The Kraken Stirs (Kraken, Part 1)

Back in May, 2013, I enlisted the help of local PC specialists, Rapid PCs, in the building of what became my current gaming system. Based on a quad core i7 Processor, 16Gb of RAM and an nVidia GTX 680 graphics card. In the interval since then, the system has been upgraded twice. Firstly I replaced the original GTX680 with a GTX 980.

Then, a couple of years later, I added a third monitor to this machine, and that took me through an upgrade that included replacing the original Gigabyte motherboard with an MSI alternative, the original 4-Core Core i7 with an Extreme Edition 6-Core i7 and the GTX980 with a 1080.

Good as this is, I’ve reached the point where the latest crop of AAA game titles can stress even this platform. Driving the 5760×1200 resolution of this triple-screen setup is pretty demanding… So: upgrade…

My original plan was to replace the Xigmatek Elysium with a CaseLabs Magnum STH10,  a remarkable, US-built case with a huge range of configuration options. Then the US decided to impose trade tariffs on aluminium imports and, surprise surprise, CaseLabs went bust.

Enter Thermaltake, and their WP-200 case. This is nothing short of a monster. For a start, it’s huge. Try: 878 x 475 x 678mm – nearly 3 feet tall, 18 inches wide and about 26 inches deep. It’s also *solid* – it ways more than 39 kilos or 86lb, empty.

Not quite as light as the CaseLabs model, this is, nonetheless, absolutely fantastic – even more flexible. It’s too early to commit to a final configuration at this early stage, but the general idea will be a top-of-the -line processor, a pair of the latest 2080 generation GPUs in SLI, and enough water cooling so that this won’t be too stressed.

The first part of the process has been to construct the plinth. Current thinking is that this will be used to contain the power supply and also a couple of radiators and the pipework necessary to connect them to one of the two GPUs. It’s possible – some experimentation will be required – that this can be assembled with relatively quick-release connectors [drip-free in the case of the radiators] so that the upper and lower parts of the case can be separated, for easier transportation… That’s going to need some experimentation, which is always a good idea – and quite often fun, too…

The Kraken stirs.

Trouble Comes In Threes – Part Two: Hewlett-Packard

After the complete disaster that was Microsoft’s KB4088776 update, one of the things I had to do was to re-install the printer drivers for my two printers. I have an Epson XP-950, with I use almost exclusively for photo printing, along with an HP OfficeJet Pro 8100, an A4 duplex (double-sided) workhorse printer. The HP has been absolutely fantastic – it’s compact, quiet, extremely fast and economical to run, even with the very expensive HP inks [I only use original inks].

After the rebuild of my “Office” system, I downloaded and installed the latest HP printer driver, but, in a momentary lapse, allowed it to perform a “complete” installation, so in addition to the basic drivers, I also ended up with all the “phone home” technology.

Later that day, I went to print off some documentation I had been working on, only to have this HP printer throw an error. “Print head failure…” was being reported… Wait, what? I had just been using the printer earlier that same day, from Mint Linux running from my little fanless system, and all had been perfect. What gives? OK, print head…

The 8100 comes with a removable print head [it used to be possible to purchase spares] and as a result I lifted out the unit to give it a thorough inspection. There was absolutely nothing showing from a physical point of view, even scanning the print nozzles using my camera and a macro lens…

I took an hour to painstakingly thoroughly clean everything with isopropyl alcohol and put it all back together, and… a different error. Reboot. A different error. Reboot. A fourth error. In short, the printer was completely toast. According to my records, I purchased the 8100 from GA Business on July 20th, 2014 – so I’d had it roughly three and a half years. In all that time I had probably printed 500 sheets, half of which would have printed double-sided, so say 750 sheets of paper… Print quality was flawless, right up to the moment it died.

In fact, the only thing that was remotely unusual was that the failure happened the moment the Windows “HP software” connected to the Internet and phoned home.

Coincidence?

What do you think?

Bastards.

When The Spark Fades…

My decision to buy my first “proper” NAS box, back in 2012, was  really driven by the mixed experiences I’d had with an Apple Time Capsule. In principle the ATC is a fantastic idea; in practice Apple designed it down to a price, chose poor quality components and mine – like so many of the first generation units – burnt out it’s PSU after about 2 years [just outside warranty].

I replaced that with a QNAP TS-459 [which has been brilliant], and did really well until the first set of HDDs I’d purchased [Western Digital Greens, 3Tb each] began to fail. A hurried purchase of a larger/newer/better TS-670 followed, with this crammed out with no less than six Western Digital Reds, 6Tb each, configured in to RAID 6. The older 459, meanwhile, took a brace of 4 x 6Tb Reds, configured to RAID 5, and now exists primarily to be a “local” backup to the 670. [I have the machines configured to run a 7-generation backup at 2am every morning – works brilliantly].

Except.

