ARTiGO Pico ATX Setup

A while back my dad got a nice LCD television for Christmas and immediately wanted a way to view pictures, play music, and surf the web from the couch. Of course The TV is mounted on the wall and he didn't want any wires showing or a loud screaming computer sitting around. Enter the ARTiGO A1000 builder kit.

ARTiGO A1000 in the palm of my hand.

Since dad wanted a full functional computer connected to his TV but still needed it hidden, it was off to search for a viable solution. After looking at all the new small form factor designs, I finally found the the Pico-ITX was actually small enough to fit behind an LCD with a standard wall mount.

EPIA Pico-ATX Motherboard

I was surprised when I opened the box. The A1000 builder kit from VIA comes with everything you need besides your storage device and RAM. However, the distributor I bought my kit from included 1GB of RAM. That was a plus. The main board was tiny, who would have thought you could squeeze everything onto such a small board. If you look at the top you can see the one small heat-sink fan and a bunch of pins where you connect all the components.

Bottom of Motherboard.

The bottom of the main board is where you throw in the single SODIMM module. I do wish it would support a little more than 1GB of ram, but hey I'm not complaining at this size.

Small Enclosure

The little enclosure that came with the kit is fairly pleasing to the eye. It has some basic connections for USB and simple audio. The motherboard has a VGA and network connection built on and it also supports DVI and multi channel audio though the case doesn't have quite that much room.

20GB 2.5" IDE Hard Drive

I had a spare 20GB 2.5" IDE hard drive I decided to use with the enclosure. The drive sits just under the main-board in the enclosure and connects with a little riser that came in the kit. Even though I used an IDE, the board does support SATA too.

All components installed.

All the components fit snugly in the 5.9"x4.3"x1.8" enclosure and is about the same length as my screwdriver. I do like the fact it has the ability to run directly off DC power, just in case I need to use one as a carPC. In the picture above you can see the mainboard with all the case connections made and the DC power supply to the right.

Everything in the kit.

Overall the kit is a really good deal. It fits behind the LCD TV and connects via VGA and simple audio. I loaded Windows XP off a USB drive and the system seems to run smoothly. It does struggle with some of the higher definition video formats and can stutter audio in certain situations. I was lucky enough to have run a network connection when the TV was mounted, so there wasn't a need for trying to wirelessly connect it. But, you could easily use a USB wireless adapter or VIA does sell a wireless kit to plug right on to the motherboard. One other thing I wish VIA included was on-board bluetooth support. I like using bluetooth keyboards with my media computers and had to stick with using a USB adapter for that. Also, as far as noise goes, the system isn't too loud. The loudest part is the old hard drive I used, had I opted for a solid state type storage device, it would probably be quite silent.

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"MacGyver" Ceiling Mount

Not long ago we came across an old projector at work and decided it would be pretty cool to setup a makeshift conference/presentation center. It also works for the occasional lunch-time entertainment too. So, what do you do when you need a projector mounted quickly without a lot of money? Just take a look around and think WWMD (What Would MacGyver Do)?

"MacGyver" Ceiling Mount

Not long ago we were cleaning up our shop area at work and came across an old Epson LCD projector that was actually still functional. Figuring it probably wouldn't be used for anything if we just stowed it away on the shelf again, we decided to setup a little presentation center.

Now if you've ever been in the market for a projector ceiling mount, you know they can get pretty expensive and most are made for specific models of projectors. We just needed something to keep it above everyone's head and still be somewhat adjustable. After a quick survey of the shop area, I managed to scavenge up a small piece of 1/4" ply-board, some kind of 3/4" pine board, and some nylon string that we used as pull string when using conduit.

First I used a recip-saw and cut the long 3/4" pine board into two equally short sections and drilled holes into the ends about and inch from the edge. The holes only needed to be slightly larger than the nylon pull string. While the drill was out, I drilled the same size holes in each corner of the 1/4" plyboard.

Next, I cut four equal length pieces of string roughly 36 inches long. I ran the strings up through the the four holes in the pine board and tied a secure knot so the string cannot be pulled back through.

After the stings were tied, I screwed the board onto the ceiling. Luckily there was a large wooden rafter screw to, otherwise we would have needed to use some large drywall anchors.

Now it was time to attach the plyboard. I just took the dangling strings, stuck them down through the four holes in the plyboard and tied the two strings of the left and right side together with a secure knot. This will allow the plyboard shelf to be placed at an upward or downward angle.

