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    Dos_Box's Avatar
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    Turning an old laptop into a media server

    Well, in the end, I didn't get around to ordering a new hinge for my old Lenovo SL500: Lenovo SL500 laptop series and earlier this year parked it on a shelf in the EduGeek office with a view to disposing it in the future. A shame really as it was quite a good spec and had given me years of excellent service.
    Recently however I had found myself increasingly falling out with the Raspberry Pi I had employed as a media server to talk to my home NAS.
    It was running RaspBMC and it was, I suspect, having a competition with my Virgin Tivo box to see which could be the slowest and most annoying piece of hardware in my living room.
    The Pi won. But only just, and I think the Tivo's days are also numbered.
    Anyway, my mind was made up. I needed something to replace the Pi, play my media and do some other task like possibly run a home Minecraft sever for the kids and some provision for retro gaming.
    There was no way I was going to put 'the beast' back in my living room, but I did need something that would be unobtrusive, low powered and be able to perform whatever I threw at it. I had looked at various media streamers from the WD TV Live, Roku and various Android based boxes, but none seemed to tick all of the boxes.

    And then I noticed the SL500 once more. After an hour or so of reading various Lenovo servicing documents as to how to remove the screen which involved pretty much stripping down the entire chassis just to get to the screws that held the screen onto the main body.
    Once quick re-install of W7 later, XBMC loaded up and other small random programs that allow us to watch various online streaming channels such as Crunchyroll and Netflix it was done.
    And it works a treat as it has HDMI and can output 1080p via its Geforce 9300M GS GPU has Gb ethernet and runs almost silent. In short it is far better than the Pi it had usurped.
    As regards its (modest) specs it is:

    Intel Core 2 Duo T5870 2.0Ghz
    256 Mb GeForce 9300m GS GPU
    4GB DDR2 800 RAM
    250Gb 5400 rpm HD (Will be replaced with a cheap 128GB SSD after Christmas)

    So, if you have an old laptop with a reasonable spec knocking around, and if you feel confident enough it may be worth considering giving it a whole new lease of life.
    And you won't believe how much weight it takes off a laptop just by removing the screen!
    Oh, and you may need some thermal paste to hand as when I was stripping it down some of the chassis screws also retained parts of the cooling mechanism which resulted in the ancient paste originally used breaking its seal and making the CPU run at 85 degrees+ (Celsius) on tick-over and the thermal cut-out activating on several occasions. Another hour was then spent stripping down the cooling system, cleaning off the old paste, cleaning heatsinks and fans and applying a new layer of thermal compound to the three cooling system contact points and all was well once more with the CPU at 45 degrees and GPU at about 60.

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    zag
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    The best XBMC box these days is the haswell NUC's due to their ridiculously low power usage, but you are right any old laptop with an SSD drive will do.

    I'd recommend openelec
    Last edited by zag; 11th December 2013 at 09:25 AM.

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    Dos_Box's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zag View Post
    The best XBMC box these days is the haswell NUC's due to their ridiculously low power usage, but you are right any old laptop with an SSD drive will do.
    Preferably with HDMI though, and you can pick up semi-decent laptops with bust screens off Ebay for a song. I had looked at a NUC, but once you spec them up the price gets a bit silly IMO. Don't get me wrong, they are a very good machine and PC Advisor had a decent review of the newest one here: Intel NUC D54250WYK review - next generation of Intel's NUC mini PC with Haswell chip - PC Advisor but to bring it up to speed it came in at over £500!
    Another win factor for a screenless laptop is that the height in minimal enabling it to be slotted into the smallest gap in a tv unit. One downside however is that the wi-fi aerial goes around the screen so it has to be hardwired unless you buy in a USB dongle or do a bit of DIY antenna rigging inside the case which may limit the signal quality.
    Last edited by Dos_Box; 11th December 2013 at 11:02 AM.

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    zag
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    I just got one of these to test out

    ABEL H3 - Tranquil PC Limited Store

    Its all about power usage for me as I leave mine on 24/7 and use it for live satellite tv as well.

    These things actually use less wattage than my Youview box in standby mode!
    Last edited by zag; 11th December 2013 at 10:00 AM.

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    Zag: Could you post which parts are included in the H3? Their webpage is very vague (4Gb ram, 60gb ssd), I would like to know the brands used. If they have used good components, then theres no reason to buy barebones

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    zag
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    No idea on the makes sorry, it just works for me.

    I've never opened it up in all honesty.

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    If anybody else is curious, they told me that they primarily use Kingston components

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