Tuesday, January 31, 2006

More pics of production Epia-N

Here are some more pics, as previously posted on Epiacenter.com:

My Epia-N has arrived!

Readers of this blog will know that I recently managed to buy an Epia-N 8000E from eBay. Well, yesterday, it arrived, only a few days after I paid for it. Shipment was pretty smooth from Japan, and the seller let me know along the way how to track it, so I'll definitely need to leave positive feedback. As the auction stated, this does look like a retail boxed mass production unit, although I haven't powered it on yet. So far, I've taken a few photos of components and stuck the heatsink on with the supplied thermal paste.

It's really small! This is the first time I've seen one of these, and while I've known the dimensions for some time, they don't really sink in until you see one for real.

Unfortunately, the unit is probably a little too high to fit into a conventional CD drive case without modification, as the heatsink and AV ports are a little high. This could be modified, but to be honest, I'm not going to do it just yet. For now, I'll run tests in a tupperware pot or whatever comes to hand, since I'll be using a conventional desktop PSU at first anyway.

Speaking of which, the adapter cable for the mini-ATX connector is quite short, and if you're thinking of using the board in a narrow enclosure, you'll probably find it gets in the way of the heatsink.

Other initial impressions: Find a supplier of thermal grease if you don't already have one: If you need to upgrade the RAM, you'll need to remove the heatsink. Other than that, it's looking good! More on Wednesday when I power up the board and start testing in earnest!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Epia-N on it's way

Well, judging by the pictures on the eBay listing of the Epia-N I'm expecting from Japan, it seems genuine enough. I've got a tracking number and the parcel is currently with Parcelforce, so hopefully I'll have it in the next few days. Update: Parcelforce site now says I'll be getting the board tomorrow!

Better get busy and start to do some stuff with the nano-itx.net site...

One of the tests I'll run is installing epiOS on it. I've just come across this (OK, call me slow - I'm learning, OK?) and it looks promising.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Torrent of new stuff

eSaw Mini-110
Well, yesterday, I received an eSaw Mini 110 PC for review. Should be able to post a link to it in a couple of weeks. What attracted me to this was the size. It's the same width and height as a standard 5.25" enclosure, which, coincidentally is the same size as my intended Nano-ITX project. Only problem with it is length - it's about 2 inches longer than a typical CD drive, so would only fit into a bay with loads of clearance behind it.

Anyway, I took it to bits of course. Had to, really. They use a single fan to cool the Celeron-M processor (1.4Ghz in the model I reviewed), and they've also managed to cram in a slimline CD in addition to a 9mm 2.5" drive. Which is pretty impressive: I'm sure I'll have no space in mine for a CD drive... Anyway, it's worth a look if you're after that size, slightly more performance than the Nano-ITX can offer and can't be bothered to build your own. Pics later, when I've got them off my digital camera, but you can see the outside of the case on the eSaw site.

New site!
I had a great bit of news the other day: Sascha at EpiaCenter is letting me take over his fairly dormant nano-itx.net domain, along with a few other TLDs. We've discussed briefly what could go on the site. I'm thinking about getting into reviewing components and software of interest to Mini-Nano-ITX system builders, like various TV adapter software, etc. and a bunch of hardware. I'll also set up a project gallery a-la Mini-ITX.com but for Nano-ITX specifically, and hopefully I'll be able to kick off the new site with a review of a production Epia-N! I'll keep this blog going, but it'll be a bit less formal than the main site. Anyway, big thanks to Sascha!

Order shipped
Which brings me onto my third bit of news. The Epia-N I've bought from eBay has been shipped, and I have a tracking number. So far, so good. Crucial memory turned up, speedy delivery as usual.

I have a PSU for bench-testing the board. If anyone can donate a small DC-DC board, I'd be grateful. Otherwise, if anyone can recommend one to me? I just need about a 60W PSU, as small as possible. Haven't seen any Nano-ITX PSUs for sale yet, but of course that'd be ideal, especially if it clipped straight onto the board.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Epia-N on eBay

A guy contacted me the other day to say he's selling Epia-N on eBay, and sent me a link. Indeed, from his photos it does look as though he has them for sale, but I'd urge caution buying one in case it's a ruse.

All the same, it's worth keeping an eye on. I'll look around for pucker retail offerings as well...

Here's the link.

Update: Well, seems he's selling the 800Mhz fanless model as well. I've taken the plunge and bought one, so hopefully I'll be able to write a review in a week or so.

