Hardware

NAS Migrations 2013

For years I used a Windows Server 2008 for my home files, having TechNet I used Windows Server 2008 and then later 2008 R2. While this was nice, it was using software RAID and a random assortment of drives that were cloning (RAID 1 style) between themselves. I originally went with this for the ease that Windows brings to things, but in the end with it mainly being a file server it just sat there initialized.

Fast-forward to this November, with space running out, I decided it was time to get a new system and replace the aging AMD Windows Server.

I wanted a RAID 5 or 6, so that I was not losing as much space as the RAID 10s that I had been using. I also wanted the system to be less maintenance than a Windows Server that needs patched every month. Recently I had heard good things about FreeNAS (freenas.org), from reddit.com/r/homelab; after seeing all the features of ZFS, I decide on a RAID 6, with ZFS. This is also known as a RAIDZ-2.

At first I looked at HP Microservers, http://www8.hp.com/us/en/products/proliant-servers/product-detail.html?oid=5379860 – !tab=features, yet after looking at what you got for the price, decided I wanted to build the new system myself.

The first challenge was finding a small case, that could hold the amount of hard drives I wanted, at least 5, without having a large footprint. After some searching I came across the LIAN LI PC­Q25B, http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811112339, while not a cheap case, it offered a 5 hard drive tray and at the same time was not that large. This suited my purposes nicely.

Next I had to find which CPU I wanted; since I was hoping to keep the cost of the system down I looked at the AMD processors available. I was disappointed to see how cheap Intel processors were beating or matching far more expensive AMD chips. AMD would throw items in to sweeten the deal such as a decent GPU on the chip. However this was a NAS, I did not need all that extra stuff that would just sit there using power.

My final selection was an Intel Pentium G3220, http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819116950; this part offers decent performance, and is the latest Haswell chip. This would allow me to upgrade the system down the road if need be. The part is also the latest socket, meaning that it could handle the larger memory sizes available, while I could use the MicroATX board the case required.

I threw in 16GB of ram (if you haven’t looked ZFS eats memory, you need about 1GB of memory per TB just to idle), and 5 – 3TB hard drives. I got the hard drives from different batches, so if something similar to Seagate’s 7200.11 drive failure happened again (http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/1050374/seagate-barracuda-7200-drives-failing) I would be protected.

Now that you know the hardware I will talk a little about the experience I have had with FreeNAS. The system is easy to install and has a nice interface. Using ZFS and the terminology they use takes a little getting used to, but the wiki can clear up a lot about what the different options do. I started the box on 9.1.0 and have updated to the latest 9.2.1; you can do updates through the web interface, and in the short time they have fixed a lot of little bugs, cleaned up the interface, as well as added new features. A nice new feature is the ability to make “Jails” of any Linux variety. These are hypervisor level VMS that can run on the system at little cost. I tend not to use them because when I use a VM to develop I tend to need a decent amount of memory, and my FreeNAS with ZFS uses 12GB of the 16GB doing nothing. But a nice feature non-the-less. FreeNAS also has some plugins that are a few clicks away; I installed Plex so I could stream media easily over the home network. FreeNAS uses Jails to run its plugins, creating a separate VM for each, this allows for security between your hosts data, and your plugins.

In the end, I am very happy with the box and its performance; my roommate and myself have been able to sustain 100MB/s writes to the box.

A quick side note, Plex is also a fantastic piece of software. You load it on a PC or NAS, point it at your media and sit back. It scans through all your media and gets all the metadata automatically. Then you can stream with the web interface, or through a DLNA device in your network. There are also iPhone and Android apps that let you stream without setting up weird port forwarding: just a very slick and well working product.

How To Remove Branding From a Dell OEM Server

NOTE: This is for Dell OEM systems only, run at your own risk.

Recently I have RMAed motherboards for non-branded Dell servers. The problem I ran into is I was getting branded system boards back when I had originally had non-branded. The non-branded BIOSes would just be blank with a progress bar instead of having the Dell logo. I ended up spending more time and energy talking to Dell again trying to get boards to my specifications. I was told by several Dell engineers that unfortunately there was no way to fix this other than the factory setting the board up.

