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Stealth Computers: NY Times on Mini ITX Modding 185

securitas writes "What's smaller than a breadbox? Or a toaster? Or a teddy bear? The New York Times has just discovered mini-ITX based computers (Google /CNET mirror, minus the pictures). It's a nice overview of the mini-ITX scene and suggests that small form computers are a hot growth area while the traditional PC business languishes."
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Stealth Computers: NY Times on Mini ITX Modding

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  • Mini-ITX? (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Nah, I'm waiting for Nano ITX for to be available in about half a year from now.
    • Yeah, I'm planning on building a laptop out of one. The nano-itx boards are smaller than the length of a dollar bill. 1Ghz and draws 7 watts.

      Anybody know a cheap source of ~6-10" 800x600 LCD screens?
  • ...traditional PC languishes

    What the heck? Pc business is growing [], not too fast, but there are more and more PCs sold each year. Whatever product you come up with for post-PC era, PC kills it from the price standpoint. Network computer, dedicated e-mail devices, Internet-enabled frames, image viewers you hook up to a PC - all crushed by the PC.
  • Very Cool (Score:1, Redundant)

    by SirJaxalot ( 715418 )
    Here is another article [] on the same subject.
  • there, said it
  • by niko9 ( 315647 ) * on Friday October 24, 2003 @07:26PM (#7305391)
    Things I would like to see.

    A new Linux distrubution, one aimed at including the most efficient
    programs currently being developed: Blackbox, Thunderbird, Firebird, Dillo,
    etc. Debian C3?

    A 2.6 kernel running on these things so they're more desktop resonsive, work on swsup to be stable enough that the computer will always be instant-on available, thus
    never needing a reboot.

    Start a project that aims to develop extremely efficient programs designed
    to run very well with slow procs like these. Hell if you can web browse
    on a C64, this can be done.

    If word of this can get out, then more people will question the Intel and
    Microsoft monopoly.

    Any other suggestions?

    • Any other suggestions?

      How about good ole WinXP Home with .NET Framework 1.1 and MSIE 6.0?
    • Start a project that aims to develop extremely efficient programs designed
      to run very well with slow procs like these. Hell if you can web browse on a C64, this can be done.

      Yes, it's called RedHat 3.0.

      Seriously, even a 700MHz C3 is a pretty fast machine. And it will actually run today's software quite well.

      There also is a full complement of small, efficient programs as part of the Linux handheld projects.
    • The "Damn Small Linux" version of the Knoppix distribution might fit. It's a 50M bootable ISO that concentrates on small and fast applications. It boots into Blackbox and I believe includes Dillo and Firebird.

      --Pat /
  • by DrCode ( 95839 ) on Friday October 24, 2003 @07:30PM (#7305423)
    For my first all-new PC in about a decade I wanted something that had good performance, all the various external ports (usb, 1394, audio, svideo) that I might ever want, and that was also semi-portable. A Shuttle sn41g2 fills the role nicely, with Nvidia video built in, a 2.5 Ghz Athlon, and a DVD writer. There's also an AGP slot if I ever want to get better video, and a PCI slot that I'll probably use for a TV-tuner card. It was a breeze to put together, actually easier than the larger cases I've dealt with in the past. And Linux (Gentoo) runs fine on it.

    Just before buying, I had second thoughts, and checked out the price of a Dell system. They start at around $400, around $230 less than I spent. But... that's with only 256Mb memory, no floppy, and the CD wasn't even a writer (which I didn't think you could buy anymore). "Upgrading" all those thing brought the price considerably higher than what I paid, and then I'd end up with a system with unknown pieces that might not play well with my choice of OS.
    • I was wondering when someone would mention one of the shuttle systems. I put one together last spring, and am really happy with it. Unlike some bitching in previous posts, the CPU is most definately upgradeable. I love the heat pipe cooling system.
    • by bluGill ( 862 )

      You can still get CD only readers. If you use a lot of CDs, it might be worth it, the ability to write CDs comes at the cost of a more complex mechinism (heavier laser last I checked a few years ago), which tends to break sooner.

      For most people, it isn't worth the bother of having several drives.

