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.

I don’t like most social networks.

There, I’ve said it. It’s true.

I hate Facebook with the passion of a thousand burning suns. I could go on for hours about all of the bad and the terrible. In fact, I have. It’s pretty easy to get me going, in fact.

I fought joining Twitter, until signing up meant that I was more likely to get that job that I was after. Once I did, I was pretty well addicted. I fully embraced it as a microblogging platform, until Gamergate showed how lax they were with enforcing any sort of abuse policy whatsoever. I stayed as long as I could stand it, but eventually a vote was taken, and the citizens of Skippy chose Twexit.

Google Plus was just disappointing from beginning to end. Not only did Google/Alphabet/whatever decide to get rid of my favorite Google products (I STILL WANT READER BACK! YOU HEAR ME?), not only did it force gender-normative real names upon YouTube comments, not only did it replace Picasaweb (IT WAS FINE YOU JERKS), but it ended up being lackluster and bland.

I tried ello. Flash in the pan, and pretentious to boot.

Livejournal was my home from 2001, and I slowly migrated away from it, until its new-ish Russian parent company decided that all users were subject to Russian law.

I missed Vine entirely. I blinked, and it went away. And, yes, I’m going to point out how similar its life was to the length of its videos.

Snapchat? EEeeeeuuuuggghhhh….

Diaspora? Now THAT ONE had my attention. I signed up for notifications, and I wanted to host my own pod, and it was awesome and was going to be the best and… I have no idea what happened. I don’t remember ever getting the notification that it was available for use, or I did and never signed up or… ? No idea.

Mastodon seems to be a modern Diaspora, and the only problem I’m having so far is figuring out which node I want to be associated with for the life of the platform and/or until that particular node goes down for good. I’m unsure about how that data can be migrated if that happens, but whatever. I’m going to give it a try.

I’m not looking for a replacement for this blog, or for my vlog, or for my gaming videos. Actually, I take that back, I’d love to find a replacement for YouTube. But, I’m not expecting Mastadon to be that. I’m expecting it to be a place to connect with friends and view microblogging content and that sort of thing. On a distributed, open source platform.

If you’re interested, check it out. :) I’ll be posting my contact info there soon!