Can a Forty Dollar Bust become a great gaming PC

How did we get here?

In recent weeks I purchased a forty dollar, non-working PC from eBay, then cleaned it up and fixed it. That was actually the easy part. The more difficult part is to see if that can’t become a budget gaming pc. It is a sixth generation i5 6500 with four cores and four threads, which is solid, but the case doesn’t leave room for a graphics card. It also has a low wattage power supply, so the graphics solution has to be efficient.

A low power, low profile card is the best choice, but that leaves us only a few options. Low profile cards are expensive even if they are older and not great. Cards with no external power also retain their value, and getting one with good performance is a challenge. We do get left with a few choices, but some are better than others for our use case.

Nvidia makes a great option with the RTX A2000. It’s not actually a mainstream gaming card, but it’s power efficient and low profile. The pairing of that and the i5 6500 is a bit unbalanced, but definitely a gaming PC. The problem? It cost 150% more than the budget for this project. At three hundred to three hundred fifty dollars, it’s just not a good choice.

Likewise, with the older GTX 1050 low profile. Believe it or not, this card, though older, still goes sometimes for around two hundred fifty dollars. Yes, you read that right, 250. It’s not because it’s an outstanding product, (though it is solid), it’s because it is a product that remains in demand. To go cheaper in this generation of graphics cards, you have to settle for a GT1030.

Isn’t there anything cheaper?

As mentioned a moment ago, you can go with a GT1030, but that also has problems, and a twist. The 1030 comes with half of the memory of the 1050 models AND there are two different models, one with DDR4 instead of DDR5 memory. This combination actually makes it worse than integrated graphics on more modern CPUs. Yes, worse.

AMD does have a pair of options in a similar price range (less than $80). The RX550 and RX560 can be found very reasonably, but they suffer from the same problem the GT1030 does. They lack memory and they just aren’t high performers, at all. They are usually a bit easier to find, though, with the RX550 still available brand new.

There isn’t going to be a forty dollar graphics card to match with the deal found on the PC. One of the main reasons is that it is much easier to diagnose a PC with a set of pictures and tell what doesn’t work than its components. At best, you may be able to find something described as ‘running hot’ and take a chance on replacing thermal paste. With a PC, if they post pictures, there are things to look for that give an indication of the problem may be.

What about my forty dollar investment?

It’s in great shape. It may be a slim line PC, but there is at least one option to keep the total investment under two bills. The AMD RX6400 low profile has entered the chat.

Originally sold for around two hundred fifty dollars, the same price as the Arc A750, this card has come down and can be found used for about one thirty. It sells for a bit more brand new, but we are on a budget, here. A budget that sees us spend twenty bucks for a 256 GB SSD and twelve dollars for another stick of memory. That gives us a total of two hundred, two dollars. The price is slightly more using a site for a discount windows key, but sacrificing the additional 8GB of memory keeps the price at 200.

How does it perform, though? Actually, quite well, for what it is. Or, more accurately, what it was, broken. Benchmarks will be in the YouTube video coming up, but 60 fames per second can be hit in many triple A titles at 1080p. One issue is that the PCI bus speed is 3.0 instead of 4.0 . That’s important because the card uses the same number of lanes as an NVMe drive. Most cards use sixteen lanes instead of the four that the RX6400 has. It is an impact to performance, but it still outperforms other options. That means on a newer platform, performance is better. Still, we are on a budget.

So, can you build a gaming PC for two hundred dollars? Yes. Will it be enough to rival spending only one hundred more? That will be the next subject. Next we look at a two hundred dollar build versus a three hundred dollar. Come back soon to find out.

The video for this is live here.

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Make The Most Of 40 Bucks: Waste Or Treasure?

How did we get here?

How do you spend 40 bucks? Gas, a meal out? The water bill? If you are lucky enough, you may be able to find a broken PC on eBay. Or, a non-working PC that isn’t broken. Technically, the listing was non-working, for parts, final sale, so I took a chance.

