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Saturday, 29 December 2012

YAMM, Media Browser and Media Center

After much trial and error I have finally become annoyed with the habit of Media Browser of updating my movie folders, literally one day I can have a folder showing one name and the next the content is presented differently. For instance, The Adventures of a Teenage Dragonslayer used to have a cover image saying just than then one day it changed to a French language version.

As I have Media Browser running via Media Centre on my main PC and the HTPC I don't even end up with a consistent view.

The final straw has come in that I also have XBMC installed in both locations and that updates too and has added a healthy does of random.

I'm trying to get used to XBMC because MediaCentre is on the way out - I believe it is a pay for option on Windows 8 and that will kill it off, the downside is that the other products are just too complicated - yes they can do a lot of things but I just want my media presented in a simple interface with not too much messing about but having spent an extended period with MediaPortal and a couple of other products XBMC strikes me as the only viable alternative out there (and I'll try it again on my Rasperry Pi eventually, I love the Party Mode in the music library).

Anyway, I'm a long term user of Yamm, Yet Another Media Manager, which works pretty well but it too can have a randomisation effect - clearly they all pick up standard files from common sources and it is those sources that are changing. I've now stopped Yamm monitoring my entire collection and today I have been through and removed all automated updating from Media Browser and Yamm on both machines and manually visited every movie and corrected the content; it seems the best way to do this is to individually add the movies folder to the Yamm config and then wait for it to update (I've frequently resorted to adding
[imdb=ttxxxxxxx]
to the end of the foldername (where ttxxxxxx is the id from the imdb.com site) to force Yamm to use the correct film information.

Now all of my Movies have the correct information and look great in Media Browser and XBMC.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Synology DS213Air update

I've now been living with the DS213Air for a few months and am pleased overall.

It turns out that the media server doesn't work when in Wireless Router mode - which I'd only changed to from the default Hotspot mode because of poor performance (like unconnectable between floors).

A bit of time spent with my Google Nexus and the free WiEye wi-fi scanner tool has revealed a massive overlap on a number of channels, it also shows just how much wifi on one channel spills into others. Having identified a pretty quiet channel the hotspot mode is now usable on the diskstation which means that media server is working perfectly now.

I've used the Download Station and have just started downloading RSS feeds to keep bandwidth out of chargeable hours which is a nice automation benefit.

I am also hosting all of my music and movies on the device which means less data stored on each PC in the house.

I have installed the DS Photo/ File/ Audio apps on the Google Nexus, they work fine locally but my ADSL router is to old to handle automated configuration for remote access (pretty sure it could be done manually if necessary), besides which DS Audio which is my main interest is too simplistic (missing Album Artist view for starters) to be of much use so I have been using Bubble upnp to connect to the Mediaserver product and that covers photos, audio and video, matched with MX Player on the Nexus and most of my films play pretty well.

I have Cloud Station installed on my PC and it works fine but is limited to 3 shares each (so no good for synchronising my home folder, music, videos and photos, 4 things), it also requires that the Disk station share is configured first which means copying everything to the Synology first and then synchronising it back to an empty folder on the PC, which was bad enough with 146Gb of music, 1.5 TB of movies is a non starter, it also plays havoc with genie backup as all of that data is a change so gets backed up a 2nd time. I'm now using it just for individual items I want to synchronise, eventually I'd like to do my entire Documents folder but a little more confidence is needed first, time will tell. The software is also clearly still in development as it has a basic error in that every time I login it tells me that 17 files have been updated, it's the same 17 everytime because they were the last to change.

Data replicator has been deleted as it's a back tool not a synchronisation tool so not much use for me at this point.




Saturday, 10 November 2012

Nexus 7 update

As time progresses I am increasingly impressed with this device, it is not as plug and play as an iPad but the convenience (not having to boot a PC for small tasks) and flexibility is excellent.

I have purchased screen protectors and discovered that in five days of light use there are tiny scratches on the glass already so  durability is a concern.

I have also purchased a Poetic leather case which is a good looking, well made item with working sleep mode magnets (that don't cause problems when the cover is folded right back), £10 we'll spent there.

Friday, 9 November 2012

synology...lack of response

Three days and still no response from synology regards the failure of media share over wireless or indeed regards the disappointing wireless performance - the only reason I have not given up on it is the money spent.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Synology update

I am now the proud owner of a Google Nexus 7, 32gb. What a great device but wholly  dependent on wireless connectivity.

 My first few days with the nexus have been plagued with what seems like network lock ups or connectivity dropping but further investigation has revealed problems with the Synology DS13Air wireless capability.

