Random Musings

Tag: CurrentCost

Installing Windows XP on a Viglen MPC-L

I bought a teeny tiny Viglen MPC-L PC after a friend told me about them. I’m going to use it for the same reason he does – to connect my CurrentCost to so I can collect electricity usage data (I’m currently using an old Dell laptop which isn’t ideal).

Teeny tiny Viglen PC

Teeny tiny Viglen PC

The little Viglens are normally £99, but can be currently bought for £77 including VAT and Delivery – details are available by listening to the Ubuntu UK Podcast. Mine was delivered today as promised by Viglen but sadly didn’t come in a box that is far too big for it like most people’s have. Also in the box was a Microsoft mouse, a really cheap and nasty Viglen-branded keyboard, and something of a nice unexpected surprise – a 2Gb memory stick! There are plenty of other blogs detailing the size of the box and also the specs of these things, but basically they are a silent fanless very low-power (10W) PC with a 400MHz AMD Geode CPU, an 80Gb hard drive and 512Mb of memory.

They come with some sort of Ubuntu installed on them by default, but I wanted to run Windows XP on mine as I’m not quite nerdy enough to use Linux.

Installing Windows XP on one of these poses some interesting challenges, as the device obviously has no optical drive to stick a CD into. They can be booted from a USB stick though (providing you use one of the two USB1.0 ports on the rear rather than one of the four USB2.0 ports on the front)

After some very brief googling, I found this excellent guide to installing XP from a USB stick. I used a 256Mb memory stick to create the boot drive, and copied the i386 folder from the XP installation CD to a USB hard drive I had laying around.

The installation was much easier than I was expecting. The steps I performed are as follows:

  1. Follow these instructions for creating a BartPE bootable memory stick using a separate PC
  2. Connect an external USB hard drive to the other PC and copy the i386 folder from the XP installation CD onto it
  3. Plug the keyboard and bootable memory stick into the USB1.0 ports on the rear of the Viglen
  4. Power up the Viglen and press F1 to enter the BIOS
  5. Change the boot order so that the USB memory stick is first in the list
  6. Power the Viglen down, plug the external USB hard drive into one of the USB2.0 ports on the front of the unit and power it all back up again
  7. The Viglen should boot into BartPE from the memory stick
  8. Follow the rest of the instructions to kick off the XP installation

And that’s it. Pretty simple.

Performance-wise, this thing isn’t going to win any awards when running XP, but it’s more than usable. I’ve got it connected to my 37″ LCD telly running at a resolution of 1600×1200 quite happily

Next steps are to get the CurrentCost connected to it and see how it performs with that…

Monitoring Electricity usage with a CurrentCost monitor

A couple of friends of mine have recently been playing with CurrentCost monitor, which is a nifty little home energy usage device. It has an induction loop that you clip onto one of the wires coming out of your electricity meter and that wirelessly transmits electricity usage to the display, which looks like this:

The display shows you how much electricity your house is currently using, how much that is costing you (you can change the electricity cost depending on what your supplier charges you), and cleverly if you turn something on or off it will tell you how much your consumption has gone up or down, so you can see exactly how much power that device was using.

I got mine from the eco gadget shop although they are available direct from CurrentCost’s own ebay shop for more money. The eco gadget shop seems to be part of Scottish and Southern Energy so I guess they are subsidising the cost of these things a bit. One thing to be aware of though is delivery can take some time. They took my credit card payment when I ordered, but the device took almost 3 weeks to arrive as they were out of stock, and was sent standard 2nd class post!

But the best bit about these devices is that they have a port on them that allows them to be connected to a PC via a cable that can be purchased from the CurrentCost ebay shop,  and collect the data it spits out every few seconds. There have been various IBM people writing little applications to plot this data onto graphs, and also one of the friends who originally pointed me in the direction of the CurrentCost device has been creating a great little bit of software:

Techtoniq Current Cost Agent

Techtoniq Ltd's Current Cost Agent in action

As you can see it plots both electicity usage (green bars) and temperature (pink line).

In order to connect the device to a USB port on my PC I had to download a USB to Serial port driver. The Windows XP one can be downloaded from the Prolific website and I found a Vista version from here, although having read a bit more I think Vista might have found a driver for it automatically when I plugged the device in. Unfortunately either this driver or the CurrentCost software I’m trying doesn’t like Vista, which keeps BSODing so I’ve temporarily enlisted the use of an old Dell laptop that has got Windows XP on it

I can see this energy usage worry gauge coming in very handy when trying to reduce the amount of electricity we use. And it’s also perfectly geeky for me to play with.

This is the current LIVE power usage and temperature in my house:



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