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Book Reviews Books Media

Small Form Factor PCs 175

Posted by samzenpus
from the build-it-small dept.
JoshuaBenuck writes "Make Projects: Small Form Factor PCs provides detailed step-by-step instructions on building a variety of small form factor systems, starting from the larger ones (about the size of a shoe box) and working its way down to the smallest (which is about the size of a pack of gum). It includes instructions on creating a digital audio jukebox, digital video recorder, wireless network range extender, home network gateway, network monitor, portable firewall, cheap Wi-Fi SSH client, and a Bluetooth LED sign." Read on for the rest of Joshua's review.
Make Projects: Small Form Factor PCs
author Duane Wessels, Matthew Weaver
pages 232
publisher
rating 8
reviewer Joshua Benuck
ISBN
summary A detailed step-by-step instructions on building a variety of small form factor systems


First off, this is a PDF that, as far as I can tell, is only available from oreilly's website. Most of the projects in the book will require at least $300 dollars to complete.

If you who don't know why you would want to use a small form factor PC there is a good discussion of why you might want to consider using one in the introduction along with a list of some of the currently available small form factor PCs. You'll need to keep in mind that some of the systems mentioned would be more commonly referred to as embedded systems so the authors have expanded the definition of what 'small form factor PC' means. Not all of the systems mentioned are used in one of the projects in the book so if you get bored or are looking for another small system to play with, this may be a good resource.

The remaining chapters deal with projects that each use one of the systems mentioned in the introduction. The chapter headings show a picture of the finished product, a list of needed components, a bar showing the time it will take, and a rating of difficulty from 'easy' to 'difficult'. The bars and pictures provide a quick indication of what you are getting yourself into with one glaring exception; they do not tell you how much money you'll need to sink into the project. In order to find this information you'll need to go back to the introduction and read through the paragraph that tells you about the system used in the chapter.

This is followed by an overview of what is going to be built and which system was chosen for the implementation along with a description of its unique characteristics that made it a good fit for the project. A lot of emphasis is put on the power consumption of the various components. They even measure it at startup, shutdown, and during normal operations. This is used to make a couple of power and cooling design decisions.

If you're like me, you don't like when your systems makes a lot of noise (Especially ones that aren't supposed to look like they have a computer in them). This book gives a good overview on what to look for when building a system that you want to be as quiet as possible. They mention whether the system can get away with passive cooling (e.g. no fans) and they show some very non-conventional ways to reduce the noise production of a system (such as hanging a hard drive from wires within an enclosure).

The step-by-step instructions on assembling the hardware components of the systems include plenty of good quality pictures that should make it easy to follow along with the various projects. The pictures are about a third the width of the page which I feel is a good size. They are crisp, clear, and add to the discussion of the topic at hand.

If you are an experienced Linux or BSD user you'll probably be able to skim most of the step-by-step operating system installation instructions. If you are new to Linux and BSD the steps should help you find your way to project completion. Just don't expect the book to have all of the answers all of the time. I feel it is impossible for one book to contain the answers to all the questions that someone new to this area may have. That said, I think this book does an admirable job at giving you what you need to succeed.

Littered throughout the text are various warnings, other options, and lessons learned which I found to be valuable. Some of these include mistakes the authors made (such as using a WinTV-Go card instead of a higher model with a built-in MPEG decoder), using a CF Card Reader if you are unable to use NFS to transfer files to a system that uses a Compact Flash card, and numerous other practical tidbits that should serve to save you some frustration when trying to do the projects on your own.

You don't have to use the hardware platforms or components recommended in this book to gain benefit from its contents. I've used the instructions on setting up the Linux Infrared Remote Control (lirc) project to help with an Iguanaworks USB Infrared Transceiver (a device that sends and receives infrared signals) while the authors used an Irman receiver. The MythTV box I've setup uses Ubuntu Linux instead of Gentoo Linux and uses a spare system instead of the Shuttle XPC used in the book. I found the instructions in the book to be indispensable as I worked through this.

I've never done a case mod before, but I like the idea of being able to hide away a computer in something that looks like a decoration. There is a detailed explanation of how the authors used an old antique radio as a cover for their digital jukebox. I enjoyed the discussion of the various places they could put the power supply, infrared receiver, and other design considerations. It really gave me a feel for what types of questions I'll need to answer as I do a case mod myself.

