Saturday, July 30, 2011

Do discounts make your mobile bill more expensive?

This morning, I went thorough one year's worth of Docomo bills and reverse engineered the number of minutes I talk each month. The reason for doing this is so I can decide if the b-mobile Talking FAIR SIM would be a good deal for me and my family. I did something similar for my data usage before moving to a data-only FAIR SIM, but have been avoiding doing the same thing for voice, simply because of the complicated nature of Japanese mobile invoices.

Part of what makes it complicated is the way discounts are applied. The full, undiscounted charge first appears before all or part is subtracted. Neither the price per minute nor the number of minutes used is reported (unless you pay extra). To figure out how many minutes I am using, I had to sum the pre-discounted prices for all the different call types, and then find the exact cost per minute (¥42) for my plan from Docomo's website.


(¥3,800 + ¥260 + ¥40 + ¥420) / (¥21/30s)*2 = 108 minutes

As I was doing this, I realized that I am paying for "discount" services that cost me money, specifically the "yu-yu call discount" (ゆうゆうコール割引).

This allows you to register 5 domestic number for discounted calling - 30% off for Docomo numbers, 10% of other carriers. However, the service costs ¥180 per month. For the discount to be effective requires at least 15 minutes per month in the case of a Docomo number, 45 minutes for another carrier's number, or some combination of the two.

It turns out that I don't call enough to warrant the yu-yu plan. In the image above, I was only discounted ¥82. Over the past 12 months, I paid an additional ¥2,340 but only was only discounted ¥1000 in return. So, it actually cost me ¥1340. That's not a lot - ¥100 a month, but a hundred yen is a hundred yen. There was only one month when the math actually worked out in my favor. Guess how much money I saved.

Four. Whole. Yen.

Yeah, lemme go cancel that today, two days before the start of the August billing cycle.

The family plan on the other hand is definitely saving me money.

Friday, July 29, 2011

B-mobile Talking FAIR SIM: voice and 1GB data


Back on April 15th, I commented that it would be good to have a voice plan to go along with B-mobile's data-only FAIR SIM. And here it is - today, JCI announced the Talking FAIR SIM. Because this is a traditional circuit switch/packet switch SIM, I expect it will have much improved compatibility with Android phones (See here for some issues regarding data-only SIMs).

It will be available from August 2nd in both fullsize and iPhone 4 micro versions and is exactly like the prepaid data-only version that I have been using, but with the addition of a postpaid cellular voice plan.

The Talking FAIR provides 1000 MB of data that can be used over 120 days with a maximum of 32.5 cellular minutes per month included at a minimum of ¥3,500 per month. However, this is the first b-mobile product that requires a contract, though the terms are much better than what is standard in Japan: only 1 year and no automatic renewal.

This SIM is not for heavy users. Below are the details, which I've also added to the b-mobile comparison table.
  • Contract fee: ¥3,150
  • Prepaid data cost: ¥8,350 per 1,000 MB valid over 120 days (initial 1,000 MB charge is ¥9,800)
  • Postpaid monthly voice charge: ¥1,250 for 32.5 min max. (includes ¥1,365 worth of talktime billed at ¥21/30 sec)
  • SMS charge: ¥3.15 per message
  • 7.2/5.7 Mbps up/down (best effort), streaming and tethering allowed
  • MNP eligible
  • Payment method: Credit card only
  • Residency required (by Japanese law)
  • Contract duration: 1 year, not auto renewed
  • Early Termination fee: ¥10,500
  • After canceling service, remaining data can be moved over to a data-only FAIR SIM for the cost of issuance of a new SIM (¥1,050) but it doesn't look like an existing charge on a FAIR SIM can be moved to a talking version.
To the left in the sidebar, you can see a daily updating graph of my data usage with the data-only FAIR SIM. Because I am around wifi for most of the day, 1 GB is easily lasting me for the full four months using a Nexus One. However, I also have to carry around a second phone for voice, the ht-03a which has a "value ss" plan - the smallest/cheapest one Docomo offers.

