My New Hardware Classical Music Player

Behold my "new" hardware classical music player!

Yeah: it's not exactly a beauty, nor redolent of tech-nerd sex appeal, I realise. It is, in fact, an HP T620 Flexible Thin Client and dates from 2013 or so. So I just bought myself a wheezingly underpowered ten year-old computer: what was I thinking?!

Well, in a music room, silence is king: so I've long been using computers that are absolutely silent, or very nearly so, to play my digital FLAC files. No fans ramping up and down as the mood and temperature takes them, thank you very much! My most recent hardware player was, therefore, a Raspberry Pi 4B+ with 4GB RAM: it gets a little warm (say, 56°C) when cooled entirely passively by a good, all-aluminium case -but certainly not dramatically or problematically so. It's small and easily tucked out of sight, too -and it runs the new Giocoso Version 3 (albeit, the beta version!) very well indeed.

So: why have I retired the Pi and replaced it with the HP T620? Because my music player PC has to output its data to my Digital-to-Audio Converter (DAC) via USB... and, for some reason, the Pi's USB ports were periodically getting confused and losing touch with the DAC. At which point, I have to completely restart the audio server on the Pi, which is do-able ...but annoying to have to do! I figured a more traditional 'PC' build might have less trouble with its USB ports (and, so far, two weeks in, I've been proved correct on that point). Meanwhile, the HP is completely passively cooled and is thus totally silent in operation.

The T620 is admittedly a pretty poor performer: it's got an AMD processor I've never heard of (well, OK, it's an AMD GX-217GA SOC), which was intended, back in the day, to provide just enough computing power to connect the box to a remote beefy server where all the actual processing could be done, in the style of Wyse terminals of yore. It also only has a 100Mbps network port, which takes me waay back to a mis-spent past! It is, accordingly, quite frustrating to use, because everything happens at a proverbial snail's pace. You might therefore reasonably ask what on Earth possessed me to buy it: the Pi was an altogether faster desktop experience, after all, and ships a 1Gbps network interface as standard, whilst managing to run equally as silent as the HP. Well: the fact is that it's absolutely true that installing an operating system onto the HP (I chose Linux Mint Debian Edition) took about an hour, which is an insanely slow experience... but I never need to interact with it at that kind of intensity again, nor do I ever need to use the desktop once the installation is complete. The PC simply runs Giocoso and that's it: so it runs at about 5% CPU, at a temperature of about 43°C and plays even Hi-Res FLAC files without struggling. All I have to do is to ssh into it, kick off Giocoso and leave it to play its heart out: for the job it has to do, it turns out that the asthmatic GX-217GA is more than sufficient.

The thing cost me the princely sum of £25, with free postage, from Ebay -though there are identical models going for around £50+ (and some going for less than £20 🙁 ). It came with a single 4GB RAM stick: I bought another for £10 to give me dual-channel memory. It also shipped with a 16GB M.2 SATA SSD (yup: 16, one-six, gigabytes!), which I thought might be just a tad on the small size! So I paid another £20 for a 120GB replacement. All up, then: £55 for a totally silent, more-than-capable music player that runs cool and with no weird CPU architecture or USB sockets to moan about. I thought it was a reasonable move!

I did place a pre-order for a Raspberry Pi 5. I don't know why: from the reviews that are scattered about the Internet, it's obviously a much more capable machine than it's Pi 4 forebear... but the extra power comes at the cost of requiring a fan to cool it. Fans and my music room simply don't mix, so I can't think what I was doing by ordering it! Fortunately, the supply situation is still tight and, as a result, I was able to cancel my pre-order about a week after I'd placed it, no harm done.

Meanwhile: Giocoso Version 3 continues to move closer to release. A code-freeze is now in-place, so it's simply a matter of documenting it and spotting any last-minute show-stoppers. I'm accordingly aiming for a release date of November 22nd... which regular readers may recognise as St. Cecilia's day (patron saint of music) or, even more importantly, as the birthday of Benjamin Britten! Watch this space...

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