The third – and probably last post on our Minton renovation one year on – unless there are more things to say later in the years to come! Previous post here.

Children’s Bedroom double-beds: this was one of the key design features in our renovation project 18 months ago, and while Peter hasn’t moved into the room yet (he still sleeps each night in his cot currently in the Study room), the upper bed here is at least one of his frequent play areas. The invisible grills in the room have given us relative peace of mind since without them, it really wouldn’t take any effort to climb from the upper bed out of the window. The multiple storage bays built into the bedroom have also been really helpful in keep both children’s clothes out of sight too.

+1/Study Room configuration: we’re waiting for Peter to ‘graduate’ from his cot so that he can vacate the +1/Study Room. After which the first thing that’s going in is one of those large bean bags.:)

Decking: we didn’t write about our decking considerations and final decisions made during our 2014 renovation project, but deciding on the basic material type, material color and also vendor to go with was one of the harder renovation decisions we made last year. Briefly, there are two broad types of decking material: natural wood (e.g. ironwood, Chengal, teak) and wood plastic composites, which basically is a synthetic wood type.The considerations we had in mind included:

The amount of direct sunlight that would hit the decking

The amount of rain that will hit the decking during each year end’s monsoon

The kind of furniture and also usage that decking would be put through

How much maintenance we were prepared to keep up with the decking’s outward appearance

How the decking would be installed

Cost (of course)

From anecdotal observations, most people seem to prefer natural wood decking since it doesn’t have that odd artificial look that’s inherent in WPCs – you know, analogous to computer-generated faces against real human faces that we see in the most Terminator film – and with natural wood, you can at least re-sand and varnish periodically and the decking would look like new again. Still, we read and also saw through pictures worrying on either side, and don’t think we could really finally say which material type is better all-round. We finally decided on an Australian-branded decking type sold and installed by a local reseller, on account of the very long warranty the reseller was providing, the overall package price, method of installation (no drilling involved), and also that the method of installation permitted wider than normal gaps. A note on the later: we went with a larger than normal gap of 5mm between planks. It resulted in a somewhat less pleasing look visually, but also provided a much better water drainage system when the inevitable monsoon rain cycle begins.

Gap between deck planks.

Gap between deck planks.

More than 18 months, and the decking has fared pretty well with a few caveats. None of the planks have warped, chipped, broken etc. but there has been surface scratches and plant acid burns into the material as a result of our usage – basically the children’s toy vehicles running forcefully over the decking, and the many potted plants excreting fluids that over time burn into the deck planks. Not enough for the decking to look unsightly at all, but I guess it’s just the nature of the material.

Solar Film: the solar film still looks solidly in place, and we don’t even notice that it’s there anymore. And the apartment interior is still reasonably bright enough for us.

One of those very Singapore-an things to do on weekends is to check out new homes in new apartment projects. There’s been a large number of such new developments in the north-east side of the island. Heck; our old home at The Rivervale at one point saw six such new developments all in eyeshot! Visiting showrooms is a great way to see what apartment developers are up to, but there’s always that little sense of unease when we get tailed by property agents during a visit and routinely have to fake our guest names and contact numbers just so that we don’t get harassed by the agents later on.

A friend at work had just received keys to her new home @ Bartley Residences, a 702 unit project that just TOPed a few months back, and invited us to go by to take a look over the recent weekend. Which we did, and here are some of our quick observations – especially in comparison with our (relatively) new home @ The Minton. Just casual impressions too since our encounter here was just an hour or so visit and exploring the grounds. Not commenting on the finishing and the general workmanship at BR either, since we only visited one unit. But from what I’m hearing, the general quality of that isn’t different from what Minton residents had too at the point of key collections.

Bartley Residences (BR)’s location is a key advantage and more central than that of Minton’s. It sits directly opposite a train station and Maris Stella High School, one of the brand name boys’ schools. The wife quips that even persons who stay under 1 KM will need to ballot just to get their kids in. It’s also just a couple minutes drive away from a CTE connection. Super convenient.

On the flip-side though; the major road that connects to the sideroad leading into the condo is also a major artery that connects residents from the East to the more central areas of Toa Payoh, Bishan, Ang Mo Kio and beyond in Bukit Timah. We go by the road occasionally on weekend peak hours, and routinely will hit slow-traffic. I wonder if this bottleneck is gonna be a source of daily frustration for residents trying to get home! The Minton on the other hand isn’t exactly near an MRT station – 12 minutes of brisk walking is involved to get to either Kovan or Serangoon stations – and isn’t near a connection to the expressway either. But it does run beside a fairly major main road, which – fortunately – isn’t congested… yet (?!).

