Thursday, August 29, 2013

DIY Time Vault (Time Capsule clone)

Apple's Time Machine is a nice piece of software, however, it also is know for failing regularly on both, Macintoshs and Hackintoshs.
Of course one would expect that the product works perfectly on its intended hardware, leaving the more underground Hackintoshs behind, however, it doesn't!

=> Wanna skip the motivational part? Just scroll to the Recommendation section.

So, what is the problem?
In pursue to solve the mystery, I experimented with various different file servers and server OS serving various different Hackintosh, since this is what is at my proposal.
At the beginning, the results seem inconclusive, however, I have the impression that by now, I got closer to the problem's solution.

The Servers

Let's have a closer look at the 3 file servers I was using during testing.
  1. Low Power: Intel Atom single core, running NAS4Free, 4 HDD @ RAID-Z1
  2. Moderate Power: AMD E-350 dual core, running FreeNAS, 2 HDD @ RAID-Z (mirror)
  3. Moderate Power: AMD E-350 dual core, running FreeNAS, 2 HDD @ RAID-Z (stripe)
  4. High Power: AMD FX-6100 six core, running NAS4Free, 4HDD @ RAID-Z1

  1. Core i5-3570K, Z77, overclocked, 8GB
  2. Core i3-3225, H77, 8GB


Everything is connected by Gigabit-Ethernet.


When one does encounter problems with Time Machine, usually, the workstation just freezes up. Maybe the mouse pointer will still react, but that's about it. During TM backups, the workstations seem to freeze up rather often, in particular when doing a fresh, first or initial backup, covering a large amount of data.

The Core i5-3570K struggled a bit in the beginning during writing backups to the Atom system. However, at some stage, the initial backup was successful, and backing up this particular workstation on the Atom server never had been a problem again.
The same workstation had no problems to store backups on any of the other server setups at any given time.

With the Core i3-3225, the experience was totally different. After many unsuccessful attempts, a backups was created successfully once on the Atom NAS. Incremental backups were OK, until a major change on the disk's data structure was introduced and backups failed ever since.
The same workstation failed to backup successfully on the AMD FX-6100, even when being the only client to that system. Even when running the FX-6100 at max specs, backups were still failing and the workstation was found in an oblivious state.
On the positive, backups to the AMD E-350 with a RAID-Z in stripe was immediately successful. This sort of backup-storage translates into the non-ZFS world as RAID-0, which is really fast, but not redundant (one disk goes bang and the data is gone). This server config gave some hope and also input to understand the TM-problem.
Now at the last option to discuss, the E-350 FreeNAS box was configured to RAID-Z(mirror), which is equivalent to RAID-1, i.e. mirroring disks. Such a config is somewhat slower than striped arrays, however, it give redundancy and therefore is a better safe-heaven for valuable data. Now, how did this perform as a TM backup server (Time Capsule)? Well, mixed results here! The backups stalled again, when the other workstation accessed the server during backup. However, the TM backup succeeded while the other workstation was totally disconnected from the file server.


When reflecting on the results, it seems that Apple's Time Machine needs a very prompt response from the file server (or Time Capsule, for good measures). However, there seems to be this other factor, being the processor (clock) of your OS-X host. The Core i5-3570K (3.4GHz + turbo) hardly ever had a problem to backup all it's data, while the Core i3-3225 (3.3GHz) had a hard time doing so.
All in all, I think, Time Machine is very much dependent on a quick reaction of the file server. Still I do not understand why the fastest machine, the AMD FX-6100, failed. However, I discovered, that in this particular FX-6100 setup, there might be a problem with the Gigabit-Ethernet.


When building a Time Capsule clone, the following can be done.
With an AMD E-350 dual core and a 1, 2 or 3TB drive, a fully functional Time Capsule clone can be built when running FreeNAS.
In the case that you wish to protect your valuable backups/data more reliably, you may want to consider using a file sever with mirrored disks. If one disk fails, the other still holds all the data. I figure that this is more secure than using Apple's Time Capsule, which employs one disk only.
Therefore, my personal recommendation is to build a relatively low power AMD E-350 system as a Time Capsule clone, running FreeNAS with 2 mirrored disks. I would call this a Time Vault.
Configuration of the FreeNAS-OS to operate as a server for Time Machine backups is pretty simple. In a usual way, set up your data storage structure, than add a share for AFP and set the "disk discovery" mode of said share to "Time Machine" and you're good to go.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

deduplication experiment

Remember, I once built a "scratch NAS"? Well, scratch says it all. At one stage, the data will be destroyed. And this is exactly what I did today (after having stored the data safely in a RAIDZ-1).
Here comes the trick, I reconfigured FreeNAS to a ZFS mirrored array. Now we have same primitive data safety, however, the disk-space is now down to 1.8TB.
The experiment is the following, ZFS is set to compression and deduplication, while the server got 8GB of RAM only.
I wonder if 8GB for 2TB would be enough for home use, or is the rule really is to use 16GB for 1TB.
Will update on the outcome.

Friday, August 23, 2013

deduplication mystery

One of the great things about ZFS (Zeta File System, not zFS, the file system running on z/OS mainframes), as I thought, was de-duplication, i.e. not storing the same file twice.
On the single core 1.8GHz Atom system, the low power processor rendered this feature not feasible. OK, that was to be expected.
However, on the 6 core 3.3GHz build, I figured it would be achievable to run this option. Nope! I tried, before RTFM, and the performance was terrible!
Now that I did RTFM, the dedup-option seems ridiculous. Why? Very simple, it is said that you need at least 16GB of RAM for 1TB of storage when using dedup. I am running a small 3TB server (4 1TB disks in RAIDZ-1). The minimum RAM requirements for using dedub would therefore be 48GB. I believe that this is a little too much for a rather moderate NAS, wondering what they use at data centres.
The wildest server boards have 16 memory slots, taking it to the extremes, one may fill those with 16GB modules, ending at 256GB, which would allow for 16TB of deduplicated storage. For my taste, that's a bit over the moon.
Conclusion, as much as I have liked to employ the dedup-feature in my NAS, I will pass on this. My high performance NAS runs on 8GB only, which I believe is quite something for a mere storage device.

