Spec-ing the ultra-cheap PC "server"

I would like some help "spec-ing" or getting ideas for my next PC "music server." My requirements are more or less (in most to least important).

1. Must be dead silent, or very nearly so. In practice this means "no fans!" The closest I have gotten is a gutted desktop PC with only its cpu fan and a questionable fanless (formerly with fan) PSU. Due to costs, a CPU cooler the size of a microwave oven, or a reputable fanless PSU will probably violate constraint (2).

2. Must be cheap. As a benchmark, a new Win7 notebook can be had for well under $300. However, all have fans. Sometimes noisy fans. See requirement (1).

3. Not required, but strongly desirable that it runs Windows. I play music both from local files and streaming via (usually) a web browser. Also, some existing accessories may only work with windows drivers.

4. Must have USB ports. Note that I will be using an outboard DAC so fancy audio is not required.
 

ttan98

Member
2006-04-04 11:24 am
Melb
Hi,

I mean to start a thread on this subject. You beat me to it. The good news is I have made an audio server based on a laptop. My experience is as follows:

1. Laptop based on AMD E-450 such as HP model:DM1 costs me about $400 new, second hand you can buy for $200. The laptop can play music for over 6hrs fully charged, with LCD off when you are playing music. You can buy similar laptops from Toshiba and Asus based on this processor. The processor is much better than Atom based laptops, much faster and battery lasts longer. I fully recommend this processor.

2. Comes with 2G memory you must upgrade to at least 4 G. Better still 8G even with base OS, windows 7 64bits. The upgrade memory is cheap, $15!!(new) for 2 G upgrade.

3. Comes with window 7 64bits home premium, you can upgrade to windows 8, not really necessary.

4. Download Fidelizer to optimise laptop for Audio use, i.e. it is free and do a search.

5. Can use a variety of Audio players ranging from J. Rivers ($50) and to those that are free, eg. Foobar, Media monkey, etc. I use Pureplayer you can download it from PC based forum, do a search. It is very good I use very often even though I also own J. River.

6. It has 3 USB ports, one for DAC, one for CDROM for playing CDs, one spare.

Needless to say the sound is very good.

If you have any questions leave your questions here.
 
I recommend PC based on intel DN2800MT mobo + 4gb RAM + small SSD for OS only + used laptop power supply, cheap & 100% silent. If you use USB DAC, add a Renesas based USB-3 PCI-e card to improve the sound further. I use mine with Win 7 64 bit + Jplay v5b, the sound is awesome. Depend on the enclosure, it can go below 300$.
 
The cheapest and possibly the best.

If it is for music only, get rid of windows and you Will have additionnal savings:D

Am using mpdpup on my daugther's retired Asus eeepc, with Wave IO USB to SPDIF/I2S devoted to music. Remote with iPhone / iPad ...
Free, easy to install, very small footprint, runs from CF, no bugs, no virus, excellent SQ - the best I got until now with dematerialized music.
And I rip, search for covers, organize my library from my Windows Server or my professionnal Laptop

The only reason I would change would be if I wanted to go to digital multiway crossovers/DSP on a computer that would require high CPU performance, with a pro sound card. But there are plenty of BSS / Lake / DCX...

Just my 2 cents ( of €)

BR
 
Thanks for the replies so far. Ttan98, you give me an idea! Rather than spend money for a laptop ("yet"), I am going to swap out the noisy old (ca. 2008) laptop -- a Compaq F762NR -- for a newer CQ56 that has (somewhat) adjustable fan speeds. I can do this on a test basis anyway. The ancient PC can serve as my university PC, except it has about 15 seconds of battery life :(
 

ttan98

Member
2006-04-04 11:24 am
Melb
Thanks for the replies so far. Ttan98, you give me an idea! Rather than spend money for a laptop ("yet"), I am going to swap out the noisy old (ca. 2008) laptop -- a Compaq F762NR -- for a newer CQ56 that has (somewhat) adjustable fan speeds. I can do this on a test basis anyway. The ancient PC can serve as my university PC, except it has about 15 seconds of battery life :(

I am not sure about the CPU used in your old laptop, you can sometimes find software to control the speed of the fan. My CPU, AMD E450, I can use a software to adjust the core voltage from 1.1V to 0.9 volt by lowering the core voltage it runs a lot cooler hence prevent the fan from coming on more often. Also the battery lasts a fraction longer.

