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Many of us have one old — but still usuable — computer sitting in a closet somewhere around the house. Here’s a quick and easy way to convert it into a home media server.

how to set up a home media server

Everyone loves getting a new computer. Switching on a brand-new and more powerful PC is a bit like playing in freshly-fallen snow—for a little while at least, a lightning-fast new computer offers endless possibilities.

However, there is one nagging question that everyone has when purchasing a new computer: what do you do with the old one?

Today we’re going to explain how to extend the life of your old computer by turning it into a media server.

How to Access Movies, Music and Photos Stored on Your Old Computer

Most people have at least one old computer gathering dust in a cupboard or the bedroom closet. Old PC’s can be recycled, but it’s a bit of a pain to lug them out to the car and drop them off at the dump. As well, many people are fearful about throwing out a hard drive with its accumulated passwords and sensitive banking information that can be retrieved by crooks.

The hard drive also provides another clue about why so many people avoid recycling their computers: old computers are often filled with priceless photos as well as priceless music and video collections. And it can take some work to transfer all of these precious files to your newly purchased computer, so a lot of people just put the whole thing off, saying they’ll retrieve those photos and movies “someday.”

There is one relatively quick and easy way to quickly access and view all of these old files without ever having to do the hard work of getting them off your computer. By turning your old computer into a media server you can access your files anytime and virtually anywhere you have an internet connection.

Turn Your Old Computer Into A Media Server

Until recently it was challenging to turn an old computer into a media server. In theory it should be easy to access any Windows computer on your home WiFi network, find the file you want, and either watch it on a different computer, a device such as a smartphone, or even on your WiFi-connected TV. In practice, however, the Windows file system is not particularly intuitive, making it confusing to find and play the files you want. On top of that if you’re trying to watch a movie, depending on the codec that’s being used, your media player may not be able to play it.

This is where media server software comes in handy. This open source software can transform your PC into a media server that can stream your content anywhere over the internet. And the content such as movies and music doesn’t necessarily have to reside on your old computer either: a media server will allow you to send content from your newer computer or device to it to stream onto your TV or home theater.

The big caveat here: setting up a media server is actually not all that easy. In theory you can take care of Windows’ native DNLA capability, but it takes a bit of effort and some trial-and-error to make it work properly. There is free media server software to choose from, such as Universal Media Server or Serviio, but these are often difficult to set up and may lack some important features.

This is why Plex is such a great choice.

How to Install Plex as Your Media Server

how to set up a home media server

Plex is probably the most popular media server platform out there. The basic version of Plex is free, it’s easy to install and set up, it works on older computers, and even has smartphone apps that let you access your files just about anywhere. In a nutshell, Plex will let you set up your old computer as a central media server from which you’ll stream content to your tablet, phone, set-top box, game console or television.

What You’ll Need to Set Up Plex

You’ll need a few basic things in order to use an old computer, set up with Plex, as a home media server including:

  • A home WiFi network
  • A working computer with a functional keyboard, mouse and monitor
  • Some way of connecting your television to your home network

For this last requirement, while Plex will allow you to connect your old computer to the internet, you’ll still have to figure out how to connect your television to your WiFi network and Plex.

Luckily, the paid version Plex works with a number of third-party devices including:

  • Roku
  • Chromecast
  • Amazon Fire TV stick

These three devices are pretty handy because they all have apps that allow you to turn your smartphone or tablet into a remote control for your television. On the downside, if you have a smartphone or tablet you’ll have to purchase these apps for a nominal fee.

You can also connect your old computer to your television using an HDMI cable (note: both your television and your computer will need to have HDMI ports). You can then send content from other devices and computers to your media server to play on your TV.

Plex Download Options

When you check out the Plex downloads page, you’ll want to download the download the Plex Home Theater option. This will allow your old computer to act as the base station for everything else on the network, storing media and distributing it to any other device that runs the application. As part of the installation process, you’ll set up your Plex account, allowing you to register all of your devices and server together.

Final Notes

The performance of your old computer may affect playback quality on your television. For example, an older computer with an older chip and less RAM may have a bit more difficulty streaming HD files. However, Plex should be able to handle the job with flair.

As well, if you’re going to use your old computer as a media server, it’s going to need to be left on. Computers tend to “run hot” when streaming media, so this means that you’ll have to choose a well-ventilated spot to keep things cool. As well, cooling fans can be noisy and distracting, so keep this in mind when deciding where to locate your old computer-turned media server.

Let us know how things turn out!

If you have some ideas of topics you would like us to cover or have other feedback to offer, email us at: newsletter@compuclever.com.

It can be confusing when trying tell the difference between Office 365 and Office 2016. In this informative blog post, we explain how they’re different so you can determine which one is best for you.