24 core cluster slaughtered (for the time being)

The HPC cluster I built some time ago consist(s/ed) of 4 ASUS MA58L LE motherboards, having 4GB of RAM and an AMD FX-6100 processor. With one head node and three worker node, this summed up to a total of 24 cores with 16GB of RAM, all linked up through Gigabit. Depending on the needs, i.e. OS, of the time, the workers were equipped with a 1TB HDD, the head node's storage was/is 1TB too.

As things develop, I wanted to secure my precious data, held on my tiny NAS, a bit better. I decided that a second RAIDZ-1 NAS would be in order.

Second RAIDZ-1? Yes indeed. My first RAIDZ-1 file server is based on an Acer easyStore, which came with windows home server, and now runs nas4free. The reason it runs this particular system is the built-in SSD, see earlier posts why. The easyStore is a really weak Intel Atom based server... nothing wrong with that, however, Sun's ZFS may be a bit of a challenge for this particular architecture.

Here is idea, use the 4 1TB disks in the former head node and add another 4GB to it. A 6 core processor, somewhat more powerful than an Atom, running disks in SATA3 and having 4 times more RAM, should make a certain difference. This will hopefully not only enable the "dedup"-option, but also render the "scrap-NAS" (see earlier post) superfluous.
Potentially, if things work out well, the disks of scrap-NAS will be inserted into the new 6 core device.

The next step would be, to build another head node for the HPC cluster, I figure.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

H77 based iHack

Just stumbled across this one

Potentially this would add up fine to a real stylish iHack (iMac-type Hackintosh).
Mind you, I built an H77 based Hackintosh before running a Core i3-3225 (see earlier post). Tempting... so say the least...

Friday, August 16, 2013

AMD ./. Intel

Occasionally I am asked what I liked better, AMD or Intel processors. Usually I response like this.
"Choose what fits your needs best!"
Sometimes the choice of the motherboard dictates, sometimes the energy bill (power consumption), sometimes the durability and sometimes performance.

And here are some examples of stuff I built:

Here's an example for AMD, I wanted to build a 24 core HPC cluster running PVM and/or MPI on a linux platform. That would be 6 Core i7 processors (for about €300 each) or 4 FX-6100 processors (at the time for about €100 each). Relatively obvious which one is the cheaper. Of course, the FX-6100 is not as powerful as the i7, in particular in view that one pair of node share one FPU, meaning, there are only 3 FPUs in an FX-6100.

Here's an example for Intel, video rendering with a Hackintosh. OS-X requires Intel. The best performance/cost was given by a Core i5-3570k, which for my projects is overkill. In this PC, the CPU is actually overclocked and water-cooled.

Another example for Intel: I am running a so called "spectrum grabber" , which operates 24/7. Here, a passively cooled Atom 230 was the best choice, low noise (it sits in my radio-shack), low energy consumption.

And yet another AMD example: playing with virtualisation (proxmox) for 24/7 servers (aka high-availability clustering). In this system I needed 2 (redundant) nodes having 64bit CPUs with hardware virtualisation support. Again, low power and "low Ohmic" for the wallet. This time, the E350 were the best option.

And one for AMD again, my desire to run a caching proxy server 24/7 resulted in an E-350, with 4GB of RAM an additional Gigabit NIC and a 250GB HDD this particular thing running smoothwall suites me fine.

A last example for Intel: 24/7 SMB server (zentyal). Again, low power consumption and low cost, with 2 NICs + WiFi for routing/AP purposes. Here, the motherboard was decisive, a dual NIC board, e.g. GA-H77N-WiFi (socket 1155) => Intel + low power => Celeron G1610.

Concluding: It all depends on your needs and requirements. Sometimes AMD is better, sometimes Intel. Just find out what you want particular computer to excel in and browse specs of available processors.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Chromebook rocks

The Chromebook, a controversy since its creation. Eventually, some months ago, I decided to buy 2 of 'em, the Samsung Series 3 and the Acer C7.
Both are really cool devices. However, I like the Samsung better, for its longer battery life, the better keyboard, the punchy sound and the low weight. On the dark side, the Samsung PSU-brick sucks, yes, it really does. It is a big bulky thing, which you do not want to carry about on journeys.
Here, the Acer scores. It comes with a much smaller light weight PSU.
I figure, this is what will happen, I will use the Samsung for daily business, whilst the Acer will be used on the road. Why not, with having all the data in the cloud.

Data in the cloud, well, not entirely, honestly said. Both Chromebooks are "hacked" (Crouton/Chrubuntu) for running regular linux (I know, the scary screen is really annoying). For playing my music, I need mixxx running on linux, enabling DJing with a MIDI controller.

A lucky coincidence happened in that the one with the better keyboard (Samsung) is provided with an 8GB SSD only, whilst the Chromebook with the better PSU is supplied with a 320GB HDD. Hence, the Samsung will be my daily doing things thing, while the Acer will join me on trips enabling me to DJ with mixxx and a large media storage.

Here you have it again, in IT, you have to define your problem first before buying hardware. Alternatively, you could adopt your application to the hardware you own, which is a little bit reverse engineered in my mind.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Hackintosh a PC able to run Apple's OS-X

A hackintosh, in general, is a PC which is able to run Apple's OS-X. The hardware for such a PC is absolutely crucial, since the Intel based Macintosh computers are very specific. Of course, those PCs may equally run MS Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, OpenIndiana, Solaris x86, etc. Some of the OS' I just mentioned are equally critical in terms of the hardware that can be used for such a computer.
All in all, this post focuses on OS-X.

To the time I started playing with OS-X, all the information I used was coming from InsanelyMac. Lists of compatible hardware, user compatibility reports, recipes how to put things together and a lot more. Still today, this site is very useful!

The early stages

I happen to live relatively close to a huge electronics retail store. So I took my printed compatibility list and went shopping along the shelves.

The PC I decided to buy was a no-name with the following components.
Motherboard: foxconn G31MX
CPU: Core 2 quad Q6600 2.4GHz
RAM: 1x takeMS 2GB DDR2 800MHz
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 8400
HDD: Samsung 320GB SATA (HD322HJ)
WLAN: sitecom WL-169 v1 001 (MacOS 10.5 driver available from sitecom)
Keyboard: standard USB
Mouse: standard USB

This PC came with a MS Windows Vista license. It was used with many different OS' with good results. In the course of time, the graphics card was replaces for a passively cooled "Asus EN8400GS silent". The 320GB HDD made place for a 750GB Western Digital (WD7500AAVS).