This started when I was looking for an ultra cheap alternative to building a PC and ended up with a server and a 300 budget PC, both. I decided to build the cheapest full system I could, and ended up scoring free accessories. A keyboard and monitor came from a corporate IT department, so I set my sights on the PC.

My goal was to find a non working prebuilt with an identifiable issue. After a bit of digging, I found one. For sale on eBay, a 5040MT Dell Optiplex, non-working, for parts. The pics showed a missing HDD or SSD, and a decent i5 with memory, so for 46 dollars, including the tax, I bought it. It even came with free shipping. Deal.

40 bucks Non-working, no returns

I was sure I knew what the problem was and it would be an easy fix. SSD’s are cheap, with a 500Gb going for around twenty eight dollars. A have a mouse and free accessories, so if the SSD worked, it would mean I now had a working computer, although a filthy one, for about 80. After a clean up, it will handle most tasks well, but I want more.

I have to admit, this PC, though non-working, came well packed like a new unit. Both happy and surprised, I have set to work cleaning it up and will test the ‘base’ model when that’s done. The video for the PC itself is here, but that’s not where it ends. This needs to be an ultra budget gamer; this is just the start.

The next part will be finding a video card that fits in the slim case and more memory. A few non traditional upgrades, and this thing will have a whole new life playing games. It may also see a renewed life as an office PC, but a month ago it was trash. Not a bad turn for the old Optiplex.

So, What’s next?

I will finish a good cleaning, and testing, then put the extra memory and SSD in with a fresh install of windows. I have two choices of video cards that fit, so I will try them both. Then I will test it against the $300 budget build that I didn’t get a chance to write about, so I will cover that in the next blog. It promises to be fun.

After that, I’m not sure. New homes are an option, or I can sell it to a small business on a budget. I almost always have at least one office computer around just for that reason. Come to think of it, I almost always have at least one spare older laptop. There’s a video in there somewhere. Later, but not too much later.

With care and a good eye, you can find a great deal that most people will miss. Getting the free accessories from the IT department was as easy as asking. The accessories came from the e-waste stack, and have a new home and even the monitor is a great find at 24 inches with a built in webcam. All because I asked for an older keyboard. You just never know. Now, I have to get back to cleaning this thing. It was a good 40 bucks.

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All in One or Tower Cooler. Which is better?

How did we get here?

Some of my first personal computers didn’t even need a cooler. Later, they required a modest heatsink or fan combination, which was more than enough for the heat being produced. Processers weren’t that powerful, graphics were being handled on the motherboard, and ironically, sound was usually handled by a dedicated card. It was a much simpler time.

Several decades later, the processing power in a home PC is more than what took up an entire floor in a major university. That’s not an exaggeration. Your home PC might have been a ‘Supercomputer’ thirty plus years ago. Power draw and heat are also much more than decades past. It’s far less comparatively, but there is a lot of heat generated by modern CPUs. With heat, you need cooling.

There are two main ways to cool modern CPUs. One way using a closed fluid loop and radiator combination. Similar to a car, a pump circulates the fluid and the heat is dissipated through a radiator. Tower coolers use a tall vertical grid to transfer heat up and away from the CPU, while fans move air across the stack. There are many CPU’s you can cool with a smaller fin stack and fan blowing down on the processor, but most high performance chips produce entirely too much heat for that.

Which cooler is better?

The answer is more complicated than just saying ‘go buy this’. The fluid loop system may be the most effective at cooling, but difficult to set up. While it works very well, it is sometimes difficult to put together and maintain, and can prove expensive to buy parts. Failures in the system can cause bigger issues. It can be very expensive if done wrong, and cost money to replace components.

The All in One cooler makes installation easier and often is very affordable. It’s also usually very reliable. Choosing the right sized cooler is not usually difficult, but there are a few things to remember, and a few examples of poor design to be aware of. It’s almost certainly a good idea to stay away from a single fan 120mm design, and the pump should never be at the top of the loop. Most often the pump is in the section making contact with the processor. If air gets trapped in the pump assembly it can burn up the unit, causing other failures.