 To be fair sitting at my desk the wireless connect ion is perfect and much faster than my old net gear wpn802, however, that is about 2 feet from the router. Moving downstairs results in less than 20mbps connections and frequent loss of connect ion.

My net gear wireless signal works fine downstairs - I have raised a support ticket with Synology and as a result have changed the connect ion type from hotspot to wireless router. Functionality remains seemingly unchanged but connectivity is not improved.

Worse, I have been experimenting with dlna / upnp functionality and am having problems in that the media server on the ds 213 disappears at random. Much experimentation has resulted in the discovery that when I connect wirelessly using the, flawed, synology wireless I lose access to the synology media server but it works fine on rge net gear. So another bug on which I am still awaiting a response from synology.

Friday, 2 November 2012

213Air update

Interestingly enough the transfer speed is probably not being reported correctly but I did get a response from Synology which amounted to try it with a cross over cable to rule out all other network components. Not tried that yet.

Audio Station is fully in place and working which is excellent news - the Mediaserver version is fast whilst the Audio Station library mode is unusable.

I have also now received my Google Nexus 7 (32gb) and discovered that my ancient Netgear Wimax wireless device has a much better signal that the DS213 Air and to make matters worse the DS213 seems to drop the wireless connection when the drives go to sleep - raised another support call as the wireless performance is actually unusable more than a few feet away even on high power mode.

DS Audio on the Nexus is passable but doesn't have either the views listed in the library or the views showed on the media server which is a shame as it makes any collection of music of any size unwieldly, however, several DLNA based apps in Google Play - BubbleUpnp seems to do the job nicely - has a good interface and is responsive. The only problem I've found is that it cannot play to two different destinations (the are products out there that will but the interfaces are unusable) - I'm awaiting a response from the developer to see if the pay for version corrects that issue.

Impressed with the Google Nexus 7, tinkering with configuring it just so will keep me quiet for a while - as expected it has many more options that the ipad offers and it's not entirely intuitive to the extent that I am reading the manual (well, I will read the manual).

My favourite photographic gear

A little tongue in check but...my favourite photographic gear must either be my push bike or Andy, pictured below, because almost the only time I ever get the chance to take photos is with one or the other around.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Synology DS 213 Air

I've been installing the new device for a week or so now - impressed so far, the device is silent (really, I had to check it was still turned on about 4 feet from me) when the drives are spun down and virtually silent in active operation - I can hear the fans now and the the slight rattle of the drive while my music collection copies over. I had to pause to listen as my PC is much noisier and it's a fairly quiet PC.

I've been tinkering with Synology's Audio Station package - it looks remarkably like the offering from Sonos and probably a string of other packages. I suspect it is going to struggle with my 145Gb of MP3 files because the reindexing of 2 tracks was distressingly slow but we'll find out. The biggest disappointment is that I think we'll find out a lot later than I might have expected as the file transfer speeds are sitting around 15mb/s - the started at close to 30mb/s which would be ok (but only ok) but now the DS213's CPU has hit 100% and the transfer shas dropped horribly - I can transfer else where at higher speeds and the lan is not busy. Have raised a support form with Synology because they are promoting much higher transfer speeds and this is a worry for day to day use.

The other problem I have at the moment is that I've added a second user and I cannot figure out how to grant that user rights to their own home folder which is a pain, fine for me.

I suspect that these are just niggles as so far everything else is looking good and normal disk performance for the odd file looks great - it's possible that I'm overwhelming the cache on the drive and the caching capability of the device is non existent but that's still slow.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Synology DS213 Air

My most recent Genie Timeline issues appear to have come about following the demise of my backup disk drive - more often than not it is booting and displaying as a RAW device rather than NTFS. I've scanned the drive during one of its good periods with no problem displayed but it still randomly fails.

I've had numerous problems with the drive / the USB 3.0 caddy it sits on so digging out my old USB 2.0 caddy I soon found that the problem is the USB 3.0 device.

However, I've been considering a NAS unit and this is the final straw as I now want to separate out my data from the PC so making the potential for recovery higher and a new Synology  DS213 Air and a 3Gb Western Digital Green Power drive is now sitting waiting for configuation.

Configuration is going to take me a while as the Synology device has a lot of options and features - luckily the interface is extremely smooth and user friendly, unluckily the SHR file system which is the default recovery option for the device churned the disk for over 12 hours before it was usable.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Genie Timeline...fixed?

To be honest watching someone fix your PC is really boring and the Genie9 team seem to know what they are doing and I'm happy that they are trust worthy so this time I just let the guy get on with it while I had a lie it. I could get used to this (not that I want to get used to problems), I get up, look at the screen and have a message that everything is fixed again.

