Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Classic Merit Megatouch meets Classic Apple

The Merit Megatouch Bar/Table Top Game Machine

The Merit Megatouch Maxx (Saphire)
Megatouch Force
Maybe its nostalgia, maybe its a truly great piece of software/hardware, but I have always loved these machines.  I remember vividly playing photohunt at a local dive bar at a time when touchscreen technology seemed quite futuristic.  With less processor power than an iphone and resistive touchscreen technology that connected via serial cable, its amazing that I still see these machines being used frequently in bars and taverns.
Merit Ion Megatouch
(Courtesy of Jester's Amusements)

While I don't really know much about the various product lines that Merit offered, I do know that the most common machines I saw were the CRT Merit Maxx (with its jewel themed updates) and the newer Megatouch Force.

I'm putting together a game room and a Merit Megatouch was something I hoped to incorporate right from the start.  At first I looked at the modern LCD versions (such as the Aurora or Ion Lines).  In my opinion, the prices were astoundingly high for the level of hardware.  When I looked at older machines in various conditions, I again saw very high prices and a ver slow depreciation.  This didn't bother me so much, as it gave me an excuse to DIY it and truly make it my own.  Unfortunately, I found out that Merit does not license its software.  Thus, the reason for the high prices is really the software as well as excellent customer support from Merit.

Choosing parts is also somewhat of a pain as Merit is very protective of its software (as is its right).  Buying individual parts requires making sure your hardware and physical security key matches up with the Merit supplied hard drives.  The best bet is to obtain a working machine with defective screen and/or in physical disrepair, but functional inside (easier said than done).

So here is the motherboard:

Megatouch XL with Maxx Diamond conversion
Its technically and old Megatouch XL that was upgraded to the Megatouch Maxx
I again want to point out (both for my own protection and to state a fact).  This is a native Merit board, HDD, I/O card, and security key (the object with the battery and tag in the lower left corner of the motherboard).  The AT power source is new and replaces a defective one.  This is in NO WAY a hacked board and there is absolutely NO use of cracked or stolen/pirated or otherwise altered software.  Instead this is a genuine Merit Megatouch with some working parts (motherboard, I/O, HDD) and some non-working/damaged parts (powersource, touchscreen, CRT, enclosure) that I am replacing with available alternatives.

Booting is slow, the fan is loud, but it works
There is something very rewarding about repurposing old hardware that is otherwise destined for the trash.  This is especially true with "classic" hardware.  While "classic" is obviously in the eye of the beholder and difficult to define, to me it means, "a device that performs its original function in such a manner that it can not or at least has not been significantly improved upon, even if that function is currently considered obsolete."  With the iMac G4, from a mechanical engineering perspective, it "did its job" perfectly.  It allowed for nearly effortless manipulation of an LCD monitor.  Thus, making it easy to have the LCD conform to all potentially desirable viewing heights, angles, and tilt.  New technology may eliminate the need to change viewing angle to make a screen readable (IPS).  It may/will replace the need for LCDs with superior and more customizable viewing technologies (ex holograms, project glass).  But, if your goal is to have an all in one computer with a 15 - 20" LCD screen viewed on a desk, I don't think it has ever gotten better than the iMac G4.  People who love classic cars would likely say the same thing about their passion.  Similarly, Merit has barely changed the formula and, even in the iPad age, can still sell its touch devices for thousands.  This is because these Megatouch Machines "do what they do" perfectly.  They play simple, entertaining touch games that are both nostalgic and timeless.

The 17" ELO 1715L
A 300 watt AT PSU was easy enough to find for a few dollars.  The touch screen was somewhat of a happy coincidence.  The original touch screen was a 3M and I actually found an old touchscreen controller for this device.  However, I also an old 17" 4:3 LCD touch monitor from ELO.  While I was fairly certain the VGA would scale up easily to 17" from the original 15" CRT, I did not know if the touch screen would work or if I could calibrate it for 17".  I had forgotten that this particular touch monitor had both a usb and serial port option for touch control (I was planning on getting a USB to serial adapter), but did not need it.  It seemed to work, but clearly needed calibration.
First run - Touchscreen not Calibrated
The Menu Control connected to Momentary switch
I need to thank "Dark Paladin" and his work with Merit Megatouches.  In his project, which can be found here:


He reveals the 4 important pins including the two grounds at the top left and second from left, as well as the setup pin (top right) and Touchscreen calibration pin (second from right on top).  Using a momentary switch to temporarily ground these switches will send you to the Setup and Touch Calibration Menus respectively.  His design is definitely worth a read to anyone considering a similar project.
Touch Screen Working ... Photo Hunt Time
Some issues such as I/O, Sound, and Quieting the fan still need working out.

But the first thing to consider is the permanent housing.  The motherboard is way too bid for the iMac G4 and too wide for the iMac G5.  However, the other white plastic desktop of the era I feel would make an ideal home.  I am referring to the 17" Flat CRT based eMac.  Elimination of the CRT will give plenty of room for the PSU, Motherboard, I/O and HDD.  Cooling mechanisms and air flow are already present in the chassis.  In addition, my current 4:3 17" LCD should fit perfectly.  Despite this transition, because the CRT in the eMax is actually flat, it should be indistinguishable from the outside.

The I/O hub can be fitted with the momentary switches and the existing on/off button can be used.  The existing front speakers seem perfect for this mod.

Broken eMac = Future Megatouch?
Although it is bulky, there is a classic look to it and it will allow for a single contained unit.  I have picked up the broken eMac seen above.  The front bezel needs repair or replacement, but it otherwise appears to be in good shape.