If I just run the audio software on my laptop, my fan on my AMD E450 almost never comes on.
 
The fan may be eventually replaced by a more silent one; it may also have been damaged too or be too dusty.
BTW, old PCs are often running many many useless processes, so uninstalling everything useless and come back to a clean install may be efficient, or even restore.

Did you check ?
 
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Hmmm....I have tried to vacuum the old laptop. No change. I am too lazy to try a fulll restore...I have things the way I want on it. Pretty sure the fan was variable even when new. (e.g. this model has a fan that the user has little control over.) I might try a fan speed adjuster if I can find one. HP/Compaq lock down their BIOS so .... ?

As for Linux, amazing how cheap they are getting. I will pass for now. I have ancient Unix skills, probably older than you are! I don't have the time to hack Linux at the current time.
 

Hengy

Member
2009-10-12 10:16 pm
Canada
A year ago, I set out to build a low power HTPC that could play 1080p, had room for a PCIE TV tuner card, and had other options for upgrades in the future.

I ended up using a motherboard based on the AMD E350 APU, similar to this one

It has 4GB or RAM, 750GB HD, 64GB SSD, and is powerful enough to play any 1080p file I throw at it, smooth as butter.

If all you want is music, then you could use a hybrid HD/SSD from WD - speed and size, and you would have a PCIe slot for a high-end sound card if you like. 4GB of RAM is more than enough for playing music. Cases can be very small.

As for noise, mine has 3 120mm fans, and a ATX power supply. Yes, i can hear it if I'm not playing anything, and no one is talking, but play music, and you will never notice it.

In addition to playing media, it can do file server duties, and a lot more.

Now, for the best part: at the wall, it only sucks down 24W at idle, ~30W playing music, and ~40W playing an HD video.

Hengy
 
As for Linux, amazing how cheap they are getting. I will pass for now. I have ancient Unix skills, probably older than you are! I don't have the time to hack Linux at the current time.
Well, maybe, maybe not on the older thing. I was learning fortran in 1973 on punch cards. Those were the days! fortran was it for engineers back then, unless you did assembly.
No hacking required, if you buy 2, and use one as the server, one as the player. This guy draws 3W as a server playing music from a USB stick, 5W from a USB drive. It shows you how little power is needed to play music. PCs are way overkill. See
VortexBox user forum - Logitech SqueezeBox replacement for under $30
Once you have the VAMP .3 installed, you run setup at the prompt, and install the squeezebox server software.
Only gotcha for some is you have to use the squeezebox software for server and player, however the software is free, finished, and works great. But it's not for everyone.
 

ttan98

Member
2006-04-04 11:24 am
Melb
A year ago, I set out to build a low power HTPC that could play 1080p, had room for a PCIE TV tuner card, and had other options for upgrades in the future.

I ended up using a motherboard based on the AMD E350 APU, similar to this one

It has 4GB or RAM, 750GB HD, 64GB SSD, and is powerful enough to play any 1080p file I throw at it, smooth as butter.

If all you want is music, then you could use a hybrid HD/SSD from WD - speed and size, and you would have a PCIe slot for a high-end sound card if you like. 4GB of RAM is more than enough for playing music. Cases can be very small.

As for noise, mine has 3 120mm fans, and a ATX power supply. Yes, i can hear it if I'm not playing anything, and no one is talking, but play music, and you will never notice it.

In addition to playing media, it can do file server duties, and a lot more.

