Jan 31
SSD Research
posted by: Player0 in computering on 01 31st, 2009 | | No Comments »

It’s just not the right time to buy SSDs right now.  If you’re an early adopter or have money to burn than have at it.  There are a few reasons for this.  First off, the technology costs are going to come down dramatically.  These drives should end up being much cheaper to produce than standard mechanical hard drives.  They’ll probably follow a curve similar to Moore’s Law.

The software isn’t there just yet either.  Windows can have problem installing on SSDs.  Particularly the cheaper ones with MLC technology.  The SLC ones have better write performance and longevity but less capacity and huge price tags.  The write times are just terrible and can cause the OS to lock up now and again.  Better software and caching options will fix these issues.

I don’t need epic performance on my laptop.  The reliability would be nice but not $500 nice.  But in the spirit of getting GOOD performance I did order a couple of these Western Digital 7200RPM 16m cache drives.  This should give me disk performance comparible to normal workstations and for a much more affordable cost.

SSDs will become the thing to do as soon as they become mainstream and the costs drop significantly.  This new laptop may see them eventually.

Feb 17
Photoshop & Depth of Field
posted by: Player0 in projects on 02 17th, 2008 | | No Comments »

Because why not take fancy pictures once in a while?

WD Caviar GP 1TB & HPT RocketRaid 1740

Feb 16

I’ve been behind in blogging. I do have some new toys to review. Even a couple games. But alas time is always against me. So I will summarize.

Sennheiser PC166 gaming headset:

Well padded on-the-ear model. Sub $100 and worth every penny. Quite linear sound response for lightweight headphones. They’re good enough that any headsets I buy in the future will be Sennheiser and not Koss. Bass response is quite terrible but really tense and dramatic mids and highs. No distortion at any volume levels. I haven’t bothered trying the USB soundcard, opting instead to use my X-Fi directly. Extra long cable and the inline volume control is great. On/Off button for the mic is also a necessity. Push to talk would have been even better but the mic functions extremely directionally and has been good to not pick up keyboard noises or my screaming child. The only thing I regret about these is the lack of any sound canceling.

Western Digital 1TB Caviar GP:

Still plugging away in RAID5 with no issues. As I mentioned before I’m really impressed with how quiet and cool these drives run. Only a 3 year warranty and still that looming RAID failure issue. Slow drives at 5400RPM and small cache. I’d never recommend these for an OS drive but throw some data on here for sure. They’ll also make great USB caddy drives. I have three and might go to a fourth before summer especially at their low low price.

Highpoint RocketRaid 1740:

A ‘cheap’ ‘hardware’ SATA RAID5 solution. Highpoint has come a long way since their cheap on-board days. I haven’t had any issues with it and performance is good. It seems to be okay with the Caviars. The time will tell on this purchase since recovering/rebuilding arrays, or keeping them intact in the first place, is the true virtue of any controller. Got my fingers crossed. Anyway the software is robust and supports all sorts of advanced features like online capacity expansion.

Thermaltake Silver River DUO External HDD Enclosure:

I ordered four of these to house my old 250GB drives that got swapped out of the file server. Why talk about something as mundane as a USB enclosure? I spent a lot of time trying to decide on the right enclosures. I looked for decent heat handling, reliable power bricks, drive compatibility, overall stability and price. There are a lot of enclosures to be had under $30 or even $25. I decided to spend $35 on these because they seem to have the best reputation. They support PATA and SATA drives and seem to have no capacity limits that I can tell. They worked with all the various drives I plugged in. The cases are solid and transfer heat extremely well. The cables and power switch feel sturdy and safe. I think they look not bad either. I think these cases will last me a long time to come.

