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- PotPlayer or KMPlayer Both players are pretty similar but PotPlayer is arguably better. I actually use these more than VLC because of their intuitive default behavior and ability to play essentially anything without any fiddling. For both of these players, you'll need to pay close attention to the install options to make sure no unwanted items are installed, and, after install, you'll likely need to change some settings to disable updating and other Internet-accessing features. Regardless of what settings you use, both players will always try to phone home to some extent so you'll want to permanently block their Internet access via your firewall.
- Media Player Classic Very good, lightweight, open source and potentially stand-alone.
- Privacyware Privatefirewall ° My current favorite by far. Lightweight & powerful. Makes no attempt to install any garbage.
- Comodo Free Firewall I usually only use version 3.0.14 or prior. Later versions are bloated & dumbed-down and make it clear the author began to prioritize profit over security/efficacy.
- Zone Labs ZoneAlarm Good and lightweight. Excellent for old laptops & such. Only problem is that it was caught sending small encrypted packets to an Israel IP even after setting it to ask for user approval before phoning home. Zone Labs eventually made a statement about it but it was cryptic. I still trust it more than Windows Firewall. I usually only use version 6.5.737 or prior. Later versions are bloated crap.
- Tall Emu Online Armor Personal Firewall ° I didn't get a chance to use this one much because it was conflicting with a piece of obscure software I had installed, but it was one of the most recommended firewalls for Windows XP. Newer versions, after it was sold to Emsi Software, are bloated crap, so, after you download it, hover your mouse cursor over the installer .exe file to make sure the company shown is Tall Emu. Version 22.214.171.124 is the version that worked best for me. Version 126.96.36.199 appears to be the last release under Tall Emu but I haven't found an installer for that version yet.
- Firefox King of the browsers Here's a few useful extensions (as of the date this was posted). If your comp is quite old, you'll need to monitor the performance effects of every extension you install to determine if they're worth keeping. Some extensions, like uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger can actually potentially improve performance.
- Portable Browsers I recommend making a folder containing every trustworthy (or semi-trustworthy) stand-alone/portable web browser you can get your hands on (official or unofficial). Having a wide variety of browsers at your disposal increases the chances of being able to display any page and view any web media. Try to run all browsers (or at least the less trustworthy ones, like Google Chrome °) in a Sanboxie box, but note that some browsers won't function properly in a Sanboxie box without a fair amount of extra tweaking
- Tor Browser For anonymous web browsing. Research its many uses and the best ways to use it. I Recommend running it in a Sandboxie box whether you trust it or not.
- FileLocator Lite (formerly Agent Ransack) FileLocator Pro (the paid version) is better if you can obtain it. The Lite version for XP doesn't allow boolean expressions for file names (only DOS expressions) but the Pro version does. The last Lite version to work in XP was 2014 (828) and the last Pro version to work in XP was 7.5 (2114).
- Voidtools Everything You have to wait for it to index your files when it starts up, but once everything is indexed, the instantaneous filename searching power is incredible. This is not a sufficient Windows Search replacement; just a powerful companion to whatever search program you install.
- Nero Burning ROM Freakishly reliable burning software. I wish there were something better to recommend because it's not free anymore and the authors have a habit of bundling it with a crappy installer and invasive bloatware, but, in over a decade of using it, I've never had it produce a single coaster, even though I've used it with many different optical drives and media brands. No other burning software I've used even comes close in reliability. The developers released two minimal/lean versions for free a little while back but they were packaged with Ask Toolbar. Here's how to keep the toolbar & other junk from installing (for the free version called BurnLite 10).
- Run the BurnLite 10 installer
- When the Cancel button appears, press it to cancel install
- Windows Key+R %temp%\NeroInstallFiles
- Open the folder shown (starts with NERO)
- Open Setup.ini in notepad
- Scroll down to the [ISSetupPrerequisites] section and replace the existing eight lines in that section with these four lines:
PreReq0= Microsoft VC Redist 2005 KB973544 (x86).prq PreReq1= MSI 4.5 for WindowsXP (x86).prq PreReq2= MSI 4.5 for Windows6.0 (x64).prq PreReq3= MSI 4.5 for Windows6.0 (x86).prq
- Run setup.exe (located in the same folder)
- During install, choose to exclude the updater and help files
- ImgBurn ° Widely recommended free burning software but I've had it produce several coasters. Burn success appears to be quite dependent on which optical drive and media you're using, and associated settings. As of writing this, if you download from the official site, the installer will install OpenCandy, FusionCore or other adware/spyware. Download using the above link instead, or extract the contents of the installer using 7-zip, then delete the $PLUGINSDIR folder.