The first purpose built Hackintosh

resulted in a recipe. I believe it was publish by someone from, but I am not sure about... it has been a while, as you will see on the hardware.

The second system was based built as a hackintosh, following one of the early build guides.
Motherboard: P5K-VM
CPU: Core 2 duo E4600 2.4GHz
RAM: 2x Kingston 2GB DDR2 800MHz
Graphics: PCI NVIDIA GeForce 8400 256MB
HDD: Seagate 250GB SATA (HD250HJ)
WLAN: Sweex USB Wireless LAN adapter LW053 (Ralink RT2671)
Case: Antec NSK1380 Cube Case (includes 350W PSU)
Keyboad & Mouse: Logitech S530 MAC

This thing was upgraded to OS-X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard w/o any problems.
In the mean time, I upgraded the system with a new HDD (WDC WD5000AAKS-00A7B0) and a new Graphics adapter (MSI GT-210 silent with 1024MB).

Genuine Modern Hackintosh

We are now looking at the more recent developments, i.e. like half a year ago. This build was inspired by one of tonymacx86's build guides and focused on Intel's Ivy Bridge processor. Said web-site also provides a guide for installing 10.6. Snow Leopard from the original install DVD (which I happened to have bought for €29.- at the time), search for "iBoot Ivy".

The hardware followed a "buyer's guide" of the site mentioned above.
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WiFi (mITX)
CPU: Core i5-3570K quad core (best bang for the buck)
CPU cooler: Antec Kühler H2O 620
RAM: 2x Corsair Vengeance 4GB DDR3 1600MB
Graphics: Intel HD4000 (integrated)
HDD: Seagate Barracuda 1TB SATA3 (ST1000DM003)
WLAN: TP-Link Wireless N PCIe card (TL-WDN4800)
Bluetooth: Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 (provided with the mobo)
Optical drive: SamsungSH-224BB (SATA)
USB-hub: Sitecom CN-050 v1 002
Case: Bitefenix Prodigy polar white
PSU: Antec VP350P
Keyboard: Apple wired A1234
Mouse: Logitech M100

Everything was running spot on. However, I decided to use an additional graphics card, in place of the HD4000, hence, I needed the sole PCIs slot. The graphics card I am using in this system is an fanless ASUS GT-610 2GB (GT610-SL-2GD3-L), which has genuine support in OS-X 10.8.3.
However, now I lack WiFi. The GA-Z77N-WiFi comes with an Intel WiFi/Bluetooth combi half mini PCIe card. Only the Bluetooth part of this device is supported by OS-X. Hence, I swapped said card with an Atheros AR5BHB92 (very cheap on ebay presently), which works like a charm! For Bluetooth, I took a random old thumb-drive (Sitecom CN-500).

At some stage, I decided a second internal HDD would do the system good, in particular when used for automated backups. The local electronics store had external USB3 disk drive on sale, I can't recall what the brand was. At home, the thing was dismantled, the drive inside was a Toshiba MQ01ABD100 (2.5in 1TB), which now lives happily in my Bitfenix Prodigy, wired to a SATA2 header.

Note, this particular combination of mobo and CPU allows for overclocking to spectacular specs, mind your cooling!

I believe that this PC comes closest to an iMac13,2 ... however, could also be an iMac13,1 ... not sure. Personally, I run this Hackintosh as an iMac13,2 w/o any issues.

Low power Hackintosh on a budget

For a system on a budget, again, we are looking at Ivy Bridge setups, as proposed by tonymacx86.
Motherboard: GigabyteGA-H77N-WiFi
CPU: Core i3-3225 dual core
RAM: 2x Crucial Ballistix Elite 4GB 1600MHz
HDD:  Seagate Barracuda 1TB SATA3 (ST1000DM003)
Graphics: HD4000 (integrated)
Optical drive: SamsungSH-224BB (SATA)
Case: Spire PowerCube 210 (includes a 300W PSU)
WiFi: Broadcom BCM94322HML (replacing the onboard Intel card)
Bluetooth: Sitecom CN-516
Keyboard & Mouse: Logitech K400r

This particular CPU was/is actually used in one of the latest iMacs. The definition of this particular PC comes closest to the iMac13,1. However, it seems as a Hackintosh, this computer may be closer to an iMac13,2.

Sounds gooood

For the perfect sound you might consider using really good speakers. Although it may seem a little overdone, I went for USB studio monitors and other USB studio equipment.

For audio I/O I am using a Behringer's PODCASTUDIO consisting of a UCA222 USB sound interface, HPM1000 broadcast headphones, a xenyx 502 audio mixer, an ultravoice XM8500 microphone and all required cables. The possibilities with this setup are endless. I used it for skype and surprised my contacts with ultra crisp audio.

The experience with the SAMSON StudioDock 3i monitors is great! They have a iPod dock not only to play music from but also to connect the iPod to iTunes (when installed on the PC). The SAMSON monitor's sound-interface can also be used as an AUDIO IN.
One feature of the StudioDock monitors is annoying, the power-switch is of the back of the right speaker.
Another thing which is a little odd. Active studio monitors draw a lot of power, that's known. So, when putting the PC to sleep, one might also like to switch off the monitors. However, in this particular order, the PC goes to sleep and when switching off the monitors, a USB event is created waking the PC up. Hence, always switch the monitors off first! On the positive, it is sufficient to switch on the monitors in order to wake up the PC... yep, that really works!

As an alternative to the SAMSON StudioDock monitor, I also used ALESIS M1Active 320USB monitors. Those are a little bit smaller and have grills over all speakers, which is great for portable action. The power-switch is incorporated with the volume potentiometer at the front of the right box, which is great! The sound is less "studio", i.e. linear, to me. This will actually make those active USB monitors more popular for media consumption, mind you, studio monitor are designed to be unforgiving, so that the producer can easily spot imperfection in the audio production.


This is a non-trivial topic.

Previously, i.e. years ago, the only camera of choice for me was Microsoft's Xbox Live Vision. The manual focus CCD (!) webcam does the job, however develops quite some heat.

