Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Turn your old wireless router into an LTE router with OpenWRT

Today's article has nothing to do with the NUC. Instead, I'm going to show you how you can turn your old wireless router into an LTE router if you just have an QMI-compatible LTE dongle. I recently got an LTE 4G mobile broadband connection that came with a Huawei E392 USB dongle. I found that the dongle was quite tedious to use on a laptop as it did not allow me to use the connection with multiple devices easily. A proper LTE router would have cost around €200 where as this project turned my old wireless router and the dongle that came with my subscription into an LTE router for no additional cost!

So I had a Western Digital N750 router and a Huawei E392 dongle.

OpenWRT is an open operating system that is meant to replace the OS that is running on many off-the-shelf wireless routers. It provides additional features compared to the manufacturers original firmware.

Is my router supported?

To make this happen, you will need a router that has a USB 2.0 port and that is supported by OpenWRT. The guys over at OpenWRT maintain a list of devices that are supported. Western Digital has discontinued their line of routers, so they're being sold currently for a fraction of the money I paid for mine! There are many others as well and this article will pretty much apply for any supported router.

My 3G/LTE Dongle - is it supported?

This is a more tricky question. Basically if your dongle runs Qualcomm's QMI protocol and it is supported by the qmi_wwan Linux module it should be fine. Huawei E392, E398, Vodafone K5005 and many others belong to this category. Do note that there are other drivers for other types of dongles, but this article only covers QMI dongles!

Installing the OpenWRT on the Router

It's good idea to go to the OpenWRT website where they maintain a page for each supported device. For example for WD MyNet N750 the page is here and for N600 here.

Basically the process is following:

  • Locate the OpenWRT image for your router (there's one you need for flashing over a factory image and another one you use for upgrades - choose the factory image if your flashing OpenWRT for the first time)
  • Download the image
  • Load the image into your router via the management web interface that your router has. Typically available at http://192.168.0.1 or http://192.168.1.1 Check the manual of your router or the OpenWRT installation page. If you've changed the settings on your router, there's usually a reset button to clear the settings, but if you can access the web interface it's not typically necessary to clear them.
  • Configure your router

These steps depend on the model of the router and are typically well-described on the OpenWRT page. After the software is flashed, the router will reboot and it will be running OpenWRT. Time to start the actual configuration!

Change the root password

Now that you have your router up, connect your computer to it with a cable and let it retrieve the IP address automatically using DHCP (this is usually what you do if you don't have a static IP address configured for the computer). Then open a browser and point it to http://192.168.1.1 address. You will see page saying that there is no root password configured and that you should change it. Do that.

When you've changed the root password you should be able to see the status of the router in the web interface.

Installing QMI Drivers

The QMI drivers are not installed in OpenWRT by default. So you will need to install them manually. There are 2 ways to handle this installation. Either you have wired Internet connectivity to your router, which makes things very easy for you. However, I did not have, so I had to download the packages beforehand and then transfer them to my router and install them. This article describes what I had to do. If you have connectivity to your router, skip here.

Prerequisite Software

Download and install the following software on your laptop. If you use other OS than Windows, you can use other similar software.

OpenWRT Packages

Download the following packages. You can find all the packages here: downloads.openwrt.org/barrier_breaker/14.07/. At the time of writing 14.07 is the latest stable release. In case you're installing a later release, download the packages for the corresponding release. Under that link you will find a folders for each type of architecture. You will need to determine the type of architecture that applies to your router (the factory image download link contains the architecture, so if unsure look at that link). For WD N600 and N750 it's ar71xx. Under the architecture folder you will need to go into generic/packages/base folder and download the following packages:

  • libpthread
  • kmod-mii
  • kmod-usb-net
  • kmod-usb-wdm
  • kmod-usb-net-qmi-wwan
  • librt
  • libusb-1.0
  • usb-modeswitch
  • uqmi

Installing the Packages

Now open up WinSCP and create a new connection to your router. Select SCP as the protocol, enter 192.168.1.1 as the IP, root as the username and the password you set earlier.

Drag and drop the download packages to the right side which represent the files in your router.

Good, now you can close WinSCP and open the other software you downloaded, PuTTY. Define 192.168.1.1 as the IP address and hit connect.

After a confirmation you will see a terminal screen and a command line prompt.

Now enter the command to install all the packages that you had downloaded.

opkg install *.ipk

If you are missing some package, it will complain about missing dependencies. If that happens, go back, download the missing packages, transfer them to your router and try again. Successful output should look like this:

root@OpenWrt:~# opkg install *.ipk
Installing kmod-mii (3.10.49-1) to root...
Installing kmod-usb-net-qmi-wwan (3.10.49-1) to root...
Installing kmod-usb-net (3.10.49-1) to root...
Installing kmod-usb-wdm (3.10.49-1) to root...
Package kmod-usb-net (3.10.49-1) installed in root is up to date.
Package kmod-usb-wdm (3.10.49-1) installed in root is up to date.
Installing libpthread (0.9.33.2-1) to root...
Installing librt (0.9.33.2-1) to root...
Installing libusb-1.0 (1.0.9-1) to root...
Installing uqmi (2014-05-27-d7a56cad6d6ef3c2a5602fc604ee78fa) to root...
Installing usb-modeswitch (2014-07-18-01ecc3b97648f9adb0cd33) to root...
Configuring libpthread.
Configuring kmod-mii.
Configuring kmod-usb-net.
Configuring kmod-usb-wdm.
Configuring kmod-usb-net-qmi-wwan.
Configuring librt.
Configuring libusb-1.0.
Configuring usb-modeswitch.
Configuring uqmi.

That's it, the packages are there. Now reboot the system by issuing a command reboot and proceed from chapter Configuring QMI just a little bit below. Note that you will lose connectivity when the system is rebooted.

reboot

Installing the Packages with Internet Connectivity

If you had wired connectivity on your routers WAN port, there would be no need to transfer the files with WinSCP or PuTTY. Instead you could go to web interface with your browser and open System -> Software. Click Update lists then type uqmi in the box that says Download and install package and click OK. Repeat for packages usb-modeswitch and kmod-usb-net-qmi-wwan. Then reboot the system via System -> Reboot.

