Kitchen computer gets a new internet stick

Back in March I built a system intended to be the new family PC. The goal was to make it small, quiet and attractive enough that my wife would be okay with it living someplace other than the my office. About half the components I bought specifically for this system; the rest were “borrowed” from the Damage Labs. I decided on a Shuttle box, the SN25P. It ended up with an Athlon 64 4000+ processor, 1 GB of Crucial Ballistix RAM, a Sapphire Radeon X800 256MB, Seagate’s Barracuda 7200.10 320GB, a LITE-ON DVD R/W, Logitech’s EX110 cordless keyboard & mouse and an AOC 17″ LCD monitor. Before drawing conclusions about the hardware, keep in mind that I was on a strict budget and that the main tasks of this PC would be general office apps, web surfing, limited media downloading/storage/playback and lengthy sessions of Lego Star Wars for my wife and daughter.

After enabling Cool’n’Quiet on the 4000+, I had a small and fairly quiet system purring on our kitchen counter – goal achieved. My wife even thinks it’s kinda cute; she named it “the breadbox.” It’s not exactly silent, and the vent holes on the side of the case exhaust warmer air than I’d prefer; but it’s living up to it’s duties quite admirably. The Logitech Z-540 speakers sound surprisingly good playing Pandora, Lego Star Wars or whatever media occasionally gets watched there.

The only fly in the ointment was internet connectivity. I’d initially decided to make do with a SiS USB wireless adapter that came from who-knows-where. It was entirely contained in a package the size of a thumb drive – “the internet stick,” my wife called it (she gets along with technology better when she can establish her own lingo to address it; sort of like Adam naming the animals in Eden). I initially thought the occasionally weak and dropped signal wouldn’t matter because it always reconnected within seconds; man was I ever wrong. It was just annoying enough that I rarely used the system to surf since my own rock-solid umbilical-ethernet-connected PC was right upstairs.

Keep in mind that I’m the business and sales guy for The Tech Report, not a hardware reviewer. My PC techie endeavors have been limited to speccing and assembling the hardware, installing and upgrading operating systems (always Windows), and a bit of troubleshooting and swapping hardware when I’ve encountered problems. The only overclocking of a PC that has ever been accomplished in my home was done by Scott on an AMD Duron 750 several years ago.

So when my 8-year-old daughter couldn’t stay connected to research Thomas Edison’s inventions for a report she’d been assigned (yes, that was a homework assignment from her 2nd-grade teacher) and my wife was checking her email on my PC instead of the breadbox, I hopped on Newegg to find a new wireless adapter. My naive techie instincts told me to avoid compatibility problems by matching the brand of either my Linksys WRT 54G router or the Shuttle. So I went with the Shuttle PN18G wireless kit, primarily because it was cheaper than the Linksys options.

The breadbox, fully connected via the new internet stick poking out the back of the case.

Although the adapter’s bundled software wasn’t exactly straightforward and initially seemed to do battle with Windows’ wireless networking client, I managed to get them to play nice, quite by accident, after fiddling with the settings for a while. And then… it just worked. Man was that sweet. It was like having a whole new toy there in the kitchen. Now I regularly remote desktop to my PC upstairs because those 15 steps up to my office seem like such a long climb. And I guess that’s the sign that the Shuttle… er, breadbox… is a success. It does what I wanted, and then some.

Comments closed
    • scuba_steve
    • 12 years ago

    I am a huge Shuttle fan and own three of them – two SB81Ps and a new SP35P2.

    My SP35P2 is small, but stands up to almost any full-size gaming rig. It has a 2.4GHz Q6600 quad core, 4GB of RAM, an 8800GT, and multiple hard drives…and it hits 12,000 on 3DMark06 at stock clock. This model also supports overclocking and others have blown by 3GHz with no issues with the Q6600 in this case. Yes, they are very capable little boxes. That said, I disagree with them being space savers.

    A PC on the floor uses far less of your “usable” space. That space on the floor is otherwise unused…unlike that desk space that your kitchen Shuttle is occupying. They are portable though…and very cool. 😉

    If you really wanted to go small for a system that would be used for web surfing, office productivity, and lower-end gaming, I would have built a Shuttle based on this barebones kit:

    §[<http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16856101035<]§ That barebones unit also comes in several lower priced configurations as well...with prices as low as $350. Of course, you would not have been able to recycle most of the components that you put in the Shuttle that you chose...so I can see your motivation. BTW, wireless options? Call me a geek, but I prefer bridges to adapters. For the same price as an adapter (or just a little more), you can get an AP and convert it to a bridge. the resultant bridge will have two antennas (for simultaneous transmit and receive), lots of power, extra ports, and no need for drivers. While commercial bridges can be expensive, it is trivial to convert a Linux-based AP into a bridge with third-party firmware. A great combo is the Linksys WRT54GL (where L stands for Linux) and the Tomato open-source firmware. Router: §[<http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16833124190<]§ (this Linux-based model is most likely NOT at your local BestBuy) Tomato: §[<http://www.polarcloud.com/tomato<]§ Props for the Shuttle mention. :-) cheers, Steve

      • Inkling
      • 12 years ago

      I love the looks of that little SD02-X1, but it would’ve required a major increase in budget for this project.

