Thursday, December 27, 2012

Setting up XBMCbuntu 12 based HTPC - Part 1 - The beginning

I had here series of posts, more like notes, of my XBMC install. I've since found out better ways to fix some of problems explained in those posts. To avoid having two set of posts with different instructions I took old ones down and will post new instructions.



My choice of HTPC software is XBMC, version 12 aka 'Frodo' to be precise. At this time there's no final version out, but 12 RC3 seems to work quite well.

I’m actually setting up three nearly identical HTPC’s. One for myself and two for my relatives. After big disappointment with AppleTV 2 based XBMC installs I decided to go with known good solution: Fanless Intel Atom with Nvidia ION2.

In fact that’s what I’ve been using myself for last two years. I've spent way too much time troubleshooting XBMC on ATV2 and it’s now time to sell those black pucks and go with proper Linux PC. Since Shuttle XS35GT, which is only good FANLESS solution with ION2, is no longer in production I had to source two of them via local Ebay copycat.

Add some small SSDs I already had, salvaged memory and mini-pcie WLAN adapters from broken laptops and we have all needed parts in hand. First one might be bit low on memory so if I can find suitable SO-DIMM from somewhere I’ll update it. As for SSD capacity most if not all content will be streamed over network and therefore it really doesn’t matter. As long as your SSD capacity around 8GB + largest file to be streamed you're fine. Spinning rust is so out of style - unless you're some sort of hipster - so go with SSD. Oh, and USB flash sticks don't count as SSD. It's not worth the trouble, been there as well.

HTPC #1:
Shuttle XS35GT v1, 1.6GHz Atom D510, 1GB DDR2, 40GB A-Data S599 SSD

HTPC #2:
Shuttle XS35GT v1, 1.6GHz Atom D510, 2GB DDR2, 60GB OCZ Vertex 3 SSD

HTPC #3:
Shuttle XS35GT v2, 1.8GHz Atom D525, 4GB DDR3, 80GB Intel X25-M G2 SSD

For remote control each HTPC got Sony PS3 BD Bluetooth remote (CECHZR1E / SCPH-98046 / 711719689287), Trust Bluetooth 3.0 USB dongle (17772 / 8713439177725 with Atheros AR3011) and Logitech K400r (not old K400) wireless RF keyboard with built-in touchpad (920-003124 / 5099206028265). No infra-red used over here. Watchout for fake PS3 BD remotes and old CSR bluetooth dongles that little yellow men are selling on ebay. Fake remotes have sticky buttons and CSR dongles can't wakeup your HTPC from suspend over bluetooth.

OS I’m using is XBMCbuntu which is simply trimmed down 32-bit Ubuntu / Lubuntu 12.10. Thefore most tweaks documented in upcoming blog posts should also work for other Ubuntu Linux based XBMC installs.

I also upgraded all three XS35′s with Atheros AR9280 dual-band 802.11n WLAN adapters. Stock Realtek’s are truly horrible and crash every few days. Not only Atheros cards work much better but also support 300Mbit/s on 5GHz band which is clear of other users unlike 2.4GHz. I did have problem with WLAN dying after suspend requiring pulling powercord from XS35GT. It turned out to be due defective mini-pcie WLAN adapter. Swapping another identical with same date code fixed problem right away.

If you decide to do same WLAN upgrade you’ll need extra antenna as stock WLAN card comes with only one and AR9280 uses two. Also be very careful and DO NOT fully tighten screw mounting mini-pcie card since Shuttle has placed some components underneath mini-pcie slot that physically interfere with AR9280 as it has components on both side - unlike stock Realtek WLAN adapter. I also added piece of thin plastic tape between to make sure grounded shield of AR9280 doesn’t short to nearby capacitors and resistors on motherboard. Apart from that upgrade to Atheros WLAN went smoothly.

Also make sure you’re running latest BIOS. Visit Shuttle website to download original XS35GT BIOS v1.0B or for XS35GTv2 BIOS v2.01. See my post HERE on how to create bootable DOS disk for such upgrades without Windows (i.e. from Linux).

After bios update make sure you have SATA controller in AHCI mode, set WLAN to “Always on”, disable “LAN Remote Boot” and make sure SSD is listed as first and only boot device. Starting with factory defaults and then making above changes would be my recommendation. You never know what hidden settings are left with wrong values after bios upgrade.

2 comments:

  1. Great stuff, will read this asap. i just switched to xbmcbuntu myself after running W7 before. i also used the PS3 remote and i curious how you fixed the battery drain issue because xbmc wont kill the bt connection.

    What i do mis VERY much is a "next" link to the next part of, what looks like a beautiful, serie at the bottom of every page ;)

    sIRwa2

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  2. You need patched bluetooth stack to fix battery issue.

    While I don't specifically mention battery issue in post #3 it will be taken care of. When you press remote button and there's small delay before XBMC reacts you'll know remote was in power save mode.

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