Home Media – Part 2 – The Setup

Part 1: The NAS Build

Part 3: The Rip

Part 4: OSMC/KODI/XBMC

So what do you do if you want to build an unRAID box?

unRAID boots from a USB flash drive, and the flash drive needs to have a GUID or Globally Unique Identifier. This is for the purposes of licensing. If you do end up loosing or something happens to the flash drive generally lime-tech is pretty good about it and all you need to do is email them, they might ask for a new GUID and send you a new key. Here is their policy on that. I’ve had two flash drives fail on my and they were pretty good about giving me a replacement key. Once unRAID boots from the flash drive it mostly runs in memory, and since it’s a stripped version of Slackware Linux it doesn’t really require a lot of memory to run.

First, grab a 4GB flash drive, for best results grab a flash drive from the Hardware Compatibility page. The key here is that your flash drive needs to have a GUID, some have it and some don’t. Speed is also a factor, as in read and write speed. Alternatively if you want to know if your drive is compatible and has a GUID grab any flash drive and quick format it to FAT32, use Volume Label: UNRAID, then unzip the contents of the ZIP file found here to said drive, and boot it on any networked machine. If you’re having trouble booting follow the drive preparation instructions. Once booted log into unRAID, username:root, password:<blank>. Type in ifconfig to obtain the IP address, then head over to another networked machine and type that IP into a browser, this should take you to the main unRAID page. Here is the getting started page from Lime-Technology which describes the same thing in greater detail. Alternatively by default you can access the unRAID web GUI by typing in http://tower instead of http://<unRAID IP address>.

There is also something called the GO file which is located in the /config folder on the root of the flash drive. The go file gets executed at boot and in here you can put any special instructions or drive maps that you’d like to execute at boot. In my case I mount a drive that is outside of the array, I call it the system drive and it holds all the configurations for my docker containers. This is not necessary as the same can be accomplished with the cache drive. Here’s what my go file looks like.

#!/bin/bash
# Start the Management Utility
/usr/local/sbin/emhttp &

# Make directory and Mount the system drive
mkdir /mnt/system
mount -t reiserfs /dev/disk/by-label/systemdisk /mnt/system
sleep 5

#Install Screen and Utemper, utemper is necessary for screen to work
installpkg /boot/packages/screen-4.0.3-x86_64-4.txz
installpkg /boot/packages/utempter-1.1.5-x86_64-1.txz

The free version of unRAID (uR) allows you to use 3 drives. The Hardware compatibility list also provides some standards and minimum requirements for the server hardware, usually an old desktop will do. If you decide to go with a 8 or 25 disk server, you will need to pickup a decent RAID card and a good enclosure.

There is also something called the GO file which is located in the /config folder on the root of the flash drive. The go file gets executed at boot and in here you can put any special instructions or drive maps that you’d like to execute at boot. In my case I mount a drive that is outside of the array, I call it the system drive and it holds all the configurations for my docker containers. This is not necessary as you can to the same for the cache drive.

Plugins vs Docker. In unRAID, plugins were the go to in version 5 and prior, this was the way to install applications on your NAS. They were easy to install and worked well, until you installed a new plugin which had, let’s say a newer version of Python in it. If this happened it would break all the plugins which relied on the previous version of Python. I ran into this issue multiple times in both version 5 and 4 of unRAID. There was no standard and people wrote plugins they way it suited them. At one point in version 5 I had to go into a the plugin and change the python version it pulled and installed, this broke a minor function of the plugin but made it sort of work. There was also an issue I had with sql lite, a plugin was pulling a newer version than was supported by another application, and finally some plugins would break the web interface. When version 6 of unRAID entered beta and docker was a possibility I jumped for joy. Yes by nature the docker equivalent is larger, however since these are self contained application on top of a OS layer, there is no chance that one application would break another. Also now with docker one could have multiple versions of python ans whatever the prerequisite for an application was. The only problem with docker is that it is not as easy to implement as the plugins. It takes a little know how to get it up and running. But, since I moved everything to docker I have less downtime on my server, and I’m not as often remoting into the server to administer it. That’s a win in my books.

Most applications that you would want on your NAS more than likely already have a docker container created for them. However if you want to create your own and if you’re curious about docker in general here is a great Docker 101 tutorial video by Ken Cochrane.

