Farnsworth Mod - Tiny Form Factor

Hey guys,

So after weeks/months of looking, I finally have an old radio that I've gutted and am getting ready to turn into a stealth case for an HTPC. The old radio I purchased (for 15 bucks none the less) is an old Farnsworth ET-069 solid wood radio.


Being an incredible fan of SlipperySkip's work with humidors and tiny form factors, I decided it was high time I make my own tiny, incredibly sweet HTPC. (If you're unaware of SlipperySkip's work - head here http://www.slipperyskip.com/index.html) While I'm confident in my carpentry and building skills, I'm far more hazy on what it'll take to make a useful computer.

What I'd ultimately like to do, is have a great looking HTPC that is wireless and can play DVDs via an HDMI connection to a big screen TV. At this point, I don't care much about HD/BlueRay playback nor am I concerned with watching or saving TV content to the computer HDD. With those specs in mind, does anything think that they could help me put together a list of components that would fit in the radio? The dimension's of the enclosure are 19cm high x 30.5cm wide x 13.5cm deep.

I'm looking at this http://www.logicsupply.com/products/j9f2_khde mobo or something similar. I like the HDMI and HD audio out. For power I would look for something like this http://www.mini-box.com/picoPSU-120-power-kit?sc=8&category=13. If I went with that board, what processor would make the most sense? And does anyone have suggestions on a good/inexpensive PCI wireless card?

Thanks for helping out :)
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  1. If you could find a working laptop based on the Pentium M or C2D (even one with a broken screen would work, check Ebay, I have seen C2D based laptops with broken screen for about $220), you might be able to use that motherboard and CPU. Imo, your main limitation is going to be the graphics card. Unless you can find a good integrated GPU ( like the ATi 3x00 or 8x00M) you might be limited to what you can do.
  2. basic rundown of good miniITX boarsd for HTPC
    MSI Fuzzy GM965 has a PCIe x16 slot takes a laptop C2D and desktop DDR2
    MSI Fuzzy 690t takes AM2 + DDR2 SoDimms
    there is an Albatron thats pretty good 690t I think
    all 3 have good OBG and a PCI slot
    1 or 2 have a miniPCIe slot

    1 Liantec tinybus can handle MMX cards (PCIx for laptops)

    figure about 250 for 1 of these mobos
  3. I don't think the gma 950 in you misted mobo is up to DVD playback, but the GMA 3100 in the 965 or the AMD 690 should both be able to handle it.

    if someone makes an AMD 780g mini ITX board, that will handle 1080p, or you could get one that takes an add on PCIe or MXM card for high def playback

    there are plenty of very small PSU that are basicly DC to DC converters and need a AC to DC conver plug, like a laptop or printer plug
  4. Thank you Shez for your kind words.

    I have a Kontron 986LCD-M/mITX that has a 945GM chipset with GMA950 graphics. It does Vista Aero like a champ which is how I grade onboard graphics solutions. DVD playback performance is exceptional.

    Its most interesting feature is that it has a 16x PCIe slot AND a full size PCI slot. That's rare for a mini-ITX board. It allows me to run any single slot PCIe video card and a PCI-based TV Tuner solution.

    The biggest problem I have had trying to use gutted laptop-based solutions is trying to disconnect the integrated keyboard from the package. True, you can use an external keyboard but I have never seen a BIOS that allows you to disable the integrated KB. It really freaks out.

    I have extensive experience with the Pico PSU if you are interested in that info.
  5. I've looked at UMPCs and many of them use GMA950. I've heard they cant do DVD playback, but maybe with a better CPU they could.

    as a cheater option,
    you might find a busted UMPC (smaller than a laptop and no keyboard), but like I said, crappy CPUs.
  6. Thought this was going to have something to do with Futurama
  7. First off, thank you guys for all your feedback!

    From the sounds of things, the Kontron 986 seems like the best solution (especially since slipperyskip has experience with it... and since slipperyskip suggested it). Do you have any suggestions where to purchase the board from or am I better off searching around for the best price?