  • by Our Man In Redmond ( 63094 ) on Friday October 24, 2003 @07:34PM (#7305444)
    The first time I saw one I thought I was looking at a desktop stereo -- you know, the boxy plastic-and-chrome kind you'd put in an office. I didn't believe it was a computer until I got a look at the connector array in the back.

    And that was without putting it in an ET doll or a fishtank.

    I want to get my hands on one of these. With a wireless ethernet card and a set of speakers hooked to a built-in sound card you could make a very nifty wireless MP3/streaming audio player -- one that the wife wouldn't object to having in the living room.
  • thought "New York Times, Registration Required" was the name of the newspaper. New York Times [snip] [link to Google copy of article]

    And in other news, NYT(reg required) reports that Satan is wondering who turned off the heat. Also, NYT(reg required) reports that pigs were spotted on apporach for Laguardia, but nobody noticed because of the Concorde. Meanwhile, WMDs were actually found in Iraq, except only aljazira(sp?) reported it, so nobody actually believed it.

    I mean seriously- you first-t

    • He still placed a non-reg link though.

      Even though anybody who's worth a squat already has a nice passworded NYT registration account, free as in beer, and free as in Free Willy.

      The day will come when there will be a NYT link to a reg-required page with no mentioning of the procedure whatsoever.

      On that day, millions of thy cursed shall hang their head in shame and try to figure why they cannot see the article.
      • On that day, millions of thy cursed shall hang their head in shame and try to figure why they cannot see the article.

        Or, they just use slashdot124 pass:slashdot. After all, I've been telling people to use that for a couple months now, and I think an AC mentioned it first.
      • The day will come when there will be a NYT link to a reg-required page with no mentioning of the procedure whatsoever.

        No, I don't think so, and the reason is that the free registration is an excellent proxy for the free/open software debate. Most people are happy to register as Dwight Eisenhower, from 69 Up Yours Avenue, Intercourse, PA; and they get their free article. Others get all uptight over the distinction between "free registration" and "freedom", and bore everyone to tears about it in the comme
  • Lifetime (Score:4, Insightful)

    by alpha713 ( 701963 ) <> on Friday October 24, 2003 @07:35PM (#7305453)
    I applaud any company that is reducing the size of the components that we need in computers. While I'm not one to try and hide my computer in weird objects, the smaller the computer the more likely it will move into the living room as suggested.

    My only reservation is the fact that this technology may lack the ability to upgrade, quite similiar to what we find with laptops.

    That aside the PC industry has been pushing on with faster and bigger components (CPU, RAM) every few months, in an effort to stay afloat. The thing is that I still have a dual 166 which works quite nicely ( if a little noisily), under my desk. My point is that we have not needed to upgrade our computer half as much as we have.

    Yeah sure those of us that want to do funky stuff like hardcore gaming, or video editing might be an exception, but for my dad who's sole computing experience is checking his hotmail account and typing up documents, this is far from necessary.
    • I've been saying this for a few years, but never before has hardware that is 5+ years old still able to run todays operating systems as well as they do. Anyone else try running Win 3.0 on a 286 with 1mb ram "back in the day"?
      • Windows 3.0 was pretty hard going on my (dad's) 4MB 386/33, and that was a powerful machine in its day. To be honest, it wasn't umtil 486s at double the speed and memory (and by then 3.1) that it became usable. Most people just kept it for eye candy, and used DOS programs for the main work - at least I did, anyway.

        Machines today are *much* better. But I think that may be the Unix illusion. I've just retired my k6-2/333 mainboard and replaced it with a Mini-ITX 1ghz. This is a mchine that's been runni

    • "Yeah sure those of us that want to do funky stuff like hardcore gaming, or video editing might be an exception, but for my dad who's sole computing experience is checking his hotmail account and typing up documents, this is far from necessary."

      Until it's time to apply some software upgrades for security reasons... and then you find that the old software which runs just fine isn't patched or even patchable anymore. If it's a proprietary OS or app, oh well.