I’m not going to tell you how to setup docker in unRaid or how to put together your server hardware, but what I will do is point you to some really cool articles/blogs that describe how to do so. In my opinion there is no point in reinventing the wheel.

Update: In the final version 6 of UnRAID docker container manager is included and installing docker containers is as easy as point and click for the most part. Good place to get the containers is from http://linuxserver.io

Over at the Corsair Blog there is a really cool How to Build a PC section. I hope http://www.corsair.com doesn’t mind me linking to their site. It’s intended on teaching you how plan and build an gaming PC, but there are still articles relevant to building and putting together computer hardware regardless of what the desired purpose is. If you click the link make sure you sort by Date (Older – Newer), this way you will start on the first post and you can continue on in a logical order.

The Lime-technology website has a really good tutorial on how to get docker up and running on your server. Check out their Docker Guide over at http://lime-technology.com/ . Again I hope they don’t mind that I link to their content as this is a very well written and comprehensive docker guide.

And last but not least there is a really good plugin for Docker containers in unRAID, yes I said plugin, it’s ok to have one. This plugin allows to view / add / remove unRAID docker template repositories. The alternative is adding the repositories yourself, you can get these from this lime-tech forum post.

To install the plg you need to SSH into your server, I generally use PuTTY from a Windows machine. Once there navigate to the directory /boot/config/plugins by typing the following:

cd /boot/config/plugins

Any plg file that is located in this folder will get installed on server boot. Once there you’ll need to download the plg to your local machine. Do this by typing the following:

wget –no-check-certificate https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Squidly271/repo.update/master/plugins/community.repositories.plg

This will download the plg file. Now you can either reboot the server or install it manually by typing the following:

installplg community.repositories.plg

That’s all for now. You should now see a new tab under the Docker heading in the web GUI of unRAID.

If you have any questions or comments, post below.

Next: Part 3 – The Rip

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Home Media – Part 1 – The NAS build

This is all part of a series.

Part 2: The Setup

Part 3: The Rip

Part 4: OSMC/KODI/XBMC

Digital media and distribution is the way of the future. Netflix is doing it, iTunes is doing it, and Steam is doing it. These are three very successful examples of cloud based streaming and digital distribution services. There are many more I could have used as an example, but in my opinion these are the most successful ones out there and the most popular. While iTunes and Steam charge on a per episode or per item basis, Netflix charges a flat monthly fee for unlimited viewing. I prefer the Netflix model, unfortunately with Netflix you don’t get the content right away, instead it usually arrives after the season has ended or the Blu-Ray has been released. However Netflix does have original programming such as Daredevil, Trailer Park Boys, Lilihammer, Arrested Development, Hemlock Grove, and House of Cards. Still this requires an internet connection, and if you want to watch in Super HD a somewhat fast one at that.

netflix-logo

What if you own hundreds of DVDs, HDDVDs, and Blu-Rays as it is in my case. What if you could access this content instantly on your television and reproduce them in 1080P with high fidelity multi-channel sound, and even in 3D if you would like. Well if you have the time, money, and would like to learn something new this is all possible. That and you will also have the satisfaction of completing something cool. You could have an instant on, Movie, Television, and Music jukebox library that you can share through out your entire house.Lime_Tech_Logo

The goal here is to put together a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device which is capable of serving up the information to your network and the devices on it. These devices could include a smartphone, HTPC, or a laptop. As far as NAS devices go you have two options, either buy a ready made NAS from manufacturers such as QNAP, Synology, ASUSTOR, Drobo, NETGEAR, or if you have an old computer kicking around you can purchase a registration key for unRAID and build your own solution. The benefit of going with your own build is that you can expand it as you please and you can add hardware and hard drives as you go along. You would be future proofing by going with a custom build, as you can tailor it to your needs. It can grow with you as you require. The ready made NAS devices come in pre-configured sizes and they take a limited number of Hard Drives. One thing to note about unRAID, there are three levels of licensing for unRAID, Basic which supports 4 drives, Plus which supports up to 8 drives, and Pro which supports up to 25 drives. Prices are $29, $69 and $119 respectively.

