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Author Topic: Automation PC suggestions  (Read 2279 times)

bkenobi

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Automation PC suggestions
« on: February 08, 2012, 12:02:59 PM »

Last week, my home was broken into, which made me reconsider how things are set up in my house.  Although the thieves did not take much or do that much damage fortunately, they did kill the power on the HA system.  We've had power failures (due to winter storms) this year as well which have left the HA PC useless on power restoration.

What I'm thinking (and have been for a while actually) is that I need to build a small, low powered system that I can effectively hang on the wall in my basement next to the structured media box.  This system needs to be set up such that it boots on power restoration and doesn't have an issue if the power is killed ungracefully for some reason.  I'll have it connected to the network such that I can remotely administer things, but there will be no need for local control.  The CM15A will connect via USB directly to it (which will also reduce a fair amount of Coax that's currently in the antenna run).  This would also get the CM15A further away from the big UPS by my main setup so I may get better reliability.

What I'm looking for is some input on the configuration.  I'm currently running Windows XP with AHP.  I have a few timers set up in the CM15A and I use the SDK to control lighting and trigger events via motion sensors.  The code is currently running in AutoHotKey which gives me a LOT of control, but it's primarily intended for Windows installations (though there are some ports to Mac and Linux I believe).

Questions:
  • What hardware would you consider?  ITX?  Specific boards?
  • What about the OS?  WinXP/Win7/Linux?  I've never really gotten into Linux even though I keep saying someday...
  • I was considering attempting to use a HDD/USB stick/CD/memory card to store the OS and then load it into a RAMDrive such that it boots exactly the same each time.  CD would be my last choice since I would have to reburn it each time I changed something.
  • Which automation software would you use?  If I went with WinXP/Win7, I could use AHP.  Of course, then I'd be using AHP.  I have no issues looking at alternative builds.  I've heard HeyU is pretty nice, but I think it only works with CM11A.
  • I may add a couple cameras to my setup, so I'd like to keep that as an option with whatever I go with.
  • What else should I be asking?

This is kind of a dump of everything I'm thinking, so it's probably a bit disorganized.  I'm mainly asking for input on a path I should start investigating, not necessarily a "go buy this" list (although that might be interesting to review as well  ;D).

Noam

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Re: Automation PC suggestions
« Reply #1 on: February 08, 2012, 12:27:03 PM »

Here are my thoughts:
1. Even though my "main" HA comptuer is running Windows 7, XP is a lot easier in many ways.
2. Most modern PCs have a BIOS option to power up when power is introduced (like when power returns after a power outage, or when you just plug the box in, even after a graceful shutdown). That should take care of the system booting up after an outage.
3. A small UPS would help carry the system across "short" outages, without it having to reboot, etc. This would also allow for the system to be shut down gracefully during a longer outage.
4. There are tweaks for XP to have it log in automatically at boot up. Instructions should be pretty easy to find using your favorite search engine.
5. If you want to keep timers and/or macros stored in the CM15A, then a Windows build with AHP is really your only option. If that isn't an issue for you, there are third-part programs out there, for Windows, Linux, and Mac, that can do a who host of different things, and control the CM15A or CM11A (in some cases ONLY the CM11A) directly.

Whichever way you decide to go, understand that nothing is going to be foolproof. The CM15A can lock up, the PC can lock up (or both can happen at the same time), taking your system out of commission until it is fixed.

There are utilities out there for XP (and I'm pretty sure it is built into Windows 7) that can detect if the PC switches to UPS battery power, or back to AC power. Those events can be used to trigger other actions (after a power failure, turn on certain lights, send me an alert e-mail, etc).

I am using some of these to send me e-mail alerts in the event of a power failure (my router is on the UPS, too). I played with using the same method to send some AHP commands using the SDK, but I never implemented that part. All of this was done with some simple batch files.
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bkenobi

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Re: Automation PC suggestions
« Reply #2 on: February 08, 2012, 01:03:41 PM »

I currently have the HA system set up in just that way (automatically turn on with power restore, auto login, start all programs and set them up as needed, etc).  If the system is powered down by Windows (stupid auto-updater), it will stay turned off.  I could disable this "feature", but it would mean that any network access on that system would be potentially dicey.  This is also a file server, so it's really a no-no to turn off the updates.

If I were to set up a low power system, it would have a frozen config that would not be updated since it would not access the network...maybe.  I still want the capability to do text2X10 (currently performed via a script posted here).  Hmmm, maybe that would be an issue, but maybe not.  If I had a frozen config, I would just power cycle to fix a broken system...

Noam

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Re: Automation PC suggestions
« Reply #3 on: February 08, 2012, 01:12:19 PM »

The problem with a frozen config is all of the AHP files. I don't know how well they would work in a "frozen config" setup, especially with logging.
With Windows Updates, you can set them to NOT reboot the PC automatically, and then you can control the rebooting, and make sure everything comes back up properly.
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bkenobi

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Re: Automation PC suggestions
« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2012, 01:45:03 PM »

Do you think the RaspberryPI would be sufficient for use here?  It's got a lot of potential for low power/cost systems.

http://www.raspberrypi.org/

$35 for the system (plus extras of course) seems REALLY attractive.  It would be a non-issue hanging that even inside the structured media box!

Noam

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Re: Automation PC suggestions
« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2012, 01:49:25 PM »

The RaspberryPI might be a neat way to do it (or any other low-power tiny PC board). You'll have to use Linux for it, but that shouldn't be all too difficult (in theory).
Since it is very low power, you might even be able to make it "power-outage resistant" by running it off a large rechargeable battery, with a trickle-charger to keep that topped off. Kind of like making your own low-tech UPS.

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bkenobi

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Re: Automation PC suggestions
« Reply #6 on: February 08, 2012, 03:46:04 PM »

I was thinking this thing might be able to run Windows since there are clips of it running XBMC and Quake 3, but I never considered that it might be running under Linux.  Either way, it would be a cheap experiment to see if it would be viable.  Also, I've already got a UPS in the basement with the structured media box.  If I plugged such a low powered system into the UPS, it would probably last for a day!  I say that without checking how many watts the system draws.   ;D
 

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