A Quieter Server At Last!

27. November 2019 09:56 by Cameron in NAS, unRAID  //  Tags: , , , ,   //   Comments

This past weekend, I was trying to figure out why parity checking kept failing on my server. It turned out to be a dud motherboard and/or CPU combo. I attempted to swap the CPUs with some spares I had on hand, but in the process, I damaged the LGA CPU sockets by bending a few of the pins. After that, the server no longer turned on. The repairs would cost more than the server was worth so I decided to buy a replacement HP DL380 G7 server from my local recycler.

The server I bought came with 24GB of RAM (bringing me to 72GB) and more power efficient processors. This is a win win in my book. I flashed the latest DL380 G7.1 service pack and downgraded the BIOS to 09/2010 (quieter fans). I wasn't 100% sure I had flashed the IT firmware on the LSI 9205-8i correctly so I switched to the 9201-8i. I wanted to make sure that the USB thumbdrive wasn't the problem so I also changed to a higher quality USB flash drive (Kingston DTSE9). This does however mean I will need to wait a year if I need to change again. Though, I don't think this will be a problem as many people have reported success with this drive.

Upon getting all the hardware moved over to the new server and booting up unRAID, I noticed that my new server is much quieter than the one I replaced. I am still running 10x5TB 2.5" 15mm HDDs with two parity drives. The parity check ran in about 14.5 hours and completed without error.

During the parity check, the server remained quiet and operational. I've been monitoring the temperatures for the past day and they have remained in a safe range. The only temperature that has me a little concerned is the NVMe cache drive. However, I have ordered a passive heat sink that should help. My plan is to get a second NVMe SSD to add redundancy for the cache.

I'm now in the process of copying all of my media back to the server and getting my Docker containers configured. So far, I have Plex, Duck Dynamic DNS, Open VPN, and Pi Hole. I will likely put a few VMs on the machine too. I plan to also setup a document sharing service so I can back files up to my NAS and share files with my family.

It's looking like I can now safely sell my Synology NAS and have all of the major features that Synology offers. One feature of having a server is the ability to GPU passthrough to a Docker container for Plex transcoding. I will need to see how this fits once I have my configuration up and running. In all likelihood, there won't be much transcoding unless I am away from home watching my media.

Home Lab Update - The Quest for a Quieter Server

22. November 2019 16:25 by Cameron in   //  Tags: , , , , , , ,   //   Comments

In effort to make my server quieter, I downgraded the BIOS to the September 2010 BIOS that spins fans at lower RPMs most of the time. To help with heat produced from file transfers and traditional hardware RAID, over the past week, I began rebuilding my home server as an unRAID server. The process has taken several days to move everything over, but ultimately, it will be worth the work. The advantage to unRAID is that you only spin up disks that are in use instead of the entire array. 

After downgrading the BIOS on my HP Proliant DL380 G7, the fans at idle are much quieter. When unRAID is completely configured, heat produced by the hard drives will be minimal. There will be three hard drives that spin up at a given time vs 10 which will be much less heat. One drawback with software RAID is that you have slower file copies, but this is remedied with an SSD cache. I configured an NVMe 512GB SSD for cache and it is scheduled to write the files to the array on a nightly basis.

To begin the server conversion, I had to back up all of my media files (18TB!) to external hard drives. Then I swapped out the SAS RAID controller card with an HBA SAS controller. The HBA card works well with my existing SAS expander that I was previously using with my RAID setup. I bought an LSI 9205-8i and flashed it with the P20 IT firmware from a DOS prompt. After successful flash, I was able to boot into my unRAID flash drive I created and begin configuring the server.

I spent considerably longer on the initial setup of the unRAID array than I would have liked. There were a lot of forum posts and YouTube videos talking about Pre-Clearing your hard drives before using with unRAID. The preclear process takes a very long time as it has to do multiple passes on all sectors on your hard disks. I eventually discovered that you no longer have to explicitly preclear your drives with unRAID 6.6 and above.

