Installing a Scythe Mini Ninja

After using my htpc for 4 months I sometimes became annoyed of the noise being produced by the system. It varied from day to day, so I decided to do something about it.

There were only 4 fans in the system, one on the cpu, two on the side of the case to get airflow going and one to cool down the psu. The loudest one was the stock cpu cooler, closely followed by the psu fan. The two 120mm fans are already quite good. After searching on the internet for a passive cpu cooler it seemed that the Scythe Mini Ninja was quite popular and ideal for the system that I have assembled. No computer parts shop in Belgium had it, or they were quite expensive, so I purchased one on eBay.

In the package you find: thermal paste, 3 mounting systems (meaning universal socket support), screws, one fan, clips to attach the fan and one big heatsink.

When removing the stock cpu cooler I noticed that there was not much of thermal paste on the standard heatsink, so removing any residue was quite easy. I also ignored all the advice of installing the Ninja outside the case, which would mean dismantling the htpc. In the end it didn’t save me that much time, since I had to remove the ram and some of the power cables to install the heatsink, also if you’ve got thicker fingers than me you probably won’t be able to reach all of the pins used to attach the Ninja to the motherboard. Make sure to apply an even layer of thermal paste on the cpu, you won’t need to use all of it since too much is as bad as too little.

I powered the system back on again, changed the bios to allow the absence of a cpu fan, and off it went. With the top of the case screwed back into place I first thought the upgrade didn’t change a lot, but I was sitting at 20cm from it. When I had placed the htpc back into it’s normal habitat and sat on a normal distance (2 meters) the psu fan was still audible but any ambient sound can overcome it. When I start a movie the system can’t be heard now.

To test the heatsink I started two instances of cpuburn and watched the result with speedfan. After 5-10 minutes the temperature reached around 50 degrees which is quite good, especially if you keep in mind that the two cores will never be under that amount of load under normal use.

So overall a great product.

HTPC, high definition for the masses

…or well at least for me.

Two months ago I finally decided to build a home theater pc. I had been playing with the idea for quite some time, mostly looking for something which offered all I needed in a small compact device, but which went furhter than playing back movies. The end result was either a Mac Mini , an Apple TV or a home build system. The Mac Mini offered a computer in a very small size, I could use the internet to look something up, check my mails etc. . The Apple TV is more of a consumer electronic retail system, it can play back movies or music, rent the latest blockbuster online, shop on iTunes etc. A home build system on the other hand, can do whatever you want it to do.

So I waited on Macworld in January, hoping for an Apple TV update which had an optical drive and the introduction of iTunes rentals in Europe. Alas Steve didn’t bring anything for me, well there was an Apple TV upgrade but that only affected the US market.

With the Apple idea now abandoned I looked to small form factor, mini-itx to be precise, because that’s what appealed me the most in the two Mac systems. This site proved to be very useful, it offers reviews, shows what fits together and what not, user projects and has an online shop. If I had more experience in this matter and money was not a problem then I would probably have bought my parts here. The absence of any helpful guides and how-to’s related with playing back HD content on any mini-itx based system scared me. I also didn’t find any case which would take two 3.5″ devices (DVD/BD-ROM and hard disk) and two full sized expansion cards.

So I just went for micro-atx, the path others had taken before me. These sites proved to be very informative:

I read through the links above, googled, asked my colleagues and compiled my final list of components.

Let me comment on these. I did not want the case to look like a computer, this one has more of a HIFI look and it comes at a reasonable price. The only thing I feared was that the front panel is silver while my optical drive is black. The two did, however, fit together. For the motherboard I went for the most basic around with enough connection abilities. Asus has a variant of this one with onboard wifi, but since I’ve had problems in the past with wireless products of different manufactures working together I chose this one and added a wifi dongle to the shopping list. I maxed out the RAM since memory these days has never had such low prices. The hard disk, with 500GB, is more than enough. I don’t plan to use it to store data indefinitely, but you can never have enough space. The graphics card had to be able to play back high-definition content, but nothing more. I was not going to play games or do any photo editing on this machine. Now the only thing left was an affordable optical drive, the Pioneer BDC-202BK was just what I needed. It can play Blu-Rays, DVDs and CDs and burn DVDs and CDs. Perfect! As operating system I chose Windows Vista Home Premium, since that’s the model that comes with Media Center.

The end result is actually quite a powerful device which can play high-definition content (up to 1080p), from it’s hard drive, the internet or from it’s optical drive. It can do all I that I was looking for and more. The only improvement you can make on this build, in my opinion, is removing the CPU cooling unit that comes with the processor and place either the Antec board that controls the airflow (for more information go to the product page) or use a more silent cooler from Zalman or Scythe since the only noise that comes from the machine is the standard Intel cooler. But I only hear it when no movie is playing, so it’s not that big of an issue for me.

Should you use this as reference for your own build, don’t forget to make sure you have the correct cables etc. for your tv. Mine has a dvi port and a 3.5mm audio port so I could use the cables I already had.

diNovo Mini

Today arrived the final pièce de résistance of my HTPC, a diNovo Mini keyboard. When I assembled my mediacenter a couple of months ago I was looking for something to control it but I did not really want a full fledged keyboard and also didn't want an average remote.

The diNovo Mini is the perfect balance between the two. It's small enough to be stored in a drawer or to lie on a table like your normal remote would, but still has the power of a full keyboard. Granted, typing with ten fingers is faster but this keyboard did not require any getting used to, in fact I'm typing this blog entry with it! If you've had a pda or smartphone with a keyboard you'll feel right at home . The best feature I've discovered, until now, is the ok button which you can press with your left thumb, while your scrolling with your other hand. Very ergonomic. The keyboard is also backlit, orange meaning normal and green media center style. It would appear that there is a light sensor on it so if there's enough light in the room the battery will be saved. The lights of the keyboard and the clickpad also work seperately, meaning that the keyboard lights only go on when you use it, again to prevent waisting power.

The battery is a cell phone like model, a charger is included as well as a cleaning aid to remove any fingerprints on the cover. There's also a cd included, haven't used it though I read that it comes with a program to bind key combinations to actions.

The clickpad however will need some time to grow on you since sometimes it's very sensitive and the other minute it's not very responsive, this is the only negative remark I have for the moment. I'll conclude with some picture, my apologies for the bad quality, you can click on them to see a bigger picture.