Configuring QMI

At this point, you may want to log in to the router and confirm that you have a /dev/cdc-wdm0 device present. This represents your USB dongle.

root@OpenWrt:~# ls -l /dev/cdc-wdm0
crw-r--r--    1 root     root      180, 176 Oct  1 12:03 /dev/cdc-wdm0

If you do not have it, try to run the following, wait a short while and check again:

usbmode -l
usbmode -s

If you still don't have /dev/cdc-wdm0 present, run logread and try to see if you can find any clues in the logs.

Now that you have your /dev/cdc-wdm0 device present, you can check that device is responding correctly.
root@OpenWrt:~# uqmi -d /dev/cdc-wdm0 --get-data-status
"disconnected"
root@OpenWrt:~# uqmi -d /dev/cdc-wdm0 --get-signal-info
{
        "type": "lte",
        "rssi": -61,
        "rsrq": -6,
        "rsrp": -88,
        "snr": 290
}

The commands show that mine is disconnected currently and has LTE coverage at the moment. Now I need to issue a start-network command. For that I need to know which APN my dongle needs to use (typically internet, but check from your operator) and if authentication is used. In my case there's no authentication.

root@OpenWrt:~# uqmi -d /dev/cdc-wdm0 --start-network internet --autoconnect
38750672
root@OpenWrt:~# uqmi -d /dev/cdc-wdm0 --get-data-status
"connected"

The autoconnect parameter is important. It makes sure that device automatically reconnects when you restart your router or if you lose the connection for a while. In case you need to define authentication, add the parameters username and password plus possibly the auth-type to the start-network command line:

  --start-network :            Start network connection (use with options below)
    --auth-type pap|chap|both|none: Use network authentication type
    --username :              Use network username
    --password :          Use network password
    --autoconnect:                  Enable automatic connect/reconnect

Now the last thing to do is to add the following lines into /etc/config/network file:

config interface 'wwan'
        option ifname 'wwan0'
        option proto 'dhcp'

You can do this using the vi text editor, but if you're not comfortable with that, point your browser to 192.168.1.1 again, choose Network -> Interfaces and click Add new interface.

Write wwan as the name of the interface and make it cover the wwan0 interface. Choose DHCP client as the protocol.

If you go back to the list of network interfaces, you should soon see the IP address that your dongle has received from your operator.

We're almost there! Now you need to make sure that wwan interface belongs to your firewall's WAN zone. To do that, go to Network -> Firewall, scroll down to wan and click the Edit button.

Now add a checkmark to the wwan box under Covered networks heading, click Save & Apply and you're done.

That's it! You've configured OpenWRT to be your LTE router. Now you can add other kind of functionality like wireless networks, tweak the firewall rules, install further software into the box - possibilities are almost endless. Or then you can just use it to share your USB dongle to your network. Finally, a speedtest.net result of 70+ Mbps downlink and 35+ Mbps uplink - not too bad.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Bay Trail NUC (DN2820FYKH) Review - part 3

This is the last part of the DN2820FYKH review that I've been working on the last few days. Today we look how the thing works under Windows. If you're interested in the previous articles, have a look here.

Windows on the NUC


I started by installing Windows 8.1 on to the NUC from an USB stick where I had my Windows 8 installation media. The installation was uneventful and successful. After getting to the desktop, I recommend that all Windows users will visit Intel Download Center and download the latest drivers for the NUC. Drivers are available for Windows 7, 8 and 8.1.

Well, what can I say, it does work. All the hardware is fine. Performance is allright, but could be better of course, especially since I only have a 2 gigabyte memory module! Others have reported better performance with 4 or 8 gigabytes of RAM. So, if you plan on running Windows on the NUC, don't skimp on the amount of RAM. For those interested in numbers, have a look what Legit Reviews had to say in their thorough review of the thing.


DTS-HD and Windows


Intel initially claimed DTS-HD support for the NUC. However, in August it turned out that the CPU in the NUC does not support Protected Audio Path (PAP) via the onboard HDMI connector. PAP is a DRM technology that is required for lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD formats when running Windows. On Linux DTS-HD output without PAP is possible, so OpenELEC is actually fine with DTS-HD. So there you have it, no DTS-HD in Windows on this NUC. The i3 NUC is your next option, in case you need that.

What kind of hardware to buy?


If you're interested in one, you can play around in the NUC configurator that will help you to choose hardware that actually works together. I've specified here a hew example configurations though based on your needs.

Budget NUC


This configuration is pretty much as cheap as you can go and still build a proper working NUC if you plan to run Linux on it. For Windows use, you need to look further. This actually corresponds to the configuration I had in my review and provides a full working system under $200 / €200.
  • Memory: 2Gb DDR3L
  • HDD: 120Gb 2.5" SATA drive
  • HDMI cable

Check the price here.


Windows-desktop NUC


Reasonably equipped NUC with an SSD drive and 4 gigabytes of memory. You'll still need to add a suitable edition of Windows to the package.
  • Memory: 4Gb DDR3L
  • HDD: 120Gb 2.5" SSD drive
  • HDMI cable

Check the price here.


Performance NUC


About as good as it gets: The NUC with an 240Gb SSD drive and 8 gigabytes of memory.
  • Memory: 8Gb DDR3L
  • HDD: 240Gb 2.5" SSD drive
  • HDMI cable

Check the price here.


HTPC NUC


Very balanced HTPC configuration that works fine if you're planning to store your media outside the NUC (on a NAS or on an external hard drive).
  • Memory: 4Gb DDR3L
  • HDD: 60Gb 2.5" SSD drive
  • HDMI cable
  • Remote Controller

Check the price here.


Conclusion


It's not blazing fast, but it's inexpensive, small, rather stylish, quiet and works well as an OpenELEC HTPC. It's an inexpensive entry into HTPCs. In case you want to read the earlier parts of this review, look here:

Bay Trail NUC (DN2820FYKH) Review - part 2

"Building an home theater PC (HTPC)?" is the first thing Intel says on their website. It's clear that this NUC is designed to be the budget HTPC platform. It's got many good characteristics for a HTPC: it's small, it's quiet, it consumes little energy, it's affordable and there's even an integrated infrared sensor.

I previously wrote an article about the DN2820FYKH NUC and it's characteristics. Today I'm going to take a look how the Bay Trail NUC works as a HTPC.