Tower coolers are usually much easier to maintain and cheaper, but you may not get the same performance. For most CPUs, though, it’s a great solution and doesn’t present the issue of positioning that a loop does. They both come with RGB options, and even digital readouts like temp, etc. Both are solid options, so what’s the question?

So, what gives?

Other than making sure of the positioning of the AIO radiator, either should do the job, right? Yes, but there is a subtle difference no one has mentioned. Where does the hot air go?

Typically, the warm air in a system with an AIO will be forced up through the top. Whether the radiator is at the top, or in the front, there are usually fans pushing air out through the top of the case. After all, heat rises. You can certainly configure the fans to push air somewhere else, but why screw with nature.

Tower coolers push air directly out of the back. Think about it, the tower cooler fans push warm air away from the CPU to the back of the case, right into the exhaust fan. Fans in the top may help, but for the most part most warm air exits from the rear. Why does that matter? Unless you have your PC in an enclosed space, there is more room above your PC than behind it. Much of the time PCs are set up where a wall or even the monitor, etc. is directly behind it. I never considered this until playing Starfield on both of my PCs. It’s a game that really stresses the system.

The both are slightly lower than my desk, and positioned where I can see inside the machine. The backs point toward the desks. I was warm and uncomfortable while playing on the Intel system, but not the AMD rig, and confused why. Confused until I realized the tower cooler was blowing all of the warm air from the CPU right at me. Hmm, I never considered that. The Intel PC doesn’t work as hard, but blows all of that air across my desk. It’s something I didn’t consider.

How do I dix the cooler?

How do I fix it? Do I change to an AIO for that rig? Do I rearrange the desk and PC? Neither is impossible, but either is inconvenvient. I’m definitely not going to stop playing games. It’s easiest to rearrange everything on the desk, so that’s the plan. Not fun, but effective. It’s also cheaper than buying another AIO. There will be a follow up.

It’s not a problem, it’s just inconvenient, but no one talks about it. I can’t be the only one that has run into this issue, though. It’s always a learning process but I hadn’t considered this at all. Now I have to make a video.

Link to the YouTube channel

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Can Arc GPU’s play the new Starfield? Sort of.

How did we get here

The A750, being a new architecture, is bound to have issues, but you would think some things shouldn’t happen. Intel released the Arc GPUs about a year ago and declared that they were concentrating on the most up-to-date processes first. This meant games running DX12 and the new AV1 encoder among other things. They admitted older APIs and processes would take time to ‘fill in’ and to many of us, that was okay.

I saw it as an opportunity to do some testing and make content, so the discovery process worked well for me. Newer titles run well, and as recently discovered, the AV1 encoder is amazing. Older titles running Direct X 11 or 9 had some issues, but that was expected. No one felt they needed to call Intel out on that because they told us what to expect. They reported, and we confirmed. Everything checked out fine.

Intel has released several driver updates over the year to improve running those older titles. Improvements have been seen in older games, especially the more popular ones, and even the upscale Xess is solid. Some games like Borderlands3 still suffer in DX11, though, and straight-up crash in DX12. Others, that have the option of DX11 or Vulkan, are abysmal. World War Z, for example, is horrible in DX11 and cannot access the option to run in Vulkan. Still, for the price, the Arc GPUs are a great buy.

There’s always a but,

There is this time, as well.

Starfield is a game that Bethesda has been working on for several years, and was known about when the ARC GPUs launched. Being a new title, it should be in the new GPU’s wheelhouse. No. The pre-release wouldn’t launch at all. For that matter, as of a week after launch, it wouldn’t start on some systems, including mine.

Try as I might, I can’t think of a good excuse for this. Furthermore, I can’t pin down who should be more at fault. Intel knew about the game and should have been ready for this release, but Bethesda has made comments that even newer hardware won’t be enough to run the game. I get not being able to run it well, but to even start the game?

