PDA

View Full Version : Using Fit-PC as Embedded Slim Server



artplow
2008-08-17, 13:34
Many times I wish to listen to music, particularly my ripped CDís, without running either my laptop or desktop computers. In addition to concerns with energy consumption as well as wear and tear, these PCís can be distracting, particularly if we wish to fall asleep to music. For these reasons, I began looking for a laptop and desktop alternative to run Slim Server.

I began searching the web in earnest for a low-cost, minimalist PC solution to run Slim Server 24/7. My requirements were that the PC be inexpensive, minimalist in design philosophy, silent, cool-running, trouble-free, energy efficient, easy to use, and above all else, run Slim Server flawlessly. This is challenging laundry list of functionality needs.

After considering a number of embedded PC designs, thin clients, etc., I settled on the Fit-PC, manufactured by CompuLab of Haifa, Israel.

I will not go into all of the Fit-PC specification details here, instead giving the reader this link to learn all they want to know about the Fit-PC: www.fit-pc.com. I opted for the Windows XP version because, like it or not, we live in a Windows world and because XP is robust and a proven performer. Linux would probably work as well, or nearly as well, for those wanting to save money.

The Fit-PC has an internal 60 GB laptop-type HDD and only 256 MB of DDR memory in keeping with its minimalist design. This is sufficient to run Windows and Slim Server, and even do some multitasking. Keep in mind this is not a very fast computer. It took several hours to install everything: Windows Updates, AVG Free anti-virus software and updates, the Slim Server application, load my music collection, and then configure everything to run automatically in case of a power failure. I used one of my flat screen monitors and left-over keyboard and mouse to configure the Fit-PC. I tested the system by pulling the plug from the wall to simulate a power failure, and then plugging it back in to simulate power restoration. After some more fiddling with Windows to allow it to boot without need of passwords, etc., the Fit-PC eventually booted perfectly and then started Slim Server without a single keystroke or mouse click. The boot process is lengthy, taking several minutes as the tiny device swaps data between its paltry 256 MB memory and Windows swap space. Once it gets up and running, itís as solid as a rock.

My network configuration uses a DSL portal to the internet, in turn connected to a Linksys wireless router. My desktop uses a wired Ethernet connection to the router, and the familyís laptops connect wirelessly through WEP encryption. The Squeezebox also connects to the network wirelessly. In keeping with the minimalist concept, the next challenge was how to connect the Fit-PC to the network without buying more wireless equipment or access points. The solution was to use the Squeezebox as a wireless bridge for the Fit-PC. Follow this link for more info on using the SB3 as a bridge: http://wiki.slimdevices.com/index.php/Network_Design#Bridging

I used a standard Ethernet patch cable between the Fit-PC to my router for the initial configuration of the Fit-PC to download Windows updates, AVG Free, and Slim Server. Once I had these installed, I swapped network connections by disconnecting from the router and then connecting to the Squeezebox using a crossover Ethernet patch cable. Once the Fit-PC was running Slim Server, I ran the networking setup again on the Squeezebox by holding the left-button for five seconds. The Squeezebox recognizes the bridged Fit-PC as an Ethernet and automatically assigned IP addresses with no problems.

Bridged through the Squeezebox, I was able to complete the configuration and testing process for the Fit-PC. It was really a thrill to fire up the music for the first time with this somewhat unconventional set-up. I was able to simultaneously download a software patch for AVG Free through the Squeezebox network bridge, do a Google search to figure out how to turn off the password at boot, and play either FLAC music files or internet radio with no problems at all and with no drop-outs. The Fit-PC actually worked surprisingly well in this multi-tasking environment, albeit it does not have snappy speed. Rather, it plods reliably along doing what it needs to do. After setting up my play lists and favorite internet radio addresses in Slim Server, I used Windows to power down the Fit-PC before un-plugging it from the wall.

Next came the real testÖ disconnecting the monitor, mouse, and keyboard as part of the final installation as an embedded device with my audio system. Connected to the system via the crossover Ethernet patch cable to the Squeezebox only, I plugged the Fit-PC into the power strip and held my breath. It does not have any LEDís or anything else to indicate it is running, which adds appreciably to the drama. This is the minimalistís minimal PC. Just as I was about to give up on its lengthy boot/startup process, the Squeezebox display lit up to the familiar Now Playing screen. Success!

My entire music collection and play lists reside on the Fit-PCís 60 GB HDD. My collection is not all that large, consisting only of 103 CDís/1,100 songs, taking up 22.1 GB of storage ripped as FLAC files. The 60 GB HDD is less than half-full in my case, so whether or not you will need an external HDD to store your music depends on how much music you have. I recommend that you leave about 5GB on the HDD open for swap space.