As the Bay Trail NUC is the cheapest Intel NUC with a price tag of only around $130 I think it's natural to pair this NUC with a free operating system. OpenELEC is an open-source project which is designed for one purpose - to run the XBMC/Kodi media center application as smoothly as possibly. You can literally have a full media center running in 15 minutes with OpenELEC.

Furthermore, it strikes as kind of odd to spend a $100+ for a computer and then about the same for a copy of Windows 8. OpenELEC will run just fine with only 2 gigabytes of memory, whereas Windows will require at least 4 gigs to run ok.

OpenELEC on DN2820FYKH


I installed the stable version 4.0.7 of OpenELEC on the NUC. What can I say? Everything worked out of the box: even the wifi card and the IR sensor. I just had to change my settings so that audio was output to the HDMI connector to get the sound out via the TV speakers.

Navigation was smooth, even using a heavier skin like Aeon MQ5. Pretty much all the comments that applied for OpenELEC on the DE3815TYKHE actually do apply for the DN2820FYKH as well. It's perfect for 720p and 1080p content, but if you need live TV or interlaced content, you'll bump into the limits of the CPU and GPU of this small PC. Read the DE3815TYKHE article here.


OpenELEC on Intel NUC DN2820FYKH by nucblog (enable subtitles to see commentary)

Full HD playback


I tried testing out a few 1920x1080 24p videos and the playback seems to be ok. It's good to make sure that the following settings are configured in XBMC:
  • Video - Playback - Adjust display refresh rate to match video: On start/stop
  • Video - Playback - Sync playback to display: Enabled
  • Video - Playback - A/V sync method: Video clock (Drop/Dupe audio)
  • Video - Acceleration - Decoding method: Hardware accelerated
  • Video - Acceleration - Allow hardware acceleration (VDPAU): Disabled
  • Video - Acceleration - Allow hardware acceleration (VAAPI): Enabled
  • Video - Acceleration - Use Mpeg-2 VAAPI: Enabled
  • Video - Acceleration - Use Mpeg-4 VAAPI: Enabled
There are a few very high bitrate test videos at jell.yfish.us that I tried. I tried the 100 Mbps video and even that was fine. There were no dropped frames during the playback. There are a few right in the beginning of the playback, but it stabilizes after first second or so. Do note that in real life most of us will not face a video with 50 megabits/s...

Does It Do 24p?


After the problems that Intel GPUs have had with displaying the 24p content another question everyone had was if the NUC can do proper 24p, meaning not 24 frames per second but 23.976 frames per second. And yes, it seems that the Bay Trail GPU gets the check mark.

Scaling


If you are watching content that is not in 1920x1080 resolution such as a normal SD television, DVD content or even 720p HD content it needs to be scaled up to 1920x1080 resolution by the HTPC. Now comes the bad news, the GPU in this NUC is too slow to support anything except the Bilinear scaling. Bilinear in my opinion is fine for 720p to 1080p scaling, but for SD TV to full HD it produces quite a blocky picture. Especially diagonal lines look bad with bilinear scaling. Note that this is only a concern with SD content, for HD content no scaling is required.
100% crop from a video where SD content has been upscaled.

Deinterlacing


Deinterlacing comes into play if you are watching interlaced content. That is typically live TV content or content recorded by a live TV backend such as Tvheadend. Due to historical reasons TV is often broadcasted in a format where only every other line is drawn on the screen (ie. for 1920x1080i video there's only 540 lines of information at broadcasted at any given moment). This was fine with CRT screens, but modern LCD screens do not really support interlaced content. Thus it needs to be deinterlaced before it can be shown properly. Deinterlacing can be done in many ways and the more sophisticated ways consume more processing power but also provide a better picture.

The graphics drivers for the Intel HD Graphics on Linux are currently in an unfortunate state and the deinterlacing is not really working as it's supposed to work. Thus the alternative is to use CPU for performing the deinterlacing. This works ok for SD content, but for content broadcast in interlaced HD format (1080i) the feeble CPU in the NUC is not able to handle the deinterlacing. Only the plain BOB works, but that provides a jittery image.

Another, rather annoying issue with the software deinterlacing is that you need to enable the option Video - Acceleration - Use SW Filter for VAAPI and then you can choose even Yadif as deinterlacing method (Yadif equals to Deinterlace method De-interlace in the settings) which provides the best result and this is fine for the SD content. However, when you try to play non-interlaced 1080p content, the SW filter option will consume CPU even if there is no deinterlacing to be done. Thus you need to switch off that option if starting to watch a 1080p video.

Again, deinterlacing is probably only an issue if you are watching live TV with your HTPC. Almost all streamed content is in progressive mode and does not need to be deinterlaced. It seems that some work is being done to enable hardware accelerated deinterlacing on the Intel GPUs, so this situation might improve in future.

Live TV


I've successfully installed Tvheadend and watching SD live TV content is not a problem. Interlaced HD TV probably is an issue due to the interlacing woes mentioned above.

DN2820FYKH as HTPC


The DN2820FYKH has lively performance in the menus and good performance when playing full HD videos. It's significantly faster than a Raspberry Pi for example (but that's an unfair comparison) and OpenELEC works smoothly out of the box on it.

On the other hand the Bay Trail NUCs suffer from having only 4 execution units in their GPU. As a result the upscaling and deinterlacing functionality with the current drivers leaves something to be desired. The same situation applies to all Bay Trail motherboards currently.

There's also another BayTrail NUC, the fanless DE3815TYKHE, but considering that it is sold for more or less the same price as the this NUC (DN2820FYKH), I'd say unless you really desperately want a fanless system, go for the DN2820FYKH. Better yet, go for an i3 model and you don't need to ever worry about upscaling or deinterlacing. Don't get me wrong, this NUC is a fine small PC, but you should be aware of its limitations.

More about DN2820FYKH


Read the other parts of the review:

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Bay Trail NUC (DN2820FYKH) Review - part 1


Today I'm going to have a look at the Bay Trail NUC, that is DN2820FYKH. It is the lowest cost NUC with a price tag of approximately $140 / €120 (Check the current prize from Amazon). You'll need to add memory and a storage media, but it is completely possible to build a complete system under $250 / €200. We'll have a look what does that buy for you.



