Sunday, December 29, 2013

Working on the computer and power converter

I haven't posted an update since July and a question I am frequently asked is "How is the second R2-D2 coming along?".

I hope this entry answers that!

R2-D2 #1 has had a very busy summer and fall, plus a Christmas time appearance to help out Toys for Tots.  Toss in work, on-line college classes and the usual busy life, spare time for the second droid has been sparse!

But I am happy to post that with some holiday down time, I had a chance to work on R2's Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing) PC and the Mini-Box DC converter.

First, the NUC.

Part of the attraction of this device is the Intel i3 processor, which sips at the power.  It is also an extremely small PC, popular with signage/multimedia displays, easily attached to the back of a monitor.  It measures 4 inches x 4 inches and 2 inches thick.

It comes "barebones", meaning you purchase the amount of RAM you want, the size/capacity mSATA solid state hard disk and the WiFi adapter (optional).  I put 8 gb of RAM, a 120gb SSD and went with the Centrino WiFi as well.  Once you add it all up, you've spent about the same as a modestly equipped laptop.

The NUC uses 19 volts and has the optional power input directly on the motherboard (instead of using the barrel-plug connector on the back).  My NUC sat around for several months before I realized mine was missing the connector.  The documentation stated it should be there so I contacted Intel on their support site about the discrepancy.  I was expecting to be told "too bad" since so much time had elapsed from my purchase.  However, Intel contacted me, explained I had a very early version of the device and offered to RMA a replacement right away.  I provided the model and serial number and they shipped the new one NEXT DAY AIR.  Amazing service!

With the replacement NUC here, I moved the RAM, SSD and Centrino wireless adapter to the new one.  (Notice on the left side the 2-hole power plug just above the RAM.  The previous NUC was missing this)

 After installing some updates to Windows 8, as well as numerous enhancements from Intel on the NUC, the computer is running great.  

My next goal was to make Windows 8 work more like Windows 7.  No "charm" menu, getting the "Start" menu back and so on.  Then my display turned green.  I thought it was the start menu program I was using, but upon testing the monitor and trying a different HDMI cable, it was clear the VGA converter was the culprit.  Even my BIOS screen went green-ish.

The problem with the converter failing is it also acts as the audio output.  You see, the NUC only has HDMI outputs.  Now that's great if you are only plugging into a big screen TV that will play video presentations all day.  But if you are using it in the role I have in mind, you need have audio output into R2's amplifier/speaker system.  R2 also had a small LCD sceen tucked behind one of the body panels and that uses VGA.  With the converter failing, I've put out some emails to find a reliable solution.

HDMI converter.  HDMI goes in, the jack on the right provides the audio port needed for the sound, then the blue connector is the VGA connection to the LCD display.
Since my progress seems halted on the computer for the moment, I decided to make sure the DCDC-USB-Pro is going to work alright.

The converter is a slim, well documented power converter, which will take 12 volt power and make it 19 volts for the NUC.  Jumper settings or the USB software allow you to precisely set the desired voltage, plus other options I'll cover another time.

Once thing I forgot to order when I bought it was the 4-prong to 2-prong connector, so I did that this weekend.  I can't find the cable anywhere locally and as much as I hate buying a $2 part that costs more to ship, I had to!

The enclosure is a nice touch.  I need to add a fan so things are kept cool.  The only concern I have so far is that when set to 19 volts, my tester shows 22 volts.  I don't know if my meter is a bit off or if variation is normal.  I emailed Mini-Box to get a definitive answer and until I know for sure, won't attempt to power the NUC with this yet.

So in summary, I am making progress!  I need to figure out the video/audio output concerns of the NUC, then the voltage questions of the converter.

More soon!