• Computer Audiophile Pocket Server C.A.P.S. v3 Lagoon

    CAPS v3 Lagoon is the second of four designs and a very nice upgrade from the entry level Topanga server. Lagoon has major similarities with Topanga such as the same motherboard, memory, base power supply, and case. I made a point to enable easy upgrading from the Topanga server while at the same time not dumbing-down the Lagoon design. A familiar addition to Lagoon is the SOtM tX-USBexp PCIe USB card for improved USB audio performance. In addition the mSATA drive from Topanga has been replaced with a new very low power SSD. The power saved by switching disks is not insignificant and plays a role in Lagoon's optional enhanced power supply. Based on my experience with this power supply I won't use a CAPS server without it in the future. The difference between using the server with and without the enhanced PSU is easily identifiable and repeatable. Even the most inattentive listener should recognize the impact of this PSU. Lagoon's unassuming compact design, increased sonic performance over Topanga, and enhanced power supply options should make it a great option for many computer audiophiles.


















    For an introduction to the CAPS v3 server designs please read the article linked here .
    To read about the entry level CAPS v3 Topanga design please read the article linked here .





    Hardware


    Motherboard - Intel DN2800MT Marshalltown Mini-ITX


    Note: This is the same motherboard used in the Topanga design. Some of the information below is repeated from the Topanga article . This motherboard is the successor to the board used in CAPS v1. After comparing nearly all available motherboards and considering the CAPS requirements the DN2800MT was the last board standing. This motherboard has a lot going for it including low power, low profile, no fan, and external DC power input among other items. I'm a firm believer in using as little power as possible, within reason, to accomplish a task. The key is finding a balance between low power and features. The DN2800MT has a Thermal Design Power (TDP) of only 8 watts. CAPS v1 had a TDP of 11.8 while CAPS v2 had a TDP of 13 watts. TDP is the maximum amount of power the computer's cooling system is required to dissipate. Many CPUs today have a TDP around 65 watts and can range from 17 watts for mobile CPUs to 130 watts for a powerful desktop CPU. Keep in mind that's only the CPU, not the CPU / motherboard combination like the Intel DN2800MT. The DN2800MT features a 1.86 GHz dual core Atom N2800 CPU (6.5 watt TDP). This processor has plenty of power for most music servers designed to output bit perfect audio. Using room correction or an add-on application like JPlay will likely require a much faster processor.


    A newer feature to the CAPS servers is the mSATA slot. Versions 1 and 2 were designed before any motherboard featured this technology. Traditional boards have standard SATA I/II/III ports that connect a spinning hard drive or solid state drive to the board via a SATA cable. mSATA drives are much more like computer memory in size and appearance. These drives are solid state and fit directly into the motherboard without any cables. Even though the DN2800MT board has mSATA capability the Lagoon design doesn't use this slot. The server is still very easy to build but absolute simplicity was outweighed by the desire for a lower power SSD that requires internal power and SATA cables.


    The DN2800MT will likely be in production until the end of 2014. After that availability will be curtailed but readers should be able to find them online if needed. I prefer to use motherboards with extended life cycles when possible. This specific board isn't listed as part of Intel's Extended Life Program, but two years of remaining production and limited availability after that should get us to the next CAPS design.


    A frequent request from CA readers is an HDMI port on the CAPS servers. The DN280MT offers both HDMI and old school analog VGA ports. The onboard graphics are nothing to treasure but should be fine for displaying one's music library via JRiver Media Center. I haven't tried video playback as that is outside the scope of the CAPS designs. This is one area the CA community can help each other by testing video playback and reporting successes or failures.


    This motherboard features both standard and high current USB 2.0 ports. Lack of built-in USB 3.0 ports may be disappointing to some, but I don't think it's a showstopper. When connecting a USB DAC to the Lagoon server readers should avoid using USB hard drives due to how the USB protocol operates. This issue may be alleviated some by separating the PCIe SOtM USB 3.0 card and built-in USB 2.0 bus lanes and controllers but that doesn't change the USB protocol. USB relies on a host processor to manage the low level protocol. This can load the host CPU with interrupts and buffer copies.


    This raises the question of how should users store their music collections if the internal hard drive is too small? My recommendation for the Lagoon design differs from Topanga in that I only recommend one method of music storage with Lagoon and that's a NAS. Network Attached Storage is really the only way to use Lagoon because it only features USB ports. I use a Network Attached Storage (NAS) drive for nearly all my listening. My music is stored on the network and accessible to any network attached device in my house. On the Lagoon server a mapped drive such as M: is pointed to the NAS and JRiver is configured to watch the M: drive for library changes. The reason I don't recommend using eSATA with Lagoon like I did with Topanga is the SOtM tX-USBexp PCIe card and the Logic Supply computer case with special backplate prohibit running an eSATA cable from inside to outside the case. Logic Supply has no plans to include the small horizontal opening in this backplate, similar to the standard Intel DN2800MT backplate, to accommodate the many uses of the opening. The CAPS v3 Carbon design has no such limitation but comes at a greater cost and a completely different case. The use of this horizontal opening in the Carbon design is really cool and opens up a world of possibilities for creative computer audiophiles.