So, even though I personally consume very little bandwidth and very little cellular airtime, I was paying Docomo about ¥7,000 per month before getting the FAIR SIM, with most of this going towards unlimited data that I neither needed nor fully utilized. Now, after shutting off data on the ht-03a, I am paying the equivalent of about ¥4,000, with about half going to b-mobile for data and half to Docomo for voice.

(I wouldn't be carrying around two phones if trying to get an overseas phone working with Docomo wasn't a complete waste of time on top of being stupidly expensive.)

If I completely cancelled my Docomo contract and went with the Talking FAIR SIM, I would be paying just under ¥3,500 per month for both voice and data all on my Nexus One (not including contract fee and higher cost of first 1000 MB).

Nice.

For anyone thinking to do this, your biggest problem is going to be canceling your existing cellular contract without incurring a ¥10,000 or more cancelation fee. (This is in addition to having to pay back any subsidies on a new phone you just purchased.)

While the MIC is getting more doing more lately with consumers in mind, carriers here still get away with crap that would be unthinkable elsewhere, like 2 year automatically renewing contracts. You have a one month window to cancel service for no extra fees, and that window comes 'round once every two years.

Best to visit your local shop in advance and confirm exactly when you can cancel.

And do the math. If canceling all extra services costs, for example, ¥1,500 per month, it is cheaper to not cancel service if you only about half a year or less left on your contract. Just turn off the phone and don't use it, though you won't be able to do MNP with the contract still active.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Softbank to offer unlockable phones from mid August - iPhone not inlcuded



The Nikkei is reporting (J; try here for the full article) that the first phone that Softbank Mobile will unlock is going to be the 008Z by ZTE. This is a "simple smartphone" that is designed to ease the transition for users of galapagos feature phones. Details are scarce other than the price for unlocking will be the same as Docomo (¥3,150), current phones won't be unlocked, and the iPhone will be excluded.

Nothing surprising there.

Docomo has still yet to announce a list of unlocked phones that it determines are incapable of tethering and therefore subject to the a reasonable data price. I am expecting that the first phone on that list will be the 008Z, but We'll just have to wait and see.

How to Remove The Camera Noise on your Galaxy S2 SC-02C

If you are like me and find the camera shutter sound annoying as heck here is how you can remove it on your SC-02C. I can't take credit for this info it was posted over here on XDA

You need to be root to do this so if you have not gotten root yet follow my guide to root your phone here

There are two ways to do this, but because the kernel that was flashed when rooting doesn't allow the system partition to be mounted read/write from adb, this can only be done while typing on the phone's virtual keyboard. You can install a terminal emulator and busybox (if you haven't already) and do this for free. If not, buy and install "Root Explorer" from the Android Market

"Root Explorer" is a very handy app to have with a rooted phone so it is well worth the small cost of buying it.

First, download a modified camera file and copy it to your SD card:
http://hotfile.com/dl/123085974/29b7747/Camera.apk.html

The md5sum of the new Camera.apk file should be ab43b5d284bd21cb296a52f214ccab92

Root Explorer Method

Now using Root Explorer navigate to /system/media/audio/ui/ and click the button to make the directory read and writable. Then rename the files below and add a .bak extension to the following files:

/system/media/audio/ui/Cam_Stop.ogg
/system/media/audio/ui/Cam_Start.ogg
/system/media/audio/ui/camera_click_short.ogg
/system/media/audio/ui/Shutter_01.ogg
/system/media/audio/ui/VideoRecord.ogg

Now, the files should look like this.

Cam_Stop.ogg.bak
Cam_Start.ogg.bak
camera_click_short.ogg.bak
Shutter_01.ogg.bak
VideoRecord.ogg.bak

Now push the button to make the directory read only again. (if for whatever reason, you want to reactive the shutter sounds, change the extentions back to just .ogg.

Next we want to replace the Stock Camera.apk with a modified one.

First copy /system/app/Camera.apk to a safe location as a backup using Root Explorer then
copy over Camera.apk in /system/app, with the modified Camera.apk and reboot your phone.

