adrift on a cosmic ocean

Writings on various topics (mostly technical) from Oliver Hookins and Angela Collins. We have lived in Berlin since 2009, have two kids, and have far too little time to really justify having a blog.


Posted by Oliver on the 9th of October, 2010 in category Tech
Tagged with: amazonhtpcsteven pinkerzboxzotac

If you've been following my excessively techy posts you will be aware that my personal notebook computer has been on the verge of utter failure for some time now. It has come to the point where I can no longer tolerate holding a finger in the "magic" spot to keep the screen alive long enough to update my Facebook status or other meaningless activities, and standing up in front of the TV with the notebook connected by a short cable just wasn't fun. Not that I need more computers, but the time had come to buy the much-desired Zotac ZBOX HD-ID11.

No, this isn't a picture of the ZBOX. We've been going a bit crazy ordering things from Amazon recently, including a bunch of books which are probably over my head. I recently read through Stasiland and After The Wall on recommendation from some friends (and especially relevant given we are living in the former East Berlin). They both whet my appetite for reading which has been stagnant for some time. Ange has been a long-time fan of Steven Pinker having studied his work during university and we both really enjoyed his talks on TED (if you haven't seen them, I highly recommend them) usually centred around cognitive science. So I'm currently reading his book How The Mind Works which is a thoroughly good read. The Language Instinct actually precedes the book I'm reading but has been updated recently so that will be next on the reading list.

ZBox insides

So, I was most pleased this morning when we returned from our regular visit to Bar Centrale to find a message from DHL in our letterbox (yes, they deliver on Saturdays in Germany!) and went to visit the random neighbour they had decided to leave our stuff with. There is never any indication of exactly what has been dropped off so the excitement levels are always high. I was expecting just books but sure enough the ZBOX was there. I cracked it open and the insides were a little underwhelming (in fact not unlike what a couple of my self-made wireless KVMs looked like) but hey, it certainly gets the job done.

ZBox loaded up

Within minutes I had the 2.5" SSD and RAM installed. It is really just minimal hardware to facilitate the operation of the box, the real storage will be outside of the unit as large 3.5" spinning media tends to be large, noisy and hot. Not long after I had the thing back together I realised I was missing a couple of key components - a video cable and some sort of input device (all the other computers in the apartments are notebooks). Medimax furnished me with a very cheap HDMI cable (no, I didn't spring for the gold-plated Monster cable!) and a wireless keyboard and mouse.

Boot screen

Huzzah! It was a little easier than I expected, getting the unit working with the TV but having never played with HDMI before I didn't know what to expect. There will be the compulsory compiling of latest ALSA drivers I suspect, to get the audio-over-HDMI functionality working.


Fortunately we already had a USB DVD drive so it was a piece of cake getting Ubuntu installed. At some point I will install the Mythbuntu additions and get this thing functioning as a proper HTPC. There goes my weekends for the next few weeks ;)

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