The tiny computer measures just 116.6 mm x 112.0 mm x 51.5 mm (4.6 x 4.4 x 2.0 inch) and contains a dual-core Intel Bay Trail Celeron N2820 processor, which speeds up to 2.4 GHz. This Celeron is actually more closely related to Atom series of processors than the traditional Celerons. The screen is brought to life by a HD Graphics GPU that runs up to 756 MHz and connects to your display with a single HDMI 1.4a connector. Intel has kindly prefilled the half-size mini PCIe slot with an Intel Wireless-N 7260BN WiFi adapter. If you still prefer wired connectivity, there's a Realtek Gigabit Ethernet adapter provided as well.

Which Processor?

As I mentioned earlier in April, Intel is going to produce the DN2820FYKH also with Celeron N2830 processor. Mine is produced in July 2014 and has version # H22962-102, which means it is running N2820 still. The versions with N2830 processor will have version number of H22962-103 and this is printed on the box. The N2830 itself will not offer that much over the standard N2820 - Intel Quick Sync hardware video encoding is the main difference.


Hardware Overview

After opening the cube-shaped box you'll find a universal power adapter, VESA mounting plate, a quick start guide and the unit itself. When looking at the pictures online, it's hard to appreciate how small the NUC really is. The thing is small, really small.



The front side of the aluminum chassis contains a single USB 3.0 port and a consumer infrared sensor. The power button and the hard drive LED are on top of the chassis.



In the backside there is power connector, HDMI 1.4a port, RJ-45 connector for Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 2.0 ports and a headphone / microphone jack.

Installing the Components

In order to complete the NUC you will need to provide a single memory module and a storage media with SATA connector. The unit is rather picky when it comes to the memory module - you will need a 1.35-volt DDR3 SO-DIMM. And even then some of them are not compatible. If you're unsure, check out the NUC Configurator that will choose you components that do work together.

I had a single 2-gigabyte memory chip and an old 250 Gb laptop hard drive that I installed into the NUC.





I started by unfastening the 4 screws inside the rubber feet. 


After lifting off the cover you can see the bay for 2.5 inch SSD or conventional hard disk drive. Maximum thickness is 9.5 mm, so the largest multi-terabyte hard drives will not fit. No additional cables are needed, the drive is just pushed into the connector and attached to the chassis with a couple of screws.


The hard drive bay can be lifted off and under the cover you will find the mainboard. The only thing you need to do here is to install the memory module. There is a single DDR3L SO-DIMM slot. You can see the preinstalled WiFi card with two antennas in the picture above.


After plugging in the memory module the hard drive bay can be replaced.


I slid in an old laptop hard drive that fit nicely. After that you're all done. Close the hood, tighten the screws and connect the display, power and a USB keyboard.

Visual BIOS

The NUC was delivered with BIOS version 32, so the first thing I did was to update it. I copied BIOS v39 from August 2014 on to a USB stick, plugged it in and pressed F7 at boot to launch BIOS update. Couple of minutes later my NUC was running the latest BIOS.


For someone who remembers fiddling with the text-based AMI BIOS the Intel Visual BIOS is rather nice actually. It offers you all the usual BIOS functionality with a nice graphical interface. The DN2820FYKH was initially plagued by various USB booting problems, but they seem to be a thing of the past now: I successfully managed to boot from three different USB 2.0 sticks as well as an USB 3.0 external hard drive.

In the next parts we're going to look how the NUC does as a HTPC, how does it run Windows and we wrap it up with some example hardware configurations.

More about DN2820FYKH


Read the other parts of the review:

Thursday, September 4, 2014

New NUCs are coming around New Year

FanlessTech has released interesting news regarding upcoming Intel NUC line up. At the moment they're based on leaks, but they seem credible.

All new NUCs feature 4 external USB 3.0 ports, 2 internal USB 2.0 headers, LAN port, SATA 3 connector, NFC headers and replaceable lids for customizing the looks of the NUC.

Even if Intel advertises  4k support the HDMI connectors seem to be of 1.4a variety and the DisplayPort connector 1.2 - just like they were on the previous NUC generation.



NUC4i5MYHE - The last Haswell NUC

The first model to come out is the Haswell-based NUC4i5MYHE. Preliminarily release schedule says Q4 this year. Intel has already released a driver bundle for the model and has a support page for the pre-production samples. It would seem that Intel wants to get the first new NUC out before the end of the year with this model since it will more or less be replaced with the Broadwell i5 model NUC5i5MYHE a few months later.

The NUC4i5MYHE is equipped with a Haswell Core i5-4300U CPU.  Specifications and the looks are otherwise likely to be identical with the NUC5i5MYHE that is described below.

Broadwell i3 and i5 NUCs

 


The first quarter of 2015 should see the release of 4 models that are based on Intel's new Broadwell architecture. There are 2 models coming with a Core i3 CPU and 2 models with Core i5. It seems there are two versions more consumer oriented: NUC5i5RYH/K and NUC5i3RYH/K. These come in High case with 2.5" drive support and a more sleeK case without space for one. Both the i3 and i5 models feature an IR sensor, a 2242-size M.2 slot and a WiFi-Bluetooth adapter. In addition to the Mini DP connector there is a Mini HDMI connector provided.

There will be two versions more geared for corporate use: NUC5i5MYHE with vPRO + TPM and NUC5i3MYHE with TPM. Compared to the consumer models these two come without IR sensor and the WiFi-Bluetooth adapter. 2 Mini DisplayPort connectors are provided.

Braswell Celeron NUC

Finally the second quarter of 2015 will see the release of the new Braswell Celeron NUC NUC5c-PYH. The Braswell model is the only one to feature HDMI and VGA connectors. It comes with an IR sensor, single M.2 2230-slot (prefilled by the WiFi-BT adapter presumably) and a TOSLink connector as well as SDXC UHS-I card slot. Only one SO-DIMM slot restricts the maximum memory of the Braswell NUC to 8 gigabytes.

If the GPU is able to handle deinterlacing better than the BayTrail models, this one could make a really nice low cost HTPC option!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Haswell NUC firmware update (v27)

There's also a new BIOS update (v27) for Haswell NUCs (D34010WYK/H and D54250WYK/H). Two interesting fixes in the release notes:

  • Fixed issue where certain mini-PCIe devices are not detected.
  • Fixed issue where infrared remotes do not power on the system with OpenElec.

