Intel D201GLY mini-ITX - a Low Cost Solaris Solution

Another Low-Cost, Small-Footprint - Home/Office Computer

Last week, in the midsts of rambling on about the issues in SXDE 9/07, I briefly mentioned that I had an Intel D201GLY mini-ITX board. The board has been around probably for a while. I think their may have been some OEM marketed version available to volume system builders earlier. But probably sometime in the first half of 2007, the Intel D201GLY became available online for folks like me who buy retail.


Fig. 1 Intel D201GLY mini-ITX motherboard.

For such a small form factor board, the retail price seems to vary between $60 - $80, which is a bargain, if you consider that this is for motherboard with audio, video and LAN, plus on-board CPU. Even the older VIA Epia 800 first generation mini-ITX system boards still cost around $95 - $120 online. But this Intel board has a power efficient Celeron M 215 at 1.3GHz, a single DDR2 533 slot, single IDE pin header, 2 sets of USB headers, 1 set of internal front audio pin headers, but no SATA jacks. However, while the board looks clean and well built by Intel, the chipset is the SiS662/964L combination with Mirage 1 graphics and SiS900 10/100 Fast ethernet.

I've spent the last week twiddling at home during spare time trying different cases to put this board into as well as measuring power and getting Solaris to work well on this. Below, I go through some of the configurations and settings on how I got this to work.

Picking Out A Case

Mini-ITX motherboards will fit Flex-ATX, Micro-ATX, XPC and ATX cases in general. But the real attraction is to be able to stick the board into a small, very appealing case that makes people go, "Wow! a tiny computer!" when they see your computer. The only concern with this Intel board is that the heat sink and fan over the CPU (which is soldered on BGA packaging) is the height. It's about 1.8 - 1.9 inches tall if I lay the mobo on a flat surface. That's taller than 1U, so a rackmount case like a 1U 1/2 width, short depth box could work if I could find a 40mm replacement copper heat sink and thin 40x40x10mm fan. However, with no changes to the motherboard/heat sink/fan, the board does fit nicely into both the Casetronic 2677 and 2699R mini-ITX cases. There's just about 3 - 4mm of clearance under the case covers, and if heat is a worry, I can always drill holes in the top cover in the area just over the cpu/fan.

I like the 2699R case better because it has front panel USB and audio jacks, which are supported by the pin headers on the motherboard. The 2677 also is problematic; as an older model, its ATX extension cable isn't long enough to reach across to the rear of the board where the power pins are. An inexpensive ATX extension cable is required. The cases sells for around $65-$75 online and include a big external brick-style AC adapter (like for a laptop) and a 12VDC converter daughter-board that then provides a 20 pin ATX connector to the motherboard. The daughter-board power supply has a big advantage in that it can be about 94 - 96% efficient at converting 12VDC into usable system power. Typical power supplies inside PCs are less than 70% efficient at full power, and when the board only draws 25 watts, the P/S may actually be sucking 50Watts or double the power.


Fig. 2. Casetronic 2699R mini ITX chassis.

If the price is a bit high, then it's still possible to find some places that sell the Englight 7396AM1 for just $20 plus shipping. It's a very high quality case at a budget price and it's bigger, but still smaller than most mini Tower cases.

Drives and Cables

Both my picks for cases, the Casetronic 2699R and the Enlight 7396AM1 have support for just a slim optical drive, one floppy or USB multi-function card reader, and a 3.5 inch hard drive. The NEC/Sony Opti-arc 8X DVD burner is a low-cost slim drive which runs around $50 - $60 online. There are NEC/Sony and Samsung versions of the CDRW/DVD combo slim drive which work similarly for around $40 - $45. Whichever one you chose, you'll need to get a short adapter that connects the IDE slim optical drive modular jack to a standard 40 pin IDE plus power. The unfortunate thing that Intel didn't do was to put SATA drive support. It would have reduced cable and connector crowding, especially with the Casetronic case. In addition, the optical drive bay butts closely to the cpu heatsink/fan. There isn't much room for the slim drive, the adapter and the 40 pin cable so the adapter must be pretty low-profile. (Note: I bought a half dozen on eBay from some vendor in Hong Kong - service was good, but the adapters were poorly made and the pin headers stick out the reverse side of the PCB and it's possible that during the screw tightening, the pins can touch and short the back of the drive chassis and destroy the drive. I recommend some metal clippers or diagonal cutters to find and cut the protruding points down. I also recommend using a piece of masking on the back edge of the slim drive to protect it from shorting out.