      But say it's an OSS app -- you track down the auth
      • Re:Lifetime (Score:2, Insightful)

        by RedK ( 112790 )

        If I had mod points, i'm mod you down to Troll. I've had my current PC for about 5 years now (P2-333 with 192 mb RAM), and I run a modern Linux Distro (Slackware 9.0 with KDE 3.1). It's not slow, doesnt' take 10 secondes to redraw anything and best of all, I can run the newest kernel and patch up everything. For all I do (coding, e-mail/web, some office work, music/video playback) I don't even see the need for better or faster hardware.

        Heck, I was running about the same setup I'm running now back on m

        • Don't get me wrong, I'm all for using the appropriate level of power for the job. My backup mail and web server is a K6/3-333, and I've just ordered a mini-itx system for use as a desktop.

          But, I think we have different definitions of slow. If you're happy with what you've got, fine -- I wouldn't be though.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    These form factors are even cooler. The smallest one, Femto XTX, is a mere 49 cm^2 (thats 7x7 or around 2.5"x2.5", smaller than a floppy disk!). These motherboards will be coming out commerically in early 2004, and still has a PS/2, USB, Serial, Sound, Ethernet and VGA. The 1.5 Ghz C4 coming out soon will scream on that machine. Put linux on it and the possiblites are endless!
  • These are fun... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mgarriss ( 615232 )
    I have three of the mini-ITX's in a rack that I made for $6 worth of home depot parts. I use them as diskless nodes. Total cost each is around $180, this includes board, power supply, ram, and network cable. The entire rack fits on top of one of my towers.

    They take load off my desktop box by doing things like DNS, httpd, dhcpd, fetchmail, procmail, qmail, postgres, etc...

    However I would like to see them move to gigabit ethernet.

    For the robot geeks these boards offer a lot []
  • PCs are ugly and useful. Say you want watch some divx or xvid flics that accidently got on your harddrive. Instead of dragging your beloved gaming rig up to the TV, you have a small, quiet, dedicated unit that can do the job well without the PC eyesore. Also modding is popular. The small footprint of these boards allow modders more freedom of expression. These PCs are not going to run Doom3 or Half-life 2 but sometimes are better not seen or not heard. HTPC (Home Theater Personal Computer) you are goi
  • by wjr ( 157747 ) on Friday October 24, 2003 @07:45PM (#7305504)
    Just this morning I put in an order for the parts required to make a new server for our home network. The principal requirement was that it be low-wattage: living in California (home of the gouging power companies), I didn't want to leave a 100+ watt machine turned on all the time.

    After reading a lot of info about the various mini-ITX boards, cases, and so on, I settled on this configuration:

    • VIA EPIA ME6000 fanless mini-ITX motherboard (has audio, 10/100 ethernet, USB 2.0, 1394)
    • Morex 2699 mini-ITX case
    • 512M PC2100 DDR memory
    • 120GB disk
    • Slimline CD-ROM

    The total was less than $500, and I could have reduced it some more if I'd been willing to place orders with 3 suppliers, rather than getting everything from one place (

    While this machine is underpowered for a lot of computing tasks, and is a joke for playing games on, it should do just fabulously as a SMB/NFS file server, web server for pictures of the new baby, and so on. I'm downloading the Fedora beta (Severn) as we speak.

    The total power draw for this machine ought to be about 30W. Even at inflated California prices, that's less than $5/month to run. Plus, since the motherboard and case are both fanless, it should run very very quietly, and should be small enough to just tuck away on a shelf somewhere.

    Now I get to wait anxiously and see if my expectations match reality.

    • by twoslice ( 457793 )
      web server for pictures of the new baby

      A true geek would never sexually reproduce, let alone have a girlfriend - everyone knows geeks just clone themselves using a RAID 1 DNA sequencer 3000 from thinkgeek.

    • I built a file/print server out of a VIA EPIA 500Mhz unit and it works fine. I built mine in a huge ATX case as I am running a pair of mirrored 120GB drives off of a Promise controller along with a single hard drive dedicated to the OS (Win2K Server). The system handles it's task quite nicely, even with all four workstations hitting it at once.