That leads me to what I think is the biggest strength of this book. It is the very conversational way in which the authors tell you what they did, why they did it, and what they could have done. Along the way they provide links for further information, and search terms that can help you learn more about the topic at hand. The book is packed with information that is up-to-date, accurate, valuable, and easy-to-read.

That said, some of the information will lose value over time. For example, the specific gumstix computer that was used does not appear to be available anymore. This is probably a good thing since the authors had to make some adjustments to get the 200 Mhz Bluetooth enabled version to work. I mention it only to point out that the information on the specific systems and the other instructions will lose value over time. It is impossible to future proof a work likes this.

The projects in this book opened my mind to a whole new world of what is possible with small systems. I haven't had a chance to purchase of the specific systems mentioned, but the information on setting up the various software and hardware components has already proven the book's worth. I look forward to one day getting my hands on the systems mentioned so I can gain the full advantage that small form factors provide. So if you don't mind spending $300+ to play with some a small form factor PC or you love to tinker with networking, or multimedia applications then you might want to give this book a try. I certainly don't regret it.


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Small Form Factor PCs

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  • go get a cheapo mac mini, it even comes pre-installed with BSD

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Isn't that a bit like solving your home renovation issues by buying a new house?

      • by itwerx (165526)
        Isn't that a bit like solving your home renovation issues by buying a new house?

        Er, no, it's avoiding having them in the first place. (Not to mention saving a heck of a lot of time)
              (Wish there was a +1 Offtopic mod for the GP - Offtopic but still useful :).
    • by 1point618 (919730) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @03:40PM (#17742758)
      You know, some people do enjoy building things and getting them to work on their own. Not everything is about having something, the journey to get it can be very important too.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by archen (447353)
        I feel sort of lucky that my wife at least understands me this way. I got tired of problems with my netgear firewall/router so built my own out of a soekris net4801. When she asked what I was doing, I told her that I was replacing the old one with something that basically does the same thing (and some much more interesting things) but set up on my own.

        Usually about this time she'll ask me a couple questions with some inquisitive looks and that's about it. Explaining this stuff to normal people usually re
      • by drinkypoo (153816)
        Well, the corollary to that is that anyone who believes the journey is as important as the destination, but still spends $16 on this PDF, is a complete poser. It's like a man who stops to ask for directions. Fuck that, I'm taking this 4WD+chains-only road in my FWD shitpile in the middle of winter! Seriously though, if the point is the journey, why cheapen it by buying this thing?
    • by Medievalist (16032) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @03:48PM (#17742868)
      They run XNU (perhaps known to you as Darwin or MacOS X) which has exactly as much relationship to BSD as a chevy does to a ford - they use similar interfaces and are derived from the same original innovations.

      One of the many contradictions inherent in the Apple Religion is that BSD is bad, but Mac OSX is BSD in all ways that matter, and Mac OSX is good. Go read the wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] if you want to get past the religious dogma.

      In reality MacOS is not BSD (BSD is tighter, faster, and uglier). It's the latest version of XNU, and XNU probably has no more BSD code in it than Solaris, linux or Windows does.

      PS: I use a mac, so the faithful need not crucify me for these comments. I'm sure simple flogging will do.
      • Doesn't Windows have some BSD code in some of the networking backends? I seem to remember there was a big stink about that here on Slashdot when the Win2000 source code got leaked.
        • I don't know about current versions (perhaps someone else will enlighten us?) but years ago I ran the GNU version of the unix utility "strings" on some of the executables in a win98 install, and found BSD code in the ftp client.

          If you are on a dual-boot system, mount your windows partition and do "strings" on the files, look for something obvious like "regents"...

          find /windows_partition -type f -exec strings {} \; | grep -i regent ...might do the trick.
      • by _fuzz_ (111591)
        Define BSD. Is it the kernel, the POSIX API, the userspace tools, or some combination? Is it FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, 4.4BSD, etc.? I would say that the POSIX API and the userspace tools are the essence of BSD. OS X includes those, therefore I would argue that OS X does include BSD.
        • I'd argue that an OS is BSD if it's a direct descendant of the Berkeley Systems Distribution. I don't have much truck with Humpty Dumpty definitions, personally.

          Are you sure that we agree on what the definition of "is" is? ;)

          By your argument, Cheslov is actually the dead guy he got his replacement heart from. Or is he still Cheslov, since your nebulously defined word "essence" implies air and he just got a heart, not a full heart-lung job? I'm not buying it. Mac OSX is not BSD. Neither is Solaris, and
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        PS: I use a mac, so the faithful need not crucify me for these comments. I'm sure simple flogging will do.