Well they were wrong, and because I didn’t find this anywhere online I am going to detail the instructions. Note: this is ONLY for people who need to un-brand systems from Dell, I have done this with 12th Generation servers and nothing else.

  1. Remove the old motherboard, and install the new motherboard into the chassis
  2. Now the first thing Dell training says is to set the service tag on the system now, DO NOT DO THIS YET
    • If you set the service tag, the unbranding tool will not work. If you have already set the service tag, more than likely by booting to DOS and using ftp://ftp.dell.com/utility/asset_a209.com, then you can still fix this. Boot back to DOS and use the tool again, except with “asset_~1 /s /d”. This is an undocumented feature that will remove the service tag of the box.
  3. Start up any version of Windows that is at least Windows Vista loaded. I used Windows 8 because you can get a 90 day evaluation for free. And that is enough for me to do what work I need done on the box before handing it over.
  4. Go to Support.Dell.com, and look up the box by the service tag to get to the OEM support site. If you don’t have the service tag, look up the generic version and get the url, currently for a R720 it looks like this http://www.dell.com/support/troubleshooting/us/en/04/Product/poweredge-r620. Now if you replace “poweredge” with “oth” you get the oem version. So http://www.dell.com/support/troubleshooting/us/en/04/Product/oth-r620”.
  5. Go to Drivers and Downloads, and find the download for “Identity Module”, I had to switch the OS selector to “Windows Server 2008 x64” to find it. Then hit “Download File”
  6. Now it will offer ~3 different files, one will be similar to “R620_Identity-Module_Application_WCPFW_WN32_1.01_A00.EXE”, stating “Identity-Module_Application”, download this file.
  7. Run this in Windows, it will ask if you are sure and just say yes. It can take up to 5 minutes, MAKE SURE NOTHING INTURUPTS THE SERVER IN THIS TIME.
  8. Reboot the server, and it will come up with the branding again, then it will give a special message once it gets past post similar to “modifying branding”
  9. The system will reboot again, and the branding is gone
  10. Now go into the DOS bootable drive, USB works well, and set the service tag for the system.

Now your OEM box that was impossible to unbrand has been unbranded.

Creating a Radio Part 3 – Computer and Software

This is article 3 of the Building a Radio Series, before we looked at the general project overview, along with how the Arduino was hooked up. Now we will be looking at the PC hardware along with the code being used to do all the music.

I was afraid that this project world have one critical weakness, that the pc running the show would end up taking a while to start up; making the whole thing slow and by the time it came up you didn’t want to use it. I ended up getting Intel D510MO, but any computer that runs Windows would do. To save myself from having to write my own music player/interface over a music player this project relied on Windows Media Player using C#. This made it really quick and easy to build the DJ software. Mine had 1GB of ram, and an 8GB Kingston SSD (model S100S2/8G), and a Kingston 19-in-1 media card reader. There was a USB hub in there so it could be just 1 USB cable instead of 2.

I have a MSDN account so I was able to get Windows XP really easily, it theoretically could have been Windows 2000 or newer, but I was worried about drivers for Windows 2000, so I went with the next lightest OS. I went through and cleaned it out a lot, disabling parts of Windows I didn’t need; there are a lot of guides online to speed up Windows XP. Just make sure Windows Media Player is on whatever OS you use, I was developing on Windows 7 Enterprise and it didn’t have it. I freaked out will I realized I just had to go to Add/Remove Programs -> Windows Components and add it. As mentioned in the earlier article, the speaker in the unit went to a USB sound card. The USB sound card ended up being a good amount louder than the built-in sound card. The code adjusts the Media Player sound volume, not Windows volume.

The software is commented, so if you are interested in depth, you may want to scroll down and download that. But a quick overview, the program scans for removable cards, and then it scans them for the folder structure it uses. Then if there is only one card that meets these criteria mounts it as its source. Then it goes to the com port that is saved in a settings file in the same location of the program. If the interface is used to change the interface it should change it in the settings file. One problem is I was under the clock in this project, thus my usual extensive testing wasn’t done; it is possible bugs exist, but I think I found all the big ones.