The side-road that leads into the condo is also pretty narrow, with at least one of two sides occupied by landed property. Not in itself a problem, since the condo sits among low density housing, but the narrowness of the side-road might pose challenges. We observed a lot of cars parked on one side of the road – and lots of empty or re-purposed driveways in the private houses. Once the main body of residents move into the condo, the side-road leading in and out of the condo onto the main road might get real crowded.

There are 702 units at Bartley Residences, compared to the 1,145 units @ Minton. The latter can feel crowded sometimes, though that feeling is somewhat alleviated by that the blocks are at least spaced relatively far apart facing-wise.

Tranquil World @ Minton, where our block faces.

The condo sits on a gentle incline which the developer has employed to good effect. We explored the Kid’s splash pool and were wowed by the views the deck offered: a pleasingly far view to Maris Stella High and Bartley Secondary Schools, and well beyond too.

The condo feels cosy, especially in how the pool-facing blocks hug the pool’s circumference, with good use of plants to and greenery to provide a lush garden pool feel to it. The Minton main pool in contrast is more functional and probably has to fit multiple intentions – including pool-side BBQs, the garden awnings, and also for lots of kids running about with pool-side toys.  The BR main pool is also literally right at the door for the patio units, which might be a good or bad thing depending on one’s expectations of privacy. The Rivervale’s poolside patio units had two barrier types – a walkway, and also taller than human height flora – such that pool users would never be able to peer into homes.

The Main Pool @ BR.

The Main Pool @ BR.

Hammocks!

Hammocks @ BR!

I thought that the main pool seemed relatively small for the number of units it has to support, while Minton is at the other extreme with four separate pools – a pretty large main, lap, heated, and children’s – and you can imagine the ruckus on weekends at all four pools. Not really idyllic living anymore LOL.

The general BR compound is beautifully landscaped too, and Ling especially liked the numerous little relaxation corners where residents can hide out and chill. The planted flora/greenery is already of sufficient height to provide a degree of privacy to patio units, unlike the Minton units back in 2014, though by this point now the flora has grown to sufficient heights.

I like the general aesthetics of the blocks. BR’s blocks are a mix of white, browns with embedded design patterns that run along the entire height of blocks. Not quite like Minton’s more industrial look of concrete, steel and glass.

The Bodhi Tree-facing blocks @ BR.

The Bodhi Tree-facing blocks @ BR.

Structure of steel, glass, wood and stone @ Minton.

No bay windows at BR! Bay windows are awful for already small rooms – a room constraint we had to think very hard to get around @ Minton.

No planter boxes at BR too and hence no wasted space on the balconies.

The developer-supplied washing machine and dryer stack is elegantly tucked and hidden away inside the kitchen. Definitely beats the experience we had squeezing our brains on how to fit our own laundry stack into our yard toilet last year.

There’s a huge tree that sits on one side of the compound, which is a protected specimen that’s hundreds of years old. The tree looks awesomely huge and I felt like a midget standing beneath it. Certainly one of the key highlights of BR. Several blocks surround this tree, and also a further-on view of low-rise houses yonder too. Very serene! And right beside it is a children’s playground with several fixtures – something that’s sorely lacking at Minton. We do get a crochet lawn beside the children’s treehouse – the lawn of which has been re-purposed to a mini-soccer pitch / BBQ extended area / picnic lawn / children’s badminton field / playing catching field / morning Qigong area – and of late, even a drone launch pad.

A dedicated Children's Playground @ BR.

A dedicated Children’s Playground @ BR.

The Bodhi Tree @ BR.

We saw just one vehicle entrance and exit point at BR, compared to the multiple points of vehicular entry/exit @ Minton. Three in the latter! Good in the sense that it spreads things out quite a bit, bad because the access control can be uneven across all points of entrance/egress. The manned main guardhouse and vehicular gantry at BR is also placed exactly where it naturally should be: right at the property’s main entrance.

There’s a picturesque cascading waterfall adjacent to the main pool, and deck chairs that are immersed into the shallow end around the pool too. Very neat! The pool is also surrounded by blocks and quite private, like at The Rivervale. The Minton pools are relatively more exposed.

