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the not-a-laptop

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MadRush

Registered
Joined
Apr 15, 2012
Location
NJ
Howdy, gents.

I've started doing research for a new project and since I've been out of the desktop PC game for quite some time I find myself here asking for help.

I'm going to build a system for two purposes: 1) doing school work ... specifically linux host os and a variety of guest os running in virtualbox -- I'm a Linux guy, but most engineering software is for Windows. 2) some gaming.

The thing that sets this project apart, if it's not totally unique, will be its shape. I'm trying to pack the power of a good desktop into the shape of a bigger-than-usual laptop. Why, you ask? Standard parts e.g. Mini ITX will provide me an upgrade path as well as give me options if important components fail. Ever have a motherboard fail on a laptop? What did you do with that laptop?

It won't be as portable as a laptop; I'm not going to put a large battery inside, just one large enough to get it from wall socket A to B. Besides, as it is, when I use a laptop at school it's always plugged in anyway because sooner or later the stupid battery gives up it's ghost. Another point is I can potentially run off a larger batter pack kept in my backpack should I choose to build one.

Dimensions
I've been busy toying around in Sketchup. I quasi-arbitrarily chose dimensions of 360x270x45mm. This will allow me to use my existing Acer 15" 1280x800 16x10 lcd assembly -- I plan to bolt the whole thing to the top of the box. I haven't dug too far but I think 16x9 15" screens should match up good enough with the dimensions incase I don't go with that screen.

picture.php


In the picture, the skinny box in front of the video card represents the VGA->LVDS board that is compatible with my screen. The board is huge, and it doesn't have hdmi or dvi, so it's got two strikes against it. I need to dig further to see if there is a high res 15" screen that's compatible with this company's smaller hdmi model boards. Odds are that I can easily. The video card will attach with a 90 degree pci riser, likely of the startech.com brand.

The little black box to the right is actually a 2x40mm radiator :D but I'm getting a feeling this is going to be air cooled. I may do water cooling in the future to support over clocking.

Power
Behind the SSD is a white box representing the footprint of the power supply. Specifically, this is a dc-dc power supply meant for automotive purposes. It can handle ~250 watts, which for a portable / notebook is pretty bitchin: http://www.logicsupply.eu/power-sup...r/m4-atx-automotive-dc-dc-power-supply-250-w/

It does a number of neat things that will be helpful with this system. Providing that little guy with amperage will be a dell 19v 240 watt laptop charger from their 'portable workstation' models: http://accessories.us.dell.com/sna/productdetail.aspx?c=ca&l=en&s=gen&sku=330-4342

Problem is, even the mediocre discreet graphics card I have in mind wants 400 watts. My solution: two power supplies; the aforementioned laptop style setup, and when I want to sit down and play games, I'll have either a detachable flex atx 400 watt that snaps onto the back of the case or the same thing modified to fit inside it. This dual power supply setup presents a problem which I will illustrate shortly.

The automotive psu works with any voltage between 6 and 30. This is great, because I could make a custom battery pack or retrofit one from just about anything and it will be happy. That much is easy. When I go and plug in the 19V charger, some charging circuitry will either need to be developed or just purchased. That too, is easy.

What is not easy is, if I have two power supplies, how do I transition from one to the other? Either I can settle for shutting down before doing so, or again design some circuitry to handle it. Problem is, I can't chicken out here and just go buy off the shelf stuff because it doesn't exist like the charger circuit surely does. Well, truth is, until I put some serious thought into this problem I won't even know if its a big deal or not. Fortunately there are other things to figure out before doing some electrical engineering ninjitsu.

Namely, what parts to use?

motherboard:
I prematurely started a seperate thread on what kind of Mini ITX motherboard would be able to handle overclocking. Of course, the board I already put on prototype 00 is sold out, and the first suggestion was that very board, hah.

It seems the specific motherboard isn't crucial, but I really need to get one ordered already since the cooling solution is dependent, at least somewhat, on the motherboard geometry.

