Introduction: Vintage Toaster Computer

About: Just a dude who reads a lot of Instructables.
I had a sweet Quad-core desktop PC with 4GB of RAM.  It was awesome.  The only problem was I wanted to have it on 24/7 as a server, and I made the mistake of hooking up a Kill-a-watt meter to it.  Idle, it was using over 160W, and under load was peaking above 200W!  That comes out to over $14 per month to keep this beast at idle.  Now, that's not much money, but I knew I could almost get away with less.  My general activities include very light image editing with GIMP, web surfing, and quite a bit of HD video decoding, which I was offloading to my completely overpowered Nvidia graphics card anyway using VDPAU.

I had this sweet old toaster sitting around that I'd gutted years ago.  Until recently, Mini-ITX offerings haven't included sufficient horsepower to do 1080p decoding smoothly.  The Nvidia ION chipset changes all that, since it support VDPAU extremely well, and ZOTAC's motherboard are very full-featured, allowing me to keep my 3-drive software RAID, boot HD and even hook up my burner with USB.  The board I used even has WiFi!  

There's a bunch more information at my website if you're interested.  On to the instructions!

I completed this project in an evening, and didn't take any pictures along the way, so this is an attempt at reconstruction of what actually went down.  I'm also typing this using the very toaster PC that this instructable is about, so this may be a bit more difficult than it could be. 

You'll need...

Step 1: Cutting the Case

To expose the back of the toaster PC, we must take off a small piece of the toaster shell.  This is painful, as cutting anything this old and cool makes you die inside just a little.  But as long as we make it better in the end, it's totally worth it.

I used a plama cutter (overkill, I know) to take this section out.  I just eye-balled it, and tweaked around the motherboard until it fit about right.  Make sure to do the correct side of the toaster!  It helped me to lay the motherboard inside the case and approximate where the connectors lined up. Be careful of ESD though - it could easily kill your brand new motherboard!

NOTE: The picture below is of the front of the toaster, but the back looked identical.  Pick which end of the toaster you want to be the back and cut that end.

Step 2: Adding Standoffs and Glue

This is important, as we don't want the metal case to touch any part of the solder points on the back of the motherboard.  This would probably short out and fry quite a few components, and would be a terrible fire hazard to boot.  So, I happened to have ordered a Metal Hardware Assortment from Electronic Goldmine, which included all the standoffs and matching screws I needed. I simply found 4 matching standoff/screw pairs, and put them on the board, tight enough to hold it up.

In the picture, which I took after the fact, I've already hot glued the standoffs to the toaster body.  Make sure you connect any hard-to-reach components to the board before mounting it inside the toaster.  SATA, USB headers, and RAM should all be installed prior to hot gluing.

Make sure you don't allow any of the components on the side of the board touch the toaster body either.  I found I could drip hot glue pretty accurately through the slots in the top to hit the upper standoffs on the board.  I also added those cute little feet on the right - they just make it sit slightly more level, but they're not strictly necessary.

Once you let your glue set up for at least 5 minutes, your board is mounted!  Don't be afraid to use more glue than it looks like is needed - it has a hard time sticking to the smooth metal surface.  It's non-conductive, glob that stuff on there!

Step 3: Hook Everything Up!

The picture shows how mine looks in the back - a complete mess.  I plan to clean this up more when my cables come in.  My RAID5 is running degraded at the moment (I live on the edge!), but that will be remedied with my eSATA-SATA adapter cable which is currently in the mail.  I also have a USB-SATA converter coming that will let me hook up my Blu-Ray burner again.

I measured the power consumption again with my Kill-a-watt.  Idle, the computer with all the drives hooked up consumes' between 60 and 70 watts, a 100W savings!  That's 2.4KWh per day I'm saving, and I can do all the same things I needed to do before.  I just processed some video from my camera that I uploaded to YouTube (it's on the next step), and that took absolutely forever since it was 100% Atom processor instead of Nvidia chipset.  But, I do that so rarely that it doesn't really matter.  Overall, I'm very pleased!

Step 4: Optional: Enable Wake-on-LAN

To save even more power, use Wake-on-LAN!  This lets your computer stay completely off (except for the ethernet card) until it's signaled to turn on by a magic packet (yes, that's really what it's called).
  1. Go into the CMOS
  2. Chipset -> South Bridge Configuration -> On board Gigabit LAN boot ROM -> Enable
  3. Boot into Linux
  4. $ ethtool eth2 # change to whatever interface it shows up as
  5. $ ifconfig eth2 # write down the hardware address
  6. Make sure it has a 'g' after the Wake-on-LAN options
  7. Find another computer and install Wake-on-LAN client software (to send the messages)
  8. Shutdown your ZOTAC
  9. $ wakeonlan -p 7 [MAC address of ZOTAC] # That's PORT 7, not PORT 9 - the default
It totally doesn't work on port 9, so configure whatever WoL client you're using to use port 7.

Step 5: Optional: Add More Powahh! (Sorry, Scotty...)

If you want, you can add more power plugs by just cutting and soldering the included cable a little.  As long as you're not over-taxing the little PSU that comes with this thing (I just wanted one more hard disk, which is only 6-15 more watts), you should be golden.  The SATA controller supports 4 devices, and I totally got it working.

Just find an old power supply with a molex male connector, and a SATA to molex female extension.  Then solder the old molex male onto a spliced area on your ZOTAC power thing.  It's pretty simple - if you understand basic DC power and molex connectors, you should be all set.  Make sure to get the grounds correct!  If you don't, you could end up with +5V and -12V, which is NOT good.

Step 6: The Expected Behavior

I shot a little demo video of the thing booting up and playing some HD content with SMplayer and VDPAU, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio out.  It sounds AMAZING.
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