All in all, I think this will make a very fun project while I await small form factor Ivy Bridge Boards for my new Pro iMac G4 mod.

Please feel free to ask any questions and as always, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Future Remains Bright - Ivy on the Horizon

Industrial/Embedded/Single Board Computers

The names above are the categories to which the motherboard form factors discussed below belong to.  These terms seem to be somewhat interchangeable and include many different form factors that are both smaller as well as some that are larger than the ATX standard and its variations.

I am by no means an expert in this field and the information below is based on my still evolving knowledge of these boards.  I apologize ahead of time for any inconsistencies contained in this post.  One thing is clear, however, the line between consumer and industrial is blurring.  The popularity of mobile computing, with its requirement for power efficiency and small yet powerful form factors has driven the miniaturization of consumer hardware as well as software.  On the hardware side, mobile chipsets today are often just as powerful as their desktop counterparts.  Smaller I/O such as mSATA and mini-PCIe are quite common.  On the software side operating systems are becoming more light weight.  In my opinion, Windows 8 will mark the death of the Compact Embedded or (Embedded Compact?) software.  You could argue that Windows RT or even Windows Phone 8 are CE operating systems, but reviewing the specs on "Embedded Boards" over the past 5 years shows a clear trend.  While the recommended OS from 3 - 5 years ago almost always had some Windows CE release next to it, current boards have statements like "all popular operating systems software."

Arguably, the most powerful current Mac is the Mac Pro with retina display.  It contains the i7-3720qm processor for the qm77(or hm77/hm76) chipset.  This small chipset is available on these form factors, as well as SATA 6gb/s and USB 3.0.  Up to 8gb of DDR3 RAM, mini-PCIe, and gigabit ethernet are common as well.  These represent top of the line components and compete with ATX boards in all categories with the exception of graphical capability via PCIex16 busses.  However, Ivy Bridge is somewhat of a turning point for on-CPU graphics and end-user addable discrete mobile graphics will hopefully be available at some point.

I suspect as the consumer/industrial lines continue to blur, more SBC/Industrial board makers will make their expertise and wares more available to the consumer.  I don't believe desktop computing is dying, but as mobile computing drives innovation, I think we will see its components shrink down in size as well.

The ECX / 3.5" Form Factor (105mm x 146mm)

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I have become a big fan of this form factor.  The major reason for this is its fit into the iMac G4 base.  While mini itx is obviously more mainstream and widely available, it is not ideally suited to this mod because of its size.  Small "non-industrial" form factors such as Nano itx and Pico itx are not hard to find, but these typically use low power processors.

Quanmax's KEEX-6100

The ECX/3.5" Form Factor developed as an embedded industrial board.  It seems to be somewhat of an offshoot of the stackable PC/104 compatible: EPIC and EBX (5.25") boards.  Sometimes the ECX is classified as a SBC or embedded computer with these other form factors, sometimes it is classified with the EBX as a "disk sized SBC", or sometimes it is in a category by itself.

3.5" boards do not tend to support PC/104 (though some do) and instead were supported by intel as an open standard: Embedded Compact Extended Form Factor.  The intention was a small form factor for use in cars, medical equipment, and information/kiosks.  With such varied uses, a very wide variety of capabilities exist in this form factor.  In general most tend to support LVDS natively and include a small form factor storage such as compact flash.  They also tend to use mobile chipsets, RAM modules, and mini-PCI expansion.  Power is usually by a P4 (2x12V 4 pin connector).  Because they may need to be used in processor intensive tasks, they are available with top of the line mobile processors.

In my experience they tend to be very compatible, malleable, and fairly simple "no proprietary" features boards.  As a result, I have been extremely pleased with their performance in both core 2 duo and core i/sandy bridge variants.

I intend this post to be reminiscent of a previous post "The Future is Bright".  Back then, I took a break from my 20" mod to wait for the release of a Core i Variant of the ECX form factor by Quanmax and the KEEX-6100 did not disappoint.

The largest upgrade I can make to my previous mod would be graphically.  As a separate graphics card is impractical, use of Ivy Bridge's HD4000, would be very ideal.


1) GENE-QM77

First I saw this board released by AAEON (a sub-company of ASUS)
Courtesy of aaeonusa.com
2) Then AVALUE announced this 3 boards including the ECM QM77 an ivy bridge ECX board

I feel like these will be obtainable in the next coming months with likely other options to follow.  As a result, I have decided to pause on my 20" pro mod until these are available.

The EPIC Form Factor (115mm x 165mm)

The Embedded Platform for Industrial Computing.
Courtesy of windowsfordevices.com
Is a standard created to fit in size between the PC/104 and EBX Industrial Form Factors.  Most seem to support stackable PC/104 and PC/104+ add ons.

In general these seem to be similar, though slightly larger than the ECX.  In general, these tend to support more powerful processors and less low-power systems.  They have some extra I/O options.

I have never worked with these boards, but at only 1cm x 2cm larger than ECX boards, I certainly consider them a viable alternative.


Avalue's EPI-QM77
- Appears to be very similar to the company's ECX-QM77 mentioned above.

Courtesy of Avalue.com.tw

In The Meantime:
As I have the quad core i7 board ready to go, I will either place this in the base of a new iMac G4 20" or give my core i5 a refresh with the upgraded processor and native PSU.

I am also building a game room and working on plans to incorporate a touch screen bar game based on the guts of an old MEGA TOUCH by Merit CRT display.  As to the form factor, I was thinking about using a 17" eMac.  Hopefully, I'll have updates soon.