Computer as Furniture

We needed a means to play our digitized music collection in the living room. The problem was that we wanted something that didn't stand out yet provided the versatility of playing music offered by a computer. We settled on a small computer system and amplifier that could be hidden under a small endtable.

View of room with hidden computer The only visible parts of the system are the 15" LCD monitor, optical mouse (no mousepad is needed) and the pair of speakers (one of which is visible in the picture).

Click on the picture to see an enlarged image.

No keyboard is necessary for operation. On the few occasions when one might be needed, the on-screen keyboard is used. The coasters are for drinks. Raising the skirt reveals the computer and amplifier. The computer is turned on and off via the mouse. It's on a wired network and gets its music and photo files (it also displays our photos) over the network. If necessary, the system can also be used for browsing the Web. Since the system runs Windows XP Pro which has the remote desktop feature, it can be accessed from any other system in the house, including our notebook system which is on a wireless network connection. This means that the music can be controlled from any room in the house, if desired, or from the sofa in the living room without having to get up and go over to the mouse.

Closeup of table Click on pictures to enlarge A view under the table skirt

We settled on Bose 301 speakers and an unfortunately large, but still hideable, amplifier. This was after trying out and discarding three different powered speaker systems, both with and without subwoofers. We have a 25+ year old set of Marantz Imperial 7 speakers which sound even better than the Bose, but they were just too big for the living room.

The computer is a Dell Optiplex GX60 in a small-form-factor case which measures roughly 13"x13"x3". It is very quiet and a well built system. This case is basically the same as used in the Dimension 4600C. The Optiplex computers are intended for corporate customers but seemed ideal for this use as it can be and was bought with few peripherals and no software beyond Windows XP. The monitor is a Dell 1504FP UltraSharp(tm) display.

Opened case The computer is shown opened on the left. It has a clam shell case design. Note the use of a squirrel-cage fan on the processor which keeps the noise down. The hard drive is set to run in quiet mode as well. You can't hear the computer running at all. The system has minimal expandability, but that poses no problem for this application.

Click on the picture to see an enlarged image.

We considered it a risk to go with a computer. Would it do the job? Would it be too expensive? But a good sale price on the Dell site combined with a 30 day satisfaction return policy had us willing to try it out. Available and announced commercial music servers (such as the Audiotron) either had small, poor displays or required a television set. Most of them also require running special proprietary server software. This solution uses off-the-shelf WindowsXP and no additional software. By using standard protocols, even a Linux or Mac box could used.

Revised January 25, 2005

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