      I think you'll be happy with the results of your system.
    • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @02:51AM (#7306916) Homepage
      120GB disk

      Just any 120GB disk can be quite noisy.. here's a couple alternatives from's database:

      Seagate Barracuda ATA V (120 GB ATA-100) - 37.8 Db
      IBM Deskstar 120GXP (120 GB ATA-100) - 45.8 Db
      Western Digital Caviar WD1200JB (120 GB ATA-100) - 47.3 Db

      Decibel is a logarithmic scale unless you know, so this is a *lot*. Since the disk will be the noisyest part of the system, I'd definately go for a Seagate
      • I just got the slower IBM/Hitachi 80 GB 2.5" (IC25N080) drive for use in a Lex Barebone [], and turning it on for the first time it really freaked me out: with two desktops churning away close by, I couldn't hear anything. Even at home with no other noise source, it's barely hearable even when accessed.
    • I've set up the same configuration (but a lower powered VIA); the power drain is low. Looking at my system statistics, the CPU is typically 0-10% idle (10% because I'm running background processing task). At 533mhz, it doesn't compare to the 2.4ghz of my desktop - but 533mhz is perfect for the requirements of home server.
  • ...influential techies at slashdot .org took notice.

    You hear that? We're influential!
  • OpenBrick is best (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
  • I've got a big old steel desk (WW 2 Government Surplus - 400 lbs. - built like a studebaker) supporting my desktop Tower PC, a couple of 20" monitors, and lots of peripherals. I think my next project will be fitting a couple of these puppies and some lightweight storage and networking gear into the space between the backs of the drawers and the desk's back. Replacing half this stuff might lighten the whole array enough that the floor lasts a few more years. It's creaking I tell you. Creaking.
    • I am considering a desk mod. The idea is to cable and setup my computer desk as a computer itself. Kind of like Crammers Coffee Table Book Coffee Table. Make the MB easy to clean and integrate the electrics. I think I won't monkey with the chair though. Make upgrades practical and I might have something. Multiboot optimised and an Apple board to boot.
  • The article missed some great mini-itx uses, projects that really need to be small. The automobile computer projects are great. The time for computers to coordinate sound systems and navigation has come.

    How far away are the nano-itx boards? The footprint of a CD is amazing.

    Will there be tiny boards with DVI connectors? Many applications in small spaces also benefit from small displays, not CRTs. LCDs and DVI go together particularly well.
  • I just bought an older Mini-ITX barebones system at the end of the summer for US$240, it's the Shuttle SK41G. It fits conveniently underneath the desk drawers in my small dorm room.

    I've added an NVidia GeForce4 Ti4200, an AMD Athlon XP 2000+, a TV-input card and it uses a VIA KM266 chipset with integrated everything else. Most of the newer mini-ITX systems use NVidia chipsets but I was too cheap. : /

    Anyways, the article says that Mini-ITX are less powerful and that VIA chipsets (some of the fastest for
  • now that they make a mini-itx with dual nics, you can build a pretty nice homemade firewall appliance out of one of these. pc-power out of something a little bigger than a linksys router. sounds good to me!
    • You could before too, they DO have one or two PCI slots in most cases.

      The onboard ethernet chip on these things (the VIA Rhine and RHINE II) are REALLY bad performers. I had mine setup with the RHINE on the 'internet' side and the Intel PRO/100 pointing to the LAN and it was decent. I wouldn't use one as a file server without a third-party NIC.
    • ok, im sorry. i should have said 'dual integrated nics.' i already knew about the pci slot, but i wanted to use that for a sata controller (if one will fit).
  • Small is good? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Call Me Black Cloud ( 616282 ) on Friday October 24, 2003 @08:42PM (#7305771)
    Hell, who has mini-ITX hands? Not me. In fact, I want a case the size of a walk-in closet. I want to see everything at eye-level on the wall. I don't want to worry about bumping a ribbon cable and taking the CD-ROM drive offline. I want to be able to have lunch inside the case while I'm working on an upgrade. Yes, with a table and chair so I can put my stuff down. And I want a monitor inside the case so if I need to look up some jumper assignment or order parts I don't have to leave the case.