The rooms in the sample apartment we visited were rather small. In the oft chance that the sample isn’t representative, the apartment sizes reported on other sites are also telling. E.g.: a Bartley Residences 3 bedroom size is ~1,022 sqf compared to Minton’s ~1216 sqf, and the 3+1 configuration (ours) is 1,162 sqf at BR compared to 1,495 sqf at Minton. These aren’t trivial differences in sizes and seem to be the norm for newly built condos. I wonder how much smaller can apartment developers shrink units until they essentially become unlivable! Part of the generous floor area of Minton units though is taken up by those massive balconies in most units here, with the joke being that our front balcony is larger than our bedrooms.

The sliding door-type of wardrobes in each room is also more practical than the swung out wardrobe doors @ Minton, which posed further constraints on the furniture we could fit into the bedrooms.

The final verdict? Hannah liked Bartley Residences, and said “We should come here more often and swim in the pool!”. :)

Hannah approves!

Hannah approves!

 

Continuing on a widely spaced thread on our Minton home, post-renovation one year on. The last post in the series is here.

If there is any one aspect of our home renovation that has not worked well, it’s been our choice of supplier for the LED downlights. We picked them up from a large supplier located in the Ubi area, and had them installed by our ID’s general electrician. As I recall it, the first units started failing barely 3 months into our moving in, and along the way, several more did. Our initial experiences of the LED downlights are here, and here.

I’ll have to do an accurate tally of the units that failed, but here are the failure numbers off the top of my head:

downlights

The 8 failures are over the 18 month stretch, and I think roughly split between the LED light emitting unit, and the driver unit. As I recall it, the first four failures (all 3-in-1s) occurred in the first year, and were exchanged without complaint at the warehouse. The remaining ones zonked out about this year – after their guarantee period – which meant we had to look for options.

Clarifying our usage too: the lights are not heavily used. In fact, two of the dead units were in a part of the living hall and were rarely switched on. One of our Minton neighbors got their LED downlights from the same supplier and experienced failures of their 3-in-1 lights too.

We scouted around for alternatives, and eventually settled on a Qoo10 supplier who has a new warehouse over in Woodlands. This supplier has a web site – which gave us a slight bit more confidence than the previous supplier which had nothing of this sort, though the web site still states their old Jurong warehouse address. We’ve had enough bad experiences with 3-in-1 types now, unfair as it might sound to tarnish all lights of this type because of one bad experience with a supplier. The new units, according to their supplier, have some components made in the US while assembly is in China.

Pictures of the new units:

xxx

The 6200K temperature of these Cool Daylight units meant that they are very slightly warmer than the units they are replacing. We ended up replacing all the 3-in-1 units in the study with these single-color types, and keeping the 3-in-1s that were still working as spares.

xxx

Output watt is the same at 12W, and size too. The panel design though is different – though one would have to be looking hard up at the ceiling lights to tell!

xxx

The output here at 24-48V DC is slightly higher than the old driver types of 21-45V DC though rated current is identical at 300mA.

This time round too, we picked up spares so that we can replace them on our own if it comes to that later. Funnily; these replacement lights at about $19 each cost less than the old ones at $28. Our neighbor – who shared the similarly bad experiences with the old LED lights – helped us install the replacements, and judging from what’s involved, I’m fairly confident that I’d be able to do the same later if I need to. Oddly though – the traumatic experience our ID’s general electrician had last year when installing the LEDs seem unfounded. Our neighbor was able to mount/dismount the old lights with relative ease.

Oh well. Hope these new ones work better this time round. And if not, at least we have spares to replace several more.:)

It’s just past a full year since our Minton renovation project ended, and I thought it’d be fun to do a retrospective review of how the new home has been since it’s now lived-in for a year. Most things and design decisions have worked very well – surprisingly! – but there’s been a couple of others that with the benefit of hindsight, haven’t worked as well. Long post, so split into a couple of parts – and starting off with the things that have worked well.

Fans: One big difference between our old Rivervale home against our Minton place now is in our type of fans. Our current place is already a little more airy than the Rivervale one – though this is also seasonal – but after the frequent tripping over of electrical cables lying about on the floor from standing fans in our old home, we went all-out for ceiling fans in the Minton a year ago. The Crestar fans in the Living, Master and Children’s rooms are still working as well as they did when first installed and providing plenty of air circulation. The Fanco 36″ in the Workroom remains under-powered – a mistake in choice back then that’s necessitate turning on the air-conditioning a little more frequently there just to keep things comfortable in the room. The fans do occasionally make a bit more din when our part-time cleaners clean the fan-blades, but they’re not causing enough ruckus at this point to bother us – thankfully!