A short email later and I have a set of scripts that will clear down the Timeline queue for me so I can try to fix the problem myself - clearly that doesn't solve the problem but at least means I have working backups.


Happy again.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Genie Timeline

My problems have commenced again, it appears that the software is awaiting a file to be available to backup and getting stuck so I have a different Genie 9 person due to login and crack it this time....

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Genie Timeline Update

As an update one the Genie Timeline situation I have since had a one of the programmers on my machine and he has cracked the problem. I'm not sure what the cause was but hopefully he was able to take something away to improve stability in a future version but for now I have a working system and am very impressed with the support offered by the Genie9 team. Thanks.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Genie Timeline 2012

I have been using Genie Timeline for a couple of years now. It is an impressive little package, set which files / folders you want to backup to an external drive and forget about it, each time a file changes a new backup is created so you can return to old versions.

It works well enough that I have 3 legitimate copies, 2 professional and 1 home, home is a little more simplistic in features but still does the job nicely whereas profession allows me to tinker with more features.

It is not a perfect product - biggest flaws for me are the lack of ability to remove something from the backup - the Geniesoft (or Genie 9 as they now calls themselves, not sure, perhaps too much Star Trek) helpdesk recommend just deleting things direct from the backup files (instantly trashing all their indexing information) and the limitation that backups are fixed to the size of a disk - once the disk is full you have to start a new backup on a new disk but it backs up all the same data again. I now have 1.2tb of backups so disks are still growing ahead of my backup size but for how much longer I cannot tell. There are features to limit the backups size but they do nothing on version 2.

Which brings me to version 3, or Genie Timeline 2012 as it is now called. A new look, mirroring the Windows 8 tiles approach but unlike Microsoft's offering with Genie it is well thought out and presents well. It is possible the features I am about to mention existed in the previous version but I had it configured as I wanted and didn't fiddle which as it turns out is a good thing.

First off I've rediscovered the feature to limit backup set size - this was supposed to delete oldest files to keep the backup set under a target size but as Genie (sorry Seven, Genie9) stated to me, it doesn't work on version 2, so I thought I would try it on version 3, not sure if it works or not yet as I haven't reached the set size and....

There is also a feature to delete backups older than 60 days. Interestingly arbitrary number there. For my accounts files 60 days if fine but for my photos where I might want to re-edit an old version of file (bad management on my part but it happens) or when a file corrupts and I want to retrieve an old version 60 days is just so wrong. It needs to be configurable - I reckon I could live with 180 days, around 6 months but 60 is of no use.

All good so far but then I found the disaster recovery option. Sounds like a good button to press, yes it will backup some more tens of gigabytes but those disks keep getting bigger. Box duly ticked. Lots and lots of thinking. I'm not twenty something % protected and , and...it stops.

Machine left overnight and still no change. So I've unticked the disaster recovery and...still no movement.

So having tried everything I can think of (even a reboot :-) I raise a ticket on the Genie9 (yes that joke got old) site - they have a good ticket system and actively respond which is a major plus (so all those sites doing a performance comparison of backups products take note - backups which go wrong are useless without some support, big plus here). I've now started 2 services (Microsoft Software Shadow Copy Provider and volume Shadow copy) that had not been used on version 2 and although set to manual (ie on demand) had not started with Genie 2012 (is that a bug in their software or are they actually unnecessary, who knows, least of my worries at this point). Still no change.

My worst fears are looming - that I'm going to have to start a new backup & hence purchase a new (one of those aforementioned big ones) drive to handle the failure of my backup software.

Lots of screenshots and logs later I get an offer to remote onto my machine and assist - now this is a surprise. I work in IT and most of the time getting support from vendors is the blood from stone scenario, A large verndor who shall remain nameless but has a naming starting with M and ending in icrosoft will come on site for some hideous price and give bad advice (it is remarkably difficult to explain to one's employers that the consultant from the vendor who you just paid tens of thousands of pounds  gave answers I had already procured from google or were just plain wrong) but beyond that it's google all the way.

So a few days later I have a Genie 9 employee rummaging around my machine - he's polite, helpful and doesn't keep saying "what's this drive for" as he looks at my complicated config. He is logged in via a product called Teamviewer which is a free (for personal use) web based support tool - works over port 80 so no firewall messing around, good tool. He tries for an hour or more and gets to the point where Timeline looks like it is doing something but clearly isn't progressing.

How does this story end. Well more screenshots and logs and instructions to leave the machine to let it work (10 hours, no movement at all), we will see next week what happens, do I have a pretty good piece of software backed up with active support to make a truly remarkable package for the domestic market or .........

