Monday, May 13, 2013

GUIDES and TUTORIALS

Sorry about the delay but...

After completing my latest mod, I promised a guide.  Due to personal reasons, I have not had a chance to work on this.  As time goes by and it is less fresh in my mind, it becomes somewhat more difficult to compile.  While all the information to do this mod is within this blog, it is not very well organized.  The Monitor to DVI instructions are contained within the 20" Sandy Bridge Guide.  While I talk about the native power source in this tutorial, I use a PICO power supply in this actual mod.  The native PSU is really discussed in a different post.  Likewise, wiring up the new NUC board is in a different post altogether.

I had initially constructed this site to be a "Tech Journal/Diary" where the most recent updates would be chronologically first and older entries could contain outdated or incorrect information.  As I became more involved in the iMac G4 project, this site became more of a guide/tutorial site.  While this isn't a bad thing, its just not exactly how it was designed to be.

As I've been putting together the tutorial for the 20" Ivy Bridge NUC Mod (in the form of audio over pictures), I've realized that this may be the opportunity for a "redesign".  I would like to keep this site as my tech journal site.  Even the failed mods and the process behind them is something I would like to "preserve".  I have secured "imacmods.com" and I am hoping to eventually link between these two sites for a more cohesive and straight forward experience.  Someone wanting to know how to connect the native PSU can click on it and either go to a written tutorial, video guide, or original dremel junkie post.

It is certainly not lost on me how confusing it is to google "iMac G4 Update" and think you've found the answer only to find several posts detailing somewhat related (but not the same mod).  Also, from my end, I have step by step photographed, documented, and wired up two different 17" necks (one on video) and a 20", and am now going to repeat it again for the 20".  This will allow me to have a "modular" approach where 'for instance' STEP B: Conversion to DVI remains the same regardless of which computer you use in the base.

I would greatly appreciate any advice from those more skilled than me at web site creation.  I would like it to be simple and easy to follow, but am a novice at this.  Please let me know if you have any suggestions.

The 20" NUC Tutorial

I want to assure you that this will not interfere with the 20" NUC tutorial.  The biggest hold up has been the fact that I am not 100% happy with the amount of pictures and detail that I captured.  My goal was to complete the mod and I was not as thorough with photographing and documenting the steps along the way.  Although I do not have a problem opening up my mod.  There is no doubt that I will have to do a decent amount of disassembly to get the pictures I would like.  If I am going to disassemble my mod, I would love to upgrade it in the process if possible.  Luckily, it does appear upgrades are not far off courtesy of Intel and Gigabyte:

From Gigabyte - The Brix:

Courtesy of Computerbase.de
Courtesy of Computerbase.de
This NUC based system is smaller, lighter, has more I/O options and will have i5 and i7 options.  While initially Ivy Bridge based, Haswell is likely not far behind.

And Intel:


Rend Lake will be i5 and USB 3.0 capable based of Ivy Bridge Architecture.

In retrospect the use of Thunderbolt was a waste on the initial NUC.  Initially I thought it would be "future proofing", but its been months later and the only intriguing peripheral is Belkin's (finally being released) $300 Thunderbolt dock.  Of course, its the USB 3.0 that makes this dock interesting.

Thus, this NUC should be far more versatile (at least I hope).

I am unsure of the variation in the "Horse Canyon" Core i5, it doesn't appear to use a Haswell Chip, though I can not be sure.



"Skull Canyon" is the Core i7 Variant, and the one for which I am most excited.

Of course, updates are always going to happen, and while these are only incremental upgrades, I have been looking for an opportunity to add USB 3.0 in particular (and get rid of the thunderbolt).  As these seem like they are "around the corner", I am asking for patience in terms of the guide.  Replacing the board is not difficult, but it would make more sense to only disassemble and reassemble this mod once.

So please stay tuned and hopefully the tutorial will be done shortly, with an even more powerful NUC serving as the computer.

