Ben Whittle’s Uber Computer Update – Front Panel

 

front panelSo having chosen the fans he will be using, Ben has finally set about mounting them to the front panel. The front filter sticks to a self-adhesive magnetic strip; so Ben used this as a template to marks out where to cut once he had planned out the exact positioning of the fans.

 

32ddOnce the air intake was cut out Ben had to carefully mark out where to drill the mounting points for the fans. The secondary filters made this quite a laborious task as they overlap the 120mm fans by about 2mm on each side, otherwise he would have just lined all the fans in a row and pencilled through the mounting points.

 

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The careful planning paid off in the end, as all fans perfectly lined up with the filters literally touching each other. Ben was  quite pleased with that result.

 

 

tbvOne small issue with the front filter is that it is 120 x 480mm including the border, meaning a fair bit of the surface area of the blades is blocked by the front panel. This isn’t so much an issue of airflow, more that the blades being so close to the mounting surface will result in the fans not performing as well as they could.

Thankfully there is a solution, Ben found a company called Phobya who make 120mm acrylic fan spacers. This should put some space between the fan and the mounting surface, with the added bonus of having pre-drilled 5mm mounting points for LEDs. So this little problem, in a way, has turned out to be a positive. The fan filters are somewhat transparent and Ben likes the idea of a light glowing behind the filter, the only reason he didn’t go for LED fans was that he wouldn’t have been able to link them to the lighting controller which will change the colour of the illumination under the glass. However, if he’s just buying a bunch of 5mm RGB LEDs he can wire them to the lighting controller and have all the illumination changing colour simultaneously, might be a bit of extra work but Ben thinks the end result will look pretty good.

tttggfffOnce Ben had finished mounting the fans, he ordered his spacers and made a start on the panels underneath the desk, making up the sections which will house the optical drive and the Asus ROG panel. Ben discovered that cutting angles out of 8mm plywood is a bit of a pain but the end result isn’t too bad.

Ben says there is still a lot of work to do on the front panel, he has yet to design the control panel. He is planning on having power switch, headphones jack, 4x USB 3.0 ports, volume control and UPS control al mounted to one panel. That alone will be a few hours work, especially with wiring.

Stay tuned for more Ben Whittle’s Uber Computer updates.

Blippit IO PureCode Python – Offering schools a tech free easy entry into text based coding

New for 2015, in response to schools’ demand linked to Computer Science, Blippit IO has this week announced the launch of its new product PureCode Python. PureCode Python allows students to code their projects anywhere and anytime thanks to the way it is designed for schools and it is the most flexible way to give students access to coding in Python wherever they are. PureCode is ready-to-use with no tech set up, it includes the popular Turtle for Python and is designed for easy school management.

How it works

Students log in to their own account under the school umbrella. They can start their project with a blank canvas, use a teacher template project or use one of Blippit’s template projects, Students can then share what they make, explore what others have made and learn from each other. Students can also download Python code to use wherever they want.

Pricing and availability

Pricing for PureCode Python starts at £125. Blippit IO offer a free trial for schools to test out the PureCode Python at: https://www.blippit.co.uk/blippit-io-purecode-python.html

About Blippit IO

Blippit IO is a growing suite of online computing tools for schools which also offers Blippit IO App Maker, which currently has over 35,000 users, as a powerful but simple new tool for the computing curriculum and Blippit Social is another arm of Blippit specialising as a complete schools’ social media parental engagement service backed by 20 years of experience working with schools in the North West and UK.

For more information visit: https://www.blippit.co.uk/

Ben Whittle’s Uber Computer Update – Cooling and Airflow

Ben realised that as the Uber Computer is designed to be used in a bedroom where there is lots of dust, it is very important that all of the air intakes are filtered to prevent dust entering the compartments where the components will be. All of the components being visible through the top of the desk would not only be bad for looks, but having to clean it regularly would be a nightmare, as the only way into the compartments once the desk is built will be to remove the glass.

The high performance components will generate a lot of heat so good airflow through the main compartment is vital. Unfortunately the addition of filters restricts the airflow and may even require the use of a slightly different fan design to the standard fans just used to generate airflow. To help combat this Ben will be using 4 120mm fans mounted at the front of the desk which will suck air in through a single front mounted 480mm filter. The air will then be channelled to flow over the motherboard and other components and then through the vents in the expansion slots.

It really helps that most high end graphics cards generally intake from the air inside the chassis and exhaust through a vent in the expansion slot bracket as seen below:

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The graphics cards will be getting fresh air drawn from the front of the desk and the cooling design of the cards means that it will complement the airflow design quite nicely. The only other expansion card Ben plans to install will be the NVMe based storage, these are rarely fan cooled but they usually do come with a fairly chunky heatsink. He has vented blanking plates to install in the empty slots which will provide more than enough airflow around this card to provide adequate cooling.

image2

So the idea of the front intake fans is to generate airflow, but will a standard fan do the trick when mounted with a filter attached generating resistance? or will this require the use of a static pressure design? Only one way to find out…

image3

After testing both fans with the filter mounted Ben was very surprised by how much of a difference the static pressure design makes when it comes to forcing air through a filter or radiator. The fan designed to generate airflow clearly projects the air further than the static pressure model as you would expect. When the filter is mounted to the standard fan you can barely feel any air on the other side of the filter, with the static pressure model airflow is only slightly reduced on the other side of the filter. Static pressure fans it is then!