Linksys NSLU2:

What else to plug USB hard drives in to than a little USB drive capable NAS! At sub-$100 it’s a steal I think. There’s even an underground Linux/Hacking community for it. Sort of reminds me of the WRT54G. I haven’t hacked mine yet. I haven’t torn off the little resistor that ‘overclocks’ it’s brain. From what I hear, new units come with that little resistor missing anyway. I’m using it as a backup solution for my file server. With my four old 250GB drives I can now backup up to 1TB of important data. The speed of this thing is not great. Linux could fix this from what I hear. The speed is not as bad as some people report. I think I can move about 5-10G per hour to it. Not bad for a backup which from that point on will be incremental. I wouldn’t want to use it as a main file server though. My biggest complaint about this thing is that it only supports two USB drives at once unless you install Linux (and even then picking the right USB2.0 hub can be tricky). This isn’t a huge let down since I can simply swap USB cables to access the other two 250GB drives. Once my weekly backups are done I just turn everything off so no wasted power or fear of power spikes destroying family photos. And maybe if theres some disaster that strikes this house, knocking on wood so this doesn’t happen, I can run to the living room and grab the drives to save some data. I wouldn’t dare try to carry my file server out to safety in an emergency. This is a DIRT cheap solution if you look at other NAS solutions which cost 2-3x as much and don’t perform much better. I still recommend a dedicated old PC for this kind of work.

But wait, there’s more! I did LCD monitor research this weekend. The wife wanted an LCD so it seemed like a good idea to give her my Samsung 204B and pick up a little birthday gift for myself. There are a lot of choices out there. I finally decided on the NEC 2470WNX. It’s a 24″ S-PVA panel, all the inputs you could want and rave reviews for the most part.

I didn’t actually buy it. Not for $700+ I didn’t. As much as I would like 1920×120, brilliat contrast, well balanced color saturation, and decent viewing angles I settled for the well weathered Samsung 226BW. This may be the defacto standard gaming LCD of 2007. It’s a 22″ TN panel. This means really fast refresh rates (2ms GTG) and poor color rendering. It should be a slight upgrade over the 204B for me.

Why am I so eager to part with the Samsung 204B anyway? It’s not that I think it has a bad picture at all. After dealing with the 30″ Dell at work and my 15″ Dell notebook at home I’m used to crummy TN panels. The 204B was an upgrade from the Sony E400 19″ CRT so it made my life instantly better. It’s a 20″ 5ms GTG panel. Never have any ghosting issues in games. I’ve had two problems with it. The first is a ’stuck’ pixel in the lower right of the monitor. It’s bright cyan in color and only visible in fast moving scenes or on any dark static screen. I can’t see it right now on this white colored window. It hardly bothers me. The bigger issue is the DVI bugs with my Nvidia video cards. Apparently this is a known issue with certain makes of 204B panels. The video will completely blank out, come back, blank out, etc at random intervals while gaming. Maybe every 5-10 minutes it will power cycle a few times. HORRIBLE. It’s apparently a serviceable issue and I will send it to Samsung for warranty work as soon as my replacement gets here. VGA mode works fine, but blurry. The blurry can actually be GOOD for helping to make game edges look less harsh but it’s horrible for plain old text rendering. The wife will be upgrading from the 19″ Sony and will be thrilled with ANY LCD since she doesn’t seem to be picky with anything visual.

Feb 10
Risky Business
posted by: Player0 in projects on 02 10th, 2008 | | No Comments »

My hard drives are well out of warranty.  I’ve been thinking about that for a long time now with a bit of dread.  I’ve had plenty of hard drives last longer than five years but my file server has been approaching that mark and I’ve felt less than comfortable in seeing how good my RAID5 really is.  I do have backups elsewhere, this is true.  But they aren’t always fresh and I know I’d regret loosing something or another.  A stable file system is just something I need to have and there’s no excuses not to have one.

My file server is a beast.  It’s sitting in an old cube case I had hacked to bits for a water cooling project many years ago and is the size of a short end table.  If the size of the thing isn’t a theft deterrent than the weight of it surely is.  I’d be tempted to fill part of the case with concrete to make it even less desirable but I figure that I’d be the one having to eventually lug it to a new apartment.

Right now it’s an old Asus P4C800 and P4 3.2C with some good PC4000 RAM, and Audigy 2, a FX5200, and a Hauppage dual-tuner capture card.   Basically all of my left overs and remnants from years past.  This machine is more than a file server actually since I use it as my main workstation as well.  I have a better machine but that one’s solely for overclocking and gaming.  If I want to watch movies, check email, or if my other machines are down for the count, this is my baby.  My last resort.  The forgotten.

It hasn’t been cleaned in two years and since it sits on the floor its a real mess.  I’ll have pictures of this later.