EDID and HDCP

Some of you may have noticed an"incompatibility" with certain sources.  Sometimes this is due to playing digital protected content "HDCP" or even using certain motherboards.  For myself, the EPI-QS77 and I am told the Raspberry Pi as well, seem to cause incompatibility issues.  In some cases, changing from DVI to HDMI and back can remedy the problem, other times, artifacts persist in the monitor.  My guess is that some boards may have an incompatibility with the "EDID", the identifier of this LCD.  While there is no direct way around this, there is an "indirect way".

The White Polycarbonite Family
As I have mentioned before, prior to figuring out direct wiring of the existing LCD, I had found a work around.  This "work around" is used in the iMac G4 (pictured above) and although its just serving as a monitor (with a modded iMac G5), I have now been using it daily for over 2 years without any problems whatsoever.  This work around keeps the native inverter and can keep the LCD or use an LCD from an aluminum Apple Cinema Display or iMac G5.  The most important thing is that this uses the controller board from an apple cinema display.  While this does involve opening and rewiring the neck, it does give the LCD a true EDID and HDCP compatibility.  There are certain other advantages as well, but it is more technically challenging and will require some parts from a cinema display.

I mention this only to gauge interest.  Are there people who have experienced this problem? Are people interested in this particular method?

Thank you all again for your patience and thank you for taking the time to read this.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

20" iMac G4 Intel NUC Ivy Bridge AiO Mod (Videos)

A video demonstration of my updated iMac G4 mod/hack (NUC/Ivy Bridge Mountain Lion Hackintosh)

 

Part 1:


Introduction and General Overview (YouTube Link)

Part 2:

Turning It On and Testing It Out (YouTube Link)

So that pretty much completes this mod.  I have thought about new HD 21.5" LCDs to the top of the arm in a custom LCD case that mimics the iMac G4, but I am not sure that would add very much.  This monitor falls just short of HD and I have not had any issues with it in terms of quality.  Though its something to consider for the future.  I find that larger monitors start to look "awkward" with the base.  Although placing the Cinema Display on the top of the monitor worked.  It wasn't until I went back to the original that I realized it was "off".  It didn't droop or tilt, but it didn't move as smoothly as the original.  The neck was obviously designed very specifically for the native monitor.  This includes not only the weight, but the thickness and shape as weight distribution changes as you tilt and swivel the neck.  Unfortunately, without the R&D budget of apple, its hard to design a new neck, but the old one works beautifully with the native LCD.

I would still like to make this into a touchscreen and perhaps add an iSight.  The awkward size and Mac compatibility issue make this difficult.  While I have a capacitive screen that works, its thick and heavy and would require dramatic hardware changes (LED lighting with custom thin diffuser) or physical changes (altering the LCD case and front bezel).  I am still hopeful that touch films will eventually be readily available, adding touch capability of any size with negligible cha ges in thickness.

Anyway, I'll worry about that later and enjoy this computer for a while.  I have tons of pics from this and previous mods, as well as the ability to fill in gaps with surplus materials.  As such, I'm thinking about putting together a "Moving Picture" Video Guide.  Sort of a compromise between a written and video guide.  I'll be able to explain from start to finish, step by step, how to do this with audio and annotated pics.  Let me know if this sounds at all interesting or useful to anyway.  Thanks for reading/watching.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

iMac G4 Ivy Bridge Hackintosh: Finishing Touches

Completed Mod

While the previous Sandy Bridge Mod worked fine, this board is simply a perfect fit.  It runs cooler, uses less power, keeps the optical drive, supports mountain lion, uses the native PSU (which not only ditches the external power brick, but it even provides 30 extra watts of power).  This is much more stable.  Only S3 sleep (S1 works fine) remains a problem.

A Great Fit
The two extra additions are the 12V to 19V upconverter, which powers the actual motherboard.
and the Wide Input PSU, which allows the peripherals (The optical drive and the Fan) to turn on only when the motherboard is on and activates the PSUs 24V line via its 5V switch.  Both these fit (although its tight) and work perfectly.