Clotheslines: A year ago we were wondering if this was way-overkill to install eight ceiling clotheslines in the yard balcony on top of the clothes rack we got from Ikea, but they have turned out to be tremendously useful, given the amount of laundry we do. We also realized how lucky we were to have purchased a unit with a yard balcony of decent length which could be our dedicated laundry area.

Two stacks of four tiered clotheslines - not counting the

Two stacks of four tiered clotheslines – not counting the rack below it.

Work Room Tables: This was another risky design requirement we made last year – how and if we should squeeze 3 of us in a room to do actual work. At the moment, the configuration has worked well enough, and we removed the rollers on our work room chairs too so there’s no chance of chairs slamming into each other. Hannah also seems versatile enough to do her homework anywhere in the house.

Invisible Grills: The grills have also been as they were a year ago; the cables still seem tense, and no signs of rust (yet?) too. We did hear of a neighbor going with the same grill vendor who didn’t have as much luck though – the grills showed signs of corrosion. The one gripe we have is pretty minor – the plastic caps to cover holes along the grill frames have been dropping off, like this:

Cap gone - duh.

Cap gone – duh.

Solar Film: Food for thought though: whether Films are of any real perceptible benefit might come down to whether you’ve experienced the house without Solar Films installed first. We did for a couple of months last year and can say with certainty that the Films will help. That said, we were never under any illusions that the films all around the house were gonna turn an apartment experiencing afternoon heat into a chilled igloo. At this time of the year now, the afternoon sun is shining directly into the wide part of the house, heating up the children’s bedroom (below), the workroom and to a lesser degree, the Master room. The films do help by bringing the general temperature a couple of degrees down – though it’s still not enough to make the rooms bearable for working and living in the afternoon heat without turning on additional air-conditioning.

The children's room on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with the full 1600 hrs sun blasting into the room.

The children’s room on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with the full 1600 hrs sun blasting into the room.

Front Balcony: We had grand and lofty ideas about how to use the fairly large front balcony space before moving in – and that included a general lounging around area and also children’s play area. But given the general humidity of the island in general, the Front Balcony has turned into our little stretch of green for Ling’s plants, and also for drying items that need direct sunlight (the yard balcony where the laundry normally goes does not experience direct sunlight for the most part).

Multi-function balcony LOL.

Multi-function balcony LOL.

More notes in the next post, soon.:)

One key decision we had to make this year about our Minton home was what we’d do with our current and first family home @ The Rivervale. Truth be told, most people around us advised us not to sell our old property but to rent it out instead, as the long-term returns were higher. For instance, the rent alone from the home would have paid off our monthly installment of our home loan for Minton, and with spare change too. On the other hand, we (or rather, it was mostly just me) didn’t want the hassle nor potential complications of renting out an apartment, and wanted to be debt free sooner to that we could start significantly investing in our children’s education funds.

We finally decided to sell away our Rivervale home only in February this year – about a month before moving to Minton. The next decision we made was not to sell away the old place before we had properly moved and settled into our Minton home. Much of it lied in that we didn’t want to rush through the sale process. We wanted a good sale at a price we were comfortable with, and to owners who would, hopefully, treat the place with the same respect and care the first owners did before they sold it to us in 2006.

Unfortunately, our delaying the sale of our old home also meant that the general price trends of resale homes were depreciating over the last months. It wasn’t a disconcerting drop fortunately, but not small enough on the other hand to make us laugh it off.

We didn’t spend a lot of time in our hunt for the right property agent to sell our old home. We simply collected a stack of publicity collateral various agents had been stuffing into our mailboxes, shortlisted a couple of them (don’t laugh now – but we went mostly with how nice they looked in their pictures!), invited them over for discussions, saw their portfolio, then decided. Of the three agents we interviewed, one was nice and probably competent but seemed somewhat unfamiliar with the nuances of Rivervale units or the general area. Another was quite aggressive, had a fabulous track record, but didn’t quite endeared herself to us. The third – but actually first agent we spoke to – was – a jovial and bubbly lady who was apparently specialising in the sale of Rivervale units. As it turned out too, her daughter was Hannah’s friend and bus-mate in school too. A lucky match. We negotiated the asking commission, decided on the targeted yet achievable sale price, signed off on the exclusive arrangement to sell, and went with it in early June.

To our agent’s credit, and probably also because she had a well-honed system (i.e. do A, then B, then C, then D etc.), there were quite a few viewings over the next few weekends, and she kept us posted each time on these viewing arrangements. The actual confirmed sale of our unit to a family came almost exactly a month later with the new buyer exercising the Option to Purchase. We were alright with the counter-proposed sale price offered by the buyer, appointed the lawyers at our own end, and began the sales paperwork. The sales transaction would take three months to complete.

