The Nano Form Factor(NFF) PC

Nov. 9th, 2003 

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Even though I have several projects in the works, this is the one I couldn't leave alone. It took on a life of its own after a while. I had just received a package from Kontron that contained a 100mm x 140mm 3.5" form factor mainboard called a J-Rex AND a multimedia daughterboard called a J-Flex. The two pieces combined results in what the manufacturer calls "the highest feature density" mainboard in the world. I felt obligated to convert these pieces of industrial equipment into something cool and fun.

The specs:

� 600MHz VIA Eden CPU (fanless)
� 512MB PC-133 SDRAM
� 32 MB on-board 4x AGP video, DVI, S-Video, Firewire, USB, Optical SPDIF out, Line-in, Line-out, Mic, and amplified Audio-out

I decided to go with an MP3 player. That way, I have an excuse to re-rip my CD collection that I screwed up years ago.

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For a case I decided to go with a 4-bay 5.25" format drive cage from an old ATX tower case. I drilled out four rivets to free it. The drives have steel rails attached to each side. These rails match up with guides in the cage. The unit slides in and snaps into place. Serious over-engineering. I painted the piece teal as a primer coat. It shows up well in this picture.

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My idea was to build/purchase 5.25" modules and use the rails to attach them to the cage. First up is the drive bay. These units are designed for rack-mount server cases to save space. It contains a slim-line CD burner, floppy and hard drives in the space of a full size CD drive. On top of the drive bay I mounted the J-Rex board. Here is the cage, painted black and sporting wood accent pieces, next to the drive/mainboard unit.

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Finished case. Yes, this is a computer case. It came out of an Enlight I believe.

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Backside shot. I wanted the case to be open and "airy" because the CPU is air-cooled.

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Another backside shot. The three wood panels are all the exact same size. It would be very easy to build your own customized panels.

 

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Glamour shot. The drive frame trim is actually dollhouse molding. Again, it would be nothing to replace these pieces with whatever turns you on. I'm making up one in aluminum.

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Required size comparison photo. I am currently renegotiating with Coca-Cola. The base is 7.25" square.

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This unit is actually upside down to show all the components. It has 2x 1" high-density speakers in the front with a 4" woofer firing upwards. The unit contains an amplifier and volume control knob.

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Attached to the speaker body is the 150W ATX DC-DC power supply. It is attached with standoffs to the bottom of the speaker unit.

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Crystalfontz 634 serial unit with Drive bay adapter. The 634 will be used to provide me with MP3 info, mostly song title, album and artist. Really great for shuffle playing.

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What I like to call the sunglass module. Two rails are used on the top two attachment points. The bottom two are trimmed. This setup may look strange but it works perfectly.

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Front shot of drive bay module. I did not install the slim-floppy for several reasons. It can be added later. The front mounted ports are 2xUSB and a PS2 keyboard plug. The J-Rex has several unique features for an industrial board. It uses full-size SDRAM sticks and also uses a standard 20-pin ATX power connector.

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Backside of drive module. The black aluminum CPU heat sink is shown. All of the slim-line to regular size adapters are shown. The two brown slots (plugs) is where the daughter board mounts to the board. Not shown; below the VGA and serial plug is a compact flash slot which I have used to boot the system with an IBM microdrive.

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Now we're talking. All four pieces to the puzzle gather together

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First the drive bay is inserted, culminating with an outstanding SNAP feedback sound.

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The speaker module goes into the top slot. SNAP! The power supply now hangs down over the J-Rex.

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The sunglasses, errr...LCD module goes into the next to top slot. SNAP!

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The drive bay trim pieces are installed

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What I like to call the money shot. Before installing the remaining cables, I took this photo, to better illustrate the design. The J-Flex multimedia module (daugterboard) is installed.

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Up and running! I use WinAmp ver. 2.91 for playback and CDEX for ripping. The LCD software is a WinAmp plugin by Markus Zehnder.

I'm currently running XP Pro in this box. It installed flawlessly and I was able to use downloaded VIA 4-in-1 drivers to get everything working.

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Decorative panels removed. This piece is completely silent except for head chatter now and then from the 40GB IBM 2.5" hard drive.

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I have some friends who like the industrial look. The panels are 6.5" x 6". I have given out the specs on the panels to people who want to build custom pieces for it and even full enclosures. I'm working on panels that let me put all of my sponsor's logos on it, as soon as I get some sponsors. Big thanks to Kontron for having faith in me.

It is 90% complete due to some detail work, mostly painting. I am going to add a few parts here and there and see what people come up with for panels. What fun! For the record, it sounds pretty decent with WinAmp's equalizer. For serious music listening, I just plug in regular speakers. For ultra-serious listening, I use a Toslink cable to plug in the SPDIF optical to my Sony A/V receiver. But mostly I play it in shuffle mode, headless, as a background noise generator.