Introducing Maximum PC Lab North


Introducing Maximum PC Lab North

Many of you will be coming here after reading my article on home automation, “The Digital Domicile,” published in the June 2008 print edition.  Welcome! I hope you enjoyed the story, and that you want to learn more about the topic. If you don't have the June 2008 edition, you can download a PDF version of the entire magazine here

When I set about building a new house in 2007, I took advantage of the opportunity to include infrastructure that would make for the ultimate real-world test lab for many of the products on my beat list here at Maximum PC (the illustration in the aforementioned story is loosely based on my home’s floor plan). Videocards are still benchmarked in the official Maximum PC Lab in South San Francisco, but wireless networking products, speakers, media-streaming devices, iPod docks, home-automation, and home-theater related products are tested at the house, which we’ve dubbed Maximum PC Lab North.

The house is located in a rural area of Northern California on 10 acres of what was once a dairy farm, which has its ups and downs. On the upside, my neighbors are so far away that I don’t need to worry about their Wi-Fi equipment stomping on any of the wireless products I’m testing. In fact, no one was even running a wireless network when I first moved in; I’ve since detected weak signals from two nearby networks. On the downside, it’s a three-hour commute from home to the office. Obviously, I can’t do that commute every day, so I live part time in an apartment closer to the office.

I wrote this story  to share with you some of my hands-on experience with the latest home-automation technology, and to document the environment in which many of my product reviews will be conducted. I’ll also point out some of the mistakes I made during the planning and construction of the new house, so you can avoid falling into the same traps should you decide to make changes to your own house.

The home isn't meant to be a showcase of absolutely every piece of whiz-bang technology available today. As much as I enjoy reading those types of stories, I didn't have the budget to go over the top. My aim was to include practical home-automation technology and to build a house that could serve as a home as well as a lab. I hope you’ll use the comments tool to give me some feedback on what else you’d like to see in Maximum PC’s home-automation and home-theater coverage, whether that be more product reviews, more how- to’s, or whatever else you’re interested in.

I also want to give credit to the team that built the house: Luke Alexander, of Luke Alexander Construction was the general contractor; Scott Jackson, of Evergreen Development was the architect, did the lighting design, and installed the solar system; John Patterson of Patterson Electric performed the electrical work and installed the Z-Wave products; Allen Wilson of Premier Telecom Systems installed the Ethernet, coax, speaker, and telephone systems; and Greg Amaral, of Amaral Construction, designed, built, and installed the custom cabinetry.


Page 1: Introduction 

Page 2: The Media Room

Page 3: The Media Room: Wiring and Video

Page 4: The Media Room: Audio

Page 5: The Home Office and the Home Run

Page 6: The Kitchen and the Video Surveillance System

Page 7: The Garage

Page 8: The Solar Power System



+ Add a Comment


I'm currently remodeling my home and would love to have more info on the Z-Wave stuff you selected, how you configured it, etc.



I was also interested in more about lighting control and more information on Z-wave. I was planning on starting to do my home automation and was reading about Z-wave. Maybe another section added to the forums on this topic would be great for ppl to reply back with ideas and feedback.

Good article and very interesting.



Great stuff! Thanks for writing this up and walking us through your experience.

Did you hook up your HVAC to z-wave functionality? I'm curious to know more info on what you decided to do in this area...




Interesting stuff you got going on there. I see that you're using a piece of carpetting to help dampen speaker vibration on the pull out trays. Not too many people think of doing that. I use a small piece of cork between my speakers and the carpetting to help deaden the noise from the woofers so that I don't disturb my neighbors below.

- mike_art03a
IT Technician
Gov't of Canada



I think I'm drooling. Someone slap me.



So when's the PC lab north BBQ and music festival???? I'm there!

There's no time like the future.



that is a absolutely stuningly tech out home good job!



you sure went to lengths to make this house tech-ed out!

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