Office 365 Versus Office 2016: What's the Difference?

If you have purchased a new Windows computer over the past year or so, you have likely been puzzled when trying to decide which version of Microsoft Office is right for you.

A quick search online for Microsoft Office shows at least three choices: Office 2016, Office 365 and Office Online (sometimes called OneDrive).

What’s the difference, and which version should you get?

Office 365 Versus Office 2016: What's the Difference?

First, let’s untangle the differences between these three choices by taking a look at Office Online, the free, basic version of Microsoft’s Office suite.

Office Online is a great place to start since it offers so many of the features that make the current version of Microsoft Office so powerful, including mobile apps, online storage and online editing from any device.

What is Office Online?

Office Online is the completely free, and completely web-based version of Microsoft Office (and, just to confuse things, Microsoft sometimes calls this free service OneDrive—also the name of its cloud storage service).

Just by signing in with your free Microsoft account you can access basic, stripped-down versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and several other productivity apps from any Internet browser on any computer.

Office 365 features

A main selling point of this free service is that Office Online also saves your documents automatically, as you work on them. So, you won’t lose everything you’ve typed if you lose your internet connection.

Office Online also includes several free web-based services including:

Outlook.com

Office Online is also integrated with Outlook.com. Not to be confused with the more powerful Microsoft Outlook email and calendar software program, Outlook.com is Microsoft’s simple, free web-based email app. It’s the successor to the popular Hotmail and Windows Live Mail webmail services.

As a free service, Outlook.com is simple to use compared to the more complicated Gmail, Google Inbox or the full version of Microsoft Outlook. Outlook.com also features a smartphone app which allows you to send email from any mobile device.

OneDrive

Office Online and Outlook.com are both integrated with OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage service. The free version of OneDrive comes with a somewhat paltry 5GB of online storage, which should be enough to store any Office Online documents you create… but not much else compared to other online services.

Office 365 features

You can also easily insert Word or other Office Online documents from OneDrive as attachments to emails sent from Outlook.com—you don’t have to search around for and upload a document from your computer as an attachment.

Smartphone Apps

And, once again, there is a useful, free smartphone app for OneDrive that allows you to easily find and quickly share Office documents. Even as a free software suite, Office Online is a handy tool for quickly getting tasks done.

Office Online: Too Basic?

Despite all its features, if you’re looking for a suite of true productivity applications, the free version of Office Online is probably just not powerful enough. Besides the rather miniscule 5GB of complementary online storage offered by OneDrive, the free versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint included with Office Online, are, in a word, basic.

Office online features

These no-cost versions offer none of the powerful features of their paid counterparts. Still, as a free service Office Online does provide a way to create and share basic documents, slide decks and spreadsheets, or edit existing ones… but that’s about it.

If you want to design nice-looking Word documents or use any of Excel’s more sophisticated features, such as macros, Office Online will leave you disappointed.

Instead, you’re going to have to pay for either Office 2016 or Office 365.

So, Which is Better: Office 2016 or Office 365?

This leads to the next question: is it better to pay for Office 2016, or subscribe to Office 365?

While Office Online is free, you will have to pay to purchase both Office 2016 and Office 365. Both Office 2016 and Office 365 include the powerful, fully-featured versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other Office applications.

The main difference between the two is that Office 2016 is a one-time purchase, while Office 365 is a subscription-based service—you must pay every month, or every year, to renew your subscription (this chart explains the differences between the basic versions of Office 2016 and Office 365).

However both Office 2016 and Office 365 must be downloaded and installed on your computer to get them to work—despite its status as a subscription service, Office 365 still resides on your Windows PC or your Mac as a software program.

The Basics of Office 365

Office 365 is the subscription-based version of the full Microsoft Office suite. You can pay a monthly subscription of about US$10, but the annual subscription, at about US$100, is cheaper. While renewing the Office 365 subscription will cost you more from year to year, it also comes with some compelling features that may make it a better choice than Office 2016.

Office online features

For example, Office 365 subscribers receive 1TB of OneDrive online storage (Office 2016 purchasers generally do not) that can be accessed on any device. Office 365 also comes with monthly recurring Skype minutes.

Most importantly, Office 365 Home can be installed on five different PC’s or Macs as part of the subscription. This feature is ideal if your family has several computers.

There is also a cheaper Office 365 Personal subscription as well that can be installed on just one computer.

Since the Office 365 Home subscription can be shared with other members of your family, or even your friends, each person gets 1TB of storage of their own for as long as you continue to subscribe to Office 365.

That’s not a bad deal for a hundred bucks a year!

What You Get By Purchasing Microsoft Office 2016

The main selling point of Office 2016 seems to be that you only pay once for the software and after that Office is yours to keep.

microsoft office download

The basic version, Office Home & Student 2016, costs about US$150 and can be installed on just one PC. This basic version includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, but none of the other Office programs, which must be purchased separately, or as part of a more expensive package.