Lately I obtained a Logitech HD Webcam C615. This little beast not only has got autofocus, Logitech provides a tool for OS-X which enable full manual control over the camera settings. The C615 stays at relatively low temperatures.

General comments

Some of the builds above are very cramped in space. Cable management is essential under such condition.

The off-the-shelf foxconn box came with really nicely managed cables, nothing had to be done. OK, I replaced the SATA cable with one that had a 90 degree connector, but that was all I did cable-wise.

The Bitfenix Prodigy allows for hiding cables in places where there is no airflow, brilliant case.

The two other builds are quite a different story. Both cases are really small. The provided PSU are purpose build to fit the case, leaving very little space to play with.
In the of the budget hackintosh, I decided to mount the HDD vertically on the side in order to improve the air-flow about all components.
In order to optimize your cabling and air-flow, try to minimize a) air-flow resistance b) air-flow short-cuts and c) hot air loops.

You may have noticed that I mentioned the "Mac type" or identifier a couple of times. Here a the web-page that will help you out finding the type you will need for your build:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

24 core AMD cluster

Well, this is not yet the info about my 24 core cluster I promised earlier. However, independently, someone else came up with a similar idea of housing an HPC cluster...

Check out Jason's blog, which I found just yesterday... He uses the same cheap IKEA storage my cluster is housed in. However, to me, it does not look like Scrappy Cluster 2.0 is anyway near production, according to the photographs.

Jason writes about starting all nodes at the same time. Not sure about that. In my system, the head node needs to be booted first, the workers will than be sequentially booted. Since the OS and everything else comes from the same host, the head node, through the same network, it actually seems not be a good idea to boot all workers simultaneously.
As a hint and appetizer, I use the "power back" function of the BIOS to switch on the individual nodes.

I hope Jason will pick up the project at some stage again.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Building a LittleFe Cluster

Since my times at university, I was always fascinated by high power computing, in particular parallel and vector computing. Of course, those machines are so expensive that it is very hard to get hold on a smallest of computing accounts.

The LittleFe project overcame one of the hurdles, namely the price, and came up with a really neat solution. The hardware of said project seems carefully selected, e.g. 12V power supply for the nodes, a GPU with CUDA cores, dual core 64bit processors, passive cooling etc. However, still this hardware has got its price.

Today, second hand hardware with relatively fast CPU are showing up on the market for cheap.
I focused a bit on finding suitable hardware with the possibility to compromise here and there.
It happens that a computer store in my vicinity happens to sell second hand mini-ITX board of this make
Jetway NF92-270-LF
for just €8.- including 1GB of SO-DIMM and a PSU.
This was to good to be true. The price easily beats even the "raspberry pi".

Well, of course I had to compromise:
  • no suitable GPU
  • single core ATOM N270
  • only 1GB
  • 32bit instruction set
 On the plus side:
  • passively cooled
  • 12V power supply
  • onboard Gigabit ethernet
  • onboard VGA (for configuring the nodes)
  • available daughter boards (e.g. Gb LAN)
Actually, the shop had 7 available, I bought all of them...
More data at the store.

The plan
is to arrange all 7 boards in a compact box running of 1 common 12V power supply. Taken the max. power consumption is 22W, this will add up to 154W for the boards. For a 12V system, this ends up in the range of 13A. I figure a regular PSU like this will do. In the beginning, I will certainly test with the PSUs coming with the boards.

The boards will be hooked up to an 8 port Gb switch, also located in said box. I happen to own a D-Link DGS-108, which is currently not in use. This thing rates 1A @ 5V, adding 5W to the system.

Potentially, depending how this develop, the system will have to be provided with one or two low noise fans, since heat worth about 160W will be created.

The 7 nodes will be the workers in a parallel (as opposed to massively parallel) system. Therefore, the box will not house any HDD.
The head node will be some similar individual computer equipped with GB LAN. Personally I would have enjoyed to use an Intel Atom netbook for this. However, the one I got have fast ethernet (100Mbps) only, which will compromise the cluster performance. Hence, the present choice is my trusty Asus Eee Box B202, which has got a Gb NIC and a WiFi-interface (see LittleFe page for explanation). Also, the B202 operates the same Atom N270 CPU as the Jetway boards, creating a nice symmetrical 8 core 8GB cluster.

Next step
=> pick up the ordered parts (tomorrow), build some sort of support structure for the boards and get started.
As always, I will take pictures and post those, together with progress reports, on this blog.

earlier this year, I build a 24 core cluster with AMD FX6100 processors, a project I never documented... I promise to do so in the near future.

Adding noise to the server room

 Friday, July 26, 2013

Adding noise to the server room

The last few days have seen me changing my entire IT, not in terms of the system, rather the location. A land line connection needed to be pulled for the phone (skype - land line DECT combi phone), the RED ethernet had to be rewired and finally an ethernet switch was made redundant.

All in all, I am still running the following system:

  • smoothwall express with RED and GREEN connections, running a squid caching proxy
  • my old WiFi-router as an wireless access point (WPA2 of course)
  • the good ole ACER H340 running NAS4Free with a RAIDZ-1 ZFS pool using four 1TB disks, serving as a media server, a file server and a backup server
  • an AMD E-350 system running FreeNAS with a RAID-0 scrap data storage with two 2 TB disks
  • my good ole Buffalo NAS (1TB)
All storage devices are running NFS, SMB and AFP, expect for the Buffalo, which has nof NFS.
To me it is somewhat clear, the H340 is the main, safe, data storage. However, it happened today, one of the 4 HDDs stopped its service. We had a nice warm summer day, temps at about 27 centigrade. The HDDs in the H340 were running at about 50º centigrade, which is somewhat warm.
I shutdown the server, let it sit to cool for some while and fired it up again. The HHD was back, however, some data was potentially written when the HDD took a break. Luckily, I am running a ZFS pool, hence, the disk could be fixed, in ZFS this is called "clear". Everything is back to fine again.