        Well, here comes your flogging. XNU == BSD kernel on top of Mach. Mach is doing practically nothing in Apple's implementation, and basically acts like a HAL. The benefit of using Mach is that someone else already had written it. The drawback is that it is a crap-ass microkernel and is basically only good for, well, what Apple is using it for.

        The entire BSD userland is available on OSX. So I'd say that

      • by mypalmike (454265)
        FreeBSD is the primary reference codebase for the BSD portion of the XNU kernel. It's fair to say that there is more FreeBSD-derived code in MacOS than in Windows, Solaris, or Linux.
        • FreeBSD is the primary reference codebase for the BSD portion of the XNU kernel. It's fair to say that there is more FreeBSD-derived code in MacOS than in Windows, Solaris, or Linux.

          I have no reason to disagree with either statement, although I have not personally measured the amount of BSD source in any of those.

          I only balk when people equate XNU with BSD. Share the love with Carnegie-Mellon's mach kernel, I say.

          DEC's OSF/1 unix was also a choreographed train-wreck of mach and BSD; a pretty nice OS, in

      • One of the many contradictions inherent in the Apple Religion is that BSD is bad, but Mac OSX is BSD in all ways that matter, and Mac OSX is good.

        That would be XNU's Paradox?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jotok (728554)
      Yes...you could also answer a book on "How to Build a Bicycle" with directions to the nearest bike store.

      You might do this if you Just Don't Get It.
    • by nick.ian.k (987094) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @03:52PM (#17742934)

      go get a cheapo mac mini, it even comes pre-installed with BSD

      That's fine if the Mac Mini is the right solution.

      There are a multitude of applications for a small form factor PC in the first place. The Mac Mini's hardware is of pre-determined specification and the case leaves next to no room for expandability. Coming from the other direction, the review seems to indicate that the book contains projects more along the lines of tiny embedded computers that are substantially smaller than the Mac Mini. Couple this with the fact that just going out and buying a computer is a different experience than selecting your own configuration of components and piecing it together yourself, and you'll see that your suggestion is not an end-all/be-all solution to everybody all of the time.

      • by cbreaker (561297) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @04:05PM (#17743158) Journal
        You're right, and it's worth noting that the cheapest Mac Mini is $600. Wasn't the first Mac Mini only $500?

        It doesn't have multiple NICs, either. If you're doing anything networking related, you kinda need more then one NIC. And no, a USB to Ethernet NIC isn't a great option when the unit costs $600 and you need a network device.

        I would like to build one of these little machines some day, maybe a few of them, for various purposes. They do tend to be fairly expensive though, but still not as much as a Mac Mini. And, you can opt for solid-state disks, multiple NICs, and your choice of expandability.

        I do have one of those WRT54G's (actually, it's a motorola box, but it's the same as the 4MB Linksys) with DD-WRT on it. It's really great! It's like a mini linux box that cost me $30.
        • I do have one of those WRT54G's (actually, it's a motorola box, but it's the same as the 4MB Linksys) with DD-WRT on it. It's really great! It's like a mini linux box that cost me $30.

          I second that, though personally I'm using OpenWRT myself. Forget small form factor PCs, had one of them as a server for 6 years now and it's being replaced by a router. I recommend the Asus 500g device as it has USB allowing you to expend it all you want and add storage. Also has 8 meg of flash.

          No fans, low power consumpt

          • by cbreaker (561297)
            The big problem I have with the Motorola box (I think it's an 850g or something) is that the processor is really slow. My Internet connection is 15Mbit downstream, and when I'm using that, or doing anything Wireless, the whole device tends to bog.

            So how's the CPU on the Asus 500g? It sounds great with the USB - is it USB 2.0?
            • I've not pushed it hard, but the CPU seems to be mostly idle, even with samba running etc. I've ran tests streaming media etc, seems negligible. I've not got it active yet, it's on a test subnet while I prepare it for being hooked up to the live internet. I'll be testing it shortly with a bittorrent client behind it with a lot of traffic in both directions. That ought to test it out. It's replacing a 350MHz pentium with 256meg of RAM which has no issues with large connection tables. It has to pass that test

              • by cbreaker (561297)
                Neat, I might have to grab one. I had wanted to run OpenWRT but it's just kinda soso on a 4MB unit, and DD-WRT offered a nice easy web interface to boot, so I went with that.