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Raspberry Pi

I now have a Raspberry Pi model B.

A fantastically small device with more power that a lot of the machines I've used over the years. currently I am tinkering with getting XBMC, or rather RaspBMC working on it and Samba with USB drives.

It's going to take a while not least because of random crashes which seem to affect a lot of owners.

Once I've got something stable working I'll be able to experiment with the python programming and maybe get a little MySQL server running.

More when I make some progress.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Strikes

I hear the TUC are talking about strikes again. I understand that public sector workers are upset with good reason too but strikes are just going to make public opinion worse.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Windows 8 Media Center

There is a nasty rumour circulating on the net that Microsoft are going to make Windows Media Center a pay for option in Windows 8.

What is worse is that DVD play back will be blocked without the purchase of Media Centre.

I use Windows 7 media center, the shortcomings of WMC are as long as your arm, without thinking too hard my top bug bears are the failure of the music library to update reliably and the poor interface for larger music collections.

I've replaced the Movie functionality with MediaBrowser;  I have tried its music support but it is unusable at present (I suspect mainly because useful options are pay for but the default options don't encourage me enough to think my money would be well spent) but for movies it is brilliant.

The only other modification I have made is to the menus to get rid of the extra rubbish that Microsoft keeps trying to push on me.

I have worked extensively with both MediaPortal and XBMC but their shortcoming is that you have to work extensively with them whilst out of the box with very little effort Windows Media Center works and anyone could configure it properly.

So, having made a working Media Center which seems to have a strong user base it strikes me that it would not be practical to charge a high enough premium to genuinely fund improved professional development whilst it is going to slow down take up of Windows 8 (and when the Kinect gets integrated to the Windows 8 interface that would be a shame) and / or drive take up towards Media Portal / XBMC and for a lot of enthusiasts off of Windows.

So surely that rumour must be mistaken.

Friday, 20 April 2012

HTPC Update

Well, the box is still in there working nicely. I am still impressed with the performance of the E450, a little more welly would be nice but I can live with it as the SSD more than makes up for the absence of CPU.

I have noticed that the Blu-ray player is almost silent with playing DVDs but very noisy with blu-rays which is a bit distracting - requires blu-rays to be played at a slightly higher volume.

The only issue I am now seeing is that the Moneual 312B case has a problem, the flap for the front panels is changing colour to a chocolate brown which is also very distracting.

Monday, 19 March 2012

New HTPC : An update

The box has been in for a while now. Performance is brilliant considering the lack of processor power, the SSD with a decent processor would be quite spectacular I imagine.

I have also "resolved" the problem with the scratches on the remote control - turns out there is a protective plastic layer which I just could not spot until enough use has loosened it so the scratches have gone now.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Scottish Independence II

If the vote is yes then the cost will be high, if nothing else the entire cost of moving the nuclear capability should be footed by the Scottish parliament.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Scottish Independence

As part of the UK everyone should vote on Scotland being independent - if the vote is yes then fair enough

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Negativity & SQL Server

SQL Server 2012 licensing. Clearly an advert for MySQL. Enough said.

Monday, 16 January 2012

New HTPC Build : The Software

I've tried a number of software packages to run my media center kicking off with MediaPortal in the days of Windows XP when no suitable software was bundled but a huge amount of time and effort later Windows 7 with bundled Media Center came along and saved me.

Windows Media Center is not a perfect solution, too many forced adverts, too few rows of content with lots of empty space but it works out of the box. Luckily Media Center Studio helps and is tweaked nicely with Mikinho's Media Center Strips.

What I have found that since Windows 7 there are built in codecs for MP4 files from a Sanyo Xacti camera, quicktime for the Lumix TZ5 and laterlly support for AVHCD files from a Lumiz FZ100, all with no changes by me.

I have also been using MediaBrowser for Movie support and YAMM to pick up move details. Unfortunately, the music plugin crashes my machine which is a shame as WMC's Music library sometimes corrupts of its own accord so having a backup capability would be handy so Music Browser is on hand just in case. In fact I've just had another crack at the Music support on MediaBrowser but it just doesn't display my files reliably, I've checked all of the files to ensure I have tags in place on everything (and weeded out a few corrupt MP3s as a result too) but no luck still.

I also have in place MKV capability which makes life a lot easier for an movies, divx provides the basic codec capability and configuring MKV file extensions via MediaBrowser's External Players works nicely and combined with the integration of Cyberlink PowerDVD that game with the Samsung blu-ray drive for blu-ray disks everything works neatly now.

I did make a short foray into XBMC which looks great, miles better than WMC but configuration changes don't always seem to result in a working solution so blu-rays would play - WMC works so it lives on and the Neo theme in MediaBrowser looks fabulous so why tinker any further?

