general PC

Create an instructable (at Instructables)

After having built the OpenELEC mediastreamer I felt the urge to create an instruction for the community. This blog isn’t very suitable for that. I have been looking at Instructables for a while now. Sometimes I landed on their website when I searched for something to make or I just browsed the instructables to get inspired. I started to get fascinated by the whole Instructables concept. I deciced to create an instructable on a OpenELEC media player first because I couldn’t find one for x86 based systems and second to get experience with the whole instructable thing. The Instructables website is inseparable from the makers community which I feel very much part of.

Logo of Instructables with the friendly yellow robot.

When you are familiar with you probably feel right at home when you create an instructable. Text entering, uploading photo’s and creating links are similar to the way works. Instructables guides you through with a step by step approach which is so characteristic for the website. There are also some nice features to edit or annotate your photo’s.  Because of the uniform approach of Instructable it is not possible to alter the look of your pages very much (at least I couldn’t find it) but I guess this is an advantage for the reader. You can however add personal information to your instructable pages.

Creating an instructable is a lot of work. You’ll need to create good step by step instructions and excellent photography that match these instructions. When I finished my first draft I wasn’t satisfied with the photo’s of the media streamer that I had made previously. I therefore decided to make new photo’s of the already finished media streamer. I reopened it, took out some components and took photo’s. This session alone took me several hours. I published my instructable yesterday and the traffic to these pages has very good.  Much better than YouTube where it is very difficult to distinct yourself in the endless supply of video’s. Even better, with Instructables you are right in the middle of the makers community whereas with YouTube there is no specific area for makers. All in all I’m very happy with my first instructable and are pretty sure there are more to follow.

Your photo’s have to match your instructions. I therefore decided to make new photo’s of my already finished media streamer.

OpenELEC on a DIY streaming media box

In previous entries I wrote about planning and building a DIY streaming media box running OpenELEC. I used several PC components that I already had spare (motherboard, processor and memory) and was able to built a very capable OpenELEC machine for about $100 (without remote control). A couple of days ago I connected the machine to my TV set and started streaming. First the good news. OpenELEC runs fantastic on the Celeron G1610 and thanks to the SSD the system boots in about twelve seconds. Furthermore I have a very good, stable stream over wifi. However there are some problems that I need to iron out. First the remote control. I ordered a Rii mini i8 from Ritek, a very small wireless keyboard with a touchpad and a rechargeable lithium battery. Unfortunately I have to wait another two weeks before the remote arrives from my supplier. In the mean time I use the Kori app on my Nexus 7 as a remote. It browses through the menus very quickly but once i’ve started a stream my streaming media box sometimes responds sluggish to the Nexus. This is probably due to the fact that the remote uses the same wifi bandwidth that the stream and other family members are using. Hopefully this problem will be solved when the Rii arrives. The Rii doesn’t use wifi so I have high hopes.

OpenELEC streaming media box placed in the cabinet running a movie trailer. The system boots fast and the stream is stable.

A second problem is that due to the wifi sticking out more than an inch the streaming box will not fit into the cabinet where our TV is sitting on. I could of course cut out the back of the cupboard but this is something my wife will not appreciate. For the time being I have the streaming media box sideways in the cabinet which works perfectly but is estatically not very pleasing. The lesson here is that if you plan a streaming media box in a cabinet take the peripherals into account.

The wifi stick on the back of the PC. I didn’t anticipate the size of the peripherals when choosing a PC case and was forced to place the streaming media box sideways into the cabinet. A stupid mistake.

In conclusion I’m very happy with my OpenELEC streaming media player. Building it and installing OpenELEC was easy, aside from some minor problems. I know there are cheaper OpenELEC solutions out there (OpenELEC offers a $99 dedicated box). I like my solution better because it is versatile. If I would decide tomorrow to turn my media player into a NAS or a Steam Machine (running Steam OS) I can do it. This is probably impossible with the dedicated solutions.

Linux open source PC

DIY streaming media box: building it.

Building the streaming media box consists of a hardware and a software part. Building the hardware is relatively easy. With these modern PC components you can’t do much wrong. First I inserted the 4Gb DDR3 memory into the motherboard. In my earlier post on this topic I mentioned that I already had a MSI mini-ITX motherboard and a processor (Celeron G1610) from my sons PC that I upgraded earlier. With the motherboard ready, I removed the power supply from the LC-1410mi case. The motherboard fitted nicely over the six elevated mounting points in the LC-1410mi.

When I inserted the power supply I noticed that it blocks the PCI slot on the far side of the motherboard something I hadn’t that seen coming (see image below). I therefore was unable to use the PCI Wi-Fi card that I had. I decided to use a USB Wi-Fi stick that I already had. It is not as elegant as the card but it works.

