Backing up my FreeNAS to Backblaze B2

| Comments

For a very long time, my NAS was my backup plan. The primary function of my NAS was to store the backups of all of our PCS in the house. My approach worked pretty well except for two chief concerns: stupidity (a catastrophic destructive change) and some sort of disaster that deprived us of the NAS. While my approach of backing the computers up to my FreeNAS box covered the most likely sources of my problems, it has gnawed on me that there are other scenarios it didn’t account for. For example: fire, theft, tornados, and any number of other physical threats. For a long time, I’ve mitigated those with cloud storage providers like Google Drive and Dropbox.

Further complicating matters is the fact that I’ve switched to using SSDs in most of my computers, and the rate at which I’m generating content has skyrocketed. The photos and videos that I record for my blog take up quite a bit of space, and my recent obsession of flying freestyle FPV quadcopters has generated tons of high-definition videos. Reducing the storage capacity of my computers at the same time as ramping up my content creation has forced me to start using my NAS as the primary storage for much of what’s most important to me.

For quite a while, I’ve been pondering the complexity and price of backing up this critical data to one of the cloud storage providers: Amazon S3, Crashplan, or Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage. While I was pondering, I decided to back up that same critical data on our PCs to the cloud using CrashPlan, but weeks later Code42 abandoned the consumer market and yanked the plug on CrashPlan, leaving consumers like me in a lurch.

Without a real backup plan beyond my helter-skelter use of Dropbox and Google Drive, I wandered around aimlessly a bit, pondering exactly what I’d do.

Backblaze’s Blog to the Rescue

I love, love, love Backblaze’s Blog—the hard drive statistics that they share are an invaluable resource in my DIY NAS builds. I also love the detail that they go into when sharing the details about the Backblaze Storage Pod. Just the other day, I was battling through a normal workday and I saw this crawl through my Twitter feed on my phone:


Seeing this tweet reminded me that I needed to get off my rear and get back to addressing my outstanding concerns. That very weekend, I sat down and read through the Backing UP FreeNAS and TrueNAS to Backblaze B2 blog and knew exactly what I was going to experiment with next.

What is Backblaze’s B2 Cloud Storage Anyways?

Effectively, you pay a monthly flat rate of $0.005 per Gigabyte of B2 Storage. And when you need to pull down any of that storage, you pay $0.01 per gigabyte of download. At the moment, there’s nearly 11 TB of data on my NAS, but I don’t think much of that is critical. When you subtract out the amount of storage that my ancient backups, ZFS snapshots, and other cruft take up, there’s right around 2TB of data that I’d label as critical. Using Backblaze’s B2 pricing calculator, it’d cost me about $10 a month (2000GB x $0.005) to store that critical data. In the event that I lost all 2TB of that data in some sort of catastrophe, restoring that 2TB would have a one-time cost of $20 (2000 GB x $0.01).

At first, I wasn’t a big fan of how downloads carried their own cost, which is similar to how Amazon is pricing their competing S3 storage. But the more I thought it over as I wrote this blog, the more I began to understand and appreciate that Backblaze separates the pricing for downloads apart for their B2 Cloud Storage. It seems much more straightforward—other services are certainly accounting for the costs associated with the downloads and factoring that into the pricing of their product. But, depending on how you wind up using it, you may not do much—if any—downloading of your stored data. Considering how I plan to use Backblaze B2, it seems like a much fairer way to price retrieving your stored data.

How much work did it wind up being?

For the sake of this blog, I thought I’d demonstrate setting up a task that backed up the latest copy of my entire blog up to Backblaze B2. I figured I’d set everything up on Backblaze B2 in such a way that only the latest copy of what’s being stored on my NAS is uploaded and stored in the cloud. While I’m intrigued at the backup options and versioning that Backblaze B2 offers, I also didn’t want to wind up paying for storing multiple copies. I’m fine with only having the latest copies of my files backed up on Backblaze B2. With that in mind, here’s what I wound up doing.

