Monthly Archives: April 2012

rebooting my mini-itx

It’s been a long time since I’ve worked on much anything computer-related as a hobby.  Things have changed quite a lot in the past year.  I moved to a much smaller apartment in Salt Lake, which is about a third the size of my old place.  The idea was to trim the fat and focus on going back to school, which is my major direction in life these days.  When I moved in, I didn’t have room for setting up a desktop computer anywhere, so it’s been just my netbook and me.  That suits me plenty fine, though, I wasn’t really using it that much either.  I had just upgraded to a six-core so I could rip DVDs much faster, and now it was sitting headless wherever I could find room, and even then, only used occasionally.

It’s not just at home that things have been changing.  At work I got to make the transition from programmer to full-time sysadmin, and I’m absolutely loving it.  I knew I was getting tired of coding, and I had always enjoyed just taking care of servers, and now I get to do that all day long. When I initially started as a sysadmin, I didn’t think our small company would have enough work for me to do after a few months.  In actuality, I’m kept busy all the time.  The part I like the most is that part of my job is doing research, how to do things better, more efficiently, anything to make the workload easier.  It’s fun.

On top of all that, my school attendance is starting to ramp up more, and I’ve been consistently drifting to adding more classes to my workload.  All this stuff has basically booted Linux out of my life as a hobby, and so now I need things to “just work” without hassle, so I leave my installations alone.

One thing I’d been neglecting a little bit was my entire HTPC setup.  I hadn’t been using it much lately just because I would mostly stream some Netflix (yay, Doctor Who!).  My setup has been a beast though, normally running for months on end without the slightest hiccup.  What started to happen though is that I would come back to using it, switching my HDMI input over, and the box would be powered off for some reason.  Most of the time, I would either power it back on and go on with life or just ignore it.  Until one day it wouldn’t power on at all, and I just shrugged it off and determined to look at it later.

Well, later turned out to be finals week, when my brain has been working overtime, and I seriously needed a hobby.  I pulled out my main frontend and started looking at it to see what was going on.  It was plugged in properly and everything looked legit, but when I hit the power, the CPU fan would start up for a second and then everything would stop.  After fiddling with it for a bit, I started to notice that something was smelling burnt.  Once that happened, I abandoned my diagnosis.  Even if I did manage to get it working, I didn’t want it to catch everything on fire.

At the same time, my external USB drive enclosure died on me.  So even if I could have gotten it working, I still wouldn’t have had a way to watch my shows.  Them giving out on me hasn’t bothered me in the least — the entire setup has been running flawlessly for years, and I’d managed to get a lot of mileage out of them.

Now I had to decide what I was going to do.  I have a lot of hardware, but in pieces.  I have four mini-ITX boards altogether, two of them are VIA C7 chipsets, and the other two are Zotac boards both running low-powered Celeron CPUs (around 35W if I remember correctly).  The power supplies for the VIA boards use 20-pin connectors and only run at about 80W, and aren’t enough to handle the Zotac boards which use 24-pin connectors.  So I have this mix of hardware, and nothing powerful enough to act as a frontend.

There are some great packaged systems out there now where for between $200 to $300 you can get an entire package in one go that does exactly what I’m putting together myself. I considered the idea of just starting over, but I decided that it’d be cheaper to just salvage what I could.

So this week I ordered a new USB HDD enclosure, and I also ordered a new power supply for the main Zotac board.  I found a site that sells really small power supplies for mini-ITX boards, called picoPSU.  The design eliminates a lot of the hardware that I would normally need to get all the power to my box.  I was really skeptical about them when I first heard of it, but did some looking around and it looks like it’s exactly what I need.

In the meantime, I ripped out my motherboard out of my desktop, and put both Zotac boards in there to make sure they still work, and thankfully they do.  I got the old setup pieced together using my desktop case, and fired up the old system to play around with it.

I had started to forget how much time I put into this thing.  I forgot that I had put countless hours stitching this thing together, running a custom build of Gentoo suited to run on small environments.  On top of that I made hacks to mythvideo and got those working to polish off some rough edges.  It just started to come back to me how much I’d worked on this … and how much fun it was. :)

I played around with my frontend a little bit, and fired up a few movies just to try out the surround sound.  It was awesome.  I’d forgotten how nice it was to have that huge library on demand, too.

So I’m excited now to get things up and running.  It’s been a good little while.

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Filed under Hardware, Multimedia