Thermal Management

Traditionally computer fans always had 3 pins in the connector, a ground, supply and tach signal for monitoring speed. Some motherboards were able to control the speed of the fans but only by varying the voltage/current available on that particular fan header until the fan reached the desired rotation speed. More modern fans receive a constant voltage and the rotation speed is determined via an on-board speed controller using pulse width modulation sent down a 4th wire.

As all of Ben’s intake fans are facing the same direction he sees having to set an RPM/temperature curve for each one individually as an unnecessary inconvenience. As the speed control signal is only one way and the rotation speed is still sent back down a separate wire his hope is that he will be able to link the PWM wire of all 4 fans together and control them all together, while still being able to monitor the speeds of each fan individually by connecting the tach wire to the relevant pin on the motherboards other fan headers.

The success of this is highly dependent on how the motherboard behaves if it realizes that individual PWM signals are making no difference to the fans rotation speed. At this stage the board may assume the fans connected are standard 3-pin fans and revert to the old way of controlling them and adjust the output voltage and current. If this happens he will have to supply 12v directly from the power supply in order for the fans to all receive a consistent current. Ben may have to give up on the idea of monitoring individual fan speeds altogether if it causes undesired results in the management software. This wouldn’t be a particularly big issue anyway, if a fan did fail there are four in a row and all of the temperatures are still monitored so there is no risk of failure due to overheating.

Ben says he will almost certainly be using an Asus motherboard in this system and he has found the options for fan control and thermal management on these boards to be plentiful to say the least. Ben’s current system allows him to set a RPM/temperature curve for each individual fan based on a fan and sensor combination of your choice, a very versatile system which allows you to have a virtually silent system under light load and a well cooled system under heavy load. The system works flawlessly in a standard build but to figure out how well it will behave in this more bespoke applications he will have to experiment a little.

Stay tuned for more Uber Computer updates.

 

Introducing Ben Whittle’s ‘Uber Computer’

Ben Whittle, one of our Engineers here at Virtue Technologies, has been with us for just over 3 years. Amongst other things he has always had a passion for engineering and technology in general. He is intrigued by how things work and enjoys building and fixing things. Ben says it’s been a while since he has built something he is really proud of. He noticed some impressive new hardware had been released at the end of last year and it got him thinking about building another machine. Introducing ‘The Uber Computer’.

Ben is letting us follow his ‘Uber Computer’ journey which he is completing in his own time. We asked Ben the following questions:

What inspired you to design the Uber Computer?

“I didn’t really want to follow the standard path of buying a pre-built chassis and filling it with components, and I actually don’t have a computer desk so I figured why not build a desk which will accommodate all of the components. This of course leaves the entire surface of the desk free for the peripheral components such as the monitor, keyboard, etc… I like the idea of having a lot of desk space without having a big tower sitting next to the monitor.”

What stage is the Uber Computer at now?

“The early stages. I have already put in a lot of hours into research and design and most of that work is complete. The basic frame is cut to shape and assembled but there is still a lot of building work to be done, the majority of the internal components will be standard off the shelf components and the desk is designed to accommodate them in the same way an ordinary chassis would, in other words it is pretty much a standard ATX form factor. This means that once the desk is finished, installing the components will be very simple. The vast majority of the desk itself, however, is designed and built from scratch out of sheets of plywood, aluminium and acrylic. Cutting all of this to the precise dimensions for it all to fit together perfectly, then polishing and paining it all is rather time consuming.”

What are the special features of the Uber Computer?

“From a non-technical perspective, the unique features will be mainly aesthetic. The top of the desk is all glass, and most of the vital components will be on display beneath the glass on the left hand side. There is a dividing section down the middle to channel the airflow over the components for optimal cooling. I wasn’t initially sure what to do with the space on the right hand side, a friend suggested a painting, which I thought was a fantastic idea. So I made a canvas to the exact dimensions to slot into the empty space, and my friend is currently painting something which will blend in with the general colour scheme of the desk. It will all be illuminated by hidden LEDs surrounding the entire perimeter of compartments, the brightness and colour are both variable. So to summarise, from a non-technical perspective, it’s a really quick, fancy looking PC.

From a technical perspective the specifications I have planned put it way above the standard gaming machine. I haven’t purchased many of the components yet so nothing is set in stone, with new hardware being released so regularly I won’t be buying anything until the desk is finished and tested. To give a rough idea of performance here’s what I’m pretty certain of so far.

The CPU should be a Socket-2011 8-core, 16-thread i7. With quad channel memory and 20MB of cache it is on a par with a mid-range Xeon chip, except I hope to be clocking this one to at least 4.5GHz.