With the exception of some cosmetics, I have completed the back ports.  They include 4 USBs, though 1 is used by a small Bluetooth adapter, a 3.5mm audio jack, the native AC power plug, and a "fake" Firewire 400 plug.  Its fake because it isn't a true firewire cable, it is only connected to a 12V Molex/Ground, so it supplies only power.  This is for use with the Griffin ifire adapter which gets its power from firwire and its signal from a 3.5mm audio jack and has an apple minijack out for the apple pro speakers.  This is very much akin to the original apple pro speakers that came with the G4 Cube.  They used an external amp which plugged into a special "high voltage USB port".  So although the speakers are not directly plugged in like the original, with the iFire, no additional power source is needed.  I did not want to break open and try to internalize the iFire.  This would have wasted the valuable iFire and constrained this mod to only those speakers.  The iFire also allows lengthening of the speaker cable, which is far to short on the apple pro speakers.





Other small improvements include:
Using KeyMap4Macbook to allow the keyboard button to eject the SATA to USB drive.

Changing the Mac Mini Pic in Resources to the 20" iMac G4, so the iMac's pic displays in "About this Mac".

About this Mac

The Full View
I will do a video shortly and am hoping to combine old pictures and new pictures into a comprehensive guide for doing this, including parts list.

Almost all the shortcomings of my previous mod has been addressed.  I am really pleased with this and hope this is helpful to others interested in this mod.  Thanks for reading!


Sunday, January 6, 2013

20" iMac G4 Mod Ivy Bridge NUC/AiO Hackintosh running OSX 10.8.2 Mountain Lion - Success

I still have to improve the cable management at the bottom of the dome. The ports on the back need to be completed an I have to make a final decision regarding audio options.

I am quite amazed at how well this mod worked. I will of course give a more detailed description shortly.







Friday, January 4, 2013

20" iMac G4 NUC/AiO Ivy Bridge Mod: SUCCESS!

20" iMac G4 / NUC Ivy Bridge Mod

Updates:

I'm happy to report that all problems have been solved and the motherboard fit test was successful.  This is currently the method I would recommend for those that want a 20" Ivy Bridge Hackintosh version of this mod.  As I noted in my previous post, while I initially believed I would not go in the direction of the NUC board, its remarkably small size and simplicity made it by far the best candidate for this mod.

Original vs NUC/DVD - Front
In multiple previous posts I have explained the advantages of having the core elements (processor/motherboard) of the mod at the top of the dome where ventilation is best.  In my previous ECX mod, the board only fit with the optical drive because I did not use the native PSU.  Because I wanted to use the native PSU, I did not believe fitting the optical drive was possible, but with this board it looks like it is going to fit. (Although nothing is definite until this is completed).  This board fits into the slot left vacant by the 3.5" HDD (the mSATA is on the mobo itself).  It pretty much fits into the grooves in the drive chassis requiring no alternation.  For comparison, I have taken side by side photos of the original optical drive and HDD in the drive chassis next to the shorter new dvd optical drive and the NUC occupying that area.  The height is pretty much the same and there is amble room for the connectors to fit as well.


Original vs NUC/DVD - Top

Problem Solving:

With this fitting at the top of the dome, I should have even a little but more room for components than I did with my previous mod.  This is because, there are less port extenders needed and no SSD is required at the bottom of the dome.  It will still be tight, but I have some wiggle room to address the problems that I brought up in my previous post.  Taking them one at a time:

1) USB Ports: A 4 port USB Hub leaves me with only 1 spare USB port, but solves the problem.  The addition of another hub or a larger one is likely.  A USB port supplies the 5V to the PSU.

