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 Post subject: An HTPC with a twist
PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2008 5:09 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jul 16, 2007 2:35 pm
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Location: Greece
update 31/8/08: assembled!

Finally I got to take some pictures of the pc in action. Though it`s been running for a couple of weeks I only got to install it in the living room 3 days ago. It`s been running media portal and aside from a few minor bugs, typical of open source software, it`s been a very positive experience. I love having all my music available for immediate playback (encoded using apple lossless format).

It`s also very quiet, inaudible actually. The sturdy case helps: the front bezel is made of thick aluminium with a second plastic layer inside, good at filtering hdd noise. What`s surprising is that after assembling the case both fan speed and temperatures dropped. Glad to see my cooling layout is actually working.

stock settings /asembled case:
1-2.1ghz @ 1-1.2v
.........M/B . CPU . HDD . . .FAN
Idle . : 32 . . 23 . . . 32 . . . 450RPM

While the motherboad temperature was unchanged both cpu and hdd dropped by 2 degrees while the cpu fan speed dropped to 450rpm (was 600).

So time for some pictures:

Psu in place and ready for assembly. The backplate now has an aluminium layer for shielding purposes:
Image

Close-up 1:
Image

Close-up 2:
Image

View from behind & external DAC:
Image

And the money shot:
Image



update 11/8/08 cable managment & software setup

Still no pico psu but I wasted no time. It was a good time to deal with cable management which proved to be non trivial: the components are located in two different parts. After some planning I decided to route most cables under the motherboard. I seemed to be the only way I could achieve a somehow clean result.

Many of you will think it`s probably not a good idea. You`d be right: The parallel cable picked up interference that corrupted the display of my vfd:
Image

However, a small shield between the motherboard and cables solved the problem:
Image

After routing all the cables:
Image

Image

Later I wanted to finalize my software setup. I wanted to be able to browse and playback music without turning the monitor on. Fortunately media portal seems to work very well in this regard. It`s quite easy to browse files by using the vfd alone:
Image

and finally, the obligatory rempte control:
Image

I did encounter something odd: performance with firefox and media portal was very sluggish. Pentium 2 sluggish. I ended up reformatting quite a few times, trying different drivers. In the end I found out it was a bios issue: the problem was triggered by setting gpu memory to anything other than 256mb.

With this issue behind me I think I`m almost done. Still, I`d like to make a couple of improvements: Use some aluminium sheets to improve EMI shielding and get an external DAC to drive my stereo amp (no digital input).

Now if only the psu arrives before I run out of holidays...

update 4/8/08 test fitting

Check out the clearance. There uhhhm, there isn`t any..
Image


update 3/8/08 #2
Playing with voltage a litttle:


stock settings:
1-2.1ghz @ 1-1.2v
.........M/B . CPU . HDD . . .FAN
Idle . : 32 . . 25 . . . 34 . . . 600RPM
Load : 33 . . 42 . . . 36 . . 1000RPM

2.1ghz @1.2v (QNQ off)
.........M/B . CPU . HDD . . .FAN
Idle . : 32 . . 28 . . . 34 . . . 750RPM
Load : 33 . . 42 . . . 36 . . 1000RPM

2.1ghz @.95v
.........M/B . CPU . HDD . . . .FAN
Idle . : 32 . . 26 . . . 34 . . . 600RPM
Load : 33 . . 35 . . . 36 . . . 800RPM

update 3/8/08

I borrowed the seasonic from my main computer and powered up the system for the first time. It`s not a pretty sight but here`s a picture nevertheless:

Image

I was a little nervous: if the cables for the eject button were not soldered right my cd rom would get stuck in there forever. This is because the bezel is screwed on the disk tray and access is only possible when the tray is open.

pic:
Image

As you can see it took a few attempts :)
Image

Once closed there`s no return!
Image

I also soldered another set of cables on the cd rom: this is to feed the disk activity led :)
Image

Fortunately everything went fine, power, eject buttons, disk activity leds all working.
Image

The AC pwm fan proved to be unnecessary, at least with bios 6.00pg this board can throttle analog fans just fine. The 12 cm intake fan is controlled by the cpu temperature, starting @600rpm and increasing to ~1000 at load. The 9cm exhaust starts at 850 and only speeds up to 980rpm at load.

