Author Topic: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup  (Read 23107 times)

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Offline Fox_Of_The_Wind

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Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« on: February 12, 2008, 03:03:14 PM »
I have been looking at this site http://www.mini-itx.com/ and there is a lot of fun small computer setup a person could make there. Anyone out there have a setup now of a mini motherboard computer? If you can you please give me some info about it?

THANKS!

Offline ncpilot

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2008, 03:19:21 PM »
There's a review in PCWorld: http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,141954/article.html

But for $300, you could probably build a PC with better specs, still low power use, although you probably couldn't get that small a size factor...

There's the shuttle type box also. You'd just need a mobile/laptop CPU (low power consumption) and MB...
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Offline Fox_Of_The_Wind

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2008, 04:03:56 PM »
oh I have a good setup right now. I was just wondering about the small PC's and was kind of thinking of one for my station down the road from now. I just think they are kind of neat being so small and yet still a computer.

Oh thanks for the link.
« Last Edit: February 12, 2008, 04:18:06 PM by Fox_Of_The_Wind »

Offline Anole

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2008, 05:01:57 PM »
In the right circumstances a mini-itx can be the right solution, but those circumstances are few and far between IMHO. The biggest issues to me are the cost from the "what are you really getting" point of view (as ncpilot points out), severe limitations in expandibility, lack of ports and in many cases optical drives, and limited upgrade options (most mini-itx boards have the CPU built-in for example).  On the plus side they are small, power efficient and in most cases very quiet.

Offline kanewolf

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2008, 05:26:29 PM »
For $150 it is hard to beat the good ol' NSLU2 with a usb to serial adapter and a USB flash drive.

Offline tinplate

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #5 on: February 12, 2008, 05:49:50 PM »
I've been trying some out. I've been thinking about maybe building them and selling them, configured for people like us weather nuts that use them for 24x7 applications. A normal "power efficient" desktop might draw 60 watts. But what I'm looking at is drawing around 5 watts. It's true that it costs more when you just look at bang for the buck. But at 15 cents a kilowatt hour, that 55 watt difference is about $72 per year in electricity cost. When you compare it to a full blown desktop system, a super low power PC could pay for itself in 2 years. The problem with buying an out of the box mini-itx is that they are often configured for media applications. That's not necessarily the same configuration as I would want for a dedicated weather station pc. What I would want is something that has a super low power draw (<8 watts), is entirely solid state,  has no fans, and does not generate much heat. In addition, it must have all the desired ports (serial, usb, vga, ethernet, keyboard/mouse) as well  as the option for wireless. Such a box is entirely possibly for around $250 with linux, and around $339 with Windows XP (legal copy). That's for a ready to go box that only needs to be hooked up to a monitor and keyboard, and only draws about 5 watts (an important point). If you relax the standards to be in the 30 watt range, you can lower the price about $60 because those motherboards are cheaper. Don't quote me on these prices. They're off the top of my head. Personally, I think they're a great idea. They wouldn't replace your normal computer. They would just free them from 24x7 operation so you could shut them off when you're not sitting in front of them, and save a bunch of kilowatts.

A note on the NSLU2. It is a great idea except for a couple things. First and foremost, it has what I consider a fatal design flaw for a 24x7 device. If it temporarily loses power, it reverts to the power off state when electricity comes back on. You have to manually press the soft power switch to turn it back on. There is a workaround, but it requires a fair amount of soldering and wiring. The other thing is that it is a very minimally capable unit as far as RAM and processor are concerned, and is not something you would ever even try putting something like windows on. I have a box on my desk right now that that does everything the NSLU2 can do, has more memory (128MB), more CPU power, has an Intel x86 compatible processor, VGA port, 2 serial ports, 4 USB ports, ethernet, keyboard/mouse port, has a mini-pci slot inside, is quite small, draws 3 to 4 watts, costs around $100. Not enough power to run windows (but I've run WinCE on it), but plenty for basic linux. So if something like the NSLU2 is what you're looking for, there are other options out there.