I've also finished my review of the Leadtek DTV Dongle, which should be published soon. In essence, the software it came with wasn't very good, but the dongle comes with a BDA driver, so it's possible to use other software with it. Currently, I'm using Showshifter, which is very very good indeed.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Globetrotter and DTV Dongle

A couple of bits of news: My Mandriva Globetrotter review is now live on ITRevews.co.uk.

I've been using the GlobeTrotter for a couple of weeks now, and I have to say I'm very impressed with it. I've had only minor configuration problems using it on multiple machines, and when the problem is sorted (like setting the right resolution for a monitor), the drive remembers the setting in its profile for that machine.

The great thing about this drive is that it's not a 'live CD', so you can use it like you would any other fully installed OS and save data and settings, and it's not a cut-down OS like Damn Small Linux, so it has a whole suite of apps to choose from which would normally be considered bloat on a 'USB-stick distribution'. Additionally, it doesn't mount drives on the host machine, so you won't damage any other OS, although it is possible to mount the internal drives to do things like, say, rescue a dying hard drive :)/

I'm working on another review at the moment: The Leadtek DTV Dongle. This is about the size of a USB memory stick, although when you've got cables attached it'll be about 6 inches long unless you use custom cables.

It's not a bad device if you don't expect too much from it. Unfortunately, it suffers from slightly flaky software, and the aerial and remote control were pretty much useless. I'd recommend ditching the IR completely if you're using it in a media PC. What it does have in its favour is the size, as it could be used internally in a Mini-ITX project, avoiding the need to go for PCI risers and large PCI cards. All you'd need is a USB header to female USB type B lead, and then put a small arrial lead to a port in the outer casing.

If used in very confined space, heat might become an issue, but either a fan or an inch or so of air around it would keep it running at an acceptable temperature. It seems to be designed to use the aerial as a kind of heat sink.

Issues I had with the DTV dongle were mostly software related. The main app was a bit flaky and driver installation was fiddly, although the only thing that presented a real problem was the direct-to-DVD recording, which just didn't want to work at all.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Obtained case for Nano-ITX review

I did a favour for a friend the other day and extracted data from a dying hard drive which wouldn't boot. You know, the usual 'death clicks'. Anyway, I managed to get the data off the drive and onto a DVD, and my friend donated her old PC to me (4 years old). There wasn't a great deal of any use in the machine, but a few bits will come in handy for my Epia-N review.

So, I've stripped the internals out of the DVD drive that was in it for use when testing the Epia-N when it arrives, and kept a few handy cables and switches, like the PCB with hard drive activity LED, power switch and reset switch, as well as a couple of front-mounted USB ports.

The DVD drive enclosure looks like it has enough space for the board plus about 7cm behind it, which could be used for a PSU board and perhaps an IDE to CF adapter. The lid also screws down onto the sides with quite long screws, so I should be able to screw the lid down to make contact with the heatsink and so accomodate an overall Epia-N unit height range of between about 35mm and 40mm. I'll post a pic later on, when I get round to charging the batteries in my digital camera:)

I'm still not clear at this stage exactly what the overall height of the Epia-N is, since nobody at VIA has yet come back to me with a definitive figure. The manual indicates 35mm, but I suspect that this is a measurement from the board surface to the top of the heatsink. If this is the case, then I'm not sure it'll fit. Also, since the board will be a loan from VIA for the purposes of review, I won't be spending any money on the project - it'll only be proof of concept.

If I ever do a build of this project to use myself, and I may do if the proof of concept works and the board isn't prohibitively expensive, then I'll most likely use the materials I mentioned in one of my earlier posts to make the lid, front fascia etc.

One of my upcoming reviews which may be of interest

This might be of interest to Mini-ITX / HTPC builders. I'm due to review the Leadtek Winfast DTV dongle, which looks pretty small and quite capable. I'll publish a link to the review when it's published by my Editor, and perhaps some follow-up information like how it works in some Linux apps, etc., and how much heat it chucks out.

Following up on one of my recent reviews, the Globetrotter 2, the review is due to go live shortly, so I'll publish a link to it then.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New links page

Right, I've got somewhere with the NanoITX links. So far, I've put the links which are lost within old blog entries on this page into the respository, which is on one of my other sites: http://nanoitx.ecreate.co.uk/links.php. You can find a link to this page on the right, underneath the image of the Epia-N board.

I'll add sites to this repository as I find them. If you come across any that you think merit a mention, please let me know, by emailing me or commenting on one of these posts.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Finally, 2006

First of all, Happy New Year!

I'm looking around at components at the moment. Not that I'm necessarily going to use any, but here are a few interesting ones that caught my eye:

Besides that, I'm busy putting together a links page, and sorting out a free image gallery that Works well with Blogger for review pics when the board arrives.