I did a brief stress test using two instances of cpu burn, mind you the case is still open. Load hdd temp is during defraging.

Ambient: 30c

1-2.1ghz @ 1-1.2v
.........M/B . CPU . HDD . . .FAN
Idle . : 32 . . 25 . . . 34 . . . 600RPM
Load : 33 . . 42 . . . 36 . . 1000RPM

Notice something wrong? The CPU is below ambient. I didn`t even mention the temp returned by the on-die sensor: an impossible 10c. The only credible temperature is that of the disk drive which I was able to decrease by strapping a couple of heatisnks. This also reduced idle noise.

pic
Image

Anyway, I touched various components with my hand and none seemed to run hot. Here are my obrservations:

Mosfets: fairly warm
Southbridge: barely warm
Northbridge: warm
CPU: cool
Memory: cool
HDD: quite warm (and latter just warm)

So if the disk drive temperature was indeed 39c all other components should be below that, they felt cooler.

Noise (with case open): With both fans running below 1000rpm the system is fairly quiet as you would expect. Since many people are away on holiday ambient noise is pretty low. At 6pm I couldn`t hear the system, now I can start to make out the 12cm yate loon. Surprisinly, the disk drive is not the loudest component.

2/8/08

Hello everyone,

So, I wanted to build myself an htpc but I`ve been a little picky about the enclosure. While there are plenty of decent cases out there I wanted something a bit more special, something that really blends with the rest of my hi fi equipment. And it seems I had just the right enclosure lying around: the carcass of an old cd player!

The size seemed right, I took the exact dimensions and ordered the following components:

Gigabyte 780g mobo /Xilence coolers
Athlon BE 2.1 / Thermaltake mini orb
2 gigs of Crucial ram
12cm Arctic PWM fan
9cm enermax
a small vfd display to replace that of the cd player
..and of course, a pico psu

Finaly I used a samsung dvd burner I already had and the 80gb wd scorpio from my main computer.

After some planning I decided to fit the motherboard upside down and have a big intake fan at the bottom of the case. The mini orb was the largest cooler that would fit in the available space and also seemed to be the best suited for low airflow.

First I attached the motherboard to the top panel and added a custom backplate. The result looks like this:

Image

Image

That was a tight fit!
Image

Now the bottom of the case: it holds the intake fan and the disk drives. I you look closely you can make out the vfd, above the cd rom. There are various cables coming off the faceplate, I`ll explain that later.

Image

I wanted to use the original buttons and leds of the cd player So I took them apart in order to solder the cables that connect to the motherboard.

Image

Image
I also thought it would be cool to have the old eject button open the cd rom. I did some more soldering but this time I also used a couple of fan headers: this way I can remove the cd rom without unsoldering the cables.

I first practiced soldering on this old burner:
Image

Close up of the fan headers:
Image

The case is still open as I`m still wainting for that pico psu. I did connect everything so I can do a test drive tommorow.
Image

And finally a frontal shot:
Image

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Last edited by ntavlas on Mon Sep 01, 2008 11:40 am, edited 12 times in total.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2008 7:22 pm 
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Very well done. I thought about doing this a long time ago with an old 300disc changer. I was talked out of it when I realized how hard it would be to fit the CD drive to work with the door and the VFD really wouldn't be reusable. In the end it was easier to buy my OrigenAE X11 and work with that.

But again, great job, and be sure to post back with temps when you're done.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Aug 02, 2008 7:25 pm 
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Location: North Carolina
Wow! This is really cool! :D

I love how you used the original eject button. I'd love to do a similar project one day.

