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Take a Look at James’ Home Setup [Show & Tell]

James Bruce 01-06-2011

Take a Look at James' Home Setup [Show & Tell] shutterstock home networkTaking a break from our regular awesome software reviews and tutorials, I thought it’d be interesting if myself and some of the other staff writers here at MakeUseOf show you our own home setups – whether that be in the form of fantastic custom desks, complicated home media-streaming networks, or just the apps and services we make use of on a regular basis and our favourite software tools. It’s also a good chance to clean my desk up a bit.


Main Computer

My main work machine is a 27” iMac. Bored of sitting all the time and for health reasons, I switched the desk legs for some extendable ones at IKEA and I now have a fantastic simple standing desk that’s actually really solid. If you already have a suitable desktop, you can pick up just the legs for about $100. I do need to do something about the cables though.

Take a Look at James' Home Setup [Show & Tell] stadning desk ikea

I have a second monitor beside it which runs Windows 7 inside a virtual Parallels machine, mostly used for testing purposes and because it’s much easier to take screenshots with a virtual machine.


With a total of about 10 clients, everything in my house is networked together – including the TV. Where possible, I run a wired ethernet connection. No matter how good your wireless router is, a wired connection is always going to be faster, especially important when shuffling around large files and streaming HD movies. The main router is a stock firmware device given to me by my cable company – it’s good enough, and acts as both a 4 port switch and a wireless router. To extend the network upstairs, I then have a separate network switch connected via a simple crossover ethernet cable.

Take a Look at James' Home Setup [Show & Tell] home network


The number of devices is perhaps a bit excessive, but most are old laptops that wouldn’t sell anyway, and like most geeks I can’t bear to throw hardware away.

If you’d like to learn more about setting up a home network of your own, be sure to read our Easy Guide to Computer Networks for a great primer on the topic.

Home Server

Sitting in the cupboard is my home media, backup, and file server. Right now it’s running Windows Home Server 2011 – I know we’ve covered a lot of free alternatives before (such as Amahi How To Set Up A Home Server With Amahi [Linux] Read More and all these), but ultimately I prefer the stability of a Windows server and the fact that apart from being a rock solid server, it can also run Windows apps at the same time. With 2 x 1TB drives, it’s able to backup all the Windows machines on the network automatically, as well provides a remote time machine based backup for any Macs (though I don’t use that). Apart from the usual Windows file-sharing, I also run Plex Media Server Setup A Perfect Media Center With Plex [Mac & Windows] Plex is widely regarded by many as being the best media player, manager and streaming application around - available for both Windows, Mac and even mobiles (though the mobile apps are not free). If you're... Read More which I showed you a few weeks ago. That’s then able to serve movies and TV shows around the house with full metadata information and covers automatically downloaded.

Of course, with all that space it also runs uTorrent. Rather than use the built-in uTorrent remote access, I prefer to have Windows Remote Desktop activated so I can use the entire desktop remotely. You can set this up on any Windows 7 machine easily using new features introduced in the Windows Live Mesh app 3 Cool Things You Can Do With Windows 7 Cloud If you're running Windows 7, it's entirely possible you've never even heard of the Windows 7 Cloud. Beyond being the thing that came installed with your new computer, there's actually an awful lot of incredibly... Read More . For security, any traffic to the outside world is secured across an anonymous VPN – I use VPN Tunnel (a paid, unlimited access service perfect for torrents).


Take a Look at James' Home Setup [Show & Tell] iphone yawcam

Situated in a small room with a window upstairs, it’s also ideal as a motion-sensing security system using a webcam and a suite of tools I showed you before. When activated, the system can send Growl alerts Set Up Growl Notifications Between Different Computers And Devices Read More to my mobile and around the network. Learn how to set up your own free home security system here How To Set Up A Motion Detection Surveillance System With iPhone Notifications One thing I've been meaning to do is set up my always-on home server as a CCTV Surveillance System that sends alerts to my iPhone whenever it detects motion. Though the results are fantastic, you... Read More .