Setting up Backblaze B2

  1. Create a Bucket
  2. Set the Lifecycle Settings to keep only the last version of the file.
  3. Follow the Show Account ID and Application Key link to Add an Application Key
    1. Name the Key
    2. Specify which bucket(s) to grant it access to.
    3. Specify the Type of Access (Read and Write)
    4. Note all the key information somewhere for later.
Creating a bucket Setting bucket's lifecycle settings Generating an application key


And that was it! I’d set up a bucket to retain only the latest copy of uploaded files. Now I just needed to set up my FreeNAS box to start syncing the bucket up with the current contents of my blog.

Configuring FreeNAS

Enter Cloud Credentials

  1. Expand System
  2. Expand Cloud Credentials
  3. Select Add Cloud Credential
    1. Name the Cloud Credential
    2. Choose Backblaze B2
    3. Enter the keyID (from above) as the Account ID
    4. Enter the text created and displayed one time only by Backblaze as the Application Key

Set up Cloud Sync Task

  1. Expand Tasks
  2. Pick Add Cloud Sync
    1. Add a Description
    2. Pick Push for Direction
    3. Pick your Cloud Credential from above for Provider
    4. Pick the bucket the sync is pushing to for Backblaze B2 Buckets
    5. Set the Path to the local Path of what you’re wanting to push to B2
    6. Set the Transfer Mode to Sync
    7. Pick the Task Scheduling Options which match your needs

Adding Cloud Credential for B2 application key Configuring the Cloud Sync tasks Cloud Sync task created. Cloud Sync task in progress Cloud Sync task completes


Overall, this was pretty much as easy as it seemed in the Backing Up FreeNAS and TrueNAS to Backblaze B2 blog made it sound like it’d be. For the most part, it was a pretty painless exercise. As I’ve been working on this blog, I’ve set up additional tasks to back up the critical files we’ve collected since we began using the NAS as primary storage. As I write these words, my NAS is working pretty tirelessly behind me. With each passing moment that my Cloud Sync tasks are running, I’m feeling a bit more at ease with the welfare of my critical data.

Gotchas!

Once it was all said and done, I was pretty pleased with how this worked out. Backing up my NAS to Backblaze B2 was easier than I would’ve anticipated. However, there were a couple wrinkles along the way:

Interestingly enough, it took a try or two to get this running. My first attempt at running my Cloud Sync task claimed it was running, but no files were showing up in Backblaze and there wasn’t any outbound traffic on my NAS. After a while, I went in to look at the details of my Cloud Sync task and it wouldn’t (or couldn’t) pull up my list of buckets and there was a red error message which only read “22.” I did some digging around on Backblaze and found out that I’d hit my daily allotment of free Class C Transactions, which is 2500. After punching in my credit card info (Class C Transactions cost $0.004 per 1,000) and removing the cap, I saw the counts for the Class C transaction calls climbing by the thousands, but never saw any files transferred. I was stumped—I even posted a thread on the FreeNAS forums hoping someone would tell me if I’d made a newbie’s mistake or if there was some tweaking that I needed to do.

Because I’m impatient, I went ahead and upgraded from FreeNAS-11.1-RELEASE to FreeNAS-11.1-U6, and the next time I created and executed a Cloud Sync task, it started right up! I’m not entirely certain what fixed it: the upgrade, the waiting a couple days, or the entering of my credit card information and removal of the cap on Class C Transactions. But one or more of these steps seems to have solved my problem.

One other potential gotcha is that the Cloud Sync tasks are not currently using any client-side encryption. The client (rclone, I believe) being used to accomplish the Cloud Sync tasks to Backblaze B2 is capable of encryption, but the FreeNAS implementation does not currently leverage it. As I understand it, a feature request was submitted for client-side encryption and is going to be part of the upcoming FreeNAS 11.2 release, which is currently in its second beta. Once the client-side encryption feature is available in an official release, I’ll be emptying my buckets and refilling them with encrypted files.

Brian, what if I don’t have a FreeNAS or any NAS at all?