    Sticking with USB readers will notice I don't connect the front panel USB ports to an internal USB header. The reasons for this are twofold. One I wouldn't use these ports for anything even if I only had one USB device. Two leaving these ports unconnected removes an internal cable from the PC design. Tidiness is important to me even on the inside of a computer where nobody looks.


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    Storage - Samsung 840 Pro Series 2.5" 64GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (MZ-7PD064BW)


    I selected the Samsung 840 Pro series of drives for three main reasons. 1. I've used the Samsung 830 Series of SSDs for awhile and have been thrilled with the performance and stability. The 830 Series was selected as the top SSD drive on many "Best Of" lists over the last year and I agree with its selection. The new 840 Series appears to improve upon the 830 designs and I expect nothing less from these drives. In the CAPS v3 servers the 840 Pro Series works terrific. 2. Low power consumption. According to Samsung the 840 Pro Series consumes 0.068W active and 0.042W idle. The 830 Series consumes a "wapping" 0.24W active and 0.14W idle. This low power consumption is critical when using the enhanced power supply discussed below. 3. End of life for the Samsung 840 Pro Series is as far off as possible with solid state drives. The 840 Pro Series was just released in October 2012. Hopefully these drives will be available for the life of the CAPS v3 designs as opposed to the CAPS v2 SSD that disappeared too quickly from store shelves.


    The main reason I excluded an mSATA drive from the Lagoon design was power consumption. The Samsung 840 Pro Series consumes far less power than the Mushkin mSATA drive specified for use in the CAPS v3 Topanga. The 60GB Mushkin consumes 0.7 watts at idle and 2 watts active. Many people online have questioned these high numbers but nobody has been able to prove the numbers are inaccurate.


    The 840 Series comes in both Pro and non-Pro versions. I selected the Pro version mainly because it's an MLC drive as opposed to the new TLC based non-Pro drive. Solid state drives are available in Single Level Cell (SLC), Multi Level Cell (MLC), and Triple Level Cell (TLC) NAND flash memory. SLC drives are enterprise class performers with the highest cost per gigabyte. The number of SLC drives available int he consumer market has dwindled quickly over the last few years. MLC drives are currently in the sweet spot between cost and performance. TLC drives are new to the consumer market. Samsung is the first manufacturer to release a TLC based drive in its 840 non-Pro Series. TLC drives can be much slower than MLC and SLC drives. Samsung indicated the 840 Series TLC drives are roughly 50% slower than the Pro models. In addition to the performance hit by using TLC NAND the TLC drives suffer greatly in endurance compared to the other SSD options as well as increasing program, erase, and read latency. In the future TLC drives will likely equal MLC performance as the technology is used and refined. Currently I wouldn't use a TLC drive for a CAPS server or every day computer.


    The Samsung 840 Pro Series comes in 64, 128, 256, and 512GB sizes. The 64GB is specified for the CAPS v3 Lagoon but its availability is limited as of this writing. Given it's a new drive this should only improve. In the Lagoon photos readers will notice I'm using the 128GB version as it's the smallest Pro Series drive I could purchase in October. The 840 Pro Series has a Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) of 1,500,000 hours, 500K less than the Mushkin mSATA drive. 840 Pro drives support trim like most solid state drives. Trim is a command run by the operating system that identifies unused blocks of data the drive can delete. This helps avoid severe performance degradation down the road. The specifications of the 840 Pro drives with 256 MB of Samsung DDR2 SDRAM cache memory and Samsung's 4th-generation 3-Core MDX Controller are very good at 97K IOPS (Random Read Speeds) and 530 MB/s / 390 MB/s (Sequential Read/Write Speeds). The speed of sequential writes increases to 520 MB/s on the 256 and 512GB drives. Astute readers will probably wonder why I selected a drive with SATA III 6 Gb/sec speed even though the motherboard only supports SATA II at 3 Gb/sec. The number of SATA II drive available is diminishing by the second and selecting a drive solely because its maximum speed is equivalent to the current motherboard's maximum speed would be a mistake. The 840 Pro Series can also be used in the future paired with a SATA III 6 Gb/sec capable motherboard and operate at its full potential.


    Note: The SOtM In-Line SATA Power Noise Filter is not used in the Lagoon design because it doesn't fit with the drive mounted up against the top of the case.








    Random Access Memory (RAM) - Mushkin Enhanced Essentials 4 GB (991644)


    I suspect the main item readers will want to know about the memory selection is why 4GB rather than the brand and specific modules. I'll get the later out of the way first. I selected the Mushkin memory because it's readily available, has worked very well for me, and meets the RAM requirements of DDR3 800/1066 SO-DIMM. One additional item in this category is my selection of a single 4GB module rather than two 2GB modules. I did this because the modules are 1.5v each. Doubling the power requirement for the same amount of memory doesn't make sense. Also, I could not locate readily available RAM modules with low voltage of 1.35v. Thus, a single 1.5v module was selected. Why 4GB when many readers are using 8, 12, and 16GB? According to Intel the DN2800MT motherboard only supports up to 4GB of RAM. I know a few readers have placed more memory on this board successfully, but for this music server I don't know if the pros outweigh the cons. My hunch is that 4GB is plenty of RAM in Lagoon. Related to the selection of 4GB of RAM is the fact that Intel's Cedar Trail platform (DN2800MT) doesn't support 64-bit or DirectX 10.1 Graphics Drivers. A major benefit of 64-bit is the capability to use more than 4GB of memory. Without full 64-bit software support Lagoon runs on a 32-bit operating system. The maximum amount of memory in this 32-bit OS is 4GB.