Next I connected all cables from the power supply and the case to the motherboard. When you do this for the first time it can be intimidating because of all the different connectors on the motherboard. Luckily cases and motherboard generally come with descriptions of all these different cables and connectors. I connected the 128Gb SanDisk SSD to the motherboard SATA port with SATA cable and to the power supply. The 2,5 inch SSD didn’t fit into the bracket that comes with the LC-1410mi. I had to improvise to get the SSD into the case.

With all hardware built-in and connected I decided to test the system. I connected a monitor, keyboard and mouse and booted the streaming media box in the making. Since the SSD was still empty I was only able to enter the motherboard boot-menu (on MSI press F11 to enter the boot-menu while booting). This is sufficient to test the hardware and all the connections. The whole system appeared to be functioning okay.


DIY streaming media box: the components

As described in my last post I’m building a streaming media box running Kodi. I finally received the components I needed to complete the build (together with the motherboard, 4Gb memory and a Celeron G1610 processor that I had spare). As a case I chose the LC-1410mi from LC-Power. It’s a small black case with a 200W power supply built-in. The case is suitable for my mini-ITX motherboard as well as for micro-ATX. The metal case has a black high-gloss that goes nicely with the other equipment in the living room and can be placed both in horizontal and vertical position. The price of the LC-1410mi is about $40 (in Europe) which is not as cheap as the LC-1400mi however the size of the LC-1410mi is more suitable for the living room.

LC-Power LC-1410mi. The front can slide open to access the USB and audio connectors. The metal case has a black high-gloss.
Case of the LC-Power opened. The 200W power supply, 5,25 inch and 3,5 inch bay become visible.

As a storage medium I chose the SanDisk solid state drive of 128Gb. Since I only intent to use the media box for streaming 128Gb is more than sufficient to store the operating system (probably OpenELEC). Furthermore the SSD ensures short boot time just what is needed for a media box.  I bought the SSD for $50.

Lastly I bought the a TP-Link wifi card (PCI card) since I don’t want to use an ethernet cable. Price $14. The total price of the media streamer is $103 (VAT and remote control excluded). Not bad for a versatile system like this. I didn’t decide on a remote control but I lean towards the Rii mini i8 which is about $25 (or even lower) and includes a small keyboard.

All additional components for the streaming media box. LC-1410mi case, 128Gb SanDisk SSD, TP-Link wifi card and 4Gb DDR3 1333MHz memory.

Next I will build the mediabox and install software and hopefully have the whole system running Kodi.


DIY streaming media box

Two years ago I started using XBMC (now Kodi) to stream video and audio into our living room. At the time I had a spare laptop (an Alienware X11 revision1) with Windows 7. I installed XBMC/Kodi on it and I streamed video to my television set. The audio is streamed through my Pioneer VSX-S300 slim line amplifier. Kodi is a fantastic piece of software and it serves all my needs but operating it with keyboard and mouse is clumsy. Also the Alienware can become noisy and booting Windows can take a long time (even longer when an update is required). Lastly I like my Alienware X11 and always thought it was a shame to use it as a media box. The X11 is still a very nice portable gaming machine for my sons.

My current set-up with an Alienware X11, a Pioneer VSX-S300 and a pair of Boston Acoustics speakers. Operating is is clumsy with the Alienware keyboard and a mouse

Since I have a spare Celeron G1610 and an LGA1155 based MSI motherboard (BM75MA-E33) from a previous project I figured that I can make a cheap media box out of it. In addition to this I need a small case, a power supply, 4Gb of DDR3 memory, a small and cheap HD or SSD (I only want to stream), Wifi, IR receiver and remote control. I could probably boot from USB and do without the HD/SSD but that would prolong the boot time. Since my son wants to upgrade the memory of his PC I can use the 4Gb DDR3 1333MHz that he is using currently. All in all I’ll try to do this project for $130 (case, HD/SSD, remote control and wifi).

The MSI B75MA-E33 motherboard with Intel Celeron G1610 and a stock cooler.

As operating system I’ll probably go with OpenELEC (or maybe Ubuntu). OpenELEC is Linux based and it is built around Kodi. It is lightweight and it will therefore probably boot very fast. It has support for Intel and Intel’s HD graphics which are built in to the Celeron.

Next I’ll pick the additional components, order them and build the system.


Cheap game PC upgrade for my son (is the AMD A10 becoming to hot?)

After upgrading my sons PC (see my previous blog entry) with a AMD A10-7800 processor and a AsRock FM2+ motherboard we downloaded the Steam client and played two games: Left4Dead and Kingdom Rush. Especially during Left4Dead the temperature of the computer case felt uncomfortably high but we didn’t know how high. I do know however that AMD CPU’s in general tend to become hotter that the Intel competitors and was a bit worried. We therefore installed Psensor to monitor the CPU and motherboard temperature. During Left4Dead the CPU temperature rose to 63 degrees Celsius which left us with the question: is this too high?

