Over the last few of years, I was using a Dell Inspiron Laptop as my daily computer. However slowly it was showing its age and components seemed to be failing one at a time. First, the keyboard stopped working. I got around this by using a external keyboard which was also more comfortable. Then the screen went bad which I got around by using a external monitor. However having all these individual items on the desk meant having little space for anything else and unable to afford a large house with a office and large desk, I wanted to tidy up everything.
For a moment I did consider buying a branded All in one, but the exorbitant costs put me off. Secondly a lot of the all in ones come with a touch screen which I don’t really need for my work. What I needed was a PC that would not take up too much space, be usable in terms of speed and more importantly be value for money (yes I am a cheapskate!)
While browsing the internet for a possible solution, I came across an article (build) of a DIY AIO (cant find the link sorry!) where the author used a ASUS AT3IOn deluxe motherboard and screwed everything onto the back of the monitor. Using that as an inspiration, I set about gathering the required components while setting my self a strict budget of £200. To achieve this I would have to scavenge whatever parts I could from the laptop and whatever else I had lying around.
From the laptop I could scavenge the following:
- 250GB HDD (7200rpm)
- DVD R/W (SATA)
- External wireless keyboard and mouse
- 23” LG Monitor
- External Laptop Speakers
- External SATA DVD Writer
- ASUS AT3Ion-Deluxe motherboard
- 4GB RAM
- SATA Converter to connect the DVD writer to the motherboard.
- Additional I/O panel for the front USB / audio
- Additional USB panel (Optional)
- Power/HDD Led's with power / reset switches
To be a All in One pc, it had to meet certain criteria:
A) All components had to fit within the monitor,
B) Make it a silent PC
C) Use the minimal of external cables.
D) 'Try' to look like a professional job.
When I first opened the LG monitor, a screw-less design, It seemed impossible to get the components to go in there as here was no space to fit in any of the components. It was after all a chassis designed for a monitor and little else. To get the motherboard, dvd drive and usb I/o panels installed would require a lot of hacking, cutting and relocating of the casing and the monitor pcb's.
Pressed for time, my first effort was to just a kind of mock-up. It gave me a fair idea of how the end result would turn out. Still lot of work required.
For the Second attempt, I fixed everything on the back of the monitor. There was just enough space inside the monitor to accommodate the HDD, and the power brick for the motherboard. I cut the mains cable of the power brick and soldered it on the terminals of the monitor power supply there-by reducing one power cable. I also positioned and drilled holes in the plastic back of the monitor and mounted the motherboard on the outside using four plastic screws. The DVD drive was mounted on the back using some spare brackets and screws. I also drilled two small holes on the monitor front bezel to accommodate the LED's and another two on the side to fix the power / reset switch.
To connect the monitor to the display, I used a short (0.5m) long HDMI cable. This tidied up another dangling cable. After passing all the interconnect cables and ensuring no loose ends / checking for shorts, I boxed up the monitor (with some difficulty) and powered it up. Everything looked fine. I then continued with the software installation Win7 Pro dual boot with Ubuntu 11.04. Win7 is for the wife and Ubuntu for me. Everything was okay until I decided to hook up my TV to the HDMI port and use the VGA for the monitor instead. To do this I bought a short (0.5m) VGA cable off Ebay. While the monitor displayed the correct resolution in Windows, the same was not happening in Ubuntu.
A long time Ubuntu user, I am aware that there are always issues with Nvidia, Ubuntu and VGA. Tried different settings in Xorg.conf which only crashed X. I trolled hundreds of websites trying to fix the resolution problem but nothing worked. One thing I did not dwell upon was why the 'xrandr' command gave me a 'Failed to get size of gamma for output default'. At about the same time, the monitor developed a fault where by its menus would pop-up randomly and monitor settings would change. It seems that this is a common problem with LG monitors and the company usually replaces the monitors if under warranty. But mine was not. Anyway, I soon figured there was a problem with the monitor control panel board and disconnecting this would stop the menus popping up. But it also meant that I could not change settings. I could live with that.
Anyway, after several more failed attempts and more frustration at being forced to use windows at home, I came across this site http://grenage.com/xorg.html where the author beautifully explains how to configure XORG. It was mostly what I had done before but what caught my attention was in the first paragraph where he mentions a faulty cable. For some reason no other site seems to mention this. I too never suspected the cable as it was working fine in Windows. Switching to different (but considerably longer) VGA cable, I could not but be surprised at the difference it made. Straight away Grub was displayed in a higher resolution and when I checked the Display control panel all the resolutions that the monitor was capable of were listed. What a relief. Google after all is only as good as the query you use. I was now a happy man. Well almost.
While my second attempt to make an all in one was successful, the result still did not meet my third criteria of trying to make it look professional. However a routine shopping trip to the supermarket gave me another idea. The super market has a lot of 'own brand' LCD TV's. One of these TV's the 23” model that seemed to have the same screen dimensions as my LG 23”. Additionally being an All in one TV, it also had a built-in DVD player and the back was a lot ticker than normal monitors. It also had built in speakers. Perfect for my project. Now if only I could find a similar monitor that I could use the casing. I eventually picked up a faulty one on Ebay for £15. On receiving it, It came without the stand which was a bit irritating. However this TV had a provision for wall mounting. Something that I could use.
A good thing (for me at least) when compared to the LG monitor was that this TV was anything but a screw-less design. After opening the TV, I removed all the TV parts including the screen. It came as no surprise to me when I discovered that the LCD panel was the same make as my LG monitor and also had the same control board within. All the more better as that would mean less work assembling the screen. I then went about trying to fit the all the pc components inside the belly of this new casing. There was a lot of plastic cutting, drilling and adjustments but after a day’s work, I finally managed to fit everything within the case. I also scavenged the stand from my LG monitor and after making some adjustments, have used it on the new case. To cover the gaping hole at the side where the motherboard sticks out, I have used some plasticard to make a temporary cover and used the original motherboard I/O plate just to make it a bit neat. The Motherboard I/O plate adds a bit of height which I am not happy with and want to get rid off to make it look a bit sleeker.
To keep the CPU cool, I have had to add a fan to the CPU as the CPU temp. would shoot up to 50 Deg C without programs running. The only reasonably priced silent fan I could find was the Noctua 80x80x25mm. The other non-branded fan I tried sounded like a hair drier. The Noctua also has a Low noise and Ultra Low noise connector which reduces the fan speed and thereby the noise. I have used the Low noise adapter. This maintains the CPU at a relatively cool 27Deg C. It does stick out from the chasis but that another compromise.
For the speakers, I have dismantled the USB powered speakers and used its amplifier board to connect to the internal speakers. Not quite as powerful as a dedicated TDA chip but good enough. I do use headphones most of the time anyway.
After having used the PC now for several months, I am quite happy with the results though I can do a better job of the finishing. I can also operate the PC with just one power cable as the motherboard has built-in WiFi & Bluetooth. However WiFi is not really desirable when you have a NAS and need to transfer large files. To my bad luck the on-board LAN is stuck at 100mbps although it is supposed to work at gigabit speeds. Seems to be a problem with this chipset. Interestingly a PCIe LAN card with the same chipset works at full speed. No amount of e-mails to Realtek or ASUS has helped solve the problem and there seems to be no known solution. I did install a PCI-e gigabit LAN card but this spoils the look of the PC and therefore have decided to live with 100mbps. I have also overclocked the CPU to 2.1Ghz from 1.6Ghz. Any higher and the PC is unstable and crashes frequently. The amount of usable Ram is also limited to 3GB for reasons best known to ASUS.