October 02, 2004

Small computers: mini-ITX

Cool gadgets | Linux

After I got the Squeezebox, I realized I need a machine to serve the music. Unfortunately a regular computer makes a lot of noise, and having it running all the time eats a lot of power. So I started looking around for a smaller system.

A colleague from work suggested going with a low-power alternative, running on a VIA Eden processor. The 533MHz and 600MHz of these processors run without the need for a cooling fan. The 800MHz and 1GHz processors, although still low-power do need a cooling fan on them. But the 533MHz processor has enough CPU capabilities for serving files to the squeezebox, so there's no need to go with a more powerful processor.

I ended up getting this system with the M6000 motherboard and processor. I wanted the ability to add external hard-disks over USB 2.0 or Firewire, otherwise I would have gotten the lower-cost EPIA 533MHz.

The Travla C158 case is very small, nowhere close to the ugly tower cases of today's PC computers. The power supply is external and supports up to 60W. The case does have a small fan at the bottom, which makes a lot of noise. Because the motherboard runs pretty cool, I decided to take out the fan. The only other source of heat is the hard-disk, but it's not too bad.

One thing about the case is that is so small, it needs a memory less than 28mm height to fit inside. Since a regular DDR memory is too big, I had to get a low-profile memory sold by CaseOutlet. I also got a 200Gb Seagate hard-disk from Fry's for $70 after a mail-in rebate, which should be able to lots of music.

At first I tried installing Fedora Core 2, but it failed right after starting the installation. I decided to try Knoppix, a distribution that can run entirely from a CDROM. The system booted just fine, and recognized all the devices inside. After I logged in, I installed the system on hard-disk and rebooted from it. The setup was incredibly smooth, with no major problems or incompatibilities. A really good distribution, highly recommended!

The Knoppix distribution is based on Debian, and this is the first time I have to administer a system based on Debian. The package management is quite different from RPM based system, even though it has similar features.

I copied the music from my powerbook, setup slimserver on it and reconfigured the squeezebox to get the music from the new server.

All of the operations took about 5 hours, including setting up the hardware appropriately, downloading and installing Knoppix, copying the music and setting up the slimserver software. I was quite impressed how smooth everything was.

Posted by ovidiu at October 02, 2004 05:46 PM |
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