                I have two friends besides myself with these motorola boxes. We run OpenVPN on them, and have a VPN between our networks. It's pretty great, because OpenVPN is very resiliant to up/down and IP changes, but the CPU isn't fast enough to deal with the encryption and maintain even 2Mbit.

                So, this might be a good solution.
                • OpenWRT does have a good web gui, it's just not installed out the box. Check out http://x-wrt.org/ [x-wrt.org]. I believe that the people behind both OpenWRT and DD-WRT are working together to merge the two branches. OpenWRT is more configuable, but DD-WRT is easy to use.

                  I'll try an OpenVPN test tonight & let you know the throughput if I can.

      • by dbIII (701233)

        That's fine if the Mac Mini is the right solution.

        There are smaller things out there - a Mac mini has to be large enough to load a CDROM for instance while little VIA and other based systems are not as wide as a CDROM - even the larger model I have that includes a serial and parallel port is smaller than the CDROM drives for desktop computers and narrower than a CDROM. With USB flash disks of even up to 8GB easy to get (but I don't really want to know the price) small systems capable of doing a lot are ea

      • by geekoid (135745)
        so you want a tiny quite computer that allows users to upgrage piece? Those are mutual exclusive.

        The discussion is abut small computers, and in that context the Mac Mini is worth noting.

        You can build a PC for 200 dollars that includes a first class OS, and all the functionality in the command line? That just works when adding perf.? Can play a lot of popular games well?

        well done.
    • Not so cheapo (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cbreaker (561297)
      The cheapest Mac Mini is $600.

      The most expensive Mac Mini without monitor is $1600.

      Cheapo, huh? You could build three utility PC's $600.
      • by jimicus (737525)
        So I can have three PCs or one Mac?

        I'll have the Mac, please.
      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *
        After the announcement a few days ago of the UbuntuStudio project, and this interesting article, I'm jacked about building a fanless, superquiet PC that I can use for music and other audio recording and production. If I used gigabit ether, I could connect to my server and stream the samples from it while it's in another room with it's fans and and bank of hard drives. Laptops were never just right for the recording part because they can be loud too, especially the Dell ones that sound like gas-powered lea
      • by homer_ca (144738)
        It's cheap for a SFF computer. The closest equivalent on the PC side is an Aopen Mini PC which runs just under $300 for barebones with no RAM, disk or CPU. A Shuttle XPC is cheaper, but much larger. A MicroATX system is even cheaper but larger still. There's really 2 classes of devices covered by this book. Full powered computers for HTPCs and embedded systems for routers. A Mac Mini doesn't work as an embedded system but does work as a mini PC. Except for MicroATX, most SFF PC parts are pretty expensive, a
    • Where exactly could I find one of these "cheapo" mac minis? I have never seen a mini for less then $500...the cheapest on the apple site right now is $600. They would need to be half that price for me to start thinking of them as "cheapo".
    • Unless you want to build a mini-asterisk server with a built-in FXO port. Asterisk runs OK on a Mac but you'll have some trouble finding an OSX driver for that $18 Digium knock-off card (Or that $100 digium card.) Plus, meetme kind of requires a Zaptel driver of some sort, none of which will work on OSX as far as I know. So having a conference room on your Mac Mini asterisk server will be RIGHT OUT!

      Personally I don't need a conference room (Though it'd be nice) so I can get a FXO SIP gateway for my big-as

  • but how can i turn my new iPod shuffle into a comp? a pack of gum form factor is still too big for my needs
  • by gelfling (6534) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @03:30PM (#17742612) Homepage Journal
    mini ITX form factor Mobos cost 2x what they should. Their cabinets cost 3x what they should. I want a mini ITX computer, with as small a fan as possible to be a NAS. But the whole project is absurdly expensive compared to what it would cost for a big ugly mATX. So that's what I'll be forced to do - build yet another intrusive grey box and save myself $150.

    And while we're at it, why do so many mini ITX cabinets look like early '70's stereo equipment? Just give me a cheap box that's as blank as possible and mounts a CD drive horizontally. That means the case on;y has to be 6" wide, not 11".
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Kadin2048 (468275)
      And while we're at it, why do so many mini ITX cabinets look like early '70's stereo equipment?

      Just a guess, but maybe because people want to use them for various media-serving functions in the living room, so therefore they want ones that match their existing butt-ugly early 70s stereo equipment?