If you've been having issues with these, have a go. The BIOS is available at Intel Download Center. See also the release notes and the update instructions.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

NUC power consumption, BayTrail vs i3

Technikaffee.de site made a comparison of small barebone PCs for OpenELEC / XBMC use. It was interesting to see, that the Haswell i3 NUC is actually consuming less than the Bay Trail NUC when playing a 1080p video in OpenELEC.

The article is in German, but the power consumption figures they measured stand at:

DN2820FYKH (Bay Trail)

  • OpenELEC Menu, 8 watts
  • OpenELEC 1080p, 12 watts

D34010WYK (Core i3)

  • OpenELEC Menu, 7 watts
  • OpenELEC 1080p, 9 watts

The difference is quite significant. Both processors are made with 22 nm technology and the maximum TDP for the i3 is 15 watts and for the Bay Trail model it is 7.5 watts. Not sure how the exact measurements were made by the guys over there, but at least we can probably conclude that by choosing the i3 model you are not actually getting a model that will consume more electricity in normal use despite the 100% larger TDP compared to the Bay Trail model.

Friday, July 25, 2014

BIOS version 38 for DN2820FYKH is out

Intel has released two revision of BIOS for DN2820FYKH within a week in July. BIOS version 37 was released 10th of July whereas the latest BIOS version 38 was released on 17th.

Download the BIOS from Intel Download Center.

According to the release notes only a limited amount of changes has taken place in these releases. "Fixed issue where Intel wireless adapters lose connectivity." might interest some people having issues with their Intel WiFi adapters.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Silent NUC alternative from Gigabyte for XBMC use

This is not really a NUC, but it's a low cost out-of-the-box fanless NUC-sized PC - Something that many would like to see in the NUC lineup. Gigabyte has released an interesting NUC-sized miniature computer with a bit more punch than the Intel DE3815TYKHE packs, but still keeping it fanless! Enter Gigabyte BRIX GB-BXBT-2807.

It's already available from Amazon for around $130/€120. Click here to check the latest price!


This tiny PC has a rather nice feature list:

  • Features dual-core 2.16 GHz Intel Bay Trail Celeron N2807, max. TDP 4.3 watts
  • Supports a single 2.5 inch hard drive or SSD (1 x 3Gbps SATA2)
  • Ultra compact design – 0.69 liters (56.1x 107.6 x 114.4mm)
  • 1x SO-DIMM DDR3L Slots (1333 MHz)
  • Preinstalled 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi / Bluetooth 4.0 Mini-PCIe card
  • Supports dual displays via a VGA and a HDMI port
  • 1 USB 3.0 port and 2 USB 2.0 ports
  • Gigabit LAN (Realtek)
  • Audio jack (Headphone/MIC)
  • VESA mounting bracket (75 x 75mm + 100 x 100mm)


First user reports confirm that OpenELEC runs well on the BRIX as is expected. However, the same limitations that still apply to all Bay Trail systems also apply here:
  • More sophisticated upscaling methods will exhaust the GPU, don't expect anything but Bilinear upscaling to work. Not an issue if you just watch HD content.
  • More sophisticated deinterlacing methods are too demanding for the GPU. Not an issue mainly if you don't need live TV content.
When the Intel graphics drivers will support certain hardware accelerated deinterlacing and scaling features, some of these limitations might go away. Or might not.

Comparison with Bay Trail NUC DN2820FYKH


You can't help but to notice that the specs are very similar to Intel DN2820FYKH NUC. The two boxes are very similar, but some differences remain. Most notably the Gigabyte is fanless, but has a slightly less powerful CPU and lacks an IR receiver. The two models are prices almost identically! The Gigabyte box wins in the looks department though. :)

FeatureGigabyte GB-BXBT-2807Intel NUC DN2820FYKH
CPUIntel BayTrail Celeron N2807Intel BayTrail Celeron N2820 (N2830 later)
CPU cores22
CPU clock speed1.58 GHz2.13 GHz
CPU burst frequency2.16 GHz2.39 GHz
CPU max TDP4.3 W7.5 W
Maximum memory4 Gb8 Gb
GPU base frequency313 MHz313 MHz
GPU burst frequency750 MHz756 MHz
Supports Intel Quick SyncYesNo
2.5-inch drive supportYesYes
WLAN and BlueToothYesYes
Infrared ReceiverNoYes
FanlessYesNo



Tuesday, June 24, 2014

New Beta BIOS for Haswell NUCs fixes problems with Xbox remote

There's a new beta version BIOS for Haswell NUCs (D34010WYK and D54250WYK) that is supposed to fix the issue with Xbox Media remote controllers and OpenELEC. If you're having issues with those, it's worth checking out the update at Intel Download Center.

Intel says:

  • Purpose This download record provides a test BIOS version (beta) for the Intel® NUC Kits D54250WYK, D34010WYK and Boards D54250WYB, D34010WYB. It fixes the issue where XBOX* Media Remotes will not wake the system if OpenElec is installed.

    Use the F7 Update method to install this BIOS update.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Haswell NUCs get a new BIOS version (0026)

Intel has released a new BIOS version for Haswell NUCs (that is models D54250WYK, D54250WYKH, D54250WYB, D34010WYK, D34010WYKH and D34010WYB). The version 0026 supposedly fixes the automatic restart after shutdown even if Wake-On-LAN (WOL) is enabled.

According to the release notes, the following fixes have been implemented:

  • Fixed issue where pressing F2 to access BIOS does not work when connected to certain 4K monitor.
  • Updated Integrated Graphics
  • Fixed issue where Intel wireless adapters lose connectivity.
  • Fixed issue where systems restarts instead of shutting down with Linux.

Download the update from Intel Download Center.

In general it seems that the list of fixes per BIOS release is getting shorter and shorter for the Haswell NUCs. Mine has been working very well, but there a number of users who have complained of various strange issues. Maybe we can interpret this as a sign of improved stability of the i3 and i5 NUCs. At least several users have confirmed that the restart after shutting down in Linux issue is now fixed.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

BIOS version 0034 for Bay Trail NUC DN2820FYKH released

Intel has released a new BIOS version for Bay Trail NUC DN2820FYKH. List of fixes is quite a long one and there's a special mention for USB2/3 compatibility issues that many people have been complaining about. It remains to be seen if they're finally done with this release. Download your BIOS from Intel's download center.