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As a best practice, you always want to have a parity drive in your drive array. A parity drive is a Hard Drive in a RAID array to provide fault tolerance. This will ensure that is one of your drives fails all your data will be recoverable. If one of your drives does happen to fail you should immediately replace the parity drive and rebuild it. A good practice is to always have a spare drive on hand, or hot spare as some call it. Also when you are making the initial purchase and buying multiple drives of the same make for your array, another best practice is to buy drives from different stores. This way you can ensure that the drives came from different manufacturing lines and all of them will not fail at the same time. After all you’ll probably want to store your pictures, and home movies on this rig. Always have a hot spare ready to go, it’s an empty drive that sits in your array ready to be used if another one fails, this is important as it prevents any down time or a double drive failure.

unRAID is not a RAID array, hence the name. unRAID is an array of disks with a parity drive. The parity drive holds a bit sum of all the drives in the array, and if a single disks fails the parity can rebuild said failed disk. If two disks fail, then you are SOL. Having said this you will only lose the data on the failed disks, the rest will retain their data. This is why it is important to have a hot spare on hand at all times.

If you plan on going with a pre-built device might I recommend Synology or QNAP. In my opinion these are the most popular ones on the market and they both have good communities that are willing to help you out if you hit a wall with with any settings. Also they are one of the few NAS devices that have packages for SABnzbd, Sick Beard or Sonarr, and Couch Potato. I will not get into specifics of these applications but these are some of the more popular packages.docker-logo

As of Unraid version 6 most of the packages that you would require can be installed as a docker container. Docker is a sort of Virtual Machine that runs applications in a self contained package on top of an OS layer independent of the OS that the container is running on. I find this to be a better solution than the Unraid plugins in previous versions, however you can still opt in for plugins in Unraid 6 there just isn’t a lot of them. They’re a dying breed. I would strongly advise against plugins. Why? Well, I find that the plugins have a tendency to break too often, especially if a prerequisite is changed or altered on the server, or another plugin updates it’s version of a prerequisite. With docker this is not an issue as all the prerequisites are in the container itself, and migrating to a new version of unRAID will not break your applications. Docker is also OS agnostic, meaning the same docker container can run on Linux, Windows, and Unix operating system. If you want an idea of what kind of docker packages are available for Unraid 6 just head over to the Lime-Technology forum and have a look at some of the packages that the awesome developers have designed specifically for unRAID.

Another nice feature in unRAID is that it supports virtual machines via either XEN or KVM. In the final version of unRAID there is a possibility that XEN might be dropped in favour of KVM. KVM is native to the Linux kernel and allows for easy hardware I/O passthrough. I’m currently using KVM with the assistance of a couple of plugins. I’m running an Ubuntu server with murmur installed on it, but this might be punted in light of a developer creating a docker container for it. If you wish to run KVM on unRAID you’ll need to install the VM manager and the Libvirt plugin of the server. The instructions are available here in the second post. Or you can just grab them from here:

https://raw.githubusercontent.com/dmacias72/vmMan/master/vmMan.plg

https://raw.githubusercontent.com/dmacias72/virtMan/master/virtMan.plg

As for the hardware requirements, almost any computer will do, you’ll need a flash drive, a motherboard with some sata ports and some hard drives. Realistically you could be running unRAID on your laptop if you want to, but that would defeat the purpose. I would recommend at least a 4 core processor with 8 GB or RAM, less if you do not plan of creating any Virtual Machines and 4 Hard Drive slots.

As for other hardware I recommend the Supermicro AOC-SAS2LP-MV8 8 Channel 6GB/S SAS/SATA PCI-E SAS card, and the Norco RPC-4224 24 Bay Hot Swap SATA/SAS 4U Rackmount Server Case. If you already have a tower case then you could opt in for a 5 bay drive enclosure such as the Norco SS-500 5-bay SATA/SAS hot swap rack module. This bay enclosure fits 5 standard size Hard Drives and occupies 3 x 5.25″ bays in a case. It’s a perfect fit for the smaller size setups. If you do go the route of the Norco SS-500 bay and get a SAS card you will also need a Forward SAS to SATA breakout cable.

Yes you will spend money on something like this, however it will still be cheaper and more effective than purchasing a QNAP or Synology device. Having said this there are pros and cons to both.

An unRAID home build can be cheaper than the competition, you can upgrade it as you wish and you can do it slowly. With unRAID you can scale it up or down as you need it and it can be powerful enough to run VIrtual Machines. Unlike FreeNAS or others, unRAID is easier to setup than the competition. unRAID however is not a true RAID NAS. unRAID has an array of disks that can be of varying sizes provided the parity drive is as large or larger than the largest disk in the array. If more than one disk fail in the array the data on said disks is lost, but only data on the disks that failed.

