Moving a PC into the Attic

Actually doing it

The trunking (click to see bigger picture)I wanted to run the cables in some sort of neat trunking, but the stuff sold at my local B&Q centre was barely big enough for one cable let alone all the ones I had to deal with. Additionally, I wanted to space them out a bit to give the VGA cable as much breathing room as possible to avoid any possible interference.

Eventually I found some professional (trade) maxi-trunking in various sizes; I chose 100mm width x 50mm depth as this gave me plenty of room. A single PC would not need this much space and 50mm x 30mm would be enough. It comes with a snap on lid, can be cut easily using a sharp saw and can be over painted with your favourite emulsion. Mine now sits in the corner of the room, painted the same colour as the office walls and looks as though it's always been there. It was fun getting a 3 meter length of this home in my Astra I can tell you!

Bear in mind that when you get to the ceiling that there may be a joist the other side of the plaster board; I stuck a sharp screwdriver through the ceiling just to test the ground. I was fairly lucky and only had a small "offset" (like an upside down L) to make to avoid drilling right through a joist. It's probably the longest part of the entire job, but getting this right was important to me as otherwise my wife would be very unimpressed!

The pictures probably show more than I can describe so we'll just say that with a bit of patience and taking my time (I took a day off work) it all went incredibly smoothly.


Turning on the PC

Imagine, for a moment, that your PC is now relocated in the attic (or the next bedroom, or wherever), with all the cabling in place described previously. There's just one intsy wintsy tiny problem. How do you switch on your PC?

There are two solutions; one of which I adopted for my daughter's PC, and one I plumped for regarding my own set up.

Option One

Maplin sell a Velleman two channel radio frequency transmitter and receiver kit for about £20. The transmitter fits into the supplied key fob; the receiver has to be cased up by you. You can set the receiver to either permanently switch on when a key is pressed (e.g. like switching on a light) and then switch it off again when it is next pressed, or you can get it to only switch on for as long as the transmitter key is pressed (like your TV remote control).

The latter option is ideal for switching on a PC. In case you don't know, the PC switch is not a real switch like a light switch. It is a momentary switch that just tells the power supply in the computer to switch on the PC. When you release the switch the contact is broken. So for my purposes, pressing the remote control would operate a remote switch only for as long as the remote key was pressed.

Now for the hard part. The really hard part. I'm not kidding. Let's assume you have built the two channel kit from Maplin. You have boxed up the receiver in a nice case, connected it to a 12 volt power supply and when you press the key fob switches you hear a satisfying "CLICK" as the relays make contact. Great! How do you now connect the two wires from the kit to the on/off button on the PC.

There is only one way really. You have to solder the kit switch wires to the wires coming from the switch in the PC. You'll find the existing wires go from the switch to a small (tiny) plug that connects it to the motherboard. You have to break into those wires, connect the additional wires from your remote control unit, heat shrink it back up again and Robert is your father's brother.

This is NOT scary, but then again I've been building electronic kits since I was 14 years old, and I've been building PCs for the last 5 years or more. If this is your FIRST time then you will be really worried. I found that writing everything down helped clarify the though processes. It also showed how simple it was.

You do the same thing for the other button: this just control the reset function. To be quite honest, I almost skipped wiring up the reset button. How often do I need to use it? Pressing the power button for more than 4 seconds turns off the PC anyway. I did it because I could but I understand if you skipped wiring up the reset button! [Note: since going 'live', 3 weeks ago, I have not used the reset button once].


Option Two

The other way of doing this is to run new cables from your office into the attic and connect them directly to the PC's on/off and reset buttons. At the same time you can run further cables so you can see the power light and hard disk light. You need four pairs of two cables to do it this way: exactly the same number of cables as in a single CAT-5 LAN cable.

I went the extra mile and wired in a 9 pin plug so that the cables inside the computer could be connected to the corresponding 9 pin socket using a spare PCI slot. The photos show the full story. If you understand this article then you will understand the value of ensuring your cables can be unplugged in this manner! Remember that I did it this way for 3 PCs and the first way for my daughter's PC. It was (sort of) fun! And it worked!

Problems? You think I had problems? Well, a couple. Read on...

Full Photo Gallery available here