According to the release notes the following issues have been corrected:

  • Fixed issue where fan speed, temperature, and voltage are not reported in BIOS after modifying duty cycles.
  • Fixed issue with BIOS password lengths.
  • Fixed Intel ME disable issue.
  • Updated GOP and VBIOS.
  • Fixed issue where SMBIOS values cannot be set with Intel® Integrator Toolkit.
  • Fixed issue where .BMP splash logo files do not display.
  • Fixed issue where TXE test fails.
  • Fixed issue where system will not boot if PXE Boot is the first boot device.
  • Fixed issue with Wake on USB from S4/S5.
  • Fixed issue where no error beeps or blinks occur when no memory modules are installed.
  • Fixed issue where Intel wireless adapters lose connectivity.
  • Fixed issue with USB3/2 compatibility.

Part 2: Bay Trail Atom NUC as HTPC (DE3815TYKHE)

In the previous article I told you about the new Bay Trail Atom NUC DE3815TYKHE (Amazon) which is mainly targeted for various embedded systems, digital signage, kiosks, etc. In this article I'm going to have a look if this newcomer would be a decent HTPC. It's a bit short on horsepower, but a Raspberry Pi is able to run OpenELEC/XBMC after all...

The Fanless NUC

Installation

I'm going to install the OpenELEC operating system, which is purpose-built for just one task: to run XBMC as your media PC. It's really easy to install, operate and update. I will install it on the internal 4-gigabyte eMMC disk that is built into the NUC. I can imagine that the integrated storage is appealing for embedded systems, but it will also accommodate the OpenELEC operating system nicely! Of course there won't be almost any storage for media files, but even for that you've got two options: either you stream your content from a network drive (NAS) or you can install a 2.5 inch disk in this NUC.

In order to run OpenELEC on the internal eMMC disk, you will need to use release 4.0.2. That's the first release that has the MMC support built into the kernel and the installer is also modified to give you the possibility to copy the files to the MMC. A small detail here, it seems only the quick installation method works in 4.0.2, the custom installation did not find the eMMC drive. In general the installation was easy, just press enter a few times and you've got a nice fanless HTPC. Remove the USB stick, reboot and OE is up and running.

From the push of the power button, the NUC takes approximately 25 seconds to boot into XBMC. Not as fast as a Haswell NUC booting from an SSD disk, but not too slow either. In the previous article I managed to read a bit over 40 megabytes per second from the eMMC disk. And it's dead silent...

First Impression

It seems to work nicely. The interface is slick and everything works pretty much as I'd expect. There doesn't seem to be a big if any difference between this and my i3 NUC. I changed out of the default Confluence skin to Aeon Nox or Aeon MQ5 that are known to be more CPU intensive, but even they work fine. The supercheap ($5, eBay) AR5B95 WiFi adapter works fine and I download a few addons.

If you have a video playing in the background and you summon the EPG or the menus that are overlaid on the video, the transitions in the menus become slightly jerky.

Full HD playback

I try testing out a few 1920x1080 24p videos and the playback seems to be ok. It's good to make sure that the following settings are configured in XBMC:

  • Video - Playback - Adjust display refresh rate to match video: On start/stop
  • Video - Playback - Sync playback to display: Enabled
  • Video - Playback - A/V sync method: Video clock (Drop/Dupe audio)
  • Video - Acceleration - Decoding method: Hardware accelerated
  • Video - Acceleration - Allow hardware acceleration (VDPAU): Disabled
  • Video - Acceleration - Allow hardware acceleration (VAAPI): Enabled
  • Video - Acceleration - Use Mpeg-2 VAAPI: Enabled
  • Video - Acceleration - Use Mpeg-4 VAAPI: Enabled

There are a few very high bitrate test videos at jell.yfish.us that I tried. I tried the 100 Mbps video and even that was fine. Here is a screencapture from the 50 megabit video clip. There were no dropped frames during the playback. There are a few right in the beginning of the playback, but it stabilizes after first second or so. Do note that in real life most of us will not face a video with 50 megabits/s...

Playback of 50 Mbit/s 24p stream

Does It Do 24p?

After the problems that Intel GPUs have had with displaying the 24p content another question everyone had was if the NUC can do proper 24p, meaning not 24 frames per second but 23.976 frames per second. And yes, it seems that the Bay Trail GPU gets the check mark.

Scaling

If you are watching content that is not in 1920x1080 resolution such as a normal SD television, DVD content or even 720p HD content it needs to be scaled up to 1920x1080 resolution by the HTPC. Now comes the bad news, the GPU in this NUC is too slow to support anything except the Bilinear scaling. Bilinear in my opinion is fine for 720p to 1080p scaling, but for SD TV to full HD it produces quite a blocky picture. Especially diagonal lines look bad with bilinear scaling. Note that this is only a concern with SD content, for HD content no scaling is required.

100% crop from a video where SD content has been upscaled.

Deinterlacing

Deinterlacing comes into play if you are watching interlaced content. That is typically live TV content or content recorded by a live TV backend such as Tvheadend. Due to historical reasons TV is often broadcasted in a format where only every other line is drawn on the screen (ie. for 1920x1080i video there's only 540 lines of information at broadcasted at any given moment). This was fine with CRT screens, but modern LCD screens do not really support interlaced content. Thus it needs to be deinterlaced before it can be shown properly. Deinterlacing can be done in many ways and the more sophisticated ways consume more processing power but also provide a better picture.

The graphics drivers for the Intel HD Graphics on Linux are currently in an unfortunate state and the deinterlacing is not really working as it's supposed to work. Thus the alternative is to use CPU for performing the deinterlacing. This works ok for SD content, but for content broadcast in interlaced HD format (1080i) the feeble CPU in the NUC is not able to handle the deinterlacing. Only the plain BOB works, but that provides a jittery image.

Another, rather annoying issue with the software deinterlacing is that you need to enable the option Video - Acceleration - Use SW Filter for VAAPI and then you can choose even Yadif as deinterlacing method (Yadif equals to Deinterlace method De-interlace in the settings) which provides the best result and this is fine for the SD content. However, when you try to play non-interlaced 1080p content, the SW filter option will consume CPU even if there is no deinterlacing to be done. Thus you need to switch off that option if starting to watch a 1080p video.

Again, deinterlacing is probably only an issue if you are watching live TV with your HTPC. Almost all streamed content is in progressive mode and does not need to be deinterlaced. It seems that some work is being done to enable hardware accelerated deinterlacing on the Intel GPUs, so this situation might improve in future.