The incident made me rethinking about the H340. There is a post on the internet somewhere, in which someone discloses a mod which changes the H340's case fan.
That seems to be exactly what I need to do, I figured. Indeed, the H340's regulated case fan sucks air out of the case. The fan is arrange such, that air is forced along the HDDs, before exiting the case. Well, that makes some sense :-s Drawing a regulated low amount of hot air along some disk drives...
In my scrap box, there still was this unregulated fan which came with the Antec water cooling used in my workstation. This thing is a real blower, however quite noisy, hence, I did not use it in my workstation PC. However, now that all my servers are in a dedicated noisy room, why not using it in the H340.
This noisy Antec fan is now doing service to blow cool air into the case, over the HHDs, with the following impact, on that same hot summer day (eve):

Temperatures before mod:
  • CPU: 45º C (essentially independent of the ambient temp)
  • HDDs: 47º - 50º C (during idle)
Temperature after mod:
  • CPU:  24º C (essentially the ambient temp)
  • HDDs: 29º - 36º C (during a ZFS pool scrub)
And here is the downside of it. A very quiet device device is now turned into a very noise but well cooled NAS.
Mind you, the H340 is a perfect machine for running NAS4Free! (see earlier post)

Turn Your Old WiFi-Router Into a Wireless-AP

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Turn Your Old WiFi-Router Into a Wireless-AP

You may have noticed that I am busy renovating my IT. Some days ago, I posted a short text about the use of smoothwall as a caching web-proxy. Now it seems time to also hand over the routing to smoothwall. At the time of writing the last post, I simply hooked up my WiFi-router to the smoothwall box, telling it to get WAN from it (by DHCP). The rest of the routing was done by this trusty but old router. Downside of this router, it is equipped with 100Mbps only, while the rest of my wired network is 1Gbps.

Went shopping today, and grabbed a simple 5 port Gigabit switch, which is now connected to the smoothwall box.

How to get WiFi? I still could use the old router and tell it to get WAN from said switch. To tidy up address space, it would however be nice to have an Wireless access point in place of a WiFi-router.
A quick search in the internet revealed this page:
Very cool stuff! Works like a charm!

The next step would be to loose the cheap Gigabit switch again and integrate everything in the "production environment".

WiFi for Hacks

Saturday, July 13, 2013

WiFi for Hacks

The dear reader may have noticed that a concept called hackintosh caught my attention. Actually, some years ago, when Leopard (OS-X 10.5), the thirst OS-X running on x86 hardware, came out, I already built various systems (Intel Q6600, Intel E4600) capable of running OS-X.
That gets us what a hackintosh actually is. It is a PC, mainly based on Intel processors, which is able to run Apple's OS-X under certain circumstances. To learn more, please search the internet, also about the legal implications/requirements.

The whole trick about hackintoshs is to find the right hardware, being compatible with the original OS-X. Mind you, the name hackintosh refers to the hardware, not the operation system, meaning, that the OS remains absolutely original, i.e. unchanged and non-hacked.

There are to mini PCI-e cards which are fully compatible with OS-X 10.8 that I know of (and actually tested):
  1. Broadcom BCM94322HML 
  2. Atheros AR5BHB92
My hackintoshs are based on GA-Z77N-WiFi and GA-H77N-WiFi mobos. Both boards come equipped with an Intel mini PCI-e WiFi/BT-combo-card. Whilst BlueTooth is working fine under OS-X, the WiFi part of this card is just dead.
Some additional info here, the Intel cards are equipped with 2 coax connectors, which is reflected by the 2 aerials provided with the mobos. Both cards mentioned above have 2 coax connectors.

From here, there are two options:
  1. keep the Intel card for BT and use something else for WiFi
  2. exchange the Intel with any of the two mentioned above and use something else for BT 
I personally went for option 2. And here is why:
There is a TPlink WiFi PCI-E card which is 100% compatible and works really well. However, there is only one PCI-E slot with the mobos mentioned above. Using this slot forces the use of the low power on-board graphics. There are other options like compatible USB WiFi devices, however, I believe that the bandwidth would be compromised here.
The second option provides full bandwidth for WiFi, leaving the single PCI-E slot for a GPU. On the downside, one now has to look for an alternative BlueTooth device. It happens that I own a couple of old USB BT devices. All those devices seem to be compatible with OS-X. Due to the low bandwidth of BT, I can easily live with the USB solution.

Delidding Photos (i5-3570k, i3-3225)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Delidding Photos (i5-3570k, i3-3225)

As promised, here are some photos taken during the process of delidding Ivy Bridge CPUs.

beginning to de-lidd the i5-3570k, knife stuck good, grease still present

different corner now, grease removed - mind you cutting the corners first does the trick

heat spreader and PCB apart - nasty black glue and grey thermal paste all over the place

glue removed (finger nails)

thermal paste removed by means of "akasa TIM clean" (citrus based)
same done to the i3-3225, although this was the second delidding, I cut myself, which did not happen during the first

Scrap NAS

Monday, July 8, 2013

More IT (scrap NAS)

More IT going on at my home. Some time ago I experimented with proxmox virtualization (déja vue!) and virtualization clusters. At the time, I built a second AMD E-350 rig, which at some stage was converted into a scrap-NAS for data migration purposes. To do this, I grabbed a 2TB-USB2 storage device which was on sale, salvaged the HDD and dumped the rest. The actual HDD would have been more expensive at the time. I figure the USB3 marketing helped to get a cheap HDD (WD green series).
At some stage, I decided to buy a second 2TB-USB2 storage device, in order to salvage the HDD.
Both disks are now living happily next to one another in the same mITX case, alongside with the E-350 board.
This setup is now my new 4TB scrap-NAS, running FreeNAS w/ZFS (stripe) for increased performance.
In the course of experimentation, I played with noise, energy and compression levels provided by FreeNAS. My preliminary decision was to run at maximum energy saving, minimum noise level and lzb-compression. Although very appealing, zfs-dedup remained dis-engaged, remember, it is a scrap-NAS.

Overclocking the Hack

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Overclocking the Hack

By now I am building Hackintosh setups for years. In the past, I was sticking to what the average user would be doing, happy to see my hackintosh doing what I want it to do.

With my present "production" hackintosh, yes, I do own the licenses, i.e. bought the DVD, thing are different. This particular build (i5-3570k) opens the possibility to overclock... and this is exactly what I am describing in this post.

