Previously I mentioned that the Jukebox was running a little warm when fanless, 80 degrees C in fact which is 5 degrees short of the thermal specs! A fan was added (fan noise = evil) as a temporary solution and brought the temperature down to a more respectable 40 degrees.
I decided that more air flow meant less heat, convection currents work pretty well in nature so why not my Media Centre? Before and after shots are below,
Simple and hopefully effective too, half an hour into some HD content that is nailing both CPU and GPU the temperature is only 60 degrees C. Not exactly a cool runner though a lot cooler than before and enough for my liking. A little extra heat is a low price to pay for no fans.
I’ve been running in the Jukebox for a few months now and from a usability stand point it is still running a treat. From a mechanical point of view however all is not well as it runs a little hot. In a normal case this may be fine however in a case such as mine made out of thermally absorbent wood it gets a little toasty.
Using CPUID Hardware Monitor (free to download, Bing it) I discovered that the CPU and GPU both run at around 70~75 degrees C at idle or while watching TV and movies. The fact that there is little difference between idle and loaded temperatures is a testament to good design of the board however I digress. I added a spare 80mm Papst fan to blow some air into the case as a quick and dirty test and the temperatures dropped to 30~35 degrees C, an impressive drop from a simple change. It also shows I can slow the fan to make it quieter and still have a big impact.
Considering the maximum thermal spec of the board is 85 degrees C I think I need to work fast. Current ideas are to use a Nidec Gamma at low speeds which would still move a lot of air though I’m also going to test having a bigger hole for heat to exhaust more efficiently. It seems the few little holes I put in before are woefully inadequate.
As my audio/video needs are being satisfied by an Zotac ION and now the case is finished I figured it was time to sort out the audio. Until now I’ve be using an old set of Creative 5.1 speakers that has it’s own decoder and connect using SPDIF. This sounds good, pardon the pun, but led to some peculiar issues with lipsync and had no remote. Enter, the Logitech X-540s.
These are quite cheap (I got mine for £70 from Novatech) but the sound quality is superb, even from a basic source. Watching Freeview with “Matrix Mode” on does some funky processing and gives a pretty good surround sound effect. The bass can rattle the windows or switch it off completely, as I live in a flat (apartment to any passing Americans) and don’t like to piss off my neighbours too much switching it off is a fantastic feature. For that reason alone I can recommend it to anyone in a shared block or house with thin walls.
These speakers are quite dumb, other than Matrix Mode they do no processing, and require outputs from the machine itself. From my perspective this is great as it gets around the issue mentioned above with SPDIF. The motherboard does a fantastic job in decoding audio from Bluray films and sounds great. Watching Black Sheep I’ll admit to jumping when a sheep bleated in my ear…
The only issue I have with these, as mentioned in every other review for these, is the length of the speaker cables. For use in a living room they are too short, for bedroom or study use they may be fine. Thankfully Logitech have used RCA connectors rather than some proprietary nonsense which means buying or creating extensions for them would be a breeze. I’m planning on wall mounting the rears so an extra 5 meters will be very handy.
In conclusion, for £70 you can’t go wrong. Just make sure your sound card has 5.1 analog outputs.
In a previous post I gave a brief review of the Zotac ION board I purchased for my new Media Centre and now it’s in a case…
Some pictures from the construction below; I made a new backplate as the old one wasn’t in a great state and this allowed me to mount the motherboard on it too. I used a couple of nuts as spacers to raise the motherboard to allow some airflow behind it and drilled a few holes in the top for ventilation. The board is fanless so relies on convection currents for cooling. The gaping hole in the back isn’t pretty but no one will see back there and it means I can have the beast closer to the wall. Plus, a lot easier than rewiring the connectors to the case…
In the last picture you can see the BlackGold dual USB tuner and the Sony BD-ROM drive. It’s a snug fit, there are a few gaps, the hard disk isn’t permanently mounted (a job for tomorrow) and the power switch just dangles out of the back but it lives which is enough for now! Long term plans also involve a plate to cover the gap next to the BD-ROM drive which should house a few USB ports for easy access. This has been a project years in the making though so I can’t imaging that will happen for a while.
Before I got hooked on Media Centre I used to use an iMac and I never really got on with it, I’ guess I’ve always been a Windows guy at heart which worked out pretty well for me. One thing that always impressed me was Frontrow, it was polished, worked well and had a great interface for viewing movie trailers direct from Apple.com. As Windows 7 Media Centre blows the polish off Frontrow I’ve been trying to figure out how to get the latter functionality into Media Centre for a while and someone has perfected it.
I’ve used it in the past and been impressed though now it gives me armchair access to Apple trailers and also podcasts it’s here to stay. It’s been a good week for my Media Centre, let’s hope it continues.
So, since University I’ve been a fan of silent computing and a stickler for wasting power. When I first heard about the ION chipset I thought that both my goals may come together in one package and early reviews seems positive, results I can now back up.
In the picture (right) you will see my “old” Media Centre, a 2.3GHz AMD dual core running on a 780G chipset, HDMI out and only one fan which was quiet at best. It runs at about 40Watts while watching TV and slightly higher for HD content. The only problem is that the 90Watt PSU tends to crap out at 100% CPU. I figured it could be put to better use in a desktop machine and lo! An excuse to buy a Zotac ION board, revive an old project and gain a new desktop PC at the same time.
The picture above also shows the Zotac ION board (Atom N230, fanless, 2GB RAM) along with a 160GB hard disc and BD-ROM drive. I figured for £50 quid Blu-Ray was a no brainer! It’s currently running without a case because all the parts had been delivered, I’m impatient and I’m no stranger to a computer running outside of a case as you can see from my Home Server prototype! (left)
The Zotac is currently in the same plastic chassis the Home Server used, it seemed a waste not to use it and keeps the board a little safer until its new case is complete. I’ve put the Zotac through its paces this weekend watching and recording TV, listening to music and watching a number of BluRay discs. So far I’m very impressed.
I installed the Windows 7 RC operating system because, well, why the hell not? It installed in no time at all and after 20 minutes for the OS and a little longer for the latest drivers the system rating to the right was run. Now, 2.2 isn’t great however the processor in this board (Atom N230) isn’t the important thing here, the GPU is going to be doing almost all the work. Something it does very well.
At 4.2 and 5.1 the graphics scored a lot higher than my previous media centre which topped out at 3.2 and 3.4. Plugging the new machine into a power meter I discovered it runs at 30~35 Watts regardless of what you throw at it, live TV and BluRay included. I have even got hibernation to work under Media Centre which I gave up on previously.
Many years ago I built the first incarnation of the Jukebox based on a project on Mini-ITX.com where someone made a similar machine for listening to music and where I purchased my Mini-ITX boards from.
The picture to the left shows the case as it currently exists, awaiting an upgrade. I’m planning on getting the lightstrips shining for the first time in a few years and hiding the remote receiver in there too along with the BD-ROM drive. The nasty silver case underneath is an old case recently returned that will house the old Media Centre guts, after a good clean. I think the Jukebox will be easier than cleaning the old case, years of dust await me though worth the work.
It’s been a while since I’ve got my hands dirty with such a project and longer still since I’ve done any electronics work. The LED lightstrips and PIC based power button to use IR codes to bring the machine out of hibernation should keep me busy for a while and hopefully a lot of fun too.