Terminal Emulator Method

Alternately, you can so this from a terminal emulator using only free apps, but this is more complicated. (Busybox must be installed)

Also note that the phones internal storage is "/sdcard" and the actual sdcard is "/sdcard/external_sd" so depending on where you downloaded the Camera.apk to modify the commands below accordingly.

su # switch to root user
mount -o remount,rw -t yaffs2 /dev/block/mtdblock4 /system # mounts /system as writeable
cd /system/media/audio/ui/
mv Cam_Stop.ogg Cam_Stop.ogg.bak
# begin renaming files
mv Cam_Start.ogg Cam_Start.ogg.bak
mv camera_click_short.ogg camera_click_short.ogg.bak
mv Shutter_01.ogg Shutter_01.ogg.bak
mv VideoRecord.ogg VideoRecord.ogg.bak
mv /system/app/Camera.apk /sdcard/Camera.apk.old
# move and rename Camera app to SD card
cp /sdcard/Camera.apk /system/app # copies the new camera app from the SD card.
mount -o remount,ro -t yaffs2 /dev/block/mtdblock4 /system # mounts /system as read only
sync
reboot

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Linux Basics and installing XBMC on Ubuntu 10.10

PART 3: Linux Basics / Ubuntu 10.10
  • Part 1: the hardware
  • Part 2: the software choices
    • Part 3: Linux Basics / Ubuntu 10.10
    • Part 4: XBMC Live CD
In Part 2, I described briefly the different linux distributions that I considered. Here in Part 3, I'll present some linux basics, with an example of installing XBMC on Ubuntu Server 10.10. Part 4 will cover step by step exactly what Nicholas and I did to install and fully configure XBMC on the Shuttle xs35gt v2 from the Live CD. I meant to post Part 4 simultaneously with this, but I need to confirm some BIOS settings, which I can't do until I remeber to take my keyboard home (I own exactly one stand-alone keyboard).

Some Linux Basics

Root or sudo

In the beginning there was root

Unix-like operating systems like linux do not protect you from doing something stupid. When you execute a command as root (or super user), it does it without asking for confirmation. If you tell it to delete everything, it will assume you know what you are doing and delete everything.

Ubuntu by default does not have the root user enabled. Instead, an administrator can temporarily invoke root privilege by using the sudo command (superuser do). This has two advantages, 1) decreases the chances of errant and catastrophic commands being issued while logged in as the root user and 2) decreases the chances of your server being brute-force hacked because root is a commonly username - not using it means not only must the password be guessed, so must the username (unless you pick something else obvious like administrator) . (Of course, remote login, such as SSH, can always be disabled for the root user.)

Any command preceded by sudo will be executed as root, ever if the root user is disabled. You will be asked to enter your password, and you must have admin privileges. Once entered, the password may be good for a while, so you can continue entering sudo commands without having to reenter your password. After a bit you will be prompted to reenter the password.

Installing software in Linux

The preferred way of installing software may be a bit confusing at first. Rather than downloading software from individual websites and installing, a package manager is used to download software from preset or user-specified repositories. Repositories can be official and contain only fully GPL'd application, or the can be third-party maintained and contain just about anything.

If this sounds familiar, now you know from where the idea for "app stores" came.

It is more than just convenience, though. Many packages have a complex set of dependencies, that are unlikely to be preinstalled by default. It is absolute hell to try and manually keep track of what needs to be downloaded and installed to make a particular application function correctly. It gets even more complicated since many applications share dependencies. After uninstalling an application, a package manager would know which dependencies are safe to remove and which are still being used by other applications.

Two common package managers are the Advanced Packaging Tool (apt), used by Ubuntu and other Debian-based systems, or RPM used by Fedora and Red Hat, SUSE, and CentOS. Each of these can be used entirely from the command line, or also from GUI frontends.

As an example of installing xbmc on a standard Ubuntu server, such as the 10.10 install that I aborted, you would simply do the following:
  1. Add the XBMC repository
    sudo add-apt-repository ppa:team-xbmc
  2. Refresh the list of available packages, including the newly added repository
    sudo apt-get update
  3. Install XBMC
    sudo apt-get install xbmc

The last commands can be combined into one:

sudo apt-get update install xbmc

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Updating a Japanese WIFI Xoom (MZ604) to 3.2 with root

The usual warnings apply: We are not responsible for any broken or bricked devices. Use this guide at your own risk. However this worked for me on my AU Xoom (MZ604) so it should work for you too.