The Hackintosh I am using is built in a BitFenix prodigy (white), I is equipped with an Antec Kühler 620 closed water cooling system and 1.6GHz DDR3 RAM. Speaking of the cooling system, the fan provided by Antec was too noisy for my taste, hence, I used the back fan provided by BitFenix for the radiator.

This blog is about overclocking... now that you know the baseline, let's talk about overclocking!

After some experimentation, I came up with the following parameters:

Base clock frequency: 109MHz
CPU clock ratio: 46 - resulting in a CPU clock of 5.01GHz
RAM clock at 1.744GHz (the RAM I am using being rated at 1.6GHZ)
Cinebench (on OS-X) reports a CPU score of 5.84 pts

CPU temperatures, running SETI@home at full cpu power, stayed below 50C.

Mind you, I am running a water cooled system! Overclocking from 3.80GHz to 5GHz is not nothing...

improve your web experience

Saturday, July 6, 2013

improve your web experience

Yet another off-topic post. Lately I am not doing a lot of radio. However, I think that the occasional experience with IT can be at least as much fun as good ole ham radio.
One of the last experiments was virtualization using proxmox on an AMD E-350 low power dual core processor. This particular system is now equipped with an additional ethernet card (100Mbps) and serves as a firewall w/ caching web-proxy using Smoothwall Express 3.1 RC1. The hardware I use is a total overkill: 8GB RAM and 250GB HDD space. As I said, it was used for experiments with virtualization.
The surfing experience has improved a lot since static features of webpages are now locally stored in the caching proxy.
Using smoothwall with squid is highly recommended!

Delidding the i5-3570K CPU

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Delidding the i5-3570K CPU

Yet another off-topic (non-radio that is) blog entry.
Having built the Core i5-3570K and the Core i3-3225 Hackintosh, the next field of experimentation was to understand the temperature differences of the core, as displayed by some software products.
To run the CPU cores at full load, I used SETI@home.
Doing that, I observed a 10 degrees centigrade difference between the hottest and the coldest core. I Believed that this would cause a lot of thermal strain on the CPU chip.
Hence, I decided to do what others did before, delidd the CPU and regrease the cooling.

I took some pictures during the process, there are not dissimilar to the ones which could be found on the www, i.e. a knife being stuck between the aluminum heat spreader and the CPU's PCB, etc. on demand, I will share my pictures...

My system is cooled by an ANTEC Kühler 60 and ran up to 52 degrees centigrade for the hottest core. Using MX2 between the heat spreader and the chip, as well as the heat spreader and the cooling pump, the hottest core shows 50 degrees centigrade. There is still a 10 degrees difference between the hottest and the coolest core.

Was it worth the trouble delidding a CPU, potentially damaging it? NO certainly not. However, it was fun to do it, and hence, I would do it again.

Should you intend to to this exercise yourself, here a tip: run your Ivy Bridge CPU hot before trying to cut the glue. The glue being soft helps a great deal reducing the risk of damaging the PCB due to larger forces being applied.

Mind you, delidding your (expensive) CPU is at your own risk!

Update: I noticed that the temperatures of the cores are much more linked as they were before. One core running at 100% load, whilst the others are at idle will increase the temperature of all core essentially equally. Before the delidding, this single core would got hot, while the others remained cool. Therefore, I would recommend the mod, which seems to remove thermal stress on the die of your cpu.

Update 2: Decided to nevertheless de-lid the Core i3-3225. In the process, I cut myself with the stupid hobby-knife. Probably, due to the lower price of the i3-3225, I was not taking as much care, and hence, the knife went straight into my thumb. Same procedure as before, cleaned the die, applied MX2 to the inside also to the outside, i.e. between the heat spreader and the cooling fan.

Samsung Chromebook 303C

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Samsung Chromebook 303C

This is very off-topic, compared to what I usually would publish.

Some week ago, I got myself a Samsung Chromebook 303C. The device is best described as a 10" ARM-powered netbook-like gadget.

Some details in short

The device has got

  • a really nice full-sized keyboard,
  • multi-touch touchpad,
  • a built-in webcam,
  • a built-in microphone,
  • built-in stereo speakers,
  • 2GB RAM,
  • 16GB SSD storage,
  • a integrated WiFi interface,
  • 1 USB 3.0 port,
  • 1 USB 2.0 port,
  • an HDMI interface,
  • an SDHC card reader,
  • a single jack headset connector,
  • and a power jack.
I may have forgotten one or the other thing, more specific information can be found on Samsung's webpage.
First of all, I bought the thing for having something lightweight, inexpensive to carry about daily. One of the most important points for my was a decent keyboard... and actually, I am very very happy with this one!
Some observations
Things I like:
  • the keyboard is really smooth and precise
  • the sound of the little speakers is impressive
  • the touchpad is very responsive
  • the display is crisp and has an excellent brightness range and is matte
  • the lower power device does not generate a lot of heat and no noise at all
  • very low battery drain during sleep
  • the start-up time from cold boot is amazing!
  • the device needs 12V, making it ideal for field-day operations
Things that could be better:
  • the white power-LED on the right side of the keyboard is somewhat irritating
  • a replaceable battery would be a benefit for longer journeys
  • individual sound-in and sound-out connectors
  • the headset connector is not really smooth
  • WiFi occasionally stops transfers, although the connection did not drop
Things I don't like, but can understand / live with
  • the display hinge projects quite a bit, I figure, this way it still is sturdy
  • there is an access port in the back, which is for a SIM card of more pricey models, with a very flimsy lid
  • one needs 2 hands to open the display lid
  • the plastic feels cheap, but than again, it is a cheap device
Things I really don't like at all
  • there are no left / right mouse buttons, a right-click is a strange two-finger gesture
  • there is not obvious way to quickly disengage the touchpad, which would be practical for writing longer texts
  • an SDHC-card projects a whopping 7mm out, rendering the card reader useless a storage extension, the card reader has no "spring action", a card to be easily accidentally pulled out... what were they thinking?!
  • the power supply is really out of date and weight...
Conclusions and Thoughts

All in all, this is a cloud device. Being offline means that many things can't be done. There are some applications which can be used offline, hence basic functions as text-processing, using a calendar or a basic spread-sheet are still available.
ChomeOS, which runs on the device, is a very down scaled Linux, which in essence uses the Chrome browser for running HTML5 applications.
There are presently first attempts to create full Linux distributions, e.g. Ubuntu by Canonical. Over time there should be some stable distributions available for a full offline experience.
I am happy with the device, knowing its' limitations and the intended use.

