Introduction: Easy Home Digital Hub - Windows 10 and Intel

Picture of Easy Home Digital Hub - Windows 10 and Intel

Hi and welcome to my very first Instructable. I have been wanting to write one for a while, but I never seem to have the time to finish a project, let alone write about it! Anyway, lets get on with it and I hope you find it useful!

Have you thought it might be a good idea to have a shared family calendar? Perhaps somewhere to store recipes? How about easy weather updates? In fact, why not all of those things at once? I have been saving tons of amazing instructables and articles which call for the Raspberry Pi to be used as the low power central hub for the home. These looked fantastic but mostly called for setting up some custom code and were limited in some way due to the hardware configuration. It always put me off, all the custom code and bits which "may" be necessary, not because I can't do it (although that is a potential consideration but because I have enough things to worry about and wanted something that would just work and look good.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was playing with my surface 4 pro and decided to give tablet mode a go. Flicked it on, so far, so good, tried out the weather app (looked amazing), calendar (same), netflix, plex, spotify, just about everything you could possibly want. It looked great, worked great and it was already built in to my laptop! Man, I wish I had one of these in the kitchen! Obviously that is a bit of an expensive way to synchronize my family and I don't want to give up my surface for the purpose, but it got me thinking! I wanted a large touch screen tablet!

Step 1: Hardware Selection

Picture of Hardware Selection

I have a LOT of tech kicking around the house and office, its a mix of equipment from jobs, test gear and just old projects. Rifling through some of this I came across a budget touch screen (HannsG 23" - £160) and an Intel compute stick I had been given. I also had an Intel NUC, a couple of other screen options and I even looked at an old android TV in case I was barking up the wrong tree with Windows 10.

The selection process

I do a fair bit of tinkering with computers, mostly hardware, I am sadly no programmer and most of all, I am super busy. So, I wanted a simple, cheap and quick solution for this project, but, crucially. I also didn't want to spend any money, at all, under any circumstances. I appreciate that you will most likely not have the bits that I have kicking about, but you may have something similar and here, I urge you to improvise. The hardware is the easy bit!

A word on the NUC (Next Unit of Computing)

These little computers are awesome. Just amazing. A bit pricey but they work day in, day out, can be easily stripped, cleaned and put back into service and are just generally one of my favourite bits of kit for servers, interactive installs, basically everything. But. And there is a but. For this project, it just seemed like using a sledge hammer to crack a walnut. This unit is going to be used for some light streaming and even though its spare, using a computer worth several hundred pounds seemed like a waste. If you have something like this and you want to use it, do. You won't be disappointed but it is overkill.

The Compute Stick

I am using one of the early generation compute sticks for this project. In stark contrast to the NUC, I am not a fan. They do an OK job but I have killed a few of them doing updates to windows 10 and I am not 100% convinced that the wifi is good enough for anything more than basic browsing. All that to one side, I had one spare and I wasn't likely to use it for anything else. Ever.

Step 2: Setting Up the Compute Stick

Picture of Setting Up the Compute Stick

This was, by a long way the most difficult part of the entire process.

I am using an early compute stick which is low on power and low on memory and updating to windows 10 using the built in upgrade mechanism, whilst possible, is hardly fun. So I decided to go a different route.

I grabbed an old MicroSD card, loaded it up with a windows image from the Microsoft Installation Media doo-dah and then put that MicroSD card in the Compute Stick. Now, lots of tutorials will tell you to gather drivers for Windows 10 first. I am absolutely sure that is a great idea, it all sounds very reasonable and it probably works just fine. I didn't. And it worked, just fine. I will happily admit to being a bit annoyed with Microsoft over the years, I loved windows 7, but I also suffered windows 8, Windows ME and of course Vista. Biut 10. 10 is a great operating system and if you haven't tried it yet. You really should.

So, in summary.

  • Blank Compute Stick - Save any data you may need!

If Windows boots from Windows Start, type Recovery and select Recovery Options. If Windows fails to boot, the recovery process should automatically start. If Recovery does not automatically start, you can try to initiate it by pressing F8 during boot, when you see the prompt "F8 to Activate Windows 8.1 Recovery Mode." Once you are in to the recovery menu, you should have 3 options. Refresh gives your Stick a spruce up, changes some settings and keeps everything more or less as it is. Reset takes the Stick back to factory conditions and is the option I chose. The last one isn't much use to us and is a way to restore the Stick to a previous state. May be useful for you, may not. I chose to start from blank.

  • Get Installation media sorted on MicroSD.

Head to this link, https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/software-download/... and download the Media Creation Tool. You can do this by clicking the link that asks you if you need to create a USB or ISO version of the installation files. In this instructable I am assuming that you are already have Windows 8.1 on your Stick and want to upgrade. If you don't have it, you probably shouldn't use the Media Creation Tool or do any naughty pirating stuff. If you want to use a different OS, that's absolutely fine but this Instructable probably won't be tons of help to you! Insert the MicroSD card.

  • Plug in the Compute Stick to the monitor, insert the power cable and boot the whole shebang up.
  • Fire up the Upgrade on your MicroSD card and follow all of the prompts to install Windows 10.

This, can take a very long time. It doesnt always, but it can! Try not to turn your Stick off, look at it funny or subject it to anything that even remotely resembles motion. Upsetting the upgrade process on these with even a moderately unkind word can lead to at best, having to do it again and at worst, a dead Stick.

