The Day the Logitech Harmony One Works

We’ve been lucky enough to have a Logitech Harmony One touchscreen multifunction remote control for little over a year now and it’s safe to say that it is probably the best amount money you could spend on your TV and front room electronic devices purely for it’s power and potential and the Logitech software albeit a little cumbersome and slow has enough options and features to keep anyone satisfied – Anyone but me.

At home, we have a Samsung LE40R88BD which is about two years old now. Ever since I configured the Harmony for our TV there has been a problem – It doesn’t switch between inputs properly.

In its efforts to be intelligent, the TV skips over some inputs when they are determined to be off but this isn’t so for the entire suite of inputs, so HDMI for example is skipped, while the SCART inputs or the Component is not skipped over meaning that the Harmony has always had problems getting you to the right channel for the correct viewing device.

When at Nicky’s dads house recently and adjusting his Harmony setup for him, I noticed his remote Harmony configuration for his newer Samsung LE40A686M1F gave him access to direct input buttons such as HDMI 1, 2 and so forth which made me very jealous because his remote worked exactly how it is supposed to.

About three months ago, I sat on the remote after one of the children hid it under our beanbag and needless to say, the screen took the brunt of my weight. The touchscreen still works, but you cannot see about two thirds of the display meaning I am the only person in the house able to use these buttons purely through memory of their position.

I got an Xbox 360 for Christmas, which, with built-in infra-red and Media Center Extender support meant I would need to add this to the Harmony, however this gives me a problem. If we can’t see the screen how are we going to see the new buttons and this could cause a problem for channel switching also.

I decided to perform an experiment. I added the model code for Nicky’s dads TV set to our remote as a second TV and didn’t make it part of any of our activities configured on the remote, and I memorised the position of the HDMI input buttons. When I took to our TV with these buttons, to my surprise the commands were received by the TV and they worked.

I’ve now since removed our original TV from the Harmony configuration and replaced it in all of the activities with Mick’s model TV meaning that the Harmony now takes us directly to the correct input for each activity and also allows me to control the Xbox 360.

The lesson to be learnt: Although the Harmony software gives you excellent control over your devices, don’t always assume it’s right, and experiment from time to time.

I’m Not as Green as My Name Suggests

With my name being Richard Green, one could go some way to try and associate me with environmental tree-friendliness. Contrary to that, I am actually extremely energy inefficient. My biggest energy crux in my current Windows Home Server machine.

Running on a Dell PowerEdge SC1425 with two Intel 2.8GHz Dual Core Xeon processors and 6GB of DDR2, this thing is total overkill for Windows Home Server and isn’t actually very good at it’s job either. Granted, it’s got dual Gigabit Ethernet for teamed and reliable network connectivity and it’s got SATA-II drives for high speed data movement, but at the same time, its in a 1U chassis which means it only supports a maximum of two drives, and it’s got a 450W power supply which when faced with the two Intel Xeon processors, both of which are designed at 90W power consumption makes for an eye-watering electricity consumption report.

I did try to enhance the usage profile of the machine by using an add-in for Windows Home Server called LightsOut, however the great feature of this software, which is to sleep and wake the server at pre-defined times during the day remained useless on the PowerEdge. Being a server machine its power supply doesn’t support the S3 power state which means it doesn’t support sleep – Only Shutdown and Restart, as a result, meaning the server stays on 24×7.

Granted, I could manually shutdown the server each night and power it back up again during the day when needed, but that’s not the design of a server. It’s designed to be accessible when you need it. My view on energy efficiently and environmental impact kind of fits this mantra also. I’m quite happy to spend a little money on energy efficient products if it will benefit me, and if my way of life isn’t impacted as a result. This example of powering down the sever manually has an impact because it’s an additional action upon me to complete, it means the server is potentially unavailable during start-up periods when I want it and generally makes the appliance less useful.