Once the shelf was suspended it's sturdy enough to hold the small projector. The mount does allow for most types of adjustment too. You can angle the shelf up or down and there was plenty of room to shift the projector from side to side slightly or rotate the projector to hit the screen.

Even though it may not look like much, the mount is quite functional and we've been using it a lot lately. If you are looking to save a little cash on mounting a projector, this suspended shelf design could be made to look a little more appealing. In the future we may decide to paint it or even round the edges off. But hey, it works and it only took a few minutes to build from junk.

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Home Theater

I always liked the theater, I just hated the loud, obnoxious people and high ticket price. Now what can you do about that? Build your own theater! Over the past couple of months I’ve been working on this major project. Come have a look-see!

I’ve always wanted my very own home theater. I can’t tell you how many times I have been disappointed after paying my fare to see a motion picture that gets completely ruined by annoying teenagers or screaming babies. However there has never been any alternative to fix the situation. Enter the home theater!

Front view of the theater.

Location selection was easy. I just needed a dark little hole big enough to fit my projector, screen, and seating. The perfect choice was obviously the basement. A new basement for a matter of fact, we just completed renovations to our home that included doubling the size of the existing basement. This allowed half for my disposal and half for my sister to meddle with.

Back view of the theater.

I won’t go into any boring details about the actual construction of the room. It was just a little framing, sheet rock, and paint. I will say that in order to hide the floor joist from sight, we installed a drop ceiling. Instead of using standard ceiling tiles, I chose to use the plastic “light cover” type tiles. It looks cool, but isn’t very sound friendly. (Low bass will make the tiles vibrate!)

Optoma HD70 Mounted to the ceiling.

Long before erecting walls I started buying my equipment. I already had a decent surround sound system. It’s a little aged, but its still got 5.1 surround and 700 watts of audible power. It took a while for me to decide on a projector. I was looking for the perfect price to quality ratio. I finally chose the Optoma HD70. It’s capable of 720p high definition and has a 16:9 native aspect ratio. Plus, I got it on sale for under a grand!

110" Screen mounted on the wall.

While saving money on the projector was nice, saving money on the screen was even better. Instead of buying a screen I constructed one. I made a frame for it out of 2×4s and bought some actual screen material from an online store. After the frame was built, I stretched the material over and secured it with clamping devices on both sides and to keep it tight, I used double-sided carpet tape. I feel bad I didn’t get any good pictures of the actual assembly, but you can see the final product. The screen is a 110″ diagonal measurement. Actual measurements are 96″ wide by 54″ high which makes for a perfect 16:9 ratio for a 10 foot display.

Remote controlled dimming wall sconces.

I have initially installed two sets of lights. One set of florescent lights mounted in the ceiling I can use when I actually need to see. The second set are wall sconces that are connected to a remote control dimmer switch that allows me to dim the lights whenever the movie’s starting. These are mounted between the rear speakers and the screen, out of forward view while seated.

Indiana Jones trilogy! Of course!

Finished screen with hidden wires.

After throwing down some carpet and more paint, it was time to work on some ascetics. I put up some bills from my favorite movies and hid the speaker wires the best I could. I also setup my home theater PC as the center to all my entertainment. I shoved it in the room under the steps (behind the screen) along with some miscellaneous A/V equipment.

The Blue Bar!

Before everything was said and done, I added a good bar in the rear section of the theater. It has really added a lot of value to the room. It also gives something else to do instead of watch movies. Building the bar is a post in itself. So, I’ll just leave it at that.

Comfy Chairs

The last step was of course one of the most important, seating! I looked everywhere for some nice theater seating that would actually fit into my area. I finally found what I was looking for, cup holders included. My parents actually bought it for me as a Christmas gift. Thanks! I know what you’re thinking though, “You only have enough seating for two people, what’s up with that?” Well, I do plan on adding another row of seating. Most likely it’ll be my old futon on a raised platform behind these seats. Note, ticket prices vary.

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Blue Bar!

Some may say that it’s a sign of alcoholism, I say it’s a necessity! A bar is a great addition to an entertainment room. I’ve been mixing drinks as kind of a hobby for a while and it’s always been awkward having to work off the top microwaves and card tables. I figured it was high time to get more professional and build my very own bar.

