Electronic Design

Upgrading The PC-Bot

The Whitebox Robotics' original PC-Bot (see Real Robots: White Box Robotics PC-BOT) housed a VIA motherboard. This did well running Windows and Ubuntu and could even handle a little video streaming from the Logitech USB camera. Still, it was slightly underpowered to tackle more demanding chores, like using the processor for image analysis of the video stream while handling other real-time chores. So it was with great pleasure that I had a chance to install iGoLogic's i3899 Mini-ITX motherboard with a 2GHz Core 2 Duo chip. This motherboard will be the one that ships with the Extreme PC-Bot. The iGoLogic i3899 Motherboard The iGoLogic i3899 motherboard utilizes the Intel 945GM chipset with a 533/667MHz front side bus (FSB). This allows it to handle the 2GHz Core 2 Duo chip as well as the Core Duo and Intel Solo processors. This chips tend to run a little hotter so they require active cooling The motherboard can handle up to two DDR2 PC400/533/667 DDR SDRAM. We went with a 1Gbyte stick, although the system can handle up to 4 Gbytes. The motherboard has the typical complement of PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors, 6 USB (2 internal) ports, IEEE 1394 support, and two COM ports (one internal). There is a Fast Ethernet interface and an optional 1Gbit Ethernet connection via a Marvell 88E8053 PCI Express interface. The on-board video can drive the usual external VGA connector as well as an internal one. HDTV is supported for an optional ID390 board. DVI and dual VGA daugher cards are optional as well. Audio support includes AC'97 with a NS LM4950 amplifier and SPDIF digital audio output. Storage interfaces include a single IDE channel and a pair of SATA ports. There is a slim floppy disk interface. There is a 4 input and 4 output digital port that can be handy for accessing additional robot peripherals. Upgrading the PC-Bot Swapping out the VIA motherboardwas relatively easy due to the PC-Bot architecture. It was simply a matter of removing the plastic exterior and flipping out the hinged case. Disconnecting the cables and removing the four mounting screws took only minutes. Installing the new motherboard was a bit more interesting. Installing the processor, fan and memory should be done before the motherboard is placed into the case. A minor problem arose because of the placement of connectors on the iGoLogic motherboard. In this case, the cables for status LEDs and from the reset button and power switches were a bit short. The VIA motherboard was oriented so the connections for these cables was next to LEDs and buttons. On the new motherboard they were on the far side. The power connector was also flipped to the other side but those cables had much more play in them. In the end, the cabling problems were taken care of but it is just a reminder that you need to take everything into account when upgrading hardware. Also, both motherboards had 6 USB ports but the new one has only one internal connector for a pair of ports. Luckily, USB hubs and wiring are easy to adjust. As soon as that was worked out, it was time to button up the PC-Bot and get back to testing out more software on in. The system was set up as a dual boot with Ubuntu Linux and Windows XP Home. Getting the software back up-and-running was an exercise itself. The motherboard had no trouble handling the software, but Windows had to be reactivated, and new drivers had to be installed. Linux did not require any driver changes or activation, but the X Windows setup needed a little tweaking, as did the wireless USB support. In the case of Windows, I had to forgo activation until I had the new drivers installed so the wireless network connection was available. This process took a couple reboots but there were no real surprises. The Linux adjustments were a matter of walking through the video configuration and I had to make a tweak for the wireless USB support as well. I had hard coded the USB path to turn on the USB power for the port and that changed because the numbering of the USB port used with the wireless was different than with the VIA motherboard. Overall, the process took about an hour. The result was a significantly faster system. The i3899 is an ideal platform for a range of applications in addition to its use in the PC-Bot. Related Links iGoLogic Whitebox Robotics

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