Not even this can cope with a power outage. Enter one of these:-

It’s a “UPS” – an “Uninterruptible Power Supply”, basically a battery, a mains conditioner and an inverter, all in a neat little box that measures about 25cm x 25cm x 10cm and has the ability to power up to 4 devices for a reasonable period of time in the event of a power outage…  From experience, it’s uncommon to get a power failure that lasts longer than a couple of minutes [usually it’s just the electricity company doing some sneaky maintenance in the middle of the night]. In other words, this should be more than enough to keep both NAS boxes nice and safe, even through a power cut.

Just to be on the safe side, this UPS also has a cable which I’ve connected to my NAS. If the power does fail, the UPS will alert the NAS, which have the ability to shut themselves down smoothly, before the batteries fail.

Not bad for £60 + cables; let’s hope that now I’ve got this, I won’t actually need it…

Lies, Damned Lies – and Claims from Powerline Adapter Manufacturers!

Among undoubted charms, one of the few little challenges presented to me by my current home is the fact that I have no easy way to run network cables around. All the walls are brick; the floors are concrete, there’s nowhere to conceal cable runs. As a result, I’ve invested in Powerline adapters, little units that come in pairs and which you can plug in to a couple of mains sockets and which, if you’re lucky, can route Ethernet traffic around your property using the heavy gauge mains cable as a transmission medium.  This kinda works…

Back in 2015 I purchased a pair of adapters with a claimed throughput of 1.2 Gigabits per second. Since they were massively faster than the 500Mb/s units they replaced, I was quite happy with them, although I noted at the time that they didn’t quite deliver as claimed…

This evening I’ve just installed and tested an upgraded pair of adapters, this time boasting a claimed 2000Mb/s [2 Gigabits] of throughput. So fast, in fact, that I should expect them to be at least as fast as a direct network connection, right? Ho, ho, ho…

I ended up running 30 tests across 3 different scenarios:-

1. Direct – Laptop with SSD to Gigabit Switch to QNAP TS670 NAS
2. Legacy via 2 x AV1200s over approx 10m of mains ring
3.  New via 2 x AV2000s over approx 10m of mains ring

For the Powerline Tests I performed power-recycle resets and then conducted 3 full test runs to let the adapters “train” themselves before capturing data. Each test was conducted as pairs: one test was for a large single file [approx 9Gb]; the other was for approx 250 files in a folder structure with the total size approx 9Gb].

For each of the above configurations and the two tests, I ran each test 5 times. I then averaged down the 10 results for each configuration to a single value and report the results as bytes-per-second not bits-per-second…

1. Direct Connection – 153,294,088.732 bytes per second
2. Powerline AV1200s – 16,193,844.940 bytes per second
3. Powerline AV2000s – 27,324,602.086 bytes per second

In other words, despite claiming to be twice as fast as conventional Gigabit Ethernet, the AV2000 units actually only returned – as you can see from the above data – about 17.82% of the performance of a direct connection. From equipment claiming to have twice the performance of a direct connection…

Sum-Up: Powerline Ethernet Manufacturers: full of sh#t!

[ Oh, and in case you’re wondering – the 1200 units were perfectly capable of letting me watch streamed 4K content from YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime, delivered down a BT Infinity 75Mb/s FTTC service – so the 2000s will be more than sufficient]. They’re good, just nowhere near as good as claimed… ]

Amazon Packaging; Not “Amazing Packaging”…

So, being somewhat interested in technology, I do tend to make the odd gadget purchase from time to time. Last Sunday was not exceptional, then, when I placed an order for 5 hard drives. “Five?” you ask. “Isn’t that a lot?” Well, yes. As a matter of fact, four of these things were intended to go in one of these… It’s called a “NAS”, which is an acronym for “Network Attached Storage”. In simple terms, it’s a little box full of hard discs on which you can put all your digital “stuff”. Placing your files on this device instead of inside of one computer means that you can access your content from any computer on your network.

In my case the box I chose also supports a clever way of sharing the data so that every piece of data is stored on at least 2 discs in the box – if one disk fails you don’t lose your data… which is quite cool. Anyway, I decided that since my box was running out of disc space, I would order some larger-capacity disks. I checked around and Amazon were offering the best price. I ordered 5 [4 plus a spare] last Sunday, with Amazon promising me “next day delivery”. Five days later the delivery arrives, looking like this:-

Literally a large cardboard box containing over £1000 of hard drives with a short piece of paper to act as “padding”. Incompetent doesn’t even begin to come close to the idiocy that was this delivery. The thing is that hard drives are delicate things. The insides work in tolerances of thousandths of a millimetre – so you can just imagine how much a hard drive likes being thrown around in a box like this.

After a phone call, Amazon have promised to replace them, tomorrow, with properly packaged drives. Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling installment of “Postal Prats” and “Delivery Divots”…