    Power Supply - Seasonic SSA-0601D-12


    Selecting a power supply for the CAPS v3 Lagoon server involved a bit of research into the energy efficiency standards and finding a balance between efficiency, quality, and cost. I have no doubt a music server's power supply can have a great impact on a high end audio system. I'll detail my findings and recommend a terrific but not inexpensive PSU upgrade below. The Lagoon server doesn't require a lot of power. Thus I selected a readily available 60 watt PSU. In my tests this server maxed out at below 25 watts! The Seasonic SSA-0601D-12 is a 12v 5A DC adapter with reduced idle power draw. It complies with Energy Star 2.0, CEC level V the highest level currently in use (>87% efficiency), and Eup Lot 7. I've used this supply for months without any issues and highly recommend it to CA readers.




    PC Case - LGX MC500 Compact Mini-ITX Case


    The LGX MC500 case didn't impress me at first with its unassuming appearance. Once I took delivery of the case I quickly changed my mind. It looks much better in person than online. It's black unobtrusive design somewhat disappears in one's audio system. I like that the case has no front LED lighting indicating either hard drive activity or power status. Computer audiophiles don't need to see if the hard drive is being accessed and with a little education can identify if the server is on or off by looking at the Ethernet port. When Lagoon is turned off the Ethernet port, if connected, will have a single green light blinking. When the server is on and connected to a Gigabit switch the lights will blink both green and amber. If the computer had a sound one would know instantly if it was on, but the silence of Lagoon requires this little peek in the back for confirmation it power state.


    More important than the appearance of this case is its versatility and ability to meet CAPS requirements including a fairly inexpensive price tag. The case is designed for only mini-ITX motherboards. I like that because there is no extra space when it's not needed. The CAPS v3 Carbon design has extra space but there's a reason for that space. Logic Supply states a single 2.5" hard drive can be placed in this case. In my testing I easily placed two 2.5" drives in the case even with one hovering over the SOtM tX-USBexp PCIe card. Using two 2.5" drives could enable readers to customize this server design and fit a nice sized music collection on internal drives. The LGX MC500 is delivered with one fan attached to the chassis. This fan is easily removed to satisfy the CAPS fanless design requirement.


    When ordering the case from Logic Supply readers will want to order the Atom-MC500X package. This package includes the sometimes difficult to find DN2800MT I/O shield / backplate that features an opening for the SOtM PCIe expansion card. Logic Supply has the backplate in stock as of this writing at an added cost of $17.00. In addition to the backplate this Atom-MC500X package includes the motherboard, case, power supply, and PCIe low profile riser necessary for the SOtM installation.




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    Enhanced Power Supply Option - Red Wine Audio, Black Lightning High-Current Battery Power Supply


    The easiest component to upgrade in the CAPS v3 Lagoon design is the power supply. Lagoon is powered externally via its DC input or internally using a two-pin connector and internal PSU. Intel recommends using an external power supply and the outside DC input although doesn't give any reason for this recommendation. The SOtM tX-USBexp USB card can also be powered internally (4-pin connector) or externally (DC input). This combination of motherboard and USB card, both with external power options, is terrific for a CAPS music server.


    My requirements for an enhanced CAPS v3 power supply were low noise and the ability to power both the motherboard and SOtM tX-USBexp card via the same supply. My research lead me to Vinnie Rossi of Red Wine Audio. RWA has been a leader in battery powered high end audio for years. In addition, Vinnie is one of the nicest guys in the industry. Looking at his Audio Circle forum readers will see all the dedicated RWA users and kind words about Vinnie's customer service. Both the quality of the products and integrity of the manufacturer matter greatly. Many computer audiophiles have been burned by online direct sales from companies who've since disappeared and or stopped offering customer support. CA readers should have zero hesitation working with Vinnie Rossi and Red Wine Audio.


    A few months ago I asked Vinnie about his Black Lighting High-Current Battery Power Supply and its ability to power a CAPS v3 server. Vinnie responded with a few questions and a resounding certainty that there would be no problems. Vinnie has customers powering all kinds of computers, among other items such as audio components, with the Black Lighting. Vinnie recommend I measure the power consumption at peak and study state for the v3 server I wished to power. I purchased a Kill-A-Watt power strip and ran the Lagoon server for several days. The consumption never reached above 25 watts. With this information Vinnie recommended a single or double LiFePO4 (LFP) battery pack based Black Lightning depending on how long I wished to run from batteries. I selected the single battery option as a start knowing I could always upgrade to a double battery solution by simply adding a battery to the existing chassis. One great feature of the Black Lightning is its ability to power components with different input voltages. The Intel DN2800MT motherboard has an input voltage of +9V ~ +19Vdc (12V recommended) and the SOtM tX-USBexp card has an input voltage of +6.5V ~ +9Vdc. With this information Vinnie configured the Black Lightning for 12V output and crafted a power cable sporting one 12V connector and one 9V connector with a linear regulator.


