines in my network, with as little hassle as possible. On top of that, it needs NTFS-write access to this drive, too, since I download my TV shows (legal in The Netherlands, don't worry) on my main desktop, and then transfer them over the network to the drive.

It must be able to run Boxee very well. Boxee is available for Linux, so that shouldn't be a problem. An equivalent may be acceptable, but I at least need a good and clean interface, and support for downloading show metadata over the internet. This last bit is crucial, as I want show descriptions, episode guides, etc. on my HTPC. Curiously, TV support is not required (I don't record TV).

Note that anything Ubuntu-based is out of the question, as I don't want to encounter that bug again the next time I run an apt-get dist-upgrade. Easy codec installation would be nice, and some way to install and update Chrome would be very welcome too (my friends and I often watch YouTube music videos or live performances while enjoying a few drinks).

Well, fire away. Lemur2, I'm counting on you providing at least 15 links. For once, I won't be annoyed by your link comments!

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