The 1940′s Radio PC
I recently decided to build a new, low power, general purpose computer to take over from the high speed, high power, electricity munching behemoth I used for playing games. It just didn’t make sense to have a super powerful computer running all of the time, when I just needed it to check my email and surf the internet.
Anyone that knows me is aware of my love for the early part of the 20th century, and a 1940′s radio seemed like the perfect starting point for my new computer project. The radio looked pretty, but was being sadly neglected because it wasn’t really useful as a radio any more. Some people might consider pulling one of these beautiful old beasts apart as a sacrilegious act. Personally, I would much rather see a functional computer sitting on my desk, than a broken radio sitting in my attic.
I had an old 800Mhz VIA micro-itx motherboard lying around, and with a little bit of measuring, I figured out that it would fit into the old radio case perfectly. I had 60 watt, 12 volt PSU to match, and so I started pulling out the old and putting in the new. I had decided early on that I wanted the computer to be as wireless as possible, so I got my hands on a second hand video sender, wireless keyboard and mouse, and wireless networking card. The most difficult part of the build process was making the computer turn on or off using the original switch. I accomplished this using a relay and a capacitor wired to the permanent 5v line coming from the power supply.
Adding a set of USB speakers meant that I could use the computer to listen to music without needing the monitor connected, and a 40Gb laptop hard drive gave me enough room to store my music collection and a few movies. I could always attach a USB storage device if I wanted to update my collection. To give the radio a little character I added an LED to light. The 3 watt luxeon LED illuminated the dial just like the original bulb, but without the excessive heat.
Initially, the computer didn’t have a DVD drive, because I didn’t think I would need it once the computer was completely installed. After a few weeks of use I changed my mind, and stripped a DVD-RW drive from an old, broken laptop.Another few weeks of testing told me that while the concept of the 1940′s Radio PC was sound, I needed a little more power and memory if I was going to be comfortable with the new machine.
A quick search around my local computer store revealed the perfect solution. I exchanged the 800Mhz EPIA motherboard for a more modern Intel Atom 1.6Ghz with 2Gb of RAM, effectively doubling my processor speed and memory in one go.
Several months on, I switched the operating system from Ubuntu to Windows 7. I switched to Windows 7 because I had problems running flash movies under linux. Windows 7 gave me Windows Media Center, which I could use to view Sky TV and (via plugins) BBC iPlayer footage.
I am very happy with the way the 1940′s radio PC turned out. It looks good, didn’t cost any more than an equivalent PC to build, is quiet, uses about 20% of the power of my gaming machine, and can be run from a battery in an emergency. I don’t even notice that the processor in the 1940′s PC is just a fraction of the speed of my gaming rig. Even if I do need the extra power, I can switch to the gaming computer with the click of a single button.