Now, for the best part: at the wall, it only sucks down 24W at idle, ~30W playing music, and ~40W playing an HD video.

Hengy

It has come to my knowledge that using an ITX-Mini motherboard you can even used a battery as power supply. You idea of using the AMD E350 and also available E450 is good one, you can also find ITX motherboard based on this chip. My laptop based on E450 draws with little current less than 10Watts.
 
As for Linux, amazing how cheap they are getting. I will pass for now. I have ancient Unix skills, probably older than you are! I don't have the time to hack Linux at the current time.

Hi Soldermizer

If you have ONE hour you may have mpdpup running without any hacking, the developper has made a nice wizard that takes most cases into account. I did it and am in no way what you could call a hacker :), with absolutely no Linux knowledge (too old for that :D, was trained at the time of DEC and MVS and Z80)

As the system is headless, you could put your old PC in a cupboard and just forget it.

Just in case you want to give it a try Puppy Linux Discussion Forum :: View topic - mpdPup - Simplified MPD Music Server/Jukebox - v0.9.3
 

Hengy

Member
2009-10-12 10:16 pm
Canada
It has come to my knowledge that using an ITX-Mini motherboard you can even used a battery as power supply. You idea of using the AMD E350 and also available E450 is good one, you can also find ITX motherboard based on this chip. My laptop based on E450 draws with little current less than 10Watts.

I also have a laptop based on the E350. When it was new, I could get 10 hours out of it doing light 'net surfing and word processing. It has since gone down to about 5 max.

You can get lower power processors, and ones without as much graphics power as well on ITX boards too. The super low power, AMD C-60 and one made by VIA might be perfect for just playing music (and only music) There is also the Intel Atom series.

Using windows built in Remote Desktop, or a VNC program, and you wouldn't need a monitor, mouse, or keyboard, and could put it in a closet (with adequate ventilation, of course).

Hengy
 
So many suggestions! I tried SpeedFan on my laptop and did not seem to be able to control anything. The PC fan is not the only issue: there is some ac hum probably due to my line staging. I have the DEQ2496 doing Bose EQ duty and the gain on the power amp(s) is really high. Gain staging I can fix. The PC ... I will continue to collect information. Even work on my graduate classes in my spare time :)
 

TopQuark

Member
2010-03-08 8:12 am
I recommend PC based on intel DN2800MT mobo + 4gb RAM + small SSD for OS only + used laptop power supply, cheap & 100% silent. If you use USB DAC, add a Renesas based USB-3 PCI-e card to improve the sound further. I use mine with Win 7 64 bit + Jplay v5b, the sound is awesome. Depend on the enclosure, it can go below 300$.

How were you able to run Win 7 64 bit? Intel does not support 64 bit yet on GMA 3650 based Atoms like DN2800MT. Which driver did you use?
 
How were you able to run Win 7 64 bit? Intel does not support 64 bit yet on GMA 3650 based Atoms like DN2800MT. Which driver did you use?

I use default Win driver, as it is headless and 100% used for music playback I dont care about the video quality. I believe for Win based music player dn2800 has the best value of all mobos. Before dn2800, I used MSI e350 + picopsu and I found that dn2800 is far more suitable for music pkaying duties.

other option would be alix board + mpdpup. mpdpup sounds awesome + free.
 
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Hengy

Member
2009-10-12 10:16 pm
Canada
I tried SpeedFan on my laptop and did not seem to be able to control anything. The PC fan is not the only issue: there is some ac hum probably due to my line staging.

Motherboard in laptops are custom made by the laptop manufacturer. There are so many models and revisions, that something like SpeedFan would have an awful time keeping up with the different hardware.

If you are getting hum from a laptops headphone/line out, it is probably lack of shielding of the audio IC. This is an unfortunate, and very common occurrence on laptops. Even moving the trackpad can cause interference! A USB audio interface should resolve this.

Hengy