    A few more follow up questions:

    SlipperySkip, if you don't mind, I would be very interested to hear more about PicoPSUs and you're experience with them. For my build, I'm planning on powering the mobo, a laptop DVD drive, a HDD and possibly a PCIe card. Since you've used the Kontron, and a very similar setup, did you find that a particular Pico PSU fit the bill especially well? And I know that the PicoPSUs have a plug-in jack but do they need also need a power on/off button or switch?

    I know that C2Ds can run at fairly low temps, and since I'll be trying to keep the computer as quite as possible, are there any suggestions for a good fanless (or quite) low profile cooler? Considering that I'm building this is a wooden box, I have fear of combustion, so I'm willing to sacrifice noise for flames :)

    SlipperySkip - I loved what you did with the Unidyne PC, especially how the PC components were modular. Do you find that mounting everything on threaded raisers helps? For my build, I'm planning on mounting everything to the back panel of the radio so that I can remove it entirely. With the raises though, do you have to take any considerations about shorting out the mobo? And do you sandwich the boards between two nuts on the raisers?
  8. remember the book fehrenheight 455? that is the temp that paper burns. smoldering will occur lower, but your wood will be safe.
    maybe some high temp paint inside.

    look at the watt rating of the CPUs you are looking at. Many C2D mobils use 31 watts. low energy AMD dual cores run at 45 watts.

    I think the 965GM board I mentioned comes with a cooler, or it just has standard bracket for a cooler. any of the low power CPUs should be fine with OEM coolers. I think the cloth grill should let in enough air, especialy with 1 or 2 low power fans.

    I've heard conflicting claims as to wether PC HDMI does sound.
  9. Thanks for the response groo.

    I'm guessing wattage is going to be my biggest hurdle. Any clue what the standard wattage draw is for most components?
  10. I believe the tiny AXT PSUs can get up to about 320 watts. a low power CPU and OBG will in the neiborhood of 100 - 200watts. UMPCs are about 20 watts, some are less. I think the intel steely CPU uses about 3 watts (they could have a 40 core that draws the same power as the quad cores). AMD Geodes are a touch more. highend CPUs are more than 120 watts. graphcs cards are all over the place. the newer ones with smaller cuircuts use less power. If its passivly cooled without a huge heatpipe setup, its probably pretty cool.

    Laptop stuff is lower power because they want to maximise battery life. desktop stuff is high power because they want to maximise performance.

    all of the wattage that a component uses is turned into heat. if you want to get an idea of how hot it will get, put an incandecent lightbulb in there, and see what it takes fanwise to keep it at a reasonable temp if your realy woried about it.

    most of the traditional miniITX systems are very low powered. the newer HTPC ones are more mainstream.

    I'd think cut some vent holes in top or bottom and have a fan sucking throught the speakerhole behind the colth (let the cloth act as a filter)
    If you can cram a 90 or 120 mm fan in the speaker spot, that should be enough.
  11. Wow. This reminds me why I don't like participating in public forums. Shez...PM if you like. My e-mail address is on my site.
  12. do you think my wattage assumptions are way off?
  13. ^To calculate total relative watts you will need see:
  14. Yeah, I've tried the eXtreme calculator but the problem is that it only calculates desktop components and mobos. I don't know for sure, but I would assume that the wattages are very different for a mini ITX and mobile components.
  15. Not to mention that PSU "calculators" generally wildly misestimate (and overshoot) actual requirements.

    You'll note that an entire system running with HD3850 draws 206W. I don't recall what the reference system is, but it's probably a very high end system.

    Similarly, Tom's reports 234W (from the wall) for a E6850 and HD3850.

    Finding out what wattage parts draw is actually painful, but video cards are listed here:

    Of course, I think that you almost certainly won't need more than integrated graphics to play DVDs. I have a laptop with integrated graphics from around 2 years ago that plays DVDs fine.