I decided to turn to the PC Gaming community on Google+ with this question.  As it happens this community proved very helpful and according to them 63 is nothing to worry about. The critical temperature is 74 degrees Celsius. To be on the save side we installed an additional case fan. Finally we ran a test with a Linux program called Stress. Stress is was a simple workload generator and maxes out the CPU to 100%. During the test the temperature rose to 66 degrees Celsius which is, again according to the PC Gaming community, acceptable. Happy with this result we decided to stop tinkering and start gaming.

stress running on our AMD A10-7800 with Ubuntu 14.04LTS. The CPU’s are at 100% while the temperature didn’t go beyond 66 degrees Celsius.

Cheap game PC upgrade for my son.

With kids growing up their PC performance needs change rapidly. My son has a small PC that served him well for a couple of years. It had a Celeron (1610) processor, a MSI B73MA-E33 mini-ITX motherboard, 4Gb of DDR3 RAM and a 1 TB HD which fits nicely in a LC Power computer case (1400mi). The operating system was Linux Mint 16. The case didn’t allow an decent additional graphics card because of its limited height. The total sum of all components was $220 at the time which even by today’s standards cheap. The PC booted fast, was quiet and cool and could even run some modest games like Minecraft and simple 2D games.  But now my son wanted to move to more advanced 3D games like Team Fortress and DOTA 2. These games simply cannot be played on the Celeron.

For his new PC we wanted maximum (game) performance for a minimal amount of money (about $200). To reach this goal we had to use the LC Power case, the 1 TB HD and the 4Gb DDR3 RAM. My son wanted a AMD A10 processor because of the on-board graphics capabilities (8 GPU cores). But the LC Power case has a modest 200W power supply so he chose the AMD A10-7800 which has a TDP of only 65W. Additionally he choose a ASRock FM22A88M Extreme4+ microATX board.

The LC Power 1400mi, a cheap computer case with 200W power supply built-in. It even looks nice.

The ASRock board fits in the case but everything is so cramped that there is hardly any room left for the cables. One look at the image below of the inside of the case shows that this is not my finest hour in PC builds but it works. Getting the software to work was a bigger problem. Linus Mint that was already on the HD could only be started in recovery mode. After a couple of tries I gave up and installed a fresh version of Ubuntu 14.04LTS (which is somewhat similar to Linux Mint). This worked perfectly. It appears that all hardware is supported by Ubuntu and the OS is very zippy.

Inside of the LC Power. The microATX fits but there is hardly any room for cable management.

For just below $200 we have upgrade a PC with office like specs to a game PC. It is not a speed monster but hopefully we can squeeze just enough performance to serve my sons needs. The next couple of days were going to test games on the PC. Hopefully we get some adequate frame rates.

My son behind his PC running Steam on Ubuntu. He’s quiet happy with the speed of the system right now.

malware PC

Cryptolocker removed

A friend of mine brought in his PC that had, according to him, some issues. I’m not an IT security expert but I’m the guy that family and friends turn to if they have problems with their computer. These problems can vary from malware, adware, slow computer and so on. I decided to boot the PC and take a look. After start-up it was clear that his PC (generic ASUS laptop with Windows 7 installed) had been infected with CryptoLocker.

I’ve red about it but had never seen in the ‘wild’. My normal strategy when I encounter malware/adware is to run MalwareBytes first and then AdwCleaner. Just to be save I also run DrWeb Cureit!. However in this case, because of the severity of the problem, I started with Kaspersky Rescue Disk 10. I created a bootable CD (on a Mac) with the Rescue Disk iso file. I booted the PC with the CD and a full day of scanning the Rescue Disk only found a few infected files (see image below). After I rebooted the PC with Windows 7 CryptoLocker was still very alive.

So I decided to return to my regular Malwarebytes/AdwCleaner strategy. Malwarebytes came up with hundreds of infected files but was not able to remove CryptoLocker. Next I tried booting in Windows Save Mode. Normally this is F8  but somehow the PC didn’t respond to that (due to CryptoLocker?). A bit desperate I interrupted the next boot process. This gave me the option to Launch Startup Repair (from the Error Recovery Window). This brought me in the Advanced Boot Options Window and from there I could start Windows Save Mode with Networking.

Next I ran Malwarebytes (update first) and Adwcleaner. This time Malwarebytes did detect CryptoLocker and could remove it. From then on it was simple to remove the other unwanted programs. With CCleaner I fixed issues e.g. with the registry. The PC is clean again however all document (jpg, docs etc) are encrypted. Luckily my friend had a back-up disk of the documents. I scanned with Malwarebytes and McAfee (which was on his PC).

Cryptolocker in the wild.

Results Malwarebytes with Windows 7 in Normal Mode already gives 326 infections.

Malwarebytes in Safe Mode finally nails CryptoLocker.

All documents on the PC are encrypted.