Performance-wise, I donít see any appreciable difference running the Squeezebox from Slim Server on the Fit-PC as opposed to either the laptop or desktop. The music files seem to load just as well and I am able to get through the Squeezebox menus via the remote control with no delays or glitches. The sound quality is superb.

I have the Fit-PC configured to power down the HDD after 15 minutes since I listen to internet radio frequently. I chose 15 minutes so the HDD is not constantly starting and stopping while it loads FLACS, adding to wear and tear. The Fit-PC is totally silent. The aluminum case, which acts as the Fit-PCís heat sink, is just slightly warm to the touch as it runs Slim Server. When I was downloading, configuring, and otherwise multi-tasking, the Fit-PC case was warm, but not very.

My input interface with the Fit-PC is the Squeezebox remote, which took a leap of faith since I was using my laptop to control the Squeezebox via the Slim Server application and interface. It is truly an embedded computer device, tightly integrated with the audio system as a whole. Now that I am accustomed to using only the remote, I actually like it much better because it is simple and easier to do.

The entire project took me about 6 hours from opening the box to relaxing with The Beatles Help! album, which was a bit longer than I thought it would take, but it was time well spent. I am very pleased with the outcome.

Some tips and advice:

ē Get accustomed to using your new Squeezebox by first running Slim Server on your laptop or desktop PC. This will give you a chance to get to know the ins and outs of the software and how it controls the Squeezebox with the benefit of being able to interact with the Slim Server interface. Once you are thoroughly familiar with the device and software, you can tackle the embedded server solution.
ē When loading software and configuring the Fit-PC, Slim Server should be the last thing you download. Make sure you have your music collection in place first either on the internal HDD or your external drive before you install Slim Server.
ē Use a standard Ethernet patch cable or wireless adapter connected to your router/WAP to initially download software and set up the Fit-PC before transitioning to the bridge connection (if you are taking the bridged route).
ē If you are going to use the Squeezebox as a wireless bridge: Once you have Slim Server running on the Fit-PC, disconnect from your standard network access point and then connect to the Squeezebox using a crossover Ethernet patch cable, or alternatively, a crossover adapter. A standard patch cable will not work (unless used with a crossover adapter). Once you have made the Squeezebox connection, you need to run the Squeezebox network setup once again as described above. When the wireless bridge is established, the Fit-PC navigates the web just as it would with any other type of network connection.
ē One thing to consider is that if you bridge the Fit-PC, you will not be able to access it wirelessly through a remote desktop-type arrangement because it is bridged to your network. Bridging has some limitations as opposed to a standard network access point. For remote desktop to work, you will need to use a standard access point solution, such as an additional WAP. I tried using Tight VNC via a wired connection to the second Fit-PC Ethernet port, but wasnít able to make this work alongside Slim Server. Perhaps someone out there can experiment some more to see if this is doable.
ē I havenít tried using the Fit-PC for a dual-conversion playback, i.e., playing a CD which produces a .wav format, and then converting that to FLAC or some other native Squeezebox format and then sending to Squeezebox for playback. All my stuff is ripped to FLACís. Since the Fit-PC is embedded, I donít usually have the benefit of a monitor, keyboard, and mouse to run software for the dual-conversion, although I probably could do this if I were willing to go through the trouble.

In conclusion, the Fit-PC on Windows XP Home Edition will not set any speed records, but it will perform very compitently as a Slim Server. It is totally silent, cool running, reliable, simple to use (once configured), and inexpensive. I think this is a better solution than a more expensive media server for many people because you also have the benefit of a fully functional Windows XP computer connected to the internet available to run whatever other applications you have need.

RonM
2008-08-17, 15:09
Nice post, Art. I'd posed questions here about the Fit PC as a server, but haven't actually acted yet. Great to know that it works (although I'd probably use a more conventional setup).

R.

artplow
2008-08-17, 18:41
Thanks, Ron. It was a lot of fun to set up, especially since I am not a network guru like a lot of the great posters here. Below is the final product:

tyler_durden
2008-08-17, 20:11
I think time will tell how "rock-stable" it is. Win XP is fine until you start allowing it to update itself. For a server (or just about any other use), Linux is definitely more stable. With linux you don't need performance robbing antivirus, anti spyware, and there won't be any security updates that demand restarts, usually at the most inopportune times.

Why would you bother with an SB if the server is going to sit next to the SB anyway? Why not just run the audio from the server directly into the amp? Putting the server and SB on top of each other sort of makes the SB pointless. I guess the SB has a nice remote control interface, but you can get add-on IR remotes for a PC that cost a lot less than an SB. A 15" LCD display plus an IR remote dongle would probably still cost less than an SB.

