We bought a new piece of gear here at HCA Central and I wanted to share my observations. When we built the Touch Screen User Interface and the Client-Server in version 10 we had in mind the HP TouchSmart computers. They had a touch screen and ran a recent version of Windows. This seems like a good fit for putting a “HCA Station" someplace in the home like the Kitchen or the Den.
But a few weeks back we saw a review for a Touch Screen PC from Shuttle. This new unit, called the XPC X50V2 looked interesting:
It looked like it had several really nice features besides price: It doesn’t have a fan so it is quiet, had a good screen resolution, and was wall mountable.
I got the job of checking in out.
I looked around for a good price and bought one.
NOTE: I’ll give you web links to what I bought but products seems to come and go quickly so you may find that links in this article either don’t work or point to discontinued products. But a bit of looking and you will find similar things.
As the review said, this is a” barebones PC” so you are required to install the memory and drive and then install the operating system.
I have to say it wasn't easy to figure out which memory and driver would work.
To me it seems silly – and bad business - for all the resellers who have this sort of "bare-bones" PC not to have on the page a “You will need memory, a drive, and an Operating System - these will work so go buy them”. And supply links to them. I had to do a lot of “look and see if the numbers look the same” on the memory and drive to see what to buy.
I may do technical support for HCA but that doesn’t mean I’m an expert on building PCs so I have to say I was a bit concerned about putting this all together but I looked upon it as an adventure.
The memory I purchased is this:
Some documentation seems to say that it can take a max of 2GB and other things I read said 4GB. I decided that 2GB was enough anyway so that is what I bought. Memory isn’t an easy thing to buy. There seems like thousands of different memory modules. I spent a lot of time comparing strings of letters and digits until I felt reasonably sure that I had the right thing. So I don’t build up too much suspense, turns out I bought the right stuff.
The hard drive was simpler as I didn’t need great performance or a huge capacity.
Since I would need to install the operating system I needed a portable CD drive as well. It took a while to find a cost effective one since I didn’t need to write but only read CDs. Resellers should make it simpler to find those as well. This looked ok:
After a few days it all arrives and I unpack. All I find is a one page “instruction sheet” in many languages that points out where the power switch is, how to use the stand, and how to remove the stand and mount to a wall. Not much else. Nothing about how to install memory etc. I go online and find some setup instructions – no reference to this in given on the material in the box – that shows how to disassemble and install memory and the drive
Installation of the memory and hard drive wasn’t difficult. The online documentation and the inside of the machine were different. Of course! But it wasn’t hard to figure out what had to be disconnected and removed to get to the locations I needed. And then with the memory and drive in place it all went back together without much trouble.
Beware: There are LOTS of tiny screws to remove. You better have a small point Phillips screwdriver but with a big handle as they are in TIGHT. Took a while but I got the memory and the drive in.
I opted to install Windows XP. Yes that is way old and, yes, I could have used Vista Or Windows 7 but I had an installable copy of XP and since I was setting this up for just for HCA I figured why not save a few dollars and go with it.
As I said above I wasn’t really sure how to do the OS install but I connected up the external CD drive, keyboard, and mouse – we have plenty of those in the spares box - put the Windows install disk in the drive and then started the machine. And magic happened! XP installed fine. It spent a bunch of time and I had to answer some questions and choose options during install but it wasn’t hard.
After it was done the touch screen worked and it was a Windows machine! As an aside, I never installed Windows before on an empty machine and I was amazed how “clean” it was. All our office and lab machines from Dell come with tons of other stuff already installed.
In the Shuttle box was a disk labeled “Driver DVD”. No mention of that in the one page “instruction sheet”. But I figured it was probably needed so I put it in the CD Drive and the AutoRun started installing things. Of course, not all installed ok. Various error messages about invalid command line parameters to the Windows Installer.
Note: Those errors could be because the XP I installed was old – pre Service Pack 2.
Then I started looking for how to enable Wireless which I wanted to do on order to get the machine on to our internal network. And I could find nothing on enabling wireless. I looked online for what seemed like hours but no luck. Was I missing a driver or something else? I had no idea at this point.
I have to say that in my looking, I did miss a picture in the one page “instructions” sheet showing a program called “Control AP”. If I had gotten out my magnifying glass I could have seen from the screen image of this program that it can control screen brightness, the “light bar” – a blue color emitting from the bottom of the unit – the camera, and
wireless. But that is what you need do – use this program to turn wireless on and off. That took a long time to figure out.
But then I found no mention where this program comes from! It wasn’t on the “Driver” disk. The only program on the disk was a screen alignment program – which I didn’t need as the touch screen worked great without calibration.
So, for now I gave up on wireless, and I connected the Shuttle to our network – used a cable - so that I could do massive amounts of Windows Updates. That took a long time as it brought in Service Pack 2, then a whole bunch of other stuff, then started it all again with Service Pack 3. Prepare yourself for spending lots of time on this!
But after all that, wireless still didn't come on. While I still didn't know if I was missing a driver or not I turned my attention to the "Control AP" program - whatever that was! And after much searching I found a download point for the “Control AP “program on the shuttle site.
I Installed it and then I tried to enable wireless and it worked! Finally I was able to get to the network wirelessly. All that was needed was this program. No new driver needed.
After that it was just installing HCA – and that needed .NET which took an amazing amount of more time to download and install. Then configure as a HCA client and the Touch Screen User Interface, and start it up.
And HCA worked great!
After all this hardware and software work, what did I have? I had a fully functional touch screen “HCA Station” and it worked GREAT! All the client and touch screen features worked fine on this machine.
Last piece was to attach it to the wall. And there was another story. I really have to wonder why most mounting brackets are so expensive. After all it is just a few pieces of metal. After another long session searching I did find this:
Still cost more than I thought it should but it did work fine.
So what did it cost to get a fully functional wall mounted touch screen computer running HCA connected to our HCA Server? Total was $460 for the Shuttle, memory, and drive, and $20 for the wall mount. Add in some shipping costs and just about $500. Not a bad price at all.
And, most importantly, couple this with a server running Windows Home Server and you have a massively useful HCA installation for under $1000 which is very close to the HP Touch Smart computer alone. And way less than something from one of the big boys like Crestron.
It was an adventure! It could have been much less of an adventure with better help from the resellers pointing me towards the right pieces and from the Shuttle company in providing some much better documentation.
We had had the Shuttle running for over a month and no problems at all. It's a great platform for HCA running in client mode. We even have it doing text-to-speech when a program on the server uses Speak elements. Kind of fun!