Computer for RE Systems (Part 1 of 2) (Hardware)




Introduction: Computer for RE Systems (Part 1 of 2) (Hardware)

Here I will show you how I made a fully working Mini Desktop computer for small Renewable Energy systems.

The RE system that I plan to be using will be primarily a 12 Volt system with 6 or 8 Golf Cart batteries, and I will have a 700 watt power inverter to power the lights and such, but I need a computer due to being addicted to the interwebs and to be able to work, keep in contact with people, download por.... Important Files, and such.

So I need a computer that does not take much power, yet I don't want a laptop, I like a good full size keyboard and mouse. I don't really need it to play high end games, just internet and such. I also want it to run directly off of 12 Volts because a standard computer power supply brings 120 Volts AC down to 12, 5, 3.3 Volts DC. It make no sense to have 12 Volt brought up to 120 and back down to 12 again.

The standard power inverter is about 80 to 90% efficient and the standard computer power supply it about 80% efficient, so I would easily waste 40% of the power it take to run you computer.

No, I do not want that, so lets get started.

oh, also, I was it as cheap as possible.

There is a sticker on the back that says "12V 4.5A" But I have found that this system uses only 2 or less amps at 12 Volts. I have been running it off of a 2 amp 12V AC adapter for one of my external power supplies

Step 1: Look Around for One to Use and Modify

I am and ebay looker, but I hate and don't use paypal, so it's hard to buy alot of stuff, work out good for me sometimes.

Everytime I find something I am interested in, I always check the specs out on Google, I found this Wyse WinTerm WT3455XL Terminal PC on ebay for $14.99 with free shipping, It was advertised to power on , but the BIOS was locked with a password, I looked up the specs on Google and just happened to find photos of the inside of it, after seeing all the part it had, I knew I had to get it.

Inside of this terminal there is a VIA embedded CPU Micro ITX mainboard, 12 Volt PC Power Supply which is the only thing I was really after, and one open PCI slot. There is a 32MB SSD plugs directly into the primary IDE connector on the mainboard, It has what looks to be a slim version of XPe(Embedded), but it was of no use to me, there are also 2 slots for PC133 RM and it had one 64MB stick in it already.

Step 2: Remove and Add Some Stuff

Remove that 32MB SSD

Since it takes the older PC133 SDRAM I had some 256MB sticks around.

Now that we have 512MB of RAM let's add a hard drive. That 10GB one sitting on the shelf over there will work just fine.

Step 3: HDD Hookup

Since this is just a standard Desktop IDE HDD, I put the jumper to the Master position and hooked up the power and data cable, folding the cable is a good idea here, to allow the case to be put back on top.

Step 4: Wireless?

I decided to add a WiFi card since I had an open PCI slot.

Once you have the WiFi card in, the desktop is pretty much as it will be once you are done, but we still have more to do.

Step 5: Load OS

In Part 2 I will show how to load an OS on it, and how to get rid of those annoying BIOS passwords that people like to use.

I had decided to go with and old version of Ubuntu (Warty Warthog) because the embedded cpu is either 500 or 550Mhz only.

Part 2 is here.



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    17 Discussions

    how come wifi? Doesn't it have integrated ethernet? For a stationary desktop, wouldn't that make more sense? I guess if you want to have access to your 10gb hard drive from wifi mobile devices, it makes sense.. but not completely.

    Also, yeah. D-link is pretty high up there in my book as far as comparability and value.

    Have you ever made a DD-WRT or OpenWRT router? I'd slap one of those behind the monitor and plug it into the ethernet port and you effectively have a 4 port switch, a wireless router, a wireless access point, a wifi repeater and more all in one device and it leaves your pci open for a graphics card for encoding/decoding so you can use your low power consumption, fan less thin computer for watching your "important files" on your television.

    3 replies

    Also, nope, never had a need for one of those routers, I just use a NAS hard drive enclosure with a 500GB drive for movies and such.

    Thats pretty cool. I imagine an instructable exists for making a NAS but that's a project I would be interested in making. I'll have to do a little research on whats more effective/cheap 1. NAS or 2. External Firewire or USB 2.0 HDD

    I'm still burning tv shows and movies to DVDs.