  • Once the update is complete, that should be it. Take a quick peek at the device manager to make sure all your kit is running the way it should and update any drivers that need it.

Congratulations, you now have a working Windows 10 Compute Stick! Now on to the fun part. Selecting what software to put on it!

Step 3: Installing and Setting Up the Software

Picture of Installing and Setting Up the Software

Now this part involves a lot of personal choice. I am just going to outline what I put on my setup and a brief explanation of why, and, where applicable any performance related issues. I have put links below but where possibly try to install the windows 10 app for each from the store. It makes the experience a bit more natural.

Built In Calendar

Is it as good as google calendar? No, not in my opinion, but it can display your google calendar and interact with it. Out of the box it looks great, works well, loads quickly and is touch friendly. You can select an alternative, but I like this one!

Built in Weather

I love this! It looks great, has more information than you could reasonably need and allows you to check up on other places too. So far it has been pretty accurate.

Netflix

We use Netflix a lot, and so being able to watch in the kitchen while cooking is great. Of course, we could use a chromecast but this offers the opportunity to have Netflix at the touch of a button instead of taking out phone, unlocking, opening app, selecting Chromecast, selecting the device and finally getting what you want on the screen. Netflix

Spotify

I don't think this needs too much explaining. We subscribe to spotify and having the option to listen to tunes in the kitchen instead of watching Netflix adds some versatility. Spotify Website

Plex

In our front room is a QNAP NAS with 6tb of storage and an Intel NUC acting as a Plex server. We mostly use our phones to cast content from this server to screens and speakers around the house. Plex is fantastic and the pro's of using it are far beyond the scope of this article. However, I would like to say I am a proud Plex pass subscriber and it is one of the handful of apps that I am more than happy to pay for. For more information visit the Plex Website.

Tunein Radio

This is an app available from the windows store. Its simple and the interface isn't the best, but it has some great content. You can listen to love radio or catch up on previous programs. We mostly use it for Radio 4 but give it a whirl, its very good! TuneIn Radio Website

Chrome Browser

Personal choice this one. Edge is better than IE but I still prefer Chrome. Install your browser of choice, life is too short to argue which is best.

Great British Chefs

I haven't started to migrate favourite recipes over to the screen yet, I suspect some sort of google drive setup to save scanned and pdf recipes (If any of you have a good suggestion on this I would love to hear it!) In the meantime, this offers some amazing ideas for food and no kitchen computer would be complete without some food based stuff! It looks fantastic, has overview, ingredient and cooking modes and allows you to save your favourites. Give it a go, or suggest some alternatives! Great British Chefs on the Windows Store

Honorable mentions and things I still want to try.

Try the ones below, don't. Its up to you! The beauty of using something like windows 10 is most apps will work and as long as you keep in mind the computational limitations of the compute stick, you will be absolutely fine!

Huetro - Control your Hue lights Huetro

Maker with Cortana - Good Article on Cortana and IFTTT

Step 4: Mounting and Keeping Things Tidy

Picture of Mounting and Keeping Things Tidy

Finding a mounting location is obviously a matter of personal choice but here are some points to consider:

  • Proximity to cooking area if you intend to use recipes.
  • Proximity to wifi signal
  • Proximity to power supply for monitor and Compute Stick (try not to use long USB extension cables)
  • Use of horizontal versus vertical space
  • Glare from windows

Now, I chickened out of drilling holes for now. The time will come to wall mount the PC and screen but I am still considering this project as a prototype (I have to sort out wireless range extension to ensure I have a reliable connection for streaming. But, if you are happy with your setup then I would say fixing to the wall is the way to go. This means that you have more workspace available for chopping. Put your computer somewhere that you will be able to use it and don't be afraid to experiment.

Step 5: The End - or Is It?

Picture of The End - or Is It?

So, there you have it. Super simple, lots of potenital for integration with hardware such as raspberry pi and Arduino and limitless options for web pages and apps to solidify the reputation of the kitchen as the heart of the home!

Thanks for reading and feel free to leave suggestions and comments in the comments section. I would love feedback or ways to make my setup even better!

Happy building!

Comments

AnthonyR130 (author)2016-12-07

I just so happened to have done this very same project in my kitchen! The only difference is that I do not have a touch screen monitor. Instead I chose a wireless "air mouse" / keyboard combo that has programmable buttons to turn on the monitor as well. It works flawlessly!

**Something to be aware of** : I have a newer version of the intel compute stick (usb 3.0), and it does not have a "sleep" function. Apparently it has some feature built in to consume less power, but I am not a fan of how hot it always runs. I think there would be advantages to mounting a NUC on the back of the monitor even though it may be a bit more horsepower than you need.

Works great streaming cable (xfinity/comcast) while cooking!

Look up the air mouse!!!!

Great post, thanks again.

Jetsom (author)2016-07-23

I'm in the middle of a kitchen reno and was looking at incorporating some sort of a media centre in the process.... This looks like a great solution since it follows the KISS principle!

PS. I'm a huge fan of pepperplate for managing my recipes. I'm sure this could easily be incorporated into your setup!

RobW91 (author)Jetsom2016-07-24

I just had a look, it seems as easy as adding it from the windows store! https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/store/p/recipe-men...

Thanks for reading!