Nice work and I can't wait for the finished product!


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Aug 02, 2008 8:13 pm 
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Location: Perth, Western Australia
I love it! I think everyone who builds an HTPC dreams of doing something like this.

How did you cut the holes for the backplate and the fan?

Also, do those motherboard chipsets stay sufficiently cool with the single fan mounted in that location? I found on one board of mine that they get quite toasty unless there is a fan in the "expected" location on the CPU.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Aug 02, 2008 10:17 pm 
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Location: Glasgow, UK
theycallmebruce - I think the CPU heatsink will be right above that 120mm fan - the mobo is mounted on the lid of the CD player, so when flipped over and attached the empty heatsink will be above the big fan :).


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2008 9:15 am 
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Location: Greece
Hi all,

thanks for your good comments, it seems they brought me luck :)

Just finished installing windows and I can report that everything works fine including all the buttons and leds :)

Mentawl is right, once I`m done, the cpu heatsink will sit directly above the intake fan so there will be plenty of fresh air coming from the expected position.

Since I`m not very good at working with metal I used 2mm plastic sheets for the custom parts which was easy to cut. Used a circular cutter (similar to what burglars use in movies) to do the fan hole, a stanley knife for the rest.

For temperatures, fan speeds and some more details check out the updated first post.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2008 6:23 pm 
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What you should do is find a way to get the play/pause, skip, and stop buttons to work with a music player on your computer. As well as all the other buttons! That would make something that is pure awesomeness become even more awesome!

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2008 7:52 pm 
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Asulc wrote:
What you should do is find a way to get the play/pause, skip, and stop buttons to work with a music player on your computer. As well as all the other buttons! That would make something that is pure awesomeness become even more awesome!
I've seen people do that by wiring them to an old gamepad and using a specific piece of software to interpret the signal.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Aug 05, 2008 5:08 pm 
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Quote:
I've seen people do that by wiring them to an old gamepad and using a specific piece of software to interpret the signal.


That`s interesting. I did think of somehow using the rest of the buttons, I had a keyboard with media buttons that I could hack but unfortunately those worked with a membrane so soldering cables on them would be impossible..

If you have any pointers to the gamepad idea I would be very interested..

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 Post subject: Oh god...
PostPosted: Tue Aug 05, 2008 10:52 pm 
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Please tell me that PD-S904 was dead before you hacked it up...

Do you know how excellent the old Pioneer stable platter CD transports were? I'd love to have one in my stereo system.

-D

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Aug 06, 2008 4:26 am 
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Of course it was dead.. I loved it myself, unfortunately after 11 years of service it wouldn`t read anymore.
And it`s not just the platter, every cable inside was carefully grounded and the transformer is 4 times the size of that in my dvd player. They even used copper screws..

You can do better today though, DACs have come a long way so a 200$ player could probably beat it

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Aug 06, 2008 4:56 am 
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ntavlas wrote:
That`s interesting. I did think of somehow using the rest of the buttons, I had a keyboard with media buttons that I could hack but unfortunately those worked with a membrane so soldering cables on them would be impossible..

If you have any pointers to the gamepad idea I would be very interested..


Here's the best site I found. It's rather old, as I remember seeing it when I first posted to this site over 3 years ago.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Aug 06, 2008 7:58 am 
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Thanks a lot for the link. Hacking a gamepad shouldn`t be too hard, unfortunately the buttons on my cd player are interconnected too which means I would need to unsolder them and replace the pcb with something else.. a little discouraging for a soldering newbie..

Great news on the software front though: I came across "media portal" an open source program. It does seriously rock though, media functions aside, it supports every device that`s out there.. vfd screens, remotes, gamepads and the best part, it`s media player supports asio playback .

http://www.team-mediaportal.com/

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 06, 2008 1:44 pm 
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If you REALLY are into custom HTPC environments, check out Meedio as well.