    Good luck with your project!
  16. miniITX with desktop components should be about the same as a calculator would indicate, but those are pretty broad assumptions for the most part. look for reviews of the 690 chipset, as it is a HTPC chipset, and many are more concerned about heat (and therefore noise) in an HTPC, they might discuss power usage. I know some of the 780g reviews did, and I kind of remember 1 talking about its relative energy consumption versus its predicassor, the 690t.

    I believe the 965 boards are 965g, not 965gm (mobile) even though they use a mobile CPU. there you have the regular chipset consumptino and the lesser mobile cpu consumption. cpu consumptions are easy to find. mobile disk drives use less power than standard disk drives too, but I've never realy investigated how much either uses.

    for you systems optical drive, Id use external. eSATA would suport Bluray (I know, not a requirement, but it would be nice to keep it for a while wouldn't it?), I don't know if USB would or not.
  17. Thanks einstein and groo.

    Which actually brings up question I've recently started considering. If I really only want this computer to play DVDs and go online what are realistic requirements? I've seen plenty of miniITX boards that support Core2Dou processors... but that seems like fairly drastic overkill. Not to mention bank breaking :)

    I've recently been looking at boards with integrated CPUs rated at 1.2-2.0GHz with the 950GMA groo mentioned. I figure that, together with a beefy amount of RAM should be able to handle DVD playback.

    My biggest concern, and this is from a lack of experience, is with how it'll look on a big screen TV. I'm planning on buying a 42'' LCD and connecting this lil' HTPC up to it. With an integrated CPU and GPU, will the picture just plain suck or will it look as good as any other DVD player? If I can get away with lower requirements (not to mention far less coin) then that's what I'd probably end up doing.

    This computer isn't shooting for new benchmark records, I just wanna watch DVDs and check the internet on my big TV :D

    Oh, and when it comes to power, I think I should be very capable of getting way with a picoPSU. If you check out slipperyskip's page he was able to power lots of components with a 120W PSU (http://www.slipperyskip.com/page21.html).
  18. you might want to wait till someone realeases a 780g based miniITX. low power, can handle 1080p and is made for HTPC. I've seen 2 or 3 690t minit ITX boards so one is on its way.
  19. @OP: I'm not trying to be an a$$ but why do you really need a micro format HTPC? You can easily get a nice looking HTPC that will cost less and perform better if you are willing to up the size to the MicroATX level.
  20. You bring up a very good point. I certainy could go microATX, buy a case and have a very functionable HTPC. However, and I don't mean this to sound negative, the performance of the computer is really second to the mod itself. If I were building an HTPC strictly for performance sake, I certainly would up the mobo size, use a standard case and be happy. But the build is really about making a beautiful case, enjoying the work and being proud of the end result. Having it be an HTPC is really almost an excuse to building the thing.

    That's really the reason why my expectation/requirements are as low as they are. Realistically, the computer will probably get minimal use, which is why it doesn't need to do much, but I really want this to be a showcase of my work, which is why I chose an old 1940s radio for the case.
  21. Cool. Good luck on the mod :). Once you are done don't forget to post pics/results,etc. Keep us up to date with build pics. :)
  22. LAN_deRf_HA said:
    Thought this was going to have something to do with Futurama

    Thats what i was thinking too

    ohh well

    Back on topic. for DVD you do not need much... a xp 1800+ with a Geforce 2 plays DVD's fine. Any modern obg will do DVD's fine. now high def....thats another story.
  23. I spent sometime going through the Logic Supply website, which sells mini ITX boards and have come up with two options that I would like opinions on. Oh, and I double checked the enclosure volume and I can definitely only fit a mini ITX board or smaller into the build.

    Option 1: Go with this mobo http://www.logicsupply.com/products/j9f2_khde. The cost is significantly higher but the processor would be more than capable of doing what I'd like it to and the OBG seem to be up to the task of watching DVDs etc. On the downside, a mobo/CPU would cost about 500 bucks. At which point... why not just spend the money on a new HTPC will all the bells and whistles.