2) The Fan: The directional fan is connected to the heatsink and I did not want to remove it.  I also wanted to keep the case fan.  Apple's connectors and colors are completely backwards from industry standards (Black is 12V, Red is Ground and the fan out is a 3pin Male connector, not Female).  The fan is also somewhat loud and old, so I decided to replace it.  I bought a Antec 92mm fan that had a molex out (there is no case fan output on the board).  There is a sense pin that I won't be using.  Because I won't have software fan control, I got a model with a 3 speed setting.  I put it on medium to reduce noise and may extend the controller to the back ports or simply leave it on this setting.

Wide Input Pico PSU
While 12V are readily obtainable from the PSU, the problem is that the PSU is always on.  So, the fan will spin as soon as the computer is plugged in, no matter if the computer is on or not.  As the computer does not have any 12V out, I will have to use some kind of switch.  Luckily, the PSU comes natively with a "switch".  The PSU relies on the motherboard to downconvert 12V to 5V then feed 5V back to the PSU to turn on the 24V line that powers the monitor's backlight.  Although there are many other ways to do this, I went with an elegant solution using what I had available.  Keep in mind this is not the only peripheral that needs power.  The optical drive requires 12V and 5V in either a molex or SATA power connector.  Luckily, I had a very small 20 pin PICO power supply with a WIDE INPUT range up to 24V. (Not all PICO PSUs can accept 24V, may sure before you connect).  I spliced the PWR input to the Green wire of the PSU (24V) which connects to the Inverter Wires as well.  I connected the ground to a native PSU ground.  As this is a standard 20 pin ATX based PSU, it won't work without a motherboard unless you ground the On Pin.  I have it connected to a switch, but will likely just leave in a wire, allowing the PSU to turn on as soon as it receives 24V DC input from the native PSU.  This produces the necessary 12V and even a 5V and has both a Molex and SATA power cable out.  I connected the Molex to the Fan (you only need the 12V line and ground), and the SATA to the optical drive.  Now we the peripherals will only turn on when the motherboard itself is turned on.
PICO PSU powering the optical drive
The Bypassed Power Switch
3) Power Switch: I did not want to damage the board, so I simply threaded small wires between the onboard switch and its solder points.  I did this to the front right and back left corners.  This was then wired to the case switch at the bottom of the dome.  These can be easily removed in the future if this board is ever repurposed.  In addition this does not effect the functionality of the original switch in any way.

The case switch I use is from my previous mod. Modeling clay was used to secure a momentary switch directly behind the peg that protrudes from the back of the plastic power button on the back of the iMac dome.

4) Audio: I am sticking with the Turtle Bay USB Audio solution from my last mod.  This allows for a standard 3.5mm audio jack out and also supports a 3.5mm Microphone in.  I have it wired to the microphone in the LCD housing.

5) Bluetooth: I have not found anyone who has had success with any half height mini PCI-E that supports Wifi and Bluetooth with Mac OSX.  So, I am simply going to keep my very small USB bluetooth solution.

6) Optical Drive: I am using a DVD Burner that gets power via the PICO PSU discussed in #2.  The connection to the mobo is via a SATA to USB 2.0 adapter cable.

12V to 19V DC-DC Upconverter
7) Power: While the option of splicing the AC to the to the existing AC plug with the NUC's powerbrick is not a bad one, it is somewhat of a waste of the 180 watt PSU that already exists in the machine.  Not to mention that I'm already including a second PSU (which is really being used only as a downconverter here).  The NUC requires 19V at (at least) 3.7A and the PSU is only supplying 12V (can't use the 24V because its only on with 5V from the motherboard).  Luckily, 19V is the typical notebook operating voltage and therefore upconverters are available.  Though there is a much smaller selection than for more common voltages (24V, 12V, 5V etc).  Many different shapes an sizes are available.  I got one in a familiar shape on ebay from a Chinese manufacturer for $20.  Its relatively small ( I may remove part of the heat sink surrounding it) and is a 12V DC to 19V DC upconverter at 4A.  This is exactly what is required and works flawlessly.