      Or maybe they're trying too hard to be retro? Next thing you know, they'll be trying stainless steel, dark wood, and avocado green -- all in the same case.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @03:45PM (#17742810)
      If you don't have a requirement for high-speed NAS, have you considered a Linksys NSLU2? There's even a thriving Linux community around it http://www.nslu2-linux.org/ [nslu2-linux.org]. Less than $100.00, add your own external USB 2.0 storage. Data rate is around 4-5 MB/sec. from either Windows (CIFS) or Linux (NFS). Fanless, consumes about 9 watts (without a drive, or with a flash drive), and about the size of a paperback novel. I'm a satisfied owner...
      • by gelfling (6534)
        Yeah I'm looking at it. It's got possibilities. I wish that it was expandable and carried the drive internally. I was also interested in the Synology 101j mostly for the purported quality of the OS, file system code and firmware. At $150+ I'd hope so at any rate. But do you see what I mean? a small expanable computer shouldn't command such a premium. I'm almost tempted to buy a used laptop machine.
      • I looked at the specs, and it indeed only has a 10/100 port on it. Are there any hardware devices such as this that interface to USB mass storage devices that have 10/100/1000 ports?
      • I occasionally need my NAS to have some CPU as well (audio re-encoding, etc.), so I use a Dell Latitude C610 laptop (Pentium-M 1.2GHz, 256MB RAM) and dropped in a 60GB drive. Running CentOS 4.3, it consumes 14-15 watts idle with the hard drive spinning and the lid closed, but cranks up the CPU when I need it. It also has USB, PCMCIA, 10/100 Ethernet, CDRW and a 3+ hour built-in UPS. :-) You can find one with a broken screen cheap on eBay.
    • mini ITX form factor Mobos cost 2x what they should. Their cabinets cost 3x what they should. I want a mini ITX computer, with as small a fan as possible to be a NAS. But the whole project is absurdly expensive compared to what it would cost for a big ugly mATX.

      A more likely reason that the mini ITX form factor is expensive is that the end user market is much smaller than the one for full size ATX motherboards. If volumes are lower, prices are going to be higher.


      If all you're looking for is a NAS,
      • by gelfling (6534)
        Yeah a standalone NAS has some possibilities. I rather dislike paying money for a non upgradeable machine. For instance I'd like to be able to retrofit a Gigbyte LAN adapter when it becomes feasible to upgrade my whole LAN to that.

        BTW did you know that most NAS devices that come with a built in installed drive become worthless if the drive has a problem? Yeah its because most of them store at least part of the OS on a partition on the hard drive. So unless you have a way to rebuild the OS image, the whole u
    • by couchslug (175151)
      A quick search reveals many mATX cases that are stylish, small, and not intrusive or grey.
      The improved choice of motherboards and power supplies is also a plus.
      If all else fails, there are plenty of sites with information on how to make and mod cases to get exactly what you want.
    • by arivanov (12034)
      You are not entirely correct.

      As far as the mainboards - disagree. A Pentium motherboard which has a good quality audio (every ITX I tried had a superb one which is definitely not the case for most cheap Intel/AMD MBs where you can hear the f*** voltage regulator noise in the audio), a hardware encryption accelerator, a minimal spec video card which still has a built-in MPEG decoder (intel onboard does not have that), etc will pull a hefty 500$ at least. Compared to that the sub-200 price of a mini-ITX is qu
    • I suspect that low volume is a major factor in the pricing. I'll bet something like one hundred twenty million PCs and laptops get built every year. These custom designs have volumes in, optimistically, the tens of thousands. The economies of scale are definitely on the McTowerCase manufacturer's side.
      • I'll bet something like one hundred twenty million PCs and laptops get built every year. These custom designs have volumes in, optimistically, the tens of thousands.
        I spoke too soon. According to Google Answers [google.com] there were about 230 million PCs, laptops and servers shipped in 2006 and we'll exceed quarter-billion units this year.
    • mini ITX form factor Mobos cost 2x what they should. Their cabinets cost 3x what they should.

      This is true! :-(

      Just give me a cheap box that's as blank as possible and mounts a CD drive horizontally. That means the case on;y has to be 6" wide, not 11".

      I can give you some pointers if you are in need. Just say the word.

      I want a mini ITX computer, with as small a fan as possible to be a NAS.

