HTPC Mayhem!

I've been planning to build an HTPC for quite a while now, and I'm finally doing it. I got an Antec Fusion Black case for my birthday, and I went out and bought the rest of the parts yesterday evening. Here's the hardware I'm using:

The other pieces were all spare parts and aren't particularly interesting. This post is about the Antec Fusion Black. Let's start with the pros:

  • Built-in case fans are extremely quiet.
  • Enough room for a standard ATX power supply.
  • Same width and style as standard home theater gear.
  • Front-mounted USB, Firewire, and HD audio ports.
  • Built-in IR port.
  • Built-in programmable LCD.
  • Several in-case cable ties to keep things properly routed and organized.

And the cons:

  • Three-compartment design makes running anything other than power and SATA cables a bit of a hassle. It took a bit of magic to thread a standard EIDE cable from the motherboard compartment to the DVD/LCD compartment, for example.
  • The IR receiver is for MCE-compatible remotes only; it doesn't work with standard universal remotes, so don't even bother.
  • Linux support sucks. I believe you can get everything working, but doing so requires a bit of effort. See below for more information.
  • The included manual is horribly out of date and contains errors and omissions. Your best bet is to use the manual as toilet paper and download the PDF from Antec's product page, although that manual is still dated. Both versions claim that the motherboard has a 3-pin power supply fan signal connector cable, and no such cable exists in my case. There is also a mysterious two-pin purple and black cable labeled "M/B PWR" that is not documented in either manual (this thread on AVS Forums explains what it's for).
  • Non-standard power connection for the LCD and IR receiver. This only matters if you need to replace the power supply; see below.

Fortunately I've already decided to buy a Harmony remote, so the MCE remote requirement is a minor inconvenience and an excuse to go buy a new gadget.

The most irritating problem so far is that the power supply fan is extremely loud. I think my PSU is probably defective, because it doesn't make any sense to design a sound-isolating case with extremely quiet case fans and then put a power supply that sounds like an air raid in there. Alternatively, the noise might be related to the non-existent 3-pin power supply fan signal connector cable mentioned above.

Anyway, I don't really want to send the case back, so I ran to Microcenter and picked up a new silent power supply. That's when I noticed the non-standard cable that powers the LCD/IR receiver, and the following blurb tucked away in the manual:

Note: If you choose to swap the included power supply with another power supply, please call Antec Customer Service to purchase a special 24-pin Extender with the 3-pin connector to power the display.

I've already ordered the adaptor from Antec's web site; I figure even if I figure out how to quiet the existing power supply it's worth having so I don't end up without the LCD and IR port if the power supply failure in the future.

Next up, Antec Fusion Linux support. The LCD is not officially supported in Linux by Antec. The good news is that the LCD in the Fusion V2/Black is better than the VFD display included in the original V1 Antec Fusion case. Unfortunately it is much harder to find documentation on the newer display. The newer display also requires a couple of patches and some config file twiddling.

Here's what you need to do, as of today:

  • Install patched versions of LIRC 0.8.2 and LCDproc 0.5.2. You can get the patches from here.
  • Follow the instructions exactly for patching and compiling LIRC and LCDproc.
  • When you recompile LIRC, select "Soundgraph iMON MultiMedian IR/VFD", not "Soundgraph iMON PAD IR/VFD".
  • After you patch LCDproc, you need to do the following or LCDproc won't pick up the changes from the patch:

      aclocal && automake && autoconf
      ./configure --enable-drivers=imonlcd
    

  • Compile and install both LIRC and LCDproc.

  • Find the [server] section in /etc/LCDd.conf and add the following lines:

      Driver=imonlcd
      DriverPath=/usr/local/lib/lcdproc/
    

  • Add this section to /etc/LCDd.conf:

      [imonlcd]
      Device=/dev/lcd0
      Contrast=300
      # do NOT set the Size, if you do it won't work
      #Size=16x2
    

  • Make sure the LIRC modules are loaded:

      modprobe lirc_dev && modprobe lirc_imon 
    

  • Start up lircd and LCDd, and things should be working.

If you're using 2.6.23.1 or newer the patches above will not work; you'll need these updated patches against the CVS version of LIRC. You'll still need to follow all the steps above, even with the updated patches.

That's all for tonight. It looks like configuring the motherboard in will be a battle too; I'll have more details as events warrant.