Wanting a solution to back up my PCs is what drove me to build my very first DIY NAS. If Backblaze had been as mature back then, I may have never had a justification to build a NAS in the first place! My advice to many of you would be to go ahead and build your own DIY NAS! After all, you’ve come to the right place to get started. I’ve got a DIY FreeNAS build to get you started thinking about how to build your very own FreeNAS machine.

However, if you don’t want to build your very own NAS, Backblaze has an awesome unlimited backup product which features a user-friendly client application that runs on either on your Macintosh or Windows. You could bypass the NAS entirely and start backing your PCs to Backblaze for five dollars a month per PC!

What about You?

I’m pretty excited with what I’ve been able to accomplish by backing up my FreeNAS machine to Backblaze B2. It ultimately solves a great big concern that I had with my prior strategy of keeping everything on the NAS and hoping that nothing catastrophic happened to my data or to my NAS. When it’s all said and done, I expect the cost of Backblaze B2 to be slightly less expensive for our uses, since we tend to aggregate all of our important data on the NAS and then access it from our various computers. But, given my experience so far, I’d happily switch to the Backblaze Unlimited Backup at $5/mo per PC if it turns out to be the more frugal option.

Are you using a cloud storage service to back up your critical data? What service(s) are you using and how much data are you backing up? What feature (like client-side encryption) would you like to see FreeNAS incorporate in future versions to further leverage services like Backblaze B2?

Brian’s Home Theater PC: The Hardware

| Comments

For a long time, I’ve been out of HDMI inputs on my television; the Fire TV, PlayStation 4, Steam Link, Google Chromecast, Blu-ray player, and my cable box were too much for my poor television to handle all at once. Never mind the other random gaming consoles and devices that get dragged out of storage from time to time. For a long time, I had an inexpensive HDMI switchbox which I’d routed all the gaming devices through, but I didn’t really like that I had added yet another device to my home entertainment setup. When things went wrong, and they often did, I was muttering expletives and juggling between 3 and 5 remotes to get what I wanted output to the television.

Out of frustration one time, I exclaimed “I wish I could just consolidate down a couple of these devices!” and unwittingly sowed the seed for a new blog topic and computer build—a Home Theater PC!

Needs

Ultimately, my lack of HDMI inputs and resistance to buying another HDMI switchbox or even a fancier TV is what set me down on this path. My most basic need was pretty plain: find a way to consolidate at least two devices down into the home theater PC (HTPC). At the very least, I wanted to replicate the functionality of at least two of my devices inside the HTPC. Additionally, my family has been keeping in touch with our extended family via Google Hangouts since the birth of my son. I figured as long as I was adding PC hardware to my entertainment center, I may as well make it so that we could do these Hangouts from our own couch instead of cramped around one of our desktop PCs, or worse, our smart phones.

The Objective

Ultimately, I decided that the Steam Link and Blu-ray player were the best two devices to consolidate into my HTPC. Other good candidates for consolidation were the Chromecast and FireTV. Having done a bit of initial investigation, it seemed like Kodi was going to be just what I wanted to accomplish my primary objective. Beyond my primary objective, Kodi’s extensive add-ons library also seemed like it might be able to potentially add the functionality of other devices. Even better, the extensive Kodi Add-ons library promised to add all sorts of functionality to my home theater that I hadn’t even thought of yet.

Hardware

Normally in my blogs like this, I dive headfirst into the hardware in painstaking detail, justifying the choices I made. While I think that the hardware is quite important, I think the focus of an HTPC build is the software behind it. Nevertheless, I still obsessed a bit over the hardware. In picking out my components, I had these few loose requirements in mind:

  • I wanted it to look like it fit into my entertainment center without seeming obtrusive or like it didn’t belong.
  • It needed an HDMI out.
  • The hardware needed to be powerful enough to natively run some games on its own.
  • Whatever games it couldn’t run on its own, it needed to have the option of streaming others from my gaming PC.

