I’m rebuilding parts of my PC (Beavis is his name), which hasn’t had a major update in a dozen years or so. While cleaning it out and re-running some wires, I think I accidentally fried one of the best inventions of all time: my TimeTrax Recorder.
TimeTrax was a hardware and software interface for the XMDirect receiver, which came out around 2004. It was originally marketed as a DVR for XM Radio. Going to be at work while an artist interview is on? The “Garth Brooks: Crap Live Retrospective” is on at 3am? No problem, record it and listen later! The problem was, the thing recorded every song off whatever XM Channel you set it to, and made MP3s out of them. Naturally, the RIAA freaked the hell out. It wasn’t long before TimeTrax was run out of business.
But – the cat was out of the bag. Basically the hardware is just a fancy serial-to-USB converter with a little blinking light and a software suite. The software servers having long ago shut down, TimeTrax programs were replaced by enterprising programmers who made their own standalone versions for free.
I won’t be able to tell if I accidentally killed my TimeTrax unit until I can get Windows up and running, but I figured I would go ahead and work on integrating an XM receiver into the computer itself. Worst case – I have to replace the TimeTrax board with a serial-USB cable and wire a 9-Pin DIN plug to hook onto the radio.
After 10 years with a fan sucking air through the case, the TimeTrax board actually doesn’t look too bad. The black and white wires are power from the PC. The huge grey thing to the left is a front panel USB plug, not related to TimeTrax (I bought the front panel USB bay mainly to cover a hole left by a DVD player. The TimeTrax mounting came later). The green board screwed to the old Radio Shack breadboard is the TimeTrax unit, sans case. You can see the black power connection on its top left, and the old style square female USB plug housing in the middle.
The front of the computer is below. The TimeTrax board protrudes through the front, with its wacky 9-Pin plug to match the one on the XM radio. To the right of the plug are the audio ports for the radio. The red light was supposed to signal power available, and the green light was power on to TimeTrax, controlled by the little switch on the upper panel. The red light never worked, I think it burned out. But the green light would blink when the unit was operating, as it was wired in parallel with the original light on the TimeTrax unit itself.
I removed the USB cables and cleaned the board as best I could. There was just enough room under the mounting plate to bolt on an XM unit. In this view you can also see the audio cables. They are separate from the TimeTrax unit, but when I originally installed it, the XM radio line-out levels were too strong for the computer’s sound card. All the MP3s were “clipped” on the louder sounds. They sounded like crap. So, I ran the audio through two variable resistors (in blue on the bottom left, soldered to the board). The resistors were adjustable through a pair of holes on the front of the PC, but once I set them the first time, I never had to mess with them again. The audio cable runs through the inside of the PC, out the back, and plugs into the sound card Line In port.
To make it easy to assemble the unit onto its plate, I removed the TimeTrax breadboard and flipped the whole assembly upside down. I drilled holes and used hard drive screws to secure the XM unit to the underside of the breadboard mounting plate – temporarily the top. The sheet metal on the underside of the USB bay was just thin enough that the hard drive screws self-tapped and held pretty well. Any good computer nerd has plenty of drive mounting screws lying around.
After it was mounted, I reinstalled the TimeTrax board, the USB cables, and re-wired the front panel switch (the front panel with the switch isn’t installed in the below picture, for clarity, and because I forgot to take a picture). I moved the whole USB/Timetrax/XM thing up a bay, and mounted the switch plate under it. I love these snap-in bays. Screw two rails to something and slide it in until it snaps. Best computer case, ever.
Several things to do before I finish this build:
- Test TimeTrax once I finish my reload of Windows. Right now, nothing works because the PC has no OS, just 4 blank drives waiting on data. I can’t remember if TimeTrax is dependent on the USB working before the blinking light comes on, or not.
- If TimeTrax works – solder new audio cables to the back side of the existing ports, to hook onto the radio inside the PC without some weird cable monster sticking out front. Unfortunately, the 9-Pin plug is where it is, and I can’t change the orientation of the whole board. So, I’ll have a cable snaking out from beside the DVD drive and plugged in the front.
- If TimeTrax DOESNT work – I’ll still have to fix the audio cables. But, I’ll have to remove the TimeTrax board and build a new Serial-USB cable interface to go inside, and tie it to the spot where TimeTrax used to sit. Thankfully, Serial-USB cables and drivers are really easy to find on Amazon. I have the pinout diagram for the XM and it’s serial interface, so all I need is a male plug with solder cups on it, also easy to find on Amazon.
The only nice thing about removing TimeTrax would be removing the cable from the front. With a USB-Serial cable, everything would be inside the PC except the antenna cable. Also – it would remove my dependance on this piece of unavailable hardware, because once I construct a working adaptor, it’s something that could be rebuilt in the future.
The best thing to all this is, back in 2004 or so, there was a big car computer/XM culture of hackers that wanted to build computer stuff into their cars, before in-dash nav and entertainment systems were standard in the car industry. They figured out how to do all this stuff; How to take an XM radio and build a custom cable that Windows would recognize, which pins went where, and how to supply power to the whole thing without blowing up computers or the radio. So, hats off to the car geeks and Google images.