A thread is spawned off to get input from the knobs, this is a separate thread so it can change settings while other things are going on. It reads the input from the Arduino, and makes adjustments when needed. In the boot process it gets the channel number so that the radio knows where to build a playlist out of. It gets the songs, mixes them up then adds them to a list, it then grabs all the “spots” mixes them up and puts one in every 4 songs. After all this 30 minutes of static is put in; in theory once that starts there is a 30 minute timer to shutdown.

That is the basic view of the software; the code is available below, with comment that anyone can have fun with. Any questions can be emailed and/or posted on the blog. This wraps up the Building a Radio series, unless I think of anything else to put up about it. If anyone has a idea of another project shoot me a email.

(LINKS)

https://github.com/daberkow/RadioManager

Creating a Radio Part 1 – General Hardware

The project I have been working on for the last two months was a radio for my parents anniversary; but not a normal radio, I got a replica of a 1934 Thomas Radio (Collector’s Edition), gutted it, then built my own system to put music on. I figured for fun I will write a few posts about it, and anyone who wanted to try to reproduce it again would have ample data.

Radio Picture

This is the front of the final radio

To start let us look at the model radio I started with, most will work, just with varying degrees of work put into them. The closet website I can find to the version I have is here, http://tweakeddesigns.blogspot.com/2011/07/reproduction-of-1934-thomas-radio.html. I think this is the exact radio, but with a slightly different wood stain on it. First I got that radio, then ripped all the parts out of it, except for the two outer front knobs (potentiometers). It turned out that the middle knob was just a stick with a string around it that went to a sensor and the channel dial. So the whole dial moved then this string was twisted, but that was only held up by the old internal electronics. Since that was a very… janky, I removed that, and replaced it with a separate potentiometer and a servo to change the dial hands. I made a awesomely horrible 3D render of how this looked, with all the original parts removed, and a servo added. I will do another post all about the Arduino and how that was hooked up.

3D back of radio

Here is a bad 3d model of the empty radio in the back

Now for the best of prototyping, I used cardboard to support all this, cardboard is your friend for prototyping, except when it catches on fire, then it’s bad. Afterwards, I got these wooden splints from Home Depot, and put them in to reinforce everything, they came in about 14 inches long by 1.5 inches wide by 1/8 inch thick. I secured them with super glue, then screwed the Arduino microcontroller into these supports. Of course with plenty of electrical tape over the wood to shield it all.

One key part of the system is how the music is played. The music is played through a Mini-ITX board that is attached on the back. I needed a power supply for this, so I got a Mini-ITX  case(Antec Mini-ITX Case ISK100) and just removed the power parts. The original plan was to put the pc outside this device, in a normal pc case, but I figured I’d just go for this design. Then I drilled a hole in the side so that I could use the Antec cases external power brick, and just plug it in the side. That had plenty of electrical tape on its supporting splint, along with a plastic shield that the power supply part had under it in the Antec case. I don’t like fire, so I was sure to be careful when handling these power systems; also, this was the only splint that was secured with screws and super glue, I dont want a charged power supply falling. The picture below shows this.

Back of radio

Real radio back

In a simple wiring diagram, we have the Arduino all wired up, post to follow, that goes into the mini-itx board through a USB hub. The USB hub also has a SD card reader, the software and Ardunio goes into the USB hub to make everything easier. The SD card reader is aligned to the side port, where the tape drive used to be, then songs can be updated by taking SD card out and updating the files. Then we have the original speaker in the radio wired into a 3.5mm headphone jack, available at Radio Shack, I’m sorry THE SHACK, and that goes into the audio on jack of the mini-itx board. The power supply cable goes into the Mini-ITX board, along with the SATA SSD. I know that doesn’t explain it well, but I will be writing more articles, one about the wiring and the Arduino wiring; then another about the software running the Ardunio and on the Mini-ITX board.

I’m not great with technical documents, if anyone has any questions feel free to email or even better post a comment.