An update to Windows XP Media Center, again intended for OEM use. Very little has changed on the desktop side with most of the enhancements being done to the Media Center program. Again this version was intended solely for OEMs, so only OEM-type product keys can be used. When installing on an OEM system, like my Dell XPS Gen5, activation was automatic and I don’t remember it prompting for a product key. On VMWare, it’s a different story with it being locked out of the OS on the initial boot-up.
Some issues may occur regarding product activation since this is a Dell OEM copy, to get around this: Spam F8 upon boot up Select Start in Command Prompt When the Command prompt window appears, enter ‘explorer’ and wait for the setup prompt to finish, this will reboot the PC automatically
Windows Media Player
Windows Movie Maker
The desktop remains the same as a default Windows XP, with the only noticeable difference being the Media Center icon on the Start Menu. A new Online Spotlight option is now present, This would take you to an online website, displayed within the Media Center application (possibly using the Internet Explorer engine) that would have provided further information with using Media Center.
The main DVD player, again we have difficulties playing DVD discs due to the lack of hardware MPEG2 decoder. You would think they would support software rendering by now.
Videos stored in the My Videos folder are located and played back here. This does not include Recorded TV, which has its own section. Video playback requires a supported graphics card that will provide acceleration, that VMWare (Or its driver) does not support.
Similar has before, photos can be displayed as a single image or as part of a slideshow. Media center supports the common file formats and will display images from the My Pictures folder, or the Shared Pictures
TV functionality is still a mystery, as my DVB-T tuner adaptor is still not recognized by the Media Center Application. From looking at the help files, Media Center has full PVR functionality with the ability to schedule recordings, pause live TV & rewind. You can now watch TV in slow motion, which is useful for sports events or frame by frame to check if anything has been missed (or for any subliminal messages). As with the previous version, you can configure the TV source to be through an antenna, using a satellite or a cable feed. The latter two probably need a set-top box along with an infrared blaster to control it. Pay-Per-View also appears to be supported, but I’m unsure how this is implemented. Possibly it interacts with your cable box’s PPV application? As for the TV listings, as Microsoft has killed off the EPG servers we are unable to load any channel listings.
Little here has changed compared to the previous version. Music stored in the My Music folder can be played or organized into a playlist, and played through the media center application.
Additional programs that integrate into Media Center are displayed here, which can include games or links to the website. Dell has bundled a few WildTangent games that are intended to be played using the Media Center remote.
Otto: The objective is to turn all of the squares into your colour, whilst avoiding the enemies.
Gem Master: Similar to Sega Columns, clear the board by matching three or more colours together
One of the many editions of Windows XP, this time intended for use in the living room and to react to the growing popularity of media centers of the era like the Tivo in the US, and the Sony PSX DVR in Japan.
Mostly appears the same as Windows XP Professional and even identifies itself as such.
The desktop will resemble a stock version of Windows XP. The only difference you will notice is the Media Center icon in the start menu.
This is the main attraction to the Windows Media Center edition and is only included in these editions of Windows XP. It’s intended to be controlled using the media center remote which would have been included with the Media Center PC, although third-party remotes, along with their dongles would come available. As such it’s fiddley to use with just the keyboard and mouse.
The place where your TV channels are located. Here you can browse the TV Guide, also known as an EPG, and set up and configure recordings that allow your PC to become a DVR (Digital Video Recorder, like a Tivo or Sky+) There are various options to set up your TV signal, either through cable (with or without a set-top box), satellite or terrestrial/antenna signals.
Settings up the TV signal requires you to connect to Microsoft and provide your Zip or postal code (only US zip codes work, my postcode wasn’t recognized at all despite my locale being set to the United Kingdom)
I was curious to see if my DVB-T tuner was recognized over USB, since Freeview had only recently launched back in 2002 when this operating system was released, Sadly this was not the case as DVB-T wasn’t supported, despite being a thing in 2002 (Freeview in the UK launched in 2002, and we had DTT since 1998 with the launch of ONdigital, however, the USofA uses ATSC which Media Center might support since Microsoft tends to be US-centric for its first generation products)
In a way this is the successor to Web TV for Windows that shipped with Windows 98
Music tracks ripped from an audio CD will appear here, and sync with Windows Media Player so any tracks added with also appear in Media Center. Presumably, this would also support DRM music from either MSN Music, since this predated Playsforsure or the Zune DRM (Microsoft had a lot of music stores).
Photos and image files located in the My Pictures folder will be displayed here and can be played in a slideshow. Images can be sorted into albums if you have sorted them into folders within the My Pictures folder. Pictures can be sorted by name or date
Similar to Pictures, but videos are shown instead. We seem to run into the same issue with playing DVD video as documented below, likely due to requiring graphics acceleration for video playback.
Windows Media Player doesn’t seem to give a shit and will play the file regardless, so why can’t Media Center?