Live TV

I've successfully installed Tvheadend and watching SD live TV content is not a problem. Interlaced HD TV probably is an issue due to the interlacing woes mentioned above.

Conclusion

The DE3815TYKHE surprised me with its lively performance in the menus and good performance when playing full HD videos. It is totally silent and you do not need to add any storage media as there's an intenal eMMC storage built in. It's significantly faster than a Raspberry Pi for example (but that's an unfair comparison) and OpenELEC works smoothly out of the box on it (version 4.0.2 or newer required).

On the other hand both of the Bay Trail NUCs suffer from having only 4 execution units in their GPU. The DE3815TYKHE model reviewed here gets hit even more, as the GPU is only clocked at 400 MHz vs. the 756 MHz that the DN2820FYKH model does. As a result the upscaling and deinterlacing functionality with the current drivers leaves something to be desired. The same situation applies to all Bay Trail motherboards currently.

Considering that the DE3815TYKHE is sold for more or less the same price as the other Bay Trail NUC DN2820FYKH, I'd say unless you really desperately want a fanless system, go for the DN2820FYKH. Better yet, go for an i3 model and you don't need to ever worry about upscaling or deinterlacing. Don't get me wrong, this NUC is a fine small PC, but you should be aware of its limitations.
 

             

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Part 1: First look at the fanless Atom NUC (DE3815TYKHE)


The Fanless NUC

The new DE3815TYKHE NUC is the first NUC to come without a fan. It's also the first NUC that is based on an Atom CPU. I'll have a look at the box and it's performance. It's available as a mainboard-only version (DE3815TYB) or a full standalone kit (DE3815TYKHE). As the kit is only 20-30 dollars or euros more expensive, it's rather good deal considering you get the case and the power supply for that price.

I'll have a look at the full kit here. In part 1 I will review the new hardware and in part 2 I'm going to look at the question: does it pack enough punch to be used as a HTPC or is it hopelessly underpowered? After all, a Raspberry Pi is able to run OpenELEC...

The case is a bit larger than the previous NUCs had.


Hardware


The processor is a 1.46 GHz Atom E3815 processor that is a member of the Bay Trail family. It is only a single core CPU but the TDP is only 5 watts. This means that this CPU does not need active cooling so it is possible to build a PC without any moving parts. The GPU is an HD Graphics GPU with 4 execution units that is clocked at 400 MHz and there is no boost available. The board will take a single DDR3 SODIMM with 1.35V voltage. Maximum amount of RAM is thus 8 Gb.

Old school VGA connector in the back.


The device is very much intended for embedded systems. There is even serial port header on the main board but the NUC kit does not have a physical serial port. However, the NUC has a physical VGA connector, which I have not seen on consumer PCs for some time already. For embedded systems that might come handy though. In addition to the VGA connector, there is a full size HDMI connector at the back of the NUC.

When it comes to attaching peripherals to the NUC you've got one USB 3.0 port on the front of the chassis and two USB 2.0 ports at the rear. There's also an internal header for two more USB 2.0 ports. In addition to the USB ports you've got a combined microphone/headphone jack. Internally there is one Mini PCIe half size slot that could be used to attach a WiFi adapter for example. The WiFi antennas are built into the case. Wired Gigabit Ethernet connectivity is provided by the integrated Realtek adapter.

Interestingly the device contains 4 GB internal eMMC flash memory. This is enough to install the OpenELEC media center OS on it, so in theory there would be no need to add a drive to the device - just plug in your memory module and you're ready to go. The chassis holds space for additional 2.5 inch SATA drive.


Features of the NUC

 

No components installed in this NUC yet.


The case can be opened by unfastening a couple of screws on the bottom of the case. Adding a memory module is straight forward.

Note the SATA connectors on the left side of the case.


In case you want to add an SSD or HDD drive, the SATA connector is prewired and there is no need to add a SATA cable.

Single 1.35V DDR3L SODIMM and a WiFi adapter installed.

Installing the memory module in to the case was easy after having done it with the i3 NUC. Just remember to buy 1.35V DDR3 SODIMMs (Amazon), 1.5-volt modules won't work! The antennas for the WiFi adapter are built in to the chassis, so adding a half size Mini PCIe WiFi adapter was straightforward.

The BIOS is the standard visual BIOS that Intel has shown us already with the other NUCs. For some reason the NUC did not boot initially. It gave me no chance to enter the BIOS and tried to PXE boot directly. I had to pull the yellow BIOS security jumper out, restart the NUC and reinstall the jumper in its place before the system booted up correctly. Don't know the reason for that really. After that the NUC has been ok and has booted up ok from USB2 flash sticks and USB3 external hard disk that I have.

Installing Linux

 

I booted a Lubuntu 14.04 installer from a USB stick and successfully installed Lubuntu on the internal eMMC storage that is built-in to the NUC. Booting up the system is not lightning fast, but not slow either. The window manager works nicely and surfing the net with Firefox was fine. Overall I was surprised how snappy the system was keeping in mind that it's powered by a meager single core Atom CPU. Opening several applications simultaneously turned the system into a sluggish mode.

This is what /proc/cpu tells about the CPU:

processor : 0
vendor_id : GenuineIntel
cpu family : 6
model  : 55
model name : Intel(R) Atom(TM) CPU  E3815  @ 1.46GHz
stepping : 3
microcode : 0x31e
cpu MHz  : 532.000
cache size : 512 KB
See the full output here.

The internal eMMC disk will show up as /dev/mmcblk0. The partitions on the eMMC will be /dev/mmcblk0p1, /dev/mmcblk0p2, /dev/mmcblk0p3 etc. The  /dev/mmcblk0 can be handled with all standard tools such as fdisk. In case you don't see the device you probably don't have the correct kernel modules either built-in to the kernel or loaded. In Ubuntu 14.04 this was taken care of though, no action was necessary.

