Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The optical drive - required for the home theater PC to be a standalone player if needed

Another accessory which caused a lot of headaches and it was probably the hardest part of the redesign.

The box, viewed from the front, initially had the display on top and the tray below. This positioning was not possible with the case modded to a HTPC, because the motherboard would not let me slide the drive into place so that the two vertically had to exchange places. I solved this pretty nicely, but will write about it in a separate blog entry.

In addition, also due to the usual lack of space, a normal dvd drive was out of the question, so a small form factor laptop DVD - CD drive was the answer, who’s connection of course was totally different from the desktop format. Fortunately, eBay is full of cheap adapters and cables, costing only a few bucks. It looks like this:

mSata to Sata adaptor cable

However, the fitting caused more problems than the cables

Thus, I needed something the player to lie on above the motherboard. At the beginning, during build 1.0, this problem, together with the HDD suspension, was solved by a powerful component called “The Piéce de résistance”, but this did not fit in the new structure so I had to invent something again.

After much trials and error puzzling, i realized that the old backplate was sufficiently rigid to hold a tray and to serve as a crossrod too. So I found myself sawing and filing again, another drill and the small L-shaped rod stood firmly in the box. It is also to be noted, that it serves as a  brace too, making it perfect by giving another strength point to the backplate.

The final problem was with the left-back side of the drive and with the fitting. Since this is a laptop unit, the door does not open completely, as it jumps out on eject and needs to be pulled by hand from there, action which can result in pulling the entire drive out of the case if not properly fitted. Then I remembered “The Piéce de résistance”. After cutting it in half, i fitted it to the L-shaped rod obtained earlier, curled up the back and after a few measurements I drilled a small hole in it to hold the drive. The small screw to hold, I had to scour the area around the hole to be much thinner, but this already belongs to fine details :) Here’s an image with the new tool and the DVD drive installed in the case:

Lé Piéce de résistance 2.0

DVD / CD optical drive mounted and fitted into HTPC case

The wondertool and the optical drive highlighted inside the home theater pc case

Monday, September 15, 2014

The heart of the HTPC - installing the hard drives

As I wrote in an earlier post, this time I wanted to store the hard drives in a tray designed for this purpose, and salvaged from an old PC case. Since the entire tray was kinda big – was designed to hold four drives after all -  I had to cut the thing in half. The picture below shows the cut:

PC HDD tray cut in half for HTPC

The cut in half hard drive tray. Now is small enough to fit in a low HTPC case

One half was higher than the other, for obvious reasons I use the lower one. I secured it to the case with three screws: one small hole is visible in the image above, and i drilled a further two. I could not take a normal picture to show them, so here’s a simple diagram to illustrate this:

Low height HTPC case HDD tray mounting diagram

The yellow circles indicate the case screws, the whites hold the hard drives

The installation was smooth. Fixing the hard drives to place was way more problematic, but it is due to lack of space, nothing else. A man with smaller, more feminine hands  would have no issues at all for sure.

Here are the final results:

HTPC HDD tray in place

HTPC HDD tray secured and hard drives mounted - SSD not visible

Friday, September 12, 2014

The backplate of the HTPC - the hidden utility factor

As stated earlier, the new power supply ruined my plans and had to think through everything again. After the birth of the new positioning, i measured and drawed the rear panel connectors of the new power supply (just the power supply from now on) and began to cut. As suspected, the backplate could not stand the pressure and got bent. I note that even if the cut has been a success, the plate would totally lost it’s endurance, so gave it all up halfway (see previous post for the image).


I needed a new backplate – no questions. Found in the courtyard a 1 mm thick sheet metal that looked and proved durable enough for the job. I made two drawings on it: one contained bending lines (pictured at the top) and the other did not. The latter prevailed as I had no opportunity to do a smooth bend, and the plate was strong enough to keep the roof while bolted to the frame anyway.

The bottom drawing was the winner. No bending, cuts only

Here it is to be noted, that in the absence of a proper tool (like the Dremel 3000) the cut (I mean sawing, drilling and filing) was a painful and lengthy process. If anyone wants to go the same way without enough patience, just drop it. Seriously! The end result, however, made up for everything. Here are some pictures:

HTPC backplate cutting is done

HTPC backplate is fitted - very nice

The red metal cover goes beautifully with the gray color of the htpc case.
The colored spots on the table are the watercolor left-overs of my boys creative side

The back panel has a total of five bolts. Three are connected only to the frame, while two serve as a power station unit  holder too. Since this latter piece is pretty light, the two screws were enough. Thus, each is rigidly and firmly fixed.

Backplate mission success!

HTPC backplate installed - what a beauty

Monday, September 8, 2014

HTPC Power supply replacement and new complications

I managed to get hands on a MiniATX PSU, which is much smaller and more powerful, and at the first test it powered everything, so there is no more compromise with the multi-card reader. No sata connectors, but all can be solved with a converter. Here are a few comparison pictures about old and new htpc psu:

PSU Comparision
PSU Comparision

When you build your HTPC, make sure your PSU can handle all, and it’s a small form factor

I should mention, that I did look at Pico PSU’s, but they are much more expensive, and largely depend on the external power brick, which is usual less than 100W. E.g. a 160W combo is like double in price than a MiniATX 200W internal PSU!!!