      I don't want to rain on your parade, but you might want to rethink putting a smallest-possible fan on a small ITX to make a small NAS. I know, I've done it, and it's not exactly bliss. Unless of course you can stick it in a basement or broom closet, in which case size would be a minor issue(?). Or unless you don't give a hoot about noise, maybe that's the case. But if your goal is inconspicuousness in general (to meet WAF

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MojoStan (776183)

      And while we're at it, why do so many mini ITX cabinets look like early '70's stereo equipment? Just give me a cheap box that's as blank as possible and mounts a CD drive horizontally. That means the case on;y has to be 6" wide, not 11".

      For a "cheap" box, isn't that asking for a bit much? A standard slim optical drive is 5.875" wide. To get anywhere close to 6", you probably need to use a slot-loading notebook drive integrated into a case/motherboard combo with notebook parts and external power brick, whi

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)
      This hits the nail on the head really. Consider that you can buy a cheap Sempron 754 based system and underclock/undervolt it down to about 50W idle easily. It will cost you less than half what a 25W miniITX system would, and you will have a much better case and more expansion options on the mobo.

      Sure, it uses an extra 25W but when you look at enegery prices, it will take you years to recoup the £150 extra you spent on a low power system.
    • by Tycho (11893)
      I would look into the picoBTX form factor systems. The board selection is rather limited, however. All of the picoBTX motherboards are Intel branded and consequently use Intel processors. Three chipsets are available in the picoBTX form factor G965, Q965, and 945G. There is one board for each chipset and they each use desktop processors. The 945G board does not support the Core 2 Duo processors, however the two other boards support the Core 2 Duo. The G965 has faster onboard graphics than the Q965.
  • by Kadin2048 (468275) <`ten.yxox' `ta' `nidak.todhsals'> on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @03:30PM (#17742618) Homepage Journal
    Sounds like a good resource for someone who was planning on building an embedded/SFF PC in the immediate future.

    Not sure if it would be of any benefit to the more casual reader, or one on a longer time horizon. It sounds like they make specific hardware recommendations, which would be invaluable to someone building a system today, is probably just going to be a source of frustration in twelve months, when none of the stuff they recommend will be available anymore.

    Their choice to produce it as an ebook is probably a smart one, for this reason. They would barely have time to get it out the door in paper format, before the recommendations were less than cutting-edge; by the time it made its way to most readers, they'd have to hunt on eBay to get the particular parts used in the articles.

    I can't tell you the number of times I've read various HOWTOs and other 'How to make a...' articles, only to meet frustration when some small key part is out of production, and the currently-produced alternative creates problems that aren't addressed. That's the limitation of HOWTOs: they only tell you how to go down one particular path, not how to survive in the proverbial woods. They're a map, not a survival guide.

    So I guess if you're in the market for a 'map,' getting one that's as new as possible is probably a smart idea, and one that's been written and is produced straight to PDF, without months of waiting to be printed and sold, is probably the best thing going.
  • by sootman (158191) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @03:44PM (#17742804) Homepage Journal
    Or my interest in it, anyway. Once upon a time, PCs were huge, but had lots of wasted space. You could put them into a smaller box, or make them really tiny once motherboards were all integrated and you could do the whole thing without PCI cards sticking out. I used several SFF Compaq Deskpros over the years and they've all been great--fast, small, cheap, and bulletproof. Then along come tiny ATX boards and neat machines can be made even smaller.

    Then along comes the Mac Mini and in the last two years I've seen lots of "We took a Mac Mini and stuck it in something bigger" and I'm like, what's the point? I've got two Minis and they're great. (Though I'll buy a Mac Pro next time they're revved because I need a little more juice (mine are G4s) and a lot more disk than these little guys can hold.) I also plan to play around with a PC mini clone I saw somewhere, or maybe one of these little guys [norhtec.com] that Cringley recently had some fun with. [pbs.org]
    • by kahrytan (913147)
      The Mini PC could also be the Koala Mini from System 76 [system76.com].
      • by drinkypoo (153816)
        Anyone know of something like that which is a little faster and either had firewire or cardbus pcmcia? I'd like to use one for a file server but 200MHz is a little sparse if you plan to do software RAID.
    • I used several SFF Compaq Deskpros over the years and they've all been great--fast, small, cheap, and bulletproof. Then along come tiny ATX boards and neat machines can be made even smaller.