- InfraRecorder portable ° Widely recommended light-weight, portable, open-source burning software. I've only used it a few times but it's one of the most widely known, used and recommended free burning tools.
- cdrtfe portable ° A light-weight, open source, portable front-end for the command-line-based cdrtools disc burning software. If you like the power of cdrtools but want the convenience of a GUI, you'll find this useful. I haven't used it a lot so I can't fully vouch for it, but it has worked great for me thus far.
- Daemon Tools, Virtual CloneDrive and WinCDEmu ° These create virtual CD/DVD drives on which you can mount CD/DVD images (eg, ISO files). I usually use version 3.44 of Daemon Tools. There are newer versions you can use but there's a point where the software starts becoming untrustworthy and I don't recall which version that was. Virtual CloneDrive might be better than Daemon Tools and it has no untrustworthy version that I know of. I haven't used WinCDEmu enough to recommend it; I'm just including it because it's open-source and often highly praised.
- DVDShrink Can be used to resize a typical 8GB DVD movie disc down to 4GB so that it will fit on a regular (single layer) DVD-R disc. As far as I know, the last version released was 188.8.131.52 and any newer versions are a scam. To use, decrypt the files on the DVD using a decrypter like DVDFab or the older DVD Decrypter then open the decrypted files in DVDShrink and reduce the size by removing non-critical elements and adding compression, then save the project as an ISO so you can test it. If the result is good, burn the ISO to a DVD.
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- FastStone Image Viewer Great image viewer and has some really nice, intuitive image editing tools for quick & quality cropping, converting, rotating, resizing & more (frequently better than starting up Photoshop or GIMP)
- IrfanView Arguably the king of image viewers. Starting to become bloated though. If you don't like how FastStone is displaying something, try opening it in IrfanView instead, and vice versa.
- GIMP Free Photoshop alternative
- Paint.NET Great free alternative to Windows Paint (and more). Unfortunately it requires .NET Framework to be installed, but if you've already got .NET Framework installed for some other reason, I definitely recommend installing this.
VIDEO CONVERTING & EDITING
- FFmpeg ° Amazingly powerful and well-designed command line tool for working with video files. I usually use it for converting, trimming, splitting, re-encoding, extracting frames & removing or extracting audio; but it can do even more. You don't need to learn everything about it; just do a web search and you'll pretty much always find a working command example that someone else posted. As far as I know, the last usual (Zeranoe) build that was officially for XP was build 20160227-git-5156578 but there are some more recent builds from rogerdpack & and others.
- Avidemux Does a fair amount of what FFmpeg does but with a GUI instead of command line. I pretty much always get better results with FFmpeg though.
- Handbrake Very popular and easy to use video convertetranscoder (use version 0.9.9 or earlier). If you put libdvdcss-2.dll in its Program Files folder, it will have the ability to rip an encrypted DVD to a video file (eg, MP4 or MKV).
- VMWare Player Usually better than VirtualBox because of its superior graphics capability.
- Oracle VM VirtualBox Good for anything that doesn't install or run well in VMWare Player
- Virtual PC ° (aka: Microsoft Virtual PC, aka: Windows Virtual PC) Older software. Just useful for anything that doesn't install or run well in the other two.
- DOSBox Great for running many old DOS programs & games.
- PC Wizard Gives valuable information about all your hardware and more. I also recommend HWMonitor (temp, voltage and fan info) and CPU-Z (detailed CPU, RAM & chipset info), all made by the same company (CPUID).
- PassMark PerformanceTest Popular benchmarking software. 30-day trial but most features continue to work after the trial has ended.
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I have a few builds in mind (one for games, one for work, one for DOS games, one as a media server, and one for arcade emulation) and a few existing builds that I'd like some help to salvage before buying all new hardware. Looking for any pointers/recommendations/ideas you may have.
Overall Plans & Summary
- I like to play games on the big screen in my living room, as well as watch some movies/tv shows/youtube videos and listen to music. I want a large, controlleuser friendly interface that's as simple as turning the TV on and sitting down. This build is the primary one I want to ask this subreddit about - the others have dedicated subreddits who may know more about finding hardware that meets my specific needs.
- I like to have a dedicated desktop for any non-game related 'work'. This also covers any games best played in an upright chair with the precision of a mouse/keyboard. I'd primarily browse the internet, write code, and read emails on this device.