    It's like cars. I like old cars, where you can practically sit in the engine bay while you work. Now to change the plugs in my car I have to remove the intake manifold and half the fuel injection harness. And damn if there isn't a computer under the hood too, so now I have to worry about bumping a ribbon cable lest I take the airbags or brakes offline.
    • Re:Small is good? (Score:3, Interesting)

      The reasons are:

      Smaller == cheaper - less materials, less labor.
      Smaller == faster - less propagation delay for signals, faster switching time for logic.
      Smaller == quieter - lower EMI through shorter transmission lines
      Smaller == less power - all of the above add up to less juice spent as heat

      Sorry but there is no way computers are getting any bigger. Say goodbyte to those big honking PCI slots because all that stuff is going to get integrated onto one little chip and you'll thank them later when you ca
      • Re:Small is good? (Score:2, Informative)

        by Brandybuck ( 704397 )
        Smaller == less standard - increased use of nonstandard integrated components

        Hardware manufacturers have traditionally supported Windows only. If you're running Linux or *BSD you've run into this problem at least once. Free software operating systems are in a continous "catch-up" mode to hardware. Last month's distro isn't going to have drivers for this week's new piece of hardware.

        The smaller you make the systems, the worse this becomes. My current system has integrated audio and ethernet, neither of whi
      • Something like PCI will always exist, my guess is that ExpressCard will take its place. What if everyone goes with 802.11a insteed of 802.11g? Do I have to buy a whole new PC?
  • I have several ideas for custom cases, but I'm not giving them away.

    I'll bet most /. readers have their own ideas (which are to them unique, but likely duplicated by others). Lets start building.

  • Anyone who's truly a geek or just a regular slashdot reader already knows about case modding and the whole mini LAN brick size cases. HA, I have my copy of Maximum PC right next to me and every issue is about case modding, not to mention all the other case mod web sites.

    I think the NY Times needs to do an article on phase cooling or water cooling.

    Everytime I tell someone I have a watercooled case with water pumping through my system I get to see the largest eyes this side of the Mississippi.
    • I think the NY Times needs to do an article on phase cooling or water cooling.

      Actually, once these miniboxes become cheap & commonplace, there is no need for watercooling. Living rooms will have the silent computer you can use for server tasks and random web access, while the gaming machine can keep a little bit noise because it's not on all the time.
  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @03:08AM (#7306947) Homepage
    Why? Because they have "enough" space. I was planning to get one when I got my current PC, but it stopped on one thing only - the (then expensive) DVD writer. I knew I was getting one "soon" (I have one now), and there wasn't room for both my old CD-RW and my DVD reader.

    Now, I would have. Two HDDs (no floppy as I never use it anyway), the 2x160gb Seagates I have now, would be plenty. Anything more could go in the hard disk rack in the server & mount them from there. You have your AGP slot for graphics, one expansion card (but pretty much all you can ask for on the mobo), fast processor and all that.

    That, and an LCD to replace this 19" CRT. Why? Because neither got any style, and I don't mean to go down the case modding route. I've got the performance I want now, what I miss is style. Something that looks small & unintrusive, not something that looks like it's about to make the desk it's sitting on cave in.

    That is, as soon as I get a job, sigh...

  • Component Failure (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ken Treis ( 90058 ) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @03:33AM (#7307025) Homepage

    I've owned about 7 mini-ITX boxes, and 3 of them have had motherboard flaws when I unpacked them (2 had bad network ports, and one had no USB). Another one worked for a month or so before the network port went bad. Still another only boots about 2 out of every three times I push the power button on. I end up having to use the one PCI slot for an extra network card just to get the network to work. Has anyone else experienced issues like this?

    I am not one to give up easily on something like this. The form factor and lower power consumption of these boards is very cool. But I've given up on Via's EPIA and EPIA-M.

    Instead of the EPIA platform, I'm now deploying servers based on the Total Impact BriQ []. And I'm much happier. I didn't need Firewire, USB (except for keyboard, and the BriQ has a serial port instead), or fancy graphics (BriQ has none, unless you count the VFD, heh). But they make slick servers.

    And they run Debian/PPC nicely, but you have to use a network install to get it software on there.

Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome. -- Dr. Johnson