Acer Aspire H340 & NAS4Free

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Acer Aspire H340 & NAS4Free

Once again an off-topic post in the blog. Somehow the strange desire to share computing / IT topics occasionally took over.

Presently, I am rebuilding my IT, trying to catch up with recent technologies.

Years ago, I purchased an Acer Aspire easyStore H340. The neat little device came with 3 1TB HDDs and MS Windows Home Server. The latter, although doing its job, sucked. Finally, I decided to look for alternatives, in particular some with RAID redundancy and modern file-systems, such as ZFS.

The first alternative I found was "freeNAS". This product, along side some others, is supposed to run from flash drives or SSDs. This would helps to speed up boot and also preserves valuable HDD slots for volume data devices.
And here it comes, the H340 carries an onboard 256MB flash memory device, which is used for MS WHS recovery.
Early versions of FreeNAS were small enough to fit on this device. However, FreeNAS has evolved and grew somewhat larger.

The good new is, that there is some other product, which originates in FreeNAS and is still small enough... check out NAS4Free.

To install NAS4Free, I figure, there is only one option: equip the headless H340 with a head, i.e. a keyboard and a screen. I choose to obtain a PCIe-1x graphics card and use a USB keyboard for input.
Additionally, JP3 needs to be installed!!! Do not remove the jumper at any later stage... at least my H340 would not boot NAS4Free w/o it. Contrary to JP3, the graphics card can be removed, e.g. to reduce power consumption.

Here comes the tricky bit, the H340 needs some strange tweaks to get it to boot from USB sticks, USB CD drives etc. The CMOS setup is not that straight forward, but, it will get you there. The F12-key will help to select the boot device, if it has been recognized by the system.

To get up my system, I choose to boot the NAS4Free live CD with a USB CD-drive.
The option to install an embedded system w/o swap will install the OS on the H340's internal flash drive, just about... no room to spare, all done with a screen/kb attached.

Here comes the more fancy bit.
In such a setup, you would like to go for the most senior option of storage, which presently seems to be ZFS.
The configuration of ZFS is actually not very well documented, neither at SUN, nor at NAS4Free. So, here's what I did to get ZFS up and running on an H340.

  1. install NAS4Free from a CD using a screen and keyboard attached
  2. reboot after installation has finished, the console should offer a possibility to use DHCP now
  3. note the IP-address given to the H340
  4. using a remote computer, connect to the H340 using a webbrowser
  5. go to the "disks" menu and "import" all disks
  6. go to the "disks format" menu and format all HDDs with ZFS
  7. go to the "disks zfs pools" menu and create a virtual device (I used single parity raid)
  8. go to the "disks zfs pools management" menu and create a "pool"
  9. go to the "disks zfs datasets" menu and create a dataset using your pool(s)
  10. go to the "disks zfs volumes" menu and create a volume using your dataset(s)
The volume(s) should now be ready to use, i.e. assign to services. Under the "services" menu, one can activate various services such as NFS, CIFS/SMB, AFP etc. Assign those services to a mount point in your volume(s).

Update: It appears not to be necessary to use zfs volumes. It is advisable to mount the dataset. Additionally, it seems a good idea to use the "dedup" feature, although caution should be taken when removing a dataset, cf. advice given by nas4free.

You'll by now be running a rather robust ZFS NAS made of relatively cheap WHS hardware.
I figure it is pretty cool that NAS4Free still fits on the onboard flash drive of the H340.

Cheap Android Tablet Going Strong

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cheap Android Tablet Going Strong

Some time ago, I reported about a very cheap Android Tablet (from kijkshop), which I used regularly for this and that.
The table came with some port accessory, which holds two regular USB ports and an Ethernet connection. Writing this, I am presently using the tablet via Ethernet (thus no WLAN) with a wireless keyboard attached via USB for convenient typing. The port accessory actually seem not to have functioned when I got the device first. However, in the course of time, I really could not believe that a design fault was the cause. Well, the was a design fault, not in the electronics though. The plastics chassis appeared to be too large and had to be sanded down in order to allow all pins to make contact. Seen that the tablet costed € 100.-, I should have bought a second one, since said shop stopped selling those devices.
Still, I have not mentioned any details about the product...
it is an iLC 7" tablet PC using an ARM 800MHz processor with 256MB RAM
the OS being Android 2.2 (Android Market installed) on 4GB flash storage, allowing for a microSD card
the device is further equipped with WiFi, stereo speakers, a headphone connector and a built-in microphone
finally, there is the port accessory, providing 10baseT and 2x USB
All in all, the gadget look comparably cheap, matching up with the proce somehow. At times the device's response is somewhat sluggish. Would I buy the gadget once again? YES!

Some time ago, I reported about a very cheap Android Tablet (from kijkshop), which I used regularly for this and that.
The table came with some port accessory, which holds two regular USB ports and an Ethernet connection. Writing this, I am presently using the tablet via Ethernet (thus no WLAN) with a wireless keyboard attached via USB for convenient typing. The port accessory actually seem not to have functioned when I got the device first. However, in the course of time, I really could not believe that a design fault was the cause. Well, the was a design fault, not in the electronics though. The plastics chassis appeared to be too large and had to be sanded down in order to allow all pins to make contact. Seen that the tablet costed € 100.-, I should have bought a second one, since said shop stopped selling those devices.
Still, I have not mentioned any details about the product...
it is an iLC 7" tablet PC using an ARM 800MHz processor with 256MB RAM
the OS being Android 2.2 (Android Market installed) on 4GB flash storage, allowing for a microSD card
the device is further equipped with WiFi, stereo speakers, a headphone connector and a built-in microphone
finally, there is the port accessory, providing 10baseT and 2x USB
All in all, the gadget look comparably cheap, matching up with the proce somehow. At times the device's response is somewhat sluggish. Would I buy the gadget once again? YES!

Inexpensive Small Computer

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Inexpensive Small Computer

Remember when I was writing about a "grabber viewer gadget" some weeks ago?
Well, the thing can be used for more, apparently, since it most likely was not build for grabber-viewing anyway ;-)
First, lets have a look what a minimal setup can look like...