- I like to have a 'retro' machine built for looks and running classic computer software/games, with beige peripherals.
- I like to have local streaming setup for both personal photos/videos and my own DIY DRM-free Netflix/Spotify service.
- I want to be able to play arcade games in an environment similar to how they were originally played.
I also have a prebuilt ~$400 Dell desktop from late 2012. I don't have the exact specs because it's not currently on hand, but hopefully from the timeframe we can kinda guess at the performance it has. I did put a GPU in it - possibly the GTX 650 - so it's not a terrible PC.
Plans for Living Room 'Gaming' Computer
I'd imagine that I'd need around 2 TB of HDD and at least 500 GB SSD. I suppose using my aging HDDs on the gaming build is for the best, as very few 'important' files could ever be lost from here. Still, I'd prefer to 'start fresh' with some brand new wiped drives.
This build will be ethernet-connected, so no need for a wifi card.
Many of the games I play barely even support stereo, but I would like to listen to music/watch videos streamed locally from my media server. As a result, I wouldn't mind getting a nice sound solution. I have a really nice pair of headphones, but I think getting some good speakers or possibly wireless (yet quality) headphones is something I'm willing to spend a few hundred on. I'd rather get something that's 'improvable' - a nice set of stereo speakers for now that will last, and can become a part of a surround setup down the road (as opposed to a mediocre 'complete' surround setup). I know the hardware for good audio can be a bit more confusing than just 3mm jacks, so I should mention that I prefer something that I can hook up to the the TV and not just PC.
I like to have nice, user-friendly interfaces for everything and I think that sideloading a nice ad-free YouTube app/Plex-like apps onto Android TV (and using my Pi to DNS-block TV updates) will provide a better experience than attempting to navigate the YouTube webpages using the Steam Controller. I'm not sure if the non-gaming content will be streamed to the TV directly or via the PC, so I'm open to suggestions that keep things simplified and user friendly.
Perhaps I should keep the server directly connected to the TV via HDMI to prevent streaming lag and messing with the TV interface (and just use a dedicated mouse/keyboard)... or possibly even use the gaming build as the server. I'm open to suggestions. I plan on having a small monitor at the end of the couch, where I might keep the mouse/keyboard on a small table and locate the Desktop/server underneath. This secondary monitor would be used to make quick configuration changes without requiring messing with the main display and spending 20 minutes moving the mouse from one side of the screen to the other. If I have the server nearby, I could just switch inputs to go in-between devices.
GPU: Something really powerful - if cards around the 5700 XT aren't much better than the GTX 970 (in terms of getting better settings), then I'll just stick with the 970.
CPU: Again, something top-quality. I'm thinking somewhere around R7 3700 (X?).
RAM: 16 GB should be plenty.
Storage: Roughly 2-3 TB should fit all my games, the vast majority being fine on HDD but some are better on SSD - especally the OS itself. Everything else is roughly going to follow the 'yellow-to-orange-ish' sections of logical increments, I'd imagine.
Overall budget: $1500 should cover it, right? Remember that I don't need a network card or monitor (I already have the TV), and I might be able to salvage my fan, power supply, and 16 GB RAM - maybe even the HDDs/SSD.
Plans for Desktop ('Work') Computer
GPU: Nothing special, but nothing terrible either. My laptop's GT 740M performs quite well in most desktop needs, even at 1440p, so I don't think I need anything crazy. If I get a new GPU, I'm certain that my GTX 970 is going back into this build.
CPU: Again, if I get a better CPU for the gaming build, I'll happily reuse the 4690k. But I don't need anything new or fancy, just decent.
RAM: 16 GB should be more than enough, but I know that I'm lazy with browser tabs. Perhaps 8 GB would be too low.
Storage: Nothing special, but a 250-500 GB SSD and 1 TB HDD should be more than enough.
Overall budget: Eh, if I was starting out from scratch, I'd say $500 tops? Something around the turquoise tier of logical increments.
The 'aesthetic' of this build is key - I don't necessarily need a Model M, but I do want EVERYTHING in that nasty off-white beige color. Personally, I'd love a keyboard with that giant L-shaped RETURN key. I definitely don't want anything that's hard to use, so I won't resort to awful membranes that stick, but I also don't need anything fancy. I'm considering just getting a cheap knock-off mechanical keyboard and putting some beige caps on - provided I can get my beautiful L-shaped Enter key.
