Not for the weak minded.

Suitcase Computer: Finished Again

April 15th, 2009 Josh
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The last time I wrote about my suitcase computer (the one I started back in December), it wasn’t quite finished. As I had feared, the single slot-fan was not able to keep up with the heat. I thought about adding another slot-fan, however the first one was noisy and it would have been tough to fit a second one in. So I decided that my plans to leave the top of the case intact for the “clean” look were going to have to be scrapped in order to install 2 tried and true 80mm fans.

These axial fans turned out to be quieter than the radial slot fan, and push about 10x the air through the case. I had thought about just going with one 80mm fan, but decided that I didn’t want to spend another night after that installing yet another fan when the first wasn’t enough. With the addition of the second fan, I also added a second intake vent, and got 2 filter covers to take care of the dust.

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At the same time, I decided to install the ¼” audio jacks that would enable the live guitar effects processing that I originally wanted this machine for. I also bought a distribution block so that I could change around the connections internally if needed. There are a total of four ¼” jacks, two mono, and two stereo. The mono are also switched, and tied to the ring on the stereo jack. This gives 2 jacks for input and 2 for output, for two audio signals each. If I have a stereo signal, I can plug it into the stereo jack. If I have a mono signal, I can plug it into the mono jack, and it switches off the ring of the stereo, essentially turning the stereo plug into a mono plug. This means I can either use 1 stereo, or 2 mono cables for both input and output.

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On the inside, in order to wire the ¼” jacks to the sound card, I took a six foot 1/8″ stereo extender and cut it in half. I then wired it to the other side of the distribution block, making it essentially an internal hard-wired patch bay. The 1/8″ plug simply plugs into whatever sound card port I want to use. The only thing that I am still missing is a mic input for when I play games online. While writing this, I came up with a great way to remedy that. Next chance I get, I’ll simply wire another 1/8″ plug to the input (which is on line in at the moment) which will send the signal to both the line in and mic in on the sound card. This will enable me to select which one to use in software without having to manually open and swap plugs, or install another jack on the case for just a mic.

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With the computer now 99.99% complete (I never know when I’ll want to add something to it) I am quite happy with how it turned out. It is a highly portable, power-packed, multi-purpose computer – exactly what I intended to make when I started. It serves up flawless 1080p HD video to my TV, plays the latest games, processes live music at high quality, and doesn’t sound like I have a hurricane in my living room. If I were to do this again, I would remove the video game requirement. I don’t play video games that often, and it really killed me on several issues. Without that requirement, I could have a super-low power, compact system that would give me all the HD and audio processing I need. Oh well, next time. For now, I’m calling this project a success. For real this time.

Enjoy the entire gallery of pictures from the project HERE.

Suitcase Computer… Finished?

February 26th, 2009 Josh

 

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So tonight I forged ahead with my weeks-neglected suitcase computer build. It is not as nicely finished on the exterior as I would like, but it appears to work. When I fastened everything into the case I ran into a few issues with cable placement. The 90 deg DVI-I connectors covered the onboard sound and back panel USB ports. I was using all the USB ports prior to connecting the DVI cable, but with the cable in place I was only able to use 4 of the 6 plugs. To mitigate this I simply plugged in a dual-USB back panel plate. This finished it off. My only concern is that the single fan I have won’t be able to keep up with the heat. 

Currently it is hooked up to my TV and running like a champ… but with the case open. I’ll have to recap more later, but for now I just had to post the successful near-end.

Epic, Failure

January 6th, 2009 Josh

 

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So over break I was working on my suitcase computer and had a moment (which actually was more like a span of a day) where I experienced what can really only be described as a rapid divergance between a cost-effective self-manufactured parts, and a time-saving purchased part. This is an uncommon failure on my part, but I digress.

 

This particular failure started out as an effort to make a DVI-I extension cable that will plug in to the video card and extend the DVI-I ports to the edge of the case. For this cable I knew that making my own cables would be painfull and time-consuming, however a search for a usefull commercial product turned up nothing (initially).

The first thing I tried was to take a DVI-D cable that I bought, use a dremmel to cut off the plastic casing around the end connectors, cut the wire and solder it back together shorter. Bad idea. I stopped halfway through the plastic casing realizing I would never get the wires free enough to solder back together. Read the rest of this entry »

the “project”

December 23rd, 2008 Josh

Every time I start a project thinking it might be quick, it becomes long. Just like this suitcase computer. I’ve managed to get the hardware mounted and the computer running, but I still have to get all the wires made pass the connectors to the outside of the box. I have 6 USB connectors, 2 DVI ports, and whatever audio plugs I think I need. The DVI ports are going to be the hardest since I have to solder about 25 wires on each end of the plug, and there’s no telling if it will actually work since DVI uses extremely delicate signaling. Currently it looks like this: IMG_1978.JPG

(clicking the picture should take you to the full gallery.) More pictures to come later!

Back to posting… maybe

November 12th, 2008 Josh

I know I still need to finish the JD 3hp series, and the Turbo jet math needs some work, but right now I have a short-term computer project that I am going to post.

This is the preliminary layout for my new Portable HTPC. It is being built in an aluminum tool box that i picked up from Home Depot for 20 bones. Not bad considering the cheapest computer cases are barely that cheap and not even as close to being this rugged. 

The purpose for this project is to have a computer that will do the following:

  • Live music effects processing- plug in a guitar and pedals
  • Live music multi-track recording
  • Blu-ray Home Theater PC
  • DX10 gaming PC

This is quite a lot to ask of a computer, but I think I managed to put together the hardware that will do it:

  • mATX board
  • Core 2 Duo 7300
  • 4GB OCZ ram
  • Radeon HD4850
  • 160 GB hard drive
  • HD/Blu-ray combo drive
  • 500 W power supply
  • 19″ touch screen
  • Custom case
I will post more pictures and the results of it’s capabilities later (at least that is my intension).