It's not as ready-to-go out of the box, but it's supremely configurable. It's a lot of work, depending on what you want to do with it, but it's probably got a more unique and broader support base than Mediaportal.

However, for a person just getting into HTPC software or unsure about what exactly they need, I'd recommend MediaPortal (I set up my bro with it).

Both are good however.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Aug 06, 2008 2:41 pm 
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ntavlas wrote:
Of course it was dead.. I loved it myself, unfortunately after 11 years of service it wouldn`t read anymore.
And it`s not just the platter, every cable inside was carefully grounded and the transformer is 4 times the size of that in my dvd player. They even used copper screws..

You can do better today though, DACs have come a long way so a 200$ player could probably beat it


As a transport it is hard to beat. Luckily, I believe all stable-platter CD-players had a digital-out connection so you could hook it up to a modern external DAC.

:D

-D

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 10, 2008 3:45 pm 
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After a few complications I've reached what I think will be the final configuration. I mostly worked on cable managment and finished the software setup. I also got a microsoft remote, it`s been working great so far :)

I had a look at both meedio and media portal, in the end I went for MP mostly because it works better with my vfd screen.

As always I`ve updated the first post. Just waiting for the psu now..

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 11, 2008 4:12 pm 
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That's so neat =). Awesome job man.


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2008 2:35 am 
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WOW! Excellent!!

How much time did you spend on this mod?

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 30, 2008 1:10 pm 
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Hello,

I was away for a few days but my htpc is now installed in the living room. It even participated in it`s first lan party which was also useful as a stress test :) I`m quite happy so far, media portal works nicely with the microsoft remote. And yes, it is inaudible though this is to be expected given it`s low power consumption.

Not sure how much time it took really... maybe between 20-30 hours? Actually building it took half of that, the rest was planning and software setup.

So, tommorow I can take some nice pics in daylight

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 30, 2008 8:48 pm 
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holy crap.... i bow to your skills. simply amazing...

i've always thought about turning some old A/V components into a case for my HTPC... but i lack the time and most of all SKILLS to do something like that. nice work!

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 01, 2008 12:41 am 
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Thanks! Though in reality my cutting and soldering abilities are nothing outstanding, they key here was patience and lots of planning ;)

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2009 11:55 am 
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Just stumbled over this thread... Very nice work, and I especially like the creativity and originality. And to top it of, you actually did it 8)

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PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2009 2:45 am 
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Hi Ntavlas,

Firstly - awesome build :D

I have something a little similar planned, but won't start constructing till at least September - going to Indonesia in July so won't have necessary funds for a while.

My questions are thus:
What vfd did you use, where did you source it, and any comments as to its useability - brightness etc etc?

Cheers!


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PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2009 5:15 am 
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Looks pretty tight man.


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PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2009 7:21 pm 
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pretty cool. I was half way through a project involving a NAD cd player, a core duo mobile (full) atx board, a pci express extender and grahics card. but things got too cramped, and it was too much of a pain to cut that steel, so i got an antec fusion in the end.
...This is inspiring though, maybe an atom/itx board will revive that project.


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PostPosted: Mon May 18, 2009 4:02 am 
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Thanks again for the kind comments everyone!

Ant6n: I also find cutting steel quite intimidating. For me the easiest way to cut holes is with a one piece hole saw and a powerful drill at low rpms. Unfortunately the don`t come at large diameters.

Spirit02: the vfd is a parallel HD44780 2x16 made by Samsung. It`s very clear and bright, usable from about 2/3 meters away depending on your vision. Unfortunately the parallel interface means it`s very sensitive to interference so I would avoid a parallel vfd at all costs. There are serial versions of this vfd type which can be converted to usb. I got it at a local specialty store though I think I was just lucky, ebay might be your best bet. An imon/thermaltake/silverstone usb vfd is much more expensive though it will save you quite some hassle.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 8:10 am 
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wow, that looks NICE!!

good job, :)

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