Screen
Acer 15" 1280x800 16x10, probably. Hopefully not, as a 1920x1080 panel by itself is only $80 or so.


graphics
This one is hard as there are many constraints:
  1. Size
  2. Power
  3. Heat

1. Nearly all low profile cards are aimed at HTPCs or workstation graphics. Vendors DO NOT put serious gaming GPUs on low profile boards. Perhaps there is a Quadro or the like that is beefier that I haven't come across.
Also, I need to run the card parallel to the motherboard which will require a 90 degree PCIE elbow riser. I have also seen a PCIE 'cable riser' but I think it's a BS part given the speed bits are zipping around on that bus. Until I find proof otherwise I'm going to assume the 'cable riser' is snake oil. If it is not bogus, then I'm less limited to what cards I can use since I could then fit a full size one slot card.
If I could engineer some way to power & cool this bad boy:
http://www.powercolor.com/us/products_features.asp?id=363#Specification then I'd really be able to do some gaming.
More realistically this guy: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814102958


2. If I'm using the 250 watt automotive PSU, I can't power a graphics card that needs an extra power plug. Hell, I probably can't power most graphics cards period. So, the less power it takes, the better; unfortunately less power directly relates to less transistors on the GPU. :bang head

3. Heat would be an issue if I did manage to get anything substantial shoehorned into this little computer coffin. It will probably end up like Fukushima.

On the other hand, I have run into components to build a miniature water cooling system that would actually fit into my little case:
http://www.micropumps.co.uk/TCSM200range.htm
http://www.performance-pcs.com/catalog/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=22275

Also, I've been brainstorming about DIY heatpipe fabrication, retrofitting existing heatpipe-sinks, and ordering a custom heatpipe-sink solution: http://www.cooliance.com/custom_heatpipes.html

Given my numerous contraints, it looks like I have to go with an HD 6670 with 1gb 128bit GDDR5 a la this guy: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814102958
I believe with this kind of card I can get enough gaming performance without a pursuing one of the aforementioned mechanical engineering endeavors.

ram
This one is easy, just find me a deal on some corsair or something. What are other good brands?

storage
for now I have an old 100gb 2.5" sata drive. I'll either find or fabricate a sata caddy system so I can put 3 2.5's right into the side on top of each other. What do you call those little boards that plug into the sata power + data on the back of a drive? I'm trying to find them to design around but I'm at a loss for what you call them. Basically one of these: http://www.serialcables.com/largeview.asp?cat=269&tier=268&id=944 but instead of built in wires, just two plugs on the back and hopefully a screw hole so it can be attached to the drive cage.

This is a whole rack I might use: http://kingwin.com/products/cate/mobile/racks/kf_251_bk.asp

Questions relevant to this build...
Does anybody have an info on Intel Rapid Start? I'm trying to figure out what is involved with implementing it.

Summary: Prototype 00
Dimensions: 360mmx270x45
Power:
  • M4-ATX 250 Watt DC/DC PSU + Dell 330-4342 240 Watt Laptop charger
  • some other DC/DC PSU (I actually have a 24VDC PSU im my attic somewhere hmm)
  • c) regular AC/DC PSU, modified to fit
Motherboard: undetermined 1155 Mini ITX
Processor: I've settled on the venerable Sandy Bridge i5 2500k
Screen: Acer 15" 1280x800 16x10 CCFL
Graphics: Saphire HD 6670 1gb 128bit GDDR5
Cooling: Air, but there are back up options.
Ram: 8gb of whatever, throw me suggestions
Storage: for now I have an old 100gb 2.5" sata drive.
Optical: I don't use optical, USB > optical.
Chassis: http://protocase.com/

I'd like to hear your feedback particularly on the parts. Like I said, I'm out of touch with modern PC components, and I want to make sure I'm headed in the right direction.
 
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MadRush

MadRush

Registered
Joined
Apr 15, 2012
Location
NJ
Cooling
It looks like I found the holy grail of heat pipe cooling solutions: http://www.enertron-inc.com/index.php
I'm leaning towards making the case from aluminum and using it as the heat sink, maybe with custom bent heat pipes doing the job of transfering from silicon over to the chassis.

I've been reading about cooling, focusing mostly on heat pipes. This was a good read: http://www.electronics-cooling.com/...-cooling-systems-in-the-electronics-industry/

Some guy made his own heat pipe using butane. He harvested a gas valve from a lighter, genius.
http://lordsqueak.blogspot.com/2009/08/homecooked-diy-heatpipes.html
Excellent. If I do go this route making my own custom pipes it will likely deserve its own write up.
 
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MadRush

MadRush

Registered
Joined
Apr 15, 2012
Location
NJ
I've had to kinda look at everything, since I've been so far removed from custom pcs. After reading a hell of a lot of material of varying levels of convincing-ness and staring at a lot of synthetic benchmark charts I was going with an core i because they perform more consistently across different types of software.

