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 Post subject: Quiet living room music server mATX PC
PostPosted: Sun May 28, 2006 7:52 pm 
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Joined: Mon Apr 25, 2005 8:00 am
Posts: 22
Location: Boston, MA, USA
Its been a mere year and a half since I started this thing (!), but I can finally say that at least the hardware is done. For now.

Here it is up and running:
Image

and here are the insides:
Image.

What's this all about? Well, I found that after collecting a few hundred CDs over the years, and then marrying into a few hundred more, that the house quickly became filled with various stacks of caseless discs, diskless cases, and discs in wrong cases. Time for a better solution.

I first test drove but didn't buy into the whole Squeezebox scene -- too limiting.

So then I decided to dump all those CDs on a big hard disk, wrap that in a quiet PC, and connect it to the stereo in the living room. Just for kicks, give it a user interface by connecting it to the TV. Like an HTPC, except on wee-roids. And except that I want all that music stored at CD quality.

That's the whole point: audiophile sound on a budget.

After some research -- mainly on SPCR -- I ended up going with:
  • Enermax Venus CS 10068. I wrote a mini-review in this thread. MATX made sense for the living room.
  • Soyo P4RC350 mATX mobo -- has S-Video out, and accepts:
  • Celeron 2.0GHz Northwood. Still available in Jan 05 when I bought it for a tasty $70. Plenty powerful for my needs and runs cool.
  • Seasonic SS-250SVP PSU. Some notes later on.
  • Thermalright XP-90 with a 90mm Nexus fan at ~6V. Leaves only ~1cm clearance to the case cover and to the PSU, but this seems to work OK.
  • Samsung SP1604N 160Gb hard disk. Unfortunately, its already fast on the decline, with plenty of reallocation errors. If it lasts a year, I'll be pleased -- at least it will still be under warranty. If I hadn't gotten SpeedFan religion here at SPCR, it might have died before I could back it up.
  • Two Panaflo FBA08A12L1A case fans at ~6V. Thanks to Coolerguys for swapping out one dud for a good one. Top notch customer support.
  • Spire SP205 fan controller. Silent. No fan rumbling as with PWM. Cheap (< US$10). Two channels (2 x L1A sharing one, Nexus 90mm on the other). Externally-accessible controls. Big thumbs up. Read more here -- with insight from Felger Carbon, BrianE, and TomZ.
  • AT&T 6500G 802.11g PCI. Perfect for listening to woxy -- the Future of Rock and Roll. And read SPCR, but of course!
  • Commodity DVD burner: I/O Magic. Its very unmagical: it can't even read maybe 5% of my audio CDs, whereas all of my other CD players & readers can. At least the Nero tool let's me set it to 4x to make it reasonably quiet.
  • ione KBP-20 wireless RF keyboard. The best thread I could find on HTPC keyboards is here on HTPCnews. My comments on the ione are in it.


On that PSU... I botched the fan swap on the first Seasonic, and despite support from IsaacKuo, m0002a and jhhoffma, I ended up giving up on it and buying a second. Then, with soldering iron in hand, I did the job the right way -- as m0002a mentions, by wire splicing. The Arctic Cooling AF8025 made a night-and-day difference over the stock fan, a Superred CHA8012CB-A. Photos of the Seasonic guts:
Image
and a top view here. Its quiet, even with Seasonic's thermistor-based voltage regulation. Oh, and it turns out I could have kept the Enermax SFX12V PSU that came with the case... With the stock fan, it was too loud, and when I spotted the Seasonic on ebay for cheap, I grabbed it. I then compared the two with their stock fans and found little noticable difference based on (poor quality) recordings and my imprssions. Then I made temporary fan swaps in each using the same Panaflo L1A, and again found little difference. But even if the Seasonic isn't much quieter, it almost certainly runs at higher efficiency -- less heat for the case.

I made a minor tweak to the HD suspension techniques discussed here at SPCR. I haven't posted details on that yet but when I do, I'll add a link... Briefly, its just 4 of the following: HD screw <-> tie wrap <-> tie wrap <-> coiled bungee <-> tie wrap <-> bay. The bungees don't wrap under (or over) the HD.

A few words on temperatures... The CPU stays around a cool 30 C (after attempting to correct for the mobo sensor's bias). I could surely dial the CPU fan closer to 5V, but I've already got it just below the inflection point in noise.

Before I suspended it, the HD sat under the DVD, near the top of the case when positioned vertically, as I keep it. After suspending it in the lower bay, where both suspending and lowering are helpful, it now sits around 35C when under normal use.

On the software side, I tried Linux but it needed a bit more coddling than I had time for -- HTPC details like S-Video were not last year (are not now?) especially easy to support. So now its XP. All music is in WMA lossless. I'm giving MediaPortal a go as the 10ft interface for the TV -- impressive stuff at the beta level (but beta means some hiccups). And it plays DVDs whereas OEM Nero wants $15 more to do so...

Total bill was about US$700. Not cheap by budget PC standards but AFAIK quite cheap by HTPC standards -- though mine can't record TV.

A few more photos here.

I am totally pleased with the results: its quiet. Big thanks to SPCR in general, MikeC and the staff, and the community.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon May 29, 2006 6:50 am 
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Joined: Mon Apr 25, 2005 8:00 am
Posts: 22
Location: Boston, MA, USA
More detail on the HD suspension is now on page 7 of the suspension gallery thread.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon May 29, 2006 7:18 am 
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Joined: Sat Dec 06, 2003 5:56 pm
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Location: Boston, MA
I like your build. Thumbs up. *boo* *hiss* for the wma lossless.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon May 29, 2006 10:53 pm 
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Joined: Mon May 29, 2006 10:42 pm
Posts: 1
Ahh, those projects tend to run on, don't they? You must have kids.

Nice work...


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue May 30, 2006 4:51 am 
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Joined: Fri Feb 10, 2006 2:50 pm
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Location: Milwaukee, WI
Good lookin build geckokarma.

What are you using for audio outputs? The onboard sound? I didn't see mention of a sound card in your kit list, and you've got a bunch of open PCI slots...

That's one of the reasons I ultimately decided on the squeezebox - high quality d/a conversion and analog outs (and optical if I choose). Another was price. They cost about as much as a good quality sound card. By good quality I mean pro audio gear. I've never found gaming sound cards very satisfying for the money (and I'm surprised at how much some cost!). The Emu 1212M is unbeatable for the price - same d/a converters as Protools HD I/O gear. You might look into that if you don't already have a sound card.

Jay

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue May 30, 2006 8:26 am 
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Joined: Mon Apr 25, 2005 8:00 am
Posts: 22
Location: Boston, MA, USA
Thanks for the comments eveyone.

tay -- if I were deciding today, I'd probably go with FLAC. But IMO its only been recently that support for it (esp portable players, PDAs) has really reached a good, usable level. (My vague impression is that Monkey's audio isn't at that level yet.)

Kraig -- no, its just that I work on this project in spare time away from forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Jay_S -- yes, that's a MAJOR omission. I guess I was so focused on quiet for starters that I forgot all about audio quality... Just ran a test yesterday where I played some classical direct from CD and compared to the same thru this rig and did notice spots were the PC sounded thin. Thanks for the tip on the E-mu (the emu kicks the llamas a**?!).


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