The final setup that worked for me was configuring the array with two parity drives, 8 data drives and one cache drive (I plan to add a second one later for redundancy). Upon starting up the array, the drives needed to be formatted. One thing that I kept messing up with this step is leaving parity calculation on at the same time. This caused formats to take an insane amount of time. Make sure to cancel parity syncs before you format your disks. After beginning the format operation, unfortunately unRAID doesn't indicate any progress back to the UI about progress on formatting. However, if you run the following command from an ssh session, you can get a sense of how much longer the formatting will take:

NAME        FSTYPE   LABEL  UUID                                
loop0       squashfs                                             
loop1       squashfs                                             
loop2       btrfs                                                   
loop3       btrfs                                                   
└─sda1      vfat     UNRAID                                
└─nvme0n1p1 btrfs

In the end, you should end up with partitions under each of your sdx devices. Once the drives were all available with XFS partitions, I started the parity sync process again. With my particular setup, I have 5TB hard drives and it should take about 10-12 hours to complete. Upon completion, I will be able to freely use the shares and not worry about parity syncs being slowed down.

If my server doesn't sound like a jet engine all of the time, I may opt for re-installing the x16 PCIe riser so I can install a graphics for Plex transcoding. However, this is just a nice to have not a must have. I am already populating three PCIe slots with the HBA card, SAS expander and NVMe SSD. Once I finish the initial build, I will be setting up Docker containers for Plex, VPN server, file sharing, and many more! Here's to hoping for a quieter server!

Life Update

30. October 2019 15:37 by Cameron in 3D Printing, Home Theater  //  Tags:   //   Comments

In early October, I became a first time dad! My son was 9lbs 11oz and 22" at birth. He is now nearly 11lbs at 3 weeks old and is sleeping longer stretches. This is good since he is typically getting up only 1-2 times per night now. My wife covers the middle of the night while I get up with him in the early morning before work. I aim to be in the office around 9am so this works well. I'll typically feed and change him when I get up and then watch some Netflix for about an hour or so.

On the DIY project front, I hope to soon be getting back to a few of them soon. Here are some of the upcoming projects I want to accomplish:

  • HP DL380 G7 Arduino Nano PWM fan mod - my server sounds like a jet engine in the early hours of the morning on most days
  • Get 3D printer back online - I never set this up properly after we moved to our house back in July! I want to make sure this works and get some lighting installed on the frame so I can monitor prints remotely from upstairs.
  • Build Kevin Mellot's Virtual Boy Cart programmer - Again, I bought this back in July to build before the baby was born, but it didn't get done. I have the parts, but the build is contingent on my 3D printer being operational (at least for printing the enclosure)
  • Fix the soldering of the ribbon cables on second Virtual Boy - Maybe invest in the Virtual Tap for one if not both (VGA/SCART)
  • Build Virtual Boy link cable - maybe if I can find a 3d printed design for the plug
  • Add expansion audio to NESRGB install - I had iFixRetro do the original RGB install and it works well, but I forgot to ask Ben to install the expansion audio. It seems simple enough to do myself though.
In terms of computers, I'll want to make sure that all of my hackintoshes are up to date with macOS Catalina. I updated my HP Elite 8300 USDT last week, but I will need to update my Alienware 15 R2 and Thinkpad x230. I did an in place upgrade on my HP Elite 8300 USDT and adjusted the EFI/kext installation after the upgrade to restore audio. With my Alienware 15 R2, I have a new wireless card I need to try and install that should be 100% compatible and not cause random slow downs. The cool part about the PS/2 mouse driver is that the touch screen works! I have the 4K panel setup with the correct pixel timings too. For my Thinkpad x230, I just need to restore an older EFI backup since I accidentally broke something in a recent edit.
Since I've been appreciating CRT monitors and looking for rare ones in my area, I've had a thought to make a search engine to support searching multiple sources and extend the distance to a specific radius. Recently I saw an FW900 pop up in my area, but it only lasted a couple of days before it sold. I offered the seller a trade, but he said that he would only take cash. Ultimately, I passed on that monitor as it was $1k which is a ton of money considering the age of these monitors today. I found a reasonably priced 17" Graphite Apple Studio CRT Monitor from the G3 era which is beautiful and will suffice for my needs for quite some time. However, I will continue to keep my eyes open for a good deal should one become available.

Retro Setup Update

20. September 2019 13:15 by Cameron in   //  Tags: , , ,   //   Comments

I had been seeing various posts about JVC D-Series consumer CRTs and recently picked up a couple for my collection. My primary driver for retro gaming is a JVC AV-32D303 which is a great size for seeing scanlines from a reasonable viewing distance. I also found a JVC AV-20D303 locally which is a good option for shorter gaming sessions. The JVC D-Series sets are quickly becoming my preferred way of retro gaming due to their curved screens and near flawless geometry. While I do like Trinitrons, if the set is a flat panel, the geometry looks weird on the edges. Now, if I did happen to see an FV310 become available in my area, I would definitely pick it up. That said, JVC's D-Series is a good competitor to the consumer Trinitron. The colors, geometry, and sharpness are simply stunning. If you happen to find one locally, definitely pick it up!