The improvements include:
Note that not all of these are applicable to the Xoom
  • Zoom and much improved display for programs not developed specifically for the tablet, which can now be resized and enlarged, adapting perfectly to a large display
  • Support for microSD
  • Updates for some applications (Movie Studio, Movies, Music, Widget)
  • Bug fixes and better hardware acceleration
  • Support for 7-inch display
  • Qualcomm processor support

If you already followed my previous guide to unlocking the bootloader installing a custom recovery and flashing 3.1 here then you will have already done all of the hard work. If not follow it and finish the 5th step "install the US Stock 3.1 ". Also if you have installed any sort of custom kernel seperate from my instructions you will want to repeat step 5 and get back to Stock 3.1.

Also this update kept my data intact but you should always take a backup and do a system backup just in case.

*Update*
I found that video playback was having a lot of stuttering so I tried to do a factory reset and my Xoom got stuck at the the recovery menu. I recommend that you first flash the factory 3.1 image if you already have root. After flashing the factory 3.1 image and then applying the 3.2 update with root everything was better and there were noticeable performance improvements. Flashing the stock 3.1 will wipe out all of your data.


Here is the XDA thread that discuses the 3.2 update. Read up on the update there and then download the update here

First put the Xoom into recovery
  • connect your Xoom to your pc
  • run "adb reboot recovery"
Next install The Update
  1. Note that in recovery, you use the hardware volume buttons to navigate up and down, and the power button to select.
  2. In ClockworkMod Recovery, select "mounts and storage"
  3. Ensure your Xoom is connected to your PC via USB, then select "mount USB storage"
  4. On your PC, copy update_US-Xoom-WiFi-3.2-HTJ85B-from-HMJ37_stachre_solarnz-boot-img_v05.zip to the root of the Xoom's SDCard ("Removable Disk" in Windows)
  5. In ClockworkModRecovery (still on the "USB Mass Storage device" screen) select "Unmount"
  6. In the "Mounts and Storage Menu" screen, if the option "unmount /sdcard" is present, continue to the next step; if "mount /sdcard" is present, select it then continue
  7. Select "+++++Go Back+++++"
  8. Select "install zip from sdcard"
  9. Select "choose zip from sdcard"
  10. Select "update_US-Xoom-WiFi-3.2-HTJ85B-from-HMJ37_stachre_solarnz-boot-img_v05.zip"
  11. Select "update_US-Xoom-WiFi-3.2-HTJ85B-from-HMJ37_stachre_solarnz-boot-img_v05.zip"
  12. "Install from sdcard complete." will indicate that the update is completed.
  13. Select "reboot system now"
Enjoy Honeycomb 3.2!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How to root the Docomo Galaxy S2 SC-02c

Update: I have published a newer version on how to install ICS with root here


The usual warnings apply: We are not responsible for any broken or bricked devices. Use this guide at your own risk. However this worked for me on my SC-02C so it should work for you too. This is actually very easy but you need to make sure you have the proper tools first.


Keep in mind that this is only for rooting the Docomo factory ROM that was preinstalled on the SC-02C and not for installing custom ROMS. If you install a regular Galaxy S2 ROM, as opposed to one specifically for the Docomo SC-02C, then you will break 1seg (TV) and the GPS. This guide flashes a modified factory system image along with some other bits that give you root privilege.

Part One - Preparation 

 1. Read the SC-02C owners thread over at XDA so you understand what you are doing

2. Now download and install the latest version of Heimdall use the command line version not the GUI version http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=755265

3. Then download the stock kernel and factory filesystem with root http://hotfile.com/dl/123171449/40f4fa6/SC02C_STOCK_KERNEL_ROOTFFS.zip.html

4. Extract the zip file and extract the tar file inside (password "odin3") you can delete the file "zimage" we don't need it.