This was supposed to be one of the most anticipated games to come from Bethesda in a decade and you tell us things like the ARC GPUs don’t even meet minimum specs. The card is a year old and compares to cards that are above your minimum specs. That doesn’t wash. Intel isn’t in the clear here either, though, this game wasn’t a secret, and it wasn’t some sort of indy project. This was a major project and should have been anticipated.

Does it work on Arc or not?

Luckily, Intel continues to work on drivers and we can play this game on our Arc GPUs. It’s not perfect, by any means. There are issues like changing the resolution and keeping a full screen. Or weird blue shading that happens when I change settings but I can play around with it. I shouldn’t have to, but it’s not the end of the world. It does take away from the immersion, though.

The graphics on the game are beautiful and the storyline begins to take shape a few hours into playing. Without some persistence, though, owners of Intel GPUs might not ever reach that point. I could understand if many simply walked away from it, especially for the price point. At this point, it’s an average experience, and if you are used to playing other games in that genre, like No Man’s Sky or Star Citizen, you may end up passing on it all together. I will tell you, though, that I was happy to get it working on the A750, I just don’t know how much of it I’ll be playing.

Link to the video is here

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The HP Bad Omen – it was supposed to be easy

How did we get here?

The HP Omen needed a new SSD. A new NVMe drive in one of the two M.2 slots should do the trick. The reason was simple, Dustin was selling his computer and wanted to make sure his personal info wasn’t shared. Old drive out, and new drive in. Easy. Not so much. I had prepared for the swap, and it should have been cut and dry, but the Omen PC had other plans.

I installed Windows 10 on a new drive in a PC with very similar parts, but when we turned the new PC on, it boot looped. Okay, get into the BIOS and look for a bootable drive. That was a different problem. On HP computers the spam keys are escape and F10 instead of the Delete key (and occasionally F2), but this didn’t work. I couldn’t get into the BIOS.

We removed the drive to check it, and of course, it worked in the other setup. The original drive also worked in the Omen. Another try with the new drive produced more boot loops, but there was progress. We could get in the BIOS, now. The Crucial P3 Plus was being recognized as a boot drive, but not acting like it. We configured the boot order to see the media creation USB and tried again. The thought being to reinstall windows on the Omen.

Re-installing the OS

I had already taken the precaution of making sure that the SSD was compatible with the OMEN, and I had a back up plan if it didn’t. The media creation tool on the USB was the latest release to keep form a ton of updates when we finished, but we hadn’t gotten to that point.

Windows 10 allowed us to use a local account, and could be set up without needing the new owner’s personal information. The fewer things to worry about the better. The new owner could then update all of the account information, himself. We still had to get the PC to boot in the first place, though.

I was able to start running the media creation tool, but found yet another problem. Windows didn’t see the new drive. In fact, after some trial and error and experimenting, we realized it didn’t see any drive, not even the original. This was just getting weird.

Time to go to the internet. There are several videos for HP Omens and boot issues, but they all say the same thing, change the boot order in the BIOS. Um, we already did that. Maybe this wouldn’t help. I finally found one video from a channel called Lapfix that found the solution. (here). One, out of dozens.

The actual fix

It seems there is an Intel RAID driver required for the new PC to recognize the drive. What? Seriously? An obscure raid driver? It was also necessary to extract it from an exe file. (Obviously you cant use an exe file if you can’t get into Windows.) File was extracted, installed on a different USB, and back to the install. We found the option for using a driver and it actually worked. Finally, things were moving forward again.

Windows was installed along with a handful of updates; there are always updates. The Omen desktop app and the newest NVidia video driver installed easily and we were in business. I was still cautious, though, not taking anything for granted.

A couple of test boots and resets later and this thing was ready to pack up and present to it’s new owner. We installed a second NVMe for games (yes, we had also tried it as a boot), and things were in good shape. I have worked on hundreds of computers and never run into this. Heck, I’ve made stuff work that was never supposed to work together and hadn’t seen this.

Having a small tech channel, gives me an opportunity to see and learn a lot, but this may be one of the stranger things. There should be no reason a single boot drive would need a raid driver. It doesn’t make sense, but it definitely adds to the difficulty of taking care of your PC. It makes it look like these companies purposely keep us from upgrading.