Sunday, 15 January 2012

New HTPC Build : Power Use

Having got the HTPC working as an after thought I have tested the watts drawn at the wall.

The AMD 4850e solution, with the same WD Green power drive would draw around 80 watts idle and a little more in normal use, peaking up to 120w.

This solution, with the addition of an SSD drive and faster RAM peaked at 42 watts during boot and 28 watts idle - much better, I've since added the Hitachi 1TB drive so that will raise that a little.

I can't feel any heat build up either even after being actively in use for several hours - and that is after my latest mod - I know old tights could be used for something (they weren't mine I hasten to add!).

I have covered all of the vents with old tights with the exception of the top vent (on the thought that heat is rising so lifting dust away, that will get reviewed in a couple of months), affixed inside on the sides and outside on the bottom, the finished product is trimmed neatly and not visible in the cabinet at all. I used this trick on the Silverstone case just to reduce the amount of dust that is able to enter the case while not stopping sensible airflow. It is not a perfect solution,  tights do not make a perfect seal (not helped by wife's unwillingness to donate a pair without ladders, something about wanting to wear them) and there are plenty of gaps in the average case that let some air in anyway but any reduction will reduce maintenance required.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

New HTPC Build : In Use

Installation complete and everything working?

Minor hurdle to overcome, activating Windows 7, completely new motherboard and processor etc which falls outside of the OEM agreement. I have my argument ready for when I have to ring up and try to convince someone as this is clearly the nearest replacement available for the board / processor I had while keeping to the HTPC purpose.

Awful picture of the finished product!

To my surprise activation goes through the automated route instantly. Phew.

The M.Play software supplied with the remote needed a little tweaking to make it work but turns out that it is both simpler to change and more reliable than the IMon Soundgraph software supplied with the Silverstone Grandia. It still has its quirks - I've found that keyboard shortcuts (including those I've defined myself) work perfectly but direct calls to programs seem to do nothing, however, that is consistent and a much nicer interface that the Soundgraph one.

I've discovered some oddities, so for instance there is an Eject button, that once shortcut has been setup to a small script, does successful Eject the optical disk (has to be defined for Windows and Media Centre) but as it points to a specific script is not able to close the drive. I can live with that as the only time I'm likely to need the button is when physically removing / inserting a disk so I'll have to get off my backside and cross the room anyway.

I have also had to redefine the Media Center button so that it actually starts Media Center when on the desktop (which seems a glaring oversight but wasn't hard to fix).

In fact the controller works so well that we have not discovered what all the buttons do / do not do yet because everything else we care about works out of the box - the lack of a mouse action is not really a problem as I've a USB mouse stuffed behind the CDs in the cabinet along with a mini-keyboard. I am missing the alphabetic option on the remote though for digging through > 20,000 music tracks.



Thursday, 12 January 2012

New HTPC Build : Installing Windows 7 from scratch.

It is all looking good and time to build the SSD version. This is where things get a bit lumpy.

Where just turning on the old Windows 7 installed booted to a usable system the installation on an SSD suffered from numerous lock ups following graphics issues :


Took a while to figure out, I made sure the graphics were attempting to use the built in HDMI (and I tried the VGA connection which for a few minutes gave me false hope). I guess the only good news was that the failures were shortly after Windows had copied files onto the hard disk and with the SSD that wasn't taking much time to reach.

I had just about decided to try installing to a different drive thinking that maybe my first experience of SSDs was about to be a bad one when I thought to reset the BIOS. Note to self, always reset the BIOS on new installs. Worked perfectly first time after. I've since tweaked various settings (yes I am using AHCI mode), no overclocking, no underclocking, just default settings to keep stability as best as possible and not had a single extra problem.

I can safely say I like the Asus BIOS too, I've been using Gigabyte boards for sometime now and still to in my other PCs but I might  be convinced to change. Naturally the documentation is still useless and  Google is required to explain some unfamiliar options (EHCI Hand Off for instance).

Once Windows was installed, getting all the latest motherboard drivers and case drivers in place has been an absolute breeze.

Performance?

The WD 1Tb drive had about 10Gb free on it and even defragged as best as was possible performance of that drive seemed sluggish - so spreading data across both the 1TB drives improved freespace to around 30% and  performance looked pretty good for a 3Gb/s devive. However, the SSD performance is amazing [I did take screenshots of a performace testing tool but can't find them or it anywhere now!] - at least 10x the read & write speed of the hard drive and boot times are significantly quicker on this machine (SSD + dual core 1.6Ghz APU & 1066 Mhz RAM) than my i7-2600 machine booting off a 6Gb/s drive with 1800Mhz RAM - it really goes to show just how much of Windows' performance is bound by disk & looking at Resource Monitor, even with an SSD install and unwanted services turned off there is still almost continual activity.