5. Install Heimdall for your system and if you are running Windows or Mac install the Kies software and make sure that your phone is recognized by your machine.

Part Two - The fun part

Now navigate the command prompt to the directory you extracted the tar file to and run (I used sudo because I am using Ubuntu). make sure the kies software is not running
  1. Put the phone into download mode: unplug the USB and power off, power on holding volume down and the home button.
  2. Connect the USB.
  3. Run the command "sudo heimdall flash --factoryfs factoryfs.img"
  4. The phone will auto reboot.
  5. You now have root!!
*Update*
A lot of the more powerful applications that use root require you to have "Busybox" installed also. click the link and head over to the market to install it on your phone. Once you install it you need to open it and click "install".

Linux OS choices for the Shuttle xs35GT v2 fanless htpc

PART 2: The Software
  • Part 1: the hardware
  • Part 2: the software choices
By far, the hardest part of building a system around the Shuttle X35GT V2 "barebones" case was deciding what version of linux to install because I couldn't decide how many purposes I wanted this little server to serve. If I use it solely as a living room media computer, I'd go with a very stripped down, small footprint linux distribution that would be used to run xbmc and nothing else. However, I've been thinking to setup both a VPN server, through which I'd route all my phone traffic, and a PBX server for a homebrew VoIP solution, which would require a standard server install.

I ended up trying out three different distros, two of which Nicholas and I fully configured for use with xbmc.
In following posts, I'll provide step by step instructions of how we installed and configured each of these.  For now, I'll just discuss what I liked and didn't like on each one.

XBMC Live CD

Like many linux distros these day, XBMC has a live CD that can be used to boot your computer and try it out. It can also be used as an installer. I tried this first, and completely configured it and had everything that I needed working. The live CD installed with no problems and I didn't need to download and install anything else to get the the network up and running. This is sure to change, but right now the live CD is based on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. This is good because this version will be getting updates until 4/2015 (server version). This is bad because it contains an older kernel that doesn't support TRIM commands, which are needed to solid state drives (SSDs) running fast over time.

While I had absolutely no trouble updating the kernel to 2.6.35, which does support TRIM commands, configuring HDMI sound, and lowering swappiness, I wasn't happy with boot times. It took just over 40 seconds from pushing the power button until XBMC was ready for use. This included some time spent sitting on the bios screen before the OS boots. (Unfortunately, the bios has no option to decrease this.) I was hoping for something faster. So, I used clonezilla to copy the system and then and tried something else.

Ubuntu 10.10

So I next tried Ubuntu 10.10. (Ubuntu 11 isn't compatible with the current version of xbmc.) 10.10 is supposed to have a faster boot time than 10.04. I had all sorts of problems getting the wired ethernet to work. I first tried installing from the minimal installation CD, which downloads extra components from the internet, but because the network couldn't be configured during installation, I had to use the full installer. Even after using the full installer, I still couldn't get the network up. Interestingly, Nicholas has 10.10 installed on his xs35gt (first revision) and had no problems at all. I can't imagine that the 10.10 full installer lacks the proper driver.

At this point I pretty much realized that running a 24/7 server with PBX and VPN services was something that I realistically wasn't going to do. Rather than spend more time with it, I aborted any further work with 10.10.

OpenELEC

Finally, I tried out something completely different, OpenELEC, Open Embedded Linux Entertainment Center. This is a stripped down Debian based distro that is designed to do nothing more than run xbmc. There are different builds for different chipsets, each with only the commonly used drivers. I installed the 64bit ION version.

OpenELEC is a bit of a pain to work with because it is absolutely gutted. Installing it was even a pain because it can only be installed from a USB stick, and the USB stick can only be made from a Windows machine or a linux machine. I live booted my MBP with a random linux CD to make the USB stick, but for unknown reasons this completely failed. (I ended up getting a a premade stick from Nicholas.)

Making matters worse is that documentation is virtually nonexistent (which is to be expected). So you either have to figure out things by trial and error or search through the forum. OpenELEC doesn't even include a terminal, so the only way to get a command line is with ssh, though once in, you'll find few commands actually work because they've been removed.