Almost two months have passed since that point, and earlier this week, we just almost finally cleared everything in our Rivervale home. We arranged for the handymen who work the condo to come clear off the bulky items – the Ikea sofa, the handed-me-down TV console, our master bedroom frame, the IKEA bookshelves and chairs, the Zen-like dining table etc. Thereafter, we took the opportunity to take a final round of pictures to remember our first home. As Ling mused; seeing our old home bare off furniture reminds us of what the place looked like 8 years ago too. Peter will be too young to remember the place, but Hannah might – and there will certainly be pictures to remind her!

Hannah (and Peter's) old room. Hannah likes her Minton room more.

Hannah (and Peter’s) old room. Hannah likes her Minton room more.

The living room sans furniture.

The living room sans furniture.

Thankfully, our new Minton home doesn't exhibit such strong wall colors!

Thankfully, our new Minton home doesn’t exhibit such strong wall colors!

The bulk furniture at the basement carpark awaiting for the handymen to cart them over to the bulk disposal point. Most of these in the picture here were from Ikea.

The bulk furniture at the basement carpark awaiting for the handymen to cart them over to the bulk disposal point. Most of these in the picture here were from Ikea.

We’ll miss our Rivervale home; the cool breezes we enjoyed in the living room everyday, the great neighbors, the large space the condo sat on, and the general serenity in the condo’s amenities and common areas. Hope the new owners take care of the place!

11. September 2014 · Comments Off on Kids @ 17mm, 25mm etc. – Part 23 · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues, New Home · Tags: , , , ,

Another three weeks since my last post on our two kids. The most significant development between the two is that Peter is now – for all purposes and intent – mobile. Yep, he’s able to confidently prop himself up and briskly baby-stomp around the house now, and only occasionally losing balance. That’s added a new spin to home safety, since one of us parents need to keep a loose eye on him when he’s awake and scurrying around our home – it’s not entirely baby proof yet – and it helps that Hannah is like a Meekrat, playing sentry and alerting us loudly if she sees her baby brother doing something dangerous!

The two kids have been taking turns becoming mildly ill over the last fortnight though. Nothing serious and just minor colds and some coughing on Peter’s part, but it might be again due to the changing weather over the last month from warm and humid to somewhat cool most days.

We’ve also been finding ourselves lightly comparing between our two kids at similar ages and developmental ages. Peter is of course a lot stronger as a baby and louder than Hannah was at the same age years ago. Must be a baby boy thing. Hannah on the other hand picked up simple words a lot quicker. In fact, at 1 year 2 months, we recall that she was able to call either of us, while Peter at this point is just managing “da… da”, presumably in reference to his daddy. Similarly, we had our small group friends over at our home last Friday, and observed that comparing him to another baby boy who was younger by a few months, Peter still seems… baby-ish, while the other boy was looking distinctly more mature!

Our small group gathering during the mid-autumn lantern festival. The baby boy to Peter's left is younger than he is!

Our small group gathering during the mid-autumn lantern festival. The baby boy to Peter’s left is younger than he is!

Dinner at Tim Ho Wan, the famed dim sum restaurant. During the restaurant chain's opening in Singapore, people lined up for hours just to get a seat. The crowds have tapered off, so we were able to walk right in without waiting for am early weekday dinner.

Dinner at Tim Ho Wan, the famed dim sum restaurant. During the restaurant chain’s opening in Singapore, people lined up for hours just to get a seat. The crowds have tapered off, so we were able to walk right in without waiting for an early weekday dinner.

The two kids at Hannah's kindergarten mid-autumn festival celebrations in Punggol.

The two kids at Hannah’s kindergarten mid-autumn festival celebrations in Punggol.

We haven't previously brought Hannah to an indoor playground, and finally did so earlier this week. This is at Pollywogs @ East Coast. The place has the usual suite of kiddie-play areas, is attractively priced, and parents can accompany their kids without additional charge.

We haven’t previously brought Hannah to an indoor playground, and finally did so earlier this week. This is at Pollywogs @ East Coast. The place has the usual suite of kiddie-play areas, is attractively priced, and parents can accompany their kids without additional charge.

Build sandcastles at East Coast park after Pollywogs!

Build sandcastles at East Coast park after Pollywogs!

Getting Peter to learn to drink from a sippy cup. Ling thought this might help Peter transit to learn to speak words.