When it comes to raw processing power the E450 doesn't cope well - decidedly down on horsepower so raw processing jobs are slow to respond. However, Windows Media Center is heavily disk bound and the caching used by Media Player means that the Album Artists display is massively faster now that existed on the 4850e install where is was virtually unusable as it took so long to load up the Album graphics.

I think the way Media Center works needs some help as it would appear that none of the system resources get maxed out when rebuilding libraries even on this machine, indeed, there are times when nothing seems to be happening at all. I suspect poor code - it should detect how active the machine is and get on with it.

Graphics performance is excellent. The blu-ray drive came with Cyberlink so testing a blu-ray film gives the processor a thorough work out but playback is flawless at 1920x1080 and processor usage dropped to < 50% when I remembered to tick the "use hardware acceleration" box so am very pleased.

Even more importantly is that the playback of films does not appear (yet!) to display audio / video sync problems with the built in AMD Radeon 6320 graphics over HDMI that were displayed using the AMD 4850e with a Gigabyte GA-MA78GPM-DS2H board with built in HD 3200 graphics which rendered the HDMI connection useless.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

New HTPC Build : Switching on for the first time.

First switch on, no SSD yet, just using the WD drive which has Windows 7 Ultimate (a legit copy too!) installed for the AMD 4850e installation that was in the Silverstone box.

I've heard that Windows 7 transfers between hardware much more easily than previous Windows versions but I was surprised that on first attempt (the plug it in and find out what wires I've got wrong trial) the machine booted into Media Centre with only one minor complaint about the graphics card and wanting a reboot for changes in drivers - Microsoft have gotten that one rights it seems.

Now seems like a good time to switch over to an HDMI rather than VGA cable and the connector is exceedingly tight which made that a bit of a battle and took a couple of forced reboots to wake up (turns out I had forgotten to change the BIOS settings so was looking for a PCIe card).

Now the machine is running I can start to get an idea of sound levels and actual vibration through the case.

I can safely say that the case has zero sound dampening capability.

The Samsung BD drive sounds like an aircraft taking off until it spins up (we've only got plasterboard walls and it sounds clear through the walls, luckily it's only while spinning up). The Hitachi drive is a nasty rattly thing. However, the single noisiest thing is now the power supply - it's not the loudest in volume but as its fan is spinning constantly it is a continual noise. I've cleaned all the dust out which helps keep it cool and I've also removed the rear wire grill - there's little chance of small fingers getting pushed in there where the unit will be located finally and the removal of the grill notably smooths the air path reducing volume. Still noisy and for a fairly quiet PSU that was a surprise to discover. Am I going to replace it with a silent model? No, not a chance, the silent standard PSUs are all much higher wattage than I want or need so are likely to be less power efficient and the ones with external power bricks give me limited options for drives (now 4 in the case) and it's just more money.

Testing further with the lid on though does demonstrate quickly that outside of the aircraft drive spinning up the others noises are at an acceptable level even close up - I don't really mind the hard drive ratting when it's doing something and at a couple of feet none of the noises are problematic and by the time some media is playing it's not noticeable at all & I'm really picky about this sort of thing so I am pleased that isn't going to drive me to distraction.

The Tooth Fairy

It seems that even when a first tooth is lost the tooth fairy still comes.

Alex's first wobbly baby tooth disappeared at school when he knocked it out during karate but nowadays a simple note to the tooth fairy suffices.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

New HTPC Build : Time to stop moaning and build it

Yes really, finally time to stop moaning and see what happens when everything is put together.

Here's with the motherboard and power supply in place, standard size powersupply (Antec Earthwatts 380w) and the micro ATX motherboard (Asus E45M1-M Pro). You can see the various cables at the top of the picture to provide connectivity for the front panel, volume control and infra-red receiver.  The cables are very long and would be likely to support a mini ITX board (not having one to hand I can't tell if the mounts would work but I'm yet to find a case that would fail to accomodate a smaller board than intended).


For drive bays there is a mounting panel on the left and right, the left according to the documentation is for 2 drives and on the right for one (all 3.5" mountings, no 2.5" laptop drive mountings are provided) and a central space for the optical drive.

It's possible to just make out some foam padding near the PSU, that's a sheet of noise dampening material I had left over from another build and I've covered all the hard to access areas for now while I am building and we'll see if more is needed on completion.