For example, the more expensive Microsoft Office Home & Business 2016 includes the powerful Microsoft Outlook email and calendar program.

The benefit of purchasing and downloading Office Home & Student 2016 is that you only have to pay for the software once, and after that you own it. With Office 365 you are forced to renew your subscription once a year for around US$100, or risk losing access.

The Downsides of Purchasing Office 2016

So, you’ll have Office as long as you own your computer, and you’ll never have to worry about Microsoft suddenly upping the price of a subscription.

On the downside, Office 365 is regularly updated with new features, while Office 2016 only receives security updates. The subscription service also comes with 1TB of OneDrive storage, while Office 2016 usually does not—OneDrive online storage will cost extra for Office 2016 purchasers.

Besides that, the basic version of Office 2016 can only be installed on just one computer. Office 365 Home, on the other hand, can be installed on at least 5 PC’s.

Still, many computer owners are still getting used to the idea of subscribing to a software program or online service. It’s hard to get used to simply “renting” a software program rather than purchasing it outright.

But the benefits of subscribing to Office 365, especially if you own a number of computers, cannot be underestimated.

Which do you prefer? Paying for a subscription, or paying to actually own your own software? Let us know by emailing info@compuclever.com.

A Simple Cheat Sheet for Understanding the Difference Between Office Live, Office 365 and Office 2016

  • Office Live is the free online version of Microsoft Office; Office 365 is an annual subscription service, while Office 2016 is a one-time purchase.
  • Both Office 365 and Office 2016 are installed on your computer.
  • If you stop subscribing to Office 365 you will no longer be able to use Office on your computer; Office 2016 is forever.
  • Office Live offers use of free, simple versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
  • Office 365 includes 1TB of online storage, while the basic version of Office 2016 does not.
  • Office 365 Home can be installed on 5 computers; Office 2016 can be installed on one computer.

f.lux – How to Elinimate Digital Eye Strain

by Andy Thompson May 6, 2016

There are natural lighting levels that we are exposed to as determined by the onset of sunset and sunrise. Of course night time we may choose to be in front of a monitor or screen but there may be tradeoffs with respect to eye strain, headaches, or improper sleep. The technology known as “f.lux” may help to alleviate this. We like the concept and we also like the company as they are dedicated to offering this technology for free.

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How to Protect Your Computer from Ransomware

by Andy Thompson April 29, 2016

Ransomware is the latest threat to afflict millions of computer users worldwide. What’s really startling is that even police departments are being affected. Let’s take a look at what ransomware is, and how you can protect yourself against it. Cyber-criminals have so far collected more than $200 million in the first three months of 2016, [...]

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Tech Corner: How to Extend Your Home WiFi With Just a Soda Can

by Andy Thompson April 25, 2016

“A strong WiFi signal makes for a happy home,” should be the new adage for the 21st Century. At least that’s been my experience based on the turmoil my own home falls into when the WiFi is not working properly! Here are some tips for improving the range of your home WiFi setup. Note: This [...]

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BloomSky – Serious but Fun

by Andy Thompson April 15, 2016

BloomSky is a personal weather station for the serious weather hobbyists meanwhile it is also a fun device for sharing your weather data and images with your friends and family.

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BloomSky Weather Sensor – Setup

by Andy Thompson April 8, 2016

Welcome to the next installment of our series on BloomSky – the weather technology. In this article we review the BloomSky Weather sensor. We will be taking the device, as any new user would, out of the box. Then we will follow the instructions and put it together. Get ready for our first impressions offered by our Tech Support specialist as he unwraps and assembles the weather sensor device from BloomSky.

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Introducing the BloomSky Network

by Andy Thompson March 31, 2016

Our CompuClever review experts have set their sights on BloomSky – an innovative 5-in-1 weather station kit with an HD camera that captures weather conditions in real-time. More than this… BloomSky is a technology that aims at connecting people to a world-wide community that collects and makes available “hyperlocal” weather information.

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Keep’n It Cool

by Andy Thompson March 19, 2016

This month’s Tech Corner is really special – we get to solve a mystery related to a fan and no wireless connection! By responding to a favorable email we received with a suggestion to cover the importance of over-heating PC systems. In this article, we’ll offer suggestions and recommendations as we are on the same line of thinking as many of our users, dedicating ourselves to make our PC last as long as possible and as efficiently as possible.

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Get Ready – ReadyBoost

by Andy Thompson March 2, 2016

ReadyBoost is an easy way to take an older system lacking in available RAM memory and suffering poor performance, and enhancing it. You don’t have to open up your PC and upgrade it. It really is fast and easy to see real improvements.

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