The 3.5 inch hard disk is just a standard IDE drive. I can shave about 3 - 5 more watts by going to a 2.5 inch laptop drive. This requires a 44-pin to 40-pin IDE adapter for the conversion. The Casetronic 2699R has pre-drilled holes to mount a small 2.5 inch hard drive, while the Enlight case does not. But the latter is much larger and includes a disk tray with rubber grommets which provide shock support for the drive.

Note: The Sony/NEC Opti-arc DVD burner appears to be set, in firmware to IDE high - meaning it wants to be the primary device on any cable. Because the board only has a single 40 pin IDE header, this means the NEC/Sony must be the primary, and the hard disk must be a slave drive on the same cable. The simplest solution is to use the cable-select jumper setting on the hard drive and make sure it's the 2nd IDE plug stuck into the drive on the ribbon cable, and the first IDE plug is in the slim DVD drive. Otherwise, it may be hard for the system to discover which drive is primary and which is secondary.

Note 2: The Enlight case is for a MicroATX motherboard. The mini-ITX is quite a bit smaller still and the USB front panel connector cables, as well as the standard IDE ribbon cables are a bit too short to reach over from the front of the case or the hard drive to the motherboard socket. I solved this problem by ordering internal USB pin header extension cable. This adds about 10 - 12 inches of reach to connect the front panel USB.

Solaris SXDE 9/07 installation

Installation wasn't too bad, except for the Xorg noise and streaks on the screen. As I found out, the installer is using the sis Xorg module. It works for the prevous SiS 661 Northbridge, but not here on the SiS662. Luckily, others have run into this problem on Linux and the recommendation there was to switch from using the sis module to the Vesa module in Xorg. The way to do this is to simply run, in Nevada, the xorgcfg graphical configuration utility, edit the properties for the graphics card and choose "vesa' for the module, then logout and log back in.

# /usr/X11/bin/xorgcfg

The LAN uses Murayama's free SiS fast ethernet (sfe) driver. Installation was quick and painless because I keep a CDROM disk with most of the free drivers for Solaris on it. But we could have put this on a USB jump drive as well.

Note: The default with SXDE 9/07 is to use Network AutoMagic. To set a static address, you can use the GUI tool in the Gnome SysAdmin menu. But that doesn't work if nwam is managing the interface. So I run:

# svcadm disable network/physical:nwam
# svcadm enable network/physical:default
Then I can use the graphical network configuration tool.

And with audio, the onboard SiS AC'97 chip (pci1039,7012) isn't supported by the default Solaris drivers. Here, I use Juergen Keil's free Solaris audio drivers. Interestingly, I tried to pkgadd the wad of packages, but the actual drivers refused to be copied over for some reason. Instead, I ended up rebuilding the packages from source and using a manual make reallyinstall inside each pkg directory and installing from the command line. I was able to confirm the install put the driver into /platform/i86pc/kernel/drv/audioi810. The post-install was a bit more problematic. It tries to run add_drv with a list of hardware pci-Device-IDs. Some collide with other existing and supported AC'97 devices. I manually edited the add_drv command inside the Makefile and was then able to add_drv for just the audioi810 module for just the SiS 7012 audio controller.