I was unsuccessful in getting a DVD movie to play, and I believe this is due to the lack of a hardware MPEG2 decoder that is required to play back DVDs. This was a Microsoft OEM requirement and meant some TV tuner cards were incompatible as they decoded MPEG2 in software instead, using the main CPU to do the decoding.
As VMWare lacks a hardware MPEG2 decoder, Windows Media Center and Media Player are unable to play back DVDs in their current form. Even after installing the K-Lite codec pack, we are unable to play.
We might have better luck installing on an actual system from the era, specifically one with a graphics card that has onboard MPEG2 decoding, assuming Media Center is compatible with it. I should note that some ATI All-In-Wonder graphics cards of the time also used software decoding to reduce costs and had issues getting their cards certified for the media center due to this implementation. As for why Microsoft did not allow for software decoding, it could be because of multitasking concerns if the user tries to do something else whilst watching a DVD, or DRM concerns. In contrast, the Xbox console decodes MPEG2 in software on its Pentium 3 processor, but it’s unknown if the GeForce GPU accelerates this somewhat.
Maybe later versions are more flexible when it comes to decoding but for now let’s skip ahead.
And that’s it, its pretty much Windows XP with an added Media Center application bundled in. As for why it wasn’t sold as a software upgrade package was due to Microsoft imposing strict hardware specifications in order to use Media Center, specifically with the processor, hardware MPEG decoding, 3D graphics acceleration and an IR remote and sensor. Microsoft really didn’t want anyone using this on hardware that was subpar or missing any components in order to give a consistent experience for the end user.
These version numbers will change once later service packs are installed.
Dell’s XPS line of systems had always caught my attention, that and the Alienware Area51s/Auroras of the time had eye catching designs that stood out from the rest. I wanted an older gaming system purely for the games that were released in the era of Windows XP, from 2001 – 2006. Whilst most of these games can be maxed out on many modern systems, sadly compatibility issues are starting to occur when playing these old titles, and as Microsoft continue to update Windows 10, these issue’s are starting to become more apparent.
So I figured why not buy an older high end system and modernize it. By modernize I meant installing additions like an SSD and a USB3 card to make the system ore convenient to use whilst still keeping the original core hardware.
The Operating System
Windows XP Professional
The default choice for a machine of this era and type, for the best compatibility
Windows XP Professional 64bit Edition
Yep, there was a 64bit version of Windows XP, two in fact. The system is capable of running 64bit code thanks to the Pentium 4, and the system can detect all 4GB of its ram. I did install this to use as the main operating system, but found out some games ran into compatibility issues with the 64 bit kernel.
I have considered this, for a dual booting purpose only. Reason being this is one of the last machines to support Windows 98, or at least have native drivers for it. In theory you could create the ultimate Windows 98 gaming PC with these specifications without breaking compatibility.
In reality, Windows 98 was on its deathbed at this time, whilst software does support it, its only basic support that the game actually starts up so that it ‘runs’, there are numerous performance issues just from the operating system itself, and many games are missing certain graphical effects. And the fact 98 was notoriously unstable compared to XP.
The drivers also have the same story, with the NVidia drivers being notoriously unoptimized. The NVidia card for example has the latest XP driver being released in 2012, compared to the Windows 98 driver being released in 2005, that 7 years of driver optimizations and progress being missed out on.
In reality if you are buying a high end pc in 2005, its incredibly unlikely you would be running Windows 98 in it, and manufactures knew that.
Or GNU/Linux if that’s more your thing, I’ve also contemplated dual booting a Linux based operating system on it from that era. Something like Ubuntu 8.04 or Red Hat purely to see what it’s like. And maybe get some old GNU/Linux games going…
Processor –Intel Pentium 4
Pentium 4’s weren’t my first choice of CPU back then. Truth be told they were very hot boys and had a tendency to overheat if they were not properly cooled. Dell made sure that wouldn’t happen with this monster of a heatsink with two 120mm fans.
For some reason Dell are allergic to AMD, something that still rings true today. Most of their systems use Intel chips with only a small amount of models supporting AMD chips. This is despite the fact that AMD chips of the era ran cooler and consumed less power, Dell insisted on using Pentium 4’s on small form factor PC’s like the OptiPlex SX270.
Graphics – NVidia GT 6800 Ultra
GPU’s were very competitive around this era, what with the Xbox 360 and PS3 being due to launch. Whilst the 6800 is a generation behind the RSX used in the PS3, it’s ideal for maxing out games from the 2001-2006 era
Memory – 4GB DDR2
4GB seems a bit overkill for a system like this. Considering Dell would have shipped a 32bit operating system on it, limiting it to only 3.2GB. I guess the previous owner must had upgraded it to 64bit Vista at some point.