With systems like QNAP and Synology they are ready out of the box, provided you insert some disk in them. These NAS systems are not as easily scalable, however some of them do offer expansions. They can provide greater fault tolerance. These systems can cost more than a mid range computer depending on the amount of bays that you require. The cost can be as much as $1000 for a 5 bay solution. Applications are very easy to install and configure you don’t need to be a tech wizard. These systems are small, quiet, and don’t draw a lot of power. You can hide one of these under your bed if you desire.

Both are good options however I’m here to guide you through some of the hurdles involved in getting an unRAID system off the ground.

Next: Part 2 – The Setup

Consoles have ruined gaming.

For the last little while I’ve been very harsh about the state of affairs in gaming, especially in the console space. Specifically with Ubisoft, EA and Activision. Console gaming exploded onto the scene in the last two decades and the 90s was perhaps the most important decade for gaming and gaming innovation both in PC and the console space. Technological leaps and graphical bounds happened during this decade. The Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, and Playstation revolutionalized the 3D genre for consoles. I have never before or since enjoyed a console as much as the N64.

Nintendo_64_Logo

 

In the PC space, I remember buying an additional 4 Megabytes of RAM when DOOM II came out. I paid about $230 dollars for it. I also paired the RAM with a 16 bit Soundblaster sound card that cost me almost $150. I walked to the Futureshop at the town center with my older brother to pick it up. He was my insurance policy or rather muscle just incase someone was tempted by $400 worth of computer equipment. $400 was a lot of money for a 13 year old. It was an exciting time to be a teenager during those days and to be passionate about computers, computing, and computer games. But those days are long gone and now the Gaming industry has turned in to a perverse capitalist machine. A machine that is more concerned about profit than releasing a good functional product. I’m sorry to say it but the indie gaming industry is not immune to the above statement either.

Anti-capitalism_color

These corporations are trying to churn out a game each year in every one of their Intellectual Properties. Recently I even read somewhere that Ubi said they’d like to release a new assassins creed game every year. These game budgets have swelled to millions of dollars, and there are so many people on these projects that the product comes out incomplete, buggy, and usually with a day one patch. The right hand is not talking to the left hand. The reason these games come out like this is because these companies are run by CEOs that have no idea what the game subculture is actually like, and I think they are trying to mimic the model T assembly line that Henry Ford championed but with games. If this happens you can pretty much guarantee the death of the creative and innovative. The industry is sucking the life out of gaming and all the naive kids that accept mediocrity are buying the garbage that these companies are flogging.

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If anything the last two years has been a great example of how not to do business within the gaming industry. Evolve was the perfect poster child of gaming mediocrity masked by the illusion of original content and thought. The game was plagued by repetitive play, then came the DLC content overload. I read somewhere that if you bought Evolve and all the silly DLC that does not come with it by default you would spend about $200 on the game. If that isn’t a cash grab I don’t know what is. Then the broken game of Halo Master Chief Collection was another blunder. The online portion of the game wasn’t playable for 3 months after release. Guess what you consolation prize was for buying a game and not being able to play it? One free week of Xbox Live, ha ha ha, what a fucking joke. Don’t get me started on the actual operating system of the Xbox One, it is broken, and it is broken badly. The online experience is painful at best, there are so many bugs and glitches in it that most online play is met with frustration and anger.

Wii_U_Logo

All this leads me to the Wii U. I was always a firm believer that the only honest company and the only one that cares was Nintendo. Their games, albeit few and far in between, almost never needed a day one patch. You could usually play them straight out of the box, and their DLC prices for Mario Kart 8 were extremely reasonable. They were driven by gaming and creating fun games based on their already existing IPs. I was always a firm believer… but I was wrong!