Case and Power Supply

Considering my entertainment center’s layout, the case found itself scaling up the importance list. I had a very specifically-sized cubby in the entertainment center and I wound up deciding that I wanted a basic case without any fancy doors to hide my access to an optical drive. It was also important to me that the case had two front-facing USB ports for an infrared receiver and possible Bluetooth adapter.

I wound up deciding that I liked the SilverStone Technology GD09B (specs) primarily because it would fit so nicely in my entertainment center. Its single external 5.25” drive bay could fit an optical drive—assuming I chose to add one—and it had two USB 3.0 ports on the front for any USB devices I’d wind up needing. For a power supply, I chose the Rosewill Arc Series 450 Watt (specs) primarily for its cost. At 450 watts, it was capably sized for the hardware I was planning on running with hopefully enough extra capacity to perhaps survive an upgrade to a couple components over its lifespan.

CPU, Motherboard, and RAM

So far, I’ve been really happy with the AMD Ryzen 1800X that I put into my primary desktop/gaming PC in late July of last year. Part of my objective in my HTPC was to consolidate my Steam Link into the HTPC, but another secondary objective was to improve the performance of playing my Steam Library. The Steam Link is a brilliant device, but some of the latency introduced by the mechanics of how it worked doesn’t work as well with games that required speedy, twitchy responses. At the same rate, I didn’t want to build a new PC more powerful than my old one—so I tempered my lust for bigger and badder by opting for the AMD Ryzen 1500X CPU(specs) for my HTPC build.

My motherboard of choice on this particular build was the ASRock AB350 Pro4 Motherboard (specs). At its price, it seemed like a decent value, and I’ve had some pretty good luck with ASRock motherboards in a few of my DIY NAS builds, including my own. I was somewhat tempted to try the Ryzen’s onboard video, but opted instead to buy a separate GPU. The motherboard’s 8 different USB connectors—2 front, 1 Type-C, and 5 on the back of the motherboard—addressed a remote concern of running out of USB ports.

In comparison to other computers I’ve built recently, I skimped on the RAM in this build. In case you haven’t noticed recently, RAM prices are pretty outrageous right now. While I haven’t investigated to understand the reason prices are sky-high, I’ve seen the effects in shopping for my last two computer builds. I opted to bite the bullet for my HTPC to go light and buy a Crucial Ballistix Tactical 8GB Kit (specs). If I had my way, I would’ve put 16GB of RAM into this machine, but I imagine that 8GB will be quite fine for most of what I want to do.

GPU

Because I wanted to play some games using my HTPC, I opted to pick a GPU. Hopefully something powerful enough to handle most of my Steam Library and hopefully all of the stuff I’d be willing to play on a couch! I settled on the MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GT LP (specs). Hopefully there aren’t many titles that I can’t play straight off of the bat at my TV. Should I come across a game title which the MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GT LP can’t handle on its own, I will look into using Steam’s streaming to run the game on my main PC but play it down on the couch.

Storage

My days of using platter hard drives for anything other than storage are pretty far behind me, which is why I chose the Samsung 850 EVO 250GB. I’ve owned quite a few of the Samsung 850 EVO SSDs and haven’t had nearly as many problems with them as I have with platter drives. However, I also do build one or two NAS builds every year and I’m always looking to upgrade my own NAS. As a result, there’s a shelf in my closet with a number of old platter hard drives that were once in a NAS. One of these drives is bound to wind up in my HTPC, for no other reason than to be there for when I run out of storage on the SSD.

In picking out parts, I put something in this HTPC that I’d sworn years ago I’d never install in another computer ever, a LG Electronics 14x SATA Blu-ray Rewriter (WH14NS40) (specs). At this point, I’ve still got a few DVDs and Blu-rays that have sentimental value that I can’t bring myself to donate or get rid of. I hoped that in building my HTPC that I might be able to create a better experience for watching DVDs or Blu-rays than I currently get on my Playstation 4.