Steve
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« Last Edit: February 12, 2008, 07:22:19 PM by tinplate »

Offline wmiler

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #6 on: February 12, 2008, 06:20:52 PM »
A note on the NSLU2. It is a great idea except for a couple things. First and foremost, it has what I consider a fatal design flaw for a 24x7 device. If it temporarily loses power, it reverts to the power off state when electricity comes back on. You have to manually press the soft power switch to turn it back on. There is a workaround, but it requires a fair amount of soldering and wiring. The other thing is that it is a very minimally capable unit as far as RAM and processor are concerned, and is not something you would ever even try putting something like windows on. I have a box on my desk right now that that does everything the NSLU2 can do, has more memory (128MB), more CPU power, has an Intel x86 compatible processor, VGA port, 2 serial ports, 4 USB ports, ethernet, keyboard/mouse port, has a mini-pci slot inside, is quite small, draws 3 to 4 watts, costs under $100. Not enough power to run windows (but I've run WinCE on it), but plenty for basic linux. So if something like the NSLU2 is what you're looking for, there are other options out there.
Steve
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Ok, so I'll bite, what is that box?
« Last Edit: February 13, 2008, 11:29:15 PM by wmiler »

Offline tinplate

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #7 on: February 12, 2008, 06:46:37 PM »
It's just a little computer. It's made for thin client applications. It has mounting holes that match those on the back of most LCD monitors. So it can just be mounted on the back of a monitor. Add an OS and software and voila, you've got a thin client that takes no more space than the monitor itself. Inside it's an x86 compatible computer with bios. You add a Compact Flash card with an operating system on it and it runs that. I've tested it out with FreeDOS, WinCE, and PuppyLinux. It's not particularly fast, but it works, and is fine for embedded applications. There are actually quite a few devices out there like this that are comparable to the NSLU2.. But to have something that you could say is powerful enough to cover what most people call a desktop system, you need more than that.

Offline wuhu_software

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #8 on: February 12, 2008, 08:00:32 PM »
It's just a little computer. It's made for thin client applications. It has mounting holes that match those on the back of most LCD monitors. So it can just be mounted on the back of a monitor. Add an OS and software and voila, you've got a thin client that takes no more space than the monitor itself. Inside it's an x86 compatible computer with bios. You add a Compact Flash card with an operating system on it and it runs that. I've tested it out with FreeDOS, WinCE, and PuppyLinux. It's not particularly fast, but it works, and is fine for embedded applications. There are actually quite a few devices out there like this that are comparable to the NSLU2.. But to have something that you could say is powerful enough to cover what most people call a desktop system, you need more than that.

Interesting little computer, do you have a link to the vendor or where it can be purchased for a fair price?

Maybe the power up issue could be solved with a BIOS update from the manufacurer or is it a real design flaw?

Thanks.

Offline tinplate

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #9 on: February 12, 2008, 08:25:02 PM »
http://www.nslu2-linux.org/wiki/HowTo/ForcePowerAlwaysOn
The link above details the NSLU2 power issue and the various fixes

There are many places to buy the box I pictured, but it comes without any OS. Getting it set up with a bootable OS on a USB thumb drive or CF card is not for everyone. Also, one of the models comes with no FPU (as is the case with the NSLU2), so most linux distros won't work out of the box since most don't have floating point emulation compiled into the kernel. So the box requires some work to get it going. I was considering buying some in bulk, setting up the OS and then reselling them in a ready to plug in state. I'm afraid if I post the link, people will buy the bare system from them, not be able to get it running, and then complain that I've pointed them to something that doesn't work, and they wasted their money. But if you know how to make linux boot disks, etc. and are comfortable with that low level stuff, send me an email or PM on this forum, and I'll point you to the best place I've found to buy them, which is where I bought the two I have. There are some overseas sources, but I'm not sure I trust them, and the shipping is probably prohibitive. I'm not saying this is the best system of its kind. I originally mentioned it as an example. I am still evaluating them, and until I'm done, I can't recommend them. So far they seem to perform to their specs. But they aren't the only ones I'm evaluating.