Amiibo_logo

Toad_amiibo

Insert the amiibo. The amiibo is essentially an NFC enabled figurine that allows you to recall data associated with said amiibo. Well at first I was ok with these figurines, as they would mean a new revenue stream for Nintendo and the kids would have something cool to put in their rooms. I though it would be a sort of memory card that would hold your characters stats and you could carry it over to your friends house, tap it on their controller, and voila your character appears. Well I was completely wrong. Not completely wrong but overall wrong. You can still do with amiibo’s what I described above, however that is not all that they can do, let me tell you about the dark side of the amiibo. Some amiibo’s unlock game content. Tor example the Toad amiibo unlocks extra content in the game Captain Toad Treasure Tracker. I kid you not, and that is not the worst part either, the worst part is that Nintendo is doing limited runs on some of these. What does that mean? It means you are shit out of luck, unless you want to pay $30 CDN to someone online, where the retail price is $13.99 CDN. What about the coveted Gold Mario amiibo, $50, fortunately the Mario amiibo has 3 versions at this moment so any content locked behind the Mario amiibo can still be accessed with the other two figures. In the end Nintendo has created a black market for their amiibo figures. In my books this is worse than any of the other sketchy business practices that the console industry employs. With that said goodbye Nintendo, and finally, goodbye console gaming. You will wither into obscurity as mobile gaming is gaining traction and replacing the casual console gamer. PC gaming was  and always will be my mistress.

Update: Someone recently said to me.. “Consoles haven’t ruined gaming we’re just getting old.”. Nah, I don’t believe this at all, I still play games, I just play them on the PC where there is variety in gaming and the prices are not ridiculous. Also I can pinpoint exactly when consoles ruined gaming, this happened as soon as they became online capable. As soon as online capability was no longer a pipe dream for consoles DLC became a prevalent presence of the profit margin for gaming. This was true for the Xbox 360s and the PS3s. With the newer generation of consoles the Ubisofts and EAs took this a step further, now these companies would release broken games and with the online necessity of the Xbox One and PS4 they would patch the games as they see fit. This multi-billion dollar industry needs to be regulated, there needs to be a set of standards. Everything else has a lemon policy, and software should as well.

Update 2: COD Black Ops 3 was recently announced and with it further proof that gaming is just a cash grab for the industry. I haven’t for a long time nor will I ever again suppor this franchise. Check out the price.CaptureI rest my case!

 

Which SSD should I buy?

In short, an Intel branded SSD.

The long story goes a little different than this. Let me tell you that story.

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I was an early adopter of SSD technology. Initially I sprung for an OCZ branded SSD, two RMA’s and 3 failed OCZ SSD drives later, I had a very expensive paper weight. Not much of a paperweight to be honest, SSDs weight close to nothing. Even after all the failures I got a taste of what an SSD could do to a computer system, how much a computers responsiveness increased with an SSD inside. The Hard Drive was no longer a bottleneck and I had to have more of this incredible speed.

So I finally replace the failed OCZ drive and purchased one of the Intel branded value series SSDs. This was the first offering of a value series SSD drives from Intel ever. Well guess what, 6 years later and after being in 6 computer systems, the drive is still kicking and alive today. I still have it full time in a computer system. I wish I could say the same about the OCZ drive. OCZ was a company that was on the brink of bankruptcy due to their bad hardware and even worse quality control. I mean even their RAM modules are no longer recommended, and they used to be the enthusiasts choice. They are now owned by Toshiba, and no longer the same company they used to be.

Now I do not but anything but Intel SSD drivers. Also to note that Intel based Solid State Drives are the only ones that pass the power off test. Essentially you cut the power of a computer system abruptly while an SSD drive is busy and hope for the best. Mechanical hard drives have a fault tolerance for this, but apparently SSDs do not. Out of the drives tested with this method, after performing a CRC check on the files only the Intel drives passed. Mind you this is a test is over a year old and SSD technology can evolve rather quickly. But with the recent Samsung EVO SSD issues of data retention and read speed loss, there is only one SSD manufacturer I trust with my data…

Intel

Yes Intel SSDs are more expensive, but in today’s world you generally get what you pay for. And how much time and money is a piece of mind worth to you.

Look I’m not saying that all SSDs are bad quality, and not every SSD you buy will be a lemon, well except for the current Samsung EVO 840 drives, however historically speaking Intel has the better quality parts and less rotten apples in their basket than the competition. This is not an advertisement for Intel based SSDs just an observation based on experience.

Update: Full disclosure, historically Intel is not without it’s issues, mind you most of the issues intel SSDs experienced were due to third party SSD sata controllers. Like the Sandforce controller in the 520 (2013) series, or the controller in the 320 (2012) series. Since Intel has created their own SSD sata controllers, and firmware updates to those faulty third party controllers were released fairly quickly. Then there is the problem with the 530 series SSD, it’s dubbed the startup issue, and is only limited to the HP elite books. What happens is when you restart your laptop it will not recognize the drive. But this is an isolated problem to said laptop.