Input

I had the most amount of fun shopping for the input devices than I did the rest of the HTPC build. Don’t get me wrong, I love shopping for PC components, but with as much as I do it for my other blogs, it gets a bit repetitive. Trying to find the right input devices wound up creating a bit of uniqueness in the HTPC build.

Because I’d be sitting clear across the living room on the couch, I wanted a decent wireless keyboard. Something small enough to fit in the storage bins built into our sectional sofa and with an integrated touchpad. After a bit of searching, I wound up finding the 1byone Ultra-Slim Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard (specs): a small, rechargeable Bluetooth keyboard and touchpad mouse combination. If anything, it might be a bit too small. I can’t imagine ever spending much time using the keyboard, but I wanted to have one nearby for when my remote control fails me.

One day, I envision having a single remote that works with all of my devices at my entertainment center. That remote will be intuitive to use, it will be simple to add new devices, it will intelligently figure out which devices need to be running and configure them for specific activities, and it’ll solve world hunger. Given my experience with universal remotes, I don’t think that device will ever exist! But when it does, I want it to be able to talk to my HTPC, so I added a FLIRC USB (2nd Generation) Universal Remote Control Receiver to plug into the front of my HTPC. I’m hoping that it’s within my capability and patience to be able to program my universal remote to control the media being played on my HTPC.

And to go along with that IR receiver, I picked out a Plugable USB Bluetooth 4.0 Low-Energy Micro Adapter (specs). The Bluetooth receiver was required to work with the keyboard and my various Playstation 4 controllers, which I plan to use when gaming. I’m hoping that the Bluetooth comes in handy for other purposes too, perhaps the streaming of media from our various Android or iOS devices. Maybe even a remote control app which runs on our phones?

Component Part Price
Motherboard ASRock AB350 PRO4 ATX Motherboard specs $84.99
CPU AMD Ryzen 5 1500X Processor with Wraith Spire Cooler specs $149.99
RAM Crucial Ballistix Tactical 8GB Kit (4GBx2) DDR4 2666 MT/s (PC4-21300) specs $101.99
Graphics Card MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GT LP specs $209.00
Case SilverStone Technology GD09B specs $79.99
Power Supply Rosewill Arc Series 450 Watt specs $40.99
SSD Samsung 850 EVO 250GB specs $74.95
Hard Disk Drive Some Random 2TB HDD that I had laying around the house N/A N/A
Optical Drive LG Electronics 14x SATA Blu-ray Rewriter (WH14NS40) specs $50.99
IR Receiver FLIRC USB (2nd Generation) Universal Remote Control Receiver specs $22.95
Bluetooth Receiver Plugable USB Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy Micro Adapter specs $12.95
Keyboard / Mouse 1byone Ultra-Slim Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard w/ Built-in Touchpad specs $25.99
TOTAL $738.84

Brian's HTPC Parts

Assembly

The hardest part of putting this particular machine together was talking about it! I’ve watched my assembly video a few times and cringed at my misspeaking, mistakes, and the video quality a countless number of times! Compared to my more compact DIY NAS builds, the assembly went quite well. If you labored through the entire video, I pity you, but you also understand that about the biggest challenge I had was getting the video to display on my ancient monitor.

What’s Next?

Well, first I’m going to brush off four months’ worth of dust and accumulation and then I’m going to get an OS loaded. I haven’t completely decided yet, but I’m leaning towards a Windows installation on this HTPC. From a hardware perspective, I didn’t risk having to wrestle with finding drivers for the Bluetooth and IR dongles. More importantly, gaming’s an important aspect of my HTPC, and Windows has a much bigger gaming footprint. After the OS is loaded and the hardware has been tinkered with, I will start digging into Kodi and its competitors.

Brian's HTPC

In all that tinkering and learning, I suspect there will be ample material for another blog. Hopefully it won’t take another four months to get it fired up, but you never know—there could be a NAS build lurking and waiting to hog my attention!