    Note: CAPS v3 Lagoon runs for eight hours on a single battery Black Lightning.


    The positive impact of the Black Lightning High-Current Battery Power Supply could be heard immediately and without playing even one track. Powering both the SOtM tX-USBexp and Intel DN2800MT motherboard with the Black Lightning in battery mode removed very audible noise from the my system. The background of my system in an idle state, while powered on, was very noticeably blacker. Even the most casual listener could hear the difference in blackness before a single note was played. I was instantly impressed by the Black Lightning and conducted further testing to figure out how much or how little needed to be done to increase performance of one's audio system. I initially assumed that powering only the SOtM tX-USBexp card via battery, with the internal PSU disconnected, and the motherboard powered via the Seasonic PSU would yield an equal or nearly equal benefit as powering the entire server via battery. I was wrong with this assumption. Even though the clean battery power source of the Black Lightning was used to power the SOtM card that sends power to the USB receiver chip in the EMM Labs DAC2X I still heard harsh electrical noise through my speakers. Based on this test it appears that noise from the Seasonic PSU / motherboard combo is getting to the SOtM card via the PCIe slot's gold connectors. With this knowledge I thought maybe powering the motherboard from the battery supply and the SOtM card via the motherboard could clean up the noise. Wrong again. Both of these attempts cleaned about 20% of the electrical noise from what I heard through my speakers. Removing the Seasonic and powering everything with the Black Lightning once again cleaned up my system beautifully. Once the CAPS v3 Lagoon and SOtM card were powered with the Black Lightning and the music started flowing the sound was stunning. This combination is far better than previous CAPS designs in all areas. Now that I've run the CAPS v3 Lagoon and Carbon servers from the Red Wine Audio Black Lightning High-Current Battery Power Supply I can't go back to standard computer power supplies. The difference is audible, repeatable, and wonderful.


    Note: During testing I tried to measure the difference between running battery versus a normal computer power supply. I used both my iPhone 5 and iPad 3 with Faber Acoustical's SoundMeter FFT and Studio Six Digital's FFT programs as well as an Audio-Technica AT2020 USB microphone connected to my MacBook Pro retina. These tools are far from ideal for capturing the differences I heard. The noise I attempted to measure was not a a fixed frequency and not constant. In my un-anechoic chamber of a listening room I couldn't reliably capture the differences as the FFTs displayed too many noises from my room. It's also likely an experienced user could capture these differences as they are very audible and unmistakable.






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    Add-in USB Card - SOtM tX-USBexp


    The SOtM tX-USBexp is a USB 3.0 PCI express card that snaps into the single PCIe slot on the Intel DN2800MT motherboard. The card half-height but requires the full size PCIe bracket / trim plate to get perfectly into the case's backplate. Both small and full size brackets are included with purchase of the SOtM tX-USBexp from Simple Design . One huge benefit of this USB card is the ability to power it externally with the Red Wine Audio Black Lightning or any PSU of choice. Nearly all high end USB DACs require USB bus power form the computer to power the USb receiver chip in the DAC. Sending the dirty power from a computer motherboard can result in very audible noise and decreased sound quality. Readers with DACs that don't require USB power can also turn the USB power switch to the off position on the SOtM tX-USBexp card. This setting stops all power from going to the DAC.


    The SOtM tX-USBexp has been problematic under certain conditions. When using the card with Windows 7 I had many issues including very distorted sound and stuttering during playback. This was unacceptable so I stopped using the card with Windows 7. I tracked the issue down to the drivers included with the card from SOtM. USB 3.0 was not included in any PCs when Windows 7 was released and Microsoft still hasn't included native support for USB 3.0 devices. Thus the need for separate device driver installation. Fortunately Windows 8 includes native USb 3.0 support for existing USB 3.0 chipsets including the TI chipset used in the SOtM tX-USBexp. Windows 8 not only recognizes the SOtM tX-USBexp after installation but also enables the card to function flawlessly. I've tested the card with every DAC that has come through Computer Audiophile and haven't had a single issue.











    Software


    Note: Software specifications and recommendations are identical to the CAPS v3 Topanga design.


    Operating System - Windows 8 Pro 32-bit


    The operating system for all the CAPS v3 designs is Microsoft Windows 8 Pro. Topanga, Lagoon, and Carbon run on the 32-bit OS and Zuma runs on the 64-bit version. Three main questions to be answered with this selection are 1. Why 32-bit over 64-bit? 2. Why Windows 8 over Windows 7 or Linux. 3. Why the Pro version over the standard Windows 8 version?