But OpenELEC provides what it advertises: fast boot time, about 20 seconds from pushing the power button on the case to xbmc being fully responsive. My TV nearly takes as long to turn on and display terrestrial broadcasts. Shutting down is mind boggling fast (less than one second) and is done by pressing the power button. (It is so fast I had to convince myself that it was actually shutting down properly, as opposed to just killing the power.)

The system is primarily configured from within xbmc though an add-on. Network settings, etc. are configured here. In fact, I haven't figured out any other way to configure the network. I can't even find where the network settings are actually stored because /etc/network/interfaces doesn't exist.

After using OpenELEC for a few weeks now and getting used to its quirks, I like it. For now, I'm going to leave it installed and see how thing go.

In Part 3, I'll present the exact steps that Nicholas and I did to set up a system using the xbmc 10.04 install disk. Part 4 will be for OpenELEC.

Friday, July 8, 2011

NTT Communications starts "050 Plus" VoIP service for smartphones

Simply put, VoIP in Japan has been a joke.

Before getting to mobile, consider for a moment VoIP service in the home as a replacement for POTS (plain old telephone service). Yes, it is less expensive for the consumer, but not nearly by the amount it could (should?) be. The entity that benefits the most from IP phone service is not the user but the service provider, who enjoys both the slashed cost of overhead and premium product pricing.

VoIP was first introduced to Japan in 2001 by Masayoshi Son's Yahoo BB, much to the displeasure of NTT, who, up until recently was able to sell physical phone lines (a concept I never fully understood) for upwards of $1000US. The traditional Gatekeeper of Japanese Telecommunications must be in a very uncomfortable position these days. While they certainly didn't benefit from Masayoshi Son's meddling, they were at least relevant.

Not this time.

Things have been changing like mad this year, in exciting and unprecedented ways that are primarily the result of JCI's arbitrated opening of Docomo's data networks to "virtual" carriers. The MIC is finally realizing that innovation is sorely needed in communications but the traditional players have no incentive to bring it. Now we have a number of innovative mobile startups, such as mobile VoIP provider BlueSIP. But all this is limited to mobile and potentially threatening to NTT's home data and telephone services.

So rather than sit by quietly, NTT began offering a VoIP softphone service from July 1st. The service is called 050Plus and is initially for the iPhone, but with planned expansion to Android and computers from early August. The terms are attractive, though this requires the download of a specialized app, which will reduce battery life.

A larger implication of this is more force against the mobile network providers, who have a vested interest in keeping VoIP off their networks. It will be interesting to see if a critical mass of consumers will defect to the virtual operators, forcing the likes of NTT Docomo to respond competitively.

And here we thought that SIM unlocking was going to be the big deal this fiscal year.


Finally, the details of 050Plus VoIP. Either there are no initial or cancellation fees, of the information is well hidden.
  • ¥315/month
  • Free calls to not only other "050" plus users, but also to other companies like OCN top phone (total of 270 providers included)
  • ¥8.4/3 min (¥2.8/min) for all other IP Phones and landlines
  • ¥16.8/min for domestic cell phones (090, 080 numbers)
  • ¥10.1/min for domestic PHS (070 numbers)
  • From ¥9/min for to the USA (¥10 to Canada; ¥20 to Germany, UK, Australia, France, Italy; ¥25 to New Zealand)
  • Can be used overseas
  • Voicemail with email notification and .wav audio attachment
The list of providers included for free calling seems to include most of the major ones, though it does not include any MVNOs, like b-mobile. Specialized app required. Payment is by credit card only. Each registered phone number requires a separate contract. One credit card can be used for a total of five contracts. Service is limited to Japanese residents. Original Japanese iPhone 3G is supported (minimum iPhone OS 3.1.3). iPod/iPad not supported. First month free. Sustained calls in excess of five hours will be disconnected. Decompiling or reverse engineering or revealing the source code of the app is prohibited (i.e., trying to extract SIP credentials).

Docomo mobile data services prohibits VoIP, and if this specialized app is not added to b-mobile's approved apps for the platinum micro SIM data plan, the only option for the iPhone 4 may be softbank. iPhone 3G/3Gs should be able to use the Aeon Plan C SIM.