Getting Peter to learn to drink from a sippy cup. Ling thought this might help Peter transit to learn to speak words.

18. August 2014 · Comments Off on Kids @ 17mm, 25mm etc. – Part 22 · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues, New Home · Tags: , , , ,

The weather has turned – surprisingly – cool since last week after the National Day weekend, with flash storms occurring at several points during the week. Quite interesting to think about it, since just over a year ago, we were pretty much living in daily smog, and for some reason, the haze has not returned for the most part to our island. It did hit a few parts of our neighbors up north in Malaysia, but judging from the news, it still wasn’t up to the extremely unhealthy levels of June 2013 even then. There are still a few dengue clusters about the island, but thankfully too, our area in Hougang has dropped off the dengue hotspot list since the last fortnight too.

Today and the next 3 days of weather. This is considered pleasantly cooling by local standards of humidity!

Today and the next 3 days of weather. This is considered pleasantly cooling by local standards of humidity!

On the personal front; my detailed health screening returned the other week to report that I was in good health at the age of 42, for the most part. Because the report also noted that I was approaching high-blood pressure and also have high (bad) cholesterol. Quite a timely wake-up call, because I resolved immediately thereafter to exercise regularly and eat healthily. For the former; I tried swimming at the Minton lap pool, but unfortunately, the pool gets frequently misused by residents who treat the pool as a water play ground for young kids rather than an exercise pool. Next best option; stairs-climbing! I’ve been walking up from the ground to the top floor at our apartment block at least 3-4 times a week now, and have been steadily improving the number of iterations I do a complete cycle. Started off with 2 iterations and I’m now up to 4 – the latter of which makes it roughly about 56 floors of stairs. Good stuff!

As for our two kids, we have a few developmental notes to make since the last fortnight too.

Hannah having fun with the Nikon Coolpix L29 we got her for her last birthday. She might just have the photographer gene, as some of her pictures are pretty nicely framed! We'll post up some of her shots soon enough.

Hannah having fun with the Nikon Coolpix L29 we got her for her last birthday. She might just have the photographer gene, as some of her pictures are pretty nicely framed! We’ll post up some of her shots soon enough.

Peter has got to the point where he can squirm free from the seatbelt restraints. The situation got so bad that on a couple of occasions, we had to stop the car by the roadside, and carry him out to sit with us in the front compartment.  Since then, we've reversed this seat location so that it faces front now, and added an additional restraining strap (courtesy of Ikea, and sewed in by Ling) so that he can't easily get free from the car seat belt... until he figures out how to unbuckle himself altogether!

Peter has got to the point where he can squirm free from the seatbelt restraints. The situation got so bad that on a couple of occasions, we had to stop the car by the roadside, and carry him out to sit with us in the front compartment. Since then, we’ve reversed this seat location so that it faces front now, and added an additional restraining strap (courtesy of Ikea, and sewed in by Ling) so that he can’t easily get free from the car seat belt… until he figures out how to unbuckle himself altogether!

Celebrated mom's 71st birthday over the National Day weekend. With all her grandkids in this picture.

Celebrated mom’s 71st birthday over the National Day weekend. With all her grandkids in this picture.

We also started Hannah on introductory Ballet lessons too. Our Saturday weekend mornings are now spent hanging around Ang Mo Kio central while she's at her classes. She enjoys the classes tremendously, and we'll see how far she'll want to take this new found love.

We also started Hannah on introductory Ballet lessons too. Our Saturday weekend mornings are now spent hanging around Ang Mo Kio central while she’s at her classes. She enjoys the classes tremendously, and we’ll see how far she’ll want to take this new found love.

Another one of those 'in' activities now for kids. Ling bought her a large jar of Pyssla beads from Ikea. She's put together simple patterns and have been proudly presenting them to everyone around her.

Another one of those ‘in’ activities now for kids. Ling bought her a large jar of Pyssla beads from Ikea. She’s put together simple patterns and have been proudly presenting them to everyone around her.

Started Peter too on a variety of fruits, including banana and apple slices. He's apparently more interested in upsetting the apple cart here then just eating the slices!

Started Peter too on a variety of fruits, including banana and apple slices. He’s apparently more interested in upsetting the apple cart here then just eating the slices!

Earlier post in this two-parter here.