Since I recently purchased the 3rd party GameCube component cables from Insurrection Industries, I decided it was time to increase my component inputs. I didn't want to pay upwards of $200 for a gcompsw right now so I bought two Philips PH61150 4 way automatic switchers. I got each one for about $25. The nice thing here is that they can be daisy chained or combined with an existing switching setup. I already had a 3-way manual component switcher so I plan to make two of the inputs on that switch go to the automatic switchers.

The Philips switches provide the ability to switch between component, composite or S-video sources. The inputs don't transcode from one to another though. As most of my devices are component, I am primarily interested in the component switching abilities anyway. Since my GameCube will be getting an upgrade from S-video to component, I no longer need a switch for S-video. My Sony Handycam can output to S-video and I can leave the S-video input on my JVC D-Series available. My only composite device is my VCR. I had thought about an S-VHS VCR, but those are unfortunately quite old by this point. My VCR was manufactured in 2016 which is the last year that VCRs were manufactured. I hope that it will remain in functioning condition for years to come.

eMac Restoration

20. September 2019 09:35 by Cameron in Mac  //  Tags: , , , , ,   //   Comments

Continuing retro Mac collecting, I picked up an eMac! Upon receiving the eMac, it was packed very well and the shell was mostly undamaged. There are a few small cracks on the front bezel, but mostly cosmetic. When I tried to boot up the eMac, it failed to load any operating system. I booted up the Mac OS X Tiger installer and tried to format the hard drive, but kept getting errors during formatting. Ultimately, I had to replace the original 60GB HDD with a spare 250GB HDD I had. The replacement wasn't too bad, but it is more involved than servicing an iMac G3. I also replaced the DVD drive since it is a standard 5.25" IDE DVD drive.

In the process of putting the case back on, I accidentally snapped the wires to the power button because I forgot to disconnect it until the case was properly aligned. This is a common problem with eMacs. Thankfully, I was able to find some replacement power button assemblies from a computer recycling company. While I waited for this to arrive, I fashioned a makeshift power button. My plan is to desolder the original power button connector and solder on a JST connector in its place. While I have the case open, I will be replacing the PRAM battery too since it seems to have gone bad.

Once I have everything reinstalled, I hope to not need to open the case again for a while since it's a bit of a hassle to service an eMac. The screen is a beauty though. Apple used Trinitron CRTs in their vintage iMac, eMac and studio displays. It will be nice to keep these in working order as long as I can. Next, I would like to find a classic 68k Mac. I haven't decided on which model yet, but I will keep my eyes open for a good deal.

Why Plex? - Part 2

17. September 2019 13:09 by Cameron in   //  Tags: , ,   //   Comments

The online TV streaming market is becoming more fragmented as each company introduces their own service and gets exclusivity to several of our favorite TV shows that we used to watch on cable TV. I fully expect traditional cable to TV to be replaced by streaming in the next 5 to 10 years. The idea with streaming services was to "cut" the cord from the big cable companies. However, the reality is, the amount of money we pay hasn't really changed; It's just a matter of who we pay now.

With all of the new streaming services popping up to grab a piece of what used to be dominated by cable TV, I am glad to have my own Plex library which I have been slowly adding box sets of my favorite TV shows. It has become a bidding war of who gets to stream which show and it becomes too much to manage if you only subscribe to a couple of services. If it weren't for Netflix original content, I would probably drop them completely and continue building up my own TV library.

One of my favorite TV shows, The Big Bang Theory, is available on Netflix, but only in the UK. I have watched some of the show while visiting the UK, but while back in the US I've been using a VPN to get access to the show. Now that The Big Bang Theory is finished airing on live TV, I can purchase the box set for $200 on Amazon and not worry about who has the streaming rights to a particular show. If you usually pay $12-$15/month for Netflix, this works out to be about $144-$180 for the year. Yes, $200 for one show might seem like a lot, but it will save you the decision making of whether to keep a service or add a new service should the show you like switch streaming providers. Beginning next year, The Big Bang Theory is leaving Netflix to go to HBO Max streaming service. You will also be able to see it on TBS. However, I am just glad I won't have to worry about where I can watch going forward.

