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Hardware Review: XoByte miniSpark Startup/Shutdown Controller

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by , 05-17-2010 at 09:11 AM (5242 Views)


What is it?


The XoByte miniSpark is a startup and shutdown controller that uses Wake-On-LAN capabilities to handle startup and shutdown of your laptop or PC.

The Verdict: If you use a laptop or netbook as your car PC you should own a miniSpark. The people at XoByte have seemingly created the perfect solution to handling the startup and shutdown of a computer and it's associated accessories in the car. The one thing that impresses me the most is the control it gives the user, all while using only your LAN port and saving a precious USB port.



What's in the box?

The XoByte miniSpark comes with the main controller box, a 6-wire connector, and a pair of automotive fuse adapters for 12v power.


Description:

The XoByte miniSpark is a powerful device which allows control of a netbook,laptop, or personal computer's startup and shutdown capabilities through Wake-On-LAN technology. The real power in the miniSpark comes from the user's ability to control its various functions all from within the miniSpark Configuration GUI. This tool is compatible with Windows computers running XP or higher, and allows even beginner users to control the miniSpark's functions with both ease and simplicity.


After a brief period in which the miniSpark checks to see if the device is connected, the GUI is presented. The top left box in the GUI is nothing more than a set of status indicators which give you the real-time view of each of the 2 inputs and 2 outputs of the miniSpark. If a WOL shutdown event occurs the miniSpark GUI will display the system status on the LED images and also via a pop-up which counts the time remaining to shutdown.


The bottom left gives users the ability to use either of the 2 inputs to run the appropriate user-configurable shutdown command with the shutdown and startup delays specified. As if the basic settings weren't powerful enough, XoByte allows configuration of both outputs independently. This allows one miniSpark unit to individually shutdown and power up 2 different devices with there own unique settings. For advanced users this capability is invaluable because you can control things like USB hubs, lighting, and other self-powered devices independently of the PC. Each output can be controlled with either included inputs or totally manually through the miniSpark configuration utility. The outputs can also be delayed at startup or shutdown after the PC has been started or shutdown. The ability to set your pulse-width for outputs and to set repeating triggers means the XoByte miniSpark is as flexible as you will ever find a shutdown controller to be. There is even an API available which allows the control of the miniSpark configuration utility to be harnessed in a user-selected front end.


Despite the flexibility of its software setup, the miniSpark is just as easy to install as any other automotive power supply. Because its not a fully-functional power supply, the miniSpark's red power wire can be powered through an 1-amp automotive fuse. XoByte was even kind enough to include a set of automotive fuse adapters so you can just plug into your vehicles fuse box to power the device. The black wire as in most cases is the ground. The white and green wires are input #1 and #2 respectively, and would in most cases be connected to the automobiles accessory or ignition lines. Should you only wish to use a single input the green wire can be ignored. Lastly, the brown and blue wires are #1 and #2 output wires. PCs that are not "magic frame" WOL capable will need to use one of the outputs to power on the PC through the ACPI lines.

Once wired, the XoByte miniSpark hardware is ready to go. The only other notable feature would be the single green LED which shows the status of the miniSpark through a series of blinks.


The Positive:

• Small hideaway box, but so much power and control capabilities
• Allows startup/shutdown control without opening up a laptop
• Uses WOL technology, saving a USB port• Efficiently runs on less than 1 amp
• A simple GUI which continues to be updated with more control features
• Ability to control multiple accessory outputs with multiple individually controlled inputs
• API available for front end integration

The Negative:

• Windows XP+ only
• Computer must be WOL "Magic Frame" capatible for WOL use

The Verdict:

If you use a laptop or netbook as your car PC you should own a miniSpark. The people at XoByte have seemingly created the perfect solution to handling the startup and shutdown of a computer and its associated accessories in the car. The one thing that impresses me the most is the control it gives the user, all while using only your LAN port and saving a precious USB port.

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Updated 05-17-2010 at 11:24 AM by Sonicxtacy02

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Last 3 Posts

Quote Originally Posted by Cham View Post
Hi
Just wondering if this interface has any option of monitoring the input voltage i.e car battery voltage

the idea is to send the laptop into hibernation when the key is switched off. If the car battery goes below a certain voltage to initiate a full shut down
Hi,

Our product currently does not have a built in voltage detector. Our General Purpose Inputs need to be driven high to trigger an action.

We are willing to investigate designing an external circuit that would work in conjunction with miniSparkô to accomplish this though. We would need some information from you as to the exact voltage level you want to detect.

There are a couple issues with the scheme you're trying to implement that you might want to consider ...

1) The difference in power consumption between Hibernate and Shutdown may be minimal.

2) In order to transition from Hibernate to Shutdown we would first need to fully power up the PC then Shut it down. The additional power required for this may cause even more issues with the car battery if you picked a voltage that is too low.

If you're still interested in coming up with a custom solution we would be more than happy to work with you.

Thanks
Hi
Just wondering if this interface has any option of monitoring the input voltage i.e car battery voltage

the idea is to send the laptop into hibernation when the key is switched off. If the car battery goes below a certain voltage to initiate a full shut down
Quote Originally Posted by SupraDan88t View Post
Well it looks like I have all my issues with the XoByte figured out now. What I did was download the nForce drivers from nVidia's site and even tho Windows barked that the currently installed drivers were newer I used the ones from nVidia instead and then things seem to be working now.

My one question though, the XoByte software puts the computer to sleep as expected but it goes into Hybrid sleep even though I have hybrid disabled in the Windows power settings. I was wondering if there is a way to have it go into one of the "lighter" sleep modes or if a future version of the software may allow choosing S2, S3, Hybrid, etc... - not really a big deal since the system boots from hibernation in about 6 seconds anyway.
Since I have hybrid sleep disabled I suspect this could be another strange driver issue - this computer (Acer Aspire 5520) seems to have silly little driver issues with everything...

Thanks for the help on this thread and in emails - I do recommend the MiniSpark to anyone needing laptop startup/shutdown control just make sure you have good power/ground, my minispark seems to be really really particular about that, more than other 12v hardware I've worked with before.
Glad to hear it's working!! We are in the process of updating our Software Application to be allow selection of any shutdown/sleep mode listed in the Start Menu. How your machine maps each setting to an actual sleep modes(Hybrid/S2/etc ...) will be a machine configuration issue. We are limited to choosing one of the start menu settings.