    1. Why 32-bit over 64-bit?
    CAPS v1 is 32-bit, CAPS v2 is 64-bit, and CAPS v3 is both 32 and 64 bit depending on the design. A simple answer is you don't bring a knife to a gun fight. In other words use the right tool for the job. As previously mentioned the the "Intel the DN2800MT motherboard only supports up to 4GB of RAM and Intel's Cedar Trail platform doesn't support 64-bit or DirectX 10.1 Graphics Drivers." When designing the CAPS servers I select the hardware before a specific version of the operating system. Reversing these selections leads to decisions based less on needed features and more on specifications.


    2. Why Windows 8 over Windows 7 or Linux.
    One major reason I selected Windows 8 over Windows 7 is longevity. I know both operating systems will be supported after CAPS v4 is released however I want users of a CAPS v3 system to have support for as long as possible. According to Microsoft the End of mainstream support for Windows 7 is January 12, 2015. Around two years from now the third party vendors will also stop supporting Windows 7 as they typically follow Microsoft's lead.


    I can't say that either Windows 7 or Windows 8 is sonically better than the other. The audio portion of the Windows 8 operating system is unchanged as far as I can tell. I'm sure there are some minor changes but I haven't seen any that really matter. Windows 8 RT is another story but that's for tablets using an ARM processor. Windows 8 still supports low level audio access and exclusive mode for low latency and bit perfect output. WASAPI (Windows Audio Session Application Programing Interface) is still in Windows 8 as it was in Windows Vista and Windows 7. Audio output modes WASAPI and WASAPI - Event Style work just fine in JRiver Media Center on Windows 8.


    Windows 8 also has native driver support for USB 3.0 chipsets including the TI chipset on the SOtM tX-USBexp PCIe card. This card wasn't part of the CAPS v3 Topanga design but is a critical part of the other three designs. I don't see a benefit to recommending Windows 7 for Topanga and Windows 8 for Lagoon, Carbon, and Zuma just because Topanga doesn't use USB 3.0. This USB 3.0 native driver support is a must for good performance with the SOtM card.


    All Windows 7 USB DAC drivers I've tried on Windows 8 have worked without issue once installed. The installation can require Compatibility Mode on the 32-bit version of Windows. This is a simple check box to click and the installation will work without a hitch. DACs that don't require driver installation such as the AudioQuest DragonFly also work perfect on the CAPS v3 servers. It has been reported by several CA readers that the DragonFly has issues with Windows 8 and AudioQuest mentions this issue on its website. I've tried several configurations to cause an issue with the DragonFly and I can't make it stutter, pop, or click on playback.


    One additional item that may be important to some readers is Windows 8's touch capability. Readers who use JRiver Media Center in Theater View with a nice touch enabled screen like the Dell S2340T 23" multi-touch monitor will benefit nicely from Windows 8's built from the ground-up touch support.


    I selected the Windows operating system over a Linux based solution for two reasons. First I still don't believe Linux is easy for an end user without Linux experience. I've tried many solutions and always found issues that would stop the unlearned from enjoying a music server rather than learning a new language. I haven't found a Linux distribution that supports easy click & learn navigation. By that I mean enabling users to click around and figure things out on their own. Without Linux knowledge it just ain't gonna happen. Readers shouldn't take this as a dislike for Linux. Rather it's part of selecting the right tool for the job. The second reason I selected Windows over a Linux distribution is the new initiative to get the CA Community involved in CAPS designs. I believe a Linux based CAPS server will be much more successful if lead by a group of dedicated CA readers to perfect and address some of the issues other readers may have with the OS. The customizability of Linux lends itself to endless possibilities for CA readers. If someone can think of it, it can be done. Linux is only limited by one's imagination. As a group the CA Community can likely take a Linux based CAPS design to an incredibly high level. I would love to recommend a specific Linux ISO image for CA readers to install on CAPS v3 hardware. I know a few readers have been working on Linux based projects and those projects are great places to start.


    3. Why the Pro version over the standard Windows 8 version?
    This one is simple. Windows 8 Pro support Remote Desktop, using its built-in RDP capability, from both Mac OS X and another Windows computer. There is no need for third party solutions running in the background. I've used Windows RDP for years as the main connection method to my music servers when I need to view the whole desktop. It works every time, it works well, and it's free. The standard version of Windows 8 doesn't support RDP using the Remote Desktop Client.


    Windows 8 Pro Customization


    This article is mainly about hardware and software selection. It will be much more effective for me to write a specific Windows 8 article addressing tweaks and OS customizations at a later date. Plus, the CA Community has already started tweaking Windows 8 and discussing it in the Forum. I will use those discussions and the assistance from the Community when publishing a Windows 8 music server guide.






    Playback Software - JRiver Media Center 18


    The selection of JRMC as the playback software for all CAPS v3 designs should come as no surprise to CA readers. I haven't' seen a better playback, library management, and remote controllable application to date. In addition to the application's superiority over the competition the JRiver team has been terrific over the years supporting even the smallest of audiophile requests such as native DSD playback. For more details as to why I prefer JRMC over everything else please read the following article -> Link .