In the end, it's all about how you consume media. If you still have cable, then you can probably find the shows you like on your favorite networks. If you subscribe to streaming services, you can pick and choose which ones work for you for a given time frame. For me though, I mostly like to just subscribe and forget and not have to actively manage which ones to stay.

iMac G3 Update

1. September 2019 16:06 by Cameron in   //  Tags: , , , , , ,   //   Comments

It would appear that I was wrong about the flyback dying on my original Graphite iMac G3. I had installed the PRAM battery in the wrong direction so it was not saving any of the PMU data, preventing the CRT screen from turning on. After reseating the battery in the correct polarity and resetting the PMU a few times, I was able to get the CRT working again.

I received that second iMac G3, but it arrived in poor physical condition. The seller did not pack the iMac appropriately and the front bezel had shattered into dozens of pieces. I was able to get a refund for this iMac since it was in bad condition and shipping it back would have made the condition worse. Luckily, the CRT seems to still be intact on this iMac so I will be keeping it around for spare parts for a later date.

My original thought was to try and install the 250GB IDE HDD I had in the Graphite iMac, but there are no boot disks for the Intech Hard Disk Speedtools to properly format the larger disk. The installer for Mac OS 9 and OS X only saw the first 128GB of the drive. I played with the idea of using a second G3 Mac to format the iMac's internal HDD over FireWire, but ultimately decided to install my 128GB class 10 SD card instead. I now have Mac OS 9 and OS X installed on the same partition and can boot into either by switching the startup disk from within the OS. I haven't figured out how to get both OS 9 and OS X to list in the boot menu when holding down options on startup though. I read somewhere that you can press 9 or X at startup to boot the respective OS, but I have yet to try that.

My next goal for this iMac will be to get some more retro Mac PPC software and install a few games on the SD card. As the internal DVD drive doesn't eject disks correctly anymore, I will use an external FireWire drive or a second Mac in Target Disk Mode to install disk based games. Some of the games I will be installing include Sim Tower, Sim City 2000, and Fable The Lost Chapters.

In the spirit of vintage Macs, I recently purchased an eMac G4 1.25GHz. Upgrades on that one will be more of a hassle since Apple put access to the HDD and DVD drive on the bottom side of the logic board. I will probably tackle those, but only when absolutely necessary. I will be posting more about eMac soon.

iMac G3 Update

21. August 2019 20:35 by Cameron in Mac  //  Tags: , , , , , , , ,   //   Comments

Well, after about a week's usage, it would appear that my flyback transformer died on my Graphite iMac G3. I verified by booting up the iMac with an external display and verifying that the Apple bootloader was present. The flyback dying is unfortunately a common occurrence with these late 90's early 2000's iMacs and CRTs. I looked at replacing this part, but they're very hard to come by these days and Apple used a variety of parts for the flyback. One part I found was about $50, but it would require a lot of work and would ultimately not be worth the effort.

I decided to buy one more iMac G3 to satisfy my classic Mac wants. It's either an Indigo or "Fruit" iMac G3, but I will need to wait and see. The seller didn't take a picture of the sticker on the bottom of the unit so I'm not sure. I purchased this model for $69.99 with the known issue of not having a hard drive. It did however have pictures showing the CRT in working order. I have accepted now that whatever happens with this iMac happens. It's possible I get a few years out of it, but it's possible I get a week. It just depends on the previous owner's usage.

There was no mention on condition of the CD (maybe DVD) drive so I will need to proceed with caution on using the internal disk drive. I will try putting in a blank CD to make sure it ejects disks correctly before attempting to use the internal disk drive. If the internal disk drive doesn't work, then I will use Target Disk Mode from my iBook G4 like I did on the previous iMac G3. I did see that there are some "salvaged" slot loading CD drives on eBay so I may give those a look at a later point. I didn't see any replacement DVD drives though. I did actually confirm that my external Pioneer Blu-Ray drive works on the USB 1.1 ports on these iMacs so that could work in a pinch.

For the storage,  will see about using a 250GB IDE HDD since it is the standard 3.5" form factor and should fit nicely without modification. There might be some compatibility issues preventing all 250GB from being seen. I've heard that you can just partition the drive into smaller partitions for it to be recognized by the system. If that doesn't work, I guess it will only be able to address the first 128GB of the drive. Another option will be to use my original SD to IDE adapter with the Class 10 128GB SD card. This should be fast enough with 80MB/s read and write.