So immediately after i had it home, had the first tests: i connected it to the motherboard, and everything else, than started the machine - and violá it run! This was followed by a steeper and less relevant thermal test: i put the cover on, and the remaining spaces were covered with a small blanket (the cover did not properly fit as the PSU was just inserted in the case for this test). Half an hour later, the temperature of  the CPU and motherboard increased only by a few values, which is a good sign.

So let’s install this puppy

Unfortunately, the new PSU size, shape, connection and placement of ventilation is completely different, so not only does not fit in the old place, the backplate of the box also had to be cut, which was already showing singns of weakness. Luckily there was enough space in the left of the case so every plan turned upside down and there came the complete re-design and optimization of this HTPC build.

This was the point where I decided a complete re-design and optimization

Thanks to an old friend, i received an empty tower box, and immediately removed the hard drive tray from it.

Empty PC tower

All i needed was the HDD tray - half of it actually

After some rough measurements, came up with a new plan: the motherboard remain where it is, the power supply and hard drives will be on the left side, and on the right side of the mouse and the CIR / infrared plate. And on the top of them the DVD rom. Both hard drives will finally get a normal bracket and screws to firmly hold them in place, even if the HTPC DVD Player will not be moved or shaked too much.

The HTPC PSU repositioning plan

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Samsung 709 HTPC build reloaded - 2.0

Before we dive into rebuilding and optimizing  this HTPC build, let's take a look at our current setup. I emphasize, that this is a fully functional system, which unfortunately has a lot of shortcomings and cannot be used as intended.

In the picture you can see listed and highlighted the most important parts, and the immediately observable chaotic arrangement. It was not always this way, but as all is part of a process, had to squeeze in the last parts. It is important to highlight, that the first motherboard was much larger in size and therefore the lifting of the HDD was necessary, and later, after motherboard replacement, I had no reasons to lower it, because the SSD went under, and “the Piéce de résistance” stood firmly too.

Anyway, if it's a working system, then where's the problem? Why should I optimize

First of all there is always room for improvement. Always! Every modder and custom home HTPC builder should be prepared for this.

Secondly, the PSU is slowly failing, and is willing to start only if I remove the card reader or the bluetooth dongle. As the latter is used to connect my PS3 controller, the card reader had to go for now, anyway being just an extra convenience feature

Thirdly, and most importantly, a lot of heat is generated which has nowhere to escape. Things  improved a lot after I drilled some holes into the roof, but after half an hour running, things get scary and it is feared that some parts will permanently fail. And yeah, operates correctly without a roof, but that’s not the goal. 

It is therefore necessary to replace the power supply, the parts should be reorganized a bit, and I could use a larger fan, although the machine is already louder than it should be, to do something with the air flow and the hard drive to benefit also from some wind

Let's do it!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

HTPC build 1.0 - last entry and stage

Hey folks

Another longer pause without being in touch, but i made progress, nonetheless the HTPC is alive and kicking, but due to lack of time, did not had time to write the action log. 

Moreover, as usual, more and more problems arose, which currently prevent the completion of the project, but since the lineup is strong and even looks as definitive regarding parts and accessories, i decided to close this builder - exchanger - jigsaw period under "HTPC build 1.0" group name, and gather the following under a new generic – HTPC build 2.0 - describing the how to's, solutions, components, etc. 
But before we get to that, the last entry should be supplemented and improved, because it does not reflect the current state. Here it is:
First of all I dropped the CF - SATA converter idea, as the 4 gig card would not hold a Windows 7 install. If you read my blog you know, that XP was originally in sight, but for several reasons i decided to call a 64-bit 7 the winner. Despite the fact , that it does have a light version, which is less than 4GB !!!!! after install (search on Google and torrents), together with the mandatory programs and drivers would have exceeded this limit, not to mention the fact that Win 7 has no "embedded" version, resulting in an early death of the CF card. So what about now? Simple: a used 64 GB, SATA 3, OCZ Vertex 3 SSD off eBay. This will hold anything and the quick start would cause no problems. OS checked.

Secondly, the CIR has returned. I do not remember where I was navigating when I came across a german development that can wake the machine from the S5 state - meaning Shut Down just by an infrared signal. It was important to emphasize that is german, because there was no english version of the website, and did not came up in the search results when I was seeking for such a solution. Not to mention, that the owner did not even used any words and phrases related to the modder HTPC world. Lucky me that came across, and I will write about it later. Here is the link:
Seek for: Produkte - IR-Einschalter Rev.5 (it has english manual)

Edit: i was searching on Youtube for my mobo reviews and tuning, when i saw a video where a guy installed this IR receiver. here's the video:

It is important to mention, that i got a bit of a price reduction, which provided the above advertisement place :)
That is, and will be in touch with the parts breakdown and descriptions.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Compact Flash to SATA - a small change and update

As my new mobo does not have IDE connection, i cannot use my old CF to IDE adapter. Of course, SATA is much faster, so the change is welcomed. So went to eBay (again) and purchased a CF to SATA adapter. This is how it looks like:

It was a real bargain for 2 pounds, but the price varies. Check for yourself: eBay CF to SATA adapter

PS: dropped the CIR receiver as i found another COM port based solution. Stay close for details!