Some may say that it’s a sign of alcoholism, I say it’s a necessity! A bar is a great addition to an entertainment room. I’ve been mixing drinks as kind of a hobby for a while and it’s always been awkward having to work off the top of microwaves and card tables. I figured it was high time to get more professional and build my very own bar.

As with all projects of this caliber, you need to plan. I first sat down with pencil and paper to figure out exactly what I wanted. Once I had the dimensions, I used some masking tape and made an outline on the floor where I wanted to build. This allowed me to see exactly how big it was going to be. I did decide to make it a little smaller after seeing how big it would have been with the original specs.

Framed out with 2x4s.

Here’s the bar framed out in 2×4s. I planned for it to be roughly 8 feet long by 3 feet from the wall when complete. As you can see it fits the area just right!

Back side of the bar framed out with 2x4s.

Framing out the bar didn’t take very long and really gives you an idea of what the end product will look like. After framing the bar out the next steps were to add the sides, shelves, plyboard on the top, trim, and start laying out the tiles. I got a little busy doing all that and forgot to take pictures.

Bar almost done. Laying out the tiles!

I decided to paint the bar sharkfin grey with white trim to match the rest of the room. The siding is made from wainscot which is a pain to paint by the way. Also, painting the shelves was very awkward. I practically had to lay down to paint them.

Back side of bar with tile layout.

The final touch ups include the under-bar lights and grouting the tile. I purchased a xeon light kit from Lowes that was cheap and easy to install. The lights only worked one time, so I wouldn’t recommend them. Originally I had LED lights planed, but they’re on the expensive side.

Back view of the completed bar, showing off the lights.

The tile work wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. Basically you get your tiles laid out just like you want them, glue them down, then grout. I wound up having to get about 15 tiles cut to make the top even. That’s not a big deal, I took them back to Lowes and they cut them for free.

Here's a better view of the booze shelf and lights.

Grouting the tiles is messy, but doesn’t take too long. The longest part is the number of times you have to sponge the tiles clean after you get finished. Using a vinegar water mixture, you have to keep wiping the tiles down until they’re spotless.

Here's the completed bar!

In the end, I have a really nice bar stocked and ready to entertain. Now where can I find some good bar stools?

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Modular Cat5 A/V Cables

Price of cables got you down? To hard to get that VGA cable exactly where you need it? In this mod I’ll take standard Cat5 cable, yes the stuff you network your computer with, and show you how to make quick and dirty modular A/V cables. They look somewhat professional too.

For Christmas my dad received a nice new BIG LCD TV. Wanting to get the most out of his new TV and move into the HTPC age the only thing standing in the way of getting the computer connected was cabling. With no room to house a computer near the television, cables would need to be run nearly 30 feet in order to reach the display. As you may know cables of this length can be expensive and VGA cables are quite thick to try and run through a wall. So thinking like a true modder, copper wire is copper wire.

I had a few different ideas of how to connect the computer to the TV. There are a number of inputs available, the two I was mostly concerned about were the VGA and the component inputs for video. While researching the pin-out of your standard VGA cable I came across this site. My first thought? That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.

While mounting the television, we went ahead and ran two cat5 cables downstairs and placed a wall plate behind the TV. This is where the modular part comes in. The wall plate has two standard cat5 punchdown blocks installed which will allow me to make whatever type of cable I need for the TV and add an RJ45 connector to the end.


VGA Connector and hood.

The first cable I decided to make was the VGA side to connect the PC. All that’s needed is a strand of network cable, a male 15-pin HD D-Sub connector (VGA Connector) along with the metal hood, and a little soldering skill.

Cat5 wire with outer shielding removed.

Cat5 stripped and ready to be soldered.

First step is to prep the network cable. Cut the outer shield from the cable about two inches back and then use some wire strippers to prepare the wire pairs for soldering.

Connector and cable ready to be soldered.

Soldering can be a little tricky if you don’t have a set of “helping hands” to hold the connector and wire while you work. I would also suggest soldering the middle row of posts first, it’s a little easier.

The pinout for the VGA Cable is:

VGA Connector

  1. red video — connect to Orange
  2. green video — connect to Green
  3. blue video — connect to Blue
  4. ID2 — no connection
  5. ground — no connection
  6. red ground — connect to Orange/White
  7. green ground — connect to Green/White
  8. blue ground — connect to Blue/White
  9. key pin — no connection
  10. sync ground — no connection
  11. ID0 — no connection
  12. ID1 — no connection
  13. Horizontal Sync — connect to Brown
  14. Vertical Sync — connect to Brown/White
  15. ID3 — no connection

Finished soldering!