Steve
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« Last Edit: February 12, 2008, 08:38:20 PM by tinplate »

Offline wuhu_software

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #10 on: February 12, 2008, 09:01:34 PM »
http://www.nslu2-linux.org/wiki/HowTo/ForcePowerAlwaysOn
The link above details the NSLU2 power issue and the various fixes

There are many places to buy the box I pictured, but it comes without any OS. Getting it set up with a bootable OS on a USB thumb drive or CF card is not for everyone. Also, one of the models comes with no FPU (as is the case with the NSLU2), so most linux distros won't work out of the box since most don't have floating point emulation compiled into the kernel. So the box requires some work to get it going. I was considering buying some in bulk, setting up the OS and then reselling them in a ready to plug in state. I'm afraid if I post the link, people will buy the bare system from them, not be able to get it running, and then complain that I've pointed them to something that doesn't work, and they wasted their money. But if you know how to make linux boot disks, etc. and are comfortable with that low level stuff, send me an email or PM on this forum, and I'll point you to the best place I've found to buy them, which is where I bought the two I have. There are some overseas sources, but I'm not sure I trust them, and the shipping is probably prohibitive. I'm not saying this is the best system of its kind. I originally mentioned it as an example. I am still evaluating them, and until I'm done, I can't recommend them. So far they seem to perform to their specs. But they aren't the only ones I'm evaluating.

Steve
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Steve,

I am more interested in running a version of Windows, 2000 or XP.

If it will work either, that would be great.

Thanks.

Offline tinplate

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #11 on: February 12, 2008, 09:48:07 PM »
Of that product line, one model may be able to run XP (and I stress "may"), but not the model that I pictured. I haven't gotten that far in my evaluation. I'll be doing the XP tests next week. It only has 128MB so it may or may not work. I've had some experience building stripped, custom installs of XP that are small and fast. Until it died because of a water spill, I had a dedicated weather PC running on a pentium3 with 128MB. It was running a stripped down XP install and worked quite well. That's what I was hoping to do with these.

There are units from other manufacturers that definitely will run XP, coming with 256MB. But as the CPU and memory get better, the price goes up. There is another 5 watt unit I'll also be testing next week that should be able to run XP. But it isn't sold as a complete unit like the one I pictured above. You have to buy the bits similar to building your own desktop system. If you're ok with going above the 5 watt power area, then there are tons of options. There are the VIA boards, and the much cheaper, more powerful, but somewhat more power consuming Intel board
http://www.e-itx.com/intel-d201gly2-mini-itx-desktop-board.html
Note that although the Intel motherboard I linked above is fanless, it runs hot, and requires a case fan. When you get into these type mini-itx boards, they are drawing more power. The VIAs at 15-20 watts and the Intel above at 20-25 watts. Heat becomes an issue, so it's harder to safely go fanless. Personally, it's these 8 watt and under fanless, solid state solutions that are interesting to me.

If low power, but not ultra low power is what you're looking for, this barebones system may be interesting: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16856167012
It comes with the CPU. You just need to add a memory module and a storage device (and add keyboard, etc.). But that price isn't too bad for a VIA motherboard, case and power supply.

There is an amazing amount of options out there, but the prices on a lot of them are really higher than I think they should be, and the markups at different outlets are highly variable.

Steve
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Offline wuhu_software

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #12 on: February 12, 2008, 10:00:08 PM »
Of that product line, one model may be able to run XP (and I stress "may"), but not the model that I pictured. I haven't gotten that far in my evaluation. I'll be doing the XP tests next week. It only has 128MB so it may or may not work. I've had some experience building stripped, custom installs of XP that are small and fast. Until it died because of a water spill, I had a dedicated weather PC running on a pentium3 with 128MB. It was running a stripped down XP install and worked quite well. That's what I was hoping to do with these.