Final thoughts

Prebuilts have parts typically optimized to work with each other, but parts go bad, or sometimes need to be changed. To need a driver like this seems shady at best. It’s entirely possible there is an important reason for it, but I would expect to see it more often, if so. I certainly don’t understand the need on a boot drive.

It’s no secret that companies prevent consumers from repairing their own equipment. Major corporations are guilty and don’t deny it, but this wasn’t a copy protect or proprietary parts. It’s just a driver that seems to be out of place if it’s necessary. To me, it seems shady, but at least now I am aware of it for the next time.

We set things up on Windows 10, but its ready for Windows 11, so by now it should be updated. It’s a shame this was so tricky, because it’s actually a good system. The BIOS isn’t special, but no HP BIOS is special. For that matter, not many integrator’s BIOSes offer many options, but it’s functional. This PC should last the new owner quite a while.

For my part, I will start looking for tricks or extra drivers, especially on prebuilts. I don’t have anything against a prebuilt, but I will stick to building my own. That way, I know the issues are my fault. Sometimes, it’s due to things I shouldn’t do anyway, but that’s a different blog.

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The video can be found here

Rendering videos with the new editing rig

How did we get here?

Having completed most of the work on CoolBlue, the new editing rig, it came time to start testing. Theoretically it should be better, but that still needed proving. This would primarily be a test of the CPU, because the version of DaVinci Resolve I’m using doesn’t have support using the NVENC encoder used by NVidia. I’ve been using it like this for a couple of years, but there is a wrinkle later.

I devised the rather unscientific procedure of three test runs each on identical projects. I was able to do this because the files are now kept on the server, and available to every computer on my network. It would be three passes with each the AMD Ryzen 7 5800x and the Intel i7 12700KF. I would render a twelve minute video, alternating between the two systems allowing a cooldown between each run.

Both systems are similar with anything handling the media being nearly identical. Both systems are using an intel NVMe drive, with other assets stored on WD Black 7200 RPM. Each saves to a drive on the home network to the server, I recently built. The GPUs aren’t a factor (yet), and the DDR4 memory is 32 GB at 3600 MHz. The only difference is the platform.

The testing

The first run was almost what I expected, except the AMD was twenty seconds faster. I started to question my idea of swapping rigs at this point, but there was more to test. The 5800X clocked in at 4 minutes and 34 seconds, and the Intel rendered took twenty seconds longer. The second run saw them reversed, with the 12700 turning in the faster time. The average of both runs were almost identical, I could go with either system at this point.

That changed with the third run. The AMD rig turned in a time similar to the other runs, but the Intel system rendered the video in three minutes, nineteen seconds. It shaved a full minute off anything the AMD offered. Both of these systems are the previous generation with the same generation of memory, and the same storage solution. It would be a no brainer to use the new build, but there was more.

I mentioned that the version of Resolve I am using doesn’t take advantage of the RTX3060Ti that is in the current editing rig, but it does allow for the AV1 encoder on the Arc A750. The same A750 that is in the new build. Might this be the test I need that convinces me to switch?

AV1 in the new editing rig

One advantage of the Arc graphics cards is the addition of the new AV1 encoding process. An encoder that is also now included on the new 7000 series AMD Graphics cards. After a small misstep, I was able to configure Resolve properly, and I ran the render test, which blistered the previous efforts.

The new run took one minute and fifty two seconds. My fastest run was now cut almost in half! Half! I was convinced. I used to start rendering, then leave the room to go get something to drink or a bio break. Now, I will barely have time to find which image will be my thumbnail for the video. This will save hours over a year’s time. It will pay huge dividends as I move forward.

For good measure and piece of mind, I rendered the support video for this story using the same method and the eleven minute, seven second video, finished in two minutes even. It’s a huge improvement and it makes me excited using this editing rig going forward. It does raise a question of whether I should completely swap PCs or have two systems for two different functions, though, but that’s a question for later.

The video for the testing and results is here.