My conclusion was that however Intel implemented their sandy bridge architecture, they managed to do so with far less compromises found in current AMD chips. I really like that the i5 is four actual cores sharing cache instead of the weird FPU sharing quasi-cores. This will mark the first time I ever bought an Intel chip. I pine for the days of the Athlon 64, when you could save substantial amounts of cash vs. the comparable P4, get more power and a quieter cooler box. It was so easy to shop for parts.

Now, if there are any specific advantages to AMD APUs by all means fill me in. I expect them to handle my load of VMs worse than the Intel chip, but providing a better integrated graphics. Thing is, for the games I have in mind I think comparing the integrated graphics is pointless anyway; the only thing that irks me is I can't get the next step up of radeon card in a form factor compatible with my current layout ideas.
 

johan851

Insatiably Malcontent, Senior Member
Joined
Jul 24, 2002
Location
Seattle, WA
The main advantage is decent graphics in a lower-powered package. They are slower, but they're also cheaper and might be an ok way to fix your video card situation. It's not a weird fusion thing, really... they're just putting a GPU on the same die as the CPU.
 

ssjwizard

Has slightly less legible writing than Thideras
Joined
Mar 12, 2002
I would probably lean towards the APU solution in this small form factor TBH. A single 100w heat source will be easier to manage + the iGPU is strong enough to run games @ 720p on mostly high settings.

Very cool idea BTW. Best of luck!

I really like that the i5 is four actual cores sharing cache instead of the weird FPU sharing quasi-cores.
This is the FX design and does not effect liano design which uses the same architecture as Phenom II CPUs do.
 
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MadRush

MadRush

Registered
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Apr 15, 2012
Location
NJ
...
This is the FX design and does not effect liano design which uses the same architecture as Phenom II CPUs do.
Oops! Sorry I had them confused, I haven't quite digested all this yet.

Hmm so, the A8 3870 is lliano so its the more beefy AMD architecture. As with other AMD products, I always like the price point. How well do they respond to overclocking? Can you overclock the graphics system as well as the cpu cores?

I take these web based calculators with a grain of salt, but, according to them my system really will be drawing like 200 watts, so my automotive PSU should be able to supply enough juice for mild overclocking.

How much can you improve your gaming experience by OCing an A8? I'm leaning towards discrete graphics for two reasons: 1GB of GDDR5 dedicated to the GPU & a nice fat 128bit highway to talk over.

I must say, the cheaper A8 and prospect of a simpler initial build are enticing, and it would probably be a good idea to worry about making the whole rig feasable for every day use before trying to make it do gaming. To that end, what's a good MITX board to OC an A8? Preferably one with a PCIE 16.
 

ssjwizard

Has slightly less legible writing than Thideras
Joined
Mar 12, 2002
Ya they can be overclocked. If you want to do any serious overclocking I suggest the A8-3870k. You can overclock the non black editions but its alot more finicky and will cost you AHCI support to do so.
 
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MadRush

MadRush

Registered
Joined
Apr 15, 2012
Location
NJ
...You can overclock the non black editions but its alot more finicky and will cost you AHCI support to do so.

Yeah I learned that somewhere. No matter the brand I'm only going for an unlocked CPU; I want complete control over the CPU. I'm borrowing this Core Duo 1.8ghz laptop and 90% of the time it neuters itself down to like 600 mhz without being anywhere NEAR it's max temperature. Can't control it -- that's half the reason I'm doing this build, I want a serious portable notebook-esque rig.

As an excercise in self amusement I put a Micro ATX board in the chassis. It appears to actually fit :
picture.php

Given my current LCD controller, it would not fit along with a discreet graphics board. However, I don't plan on using that controller board if I can avoid it. Notice also in the upper right I textured the PSU and replaced the SSD with a 3.5" dual 2.5 sata removable rack. That does cost me some space but easily sorts out the issue of mounting drives.
Granted, I'm definitely going with Mini ITX. The intent here is to show this chassis' flexability.

Notice the gap between the ports and the chassis? That gap will accomodate this guy:

I'll run the HDMI vertically up and around to the LCD controller. Just pretend the LCD board isn't upside and that it has an HDMI plug ;). Of course, if I terminate my own HDMI cable I won't likely need the adapter. The point of doing this instead of wiring directly board to board is 1) it sucks wiring board to board and 2) I can easily plug in an external input to my LCD. Why don't existing laptops have that? It'll be sweet to hook up an xbox or something to this screen when I'm on a road trip or something.

I'm 80% sure I'm going 2500k: gaming isn't as important as power. Besides, I can add a discrete card and deal with the associated can of worms in the future.
 