The cost of the total setup is about €150.- for the ARCHOS 7 HT (8GB SSD, microSDHC, WiFi), €20,- for the wireless mini keyboard and €5.- for the USB gender-changer. The USB cable and the power supply are provided with the ARCHOS.

The only thing one has to do is to enable the USB HOST MODE in the ARCHOS' configuration menu. As soon as a pointing device is recognized, a mouse pointer is shown on the screen.

Amongst USB accessories I tested were a Micro Hub, a card-reader, thumb drives, a keyboard with built-in Hub, mice.

There seem to be ways to toggle to an alternative window manager. Android is perfect for touch-screens, operation, however when used with keyboard and mouse, the advantages of Android don't really help.

Grabber Viewer Gadget

Monday, February 7, 2011

Grabber Viewer Gadget

This is actually a little bit off topic. For various reasons, I decided to buy a tablet gadget. Several options were thought through:

iPad: too big, too expensive, no USB, no memory card
Galaxy Tab: GPS, too expensive
Archos 5: 160GB HDD, 3G, GPS, screen too small
Archos 70: 250GB HDD, no memory card, sold out :-(
Archos 7: cheap, just 8GB storage, nevertheless: bought

Yes, initially, I opted for the Archos 70, in particular for its 250GB HDD. However, the Archos 70 was sold out... Moreover, the Archos 70 carries ballast I don't need, such as a webcam and BlueTooth.

So, there we go, the Archos 7 home tablet it is (for the time being). Why am I posting this on my RF blog anyway? Very simply said. This gadget allows me to observe grabbers conveniently when being in reach of an accessible WLAN. The Android 2.1 GUI allows for putting URLs on a virtual desktop for easy access. Hold the device vertically, i2NDT's compendium fits perfectly on the 7in screen, hold it horizontally, an individual grabber spectrum will fill the screen for comfortable observation.

The Archos 7 home tablet is big enough as to not being fiddly to operate (virtual keyboard size), yet small enough to carry about.

CompuLab Fit-PC2 1.1GHz

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

CompuLab Fit-PC2 1.1GHz

It arrived, and I had some time to play with it. Here are some first thoughts.

This PC is damn small! Really!! As everyone else who did a review on this tiny piece of art work, I have to state, the things is smaller that I thought it would be! To stay in QRP standards, the PC is just a fraction bigger than two Altoids tins.

So, here's what my impressions are.

My PC came w/ ubuntu 9.10 ... and that is what it should run, I think. The problem with ubuntu is, it motivates you to update it.... don't do it! Some drivers seem not to be compatible with more recent versions.
Playing with some other operation systems, the following remarks, WinXP works ok with the drivers found on CompuLabs wepage. Win7 worked, however, I got a crash or two, I could however not find out why.
Finally, ubuntu 9.10 came out best and hence will be the OS on my Fit-PC2 (WLAN works too).
A final test concerning the OS will be running Jolicloud on it... I will report about this by updating this posting.

Some words on the hardware. The device does not employ a fan. Even though the case looks like cheap plastics, it actually is made from Al and serves as a heat sink. The device can develop some temperature...
The manufacturer however design the PC for 24/7 up-time, I therefore believe that the temperature is not issue here.

As indicated in the title, I bought the 1.1GHz version. This may have been a mistake, not a big one however. This version is the only one of the Fit-PC2 which wont be able to read miniSDHC-cards. So, 2GB is the limit on SDHC-cards. With a built-in 160GB HDD this is no real issue to me.

QRM: The USB-keyboard/mouse created some rf-noise. I also could hear the attached LCD-screen in the receiver. The switching 12V PSU that came along with the PC created some QRM too. I have not yet figured out how noisy the PC itself is.

Since this is a relatively weak CPU, my impression is that the operation system should be made a light as possible, meaning, all services not required should be disengaged. The usual linux-distro carries a lot of stuff which would not be required on a daily basis, all this could/should be disabled for enhanced system performance.

Should I ever buy one of those PCs again, I would choose a more powerful model, in particular for the added miniSDHC capability, I do however not regret having bought the one I got.

New blog on IT

Hi there!
Lately, I have been blogging about a lot of off-topic stuff in my radio-blog. I figure, it was about time to change that!
So, here it is J's homebrew IT.
Hopefully the blog is some use, in particular to those who are interested in IT and not so much in radio-frequency stuff.
Over the course of time, I will transfer all the earlier IT posts from "de draaggolf" to "J's homebrew IT" 

ccrrrcrcrc crcrrcccrccc ... SILENCIUM!

My workstation employs a mouse which performance-wise, I really like. It is a super cheap Logitech M100. The only thing that is really annoying is the sound and cheap feel of the scroll wheel.
I know, this is a matter of taste. However, here's one to try for yourself (and this may apply, mutatis mutandis, to other computer mice too!).

The feel and sound is created by a spring mounted against the inner corrugated surface of the wheel (of course, first you need to remove the single screw on the bottom of the device... you know all about this....

overview of the mouse
close-up of the click device
Key point of this very simple mod, compared to other attempts available in the mists of the internet, is to remove the bloody click thing all together.

In order to achieve the goal, the only thing to do is gently slide out the scroll wheel assembly. There is nothing holding down said assembly, just grab it and off it goes. The photograph below shows the assembly, the clicky spring device still in place, whilst the load spring held on the axle just fell off (this spring we actually want to place into its original place when assembling the mouse again!).
the wheel assembly taken removed from the mouse, note the load spring
Now, gently pull the actual wheel from the assembly. The clicky-clacky (ccrrrcrcrc crcrrcccrccc) spring will most likely fall off in the process. Do to the severe complexity of this stage, I forgot to take a picture... sorry for that ;-)

The following step will be to put the wheel back in its original position in the assembly, w/o the crcrcr-spring of course.

As a last step, we slide the wheel assembly back by using its guard rails. Mind the "scroll wheel click load spring"!
now w/o the noise device
Again, I leave it all to you to put the lid on it all and screw it all down by the single mounting means we had to dismantle in the first place.
As a result, I feel personally very positive about the modification. Not only is the bloody noise gone, the now freely spinning scroll wheel provides a real smooth experience.