Archive for August, 2008

LINUX HOME SERVER

I bought this old rack-mount chassis off ebay for a song (about a tenner to you and me) and started to think about setting up a server for general duties in the Ultimate Wired Home[TM] – you know sitting there doing nothing for days on end then serving up a couple of kb in old family pictures once in a blue moon.
 

Since it will almost certainly be sitting idle for long periods I thought I’d treat myself and go for a low-power MODT (mobile on desktop) system.

Motherboard – Gigabyte 8I945GMMFY-RH
CPU – Intel Core Duo T2500
RAM – 1GB (single channel)
HDD – 80GB (mobile 2.5″) SAMSUNG HM080HI drive (SATA 1 / 1.5Gbps)
PSU – X-POWER ATX-400TD

I hoped that by choosing these components; 
A Mobile chipset – with all the power saving features that should give (~30W).
A Mobile T2500 CPU – the rated TDP is just 31W
Mobile 2.5″ Harddisk – should use less than 1W at idle (maybe 4W under use)
A ‘fairly’ decent PSU – >75% efficiency (according to the specs)
A single RAM module – Half the power of a dual-channel setup!! (Each DDR2 module is consumes about 2W)

To this heady mix I added a ICYDOCK 4-way disk carrier (another ebay bargain) and a Sil3114 4-port SATA PCI controller. I did some research and I guess that each hard drive will add about 8W to the mix.
 

Initially I toyed with Windows Home Server. I got hold of a trial verison with a resonable trial period and installed it on a spare PC but I found myself somehow underwhelmed. Maybe I’ve overspecified the server and I guess I’m not the sort of user they’re targetting with the WHS concept but I just thought that you could acheive the same with a NAS box – all the potential of having a computer server in the house and it wasn’t really used.

Eventually I went for CENTOS linux for the O/S it’s a mature distribution targeted at the server (rather than having all the stuff that comes with a desktop O/S) and it seems that the maintainers of the distribution put an emphasis on stablility and reliablity rather than early adoption.

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Phillips Showline MCP9350i media centre.

MCP9350i

I’ve put together a few pages dedicated to media centre exploits – I’ve had a few attempts to introduce the concept to my lady but sucess was only possible in the shape of this Phillips MCP9350i. This is because it looks like it belongs with the DVD player and other hi-fi stuff rather than in a computer room.

Here’s the scenario;

Lady: What the &&*^ is that thing.
me:    It’s a media center babe.
Lady: It’s an abomination.
me:    You can pause live-TV.
Lady: You can get it out of this room right now.
me:    It’s just a  computer.
Lady: One that looks like an oil tanker and sounds like your mum drinking tea.
me:    Let’s try using it for a couple of weeks – you’ll love it.
Lady:  OK let me put it this way – do you ever want to have sex ever again in your life ever?
me:    Err yes please.
Lady:  Drop it. 

NOTE TO SELF: With the Phillips box I have achieved the magic of lady-acceptance. So it’s important not to screw this up by having the thing crash every other day. 

 

Insides:

As you do the first thing I did when I got the computer to take it to bits to have a look at the components!

As standard it comes with 512MB of DDR2-4200 memory – I upgraded this to 2.5GB.

d945gsu mobo
It’s all built around a custom motherboard – a D945gsu. It’s a shame that the board doesn’t appear on the intel website so no BIOS updates are available but it’s a pretty standard D945 board so all the video and chipset drivers should work OK.
This board is a microBTX one. I guess the choice of BTX was made to tame the fearsome heat output of the 3Ghz Pentium 4 CPU that is fitted. 

The only really weird thing on there is that in a PCI-express x16 slot where you’d expect the video card to be there’s a card labelled CH7312

step 2 video card - label.JPGstep 2 video card in situ.JPG

I initially though that this card seems to how the phillips deliver the ‘Phillips digital natural motion’ that the specifications shouts about. It say here… “digital natural motion technology is applied to all video outputs regardless of source with the aim of improving quality and reducing stutter”. I’m sure it’s super but there doesn’t seem to be much hardware on the card to actually do that!

I googled CH7312 (the part number on the card) and it suggest that the card is based on a chrontel 7312 chip – all this does is add DVI output for the onboard video (which only has a VGA connector). It’s like a PixelView ADD II card I think.

Now I’m not so sure how the digital natural motion is actually done. However since it looks like just a standard PCI-express slot I did think about putting in a nicer more recent video card in – like a passively cooled HD3450?

As standard the media centre come with a dual analogue tuner

step 2 old tuner card in situ.JPG

This tuner is a Nvidia DualTV – it has good reviews and is supposed to be a very good card.

The machine has all sort of goodies – a miniPCI slot houses a ’54g’ wireless card and there are two ir-blaster connectors on the motherboard.

 

The onkyo HDC-7

Interestingly there is a japanese market machine which is based on the identical chassis and motherboard – the ONKYO HDC-7.
onkyo hdc-7

It’s good to see that this machine has a Pentium-D processor as standard (a Pentium-D 820) suggesting that the MCP9350i CPU could be upgraded.

The only other difference is that the ONKYO machine has an extra very high-end audio card in the spare PCI slot.

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