      Agreed. I've had one up 24/7 for about six years now, it's only ever had to be shutdown for electrical work in my building or kernel upgrades now and then. There's a lot to be said for building your server out of a business product that was designed to be on all of the time. Most consumer stuff wasn't designed for that

  • by adisakp (705706) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @03:45PM (#17742820) Journal
    I have bad eyesight (-13 diopters) and it's hard for me to read long documents on the computer but I have no trouble printing them out and reading them. Does this $15.99 PDF have DRM protection against printing? I've run into that once or twice and it's a pain for me :(
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Tainek (912325)
      Open Office will open and print any PDF
      • by giorgiofr (887762) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @04:02PM (#17743108)
        OpenOffice.org does NOT have PDF viewing capabilities. What are you talking about?
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I seem to remember it's trivially easy to modify xpdf to get around the "do not print" flag in PDFs. One statement needs changing and then a recompile.

          Have I just broken the DMCA?

          • Possibly. A more important question is why isn't this statement set this way by default?
            • by hab136 (30884)
              Possibly. A more important question is why isn't this statement set this way by default?

              Because they don't want the tool labeled as a DMCA infringment tool.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by giorgiofr (887762)
            I suppose one could also use pdf2ps or some such. But PP was talking about OpenOffice.org.
    • by bcmm (768152)
      KPDF (from KDE) has an option to make it stop following DRM instructions in PDFs (and they are generally simple flags, not actual encryption or anything). Adobe Acrobat reader is a terrible mess IMHO. Loads slowly, installs weird extensions for viewing video which no one has actually ever used, and doesn't let you do anything useful. It really gives me the feeling that the "user" being catered to is the creator of the PDF.

      I should point out that alternative PDF viewers aren't like opening word docs in OO.o
    • Totally OT.. mine are -12. You are the first person I've ever come across with worse eyesight than me :P
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by greg1104 (461138)
      I regularly get PDF files from O'Reilly and have never had a problem printing them. I suspect their employees know the "don't print me!" protection in PDF is trivial to bypass by the kind of people they sell to, and I haven't heard of them using it.

      The main protection I've seen them use against PDF piracy is that some of their files, like chapter downloads from the Safari service, are imprinted with a light gray background watermark that contains your customer information. This works as a good deterrant f
    • by Obfuscant (592200)
      Based on the example chapter -- chapter 1:
      • It does not render properly using xpdf, at least on my system. It is missing fonts used for chapter, section, and subsection headings, as well as URLs. acroread does a better job; I can't tell if it is "right" without knowing what "right" is supposed to look like.
      • They apparently have a deal with inkjet and toner manufacturers, since more than 25% of each page is a solid cyan color block. If you print out the pages, you will be wasting a LOT of toner and paper.
      • Ch
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by steve.hawtin (215011)

      I purchased the PDF two months ago. I had no issues with printing it, as far as I can tell there is no DRM on the file.



      BTW: I happened to be just about to build a new firewall for my house and found this book to be a great resource. I purchased the Soekris kit (because of the 3 NICs and I wanted 100G of files) and the book really helped.


  • All I want in the world is basically a rack-sized iPod. A convenient screen, a cute interface, and a 3.5" HDD with a ethernet jack for transferring songs. Does that exist yet? I've seen all sorts of wired and wireless models that require a 250W file server running in another room. I just want an mp3 player with a screen you can see from across the room and a remote. Is that too much to ask?
    • by egomaniac (105476)
      The Apple TV is pretty close to what you're looking for.
    • http://www.olive.us/ [olive.us] or http://www.hifidelio.com/ [hifidelio.com]. Not cheap: US$1100 for 160Gb, but is audiophile quality, works perfectly, runs on hackable Linux (see http://www.hifidelio-user.de/ [hifidelio-user.de] (regrettably mostly in German), had both wireless and wired networking, but works completely standalone if desired. I have two.
    • Build a Linux box with mt-daapd to stick the tunes on. Use a VIA EDEN motherboard, it'll run on about 6W and needs no fans, and Linux has open source drivers for all the hardware.