The Upconverter connected to PSU and NUC
The Upconverter gets 12V and Ground in from the Native PSU and sends 19V out.  I had a broken Laptop AC power adapter that had a DC input that perfectly matched the power in plug on the NUC.  The positive is the inside peg and the negative is the outer part.  Using a multimeter I ensured which wire was which and connected this to the power supply via the up converter.

The Fit Test:

The Secured NUC Motherboard
On a side note, I used a rubber sleeve to cover the drive cage where the NUC will go.  After some guess and check, I determined the place where the  NUC and USB connectors seemed to fit the best. To test fit, I used twist ties that went through the screw holes in the grooves intended for the HD and then through the motherboard screw holes.  These will be replaced with plastic locking ties to secure the motherboard in place.
One thing to make sure of is that the wifi antennae which goes through the metal faraday cage (Wifi signal will be severely reduced if the antenna is within the cage) is connected to the wifi card before the board is secured.


Build Pics:

A Mess of Wires, But A Working Mod
Video and Audio Test
Motherboard View
About This Mac Screen

Remaining Issues:

Obviously, there is a lot of cable management to do.  This will get much simpler once connections are directly soldered (connectors removed and alligator wires eliminated).  As I technically have more room at the bottom of the dome than the previous mod (also had a DC converter and a PICO PSU to deal with), I do not believe this will be difficult to fit.  The wire management, however, may be more involved.

There will a paucity of ports.  A 3.5mm audio out, a few USBs, and not much else.  If I had to do it over, I probably would not have bothered spending the extra money on the Thunderbolt equipped version.  There are so few available peripherals and there are so overpriced that I can not even test this. Perhaps this is somewhat future proofing, but I would imagine there will be further upgrades to this board before thunderbolt actually takes off (if it ever does).  That said, I would not have bothered with an ethernet extender anyway.  I've learned with this that the more you do, the more that can go wrong.  I am more than happy to keep it simple.  I also have the option of adding a powered USB hub with the 12V lines in the PSU.  Unlike my previous mod which was very close to its power maximum, this should have room to spare.

Concluding Thoughts:

Untili I have it assembled and have worked with it for a while, I'm cautious about speaking too soon, but I am very optimistic about this project.  Although to Core i5 Sandy Bridge to a Core i3 Ivy Bridge may seem like a lateral move, this board is simply a better fit.  Its lower power, quieter, and everything onboard works.  The incorporation of the native PSU while keeping the optical drive makes this virtually indistinguishable from the original 20" iMac G4.

Hopefully will finish soon! Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Great Little Board

A Change of Heart

When I first ordered the Intel NUC, my purpose was to see if this form factor had promise for the future.  I also figured that this small board would be useful to test projects and perhaps even wind up as a little media center somewhere.  In truth, I did not expect to seriously consider this board for the iMac G4 project. After working with this board for a while, I have to admit, its pretty fantastic.  For one, the size is remarkable, especially when it is removed from the case. This makes even ECX boards look big.  Secondly, its dead simple, it uses EFI bios, requires only RAM, a half height WiFi mSATA, and a full size mSATA SSD.  The mSATA in particular makes the system even smaller.  There is no need for even a 2.5" drive and nearly all wires are eliminated in this fashion.
 
As opposed to the other boards, this board only contains a Core i3 processor and there is a paucity of USB ports (only 3), mSATAs (one half height, one full height), an HDMI connector, and either a Ethernet + extra HDMI or Thunderbolt. (Depending on which of the 2 models you choose).


A Look Inside
 Despite these negatives there are other advantages this board has.  The availability of 2 RAM slots for a max of 16GB.  Thunderbolt while (at this point) is expensive and has few compatible devices does leave open impressive possibilities including hubs, a second display, and even a pci express graphics card.  The size also leaves most of the base available as it fits between the native PSU right under the fan and allows you to keep the optical drive (though a USB connection would be needed as there are no regular SATA hookups).