    JRiver has a Benchmarking feature that runs computers through Math, Image, and Database tests. The CAPS v3 Lagoon server produced the following scores that are slightly better than Topanga.
    Running 'Math' benchmark... Score: 442
    Running 'Image' benchmark... Score: 599
    Running 'Database' benchmark... Score: 763
    JRMark (version 18.0.81): 601


    I didn't recommend a remote control application for JRiver in the CAPS v3 designs. There are a few available ranging in price from free to about $10-15. Readers unfamiliar with the options should consider JRiver's own Gizmo if using an Android device or JRemote is using an iPad/iPhone/iTouch.






    Wrap Up


    That's the Computer Audiophile Pocket Server CAPS v3 Lagoon. The server is absolutely silent, capable of great sound, great/good looking, has no moving parts, fairly inexpensive, has no legacy components, is easy to operate, easy to assemble / install, small in size, consumes low power, produces low heat, accepts the SOtM tX-USBexp PCIe card, and plays all pertinent sample rates from 44.1 kHz through 192 kHz and DSD. That's the entire CAPS requirement list from version 1 of the server through v3. The Lagoon design offers terrific performance and an upgrade path to a better power supply. Lagoon isn't the most versatile server ever built as it works best with NAS storage. Readers who require more storage options will be interested in the CAPS v3 Carbon design with its plethora of choices. The Carbon design is based on Lagoon and uses everything except the case, backplate, and riser card.














    Where to buy retail: Small Green Computer


    Where to buy components:


    CAPS v3 Lagoon - Total Price: $886

    Atom-MC500X Package: Case (LGX MC500), Motherboard (DN2800MT), Power Supply (PW-12V5A-L5), PCIe Riser (PCIex1-LPR): Package Price: $227.00 Link
    Memory: DDR3 4GB RAM (991644) Price: $19.00 Link
    SSD: MZ-7PD064BW Price: $100.00 Link
    OS: Win 8 Pro 32-bit Price: $140.00Link
    Playback App: JRMC v18 Price: $50.00 Link
    Add-in Card: SOtM tX-USBexp Price: $350 Simple Design


    Optional Power Supply

    Red Wine Audio, Black Lightning High-Current Battery Power Supply $895 (single battery), $1,195 (dual battery) Link













    Comments 144 Comments
    1. ted_b's Avatar
      ted_b -
      Chris,
      Great design, as always. And i will second the feedback on Vinnie and Red Wine. I've known him for years and owned a few of his pieces (still own a custom ps he built for me for a Squezebox 3 I use in another system in the house). There is no nicer person in audio; I am glad you are supporting his great and high value efforts.

      Question: as you know I am using a very similar setup except for the 830 SSD (instead of the 840) and 2 2GB modules instead of one 4GB. Do you think that extra consumption pushes my CAPS V2+ past the Red Wine ps specs?
      thx
      Ted
    1. ejn1's Avatar
      ejn1 -
      Thanks for the great design tips! I was wondering if I get a JKDAC32 which is battery powered with own power supply... If I switch off the SoTM card USB power, will I negate the need of having a second rail psu to the card directly? Right now I'm only planning on having one upgraded Paul Hynes PSU rail to the Intel DN2800mt... Appreciate any insight from the forum.
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Chris... Can I ask if you would go into (perhaps in another article later) some of your testing processes in designing the CAPS v3. I think this would help other people also.

      For example in deciding on the Red Wine battery supply: Did you also test other people's battery systems? Did you try any Linear PSU? With the motherboard did you test for audio differences between Intel's DN2800 vs Zotac and Asus equivalents or was it purely chosen based on reading the spec sheet?

      If I was being harsh, (for an example) the recommendation of Red Wine could read like an advert for a particular manufacturer without any comparison to other solutions. (I don't think that but it could be said...)

      Not expecting a detailed answer now but some of your testing methods may be of interest to some of us mortals and make an interesting read as a finale after the 4 CAPS versions are revealed.

      Eloise
    1. thotdoc's Avatar
      thotdoc -
      Let no good deed go unpunished
    1. dpaws's Avatar
      dpaws -
      Quote Originally Posted by Audio_ELF View Post
      Chris... Can I ask if you would go into (perhaps in another article later) some of your testing processes in designing the CAPS v3. I think this would help other people also.

      For example in deciding on the Red Wine battery supply: Did you also test other people's battery systems? Did you try any Linear PSU? With the motherboard did you test for audio differences between Intel's DN2800 vs Zotac and Asus equivalents or was it purely chosen based on reading the spec sheet?

      If I was being harsh, (for an example) the recommendation of Red Wine could read like an advert for a particular manufacturer without any comparison to other solutions. (I don't think that but it could be said...)

      Not expecting a detailed answer now but some of your testing methods may be of interest to some of us mortals and make an interesting read as a finale after the 4 CAPS versions are revealed.

      Eloise
      Just to add to the questions Chris - I don't understand why the benefit of a battery supply for the motherboard. Internally there still exists the DCC converters which produce a whole heap of noise on the supply rails. Now if the new power supply bypassed all of these with multiple voltage feeds then yes, a big advantage in theory...

      For the PCIe card I can understand the benefits entirely. I would also have thought that the mSata drive would have offered a superior performance too, although open minded to contrary findings. Thanks for all your work...

