Black Pearl 2- Introduction Report
October 2011

(14 December 2011 Update)

Further to our last report in October, we are pleased to confirm that Black Pearl II is fit for operation in a 24x7 manner.  Black Pearl II is an improved version of the small form factor PC that comes with optional VESA brackets for mounting on the back of a LCD screen.  We have been able to install an open standard 2.5" SATA 320GB hard disk in it, and this allows the installation of the standard version of Windows 7 Professional.  This means we can deploy Black Pearl II as a small form factor PC for commercial and industrial applications.  To emphasis, Black Pearl II is NOT a thin PC although its physical size is thin.

We have taken 2 months to do a large amount of thermal stress tests on Black Pearl II.  Testing steps taken are:

1. No fan installed, dead HDD installed, ran Bitpro from DOM, highest temp reached 93C
2. 4cm fan installed, dead HDD installed, ran Bitpro from DOM, hightest temp dropped to 78C
3. 4cm fan installed, live HDD installed but idling, highest temp dropped to 63C
4. 4cm fan installed, ran Bitpro from live HDD, highest temp rose to 87C
5. Replaced 4cm with 6cm fan and repeated above, highest temp dropped to 78C
6. 4cm and 6cm fan installed and repeated above, highest temp stayed the same
7. 6cm fan installed, ran Bitpro from live HDD on the back of LCD, highest temp stayed the same

According to Intel specifications, the dual core CPU (D525) was designed for up to 100C and the chipset was good for up to 115C.  We have concluded that Step 7 is good enough to give us the confidence that Black Pearl II will operate reliably either standing alone physically or mounted on the back of LCD.  Our peers have advised us that many similar small form factor devices were available from retail outlets but they were not meant for 24x7 operations and they were not based on open source hardware components.

(13 October 2011)
We have reported our desire to have a tiny PC that can be mounted on the back of a LCD screen for a couple of years.  The desire is from a desktop space perspective.  Even though space is not an issue in New Zealand especially in rural areas, desktop space is always a premium.  PC boxes are ugly no matter how we try to improve their aesthetic presentation because they are machines in our minds.   The best way is to hide them.  We have trialled several designs so far.  The power socket arrangement is the most drastic- fitting the whole PC inside a power socket.  Such products are available but their price is high and performance is low.  Another clever design is to integrate the PC in the keyboard.  This arrangement does not work too well at present because we punch the keyboard consistently and our punches will lead to the pre-mature death of the PC.  The third design has turned up and it is to integrate the PC with the LCD screen.  This is brilliant from a vibration or shock perspective, but not from a thermal or heat management perspective.  Also, the PC is hard to maintain as the integration is specific to each model of LCD screen.  We have gone through a full circle and come back to having the PC as a separate box to the wall socket, keyboard and LCD screen.

We succeeded partially about 12 months ago and released quietly a Compucon system called Black Pearl.  See the pictures here:  The PC can only be described as a Thin PC because we are not able to install a hard disk drive and we use a pure electronic based memory module of 4GB to emulate the hard disk drive.  We cannot install Windows Professional due to the limitation of disk space and instead have Windows Embedded.  It is not quite useful yet.

Another year has gone.  We have now reached a breakthrough.  We are now able to install a hard disk in Black Pearl 2.  We have done thermal testing for a couple of weeks already with a non-working hard disk installed and we have been pleased with the progress.  You may think Black Pearl 2 is slightly larger in size.  This is not true.  The internal volume stays the same at 2.1 litres.  What has changed is the layout of components on the motherboard and the technique for mounting a hard disk inside the system.  Our testing has progressed to include a working hard disk and will continue to emphasis thermal stability.  We will take a few more weeks for the results to be known.

If successful, Black Pearl 2 will support Windows 7 Professional and standard applications.  However, it will be based on Dual Core Atom N525 only with 2GB of memory.  It will be fine as a process computer and not powerful enough to run 3D graphics designs.