The Software/A Mountain Lion Hackintosh

The only method I use is tonymac's retail Mountain Lion Unibeast/Multibeast install method.  While the other boards took a very long time to get right, this could not have been easier.  I did know in advance to change the graphics to 128MB and of course AHCI instead of IDE (for the SATA controller).  Except for these small changes, there is almost no way to go wrong.  I used the Easy Beast Install with the Mac Mini 6,1 definition.  Now the reason for this is that there isn't much to the board, while other motherboards are loaded with other chipsets for gigabit Ethernet, SATA controllers, Touchscreen controllers, other I/O controllers, and business related QM chipset features, this board is really only about the basics.  But, with hackintoshes, less is more.  Having to clear your CMOS after you mistakenly enable some feature is no fun.  Neither is having to reinstall the OS because you decide to try to get native audio to work one last try.  This makes it very time consuming when it comes time to upgrade your OS.
 
One note,  I have read HDMI audio does require a work around, but this obviously does not apply to this mod.  Without any other audio cable out, a USB audio card will be needed.  But, so far airplay seems to work flawlessly, and can make for a wireless alternative.  So, in short, if a modestly powerful Ivy Bridge Hackintosh is your goal for this mod, I would recommend these boards above the others.  Being the easiest to find and the most affordable also doesn't hurt.
 
About This Mac
 Some Technical Issues to Solve:

1) Ports: 3 USBs is simply not enough and for basic function more is needed.  Thunderbolt hubs are absurdly overpriced right now, but either a Thunderbolt to SATA and/or USB or a regular USB Hub will be needed.  One USB is needed for the 5V "backlight power on" signal.

2) Fan:  there is a directional fan, but due to the faraday cage, I would still like to add the case fan in some manner.  This may involve replacing the existing fan and situating it directly underneath the iMac's case fan, splicing the fan wire to power it.  Or, running both, using the PSU to drive the fan (though a manual control knob may then make sense).

3) Power switch: This is hard soldered to the board.  A bypass will need to be wired up and I am fairly sure this can be done in an easy to reverse way.

4) Audio: A USB audio solution is needed.  This is not a difficult thing to find, but I am considering an airplay or Bluetooth based solution.

5) Bluetooth: I have been unable to find a Wifi/Bluetooth combo half height card that will work so far, so I will have to go with a Bluetooth dongle.

6) The Optical Drive: Using this solution means using USB to SATA to connect to a drive, but it will still need to be powered.  May require 12V to 5V downconverter.

7) Power: Worst case Scenario would involve connecting AC to the small power brick that comes with the NUC, but this seems like a waste.  Unfortunately as this board needs 19V, either an upconverter or downconverter will be needed to go from either 12V or 24V.


Concluding Thoughts

Although I'm not certain, I am actually leaning towards this board,  If this was an i5, putting it on par with my previous system (with more RAM and better graphics) this would be a slamdunk.  Each EPIC or ECX board requires different connectors, drivers etc. As Intel is likely to continually upgrade this form factor, getting this right may "future proof" future designs.  I am likely to build this out and see what the final project looks like and how it functions.
 
I will certainly post detailed instructions and may do a video guide if there is enough interest.  Thanks again for reading!
 


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

SUCCESS - TWO OUT OF THREE (RUNNING OSX 10.8) AINT' BAD

The hardware part of this mod has already been completed, for the most part.  The next step is software and finding a build that will run Mountain Lion without much compromise, is the goal.  Out of the 4 boards I am working with, I have had tremendous success with one, partial success with another, hit a dead end with a 3rd, and the 4th is somewhat of a backburner side project (upgrading my previous sandy bridge mod to core i7 Quad and Mountain Lion).