After you get started, it doesn’t take long to finish up the soldering. As you may have noticed I decided to add a little bit of shrink tube around the leads to make things look neater.

Finished VGA to Cat5 cable.

The last step is to screw the hood assembly together and add a standard RJ45 (type B) connection to the end. This cable is ready to plug into the computer and head straight to the wall jack.

Component Cable

I originally thought I could adapt the VGA signal from the computer to a component input for the TV. I found that I was mistaken. It’s possible, but you need an extra device called a scan converter and I really didn’t want any extra devices in between. Of course, I didn’t discover this until I had already made my component end. (I wound up making a second VGA cable to run to the TV.) But, if you’re just wanting a component cable here’s how you make one.

Metal Phono Plug with solder leads.

You will need three RCA phono plugs for this cable. I found some rather cheap ones here. You can get cheap looking plastic ones, but I would rather spend the extra 10 cents and get the cool metal ones. Just like in the above cable, you will need to prep your network cable for soldering by stripping the wires.

The pinout this time is:

  • RED Positive (PIN) — Orange
  • RED Negative (Shield) — Orange/White
  • BLUE Positive (PIN) — Blue
  • BLUE Negative (Shield) — Blue/White
  • GREEN Positive (PIN) — Green
  • GREEN Negative (Shield — Green/White

Soldering the phono plugs.

Again, having a set of helping hands really helps the process. These plugs are really easy to solder compared to the VGA type connector. I suggest soldering the center lead first. Otherwise you might run into a wire length problem. (I know from my first attempt.) The other lead allows you to stick the wire through a small hole and solder it directly to the flat plate. Be sure to put the shield and shrink wrap on before soldering the leads, it’s no fun having to unsolder something when you think you’ve done such a good job.

Finished component cable

Again, you finish up by crimping the RJ45 connector to the end. The finished product is a fairly nice looking modular component cable. I left the brown pair looped around the cable, just in case I need to add a connector in the future.

AUDIO Cables

Audio cables are just as easy to make as the component cables, in fact they’re identical. Only this time you only need two phono plugs instead of three. That is if you’re just looking for simple stereo sound. If you’re going for multi-channel audio you’ll need a few more phono plugs, but keep in mind you only have four pairs of wires to work with. That translates to four total sound channels. Although if your devices permit a digital coaxial input/output, then you could just use the brown pair from the previous cable.

Stereo audio cables.

The pinout I used for the stereo audio cable was:

  • RED Positive (PIN) — Orange
  • RED Negative (Shield) — Orange/White
  • WHITE Positive (PIN) — Green
  • WHITE Negative (Shield) — Green/White

As you can see, making custom cables doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. They can be pretty much any leangth you want them to be, up to around 50 feet. With the modular ability of the RJ45 jacks, you can estimate exactly how any pairs of wire you need to complete your home theater connections and take care of all your wiring with the cables I’ve shown you and they’ll look neat and tucked away behind your equipment. So, don’t ever let that sales rep. talk you into over priced Monster Cables!

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Leatherman Punchdown Tool

Something that I always have at my side, is my Leatherman Wave. It has all kinds of tools that can help out at a moments notice except for one, a punchdown tool! As a system admin, sometimes I have the need to terminate a keystone jack or punchdown block and I don’t have room in my pocket to carry a real punchdown tool with me everywhere I go. Now with this quick mod, I can!

Leatherman Wave with punchdown tool mod!

Something that I always have at my side, is my Leatherman Wave. It has all kinds of tools that can help out at a moments notice except for one, a punchdown tool! As a system admin, sometimes I have the need to terminate a keystone jack or punchdown block and I don’t have room in my pocket to carry a real punchdown tool with me everywhere I go. Now with this quick mod, I can! Everyone that has a Wave knows about the “large screwdriver” aka “pry-bar.” I never understood it’s true meaning since you already have four different screwdrivers to choose from. Now you can ditch that and have a nice useful punchdown tool. (I can’t take full credit for this mod, It’s not exactly an original idea. A fellow employee had one and I thought it was cool.)


The first thing you will need to do is use a bench grinder or dremel to thin the metal down to about half the current thickness, 3/8″ from the tip in order to make it fit the block. Be careful not to make the tip sharp, you don’t want to cut the wire you’re trying to punch down.