    Option 2: A more intriging option (I think) is using this mobo http://www.logicsupply.com/products/sn18000g, which is lacking in raw power but then coupling the board with this GPU http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814127301. I checked the mobo and it has the headers I would need to get audio into the GPU HDMI out.

    I'm certainly no expert but I feel like option 2 would work well for my requirements. The HTPC doesn't need much raw processing power and the GPU seems like it'll add the needed horse-power to crank out watchable content.

    My one unknown is whether the option 2 mobo really has a PCIe 16 slot. The manual stated that it has "1 16-Lane PCI-E slot", which I assume is the same as PCIe 16. If so, then I have to imagine that the mobo/GPU idea could work.
  24. I've cranked out some build math to help my decision process along.

    Option 1 is out, the build would come in at more than 800 bucks which places it well outside the realm of cost vs performance, for me.

    Option 2 rings in at about 630 bucks, which is expensive but allows me to do the mod I want. Assuming that you guys think its a viable option.

    Option 3 would be to build a more standard microATX build, scrap the radio mod and move on with my life. The cost being about 450.

    Honestly, the $200 difference between making something I'll really enjoy doing and looking at (the radio mod) would be worth it to me if I could get the performance out of the computer that I want, to meet the requirements I set. Option 2, unless I really missed the boat somewhere, seems like it'll be able to play DVDs (but what computer can't), check the internet and output to an HDTV via HDMI. I can even get wifi via a mini PCI card.
  25. I'd go option 2. That looks like a very nice card. Go with 3 or 4 gigs of ram (I assume its dual channel, so go 4, memory is cheap) if you are going to use the CF for a HDD, or plan on using Vista. I think you can even get miniPCIe tuners if you want to use it as a DVR. that chipset may even handle DVDs w/o an added graphics card, but I assume you picked that card for the integrated HDMI sound. make sure you leave as much space around the heatsink as posible for airflow. maybe have some vents holes drilled below it.

    you still might want to consider an AMD690t or an intel 965g.
    used CPUs are dirt cheap on ebay, mabey craigslist.

    I'd definatly get and external optical drive. USB or eSata. put a blutooth adapter in thier too for a keyboard. I wouldn't waste the miniPCIe, but use the USB jumpers and just leave it inside.
    I'm planning to use this
    for my upcoming hidden HTPC, built in tachball and its suposed to have a very good range.
    you might be able to hide the RF transmitter inside the case too.
    All you will need for wires out of the box it the HDMI, power. you could get that new DVD ripping software that cuts through all the copy protection and rip you DVDs and WiFi em over.

    if space is tight, consider 2.5" laptop or 1.8" ipod/UMPC drives

    all CF for drive(s) is also an option, some of the new ones are very big (32 gb I've heard), performance will be lower, maybe comparable to a 1.8", but thats just a guess.
  26. another option for your miniPCIe slot is the Sandick Vaulter. it should be out very soon if not already. basicly its a small solid state drive, for OS, and maybe a few programs. Then use a CF card or 3 (IDE to 2 CF + 1 CF onboard) for the media and other data storage. 3x 32 gigs in CF storage + 16 or 32 for the vaulter is more than enough (way more than enough if you store your movies on your main PC or play em off the DVDs), completely silent, and very low enery.

    I wouldn't have the packpannel visable just run the wire to the underside, then up and in.
  27. Thanks for the posts groo.

    I'm now torn because I've priced out the builds, which are getting far more expensive than I really wanted to spend at this point. Given, the build itself would be really fun and I'd definitely enjoy using it. At this point though, I might need to set aside the build for a few months. Which is a shame.

    Regardless, thank you guys all for your feedback. I'm definitely saving this forum to use in the future, when I'll hopefully pick up the build again.
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