 

Lets start with Success: THE EPI-QM77

THE BUILD

This is the EPIC board, it is slightly larger than the ECX board, but fits easily within the dome.  As always this is a purchased retail copy of Mountain Lion using the brilliant tonymac's Unibeast/Multibeast install method (Thank you again tonymac).  Changing the SATA from IDE to AHCI was the only change I had to make in the bios, otherwise it installed natively.  Interestingly, I had trouble getting the USB to function from a USB 3.0 port, but when I plugged it into the apple keyboard's USB via the USB 3.0 it worked fine.

An Ivy Bridge "MacBook Pro" in an iMac G4 shell
I am still tweaking the multibeast settings somewhat, but will report them with final recommendations shortly.  As you can see, this build eschews the optical drive for the native PSU.  Although this is cleaner as there is no power brick, I have mixed feelings about loosing the aesthetics of the drive.  Its getting harder to justify what is really a cosmetic feature at this point.  I am still trying to devise a use for this and to somehow incorporate a usb powered motor to open and close the door revealing a hot plug or extra ports.

I will have to see what might be needed from a cooling perspective, but I may need to upgrade to a larger heatsink, but can not be sure until the computer is fully assembled.

This is likely the build I will keep as this board has everything I need, Core i7 Quad Ivy Bridge with HD4000 graphics, Enough USB 3.0 slots and 2 SATA 6.0 ports.  Even a quality 7.1 Realtek Audio Chip is included.

 

The "Looks Promising" Board: THE INTEL DC3217BY

Rear ports

On tonymac's forums I have seen successful hackintosh builds using the sister model which has ethernet and two monitor support.  This is the "higher end" model because of the inclusion of a thunderbolt port.  With the help of mikeboss' tip to set the graphics to 128mb, this board was able to post.  I did not go further as a mSATA is required and I did not have one large enough until now.  I have installed this Crucial 128GB mSATA, as well as a broadcom half height wifi card.  As this board is nearly identical, I suspect I will have similar success.  The question will be the thunderbolt, which I am hopeful will work natively.

With RAM, Wifi, and mSATA installed
I doubt this board will end up in this build permanently, but its an important proof of concept.  I believe that this tiny form factor has potential and Intel is currently pushing it for hobbyists.  Hopefully they will continue to improve and expand this line.  However, this first generation is underpowered with a core i3 vs the other boards.  Also it has few ports.  While the thunderbolt is intriguing and the idea of having all the ports in the back connect to one thunderbolt internally (ethernet, extra display, usb's etc) similar to apple's cinema display, thunderbolt accessories are currently way overpriced.  This board, as its the most compact, is the most versatile and is likely to have many uses in other projects.  That said, nothing is certain, and I will see this through.

 

NOT AT ALL: The Gene HM-76

I had high hopes for this ECX board, but I am currently having issues with the DVI display.  I am unsure if this is a failure of the board or its ability to communicate with my DVI/TMDS mod.  There are a few things I still want to try. 

 

WAITING IN THE WINGS: THE KEEX-6100

As Lion ran so well on it, I doubt Mountain Lion will be a problem, but I will test this as well as the core i7 processor.

OTHER OPTIONS:

A New QM-77 Ivy Bridge Board:

Quanmax will be releasing the Ivy Bridge KEEX-7100 and 7101 which contain embedded Core i5 and Core i7 mobile processors respectively.  ALthough I have a fondness for Quanmax and its KEEX boards have served me well, this board is not yet available and this is somewhat late in the game.  As I frequently change processors and tinker, I try to avoid embedded systems if possible (no other option with Intel NUC, but price is actually reasonable for a processor included system), but it remains a viable alternative.  

The Old Mac Mini:

I have been looking at ebay and the white polycarbonate Core 2 Duo systems are falling in price.  While the new boards are too big, the older style will work, but price to performance has been a limitation.  Although underpowered, there is a huge advantage in a native OS X machine and the final iterations (2.5+ Ghz) are still capable machines.  I will have to see if I can obtain one at a reasonable price.

Thanks for reading, will keep updating as I go.