Quadcopter Garage Sale – July 2018

| Comments

When I pick a new hobby, I go “whole hog,” and quadcopters has been no different. In fact, I’ve been more active with quadcopters than I am able to keep up with in writing blogs. I build, break, upgrade, and retire drones at such a rate that it has often exceeded my capacity to write about. As a result, I’ve been accumulating drone-related stuff that may not be all that useful to me anymore, but it’s still quite useful.

Have you been interested in quadcopters, but not knowing the best way to begin? I think that a deeply discounted, somewhat-used quadcopter is a great place to get started!

So here’s the deal…

I’m looking for an easy way to free up my drone storage and maybe buy a few spare parts for my favorite quadcopters with the proceeds. Let me start off by saying “Caveat Emptor!” Everything I’m listing here is going to be sold “as-is” without any kind of warranty or promises. The prices include me paying for shipping within the United States; if you’re outside the US then I’m very sorry but I won’t be able to sell to you. When it comes to people who may live in the same massive metroplex that I do, I’d really prefer if you just let me ship it, but maybe I can be talked into meeting up somewhere to deliver things.

Without further ado, here are the things I’m selling or have sold:

Sold

DJI Spark Fly More ComboSOLD!

Update (7/15 at 4PM): The DJI Spark sold!

With my first quadcopter, I was convinced that I’d be way more interested in aerial photography than flying FPV drones. So much so, that I raced out an preordered the DJI Spark Fly More combo when it was announced. I figured it’d be a good foray into drone photography and let me know if it was a good fit. Sadly, aerial photography just wasn’t all that interesting to me. As a result, my DJI Spark follows me out to the park every time I go flying but never manages to get up in the air. Rather than letting it gather dust any longer, I figured I’d put it up for sale!

Auction Link Opening Bid Buy it Now Final Price Status
DJI Spark Fly More Combo on eBay $150.00 $300.00 $300.00 Sold


KingKong 90GT++ and Spare PartsSOLD!

Update (7/22 at 7PM): The KingKong 90GT++ sold!

I love the KingKong 90GT; I’d never be where I am today without it. It’s the quadcopter that I learned how to fly FPV with. It was a fun little quadcopter that I could fly around easily enough outside, but it was inexpensive enough that I was emboldened to take the risks that allowed me to steadily make improvements until I was every bit as willing to take the same risks with bigger quadcopters.

The 90GT ultimately wound up getting pushed out of my bag by the fact that I simply had too many other quadcopters which I enjoyed. About my only complaint about the 90GT was that it was too powerful for inside the house, but not quite powerful enough to substitute in for my other bigger quadcopters.

In this auction, there’s literally one ready-to-fly quadcopter with a FrSky receiver, an entire assembled replacement, and a whole bevy of replacement parts—including spare flight controllers and video transmitters.

Auction Link Opening Bid Buy it Now Final Price Status
KingKong 90GT and Parts on eBay $35.00 $90.00 $126.50 Sold


Pseudo++SOLD!

Update (7/22 at 7PM): The Pseudo++ sold!

In my opinion, this is by far the best quadcopter I’m selling—but depending on your point of view it may also be the worst. I wanted to build a premium, mini quadcopter capable of keeping up with my bigger quadcopters and recording HD footage. It started out a bit more modest, as Brian’s Pseudo Mini Quadcopter. Since building it, I’ve upgraded the motors to the T-Motor F20 II, I’ve upgraded the frame to the HyperLite Tooth Fairy 3” frame, and I tried to upgrade the flight controller/ESC to a new stack with a built-in VTX in the ARTOWER Mini ARF4-SVTX F4 flight controller.

However, what I found was that I don’t like building tiny quadcopters. There’s too much going on in not enough room, so it wound up being something that I didn’t like doing. This was further complicated by the fact that any time I did a roll, it’d roll out of control until it crashed. I’ve seen similar problems that wound up being a bad ESC, but rather than subject myself to fixing it, I just ordered something prebuilt.

Please note that in the terrible picture of the flight controller, you see the wires of the receiver. The receiver is not part of this auction as I’ll be using it on a different quadcopter. Currently, Pseudo is in a bunch of pieces. But if you’re willing to tinker and put it back together, you can get a premium 3-inch quadcopter for a fraction of the price!

