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Hardware Review: XoByte miniSpark Startup/Shutdown Controller

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  • Hardware Review: XoByte miniSpark Startup/Shutdown Controller



    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.
    mp3Car.com Senior Tech Blogger (Want a product reviewed? Contact me.)
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  • #2
    Sounds interesting...
    What's the price tag me wonders...

    Comment


    • #3
      Does this do something different than the Carnetix P2140 in relation to startup/shutdown?

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by loneferret View Post
        Sounds interesting...
        What's the price tag me wonders...

        http://store.xobyte.com/product_info...c2a2234e287a75

        Comment


        • #5
          Alright So i have been searching and stuff.

          This device seems like a good device

          But

          is this all i need as far as power is concerned?

          Or i will need to get a DC to DC converter too.

          Comment


          • #6
            no, this will only tell the pc to turn on/off IF your pc supports Wake On Lan. if it doesn't support it, this will not work at all on your pc.

            you will still need a way to power the pc (dc-dc, dc-ac-dc, monkeys in a wheel, etc...).
            My OLD 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT:
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            next project? subaru brz
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            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by soundman98 View Post
              no, this will only tell the pc to turn on/off IF your pc supports Wake On Lan. if it doesn't support it, this will not work at all on your pc.

              you will still need a way to power the pc (dc-dc, dc-ac-dc, monkeys in a wheel, etc...).
              Well if your PC doesn't support Wake-On-Lan (WOL) you can still use one of the two outputs from minispark as an ACPI signal that toggles the power button on the PC. This would mean that you have to crack open your computer and connect this signal to the ACPI header on the PC motherboard.

              Definitely not as elegant as WOL but it will give you all the same configuration options that miniSpark provides for Powering On/Off. You are correct that the PC has to receive power from another source. miniSpark is a StartUp/Shutdown controller not a power supply.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Reble View Post
                Alright So i have been searching and stuff.

                This device seems like a good device

                But

                is this all i need as far as power is concerned?

                Or i will need to get a DC to DC converter too.
                You could use the laptops DC Cigarette light adapter, perhaps hardwired?

                It's a good device, but I find it a a bit too expensive for me.
                Worklogs: 08 Sequoia Platinum Carputer (In Progress!)
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                07 Infiniti Fx35 (done!) & 06 Infiniti M35 (gone...)

                Comment


                • #9
                  MiniSpark

                  Has anyone else actually purchased and used this product - everything I can find is reviews from months back.
                  I received the MiniSpark unit and set it up as described in the instructions... and ran thru the troubleshooting described in the instructions.
                  The 3 computers I've tried it on all fail to discover the device, the green light does blink the way it's supposed to but there's apparently no link - computers all report network cable unplugged and no lights on the NIC interfaces (should the lights on the NICs light up and blink as if plugged into a normal hub/router?).
                  I've also tried multiple known-good ethernet cables. I did test the NIC by plugging it directly into my router and it connects fine.

                  I'm assuming I have a defective device but I wanted to post here first (I also emailed Xobyte support yesterday, probably too soon to expect a response) to see if anyone had any thoughts of anything I could be missing.
                  Thanks!

                  Computer: Windows 7 Ult 32bit
                  Acer Aspire notebook
                  (This is my first post but I've been lurking here on and off for years)

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by SupraDan88t View Post
                    Has anyone else actually purchased and used this product - everything I can find is reviews from months back.
                    I received the MiniSpark unit and set it up as described in the instructions... and ran thru the troubleshooting described in the instructions.
                    The 3 computers I've tried it on all fail to discover the device, the green light does blink the way it's supposed to but there's apparently no link - computers all report network cable unplugged and no lights on the NIC interfaces (should the lights on the NICs light up and blink as if plugged into a normal hub/router?).
                    I've also tried multiple known-good ethernet cables. I did test the NIC by plugging it directly into my router and it connects fine.

                    I'm assuming I have a defective device but I wanted to post here first (I also emailed Xobyte support yesterday, probably too soon to expect a response) to see if anyone had any thoughts of anything I could be missing.
                    Thanks!