    Thanks again for the good article. I am now bidding on a similar Wyse so I can feel less guilty about leaving my computer running almost all the time. I finished reading your part two and realized I should start finishing the articles before commenting cause I saw you did add a flash based drive. :) Also, thanks for the info on the x50v battery door. I'm going to go start looking for it now :)

    WiFi because I'm too lazy and cheap to bury 50 feet of underground Ethernet cable. This was mainly used in an old shed close to the house to provide a source of online radio and view PDF repair manuals.

    An IDE to compact flash converter would bring down the power consumption compared to a standard HDD.

    Alternatively, you might look into DOMs, or Disks on Module. I bought a 16gb DOM for $18 and it's faster than the average CF card and uses very little power. It has a 5v molex connector like an average hard drive, but the module is only like a few onces and the size of a gameboy advance game.

    1 reply

    I upgrade the mainboard awhile back to a 800Mhz, then to a 1.2Ghz with DDR2 RAM, for what I wanted it for a CF converter was just to slow and at the time of upgrade a 4GB DOM was around $80. I opted to spend only $5 for an adapter and use my old 40GB Laptop hard drive.

    FYI, the WT3455XLs can be amped up a bit – there is a set of jumpers next to the DIMM slots, by default, it runs 100MHz FSB with the jumpers off/ON/off/ON. Changing them to ON/ON/off/off jumps to 133 (which will require 133 DIMMs). This will bump the CPU from 550 to 733MHz.

    I got the info from the MB manual at:
    as I found it impossible to find the right MB manual/pics at the VIA site.

    These 3455XLs make pretty nice web surfers/coupon printers when you snag a lot of 5-6 on Ebay for about $10ea shipped, and already have COAs(YES, Windows - W2K still works fine)/HDs/cables laying around.

    2 replies

    I dug out the old mainboard and switched the jumpers, the only thing it accomplished was frying the mainboard. I would not advise trying this if you need the mainboard. I only tried it because I was snowed in at home and was bored and didn't need the mainboard anymore.

    if you do it one step at a time its ok to do i am actually over clocked by almost double "that cpu fan gets loud during a game

    It's a nice project, but I have couple of ideas:

    1. instead of using 3,5" hard drives, go for the 2.5" ones - they need less amps to work.
    2. If you ever decide to put a CD/DVD-ROM drive, disconnect the power from it when not in use (basicly, connect it only during the system install proces, unless you use the benefits of PXE install procedure)
    3. Never, but I mean NEVER put any computer components on a blanket, the static will kill it eventualy :)

    You mentioned not wanting a laptop mainly because of the desire for a full size keyboard. It seems that you'd have a much more energy efficient system by using an older model laptop and an external keyboard and mouse. Just make a cover for the keyboard if you want. Using an old monitor as you show definitely defeats the purpose of an efficient computer. I'm assuming you will use an LCD monitor.

    That said, this is a very good re-use of a terminal. I'm thinking about looking for one now to use with my Magic Jack, since MJ won't buckle down and support Linux. they don't seem to have anyone who can think to support a popular distro like Debian, which in turn has myrad distros based on it (like Ubuntu and myriad distros based on that).

    I used an old version because I had the CD in one of my desk drawers, and my WiFi card worked perfect with it, I have since upgraded the mainboard to one that take PC3200 Ram and has a 800Mhz, I also switched to puppy linux and that has been working prefect now. So really there is no real reason why I used and old one.

    wow this is great but i would reccomend a bigger hdd if you are using this pc for media and what not, or is this for  basic browsing and work  if it is than good job

    mmmmm, Mini-ITX board... :D Superb for low-power applications... :D

    I'd be interested in knowing when you get to the "Lookup and insert Model Number here" :-) I've hacked a number of winterm terminals, using ITX boards, for IT guys to hide in their offices....But, I've not seen that model(newer?)

    1 reply

    Fixed, Model is WT3455XL. I don't think it is a newer one, then what you have been working one, the sticker on the bottom says it was made in June 2004.