Auction Link Opening Bid Buy it Now Final Price Status
Pseudo++ on eBay $40.00 $100.00 $80.00 Sold


Furibee X215 ProSOLD!

Update (7/22 at 7PM): The Furibee X215 Pro sold!

At one point, I was looking to compliment my quadcopters with a decent “backup” quadcopter for when I wrecked one of my favorites. And then a funny thing happened, I mostly stopped wrecking my favorite quadcopters. And we also got better and more efficient at fixing our quadcopters. I only flew this FuriBee X215 Pro a handful of times. It flew well enough, but I wasn’t super impressed with it and very quickly it wound up gathering dust in a box. It’s been a few months, but it flew just fine the last time I took it up. My X215 includes a FrSky receiver. Check out UAVFutures’ review of the X215 Pro which convinced me to buy it in the first place.

Auction Link Opening Bid Buy it Now Final Price Status
Furibee X215 Pro on eBay $50.00 $125.00 $102.50 Sold


Miscellaneous Odds and Ends

STRIX 4S Parallel Charging BoardSOLD!

Update (7/22 at 7PM): The STRIX 4S Parallel Charging Board sold!

I really, really liked the STRIX 4S Parallel Charging Board, but ultimately I wound up building quadcopters around 6S batteries and it got a bit constraining to be so limited to the kind of batteries that I could charge. I wound up switching over to a different balance charging board, but figured someone out there might appreciate their own STRIX 4S Parallel Charging Board

Auction Link Opening Bid Buy it Now Final Price Status
STRIX 4S Parallel Charging Board on eBay $10.00 $20.00 $18.50 Sold


Lumenier DX800 DVR w/ 5.8GHz 32CH ReceiverSOLD!

Update (7/22 at 7PM): The Lumenier DX800 DVR sold!

Among the things I’ve always wished was that it’d be easier for us to share a display with a random stranger who comes up to us in the park and wants to learn a little bit about our first-person-view quadcopter shenanigans. I had thought that this Lumenier DX800 DVR w/ 5.8GHz 32CH Receiver would make it easy to hand off a working display to that spectator so that they could see what’s going on. However, given that we fly primarily during the day, it wound up being really difficult for folks to see with or without the included sunshade (which I’ve misplaced). Pretty quickly, I figured out that this wasn’t going to be a solution for me, but it might work better for you!

Auction Link Opening Bid Buy it Now Final Price Status
Lumenier DX800 DVR w/ 5.8GHz 32CH Receiver on eBay $25.00 $52.00 N/A Sold


SKYRC IMAX B6AC v2SOLD!

Update (7/22 at 7PM): The SKYRC IMAX B6AC v2 sold!

The SKYRC IMAX B6AC v2 wound up being my very first LiPo battery charger; it had come highly recommended to me by a friend with expertise. And it served me very well for quite a long time. I charged single batteries, I charged batteries in parallel (with the charging board above!), but I wound up coming across a different battery charger that I wound up liking better because I could combine it and a really big battery and do some field charging. My new charger quickly replaced the B6AC for all my charging duties.

Auction Link Opening Bid Buy it Now Final Price Status
SKYRC IMAX B6AC v2 on eBay $13.00 $26.00 $21.29 Sold



Conclusion

At the rate that I’m buying, breaking, and upgrading quadcopters, I think this will turn into a regular thing. I’m hoping that as I do bigger and badder things with my drones, that someone curious can come in and buy what I’ve outgrown to get into the hobby on their own.

Trade Wars 2002: My First Gaming Addiction

| Comments

A long, long time ago in a decade we refer to as “the 80s,” I was a fledgling computer geek—a fire sparked and stoked by my parents when they purchased a used Apple IIe. In the midst of my tween years, one of my older cousins came over with a handful of floppy disks and showed me a number of new things. One of the things he introduced me to was the world of dial-up bulletin board systems (BBS), and by the time he left that afternoon, I was hooked!

