The whole Intel NUC idea has been nagging at the back of my mind since I first considered it as an option for powering the whole SDR radio thing.
The biggest doubts were around the driver issues which are discussed in various forums and on sites around the internet. If Intel can’t resolve end user issues due to internal politics what precedent does that set? Also the whole idea is this project will be a remote hidden unit. If the damn thing refuses to boot without a screen attached that’s a big hurdle to overcome.
Secondly, you’re limited by the processor of the unit in as much that there is only a limited range available in the NUC form factor and when all said and done they are dual core processors. If you move up a form factor the world becomes your oyster. Admittedly, anything has got more grunt than my poor old AMD Turion X2 laptop which I’m using at the moment, but I’m trying to future proof this thing to a degree.
Thirdly, expandability. In an ultra form factor you get none and are again limited by the external connectors the manufacturer decides to give you. When you’ve filled your 3 USB ports with the connection to the SoftRock, relay switch board and keyboard connection you’ve got nowhere to go. If a device has at least one PCI connection you open up a whole host of possibilities and options, including high end PCI sound cards.
As such, as tempting as it would be to have a PC no bigger than a drinks coaster at the centre of this, common sense was starting to prevail. Think laptop with restrictions plus and you know where I’m coming from!
So, once again back to our old trusted work horse the mini-ITX form factor.
The AsRock H81M-ITX motherboard for £50 presents a whole world of possibilities. Combine that with an Intel i5 4440 processor at just over £100 and you’ve got a lightning quick quad core system in the making. Throw in 16GB of 1600Mhz CL9 DDR3 memory and a solid state hard drive and it’s rapidly becoming a no brainer. This thing won’t be running any bloatwear! It has one function alone and that’s running radio software. If you remove pointless bits of Windows and curtail the operating system’s continual desire to download the entire internet in the form of updates, I’m hoping the running speed of the system will be more than capable.
My only misgiving was size. Mini ITX is hardly huge, but when you’re accommodating full size cooling units for processors and full size ATX power supplies things rapidly grow like an Olympic sprinter on steroids.
I looked at a lot of cases to try and get the smallest footprint possible. There are some very nice toys out there but none that had the aesthetic minimalism I was hoping for. I didn’t need LED displays that would rival Blackpool seafront or DVD drive slots and the kitchen sink. I wanted small, compact and plain.
Enter the CoolerMaster Elite 110 Mini-ITX case
All of a sudden things were starting to get interesting again. It’s hardly huge in the grand scheme of things, but is compact and is a nice piece of engineering. I get the feeling I’m probably going to skin a few knuckles wrestling things into it but as a compromise to uber small, I’m hoping it delivers in the flesh (or aluminium/steel as the case may be)!
eBuyer came up with the goods in a single order, so we await the big box of bits!