Looking at the SPD data in CPU-Z it seems the system left the factory with 2Gb of RAM, with the remainder being added later. I’ll probably take the excess RAM out at some point and install it in another machine, since it’s never going to be needed with Windows XP, unless I decide to run some 15 year old CAD programs on it
Sound Card: Creative Audigy
Dedicated soundcards are uncommon today, with most motherboard having onboard Realtek or Conexant audio. Still Dell shipped the system with the Creative Audigy as the sole sound card on the system, no onboard audio here. This was the last era that supported EAX effects in games that this soundcard supported.
Maxing out: Upgrades
USB3 PCI Express Card
USB3 didn’t exist when Windows XP was released, and even USB2 was still in its draft stage before it started appearing on motherboard in late 2002, however many manufacturers have provided drivers for Windows XP for both 32 and 64bit editions. Having a USB3 interface will come useful when it comes to connecting external hard disks. This card also has a front panel connector which I will use with the Akasa Front panel USB3 bay.
A must for any modern PC, and although there were not common back when this system was released, I had no problems installing it (a 2.5 to 3.5 adaptor is recommended) and it was detected by the BIOS and Windows XP setup. One issue is that dell insist you use these green drive brackets to mount the drive, the idea is that it’s supposed to be a tooless design so that the drive can be pulled out of the slot.
In practice the clips ended up breaking since they had become brittle, and I was unable to screw in the SSD bracket since Dell designed the drive bay for it to be used with the clips so for now the drive is just resting on top of the hard drive.
This is a SATA 3 capable PCI Express card which would have been necessary for the SSD upgrade, since the onboard SATA can only support up to SATA. Whilst SATA standards are backwards compatible, it would have meant the SSD would have been bottlenecked by the onboard interface. A bonus is this card provides an eSATA port
Wifi – Broadcom
This was already installed by the previous user, or it may have been a optional factory upgrade installed by Dell. This is quite old and only support 802.11g protocol, which was standard in 2005. It also supports WPA2 and it capable of connecting to my BT Smart Hub. However I will be using the onboard Ethernet for when I connect it to the network, because Windows XP is no longer supported its not a good idea to have it connected to the internet.
Akasa Front panel USB3
Adds two front panel USB ports and also serves as a 2.5 inch bracket to mount floppy drives or memory card readers. I might add a memory card bay to it at a later date.
Pulled from an old HP machine. The system has a spare drive bay and I had this drive laying around so why not?
One of the main disadvantages of pre built Dell Systems is they tend to deviate from ATX standards, and the power supply unit used here is one example. First issue is the design, a standard ATX power supply cannot be used as a replacement unless the case is modified
Windows XP predates mainstream SSD support, and as a result does not implement TRIM. Windows did not support this until Windows 7. One advised workaround was to under partition the SSD, say to about 90%. Whilst you do loose storage capacity, since our games are stored on the hard drive this is not so much an issue.
This system came out during the capacitor plague, where many substandard capacitors were used that had a tendency to leak much earlier than usual. Also given that this system was on the extreme end of the power draw spectrum,
Plenty of games from this era were released on Stream, and up until 2019 you could install the client on Windows XP. However Steam dropped support for the operating system due to the Chromium Embedded Framework no longer offering support for XP either. This meant that future steam update’s would no longer be provided to Windows XP users, and sooner or later they would no longer be able to access their accounts via Steam, preventing the ability for them to play games. There are workaround’s to this that allow the client to run, but you are unable to access the Steam Store or the community features. Also I can’t imagine Valve’s being happy that modified clients are being used to access the Steam service.
Really you are better off sticking with the retail DVD or CD releases, or with GOG where games do not come with DRM and can be played without the reliance of a client.
I have to admit, the main thing fuelling this was nostalgia. having memories of booting into Windows XP brought back moments when we would sign into MSN messenger and MySpace using Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox with several toolbars installed. Sadly these service are no longer available as they was, with MSN Messenger being discontinued in favour of Skype. From a gaming standpoint, whilst it has no issues maxing out games from 2001- 2004, stuff released from 2005 (eg Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, Driver Parallel Lines) onwards has a tendency to stress the hardware out, and I found myself having to downgrade the resolution in order to boost the framerate, which had me considering why not just play these games on a modern rig that can max these game out easily.
I suppose the main saving grace is compatibility, with these Pentium 4 (and Athlon) systems being the epitome of backwards compatibility. For this one in particular Dell provides drivers for Windows 98/ME, XP, and Vista, allowing you to theoretically triple boot the system for maximum compatibility without any concern with drivers. Any newer and drivers and compatibility with 98/ME becomes an issue, and anything older will have issue with Vista or 7 support
Whilst I haven’t played any game on it from 2007 onwards, I suppose you could get away with it providing you play at a lower resolution, although you might as well get a Core 2 Duo system with a GeForce 8 series or a Radeon HD200 series GPU