Wednesday 22 December 2010

HTPC project, part 3

Ahem, my mistake. I had thought that the one cable coming from the PSU must be the one to connect to the power fan contacts on the mobo. Actually that was the floppy disk power connector. Lucky I didn't burn the mobo.

After that little fix, the device started as expected. I quickly installed a minimal Ubuntu installation instructions provided by the XBMC Wiki. I installed OpenSSH and Samba straight from the installer because I knew I need them both. I am using the Intel GPU built into the i3 processor so I didn't need to install any drivers for that.

There were some minor issues because the instructions are for a bit older Ubuntus (including wrong apt-key values. The correct ones were easy enough to Google.

I also set a static address for the device for obvious reasons.

My hdd setup is like this:

On the SSD disk:
  • 256MB /boot,
  • The rest /.
The two 2TB disks have the following:
  • 8GB /swap on disk 1,
  • 8GB /var/log on disk 2,
  • 10 GB /home on disk 1,
  • 10 GB /tmp on disk 2,
  • and the rest is a RAID1 partition in /data.
Afterwards I thought maybe the /home and /tmp disks should have been bigger (50GB) just in case. The idea is that static stuff is on the SSD disk and variable on the HDD's. I don't anticipate I will save anything important in /home so no need to use RAID on that.

There are still some issues:
  • The power button doesn't turn the device off (and I did install upower).
  • Samba speed is not very good ( ~5MiB/s).
  • I have gotten the "*ERROR* EDID checksum is invalid, remainder is 143" two times. Looks like this has something to do with the Intel graphics controller. Lots of talk, no resolutions in the Linux world yet.
  • The remote worked as a remote after installing lirc but only until I rebooted. Now it acts like a mouse again. I chose "Soundgraph iMON Antec Veris" as the IR receiver and "None" as transmitter, these should be right. There are some odd debug lines in syslog that I have to look into later.
  • LCD is not working yet but it looks like there are solutions for this.
  • The Nexus case fan is way too loud for this application. I'll go buy a Noctua instead. Then I should be able to drop the speed of the CPU fan to a minimum - I tried this already and it's practically silent then. But I need to run it a lot faster if I want to avoid using the case fan.
There are things I still need to do, including:
  • Install the plugin that allows me to rip DVD's with this device.
  • Install autostarter stuff so that the device starts automatically to XBMC on boot.

Monday 20 December 2010

HTPC project, part 2 - no good

Damn, the thing wouldn't even start after I put it together. Pressing the power button does exactly zilch. I checked the cabling at least five times, read the chassis and motherboard documentation I don't know how many times and everything seems ok. I even checked the power button with my multimeter - it works.

I had to take the thing to the shop since I don't have spare parts to try and replace parts to see which one is faulty. I believe it must be one of PSU, motherboard or chassis. PSU does give some power since the LCD on the chassis lights up and a LED is turned on on the motherboard. But maybe it doesn't give the +12V correctly? Or for some reason the PSU is not signalled to start pumping out power when the power button is pressed.

My main suspect is the motherboard, though. Lets see what they say in the shop. This delay is just annoying since I cant' start installing Ubuntu and XBMC.

Thursday 16 December 2010

HTPC project, part 1

I decided that since I have some spare time before Christmas (I'm on vacation, wife is not) I'd build a HTPC. After a weekend of getting my bearings since the whole issue is pretty unknown to me I came up with this list of items (all of the items needed to be available with a two-day notice):
  • Antec Fusion Remote Black HTPC chassis.
  • Intel i3-540 processor.
  • Asus P7H55-M Pro motherboard.
  • Kingston HyperX Blu 4GB 1600MHz DDR3 (2*2GB) memory.
  • Kingston SSDNow V-Series 30GB drive.
  • 2 Western Digital Caviar Green 2TB SATA II hard drives.
  • LG CH10LS20 Blu-ray Combo drive.
  • Scythe BIG Shuriken SCBSK-1000 cooler.
  • Nexus PWM Series Silent Fan 120mm.
Of course as I started I realised the chassis actually didn't include a power supply, so I later picked this up:
  • Nexus RX-5300 530W.
A bit overkill but this was the best option on offer.