A desktop PC would have easily been able to hold a solution that was quick, offer storage solutions as large as its case can hold. Except that if the thing was possibly gonna go into a TV console, I was going to be limited by how big the case could be; especially along the height and depth dimensions. Of the major casing manufacturers, many offer their own unique line of mini-ITX casings. After a lot of exploration, the ones I shortlisted included the Elite 110 and also the SilverStone Sugo SG05. Of the two cases, the Elite 110 was a little taller and wider – which were fine – but more seriously, deeper – which while would have meant a very tight fit into the TV cabinet with very little clearance for cables. The SG05 was a much more comfy fit, though also a less-widely carried model at Sim Lim shops. Very nicely too was that the SG05 was able to hold video cards of up to 10″ in length. It wouldn’t fit the fastest cards that money can buy, but pretty decent solutions nonetheless of the GTX X60 variety.

The rig as configured from existing and new parts from Sim Lim were:

Silverstone Sugo SG05 Mini-ITX Black Casing. The casing wasn’t of the screwless variety, The casing offered space for an SSD, a 3.5 inch HDD, and even a slim DVD bay (unused after assembly).

Silverstone SFX Series ST45SF-G 450W Gold series. Not much options here, as I needed a slim-profile PSU. The casing actually comes bundled with a similar wattage PSU but of the bronze rating, but that was out of stock too. So, paid a little more to get a more power-efficient and higher-rated PSU.

Intel i5-4460. Slightly less quick than the i5-4670 that’s in the desktop rig. I’m not intending to do photo editing or video rendering on this machine though, so a slower i5 was just fine.

Xigmatek Praeton LD963 Low-profile CPU Cooler.  A normal full-sized CPU cooler wouldn’t have fitted in!

Asus H97I-Plus Mini-ITX motherboard. I was originally intending for a H87i motherboard but that wasn’t available at the store I was picking up the bundle from, so went with the newer and very marginally more expensive H97i board.

Kingston DDR3 1600 MHz 8GB RAM. Went with the cheapest 1600 MHz value-RAM I could find.

Western Digital 4TB Green HDD. I’ve had a lot of luck with the Western Digital Green HDDs, compared to the couple of Seagate Barracudas that all failed because of (apparently) batch issues at manufacturing. I swapped this HDD for an older 2TB drive from my desktop rig though – 2TB should suffice for the moment. Added one of my spare OCZ 160GB SSDs to it as the primary bootup drive.

Palit 2GB DDR5 GTX760. The same card to my desktop rig.

Microsoft All-in-One Media keyboard. Compact keyboard with a built-in trackpad. Would had been perfect – were it not for that there’s no function-lock key. Arrgggh.

Casings in this class are very compact, which meant very tight quarters to mount components, cables and connectors around. Still, after a couple of hours installing Windows 8.1, and transferring nearly a TB of family video and pictures, the unit was good to go.

The SG05.

Installing stuff onto the primary drive of the SG05.

Cable management? What cable management LOL.

Cable management? What cable management LOL.

Installing Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, just for the heck of it. Check out the download speed: not quite 1 Gbps as the connection has gone through two routers before reaching this PC, but very good for our needs.

Installing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, just for the heck of it. Check out the download speed: not quite 1 Gbps and just a shade under half that as the connection has gone through two routers before reaching this PC – but still very good for our family’s bandwidth needs.

The rig all ready to go, and sitting inside our bedroom TV console.

The rig sitting inside our bedroom TV console.

The first TV that gets the honors in hooking-up is our Master Bedroom’s TV panel – the old Panasonic Viera plasma 46″ from our Rivervale home. Oddly, though the Viera supports 1920×1080 resolution, I couldn’t get it to display at that resolution without losing about 5% of its left and right edges, resulting in a very odd though resolution of 1768×992 resolution. Tinkering around the Viera options though revealed a 16:9 Overscan option, and disabling that from the default enabled setting sorted the 1080p problem nicely.

All done and finally ready for an Assassin’s Creed IV: Blag Flag stress test.:)

04. August 2014 · Comments Off on Computer Assembly – 2014 Edition – Part 2 · Categories: All Posts, At Home, New Home, Toys & Technology

Long-post, so split into two parts.

Back at the end of last year, I did my every couple of years routine of assembling a new desktop rig to see me through the next stretch. That PC now sits comfortably in its own corner at our workroom, and has worked very well for 8 months now without any issues. Interestingly, when I did a routine check on its internals, there was noticeably less accumulated dust and dirt inside it than I’d expected. Which made me wonder if it’s because our Minton home is less dusty than our old Rivervale place. In any case, at some point, I’d be thinking very hard about making a couple of custom dust filters and putting it at the vents of this machine.