      BTW - will there be a new discussion for the development of the CAPS Linux one touch install iso?
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Quote Originally Posted by thotdoc View Post
      Let no good deed go unpunished
      If that comment is aimed at my post then I take offence. I think some feedback on how and why Chris chose the parts may be of interest to many. Take a read of the later comments in the Topanga thread - people saying "why not just buy a Nettop as they are the same and save yourself money". Now if all Chris did was read the spec sheets then yes, that sounds like a good suggestion.

      Now there's nothing wrong with Chris' "recipie" for the CAPS, but if he is trying to help people design their own system as well as offering a specific recipe then some more details of the thought process would be helpful (IMO).

      Eloise
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Quote Originally Posted by dpaws View Post
      Just to add to the questions Chris - I don't understand why the benefit of a battery supply for the motherboard. Internally there still exists the DCC converters which produce a whole heap of noise on the supply rails. Now if the new power supply bypassed all of these with multiple voltage feeds then yes, a big advantage in theory...

      For the PCIe card I can understand the benefits entirely. I would also have thought that the mSata drive would have offered a superior performance too, although open minded to contrary findings. Thanks for all your work...
      I guess this is the kind of thing I'm meaning...

      Now I would guess that the benefit is removing the noisy SMPSU - now the question is, does the noisy SMPSU affect the computer directly, or is the problem that it affects the sound quality from the DAC, amplifier, etc connected to the same circuit?

      Eloise
    1. dlbeck's Avatar
      dlbeck -
      I'm a little surprised this build and the forthcoming Carbon build doesn't use the mSata configuration like Ted's V2+. Too much power apparently but thought it did have some great advantages. Carbon will also use the same Sotm card? Thoughts?
    1. satbox's Avatar
      satbox -
      Hi Chris,

      Is it possible to order the CAPS V3 to an european dealer?

      Best regards,

      Didier
    1. rdsu's Avatar
      rdsu -
      Do you know if I can use this adapter?
      Anker Gold 18.5V 3.5A 65W Anker® Golden Laptop AC Adapter Charger for HP Pavilion: Amazon.co.uk: Electronics

      It seems to be the only "good" adapter I can find at Amazon.UK...
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by Audio_ELF View Post
      Chris... Can I ask if you would go into (perhaps in another article later) some of your testing processes in designing the CAPS v3. I think this would help other people also.

      For example in deciding on the Red Wine battery supply: Did you also test other people's battery systems? Did you try any Linear PSU? With the motherboard did you test for audio differences between Intel's DN2800 vs Zotac and Asus equivalents or was it purely chosen based on reading the spec sheet?

      If I was being harsh, (for an example) the recommendation of Red Wine could read like an advert for a particular manufacturer without any comparison to other solutions. (I don't think that but it could be said...)

      Not expecting a detailed answer now but some of your testing methods may be of interest to some of us mortals and make an interesting read as a finale after the 4 CAPS versions are revealed.

      Eloise
      Hi Eloise - Thanks for the questions. I'm sure if you have these questions others do as well.

      The CAPS requirements guide much of my process when selecting components. It's somewhat surprising how many components can be ruled out because they don't meet the requirements. For example comparing Zotac boards to the Intel DN2800MT you'll find a large fan on one of Zotac's two Atom processor offerings and the other doesn't have features like mSATA and the surrounding accessories to get creative like the Logic Supply backplate allowing the SOtM card and in the Carbon design a very cool expansion capability. It's really a challenge to find a set of components that can do everything. A ton of research goes into these designs. I want the servers to be the best possible so I look at every board available. I even considered importing a board sold only in the EU.

      Once all the designs are released it may make more sense as to why components have been selected. Upgradability, expansion, and other items were all considered. I don't know of other components that could have fit the bill.

      Once I find the combination(s) that meets all the requirements and has acceptable specs I get the components in house for testing.

      For the Zuma design I went through three power supplies and three completely different combinations of RAM before I was happy with the server.

      With respect to Red Wine Audio, yes my comments could be read as an advertisement. In one way all the products mentioned in the v3 designs are being advertised and recommended by me. I guess it's one of those things, people either trust me or they don't. I'm fine either way. I consider all solutions I know about. The RWA Black Lightning is readily available from a respected manufacturer and there are many details about the product online etc... There may be better one-off products or DIY solutions but I am more satisfied with selecting something like the Black Lightning.
    1. JR_Audio's Avatar
      JR_Audio -
      Noise is also creeping backwards

      Only a batterie supply prevents, that a disturbing noise is going backward from the server to the mains and then again forward via the DAC power supply into the DAC. Sure, a linear power supply can deliver also a clean 12 Volt power to the server, but to prevent, that the still internal noise on the motherboard does not exit backward, is a heavy task and can only best made, with a batterie power supply. And in both cases, with the batterie power supply or with the linear power supply, on the motherboard, there are a lot of switching regulators and so a lot of RF noise, that need to be blocked.

      Juergen
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by dpaws View Post
      Just to add to the questions Chris - I don't understand why the benefit of a battery supply for the motherboard. Internally there still exists the DCC converters which produce a whole heap of noise on the supply rails. Now if the new power supply bypassed all of these with multiple voltage feeds then yes, a big advantage in theory...