This should prove to be a powerful package with some nice features:
  • Silent, this is something I aimed for. The chassis is planned like that (hard drives have special silenced cage, the power source is placed on rubber foots etc), the chassis fan is one of the quietest on the market and the cooler isn't bad either. I would have wanted the Ninja Mini cooler, but Rev B which supports the LGA1156 is unavailable. Ninja Mini is so efficient that I could run it without a dedicated fan because the chassis cooler on the Fusion chassis blows straight at the cooler (I plan to try this with Shuriken as well). The power source is also perhaps the quietest on the market.
  • Lots of space to save the media files, I plan to use a software RAID 2.
  • No need for a separate video card as the i3 has one built-in. Saves energy and is much cheaper since a suitable silent card would cost something.
  • The motherboard has built-in HDMI.
  • The SSD disk which I will make the system disk will make boot-up very quick.
  • Good looking chassis that fits with my other equipment.
  • A built-in remote which should work with lirc (Linux Infrared Remote Control).
  • And some other stuff I have already forgotten.
So I collected all the stuff on the kitchen table and started the assembly (this is the point I realised I was missing something). I assembled several PC's before and it's not something I particularly enjoy, but since I had to purchase the parts from two different stores it would have been quite expensive to let one of them do it.

Some highlights/lessons learned:
  • The chassis comes with only two brass standoffs! WTF? Three is the bare minimum, IMO.
  • With the brass standoffs and the backplate from the motherboard's box, the motherboard was too high up. So I had to put the standoffs to the front of the motherboard. This is of course means the motherboard is not exactly even, but no can do.
  • I hate those damn backplates!
  • I also can't figure out why Scythe insists on making these kinds of tighteners for their products. They are always tricky to install and require way too much force.
  • What happened to ZIP (Zero Insertion Pressure)? I had to use way too much pressure on the lever that secures the processor, as well.
  • You need really, really modest amounts of silicone on the processor. I think I overdid it this time, thankfully the cooler hides the evidence.
  • Always check the drive cages before screwing all 8 screws! Yes, I initially put the Blu-ray player the wrong way and spent a good ten minutes figuring why I can't get the cage back inside the chassis.
  • The motherboard doesn't have a Firewire connector. Wish I had realised it earlier instead of reading through the manual twice.
  • Neither does it have a built-in USB connector, so in order to connect the LCD I needed to use a normal USB socket. Because there are no suitable holes in the chassis, this meant some ugly solutions.
  • There is no place for the SSD disk (the chassis has space for 2*3,5" internal and one 5,25" external drive). But as it happens, the drive cage that holds the optical disk has plenty of space and some suitable screw holes so I attached it there with two screws on the other side. Should be sufficient, it's not like the disk weights anything.
So I did what I could lacking the power supply. Quite fiddly as the instructions for the chassis aren't exactly the best I have read and there are plenty of connectors to figure out. And it took a goddam eternity to get the motherboard lined up with the standoffs and the damn backplate! But this is what I did:
  • Removed the stock fans from the chassis and put a plate in front of the other fan hole.
  • Inserted the Nexus chassis fan.
  • Changed the backplate.
  • Inserted the motherboard (it helped that I moved all of the cables away from the motherboard compartment).
  • Inserted the CPU and cooler.
  • Inserted the air flow vents that help the air flow from the chassis fan through the CPU.
  • Inserted the WD drives to their positions.
  • Inserted the Blu-ray player and SSD disk to the cage.
  • Connected all the cables except for SATA and cables that come from the power supply (obviously).
And that was it for today. Tomorrow: put in the power source, finish cabling, create a Ubuntu installation CD and attempt to install the OS.

My plan is to run XBMC eventually so that it boots up straight to XBMC and I can control the system with the remote. Any administrative duties I'll do with ssh.