Another PC project I’d been thinking of putting together since moving in has been a PC that would be connected to one of our two flat-screen TVs. The motivation for this came about when Hannah started expressing interest at the start of the year to see photos and videos of herself when she was a toddler. Now, most media players can do that to a degree, but format support remains iffy, and the user-interface is also clunky. Forget about scrolling through several thousands of pictures in each folder, and file searches too. The PS3 fares somewhat better with its support of video and picture formats but not by much. So, this home pictures and video rig would had to be based off a PC configuration and running a traditional desktop operating system.

The main challenge though was figuring out a suitable size for it. My requirements for this rig varied over the months, and they went something like this:

Compact enough to fit into our customized TV console deck, or sit on top of it.

Can run full HD content well.

Offer internal storage options of reasonably large capacities (as in a couple of TBs), and preferably chassis space for both an SDD as primary drive and a separate HDD for media.

Can be dual-purposed to run 3D games with some future-proofing.

The last requirement one was especially tricky, as 3D games require decent graphic processing unit cards, and those things are not small, and more significantly, require significant cooling apparatus and ventilation space to keep them operating optimally too. The PC market has seen a selection of miniature PCs, especially from lines like Asus EEE PCs, Zotac Mini-PCs, and Gigabyte Brixes. The EEE PCs are very stylish, compact and would have been a pleasing and futuristic accessory that would go well with the cabinets. But while their line of machines would not be able to drive anything beyond simple flash-based games.  The Zotac and Gigabyte Brix mini-PCs offer a decent range of configurations and choices, with their top-line solution available here being rigs that include an i5/i7 processors alongside Iris Pro 5200 graphics. I found the Zotac models rather drab-looking externally, and favored the Gigabyte models for their strong paint jobs for the casings.

A Gigabyte Brix in  exciting red!

A Gigabyte Brix in exciting red!

A Zotac - not as interesting looking.

A Zotac – not as interesting looking.

The Iris Pro solution was interesting, as it’s widely regarded as one of the current quickest integrated video solutions for small form-factor PCs. It would have run current 3D games somewhat well but wasn’t especially future proof against upcoming content – and more worryingly, the early reviews of the Gigabyte Brix models with the Iris Pro noted serious heat and noise issues. Gigabyte had just announced a new Brix model that would feature a quicker and dedicated graphics card based off the GTX760, but that model wasn’t available here yet – and judging from the prices of the American pricing, would have probably cost about S$1.5K once memory and storage solutions had been included in. These mini-PC models too typically also offer a single-bay for storage options: which would have meant that I’d have to go with a 2.5 inch HDD (slower program and operating system access than an SSD), and also limited to 2TB in capacity too currently.

More in the next post!

 

Been another long while since I did a post on our kids! So, lots of pictures in this update post. I think we’re blessed in that both Hannah and Peter’s birthdays are in the month of June – which nicely coincides with the stipulated school holidays in the public school calendar. We celebrated both their birthdays at home; with friends in Hannah’s case, and with our larger family for Peter. Hannah is of course at an age now where she recognizes the significance of having a birthday, and that it’s not just about having more presents and toys to play with. Peter on the other hand was completely nonplus about it and probably wondered what all the fuss was about when the family all gathered around him for the celebration song.

Hannah just turned five!

Hannah just turned five!

And received from us a Nikon compact camera as a birthday present.

And received from us a Nikon compact camera as a birthday present.

Hannah admiring her just taken-selfie, while Peter looks bewildered at the bounced flash that just triggered to take this picture.

Hannah admiring her just taken-selfie, while Peter looks bewildered at the bounced flash that just triggered to take this picture.

We haven't bought Hannah a lot to swim in the new main pool @ Minton, given that our weekends have been quite packed with activities. She's been taking swimming lessons too at school, so is more comfortable now in the water.

We haven’t bought Hannah a lot to swim in the new main pool @ Minton, given that our weekends have been quite packed with activities. She’s been taking swimming lessons too at school, so is more comfortable now in the water.

We've started letting Peter have his tidbits of food with us when we eat out of home. Necessary method of engagement, otherwise he'd just bawl (out of boredom?!).

We’ve started letting Peter have his tidbits of food with us when we eat out of home. Necessary method of engagement, otherwise he’d just bawl (out of boredom?!).

Peter more interested in his birthday cake than the singing.:)

Peter more interested in his birthday cake than the singing.:)

Peter is nearly able to stand unsupported on his own now. At the moment, he can keep his balance for a few seconds, but he's getting there.

Peter is nearly able to stand unsupported on his own now. At the moment, he can just barely keep his balance for a few seconds, but he’s getting there.