I’ve been looking around at what other people have done with Windows Home Server machines and seen a growing trend in Atom powered machines with low power consumption, designed for always on availability. My issue herein is that I have a 19” server rack in which all of my kit is mounted so the device needs to comply to the form factor to make it suitable, which basically rules out all of the pre-built systems from people like HP and Asus, so I’m being hurtled back into the world I escaped a few years ago – Self build.

The criteria for the project are quite tight:

  1. 19” Rack Mount Chassis – 1U, 2U, 3U or 4U is not really important.
  2. Support for at Least 4 SATA-II drives.
  3. Ideally support for a regular ATX PSU to reduce cost and improve efficiency over a server PSU.
  4. As near to silent operation as possible.
  5. Low power consumption.

After trawling the internet for quite some time on the subject now, I believe I have produced the ultimate solution using the following:

  • X-Case RM400/10 4U Rack Mountable Case
  • ASUS AT3IONT-I Intel Atom 330 and nVidia ION Montherboard
  • StarTech 4-Port PCI Express SATA-II Controller
  • Corsair Value Select Memory
  • Corsair CX400W Power Supply
  • Western Digital 1TB SATA-II Green Hard Disks

image

The case from X-Case at http://www.xcase.co.uk/product-p/case-x-case-400-fslash-10.htm?CartID=1 is the building block for this system. It allows me the flexibility to use my existing rack at home, while in a 4U chassis is gives enough room for 10x 3.5” hard disks and 1x 5.25” optical drive, although my machine will not have one installed as Windows Home Server can be installed via USB.

image

The ASUS, Intel Atom, nVidia ION Motherboard trick box from Novatech http://www.novatech.co.uk/novatech/prods/components/motherboards/miniitxmotherboards/90-MIBCT0-G0EAY0GZ.html gives me a Dual Core 1.6GHz processor which under full load only draws 8W of power and yet does not require active cooling, and only uses a passive heat sink, all the while, the miniITX form factor of the motherboard keeps the remaining power draw to a minimum.

image

The motherboard hosts 4 SATA-II ports, so needing to increase that to come close to the 10 drive support of the case, I will add a StarTech 4-Port PCI Express SATA-II Controller. The StarTech card was chosen because it appears to be the only card to combine SATA-II and PCI Express interface, as many of the other cards such as those powered by the Silicon Image 3114 controller are PCI based. The StarTech card can be seen here http://www.leaf-computer.de/raid-controller-4-port-sata-ii-pcie-x1.html and can be purposed from Leaf Computers via Amazon Marketplace.

image

The Corsair CX400W power supply from Overclockers UK at http://www.novatech.co.uk/novatech/prods/components/powersupplies/corsair/cmpsu-400cxuk.html is of good efficiency and also being near silent with a slow rotating 120mm fan to keep the air moving. This supply also has six SATA connectors for the hard drive power needs and four Molex connectors which can easily be converted to SATA once the need arises.

image

The Western Digital hard disks are of the Green variety. The demands of a Windows Home Server are not high speed disk access, unlike a RAID10 SQL Server. The needs are for high volumes of always available storage. The Green drives give SATA-II high speed access while providing a low thermal output because of the adaptive rotation speed controls and also the low power consumption.

Although only speculation based on figures collected from sources around the Internet, I believe that the Windows Home Server of this specification would consume a mere 32 Watts at idle and 38 Watts and full load when using 2 1TB Green drives. The drives consume about 6 Watts each, so simply add this amount for each drive added. The other advantage, is by using a standard ATX power supply with 12V 4-Pin connector to power the motherboard, I will have support for S3 power state, allowing the server to be put into Sleep overnight. This will allow me to reduce the operational hours from 24×7 to 17×7 in my example.

Using an online power calculator, we can see that the server of this specification will consume only 16 kWh (Kilo Watt Hours) per month. I have an in-line power meter currently connected to my personal computer which I will be attaching to the Home Server in the next day or so, and then I will be able to see the real-world draw of the current PowerEdge SC1425 to compare the two and see the potential savings.

I will create a new post to show the comparison once the data is available.