Media Center

Though the TV is able to read some files straight off the network, I prefer to use my media centre PC and just output to the TV. This avoids any format issues, and allows me to have wonderful metadata and covers from Plex as I said, streaming from the server – this is done through XBMC and the PleXBMC plugin. Last week, I hacked the Xbox360 Kinect camera into this Windows PC to let me control XBMC by frantically waving my arms around How To Control Your Windows PC With Kinect Last time, I introduced you to Kinect hacking on the PC and the drivers involved, as well as a basic zombie survival game demo. While killing zombies is awesome, it's time we moved onto doing... Read More , but plugging the camera back into the Xbox got tiring quickly so I’m making do with a long-corded USB mouse until I get a chance to test out some remote control apps. Android owners have a free official app from XBMC, and here’s a free app for iOS that handles Plex, XBMC and Boxee – I just haven’t got around to trying them yet!

Take a Look at James' Home Setup [Show & Tell] movie grid


To be honest, there’s quite a few Media Center apps you could use, and it’s really down to personal preference which you choose in the long run. Some of the writers here prefer Boxee Boxee Beta - The Best Media Center App for Your TV Read More , which I’ve yet to try myself but apparently has great social features, while others go for a straight up XBMC XBMC 10 "Dharma" - A Mature, Feature-Rich Cross-Platform Media Centre Read More install, with all the hacks and tweaks that involves.

Web Services

I must admit I’m quite minimalist when it comes to web services. GMail and Reader have permanent tabs in my Chrome browser, and I have the obligatory Facebook account. Other than that, I don’t tweet, and virtually all my web browsing originates through various feeds in Google Reader. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m much more of a hardware and networking kind of guy.

That’s it from me, but I hope you’ll get to see what works for other writers in the coming weeks, so stay tuned and we can both look forward to reading those. As ever, feel free to comment or ask questions and I’ll do my best to reply. For general questions, you might want to ask in the Q&A part of the site, where our regular contributors and eagle-eyed editors jump at the chance to share their computing knowledge.

Image credit: ShutterStock


Related topics: Computer Networks, Media Server, Web Server.

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  1. Thomas Sheeley II
    June 14, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Following your recommendation for VPNTunnel, I'm trying them out... but I'm having difficulty getting my devices to see the internet. I've got the standard mod-friendly Linksys router with the TomatoVPN from VPNTunnel and followed all the instructions, but only my Win7 machine can get out.

    Any suggestions?

    • James Bruce
      June 14, 2011 at 7:45 pm

      I'm afraid I only run it on a single machine, not on a router. I had no idea you could do that! Probably best to ask this on the answers site I think

      • Thomas Sheeley II
        June 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm

        Yeah, it's done with a VPN tweaked version of Tomato. They give instructions with the scripts to copy/paste, but not much else further if things go wrong. It *should* work, since everything is sharing the 1 ip address from my dsl... but alas, it doesn't.

        I'll ask on the Answers side of things in addition to the help ticket I have with VPNTunnel. Thanks!

      • Thomas Sheeley II
        June 14, 2011 at 8:29 pm

        Do you have any recommendations then for settings that I should tweak on uTorrent to keep prying eyes off my back if I decide to keep VPNTunnel for just my machine?

        • James Bruce
          June 15, 2011 at 2:03 pm

          turn off DHT and peer sharing, those are usually required if you use private trackers. You could force encryption too, but I dont personally since it's running through a VPN. 

          I'll give that tomato vpn thing ago, it sounds like a better solution that the software they provide (assuming it works, ofcourse)

  2. Anonymous
    June 3, 2011 at 4:17 am

    If that is average then im very basic with a single windows 7 pc with a tv used as a monitor. I think its above average for the average person. Maybe not for the average makeuseof reader.

  3. Anonymous
    June 3, 2011 at 3:40 am

    I like this feature.  Show and tell is fun!

  4. Throwaway82822
    June 3, 2011 at 12:27 am

    pretty average setup.

    • James Bruce
      June 3, 2011 at 9:16 am

      feel free to share your own!

  5. Kristopher Gary Hesson
    June 2, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    This is really interesting stuff.

    I'm considering a new setup at a new place and I love having this insight into what you all are doing. 

    I get more practical and implementable information from this site than any other I visit. I hope the other contributors will reveal their home network setups as well.Thanks, James!

  6. Shane Eckley
    June 1, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Which XBMC skin is that?

    • James Bruce
      June 2, 2011 at 8:57 am

      Actually, that's Plex, the fork of XBMC that is running on my iMac.