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Thursday 29 January 2004

The perfect lounge server [lurks]

Normally I bore you lot with the latest hardware happenings concerning Wench, my lounge server. On the basis that there's a few of us folks that do this stuff so maybe someone might care. On a historical note, my first lounge server was a Cyrix 166 which sat along side a couch, rammed up against it with a couple of pillows on top to try deaden the noise.
The last system, bar the one I'm going to talk about now, was an Asus Pundit. I had a shuttle type thing before that. In essence the whole lounge server thing morphed into the mainstream consumer idea of the media PC. Something shiny and attractive you could put into your lounge and be happy as it sat along side your DVD and amplifier, looking a hell of a lot better than the XBox. That's lovely but, after around a dozen hardware revisions of the machine I still lovingly call 'Wench', I've come to a conclusion about how to do the whole lounge/house server thing properly. It might be obvious to many but I strayed from the path, lured by the gadgety promise of shiny cool things, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that regard eh?
Topically I should mention the Pundit. It's a fine fine machine and it's the closest an attractive compact barebones system has come to being suitable for my purposes. It was a proper Intel job, so it just worked. It had an excellent side panel funnel cooling scheme which was virtually silent and it had bag loads of IO.
The thing is, inside it was cramp with only space for one drive and it had no AGP port so I had to buy a PCI graphics card because the TV out wasn't so hot. Then that left no space to slap in a TV capture card to do PVR sorta duties, connected to my digibox. The external HD enclosure was also a bit dodgy, some cheapo USB 2.0 thing that would freeze if you tried to read and write to it at the same time. Feh.
While I was cleaning out my lair for a weekend eBay session, I found my old PC case - a HUGE old steel thing, and I found a nice PSU too. I walked through to the lounge and surveyed the HiFi set up, dominated by the big Sony TV with a side table loaded with consoles, amplifier and networking shelf. The Pundit was sat to one side, you couldn't really see it. You couldn't see it. Revelation, my friends, revelation.
I ordered a proper Intel Springdale mobo. Constructed a huge PC out of the big old steel case. Slapped all the drives in. Slapped on a very large and quiet CPU fan. Disposed of the Pundit and the external drive case and fitted the video capture card. A repair install took no time, even clocked up the CPU a bit to 2.7GHz (from 2.4).
Finally, the entire beast was placed behind the television up against the wall. It's quieter than even the Pundit was. It's also a fair bit faster, some of that the overclocking but some of it also the Intel dual-channel chipset over the SIS stuff powering the Pundit. It is absolutely superb.
So the question is, why have I been spending money on crap like the Shuttle (PSU fried, took the mobo and CPU out with it) and the Pundit? The perfect server is just a big old PC case put out of sight. The only drawback is you have to sort of lean around the TV to put a disc in but that's not much of a hardship. I'm pretty confident that this machine will march on forever, freed from the burden of exotic cooling as it is.
Bah. That William of Occam bloke was onto something.


  1. Quote:
    Normally I bore you lot with the latest hardware happenings concerning Wench, my lounge server. On the basis that there's a few of us folks that do this stuff so maybe someone might care.
    yeah... but nah :)

  2. Any chance of a pic of this pug-ugly box of bollocks?
    I need a lounge server... for the office at work... which isn't a lounge at all. I need something incongruous, something that management won't twig as to what it is. At the moment the Slim Server has proved a huge hit but it's filled my work PC hd. I need to offload all the mp3s somewhere. I looked at one of those external HD enclosures (wish I could find the EED blog about that) but no-one has a pc with USB2.0 or firewire, so I'm thinking about a lickle PC. This XP box mod is the best I've come up with.
    Any sane suggestions for a stealth pc in an office?

  3. LOL!
    They may not twig at first glance, but a whirring box of Windows XP might give the game away in a rather spectacular fashion.
    Also, as far as I know Mircosoft never released a retail copy of Windows XP that had wires coming out of the back of it.
    Perhaps get an old laptop and put it in a drawer?

  4. (cough) How old? I've got an old 386 lappie at home with an 80meg drive. Will that do? LOL!

  5. If you can find a DOS MP3 player and wouldn't mind listening to one album over and over again with really stuttery playback, yes.

  6. As far as drive enclosures, try belkin as they do a few of them and couldn't you get a usb 2.0 card for your pc?

  7. It really isn't much to look at.

  8. Lurks! It looks like a disturbed child built it!
    Drive enclosures, yep that belkin one is nice, the Manhatten ones I was looking at were cheaper. Right, the clincher. I've got an Adaptec PCI card at home, it's got 5 USB 2.0s and 2 firewire. I've got mainly USB 1.0 cack plugged in - does that mean a USB 2.0 device would be reduced to 1.1 mode? So, maybe I should go for a firewire enclosure, as the only thing that plugs in that is my video camera?

  9. You need to have your own channel. So generally one port on the back of your PC. Plug all the 1.1 shit into a hub and jack that in the other port. I've actually got a spare USB 2.0 drive enclosure which I'd sell you for no money. It actually locks up if you do a lot of parallel reading and writing with a VIA chipset. Seems fine on an Intel.