If you decide to compile your own kernel, the following options should be enabled to support the eMMC disk:

CONFIG_MMC=y 
CONFIG_MMC_BLOCK=y 
CONFIG_MMC_SDHCI=y 
CONFIG_MMC_SDHCI_PCI=y

If you don't need to boot from the eMMC, you can configure these as modules and load them at boot.

eMMC Performance

 

In order to test the eMMC performance, I first wrote a 1-gigabyte file:

$ dd if=/dev/zero of=tempfile bs=1M count=1024 conv=fdatasync,notrunc
1024+0 records in
1024+0 records out
1073741824 bytes (1,1 GB) copied, 87,8031 s, 12,2 MB/s
As you can see, this took a while. I then rebooted the system to make sure no cached data exists and run the following:

dd if=tempfile of=/dev/null bs=1M count=1024
1024+0 records in
1024+0 records out
1073741824 bytes (1,1 GB) copied, 25,8199 s, 41,6 MB/s
Now I don't claim this to be a very comprehensive test for the read and write speed, but a read speed of around 40 megabytes per second and write speed of 12 megabytes per second isn't actually superfast these days. You can probably find USB memory sticks that are faster than that. Anyhow the performance is acceptable and as with all the other components in this NUC, it was not designed to be a performance king from the beginning.

Conclusion


Overall, it's this NUC is so clearly aimed for embedded device markets that it's a bit difficult to see much desktop use for this. The single core Atom CPU just is not going to cut it if you plan to do anything heavier. Some people might be interested in using it as a silent, fanless HTPC and in the part 2 of the article I'll evaluate how well it suits that purpose. However, I believe there are other products - even within the Intel NUC product line - that are a better match for that use as well. Since there are no mechanical moving parts in this NUC it would make a perfect worry free system for digital signage or a info kiosk running in a mall or airport for example.

Maybe this could be used to create a very low power home server, when the processing power needs are modest. Or it could serve some specific development purposes. I did not try Windows on the machine and I don't see this NUC as a good platform for running Windows. Intel claims to support Windows 8, Windows 8 Embedded and Linux.

The price of this NUC is pretty much on par with the DN2820FYKH (Amazon) - the Celeron Bay Trail NUC, so we cannot avoid making the comparison between these two. The DN2820FYKH sports a much more powerful 2.4 GHz dual core CPU and still has extremely low TDP of 7.5 watts.

Reasons to choose DN2820FYKH
  • Dual-core CPU packs more grunt
  • GPU clock of 756 MHz vs. 400 MHz
  • IR receiver is integrated
  • WiFi adapter included and preinstalled 
  • Smaller case

Reasons to choose DE3815TYKHE
  • No fans
  • Internal 4GB eMMC storage
  • VGA connector
  • Interfaces for embedded device use (serial ports, eDP, etc.)


             

Monday, May 5, 2014

OpenELEC 4.0 is here (XBMC 13 as well)

Following the release of XBMC 13 'Gotham' yesterday, OpenELEC 4.0 has been released. Get yours today, much has changed since the last 3.2.4 release.

Do note that manual update or a fresh installation is recommended as too many things have changed since 3.2.4 version.

Release notes

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Installing the Memory, SSD and a WiFi Card in the NUC

I planned to do this article already a long time ago, but better late than never. Anyway, I'll show you how simple it is to install the memory, an mSATA SSD disk and a WiFi adapter in the Intel NUC. My NUC is the Haswell Core i3 model without space for a 2.5 inch drive, so I will not be showing how the 2.5" drive is installed. Other than that, the installation is more or less the same regardless of the NUC model. Some models have only 1 slot for memory or no space for an mSATA drive, so this could be a bit different.

The instructions that come with the NUC are clear, but maybe you're just thinking about buying a NUC still or have misplaced the instructions. The installation takes 5-10 minutes and is really straightforward. However, use caution to not break anything when the box is open and do disconnect the power from the NUC before opening it.

My hardware is following:

If you are interested of building a NUC for yourself, have a look at the NUC configurator!

Tools Needed

 

To install the hardware you will need a screwdriver. Ideally 2 screwdrivers, but you can manage with one only. With the bigger one you will open the box and with the smaller one you will unfasten and fasten the screws that hold the Mini PCIe cards in place. I'm using Wera screwdrivers (Buy from Amazon) as it does not get better than that. Those of you who have used one, know what I'm talking about.

Opening the NUC

 

Start by unfastening the 4 screws inside the rubber feet of the NUC. One in each corner. Now you can pull the cover off. You might need to use your finger nails a knife or some other tool to carefully pull the cover a bit off.

Installing the WiFi Adapter


We start by installing the WiFi adapter as this is easiest to do when you don't have anything else on the way. Note that it is not mandatory to install a WiFi adapter and some models are shipped with the WiFi adapter preinstalled.


Now use the smaller screwdriver to unfasten the screw that is marked with a red arrow in the picture above.


Insert the WiFi card into the slot in a slight angle as shown in the picture above.


Hold down the card with your finger and replace the screw you took off a couple of steps earlier. The screw will hold the WiFi card in its place.


The  NUC chassis is shipped with WiFi antennas preinstalled. These need to be connected to the WiFi card that we just installed in its slot. Pull back the transparent plastic covers from the antennas...


... and connect the antennas into the small connectors on the WiFi card. The connectors are really small so this might be a little bit tricky. If you've got big fingers you might want to use tweezers or a small-fingered relative for this phase.

After the antennas are connected, the WiFi adapter is ready to be used.

mSATA SSD Installation

 


Next step is the mSATA disk. After the previous phase this is really easy. Just unfasten the screw that is highlighted with a red arrow in the picture above, insert the mSATA card into the Mini PCIe slot in the same way you did with the WiFi adapter and replace the screw. You're done.

Installing the RAM Memory Modules


I'm going to add two memory modules here. One is enough, but by adding two similar modules the dual channel is enabled. RAM in dual channel mode is marginally faster than single channel. Some NUC models only have a slot for a single memory module.



Start by inserting the module at an angle in to the lower memory slot as shown in the picture above. Then push down the module as indicated by the red arrow until the memory module is securely in its place. You will hear and feel a click when the module is correctly seated.


In the picture above you can see a single memory module installed in the NUC. If you have a second module, install it in the same way you did install the first one.



Now you have two DDR3L SODIMM memory modules, the mSATA drive and the WiFi adapter installed and ready to be used.

Wrap It Up

 


Now replace the cover. Make sure you put it back in a correct orientation. One easy way to see that is to look at the thermal pad marked with a red arrow in the picture above. That should come against your mSATA drive.

Fasten the four screws and you're done! Plug in the power and take your new NUC for a ride.