The Humidor CL Server Project


Introducing the Humidor CL Server.  It is the largest humidor that I have modified and the most expensive, both in component costs and stuff blown up.  I was inspired by the article published on site "EPIA CL Linux Firewall/Router Project".  VIA had given me a CL10000 mainboard to build something for display at CES in Las Vegas.  I re-read the firewall project and noticed that it utilized three separate boxes; the computer, a DSL modem and a wireless router.  I had seen a picture of a Hush computer in service at someone's home and had been dumbfounded by the fact that this beautiful computer had an butt-ugly modem and router stacked on top of it with all the sundry cables winding around connecting everything.  At the same time, I had been sitting on this art deco humidor I had acquired some months before.  It turned out to be much bigger than I had imagined.  The plan was to put all three "boxes" inside the humidor and have them all powered from a common power supply.  The server would operate headless, 24/7, from my living room, which is the center of my "estate" and therefore the preferred location for the wireless system.  The only cables would be the phone line for the DSL signal and of course, power.


The computer has Microsoft Windows 2003 Server, Enterprise Edition, installed.  It is also running Winproxy which handles all the Internet access setup, anti-virus protection, web caching, spam blocking and content filtering for the entire network.  One of the interesting tasks in the project was "dumbing down" the wireless router.  The CL was going to do all the firewall, routing and DHCP chores.  I only needed the wireless unit to distribute the access.  I turned off its built-in DHCP server, assigned it a static address and connected it to the CL using a cross-over cable connected to one of its wired Ethernet ports.  Instant wireless hub.


On to the pictures.




The completed project.  My initial intention was to go "full stealth" but for reasons unknown to me I insisted on leaving a few clues to the underlying functionality.  I should know better than to argue with myself.  Can you see the clues?




The computer.  Yes, this is the entire computer portion of the project.  The humidor case, as most humidors do, has a removable Spanish cedar tray that allows for a greater capacity of cigars.  The computer components are installed onto the bottom, yes bottom, of the tray.  The tray is fully functional and can be removed, plugged in and operated independently from the rest of the case.




A tour, clockwise, from top left.  The power supply.  I operate it at 60W in this application but it is capable of 150W using a higher capacity external "brick".  The mainboard.  VIA CL10000 with Nehemiah core, 256MB of DDR memory and a much quieter fan than stock.  The Crystalfontz 631 LCD daughter board.  At this writing it is unavailable to the public.  It provides an attachment point for the 631's optional ATX power control, fan control and temperature sensing cables.  The daughter board itself is connected by cable to the main LCD display.  The 631 was designed to fit into a 3.5" bay.  Space constraints required Crystalfontz to break the PCB into two parts.  The actual display is mounted directly on the other side of the tray.  The hard drive.  I started with a 3.5" 120GB drive.  There is room for it but I was concerned about cable clearance issues when the tray was mounted to the lower section.  I decided to eliminate the issue by using a 40GB Toshiba 2.5" drive.




Reverse shot of component tray.




Flipped over.  The Crystalfontz 631 display is seen mounted with an attached digital thermometer sticking out from it.  All the components on the other side are mounted to the wood using brass PCB spacers.  On this side I threaded brass acorn nuts onto the exposed threads.  This provided the additional strength that was going to be required for shipping the unit.  Lessons learned.




Moving on to the lower case.  This is a naked Linksys wireless router with a 4-port hub mounted to the bottom of the inside of the humidor.  Removing the external plastic case sure did reduce the size of the unit but it also exposes it to "electrical events".  This is my second unit, having let out the magic blue smoke from the other.




This is a naked Linksys USB ADSL modem.  I originally used a Speedstream unit but after letting smoke out on one and having difficulties powering another one I decided to go with a USB powered unit.




Overview of lower components.  The fan looking thing is the shroud from a 60mm fan.  You have probably figured out by now that the CL10000 board is mounted upside down.  The 40mm CPU fan fits down into this shroud allowing it to take a suction directly from the cool outside air.  The humidor has a clearance of 3/4" so airflow is not a problem.  Also seen in this picture are the two Linksys antenna cables leading to the back of the box.  Ethernet cables are also routed from the hub to the back.  The white cable is a phone line bringing the DSL signal to the modem.




The keys to this project.  Short cables.  The first humidors I built had simple holes in the back of the case to pass cables through.  This allowed me to position the mainboard anywhere I wanted inside the box.  The downside of this design, besides being ugly, was "hard-wired" cabling had to be used.  I was rightfully criticized for this.  I responded with the V series, which has the traditional back plate scheme but this caused me to lose the freedom of placing the components where I thought they were best suited.  For this project I used a hybrid scheme where I install pass-through I/O plates on the back of the humidor and run short lengths of cable inside the piece from the components to the I/O plate.  The server role of the piece lends itself to this design because servers traditionally don't need a lot of I/O. Pictured here is the VGA, PS2, ADSL (regular phone line) and a special cable I built.  It provides 12V power from a computer Molex connector to the Linksys routers DC barrel plug. 





The VGA cable is the showstopper.  Without this 8" little jewel this project would not have happened.  The only place on the planet you can get one of these things is at Hall Research Technologies. Lauren listened to my pitch and graciously sent me a cable to use.  This picture shows the cable next to a regular VGA cable.  Slim cable, abbreviated head and short length.  They also make longer lengths.  Big shout out to Hall Research.




Coming together.  The tray rests on supports and all the cables are attached.




Back side shot showing the chrome I/O plates and twin Linksys antennas.  I was very prepared to cut a cooling hole between the two plates but after extensive testing I found it wasn't necessary.  I was surprised.  Apparently there is enough leakage around the lid to allow the hot air to escape.  It ran between 100 to 110 degrees F inside the case and the CPU temp wasn't an issue because it got direct outside air.  Another big reason for the low temps was the steady state server role.




This is the KVM port.  The plates came from L-com Connectivity Products.  They were supposed to be part of a modular 19" rack connection system.  I chromed them and drilled a hole in the center for the antennas.




This is the Ethernet port.  Four pass through plugs.  Three are for wired connections to a home system or computers without wireless facilities.  The fourth (top left) is actually the pass through for the DSL phone line.  Yes, you can plug an RJ-11 into an RJ-45.




The original humidor hygrometer was a cheesy little plastic thing.  I wanted a nice thermometer but I couldn't find one as nice as this clock.




Here it is with the props onboard.  I got tired of hearing "where do you put the cigars"?  Now I get "won't they get ruined in there"?  Yes, they will get ruined.  It is still not a functioning cigar humidor because of the high heat and low humidity.  I'm sure it can be done but not on a reasonable budget.




Here is close up of the Crystalfontz 631.  It comes with either a black or brushed aluminum faceplate.  I like the raw chrome frame because it blends into the art deco theme.  I also did some other surgery on the mounting bracket to fit my needs.  The top right hand button is the power switch and the one below it is the reset switch.  The LCD normally displays the case air temperature and automatically adjusts the speed of the CPU fan accordingly.




Glamour shot.




Final glamour shot.


I want to thank my sponsors VIA Technology, Crystalfontz America and Hall Research Technologies and of course who has hung with me since the beginning.  This computer will be featured in the March 2004 issue of Popular Science magazine.