There are units from other manufacturers that definitely will run XP, coming with 256MB. But as the CPU and memory get better, the price goes up. There is another 5 watt unit I'll also be testing next week that should be able to run XP. But it isn't sold as a complete unit like the one I pictured above. You have to buy the bits similar to building your own desktop system. If you're ok with going above the 5 watt power area, then there are tons of options. There are the VIA boards, and the much cheaper, more powerful, but somewhat more power consuming Intel board
http://www.e-itx.com/intel-d201gly2-mini-itx-desktop-board.html
Note that although the Intel motherboard I linked above is fanless, it runs hot, and requires a case fan. When you get into these type mini-itx boards, they are drawing more power. The VIAs at 15-20 watts and the Intel above at 20-25 watts. Heat becomes an issue, so it's harder to safely go fanless. Personally, it's these 8 watt and under fanless, solid state solutions that are interesting to me.

If low power, but not ultra low power is what you're looking for, this barebones system may be interesting: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16856167012
It comes with the CPU. You just need to add a memory module and a storage device (and add keyboard, etc.). But that price isn't too bad for a VIA motherboard, case and power supply.

There is an amazing amount of options out there, but the prices on a lot of them are really higher than I think they should be, and the markups at different outlets are highly variable.

Steve
SoftWx


Thanks for the great info. Please keep us informed as to how your testing works out.

I would like to get a low-power system dedicated to the weather station and other home automation projects.

It would be nice to stick with Windows to have the largest selection of software and drivers.

I have no problem using 2000 as well. The copy I am running right now has been stable since 2000, running 24x7 on a 512MB machine with Anti-virus running.

Thanks!




Offline Mark / Ohio

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #13 on: February 12, 2008, 11:49:41 PM »
... But at 15 cents a kilowatt hour, that 55 watt difference is about $72 per year in electricity cost. ....

Yikes!  We're right around 7 cents per KWH here.   :shock:
Mark 
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Offline tinplate

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #14 on: February 13, 2008, 12:20:44 AM »
Ours is around 6.5 cents, but we're mostly  hydro. Nationwide, 15 cents is not an unreasonable figure to use. Here are the facts:
http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table5_6_a.html
The northeast is almost all 14 cents and higher. Hawaii is 26 cents. New York is 17. Connecticut is 18. It's not just cost though. For some it's the "green" thing. If you can do the same thing with less energy, why not do it.

Steve
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Offline Fox_Of_The_Wind

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #15 on: February 13, 2008, 11:06:19 AM »
Thanks everyone for the info! I have a lot to readup on.

Offline SLOweather

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #16 on: February 13, 2008, 04:58:26 PM »
Google on Tiny XP...

Offline SLOweather

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #17 on: February 13, 2008, 05:01:55 PM »
... But at 15 cents a kilowatt hour, that 55 watt difference is about $72 per year in electricity cost. ....

Yikes!  We're right around 7 cents per KWH here.   :shock:

Here in PG$E land, the rates are tiered and go up with consumption. We're in the 4th tier with our winter consumption, and paying...

sit down...

hang on to something...

about 34 cents per KWH for all the consumption in the 4th tier.

Offline Mark / Ohio

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #18 on: February 13, 2008, 09:00:58 PM »
... But at 15 cents a kilowatt hour, that 55 watt difference is about $72 per year in electricity cost. ....

Yikes!  We're right around 7 cents per KWH here.   :shock:

Here in PG$E land, the rates are tiered and go up with consumption. We're in the 4th tier with our winter consumption, and paying...

sit down...

hang on to something...

about 34 cents per KWH for all the consumption in the 4th tier.

