Off by THIS much!

With everything else tested and taken care of, it was time to look at housing. What about the battery, you ask? My good friend (remember him?) is working on the battery pack, I reply, and I’m not intending on getting in his way. So, housing it is.

Getting the screen apart was pretty easy. Five or six screws, one behind a Quality Control / Void Your Warranty sticker, and it just slid apart. There was plenty of room in there, and everything was placed in a logical way with standard screws and such. Easy to move around, easy to play with.

Getting the PC apart was a little less easy. I had to take out the wireless card and antennas, the hard drive, the fan and air tunnel unit, and the CPU heat sink. And that was just to get to the screws attaching the board to the case.Once the screws were removed, the motherboard was… reluctant to come out of the case. Once I figured out the proper angles, I was able to extract the board without damaging it. It was touch and go there for a minute, so there were many sighs of relief once it was out.

Then came the moment of truth! I lay the motherboard on top of the screen back to see if it would fit, and… well, you can see the photo above. The board is too big (or the backing is too small) by a matter of millimeters. It wasn’t terribly disappointing, because now we get to make a custom housing for the unit, and make sure both the screws for the screen will fit, but that the screws for the motherboard will ALSO fit. We’ll also get to account for internal wiring, cooling vents, and which ports we want to be accessible.

Originally, the plan was for vacuum-molded plastic or acrylic. My friend sent me a video for a fiberglass tape that he thinks will do a better job. If we make the housing out of tape, I’m never letting anyone forget it. Or, for that matter, living it down.

Small is better than large.

System v3You may notice a few changes to the PC in the photo, there. The project has been humming right along, and a lot has changed. The most obvious change, I think, is the hard drive.

The S-ATA SSD that I had did the job, but it was under the system required space, and took up quite a bit of room. Skippy, you might ask, how can a laptop hard drive take up a lot of room? Okay, that’s fair, I respond, space is definitely relative in this case. As I mentioned in the last post, this motherboard has M.2 slots, one of which I used for the wifi card. I spent a little money and ordered a M.2 hard drive, and it’s ridiculously tiny, despite having 250 gigs on it. It’s the Crucial branded number on the left, there. It’s incredibly fast, was immediately compatible, and generates very little heat. With all of these benefits, it was the way to go when space will be at a premium.

The wifi card looks a little different, too. That’s because I ordered antennas for it! The first antenna I tried to attach was a bust. Apparently, when the standard changed from Mini PCI-E to M.2, they took the opportunity to make the antenna connectors smaller. Incredibly small. I was expecting a struggle after my last attempt to attach antennas, but these clipped right on. AND! They have adhesives on the end for when I run them around the edges of the screen. Bonus!

Also! My Dualshock 4 controller seems to have mysteriously morphed into Nintendo Switch Joy-cons, attached to a Charging Grip. With the wires attached to the wireless card, bluetooth works under SteamOS, and can see the Joy-cons. Unfortunately, it sees each of them as a separate controller, rather than seeing both as one. If you look closely in the back, you may see the Magic-NS adapter sticking out the back. (Thanks to My Mate Vince for this!) When using that, the Joy-cons show up as a single controller that can be easily mapped through Steam’s interface. I played some Bastion and some Talos Principle with them, and was NOT disappointed.

The next step is to take apart the screen and get the motherboard out of its case, determine if we need a custom housing, and move forward from there. SPOOOOOOON!

Peripherals are exciting!

To see all the posts for this project, click on the “Handheld Gaming” category below.

So, we have SteamOS working on a Super Small Form Factor box. We have a couple of games downloaded and tested. What’s next?

Well, I’ll be mounting controllers to the side of the unit, so making sure that SteamOS handles non-Steam Controllers well is an important step. Before I drop $70 on the Switch Joy-cons that will be in the final product, I hooked up my trusty DualShock 4 controller with a MicroUSB cable. SteamOS automatically recognized it, and accepted it as an input device. I tweaked the controller layout in the OS a little bit, because I’m a picky person, and the config changes worked AND saved between games.