It sports EIGHT 250G drives.  Six Western Digitals at nearly 5 years of age.  Two Maxtors less than two years old, purchased to replace two of the WD’s that fell out of the RAID5 array and wouldn’t go back.  Strangely enough, the two ‘dead’ WD’s started working again after I ran drive fitness on them.  I reconnected them to the machine as a simple JBOD backup set which I stored downloaded video on, nothing of importance.

One of those two started making horrible grinding noises and died completely two weeks ago, spurring me on to rethink this entire situation.

Those two drives were JBOD as my Q: drive, worth 500GB.  I have two WD’s running off of the onboard Promise controller in a 500GB RAID0.  This runs the C: (boot and swap), E: (OS) and O: (Video & Downloads) drives.  Nothing of importance stays on the RAID0 array and I keep around simply for speed.  I would have originally added this to the X: drive array but it was full.   Speaking of the devil, X: consisted of four 250GB drives in RAID5 mode giving me around 750GB of redundant storage.  Not bad in 2003 or 2008.  This was on a 3Ware 7500-4 RAID controller.  Really good for the day.

All of these drives, except the two in RAID0, are PATA drives.  This complicated the upgrade path since I really wanted to go SATA, and needed to do this so I could get the larger drives.  Larger drives because having EIGHT drives at once is noisy and a greater risk of failure than having fewer drives.  Also this machine is on 24×7 and anything I can do for power savings is worth it.

Cost was no object five years ago but it was a huge object this time.  I couldn’t afford to get the best drives and RAID controller this time.  A fact which might bite me in the ass sooner than later.  What enabled me to finally do this upgrade was a beautiful Amazon gift certificate I got for the holidays from work.  There are a couple PC vendors you can buy through on Amazon and the prices are actually competitive.  But the selection is smaller than I would have liked.

I wanted Seagates but was forced to go with Western Digital Caviar WD10EACS drives.  These are desktop drives with only a three year warranty and 5400RPMs.  But they are CHEAP and have 1TB of storage each.  I only needed two but RAID5 requires at least three drives.  RAID5 has the benefit of really decent read speeds and also only costs one drives worth of space for the redundancy, in this case 33% of the space.  RAID1 mirroring costs 50% and doesn’t have any performance benefits.

I needed a SATA RAID controller and here 3Ware and other top end brands hit the $300 mark quickly.  I went with a much more affordable Highpoint 1740 controller.  It has all the features I needed, RAID5, PCI (not PCIe), etc.  It’s not a true hardware RAID so the CPU is going to get abused a bit more.  On the other hand it does support online capacity expansion which will be great if I decide to add a forth 1TB drive to my array.  I regret not being able to get a PCIe 4x version as the extra bandwidth there would have been nice but I have no plans to upgrade the rest of this PC anytime soon.

Installation is ongoing.  It took over 24 hours to initialize the 2TB RAID5 array and another 6-8 hours to copy over the 600GB of data from the old RAID5 array to the new one.  I’ve unplugged the old four drives and controller now and everything seems to be working fine.

But I’m worried.  You see, WD10EACS drives aren’t meant to be run in RAID arrays.  Apparently if the drives encounter a data error they will enter a ’scrub’ cycle designed to help recover any lost data.  This forces the drive to time out and causes the RAID controller to drop the drive.  This is according to Western Digital.  They recommend that you spend $20 more, get their RAID version drive which has firmware set to have a smaller ’scrub’ cycle.  If there’s any other difference to the drives I have no idea.  Unfortunately the option to get the RAID drives wasn’t available to me due to limited selection and funds.  There are reports of other people having no problems with these drives in RAID.  So far I have not had any.  I hope that the worst case scenario for me is that I loose one drive and I may need to rebuild the array, but I should have no major faults.  If two drives fall out of the array at once though I could be screwed.

There might be a way to hack the firmware of course.  Maybe WD will come to their senses and make this an ‘option’.   Either way, I knew I should have gone with another brand.  Beggers can’t be choosers though.

What will happen to the old drives?  I got a few USB enclosures and a network share box for them.  One will find its way to my MP3 box at work.  None of that will happen until I’m sure that my data survived the transfer and that this new array isn’t going to kerplode anytime soon.  I wonder how long I should wait?