Triple Yikes!  If electric rates rose to that level around here, given the average income many of us would be back to heating and cooking with wood and coal.   :-k

I would have to build a steam powered generator for the computer, weather station and use a natural gas air conditioner and refrigerator.  That also reminds me, time to resurrect my search for a home with a spring and/or a natural gas or oil well.   ;)
Mark 
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Offline ncpilot

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #19 on: February 13, 2008, 11:26:33 PM »
I've heard there's a lot of drilling for natural gas up in northern OH--Cuyahoga, Geauga, etc... counties...
Marc
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Offline wmiler

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #20 on: February 13, 2008, 11:37:25 PM »
Thanks for the great info. Please keep us informed as to how your testing works out.

I would like to get a low-power system dedicated to the weather station and other home automation projects.

This was what I was thinking about as well. I've been fooling around with some embedded PICs and the like, but they don't really do everything I need to do with ease.

Offline Mark / Ohio

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #21 on: February 14, 2008, 12:38:40 AM »
I've heard there's a lot of drilling for natural gas up in northern OH--Cuyahoga, Geauga, etc... counties...

They don't seem to be drilling as much around here as they used to.  Still see few of the smaller pumps running and tanks around mainly in Perry and Hocking county to our East and South.  I still remember one customer in particular, an elderly lady that lived by herself in a huge old family farm house with steam heat and gas fireplaces.  One very cold winter day I was there and mentioned how toasty and nice it felt in the old house compared to outside.  She said that's only because I have free gas from the well out in the back pasture.  I looked around and along with the steam heat she also had the old fashioned gas fired ceramic heaters in every fireplace lit.   :lol: 

Must have been a good 85F in there.  By time I left after working inside for about a half hour, I was drenched in sweat and froze my assets off for a good 2 hours in the service truck after word.   #-o

Mark 
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Offline ncpilot

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #22 on: February 15, 2008, 11:56:47 AM »
More a bit back on topic, I found another review:

http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,1697,2259645,00.asp

Lots of pictures...

Continue to end of article for link to review on Fit PC
« Last Edit: February 15, 2008, 12:00:45 PM by ncpilot »
Marc
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Offline Fox_Of_The_Wind

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #23 on: February 16, 2008, 09:55:56 AM »
More a bit back on topic, I found another review:

http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,1697,2259645,00.asp

Lots of pictures...

Continue to end of article for link to review on Fit PC

Thanks for the review!

Offline tinplate

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Re: Has anyone used a mini-itx in there weather setup
« Reply #24 on: February 24, 2008, 12:12:42 AM »
I did some testing, and the unit I mentioned earlier (the 128 MB unit) is able to run a stripped down version of XP. I was able to run VirtualVP and VPLive with some headroom of processor time and memory still left over. It wouldn't be enough to run something larger like Weather Display though.

I also tested another unit described below:

I am considering building and selling these. I have approached this with the idea of what I would really like to have. I'd like to know if I'm the only one, or if anyone is interested. I've spec'ed out several options, but this one seems interesting for those wanting to run WIndows. It is entirely fanless and solid state. It would be capable of running applications like WeatherDisplay. Here is a snapshot of the screen, running StartWatch, VirtualVP, VPLive, WeatherDisplay and TaskManager. Note that there is still resources to spare. VirtualVP is connected to a VP1 console with no ISS, so that's why only the console sensors are showing data.

It's a 256MB box running a custom stripped down version of Windows XP. It draws 4  to 5 watts (less than most VIA motherboards) and runs cool. It has USB 2.0 ports, serial port, VGA port, ethernet, keyboard/mouse port, and audio ports. It can be fitted out with an optional internal wireless 802.11 mini card. Dimensions of the case are about 7"x7"x1.4". It has mounting holes for attaching to the back of an LCD monitor. It would NOT include the keyboard, mouse and monitor. This is a complete computer that can run most anything except the heavyweight applications. With an internal 2GB flash disk for hard drive (4GB is an option), power supply and cord, and a legal XP license, I think it would be under $400. Note that XP is about $90 of that, so a linux version would be cheaper by that amount. Internal wireless adds about $50. Here is what it looks like:


What I'd like to know is whether this turnkey software box is interesting to anybody, or should I stop with the one I built for myself?

Steve
SoftWx