Link to manual (PDF, J but with lots of images)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Building a fanless linux home theater PC (htpc) from parts in Akihabara

PART 1: The Hardware
  • Part 1: the hardware
  • Part 2: the software choices
Due to Japan's lack of love for earth - as in ground, electrically speaking, my home machine's video card (and the monitor to which it was connected) fried several years ago. I repurposed the machine into a headless sever, and all was fine until several weeks ago. It's not dead yet, but well on it's way (and I suspect it's the logic board). So I set out to build something new.

Because I don't need a regular desktop at home these days, I was free to explore other options and decided to put together a media center PC, but it needed to meet the following requirements
  • Virtually instant on (boot from cold start in a matter of seconds)
  • Virtually silent
  • Small
  • Low power consumption
  • Hardware decoding of 1080p video
  • Fully remote controllable by Android and iOS devices
  • Less than ¥35,000 total price
Sound impossible? Well, It certainly rules out buying a license for Windows. And to achieve the boot times I am looking for, I'd need a solid state drive with some form of stripped down embedded linux installed. Solid state drives have gotten cheaper, but the price for gigabyte is still well above that for traditional spinning disks.


It wasn't impossible, but I did go over budget. Everything cost me ¥36,710. I could have done it for about ¥34,000, but the extra money got me twice the disk size. Here's what I got, all of it purchased in the backstreets of Akihabara (Map).

Item Description P/N and kakaku link Store Price
"Barebones" Case Shuttle fanless case with Intel Atom D525 dual core CPU, NM10 chipset, Nvidia ION2 graphics XS35GT v2 Ark (online) ¥21,470
Solid State Drive 60 GB OCZ Vertex 2 Sata II SSD (285/275/250 Mbps read/write/sustained) OCZSSD2-2VTX60G Tsukumo #12 (online) ¥8,980
Memory Kingston DDR3 204 pin SO-DIMM 4GB 1066 MHz notebook RAM KVR1066D3s7/4G Tusukmo #12 (online) ¥3,480
DVD drive LG Slimline notebook DVD read/write drive GT40N Ark (online) ¥2,780
Total
¥36,710


What really makes this possible is the "barebones" X35GT V2 from Shuttle. This is a fanless case with an Intel Atom D525 (1.8 GHz dual core) processor, onboard Nvidia ION2 graphics with both VGA and HDMI, and up to 4 GB of RAM. It even has a card reader. And comes with a tiny 40W external power supply, which uses less energy than one typical incandescent light bulb. (I understand it uses about 20 W at idle and 30 W under usage.)


Into this case, I installed one of the best and fastest, SATA II solid state drives (no moving parts) for about ¥9,000, the OCZ Vertex 2 60GB SSD drive on sale at Tsukumo via the web or at their number 12 store in the backstreets of Akihabara, two blocks west of Chuo Dori. (Same drive is $140US on New Egg, ¥12,000 according to kakaku.com, and google shopping finds it in the ¥16,000 to ¥17,000 range). Right now, it is sitting, locked in a glass case at Yodobashi Akiba for, incredibally, over ¥30,000!

For an optical drive, I briefly considered going with a blue ray drive, the least expensive of which was about ¥7,000, but that either would have me buying a license to windows or being very frustrated trying to make it work on linux, so I stuck with a DVD read/write slim drive. I ended up getting a LG GT40N for ¥2,780 (the cheapest price listed on kakaku) from the Ark store, a few blocks southwest of the intersection of Chuo and Kuramae Dori. [NOTE: I don't recommend this drive - it is "sticky" and not smooth to open.]


I could have saved about ¥600 yen by buying from other stores, primarily saving on the cost of the memory, but I decided to buy from a place that I am familiar with (and have a point card for). Besides, the XS35GT v2 for at slightly cheaper price at Tsukumo was not in stock.

In the next post, I'll cover the software. For now I'll leave you with one last picture. This is all I need to fully control this computer, from start up to shutdown, including playing music and videos.