The CPU will almost definitely be the Haswell Enthusiast architecture (unless something better is released in the meantime), meaning X99 chipset, PCIe 3.0 and quad channel DDR4 memory with a bandwidth of 68GB/s.

Primary storage will be NVMe flash in the form of a 4-lane PCIe card, should be capable of sequential reads of well over 2GB/s. Secondary storage will be two ordinary SATA SSD’s in RAID0, based on the performance from my current system this will easily crack 1GB/s.

Graphics will most likely be 2x nVidia GTX980s in SLi, although release of the 8GB versions of these cards with the 384-bit memory bus has been significantly delayed unfortunately.”

What is the intended usage of the Uber Computer?

“Gaming, although as much as I love it, it’s something I rarely get time to do. My brother on the other hand will probably get much more use out of it than I will.”

What is the Uber Computer’s unique selling point?

“Well if I was selling it I would say purely the design, a computer built into a desk is nothing new. There are actually a couple of mass produced desk chassis you can buy, but this one has been designed from scratch. The performance will be unique to a certain extent but anybody with a bit of cash to spare can put together a system which will perform like this. The artwork, shape and general design are what will make this project unique.”

Who is your main competitor?

“I suppose if I had to compare it, competitors would be products such as the Scan Computers Swordfish desk or the Harbinger desk. Although these are established products, mass produced and machine built. I couldn’t really finish a hand-built product to this quality within a reasonable timescale.”

Where do you see the uber computer in 3 years time?

“In a situation where I can pick the latest game of the shelf and be confident that my 3 –year old system will still run it smoothly without having to compromise on resolution visual effects. Although if it turns out to be a success I’d be happy to build another if anyone was interested.”

We will be following Ben’s Journey so stay tuned for more ‘Uber Computer’ updates.

Considerations when Proxying & Filtering Https traffic

To provide secure sessions between your users and websites that have sensitive information or require authentication, HTTPS encrypts web content between the website server and the user’s browser. While the traffic between the two is encrypted during a HTTPS session, the content that is delivered is just as likely to be infected with viruses or other malware as content from non-encrypted sites. As the traffic is secured and encrypted between the client and website the proxy/filter/firewall is unable to inspect the traffic.  To scan encrypted content, it must first be decrypted, then scanned, then re-encrypted for delivery to the requesting end user’s browser.

Doing this maintains the privacy of the encrypted content, as the process is done automatically without human eyes viewing the content. However, because the traffic has been decrypted, the original site certificate cannot be used by the browser to authenticate the connection, so the original certificate is replaced by one generated by the proxy/filter/firewall. This replaces the original certificate, which requires that you download and install the generated certificate authority into your users’ browsers, which can be done centrally using Active Directory Group Policy Objects for domain joined clients.

Probably the largest example of a secure website used in education is the google search engine.  By default Google will redirect users to a secure version of the site, if you are not decrypting as explained above then the searches & results within the search engine are invisible to the proxy/filter/firewall and therefore cannot be filtered or inspected.  Particularly with the general introduction of multiple client device types within education we strongly recommend implementing an appropriate solution that can manage secure web traffic effectively and efficiently across all internal networks and devices.  There are a number of considerations when implementing an appropriate solution such as the ability to decrypt and scan as above, the associated performance overhead, certificate management on client devices, impact on users and the fact some secure websites just will not work when decrypting & Scanning (after all you are simulating a ‘Man in the Middle Attack’!)

For a number of years now we have been working closely with Sophos and have implemented a large number of their Security Gateway products to predominately perform the Web Filtering and Firewall roles within educational sites.  The security gateway’s utilise high spec hardware and can perform the decrypt & scan method but also has other functions for managing Https traffic.  The added advantage though is the combination of the functions available and the flexibility of configuration, this allows us to implement a secure solution that satisfies the requirements of each differing site.

But does it help students learn?

Student-made Blippit apps, woven with project based learning methodology, focus on transition & creativity!

You get a positive gut feeling when a project is able to be summed up like this:

“9 young people, 3 apps, 3 days”

Dare we watch?  How will they do? What if the pressure is too much?

The answer was that these young people, selected from 50 possibles who all wrote emails to say why they should be involved, did what most young people do and that is take it all in their stride.

Read Dave Cookson’s reflections on Blippit as an app making tool for schools

There’s a great blog here that diaries the three days and the project based learning principles behind the work and you can see for yourself how the comments of others drove reflection, re-versioning and improvement in the apps mad by the students using Blippit.

You’ll also see that the project had some very ‘can do’ people involved too like Assistant Head Teacher at Monkseaton Middle School Neil Cottiss @cottiss77

What was great for me was that I was treated just like a spare pair of hands by students who asked questions via email when they needed to.  I was also invited to comment on the blog when a new version of their app was shared – a great way to engage when activity is really tightly focused around a set time frame.

Planet Blippit

If you want to see what Seaton Burn College achieved in 3 days you can go to their personalised school app space on Planet Blippit.  No matter what phone or tablet they have, the Year 6’s & their parents are going to genuinely benefit from these apps. Will it affect their view of the college and it’s expectations of students?  I expect it will.  Great project & very proud to be involved.