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MadRush

MadRush

Registered
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Apr 15, 2012
Location
NJ
memory

ok I think I managed to saturate my brain at this point ... I'm looking at different memory, something that can be overclocked to the max. what is the highest memory clock the 2500k + Z77 chipset can handle? I want to get 2x4gb of whatever brand memory that will do the max OC speed. I'm looking at this corsair vengance package: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820233245 but $80 is a bit steep, and I'm not even sure what the limit of my processor & chipset are.
 

Cojac92

Member
Joined
Jun 26, 2011
Location
South Carolina
ok I think I managed to saturate my brain at this point ... I'm looking at different memory, something that can be overclocked to the max. what is the highest memory clock the 2500k + Z77 chipset can handle? I want to get 2x4gb of whatever brand memory that will do the max OC speed. I'm looking at this corsair vengance package: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820233245 but $80 is a bit steep, and I'm not even sure what the limit of my processor & chipset are.

If you want ram that will get anywhere close to the Z77 memory ceiling look for some Corsair Dominator GTX. It's not to be confused with the Dominator GT. You want ram that will go as high as your board will go, but you don't want to spend even $80? You can't have you cake and eat it too. :-/ The GTX is probably out of the question, it's very rare due to a really high binning process... Which also makes it very expensive.

Go with something like this, it's a little bit cheaper than $80. It will also OC decent. It will do everything you need to do.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820145313
 
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MadRush

MadRush

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Apr 15, 2012
Location
NJ
OMG that power supply is the tits! That thing is getting into this project one way or another. I should have looked at 1U equipment in the first place .. I'm building the thing in the same vertical dimension anyway.

I need to pop open a PSU and see what's involved with getting it to run off 12VDC. I wonder if its as simple as bypassing the 120VAC transformer / rectifier deal... I doubt it because I bet it doesnt go 120VAC->12VDC->5VDC I would assume all the lesser voltages are on their own sub circuits.

... You want ram that will go as high as your board will go, but you don't want to spend even $80? You can't have you cake and eat it too. :-/ [/URL]

Like I said I've been outta the game so long, it's hard to tell when parts are expensive because they're worth it, or if they're expensive because they're a fancy 'monster cable' sort of brand.

Funny thing is the $80 kit I was looking at is the next corsair model up from the kit you linked. I'll go with the little cheaper one because somehow I bet I'll hit a wall somewhere else that will prevent taking full advantage of the ram anyway. Now that I think about it, I really gotta stick to some kind of realistic scope for this project, I've got enough to figure out before worrying about maxing out ram heh.

Thanks for the advice guys, I'm getting some good inspiration and advice here.
 

johan851

Insatiably Malcontent, Senior Member
Joined
Jul 24, 2002
Location
Seattle, WA
OMG that power supply is the tits! That thing is getting into this project one way or another. I should have looked at 1U equipment in the first place .. I'm building the thing in the same vertical dimension anyway.
Careful with that stuff...server gear is built to be locked away in air conditioned rooms far from your ears. That fan is a 14,500 RPM screamer if I'm reading the spec sheet right.
johnnyguru said:
Cons: semi-fanned using a Dremel tool wannabe
 
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MadRush

MadRush

Registered
Joined
Apr 15, 2012
Location
NJ
Careful with that stuff...server gear is built to be locked away in air conditioned rooms far from your ears. That fan is a 14,500 RPM screamer if I'm reading the spec sheet right.

You're correct. The reviewer compares it to a dental drill. I got excited about this PSU but now I'm thinking I can find one like it that takes DC voltage as its input. I mean, I already have a PS/2 sized one thats good for 300-400 watts that takes 24 VDC if I recall correctly.
 

Cojac92

Member
Joined
Jun 26, 2011
Location
South Carolina
Funny thing is the $80 kit I was looking at is the next corsair model up from the kit you linked. I'll go with the little cheaper one because somehow I bet I'll hit a wall somewhere else that will prevent taking full advantage of the ram anyway. Now that I think about it, I really gotta stick to some kind of realistic scope for this project, I've got enough to figure out before worrying about maxing out ram heh.

The kit you linked was $80 because it was an 1866 kit. The pair I linked was only like $69 because it was 1600. Albeit, the one I linked can be OC'd to maybe 2000. So just as fast speed/faster for less.
 

johan851

Insatiably Malcontent, Senior Member
Joined
Jul 24, 2002
Location
Seattle, WA
Yeah, something with an external brick is going to be a lot easier. Take a look at the PicoPSU if you haven't already.