As you can see adding wiring start to gets a bit tangled quickly. One review I read suggested that a modular power supply is required, I think that is a bit OTT but would certainly make life easier. I've also found that the 20+4 pin connector a bit stiff for connecting to my mainboard and along with the extension lead for attaching the IR was dangerously close to being just too much wire blocking access to the connectors on the back of the optical drive, thankfully SATA connectors are so much smaller than IDE that with right angled connectors it all fits (incidentally 2 SATA cables were provided with the board which has 4 6b/s SATA connectors mounted at right angles to the board, which further points cables at where drives will sit, that keeps the board nice and clear of wiring but makes tight fits like this uncomfortable.

You can see in my second spaghetti picture that I have the optical drive mounted (Samsung SH-B123L, the cheapest blu-ray I could lay my hands on) in the centre, on the left my 1TB Western Digital Green Power drive and on the right the SSD drive. There would be no problem mounting two drives on the left although the upper one might not have a lot of airflow which if it is getting high levels of activity might be a problem (as an HTPC that's unlikely so not a worry).

On the right the mount is different (2 different mounts designed, they fit each others space perfectly because mine were mounted back to front according the to manual description) but could still accomodate two drives.

Pictured below is the almost completed build, as you can see I've managed to tidy the wires, for the most part I have cabled tied them in place and managed to keep them in place under the drives.

In its final form I have since added another 1TB drive (a cheap 1TB Hitachi, noisy & slow compared to the several years old WD Green Power) above the SSD. The solid state drive is not mounted at all, just slotted into the space below the other drive and as there will be no movement and there is plenty of wire it will stay in place and there will still be airflow between it and the Hitachi drive.

Another feature to note in this picture is the appearance of the Asus processor fan - supplied with the board I've read several reviews where people are leaving it off to get silent operation from the board. My experience was that the CPU temperature rapidly rose to 45 degrees C, not worrying in its own right but given how fast it got there and how warm to the touch the heatsink got I decided to mount the fan to see would happen. It feels like a cheap and nasty little fan and airflow seems minimal, further there are no clear mounting points on the heat sink, just screw in between the fins.

Once in place though I was pleasantly surprise that the fan is effectively silent (as quite as the Noctua fans I had in low noise mode in the Silverstone box) and temperatures are yet to exceed 32c so works great and has stayed in place every since.

Monday, 9 January 2012

New HTPC Build : Getting some more gripes out of my system

I've still got some moans to get out of the way!

First and foremost is the remote - not bad looking all in all and around the same size as most normal TV remotes. Notably missing is an option to switch between keyboard style controls with the arrow pad and mouse style operation and there are no letters on the number pad - so searching is next to impossible which is a major oversight, big loss that one.

On the plus side the keys feel good and responsive, the Silverstone one had less substantial keys so this feels like it might survive more use. What's more, as I'll find out later the buttons appear to work and doesn't require resoldering to work out of the box like the Silverstone one did.

The biggest annoyance is that out of the bag is was scratched, it looks like a plastic cover on the remote, the sort that tears off to protect during shipping except that this doesn't. I was all set for getting this replaced but events overtook me and I forgot.

The other notable component in the box was the stick on bar to attach to the front of a blu-ray player- in the pictures I've seen online it usually say "DVD" but the supplied one says "Blu-Ray". Of all the parts to make substantial you would have thought the last one to make heavy would be this but using some cut up business card it has stuck nicely [any stayed put to date]. Needless to say for the WAF I purchased a blu-ray player [and sure enough the first statement on revealing the finished item "oh, so it's got blu-ray then?" so good plan there.

Internally, the drive bays are the same aluminium and have no noise dampening and are too tight fit to allow rubber fittings or even a washer to dampen drive noise.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

New HTPC Build - First Impressions

The new Moneual 312 case certainly is smaller than the Silverstone Grandia GD01MX, in all dimensions :


What is also manifestly obvious is build quality, the Silverstone is made out of solid material, I think the case itself is steel, fronted with aluminum. It is one heavy beast but that has some significant sound deadening qualities in its own right. What's more you can see Silverstone have put some thought into airflow and making sure air flows in a suitable path for a PC.

The Moneual is disappointing at this point - the GD01 takes a firm grip to get onto the table, the 312 could be balanced on one finger, thin aluminium everywhere, not that I would as the risk of damage to the black surfaces looks all too likely so a firm grip is also required. The top of the case fits securely and there is not messing around trying to line it up to slide into place but the sides / rear bend worryingly while getting the snug fit back in place. I am surprised in the reviews I've read that no one has seen fit to mention these details - looks count for a lot but a lasting finish is critical at this price level and those surfaces will drum badly on a higher spec machine.

