October 20, 2009 AT 6:10 pm

Building a computer for Adafruit

For my work, hobby and business, I need COMPUTING POWER! However, my needs are kinda picky and it took me many days to narrow down the ‘ideal’ hacking computer. This computer is for electronics hacking, and its also for business. Yeek! We got two of these, one as a personal workstation for all the web, graphics, programming, etc. And another one as the ‘business’ machine – for shipping, programming chips, etc.

It took a while to chase down all the parts for my perfect pair of computers, so we wrote it all down in case it would be handy for others

Here is what my specifications were:

  1. Must have hardware/motherboard parallel port (printer port). Parallel ports are the pinkie toe of electronics hacking. Youd think they’d be gone by now but nooo, they’re still there, hanging around and often necessary for using older software/hardware/schems. I use them a lot for talking to laser and label printers, CPLD/FPGA programmers, bitbanging all sorts of stuff, programming chips via PonyProg, etc.. USB-parallel converters aren’t good enough due to the slowness from the USB layer. Hardware parallel ports are just damn handy!
  2. Must have hardware/motherboard serial port (COM/Modem port). Two if you can. These are more common than parallel ports. You can use USB-serial ports for most things but sometimes you need the hardware speed of an onboard serial port especially if you’re doing some funky bitbanging.
  3. Should be small, we dont got a lot of room here at adafruit.
  4. Doesnt need hardcore video Not a lot of game playing around here, mostly working!
  5. Processor type Can be Intel or AMD. Both are fine by us. Lately we’ve liked AMD a lot.
  6. Lots of USB ports. Both on the outside and on the motherboard. Especially for the shipping computer theres just tons of stuff that needs to plug in – programmers, barcode scanners, scales, backup usb keys, Arduinos. You can also use hubs.
  7. Whole machine for $500 Not including monitor, key/mouse, etc. We wanted it lean and clean. Of course, you can do better if you’ve got CDROM drives, hard drives, etc to recycle. Unfortunately we had recycled everything into other machines already!

Want something like this? Check out what we went with, we’re quite happy with the two machines!



  1. hmm!
    someone just gave me a perfectly good HP 36″ plotter. It’s got a parallel connection.
    Frankly the previous owner got rid of it because the new ‘puter didn’t have a parallel port.

    HAHA! now I can print 1:1 shop drawings! WooT

  2. The lack of (REAL) parallel on modern computers is the bane of my existence. Almost every affordable CNC/Stepper-Motor controller on the planet requires parallel, meaning I need to keep a PC around just for my CNC mill w/XP + Parallel support for Mach3. 2 serial ports + parallel, though … great find indeed!

  3. Just a note: I have two of these machines myself (one intel and one AMD), and I have to tell you that the cooling system is outstanding. You can easily overclock to about 150% without any problems. And the front panel is just crying out to be modded. To do a really neat job though, I suppose you’d have to have a laser cutter. You don’t happen to know anyone who has one of _those_ lying around, do you? :)

  4. I have had problems with the power supplies in the shuttle machines in the past, and the cost of replacing them is almost that of a whole barebones from somewhere else.

    I am a fan of microatx boards. There are cases around that are not much larger than the shuttle (wider, but shorter), and I normally replace the optical drive with a caddy to take a second harddrive and mirror them (easy backup, just yank the mirror and replace it with a blank drive and re-mirror) and just install off a USB dvddrive. Once up and running I never have a need for a drive on the machine.

  5. > I have had problems with the power supplies in the shuttle
    > machines in the past, and the cost of replacing them is
    > almost that of a whole barebones from somewhere else.

    Me too :-( The Shuttle I use to watch TV (and hack Rock Band) is currently running topless with an ATX power supply sitting next to it. I haven’t been able to find the right replacement unit for my particular Shuttle.

    Other than that I love the Shuttle boxes.

  6. Havent had any problems ourselves (one of our shuttles is many years old). The ones in this writeup are more recent machines and we dont really load the power supply down at all, just one hard drive and no crazy videocard. However, we do know that they are more trouble than, say, a tower.

    You can get replacement Power supplies from shuttle direct and/or ebay, etc but they’re pricier around $60 instead of $25

  7. We had heaps since they fit 6 to a rackshelf in a normal rack with careful placement, and I think they all died eventually. The “quiet” PSU upgrades lasted longer, but still failed. The ones that we had autopsied it was the input stage that was just badly made – was normally one of the caps blowing taking out the fuse that happened. Might be less of a problem on 110v.

  8. PonyProg link is broken

  9. What do you run Mac OS X on? Or does this double as a Hackintosh?

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