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New drivers, but the same results

How did we get here?

A few months back I bought Intel’s Arc A750 graphics card to test. The day one drivers, Intel admitted, were lacking support for some older games. Newer games use Direct X12 to interface with Windows, while older ones use DX11 or 9. Some games also use the Vulkan API, but we’ll get to that in a minute. The Arc GPU’s were optimized for DX12 and Vulkan with plans to catch up as they went. If they went.

Newer titles perform very well , and the A750 can be picked up right now for under 250USD. It’s a great deal for the money, and they have updated a wide variety of games. There are, however, some issues. Some games are good for benchmarks because of how they stress components. They may not always be popular, but they have a purpose.

One popular for testing is Borderlands 3. It stresses the graphics card and often makes the best cards run hot. It also runs on DX11 AND DX12, except it doesn’t; not with the Intel drivers. Okay, DX 11 technically works, but DX12 crashes and won’t restart without going into the games config file. I don’t think that is a default setting.

While using DX11, performance is less than stellar. The game measures performance from the mid 70 frames per second to around 100 whether render the resolution is set to 1440P or the more standard 1080P. Generally, 1080P should be between a 10 and 20% improvement over the higher resolution. It’s not, if anything it’s worse, AND its worse with the new driver. Only a few frames and in margin of error, but worse.

Other issues

World War Z is another game with a different problem. Why would I mention a game that has a limited popularity? Because its a dual API game, with a choice between DX11 and Vulkan. Well, it’s supposed to support two protocols, but Vulkan isn’t currently an option. I haven’t looked at the config file yet, but from the menu, it’s a no.

Still, that’s not the real problem. The real problem is the DX11 drivers are all but broken. Any combination of texture and resolution nets you 60fps or less. GPU and CPU usage are both extremely low and memory usage is through the roof. Tears, frame drops and missing textures are all common, making it almost painful to watch. WWZ isn’t that popular, so it probably won’t be fixed for quite a while. it is, a valuable benchmark, however, or was.

They didn’t list either of these as games as improved, but I had hoped.

Will there be better drivers?

Most assuredly. Intel has done a fantastic job of updating every few weeks with a larger one about every quarter. Each time, there is an improvement and we have to remember, they haven’t been producing graphics cards for two decades plus, like the other two have. For a freshman effort, it’s outstanding and priced extremely well.

The card is under 250 USD and compares well to cards that cost at least one and a half times as much. It’s a worthy opponent, and it is a beautiful, sleek looking card that compliments almost any system. The AV1 encoder will be of great use rendering video content, and it is power efficient, as well. The issues with some older titles is an inconvenience for some of us doing benchmarks, but the card performs well in newer titles. It’s actually a solid card.

I was skeptical when it came out, but thought the price was affordable if it turned out to be junk. I’m happy to say, it’s not junk. It’s actually a great card, and a great buy. With the constant improvements to drivers in Arc, I’m excited to see Battlemage when it releases, and I never imagined myself saying that. If the current example holds true, the next gen will also be affordable, putting pressure on NVidia and AMD.

This card will stay in my build and will so be my editing rig. In turn, I will use my other PC for testing, but I think the Arc will make a decent gaming and streaming option, so it gets a try. If it doesn’t cut it, I’ll just swap it out with the RTX 3060Ti I’m using.

The video on this is located here

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Old equipment can only do so much. Time to make it better.

How did we get here?

My original thought for this weekend was to bring Danny DD to my sister’s to do some streaming. I brought some of my own equipment like a second monitor, mic and camera, and I thought I would have pretty much everything I needed. Not so fast, my friend.

As it turns out, there is a small issue of an eight year old router to contend with. Now, back in it’s day, it was a great choice. It is capable of 2.4 and 5Ghz and rated up to 802.11 ac (including a/b/g…….). It does a fair job with only two people and the occasional guest, but even my brother in law has expressed frustration, because, after all, the modem is new, everything should be fast and not buffer.

The modem is new, but that means a very fast signal can’t go anywhere.