      Plug in a Squeezebox or Roku Soundbridge to be your UI. They should find the server automatically, as should any iTunes system on the same network.
  • Shuttles! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by edwardpickman (965122) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @03:50PM (#17742894)
    I own two Shuttle boxes and the XPC is the best computer I ever owned. They're extremely easy to assemble, actually fun to build, and I've never had a problem with one. A pair of them stacked are smaller than most single towers. I wish they could handle 2 gig memory chips but that's my biggest complaint. Both have firewire connections and frontside USB and sound. My 3200 has a frontside mini firewire plug but my XPC has a fullsize frontside firewire and both have full size backside plugs. I strongly recommend them. The only machine I'd consider for a living room multimedia machine. They even look good.
  • I want a satchel PC. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by neo (4625) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @03:55PM (#17742974)
    I want to flip open my satch and have a flexible keyboard and monitor with WIFI for surfing the web, ssh, and reading email (which for me is ssh since I read in PINE). Some way to put this into a satchel and still be able to use it as a bag would rock. I still want to carry around my sketch book and pens/pencils in the cafe.

    The hard part seems to be the monitor. How to keep it safe and light weight.

    Power is another problem.

    • At least, not when you are "on the go", use the "virtual display goggles" I've seen on occasion. Expensive, perhaps, but will fit in your "satchel" and be relatively protected.
  • I was looking at the gumstix [slashdot.org] line yesterday. They have the basic MB & an audio daughter card. Since the daughter card also has pinouts for LCD displays, I was considering putting together a wall mount box for remote connection to the MP3 server. But totalling it up, I couldn't see spending $300+ in addition to however long it took me to hook up the display & create a mounting case - for that I can get a junk laptop & do more.
  • I just built a machine for a gift this last Christmas, and I used the Apevia Q-Pack case. I know the measurements were given on NewEgg, but the case just seemed go big when I actually took it out of the box. One of my ideas had been that it would be possible to push the machine back on the desk and park the mousepad in front of it, but when I swapped out the old computer it was replacing (ancient HP minitower running Win98) I found the Apevia case to be exactly the same depth as the taller, but much narrowe
  • by tedgyz (515156) * on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @05:29PM (#17744418) Homepage
    I bought a book on overclocking, which at the time was quite useful. I would have written a similarly enthusiastic review. Now that it is 4 years old, the overclocking book is an amusing historical artifact for the average, power-hungry geek.

    I've aged as well. :-) I am now looking for articles on underclocking for a low heat, low-noise PC - HTPC for me. The biggest challenge is, it has to play modern games like Q4 and HL2. So it is a bit of a hybrid HTPC.
  • Can anyone recommend a MiniITX board that has a graphic chip that is fully supported by XGL? With a DVI port?
  • by almondjoy (162478) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @06:18PM (#17745134)
    Here is a key comment in the review:
    That said, some of the information will lose value over time. For example, the specific gumstix computer that was used does not appear to be available anymore. This is probably a good thing since the authors had to make some adjustments to get the 200 Mhz Bluetooth enabled version to work. I mention it only to point out that the information on the specific systems and the other instructions will lose value over time. It is impossible to future proof a work likes this.
    Actually - I think it is possible to "future proof" a book like this. How?...

    Convert the book to a wiki.

    I've already bought the book. What if I now want to upload my own storyline as well as pictures of my project to a community maintaining an on-line version of same book? A wiki would allow anyone who has bought the book (thus they have an ID/PWD for accessing the PDF originally) to use the same login to access an online wiki based version of the book. You won't lose any revenue from account sharing, since the same person sharing their login could just as easily share the PDF file. *But*, by putting it into an access controlled wiki for those of us who have bought the book, you give us the opportunity to share our stories... to make major and minor changes as necessary as we go through the different howtos and find that things have changed slightly, components have uprev'd, etc. And, if you managed the wiki properly you might even maintain a revenue stream on the publication long after it has originally published, not because techies will want to buy an old book, but because when they do they know they'll also get access to the latest updates in the "community of users" participating in the wiki. You might be able to harvest the best that the wiki has to offer and spin that back into a PDF version, then spin that back into a wiki again. And of course all this community activity on an O'Reilly hosted site means traffic, eyeballs, impressions, etc. etc....

    I know this won't work for every book and every topic. But in the case of this one it seems like a no brainer to try since the book is really just a short intro followed by a bunch of essentially standalone howto chapters. Perfect for a wiki IMO...
  • There are many guides to create your Make Project available for free. So why bother to buy the book. For example: here are guides to "create a [homemade portable] digital audio jukebox" [repair4player.org] and here is a list of tutorials explaining how to build a "wireless network range extender" [repair4laptop.org].
  • For $15, I'd rather buy a dead tree. I know I can print it, but my time is more valuable.

"If truth is beauty, how come no one has their hair done in the library?" -- Lily Tomlin

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