The next step was adding wireless and bluetooth connectivity. The motherboard has two M.2 slots on it, one designed for a hard drive, and the other designed for just what I was looking to add. Once the card came in, it was incredibly easy to install and use. SteamOS recognized it right away. This was the exact opposite experience I’d had when trying to replace the internal wifi/bluetooth card on my laptop, so I was overjoyed. OVER. JOYED. Unfortunately, I couldn’t successfully test it for connecting to the local network or to the DualShock 4, because I was (and am) waiting for the laptop antenna I’m going to mount on the inside of the screen. Hey, when your friend is hooking you up with free parts from his collection, you can wait. But, it works! In the OS! And can see things!

Figuring out which screen to use was difficult. I needed something that wasn’t going to suck a lot of power, was able to handle full 1080p, and wasn’t too large to use comfortably on an airplane between my substantial belly and the seatback in front of me. That’s the whole point of this project, right? Thanks to this sweet video, I ended up going with this screen, originally meant for videographers and photographers. It’s incredibly light, and has a lot of room under the back panel. It’s full 1080p, and is incredibly crisp. It honestly looks better than the test monitor I had it hooked up to, which has just added to my excitement. Its only drawback is that it can’t be powered by a conventional USB port.

The project is coming along so smoothly that I’m terrified of jinxing it. BUT! Next post will be about swapping out the hard drive, and adding the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controllers!

Building the foundation

The project continues! The first step was to get a Super-Small Form Factor (SSFF) PC that had the hardware to run Steam games on top of Debian Linux, which is what SteamOS is a fork of. Luckily, I have a good friend who tends to collect cast-off hardware.

The first model I tried was a Lenovo ThinkCentre M92p Tiny Desktop. It has an Intel Core i5-3470T processor at 2.90GHz. The processor has an on-board graphics card, which was good enough to handle what the project requires. We cobbled together 8 gigs of RAM from a couple of different boxes. It has onboard 802.11n and bluetooth, but only VGA and DisplayPort outs, when the screens I was looking at were all HDMI. Also, during install, my friend and I could only get video to output to the VGA port, which was not going to work. So, on to the next one.

The second model I tried was a Dell OptiPlex 7040 micro. It’s got an Intel Core i5-6500T processor at just under 3GHz, which also has an integrated graphics card. This one already had 8 gigs of RAM installed, but no wifi or bluetooth. It didn’t have a hard drive, so I pulled a 128 GB SSD out of my LaCie Rugged enclosure and crossed my fingers that the hard drive space requirement was able to be fudged.

It was! I hooked it up to an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse. SteamOS installed, with no error, and booted right up! There was some serious screen twitching going on with the video card (Skylake! *shakes fist*), but a configuration change fixed that completely. I installed some games, and was grinning ear to ear at how smoothly they were playing.

Next Friday – Testing with the controller! Ordering and testing the screen! Also a wireless and bluetooth card!

New project!

I am incredibly excited. I am bouncing off the walls with giddiness and anticipation. I have a new project, but I can’t start on it until I get home from work travel. This project, everyone, this project!

I’ve been debating getting a Nintendo Switch since it came out about a year ago. I’ve gone back and forth on it, mulled it over during my gaming videos, and debated about it while hanging out in my favorite streamers’ channels. The hardware is beautiful and amazing and I want to pet it all day long. But the games… I’d have to re-purchase any classic games that I’ve bought for my Wii U, and because of the move from discs to cartridges, backward compatibility isn’t possible. Add on to that all of the copyright notices I get when I archive streams of Wii U games to YouTube. But the hardware… oh, man.

The project idea hit me when I was bemoaning this yet again, and asked why I would sink even more money into a game library for the Switch when I have all of these unplayed games in my Steam library? It seemed ludicrous.

So what I really want to do, is to play my Steam games on the Switch. But, meh, I’ve fought to get root and install OS ROMs on devices before, and I moved to an iPhone so I wouldn’t have to do that any more.

So what I REALLY want to do is play my Steam games on a device LIKE the switch. (CAPS.) My brain went pop, and I thought, that should exist! Spoilers, it does, or has in the recent past, or will in the near future, but either not in the form factor I’m looking for, or isn’t available for purchase.

Everyone, I’ve decided to build a hand-held Steam Box. The first iteration will only play those games with the Steam logo in the compatibility list (SteamOS). The second iteration will play all the Windows compatible games, up to and including modern releases.

I’ve got a plan. And, with the help of a good friend, a jumping-off-point in the form of a SFFF (super small form factor) PC ready and waiting when I return home.

Cannot. Wait.