The modem is fine, and the internet speed is quick, I don’t yet have the cap on the download speed, but they are getting in excess of 50Mbps upload, which for a cable company is rather impressive. The problem is several fold and as technology improves, it causes more of a gap. One that the older router just cannot make up. We didn’t have the technology that now exists, eight years back.

What’s the big deal

There are a few factors here. A few years ago, they switched to streaming content instead of using a cable tuner. That meant more devices running more often. A lot more often. TV, a home pc and laptop, phones, a tablet……… you see where I’m going with this. That is just the devices that they now might use everyday and/or stream from. That doesn’t include the son on the other side of the house with several devices, the TV in the family room that streams, and guests that come over like myself.

That router is rated to handle, on it’s best day, about a dozen devices. These days, even your kitchen appliances or security systems try to use the same internet. It’s a lot more than the old equipment was ever designed for.

Time for a change.

This is a very typical situation, with a typical family. Yours may be slightly different, but as we move away from a device like a cable tuner and get the next great phone, tablet, or laptop, we may be disappointed with the results if we don’t look at the equipment we use to connect with. We go all out on a bigger tv or new phone, but they can only do as well as what is supporting them.

Think of it like getting a shiny new sports car that does 150 mph (240 kph). Do you know how to drive that fast? Are the roads you travel on designed to handle a car that fast? Probably not. It’s similar to a high speed train traveling on a freight train track. It’s not made to do that. The train can go fast, but the track won’t handle it.

So, what’s the solution?

Time for new equipment

Now this can be tricky, too. Some internet providers furnish one that works with their equipment, and some have you furnish your own. My provider supplied one, their provider supplies the modem, but not the router. Both have advantages and disadvantages. In my sister’s case it means they have a very wide range of routers to chose from. Too many to choose from. It’s not hard, just go buy the best one, right? Do you need the best one? Probably not. You may not need something that expensive to do the job.

Find the one(s) that best fit your situation. Do you need something capable of covering several thousand square feet or when one covering a couple of thousand will do? If you aren’t adding on to your house any time soon, you don’t need one that covers three times the area.

Budget is another concern. You can buy a great quality router for less than two hundred USD and be set for another five or six years. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to do a great job. Keep in mind, you probably spent a lot on that new phone, or TV, and the supporting equipment deserves to fit the situation.

Brand quality counts. If you’ve never heard of the company, there may be a reason why. Keep in mind, though, just because you recognize the name doesn’t mean greatness. We all know at least one brand of our favorite products, that we absolutely stay away from. Bad reputation might make a company famous. Just saying.

My advice on new equipment?

Do your research. And even after you ask questions and look at different models, look at different retailers to make sure its a good deal. Sometimes it also may be worth it to pay an extra few bucks to go see, feel, and touch it before you buy it. There is a lot to be said for a hands on experience, after all, that’s what you will have to do when you have it home. You can also go get hands on, then order it from a retailer that has it on sale.

Still no idea? Get your brother, you know the one with tech experience, to tell you what the actual issue is, then have him find the best tool to solve it. Put your trust in a third party with no bias. He may even write about it and your movies won’t buffer when he tries to play online.

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The new NAS project is nearly complete.

How did we get here?

The new NAS project started a few months ago, when I had the bright idea to create a back up solution. I had planned to use a ‘My Cloud’ device that I already had, but found one of the reasons I bought doesn’t apply anymore. (I bought it a few years ago). Gone, is the stand alone app, replaced by a web app. A web app that has no back up scheduler like the stand alone did. A reason I was trying to use it. Faced with using what amounted to a drop folder for external storage, I decided I’d create my own.

This took on a few iterations, but each made progress over the last. The goal, however was still. find something easy to use to get bulk storage off individual PCs and make it centralized. First was a proof of concept in the HP FrankenDell, then we would scale up. The combination of Dell motherboard, Xeon processor, and HP case was an interesting project and did work, but I thought a standard motherboard would work better.