                    Computer: Windows 7 Ult 32bit
                    Acer Aspire notebook
                    (This is my first post but I've been lurking here on and off for years)
                    are you sure you're computers are WOL compatible and WOL has been enabled in the bios?
                    mp3Car.com Senior Tech Blogger (Want a product reviewed? Contact me.)
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                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Sonicxtacy02 View Post
                      are you sure you're computers are WOL compatible and WOL has been enabled in the bios?
                      Yes I'm sure they are, even tested it before ordering the device.
                      Doesn't matter in this case anyway because the MiniSpark is not even being discovered by the XoByte software.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by SupraDan88t View Post
                        Has anyone else actually purchased and used this product - everything I can find is reviews from months back.
                        I received the MiniSpark unit and set it up as described in the instructions... and ran thru the troubleshooting described in the instructions.
                        The 3 computers I've tried it on all fail to discover the device, the green light does blink the way it's supposed to but there's apparently no link - computers all report network cable unplugged and no lights on the NIC interfaces (should the lights on the NICs light up and blink as if plugged into a normal hub/router?).
                        I've also tried multiple known-good ethernet cables. I did test the NIC by plugging it directly into my router and it connects fine.

                        I'm assuming I have a defective device but I wanted to post here first (I also emailed Xobyte support yesterday, probably too soon to expect a response) to see if anyone had any thoughts of anything I could be missing.
                        Thanks!

                        Computer: Windows 7 Ult 32bit
                        Acer Aspire notebook
                        (This is my first post but I've been lurking here on and off for years)
                        Hey Dan,

                        I hope replacing the bad ground connection you had to miniSpark resolved the problem and that the unit is fully functional and meeting all your needs. Feel free to post about your experience and opinion of our product so others can benefit.

                        Thanks and good luck.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Yep, searching for a ground issue got me on the right path - The problem was actually a faulty 12v bench power supply that's only putting out a dirty 7 volts...

                          I've got other issues at the moment but I think/hope they're PC related.
                          The app from the XoByte website to test of WOL works wakes my PC up just fine but the MiniSpark is unable to wake it up.

                          What happens is that Windows can discover and use the MiniSpark and input 1's power state to standby/shutdown the pc but it wouldn't wake up via the MiniSpark. When I start the laptop back up my NIC is disabled by Windows with a code 43 ("Windows has stopped this device because it has reported problems") then I have to delete the NIC (nForce Networking Controller) from device manager and reboot and even then, it's only able to re-enable the NIC when the minispark is unplugged.

                          I've tried booting up with the MiniSpark attached/powered-on/etc... Tried a few versions of drivers for my NIC, all with the same results. My next step is to set up the whole shebang on my Thinkpad with Windows XP and see how that goes, if all is well I'll probably just buy a WOL-enabled USB NIC to go between the MiniSpark and my Carputer... No one ever said this was supposed to be an easy hobby

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by SupraDan88t View Post
                            Yep, searching for a ground issue got me on the right path - The problem was actually a faulty 12v bench power supply that's only putting out a dirty 7 volts...

                            I've got other issues at the moment but I think/hope they're PC related.
                            The app from the XoByte website to test of WOL works wakes my PC up just fine but the MiniSpark is unable to wake it up.

                            What happens is that Windows can discover and use the MiniSpark and input 1's power state to standby/shutdown the pc but it wouldn't wake up via the MiniSpark. When I start the laptop back up my NIC is disabled by Windows with a code 43 ("Windows has stopped this device because it has reported problems") then I have to delete the NIC (nForce Networking Controller) from device manager and reboot and even then, it's only able to re-enable the NIC when the minispark is unplugged.

                            I've tried booting up with the MiniSpark attached/powered-on/etc... Tried a few versions of drivers for my NIC, all with the same results. My next step is to set up the whole shebang on my Thinkpad with Windows XP and see how that goes, if all is well I'll probably just buy a WOL-enabled USB NIC to go between the MiniSpark and my Carputer... No one ever said this was supposed to be an easy hobby
                            One issue our customers have encountered with Win7 is that StandBy and Hibernate can shut down the NIC controller on certain machines (this renders WOL unusable since the NIC is off). Using Sleep on the other hand will leave the NIC powered. We will be releasing a SW update shortly that adds Sleep as a new option for the Shutdown Action.

                            This is the first time I've heard of the NIC being completely disabled even after manually powering up. Keep us updated and let me know if I can help in any way.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              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.

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