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Last year when I wrote the post about my mini server its performance satisfied my need for a small device that was able to acquire and stream Xvid quality media to our devices around the house. Well with the upgrade at the beginning of the year to a HTPC that can handle full 1080p quality media I quickly realized that the back-end was going to require some upgrades too.
Having a small device that I could stash in the corner of the office was great but suffered from one major flaw: 4 drives packed into that small space produced heat that killed hard drives at an extremely high rate. Of course a second flaw was that it would never be able to grow past 4 drives. I now highly recommend that you do not try that similar build. Instead, I’ve opted for a mid-sized tower with 9 5 1/4 “ bays, giving me the ability to install up to 3 hard drive cages holding 5 drives each. Yes, this gives me the ridiculous ability to install up to 15 hard drives. In addition to the case upgrade I also too this opportunity to upgrade the rest of the components.
If you’ve read my previous post about the HTPC/NAS I put together last year, you’re probably wondering why I wouldn’t just use that as my HTPC box, since it does have full media center functionality. Although it has all the necessary power and isn’t very big, it’s still significantly bigger and has a lot more running on it than something I’d want to put under my TV.
For this project, I wanted a box no bigger than my Direct TV receiver that booted up faster than the Xbox 360 we currently use to watch movies, and isn’t nearly as picky about the video formats. Additionally, this device needs to be able to crank through 720P/1080P video files of BluRay quality. Since powerline networking (the device I was previously using feeds the network signal over the power lines) doesn’t have the requisite bandwidth to do this smoothly, 802.11N wireless capability was also a required feature.
Enter the Jetway Mini-Top…
This tiny box packs a dual-core (1.8ghz) Intel Atom processor, but also the Nvidia Ion 2 graphics card with 512 megs of dedicated graphics memory. With wireless included, this is the perfect box for the job!
Since this device needs to run both smoothly and boot like an appliance and not a computer, I finished out the parts list with the following:
The most important of those two components is definitely the solid state drive (not that the computer would run without the RAM but the SSD is the differentiator here). This allows the device to access the data it needs to boot and run almost instantaneously instead of relying on a slower hard drive to spool up. Since I store all of my media remotely on the media server we only need enough space on the drive for the operating system and the library database. 30 gigabytes is more than enough for this task.
The physical assembly was a piece of cake. After screwing the two rails to the side of the SSD, both it and the RAM simply snapped into place. Four more screws to secure the drive and the case simply slides back on! Below is the assembly beside a deck of cards for scale:
The device is so small that it is by far, the smallest of the three devices under my TV:
With everything plugged up the last (but not least) step was to install the OS and software needed for it to do its magic. Using a thumb drive and a bluetooth keyboard, I installed Ubuntu 10.10 64 bit using the mini iso. This keeps the extra software down to a minimum and allows you to install exactly what you need. One thing I did struggle with here is that for some reason the installation kept installing GRUB (the software that tells Linux how to boot) to the thumb drive instead of the computer. This caused quite a few headaches and a couple of re-installations before I realized that I’d have to trick the setup by pulling the thumb drive for this step.
As for the actual installation of XBMC? Due to the relative new hardware and the fact that both Ubuntu and XBMC just put out new versions, the cutting edge nature of all the components here did require a somewhat customized installation. Rather than plagiarizing the hard work of a few individuals on the XBMC forums, I’ll just link to the step-by-step instructions put together specifically for the Jetway found here. I’d like to take the time to thank both Speed3229 and Josh4trunks for doing such an awesome job with those instructions!
Finally the moment of truth, will it work and will it do so smoothly? The answer is a resounding “hell yes”! After turning the device on and telling it where to find my media on the network I have a fully functioning HTPC that meets all of the requirements outlined at the beginning of this post. The device is extremely fast and gives me a beautiful interface. The best part is, it can all be controlled via my smartphone using XBMC Remote (similar apps available for iOS and Android, your mileage may vary) from anywhere in the house. I still purchased a media center remote for my wife and guests to use but it works just as well either way.
On a final note, this did take some minor tweaking of XBMC to get it exactly where I wanted it. Using the Jetway with the configuration above, the audio output has to be specified as “HDMI” with the device being “HDA NVidia hdmi” in order to get sound over HDMI and “AC3″ capable receiver needs to be unchecked unless it’s hooked up to a capable receiver. Other than that, XBMC has a word of plug-ins and options available so everyone’s setup will differ a little!
I like to make most of my posts pretty with pictures relevant to each of my stories and posts but this is a little difficult when it comes to these aviation posts due to the nature of the activity. Of all my flights, it was especially the case for this one.
As part of attaining a Private Pilot License you are required to do a number of cross-country flights, one of which needs to be at night (you need three hours of night flight at a minimum). For my first night flight I decided to do the Lunken (LUK)-> Lexington (LEX)-> Lunken flight that I had done before so that there would be at least a certain bit of familiarity, which is especially welcome at night. Read more…
I’ve been to quite a few beaches in my time, several of which were on the coast of the Carolinas, but never had the opportunity to go to the Outer Banks before. The first thing I’ll say about traveling there is this: If you fly, fly into Norfolk, VA instead of Raleigh. I flew in to Raleigh only to realize that I still had another four hours of driving ahead of me. The traffic on Saturday is also bumper to bumper once you get onto the island, as everyone is checking in and out. My advice would be to arrive in the morning instead of the afternoon. Read more…
For those of you that liked the HTPC/NAS article earlier, I have put together a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to how I set everything up from the beginning to end. I didn’t include this level of detail in the original post since it might be too much info for some people (either because they know what they’re doing or they don’t plan on doing it).
For those of you that want to dive in and set up the programs I discussed in the previous post, the complete software setup instructions are available HERE.
I’ve been meaning to write about DJing on here too so when a friend asked me what he needed to buy to start DJing this morning, I figured that was a good enough place and reason to start. I usually get this question about once a year randomly so I’ve become accustomed to dishing out this rant in various forms. When I started DJing around 1999 you needed the following to be taken seriously anywhere: 2 Technics 1200SL turntables and a mixer. To do anything worth a damn you needed a serious mixer like the Pioneer DJM-500 (what I have) too. From there the next biggest expense was in records, they all cost $10 a piece and you needed a whole box of them to piece together a set. They were heavy and hard to find at that.
Today the world of electronic music is much different. Digital DJing is now the norm almost anywhere you go. Even the DJs that are using vinyl are just using it to control mp3s/wavs on software. The average club DJ is probably doing just that, and probably just because it looks cool. Unless you plan on doing heavy turntablism (scratching), this too is probably on its way out. Read more…
Update (5/11/2011): I have replaced the build below with an improved model, though it is larger. Read about it here!
My goal behind building my HTPC/NAS device was to have a storage/TV solution that:
a) Didn’t need me to babysit it to get it to work and
b) Was easy enough to interface with that it would pass the WAF (wife acceptance factor)
Given those two points, the server needs to function more like an appliance and less like a project. Once complete it should do what it was built to do and not require me logging in every day to check on it.
I wanted a device that would be able to do the following regardless of whether or not I was around:
- Hold all of our media
- Collect media on it’s own
- Play it in 1080p over HDMI to our TV
- Be able to send the media to our cell phones
- Act as additional hard drive space for our laptops
- Hold all of our backed up data
- Enough redundancy to suffer a failed hard drive without any losses Read more…