The new NAS next step

The great deal on the motherboard combo was a great surpise, coming with the mobo, CPU, and memory. It was a perfect solution, but it meant shelving the Xeon again. To be honest, I thought I might stil use the Xeon, but the combo deal appeared to be solid, all I needed was a larger hard drive. I found an 8TB solution, and got to work. As it turns out, still a lot of work.

My choice for software was TruNas Scale. It’s an open source solution that is linux based and can make use of different Docker containers for easy integration. I managed to get things set up, and realized I had no idea what I was doing. Okay, maybe that isn’t quite accurate, but it’s close. It may be versitile and overall easy to use, but there is still a learning curve. I relatively steep one, but not impossible. I managed to get a server up and running within a couple of hours. A few days should see most things worked out, and I may even be able to call it a success.

It did give me a bit of feedback telling me a single drive in a pool by itself was a bad idea, but I will be able to change it later. There has also been a few issues trying to get Prometheus (monitoring software) to play nice, but I’ll figure that out as well. The rest of the set up was easy. Well, not easy, but not brain surgery. It’s up, it’s running and it’s transferring files. Later I will also work on automatic backup, but that’s another day.

What’s next for the new NAS?

For now it’s functioning and makes a good swap file, but the goal is to have a stand alone solution that I can use as an auto backup. The use of containers might make it easier to get what I want out of the server, but at the very least, I know have a large data back up solution accessible from my entire network. That leaves two goals, autoback up and remote acess.

I don’t know enough to get it set up immediately, but I know there is a large community of resources to pull from for TrueNas, so a solution is out there. I also know this solution is better than any I’ve had, so that’s a plus. Within a few weeks I should have a solid workable solution that will last until I need something bigger. In the mean time, I’ll use it to learn as much as I can and enjoy it.

The video can be found here

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My new network server, is my old Optiplex? Seriously?

How did we get here?

To begin with, why would anyone need a network server? There can be several answers, including file storage, a plex server, or even a game server. Different uses means different ways of creating and storing data. There is no wrong way and virtually, no wrong equipment There are limitations, however, as to what you can do with what equipment.

In my case, I have a YouTube channel and keep not only raw footage, but finished videos. I do have a back up, of sorts, but it’s poorly done and not an elegant solution. There are duplicate files on two computers, and I use of a back up USB, and Western Digital cloud device. A device that needs to be reconfigured to be more efficient. Long story, short, I have no reliable, streamlined solution. I may not lose data, but it would be a pain to retrieve some of it.

Enter the HP FrankenDell. This computer has a Xeon E3 12700 v3 four core/ eight thread CPU on a Dell motherboard. It came from an Optiplex 9020, and has 16GB of memory tucked very creatively in an HP case from 2008. I’m looking for reliable file storage with something that runs efficiently, and the Xeon fits the bill. Originally, this a sleeper gaming PC, but the extra drive bays make it perfect. There is still the execution to tackle, though.

Setting up the network server?

One of the easier ways is simply create a new file on a hard drive and make it shareable. Doing this will give you an address of sorts that other computers on your network can find. The drive needs plenty of room and to stay connected to the network. The second step is to go to the next PC and find that drive location.

Click on ‘This PC’ in the file explorer. That presents you with a few options across the top, but it may require you right click on ‘This PC’ and chose ‘map network drive’. Select a drive letter you aren’t already using, and put in the address from the first PC. You need to use a double backslash ‘\\’ for this, so don’t forget. In my case, I also copied it to the desktop and changed the icon.

A simple test making sure anything going into that folder gets ‘dropped’ in the other PC’s shared folder and we were in business. It doesn’t solve all of my issues, but it’s a start. A start I can build on and improve. After ordering some new sleds for the additional dives, I have room for at least four or five drives and I can start the next step.

What is that, you ask? redundant storage, a raid solution to make sure I don’t lose data, and creating something I can access from anywhere. Those are some pretty lofty steps, but the first one was to get the ball rolling. Mission accomplished. The drive bays came in, so it’s time to add more storage, but very soon, we begin the next part, and of course, I’ll share the story.

The latest video on it is here, and to go back to the blog page, go here.