      For the PCIe card I can understand the benefits entirely. I would also have thought that the mSata drive would have offered a superior performance too, although open minded to contrary findings. Thanks for all your work...

      BTW - will there be a new discussion for the development of the CAPS Linux one touch install iso?
      Hi dpaws - I understand what you're saying and I expected things to work like you suggest. However, I can't discount my personal experience powering both the board and the card via battery. What is audible in my system is objective evidence that this works. When describing the effects of this power method I largely stayed away from describing subjective audio qualities because they are really unneeded. The Black Lightning is just that effective in my system.

      Yes all motherboards have DC to DC converters and I can't completely make sense of why the battery has such a positive effect. I have a couple thoughts though. 1. Maybe the weakest link in the chain is traditionally the external SMPS not the DC to DC converters. 1. Lack of noise sent back into the circuit by the battery supply may play a role.

      I wish I had very expensive testing equipment and the knowledge to use such equipment in order to provide better answers. I am as intrigued as everyone else.


      The mSATA drive is a power consumption monster compared to the Samsung 840 Pro Series. I originally thought the mSATA would be far better but I had no reasoning for this thought.

      I'd love some of the CA readers to start CAPS v3 Linux discussions on the forum. Let's get moving :~)
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by Audio_ELF View Post
      people saying "why not just buy a Nettop as they are the same and save yourself money".
      Eloise
      Hi Eloise - I tried to address some of these items in the articles but must have been a little unclear. A nettop could work just fine for some people. I selected the Topanga design because it has a future of possible upgrades and longevity if the user desires, among many other items a nettop just doesn't provide. Again, I go back to the CAPS requirements.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by satbox View Post
      Hi Chris,

      Is it possible to order the CAPS V3 to an european dealer?

      Best regards,

      Didier
      Hi Didier - Many of the components should be available through Logic Supply's EU site -> Logic Supply - Industrial & Embedded Technology

      Otherwise I recommend contacting Andrew at Small Green Computer to discuss options.
    1. barrows's Avatar
      barrows -
      Thanks Chris, especially for considering and testing the battery power option. I am not surprised at your results when using battery power. One poster above, I think, has the right idea: besides low noise to the server itslef, battery power offers a, perhaps, even bigger advantage, it stops computer borne power supply noise from going backwards through your AC delivery and getting into the rest of your analog components. I have made some rudimentary measurements, and was quite surprised by the results. Even when powering my server via a very low noise linear supply, and my SOtM card by a separate super low noise shunt regulated supply, I was able to detect lots (of a magnitude more than that produced by any other component) of noise going out the "backdoor" of the power supplies. What is really annoying, was that this noise was entirley present on the power cable going into both my DAC and my power amp; as soon as I power down the server, the noise is gone at the inputs of both the DAC and power amp. In testing, I tried power conditioners to "isolate" the noise from getting into the other components, no go... Even powering the server dual power supply from a true AC regenerator did not stop the server caused power line noise from going out the "backdoor" and being present on the power cables going into the amp and DAC.
      I concluded that a battery supply was the only option which could keep this noise from being a problem. I have not yet built a good battery supply to try, but, combining my observations, and Chris' findings, I am sure it is time to commit to building a good battery supply for my server.
    1. fgoodman's Avatar
      fgoodman -
      To set this up, I suppose one needs a "spare" display and keyboard, and afterwards one can run it by screen sharing?
    1. Elberoth's Avatar
      Elberoth -
      What happens when the battery dies ? Is there an auto charge option, that would allow uninterrupted operation from mains supply ?
    1. Logic800's Avatar
      Logic800 -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Computer Audiophile View Post
      Hi Didier - Many of the components should be available through Logic Supply's EU site -> Logic Supply - Industrial & Embedded Technology

      Otherwise I recommend contacting Andrew at Small Green Computer to discuss options.
      From a UK perspective I can recommend Logic Supply BV as a company - I used them (and Amazon) to build my 'CAPS Lite'.
    1. dpaws's Avatar
      dpaws -
      Quote Originally Posted by JR_Audio View Post
      Noise is also creeping backwards

      Only a batterie supply prevents, that a disturbing noise is going backward from the server to the mains and then again forward via the DAC power supply into the DAC. Sure, a linear power supply can deliver also a clean 12 Volt power to the server, but to prevent, that the still internal noise on the motherboard does not exit backward, is a heavy task and can only best made, with a batterie power supply. And in both cases, with the batterie power supply or with the linear power supply, on the motherboard, there are a lot of switching regulators and so a lot of RF noise, that need to be blocked.

      Juergen
      That makes a lot of sense, thank you -and thanks Barrows for sharing your findings about the AC regenerator which I also have in my system. It does, however, seem to suggest that a separate server / zone player 2 piece system may have an advantage in this respect. That said, such a system would then reintroduce networking with either noise over Cat5 (see Meridian Anniversary ferrites) or noise from going wireless... ho hum! Suddenly playing a CD doesn't seem such a bad idea!
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