      I partially agree with your assessment regarding space. But in a kitchen, there really is very little available floor space. So what I needed was something that just looked good, while not being any larger than most enclosures. And as far as looks go, this project is great. I’d still prefer to tuck it away in a cabinet or under that small desk on a shelf, but for now it’s just fine on the counter.

    • lex-ington
    • 12 years ago

    That’s awesome. I thought the Sempron I put in my HTPC wouldn’t be up to the task, but that thing is as snappy as any other processor I have.

    If Linux had work as nicely with wireless stuff like windows, I would have opted for an “internet stick”, but alas – the Belkin PCI card will have to suffice. At $20, I could live with it.

    System looks good Inkling.

    • Flying Fox
    • 12 years ago

    How is the battery situation with the wireless keyboard and mouse? Has the daughter/wife ever run out of battery while playing Lego Star Wars?

    Be careful now that you like RDP to your own box from the kitchen. Sooner or later all 3 of you will be fighting this thing you personally may want a laptop. 😀

      • Inkling
      • 12 years ago

      We use Energizer NiMH rechargeable batteries:
      §[<http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817173034&CMP=AFC-Techreport&ATT=17-173-034<]§ They last about 6 weeks in the mouse, and they have yet to be changed in the keyboard. (8 months and counting!) The system is on all day every day, and gets used regularly throughout the day. Gaming sessions come about once or twice a week, usually for a few hours at a time. Never ran out or ran low during a game.

    • crazybus
    • 12 years ago

    I find this post interesting as I’m kind of in need of a new “internet stick”. My current D-Link usb adapter has pathetic signal range and stability, no Linux, Vista or 64-bit drivers and worst of all causes random BSODs or hard locks. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of info on which of these devices is best though. I like the idea of a usb wireless adapter but I’m not sure if the implementation always works the best.

      • Inkling
      • 12 years ago

      Yeah, the reviews for these things seem to be all over the map. I had friends swear by particular wireless adapters that were the lowest-rated by Newegg’s reviews. I decided to go with the Shuttle PNG18G, based partly on price and partly on concern about compatibility. I had no way of effectively researching its “performance.”

        • eitje
        • 12 years ago

        any chance you could do a little networking test, like we see on the mobo reviews sometime? 🙂

    • eitje
    • 12 years ago

    awesome. i especially liked the wife-lingo touch. i think we can all agree that stuff like that is really cute, to a geek. 🙂

    however, now you need to work on installing a cabling hole behind all of that junk. You can even get some nice cable-friendly hole covers to blend in with your countertop.

    I bet not having visible cables running across her nice wood cabinetry would make the wife pretty happy. 😛

      • Inkling
      • 12 years ago

      I agree on the cabling issue. In fact, I originally had a paragraph explaining what’s going on there, but the post needed to be shortened.

      The short story is that we’re trying to sell the house, and don’t want to go drilling holes or doing any unnecessary work since we don’t plan to be here long. If we were sticking around, I’d probably build a little shelf under the desk/counter for the breadbox. Then I’d mount the speakers upside down under the upper cabinets and only have a monitor and the wireless mouse/keyboard on the desk. And, yes, I’d run all the cables through a strategically-placed hole in the countertop or wall.

      Wanna buy a house?

        • Rakhmaninov3
        • 12 years ago

        Hey maybe you should do all that work and sell the computer with the house, along with the network which already works like a charm, and have the house more appealing because it’s already internet-friendly.

          • Inkling
          • 12 years ago

          Good point. In this market any edge I can get might help.

    • Gungir
    • 12 years ago

    Small, efficient little mighty-mice like this make me feel like I missed the boat when I built my dual-core, dual-GPU machine in a server-class case stuffed with Panaflos.

      • Inkling
      • 12 years ago

      Hmmm… ok, trade ya!

    • gratuitous
    • 12 years ago
      • jobodaho
      • 12 years ago

      Still lame…..

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 12 years ago

        Poor Barbaro!

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