Worse still is the airflow, it looks to me that Moneual make stereo equipment not PCs - there is no attempt to provide an airflow path, the case is riddled with grill like cut outs , they are well cut, look smart and have no sharp edges but I don't for one moment imagine airflow will be directed in a coordinated fashion across the surfaces that need it.

For me, with the Asus E45M1-M Pro I'm not expecting huge issues with heat generation and I already know my drives won't overheat but the bigger issue I see looming is dust, I'll be forever having to take the case off the shelf to dust the insides (with 2 adults, 1 small person and 2 cats we do generate a good amount of dust).

The reviews I've read also suggest getting a couple of 4cm fans to dissipate heat from the word go. Well I can see two 4cm mounting points but I agree with other reviewers, nasty little 4cm fans aren't very effective and often disproportionately noisy. I do, however, wonder if Moneual have responded to those reviews because one of the largest cut-out areas is directly over where any processor will reside. I would imagine if you have heat problems then the route for venting would be a standard style processor fan as supplied by Intel / AMD or something like a Scythe Shuriken (not sure of the measurements but I'm sure the low profile model would fit, likewise the BIG) where air is pulled over the heat sink & up through the fan and towards the top of the case ... and out....would be best that the machine has decent clearance above on that basis but looks like it would work nicely and make diddy 4cm fans a pointless affair.


Monday, 2 January 2012

New HTPC build

Following the demise of my last home theatre PC, which was my first attempt, I've had to make some new decisions with regards what makes a practical HTPC.

 My decisions have also been driven by the need for a relatively fast turn around as the loss of Clone Wars has been a bit of a blow to our 6 year old son.

I've been looking at various options mentioned before and those decisions have now been made, all that is left is to purchase and build.

 First off, the new motherboard is definitely going to be an AMD E450 based machine, I looked at the main board / processor combinations but to summarise, the Sandybridge processors were too powerful, generate too much heat and will necessitate active cooling. The i3 2100 was a valid option but at twice the price of an E450 solution couldn't offer the same value.

At the other end of the scale, the Atom based machines just don't have good enough graphics yet and the Ion solutions do not appear to be working well when it comes to functioning drivers.

Looking at the APU options I had started looking at the E350 but that too seemed a bit on the weak side but luckily the E450 arrived in the nick of time in the form of the Asus E45M1-M Pro, a mAtx board giving good PCIe support over their uATX board which was a bit too skimpy unless I selected a genuinely small case.

 Onto the case, the existing Silverstone Grandia GD01 is just too big & too much like a PC, yes it can accommodate a load of drives but elegant it is not. At the other end of size scale, devices like the Nexus Psile seem to forget all about remote controls and that became a criteria, a case with bundled remote at least then I have known support, pre-drilled IR space and no nasty external USB devices, equally the capacity of 2.5" drives means I would rapidly need external storage and I'm not in the market for external drives / NAS / server (yet) so everything needs to be self contained.

I had also learned that the VFD as supplied by Soundgraph is a useless, inflexible, small, unreliable piece of junk that at it's best was a clock that kept resetting itself a hour different to the BIOS and Windows.

I also have a Hauppage TV card which was connected to Freesat but all the HD channels have moved over to DVB-S2 which wasn't available / in use when I first set my machine up - I'm not fussed about not using the card any more as its purpose was HD channels but I might want to replace it one day.

I liked the look of the Wesena E5 case :
But by the time all the parts are purchased that's a lot of money and I'm not sure the case is that good, if it was then good pictures would be easier to find online.

I loved the look of the Streacom FC50D but given the supplier's website was lacking detail which just seemed a non starter.

That supply issue was rather reminiscent of where the Karma T5 (not it's first brand name) seemed to die a death, fabulous looking machine, couldn't get one for love nor money (the UK site seems to have vanished and they were downright rude when I asked where I could buy one, heaven forbid a customer) and those who did seem to have quality issues.

I seem to have been around the houses forever on this so reassessing my needs I came up with a list :
  • Looks like Hi-Fi equipment / looks stunning
  • No VFD, I'm watching everything on television why do I need an extra display.
  • Supplied remote.
  • Can handle expansion cards :
    • firstly if the graphics on the Amd E450 aren't up to the job I need to be able to add a board
    • secondly I might want to replace my TV card one day
    • I can grudgingly accept low profile as an option as there do appear to be plenty of low profile cards around nowadays.
  • If possible keeping my current power supply (Antec Earthwatts 380w) as it works fine.
Enter a case I've also had my eye on for some time, the Moneual 312B, terrible name to spell but great looking box :
All the parts are here, just need to put it together now....