TD

peter
2008-08-18, 00:18
tyler_durden wrote:
> I think time will tell how "rock-stable" it is. Win XP is fine until
> you start allowing it to update itself. For a server (or just about
> any other use), Linux is definitely more stable. With linux you don't
> need performance robbing antivirus, anti spyware, and there won't be
> any security updates that demand restarts, usually at the most
> inopportune times.
>
Agreed. In fact as you move into Server-land it *is* for a large part a
Linux world!
OTOH, a Windows server behind a (NAT router) firewall that doesn't
provide services to the outside world doesn't really need to be updated
regularly.

> Why would you bother with an SB if the server is going to sit next to
> the SB anyway? Why not just run the audio from the server directly
> into the amp? Putting the server and SB on top of each other sort of
> makes the SB pointless. I guess the SB has a nice remote control
> interface, but you can get add-on IR remotes for a PC that cost a lot
> less than an SB. A 15" LCD display plus an IR remote dongle would
> probably still cost less than an SB.
>

Another good point. In fact, as I've pointed out before, you could still
use a controller to drive softsqueeze in a PC-only setup.

Regards,
Peter

peter
2008-08-18, 00:36
artplow wrote:
> I will not go into all of the Fit-PC specification details here,
> instead giving the reader this link to learn all they want to know
> about the Fit-PC: www.fit-pc.com. I opted for the Windows XP version
> because, like it or not, we live in a Windows world and because XP is
> robust and a proven performer. Linux would probably work as well, or
> nearly as well, for those wanting to save money.
>
It's generally accepted that SqueezeCenter runs better on Linux, it also
works fine as a Windows fileserver which would seem to cover your needs.
Obviously, you don't have any experience with it, which is a valid
reason to stick with XP, but please don't claim it runs *better*. In
fact on a 256 MB PC as this one Linux without X would be far superior.

> ē One thing to consider is that if you bridge the Fit-PC, you will not
> be able to access it wirelessly through a remote desktop-type
> arrangement because it is bridged to your network. Bridging has some
> limitations as opposed to a standard network access point. For remote
> desktop to work, you will need to use a standard access point solution,
> such as an additional WAP.
>

I don't see why this shouldn't work, really. The whole idea of bridging
is that two networks are joined into one. Remote desktop or VNC should
just work. Perhaps you configured something wrong in XP. In this case I
wonder if you can access the Fit-PC from your other systems at all. Can
you access the SC web interface? Can you access the disk via Windows
networking? If not, then your setup is seriously broken IMHO. If you
can, remote desktop and VNC should work also. There's nothing magical
about those protocols.

Regards,
Peter

artplow
2008-08-21, 21:46
Thanks for your feedback Tyler and Peter. I'll probably stick with what I have since it works really well and sounds great. To Tyler's point, the SB3 has much better sound circuitry than the embedded Fit-PC, so a direct output from the Fit-PC would reduce the sound quality. Also, I don't want a computer with a monitor, dongles, gadgets, or anything for that matter. I want a minimal system which has superb sound that I can afford and is easy to use. Using the SB3, which is much smaller than a typical monitor, as the interface for the embedded PC does exactly what I need it to do. I guess a lot of the discussion comes down to what you are trying to accomplish. I just want to play music easily.

Peter is quite right with my comfort level with Linux. Like the vast majority of PC users, I am not an expert with it. I have a couple of friends that have experimented with it (not in an application like this) and ultimately gave up on it because 1)there isn't nearly as much software that is available for it as compared with Windows, and 2) they fiddled with it endlessly... could well be lack of experience on their part, too. In this application, based on other's experience, Linux would work just fine, but part of the experiment was to use Windows XP on the Fit-PC to see if it would work adequately, which it does. Speedy performance in this application is not important... it just has to work. I have a home-built desktop speed demon on the home network which doesn't work any better as a Slim Server, at least not that is noticeable, than the little Fit-PC does.

From an OS stability standpoint, all I can say is that it runs 24/7 with no problems at all. The Fit-PC runs all the time and I have not had to re-start it since I first started it up. That's all I'm looking for. Even if I had to restart it once a month, I think that would be ok. If I had to restart it once or twice a week, that would probably be a pain. To be fair, if I were going to run a web server, I would not even consider using this since performance would then be a much bigger concern. In this case, it just has to serve up a FLAC file every 3-4 minutes or change web casts occasionally. Again, it is a minimalist system designed for a specific purpose.

When I have more time I am going to try VNC again. The problem was that it didn't work with Slim Server running, so maybe I have to specify address and ports, etc. If anyone out there has made this work on any OS on a bridged slim server I'd like to hear your experiences. Worst case is I would buy a USB WAP, and just access it over the network using remote desktop. BTW, I have not been able to get remote desktop to work over the bridge connection, but I don't know enough about networking to know for sure if this is how it is supposed to behave. Everything I have read on the web says it won't work... you have to have standard network connection.

Anyway, I appreciate your opinions very much. Part of the reason I posted this was to learn more about Slim Server systems, and your input is very helpful in that regard.

Best Regards,

Art