August 2001


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Revision 7: August 2001


Things got weird in August, when I accepted a contract to do development from home on a database using IBM's DB/2 for Linux, which meant I needed a Linux server in the rack ASAP.

I happen to have an older system hanging around in a desktop case that I was planning on using as an MP3 player upstairs, but hadn't found an effective way to make it work. It was thrown into the rack just sitting on top of the server stack, and a Linux expert came in and put Red Hat on it, along with the free developer's edition of DB/2 for Linux.

Around the same time, I discovered a device that made my aspirations of building an MP3 player for upstairs moot - the Voyetra AudioTron. This device is a stereo component style MP3 player, but instead of using RAM, CDs or any other kind of media to get the tunes, it has a network connection. You give it a user name and password, it grabs an IP from the DHCP server and scans the network for shares, cataloging all the MP3 files it finds along the way. A quick peek inside revealed a WinCE device! And, best of all, its rack mountable!

I acquired two of the gizmos in short order - one for upstairs, and one for down. I ran a new network cable into the living room and punched it down on the patch panel to provide a network connection for the Audiotron upstairs. There was already a stereo upstairs for the AudioTron to plug into, but there wasn't anything on the rack. The outputs on the Audiotron include standard stereo jacks (which were used upstairs) and a SP/DIF optical link for Dolby 5.1 audio. Not wanting to waste such a fine feature in an audio device, I went in search of the impossible: an amplifier that is black, rack mountable and has a SP/DIF input.

The audio industry has been using 19" rack mounting longer than the computer industry, and rack mount amplifiers are readily available, but are professional audio equipment, so they have totally different sorts of inputs and are very, very powerful - much more powerful than anything my little office would require. In the end, looking at off-the-shelf professional rack mount audio equipment proved unreasonably expensive and unnecessary.

The alternative then was consumer audio equipment. A number of manufacturers, such as Marantz, actually make rack mount audio equipment. But even this was overkill to a large degree - a lot of money, and a lot of rack space. Then I discovered that the supplier of my rack itself, Middle Atlantic Products, has an entire division dedicated to custom rack mounting. They already had rack mount kits made for virtually every audio receiver under the sun. Now all I had to do was find the receiver I liked - the smaller the better.

In studying receivers, I found they were almost universally 4Us high, which is a lot of space for an amplifier. Also, the speakers were sold separately, and were more money than the amplifier! Then I ran across Sony's DAV-S300. Designed as an all-in-one, just-add-the-tv home theatre system, it had all the features I was looking for, at a reasonable price. Its only draw back is that its silver, and I'll have to get custom rack mounting done for it, but it doesn't waste space and it does look (and sound) great.

Time for an updated set of photos:

A full top-to-bottom shot of the rack as of August, 2001. Enough work has been done on it now that its starting to look rather messy.
The lower half of the rack still contains the same machines in the same order, from the bottom: Cartman, Chef, Stan and Kyle. Notice the competed 2U case conversion. Anyone wanna buy a 4U case?
The central part of the rack shows the development workstation at the bottom and the temporary Linux server running IBM's DB/2 for Linux (named Mackie). Its temporary in that it is in a desktop case, eventually it will be moved to a rack mount case (likely Cartman's case).

The other new addition is the Voyetra AudioTron MP3 player, which is rack mounted above the Sony DAV-S300 receiver/amplifier. The AudioTron is actually connected to the network, logs into the domain and accesses the MP3 files in Cartman's large storage drive. This is a temporary position, mounted just for testing. Still working on the eventual positioning after the next rev and re-wiring. There's another AudioTron upstairs that also ties into the rack.

Notice also that the 16 port SMC switch is completely full.

The top part of the rack shows the new 24 port SMC switch that will replace the 16 port one when rewiring time comes. Two of the speakers for the Sony DAV-S300 are temporarily mounted on the rack, purely a style thing. Eventually they will be moved to the walls. Electricity is becoming a premium as the rack density continues to rise, there's a three-way jack splitter plugged into the vertical power strip on the right to provide enough outlets for the new equipment. A better solution will have to be devised soon.
Close up of the Voyetra AudioTron and Sony receiver/amplifier. The AudioTron puts out 5.1 audio (center, front left, front right, rear left, rear right and subwoofer) signals via a SP/DIF optical link. The Sony DAV-S300 was the only receiver I could find that took up only 2Us and had the optical input. Its really an AV receiver, containing a DVD player, surround sound decoders, CD player, tuner, etc. 

Issues with this revision:

Enough alterations and changes have been made that the cabling is a mess! Time to rewire.
The 16 port SMC switch is totally full. A 24 port SMC has been mounted and will replace the 16 port when the rewiring comes.
Large drive array is still not reliable, need to find a solution (see July 2001).
Have to finish positioning and racking the AudioTron and receiver.