Power Consumption and Usability and Final Thoughts

With a few more of my standard software pkgs installed, then a cheap laser printer hooked up, and security, IPfilters, backup scripts and cron jobs to manage the system, the small box is making a nice home/office workstation. It's great for word processing, spread sheets, light dig cam editing, web browsing and email. My wife liked it immediately because it had the latest browser fixes to JavaScript that eliminate a funny popup 2nd Mortgage offer bubbles she was seeing when accessing several Citibank websites to pay our bills.

I like the fact that the system with the small Casetronic case, only draws from 26 - 33 Watts. It's got fairly good performance for rendering pictures and processing scaling operations and ripping MP3 audio. It's quite a bit faster than the older VIA c3 systems like my Epia 800 box. Also, Intel has implemented some nice features such as temperature sensitive voltage control on the case fan 3-pin power plug. So the case fan isn't always noisy. Only when the case gets hot, or briefly, it gets loud just for a second during a reboot.

Relative to the older Epia 800, which uses between 13 - 22 Watts, the Intel d201gly isn't quite as efficient. But it is much faster and gives the newer VIA c7/cn700 systems some competition. I've tested FlexATX form-factor PCChips v21G, and in an efficient enclosure with DC power supply, that c7 mobo averages 24 - 35 Watts and it still feels like it's a tad faster, and it should be since its c7 cpu is usually clocked faster at 1.5 GHz. But this Intel board is still fairly green and a bit quieter for those folks who want Intel build quality. For my wife and I, we feel like we're splurging, using double the power.

Note: The same Intel d201gly board stuck inside the Enlight case with conventional TFX12V power supply draws 49 - 62 Watts! The difference is completely due to the inefficiency in the power supply. I've priced a small solid-state 80Watt tiny ATX DC power supply with AC brick-style adapter. A conversion kit may cost between $40 - $80 and this would put a 94% or better efficiency DC power supply into the same box. But could save about $40/yr in electricity if left on 24 hrs/day so it'll pay for itself in a year or two and reduce power consumption further.

Total cost was: $75 mobo + $80 case p/s + $40 hdd + $55 dvdrw + $39 1GBDDR2 + $15 cables = $304.

Comments:

Hi I am very much intrested in buying one of these intel mini-itx board, but sadly they are nowhere available here (India)..

Can you tell me from where did u purchase all the hardware from? (one of my close friend is visit US so I intend to purchase via him)

And what would u recommend if I want a build it as a NAS? It lacks sata ports but can we add a PCI Sata adapter & have a NAS running?

Thx!

Posted by Gautam on October 03, 2007 at 08:48 AM PDT #

Try online at ComputerGate.com, or NewEgg.COM for the Motherboard. If your friend is West Coast and near a Fry's Electronics, the Bay Area stores started stocking them a few weeks ago. Price ranges from $60 - $70 at these places plus tax. For the case, I would look at eWiz.COM or Directron.COM. For any extra cables, power-supplies and stuff, try mini-box.com, idotpc.com, and logicsupply.com. Prices are competitive, and shipping/service are fast. For building a NAS, it all depends on what your purpose is. For a simple home file server, it may suffice, but only barely. Problem with the system is that it only has 10/100 BaseT ethernet. To use a NAS, you probably want at least GigE. But it only has a single IDE pin header. This means at most 2 drives using onboard controllers. So with only 1 PCI slot, do you use it for a GigE NIC? or do you use it for a SATA expansion card? (Note: SATA drives eat more power than IDE drives). You could use the board and place 2 x 750 GB IDE drives (master and slave) and then add a cheap Realtek PCI GigE NIC. That'd give you 1.5 TB of disk in a small form factor. But a 7200rpm ATA drive with 2 platters eats around 7 - 9 Watts by itself. So for a bigger NAS with lots of disk drives, the motherboard/chipset may no longer be the biggest power-hog.

Posted by PotstickerGuru on October 04, 2007 at 05:28 AM PDT #

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