Once I've confirmed installation of Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X Tiger, I will do a logic board swap (assuming the logic board needs swapping). Then, I will make sure that the PRAM battery is replaced and re-install the 2x512MB of RAM. I could get an AirPort card, but there isn't much point since it would be 802.11b which would heavily cripple the rest of my 2.4GHz network. I will likely keep it hooked up via 100Mbit ethernet on my desk. Hopefully after all that everything will still work!

Once all of the parts are salvaged from my previous iMac, I will need to see about taking the CRT to an ecycler which is kind of a bummer. I could also try to sell for parts first and then go the ecyle route if that doesn't work.

I will post an update following my reassembly of the next iMac shortly!

Getting Into Retro Macs

15. August 2019 13:16 by Cameron in Mac, Mac OS X  //  Tags: , , , ,   //   Comments

I have a strong affinity for things that are from my childhood; things that are 20+ years old and now considered vintage! I recently stumbled upon a local FaceBook Marketplace listing for an iMac G3 for $22. The listing seemed too good to pass up so I picked it up last weekend. It's a 2001 Graphite iMac G3 clocked at 700MHz with 512MB of RAM, a 60GB HDD, and a CDRW/DVD drive.

This particular Mac is a bit of a fixer upper meaning that the DVD drive is broken and it was missing the keyboard and mouse. However, I have purchased a Graphite Mac keyboard from that era as well as a black optical Pro Mouse. Technically, the "puck" mouse is what most of these iMacs came with, but I haven't used a ball mouse in a long time and wanted something I could use without a mouse pad. Since the DVD drive was broken, I purchased an iBook G4 in order to use the internal DVD drive over FireWire Target Disk Mode to install Mac OS X 10.4 on the iMac. I now have a dual boot of OS 9.2.2 and Mac OS X 10.4. The great guys at Mac OS 9 Lives! provide an easy to use method for setting up your Mac's HDD with 9.2.2.

My plan for this Mac is to use as a retro Mac gaming computer. I may also experiment with the Mac as a cheap audio recording setup since I still have FireWire 400 audio interfaces. I will be upgrading the RAM from 512MB to 1GB, upgrading the HDD to a 128GB SD card with IDE adapter, and replacing the DVD drive. 

Why Plex?

2. August 2019 14:45 by Cameron in Plex  //  Tags: , , , , , , ,   //   Comments

In the modern age of streaming movies and TV, we are faced with a growing problem of media fragmentation. No longer can you watch all of your desired shows under one subscription as all of the big studios seem to be fighting for a piece of the pie when it comes to licensing movies and TV across streaming services. The challenge too is that at any given moment, a publishing company can revoke these licenses from a particular service and switch to another service. Also, if the new service is something you don't subscribe to, you then need to make a decision of whether the cost of a new subscription is worth it for still having access to your show.

All of these subscription services add up. You might not think much of one or two services, but if you subscribe to several services, then you are likely paying close to if not more than a comparable cable subscription. The only difference here is that everyone is getting more money for their content by bypassing cable licensing fees. Streaming has changed the way we consume content by cutting out the middle man and allowing us to watch on our own time. However, don't be fooled that it is always cheaper than cable.

If you enjoy certain TV series but don't want to pay a monthly subscription to watch, you can opt for Plex and purchasing box sets of your TV series. There is more of an upfront cost by getting compatible hardware for Plex, but the good thing is that you can start small and plan for expansion as your budget allows. The box sets tend to be pricey up front too, but one series box set (~$200) will have paid for itself in about a year's time.

With the digital codes that are distributed with new movies, they used to be redeemed with Ultraviolet, but has shifted to Movies Anywhere. With the recent closure of Ultraviolet, I'm reminded why I don't like DRM. I'm a huge fan of buying physical movies and ripping them to my Plex server. While I like the concept of Movies Anywhere, how do I know that this won't ultimately have the same fate as Ultraviolet? With my own library, I maintain the original discs in boxes and I have access to my hundreds of movies with a click of a button. I don't have to worry about a service going defunct.

I'm not boycotting streaming services altogether, but I don't like having content I enjoy watching tied up in DRM platforms. I plan to keep my streaming service subscriptions to a minimum. Of the few, I will stick with Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime (I mostly use for shipping) and probably Disney's streaming platform. As long as I can still buy physical media, that will be my preferred way of building a library for many years to come.

Month List

Tag cloud