Smoothing the tip.

Next you will want to file down and then sand both sides where you ground the thickness down. This will make it smooth and shiny.

Cutting the slot.

Now you can begin the fun part of cutting the slot for the “vampire teeth” of the punchdown block. Use your dremel to cut slightly into the middle of the tip. You will want to cut 1/8″ into the tip. You may want to widen the slot slightly. See the picture for reference.

Hooray, you now have a functional non-impact punchdown tool on your Leatherman!

Comparison to actual punchdown tool.

Comparison to original.

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The goal of this project is to create a rack-mount MythBox. A MythBox is any machine running Linux and MythTV. It’s used to watch and record TV just like a DVR. Of course since this is a fully functional system, you can also store all you images, music, and other files as well as browse the web on it. I’ve been playing around with myth for some time now and really enjoy it. If you have ever used/seen Windows Media Center, it’s exactly like that except free!

The goal of this project is to create a rack-mount MythBox. A MythBox is any machine running Linux and MythTV. It’s used to watch and record TV just like a DVR. Of course since this is a fully functional system, you can also store all you images, music, and other files as well as browse the web on it. I’ve been playing around with myth for some time now and really enjoy it. If you have ever used/seen Windows Media Center, it’s exactly like that except free!


To start off… A while back Nathan brought me a crazy piece of rack-mount equipment that came from the hospital.(Didn’t steal it, they were throwing it away) We didn’t really know what it was, but it was composed of an aluminum case filled with circuit boards with bnc connectors all over the front and a scsi drive. It looked like you could connect a bunch of video equipment, keyboard and monitor up to it. After googling some of the serial numbers we came to the conclusion that this is what they connect the colonoscopy scopes up to. It’s basically an ass-camera box!

After it sat around my shop for a few months, it was finally time to do something with this thing. I tore out all the insides and trashed them. This left me with a nice open case. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on components for something as simple as a MythBox, so my sights turned towards my stockpile of Dell GX60s in the corner. These aren’t bad machines. In fact, they make excellent Linux boxes.

I’ve had a lot of experience going into these things, Dell really does a good job of making repair jobs tool-less. You can replace anything in the case without any tools at all. This was really good since the motherboard sits on a special plate that slides out easily. I was able to just take the motherboard out, drill a few holes and presto it fits right into the ass-camera box.

The power supply is basically the same way; just push a button and slide it out. The dimensions made the main section of the power supply fit perfectly, only the little plastic tab was in my way. I had to take the supply completely apart to get rid of that thing, but it wasn’t too hard to get back together. Another problem was the little hole for the power cord wasn’t quite big enough for this power supply, so I had to get out the big Dewalt cut-out tool and hack away at it.

I’ve become pretty good at fabricating simple drive bays out of old packing material that gets discarded. The straps on either side of the hard drive are steel straps used to wrap material onto pallets for shipping. It’s readily available at almost any factory, they just throw it away. I used a pneumatic rotary tool to cut the straps to size, then bent them at the appropriate spots. Put a few holes to mount the drive, bolt it inside the case and we’re done.

Even though Dell computers are really friendly to work with, they’re always using some kind of proprietary equipment. In this case, pretty much everything. The motherboard has funny connections on it for the front USB/Audio and the power switch with Power and HD LEDs. I could have probably just soldered everything to the main board, but just adding a few leads off of the little CP chip was just as easy. The power LED was a three-way, it would turn from green to amber if there was a problem, so I split it off and used two seperate LEDs for power and warning.

The front panel was pretty simple to work with. After I disassembled the original components, there were several screw holes in the front that I drilled out and stuck my LEDs and power switch in. I also cut out a place for an optical drive. I used somemore of the steel packing strips to make a bay for the CD-ROM. I made them in a similar fasion as the hard drive bay, except I bent the bracket the oposite direction and only attached it to the front of the case.

The final product is a functional MythBox! To be honest, it doesn’t look all the pretty, but it works. I have noticed that the machine is probably a little too sluggish because watching live TV is a little stop and go. Of course, this isn’t why I built it. This is just a backend server, I’m not going to be standing in front of my rack watching tv very often. I’ve tested out the recording capabilities and it seems to do just fine. Over all I would rate the performance a 7 out of 10. It is an old run down machine on the inside you know.

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