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The "amPC"
By Jamie Kitson - Posted on July 31, 2003

Click image to magnify

The internal power lead screwed to part of the rear panel and the copper heat sink / transfer plate bent to shape. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't keep the copper flatter while I was cutting it (as clearly the flatter the copper the more contact there will be between it and the CPU) but I didn't have the patience to cut the whole thing with a hacksaw, so bought a hacksaw blade for my jigsaw and jigged around with that for a bit.

Click image to magnify

More finally positioned stuff. I drilled 4 holes in the phono stage PCB and screwed the hard drive to it. I had to drill an extra hole in the DC-DC converter and drilled corresponding holes in the front board, used a couple of nuts as spacers and bolted it in place.

Click image to magnify

And the final product, pretty much. You can see some of the (electrically non-conductive) heat transfer grease squeezed out around the original heatsink (I decided that this was the easiest and most reliable way of attaching the copper plate to the mainboard and it would add some more heat slinkiness. Though at this point the words "sledgehammer(s)", "crack" and "nut" were coming to mind :) In the end I did wire up the front panel power button to use as the power button. I realised I did need one, and besides, you can stop the power button from doing anything (unless you hold it down for 10 secs), So I took the switch apart and removed the pin which makes the switch latch, and then broke the switch with some over zealous plier use on the reconstruction.

Click image to magnify

Some careful plier use and a cable tie later all was well, and I had a power switch. Wiring up the LED and power switch was very easy, the LED already had a suitable connector and I used another connector from the amp and soldered it to the switch connectors on the PCB.

Click image to magnify

And my test setup. After I had checked and double checked everything I could think of, I plugged the PSU in and pushed the power button. Nothing happened. Quite a bit of swearing happened and I drew all sorts of conclusions about damaging the motherboard when I ripped the heatsink off, or maybe I hadn't checked that the motherboard was properly isolated.

The first thing I did was to check that the power button worked with a multimeter, which it did, so next I checked the connection in the motherboard hand book, and sure enough I had the connector across pins 8 and 7 rather than 8 and 6. So I pressed the power button again, heard a loud click through my speakers, which I wasn't too keen on, but the monitor clicked into life and it looked happy :) I left the PC in bios on the PC Health Status screen to watch the CPU temperature, it peaked at 61 degrees, and apparently in bios the CPU is almost under maximum load, or at least gets close to the maximum temperature. After I had installed windows another check on CPU temperature revealed that it had reached 67 degrees, a bit warm for comfort, but it seems ok to me, and the heatsink wasn't even getting close to the temperature of the north and south bridge heatsink.

Click image to magnify

A couple of days later, once I had moved my installation of windows and set up everything the way I wanted it, I put the lid on and positioned the amPC in the only space I had available, over my current amp. I'm not sure if it was having it over the warm amp, having the cover on, the incredibly hot weather we'd been having (this was 14th July) or the updates that took almost 100% of the processor for about 8 minutes, probably all of the above, but it became extremely hot. A reboot allowed me to view the CPU temperature, which had reached 74 degrees. I quickly removed the cover and used it to fan the board :) The whole of the aluminum heat sink was hot to the touch, and the bridges heat sink was taking the skin off my fingers. I was just thinking to myself the network chip seems a bit hot, when the server seemed to stop routing internet traffic. I could still ping it, but I wasn't able to browse from any computer other than the server. I decided to take the server off the amp. After restarting all machines concerned, everything worked again, and I breathed a sigh of relief, it was a nice breeze in my, by now, stifling room. I wasn't looking forward to having to take it all apart again to drill more holes in the bottom and top of the case, adding a fan would kind of defeat the object :-/ I decided that since the bridges heatsink was the thing that was warmest, I should provide that with some extra ventilation.

Click image to magnify

The dreaded holes weren't so scary after all :)

Click image to magnify

And they work splendidly :D So this is the finished product. If you think there has been a lack of pics of its rear end, there is a reason...

Click image to magnify

It's a bit of a pig's ear :-/ but it's functional, and I do need to sort something out so that I can attach the firewire/extra USB ports for when (if!) I get an iPod (yeah I know they use USB too, but disks are up to 70% faster with firewire compared to USB 2.0).

Conclusions

The problem with not having any fans doesn't seem to be getting the heat away from the cpu, it seems to be getting it out of the case. I did think about extending my copper T to include the Bridges (like The Hush and The Tranquil PC), but was worried that in my case, rather than help matters, it would just heat up the CPU even more.

Building a totally silent computer is not possible! Every time you take away the loudest thing your ears adjust to hear the next loudest. I run a webcam which writes to the hard drive once a second, so I replaced the old loud drive I had with a Seagate Barracuda, apparently one of the quietest, but it was still annoying me at night (this was once I had taken the fans away, which used to drown out even the old hard drive) so I bought a flash drive and put the webcam software and temp file on that. But then instead of the hard drive seek, I could hear a clicking sound, which actually seemed louder than the hard drive seek (the click was actually coming from the motherboard, and was absent with my USB 1.1 flash drive, but not the faster USB 2.0 drive). So now I use RAM drive and have a batch file copy the software to it on start up. But there is still noise. The DC-DC converter has a quiet high pitch whine, and there are lots of quiet clicks and ticks coming from the motherboard, none of them loud enough to bother me while I am in bed, so the harddrive whirr is the only thing I can hear now.
I walked into my room today to find a very happy cat asleep on a not so happy server. Maybe I shouldn't have sanded the burns from the holes so well :)

The site I am serving is here , though I am only on a normal broadband connection so please only visit if you are interested, thanks :)

Shout outs to me muva Sally, and Pete at Steyning Motor Spares for the nuts, bolts, screws, patience and, as always, good humour :)

Now, can anyone provide a good home to some transistors and a toroidal transformer for a Cambridge Audio A4? Think you'll have to pay the postage on the toroidal though :) and if anyone would like to commission me to make an ITX out of a cd player I think it would be the perfect case - cd tray, display window and buttons you can actually do useful things with, though no heatsinks, so you'd have to have some fans hanging around...



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