I won't need a ton of power, but I might need some to leverage the VMs and CRT shaders I might need to use if I can't find a quality monitor. I have a ton of cheap 5:4 LCDs lying around that I could repurpose, but I still need to cram them into CRT monitor shell for the aesthetic to be pulled off. I know Linus Tech Tips and John Romero have some ancient 16:9 27"+ monitors (the former of whom somehow fit a modern monitor inside), but I'm not sure if I can find a salvageable CRT casing that'll fit my monitors. While I don't want to rely on real CRTs that likely to be low quality and falling apart, I don't know if I can really get an LCD inside a case that'll be convincing, not to mention the extra poweresolution required for convincing CRT shaders and the general lack of shaders that replicate CRT monitors instead of CRT television sets.
GPU: Since I probably won't be fitting a 4k GPU in here, I don't think I'll need much power for my CRT shaders at lower resolutions. Perhaps my GTX 650 will be used here.
CPU: Nothing special, though I wonder how much a Windows XP VM will eat up. Perhaps whatever was in that prebuilt Dell machine from 2012 will go here.
RAM: See above comment about the VMs. I doubt I need a ton for most things, though. Maybe 8 GB tops? 4 would be fine I'd imagine.
Storage: Doubt I'd even need an SSD. I could probably get away with just a 250 GB SSD and no HDD.
Overall budget: $200-500? Assuming I started from scratch.
I don't anticipate streaming to more than one device, and I don't mind buffering. I don't watch much HD content, so I don't think I need to crazy on the power here, just the storage. I wouldn't mind making a second near-identical build to store in family members' houses to mirror all the content for both backup purposes and reducing potential load.
GPU: Video decoding can be tough, but nothing top quality. Maybe RX 560?
CPU: R5 1600 sounds like good territory, nothing crazy but can handle a load.
RAM: 4 to 8 GB perhaps? Probably closer to 4.
Storage: Gonna need plenty. I'm fine with 4 TB, but want to have room to expand. I'll be storing old documents and other backups here, and as my collection grows I'll need space. Shouldn't need anything on SSD I would think.
Overall budget: $200-600, since I might need a fairly good GPU/CPU - provided I don't re-purpose anything from my existing builds. Kinda a big range, but I'm not too sure on the requirements for streaming. Keep in mind that this will likely not require a network card since ethernet will be a priority. Cooling may also be important, but I do have an old fan lying around. Since only 1 person at a time will be using it, I don't expect to need much powegenerate much heat.
The idea behind this machine is to have the ultimate arcade setup, for games best played alone or with friends. I'd like to have every control scheme possible covered, though I'm not certain if I can cover lightguns, and having more than one trackball seems like something that'll never get used. I wouldn't mind having a racing wheel/pedals that can be easily attached, but perhaps that's for another build far down the line if there are that many quality racing games that demand it - heck, if there are modern games that can use it, I might just shift the driving stuff over to the living room build.
GPU: Something decent. I think I'll have room to fit a fairly high resolution screen in here, so being able to fully utilize CRT shaders means that something from the era of 2-4 GB VRAM GPUs will work.
CPU: Nothing terribly high quality, but emulation can be tough on the CPU. It'll probably be the bottleneck. Perhaps something around the specs of the i5 4690k (give or take) will suffice.
RAM: 4 to 8 GB should do it.
Storage: Eh, maybe 1 TB total. Probably don't need an SSD.
Overall budget: $500-800, since I might need a fairly good GPU/CPU - provided I don't re-purpose anything from my existing builds.
I prefer to do everything on Linux (with the possible exception of the living room gaming pc, since there are one or two games in my library that I'm too lazy to get working on Linux) so I prefer AMD (especially GPUs) for performance reasons. Really, though, if it does what I need it to and the price is fair, I'll use any brand.
I'm open to ideas on:
- The recommended parts for any particular build
- The builds that my existing hardware is best suited for.
- Software recommendations - particularly for the media server, including both server software/distro AND client-side apps. If there's an easy way to play games/watch YouTube/listen to music from a nice big controller-compatible interface on my PC, let me know.
- Recommendations for old-looking PC peripherals - mouse, keyboard, montior, case, etc. Even suggestions on places to look, like eBay, Goodwill, or Craigslist.
- Any other ideas, even stuff that can radically change which builds I make (such as combining builds that are too similar, adding a new build to cover something I haven't thought of, etc.).
- Upcoming products/sales worth waiting for. I know AMD is releasing their high-end GPU sometime in 2020, so don't worry about telling me to wait for something on the horizon if it's something you'll think I'll regret not waiting for. I'm in no rush.