In short, a BBS was essentially a very crude social-networking platform. You would use your dial-up modem and a terminal program to connect, and once you managed to log-in, you could post messages, share files, and most importantly to my younger self, play games. BBSes came in all shapes and sizes, from small single-line BBSes operated by hobbyists to great big complicated multi-line BBSes hooked into big messaging and file-sharing nodes.

What really became my obsession in the BBS universe were the BBS door games. A BBS door was essentially a way the BBS handed off a user to an external application. The type of BBS doors that got my attention were the door games. The fact that I could play games against other people without them being present was amazing and exciting to me. Games like Solar Realms Elite, Operation Overkill II, Global War, and even Freshwater Fishing Simulator occupied the majority of my time whilst dialed in to the BBS. Regardless of the games’ subject matter, they all operated pretty similarly: each day you received an amount of turns which were used up as you played the game. A particular genre of BBS Door games wound up drawing the majority my attention: space trading and adventuring.


I played the original Trade Wars before moving on to Yankee Trader and then eventually to what I consider the penultimate game of this category: Trade Wars 2002 (TW2002). The game was built upon each player using a spaceship to buy and sell goods to accumulate wealth. That wealth, in turn, was used to buy bigger and badder ships, colonize planets, and eventually to conquer the universe.

At the time, TW2002 was, in my opinion, the pinnacle of online gaming. Keep in mind however, that it reached its peak in popularity at a time when the term “online gaming” didn’t even exist yet. One of my favorite features of TW2002 was its animated ANSI graphics for some of the game play mechanics. Destroying a ship, a planet, or even getting blown up yourself all resulted in some nifty animations which looked pretty awesome to me over my 2400 baud modem in 1980-something. For comparison’s sake, my Frontier FiOS is capable of nearly 9 million characters per second, while that 2400 baud modem’s maximum throughput was right around 236 characters per second. My FiOS is roughly 38,000 times faster than that modem. Considering the limited transmission capabilities of that age’s technology, I am impressed that anything was animated in the game at all.

Little geeky tweenage Brian played TW2002 on a handful of different BBSes. I’d like to be able to gaze back through my rose-tinted glasses and wax poetic about the mastery of the many universes I demonstrated, how I’d built massive empires in different galaxies and ruled them firmly but fairly. But I’m modest enough to admit that I was a very middling player. I was always excited to crack the top 5 or 10 players on any of my BBSes. It’s this admission that really typifies what a great game TW2002 is—it was so entertaining to me that I enjoyed playing it even though I might not have been very good at it.


Sometime around 2000 to 2002, I got nostalgic about BBSing and I wound up spending a few dollars and standing up my own BBS which ran as a telnet server over my Internet connection instead of using a modem and phone line. I named that BBS “Oober BBS,” which I am surprised to see that it still turns up in Google’s search results. I wound up standing up quite a few of my favorite BBS door games, but my entire motivation around that nostalgia was playing some more TW2002. Sadly, back then I didn’t have nearly the digital reach that I have today, and only a few of my friends even had an idea of what a BBS was. As a result, my own BBS experiment didn’t wind up being very successful.

But the other day, I was discussing Trade Wars 2002 over at the Plano-area Makerspace, TheLab.ms, and I was excited to find out that a handful of the other members had also been into the BBS scene and played some of the games like TW2002. I mentioned to them that I had licenses to the game and asked about their interest in joining me in my nostalgic gaming kick. Enough people seemed interested that I decided to try and get a virtual machine spun up in Azure and see if I could start up a game of Trade Wars 2002 which everyone could play.

Without further ado, I’m genuinely excited to announce that I’m resurrecting a sliver of the Oober BBS by bringing its Trade Wars Game Server back online. The Trade Wars Game Server can function independently of any BBS software now and is accessible over the Internet.

How do I connect?

First you’ll need some sort of a telnet client to connect to the Trade Wars Game Server. There are a plethora of free Telnet clients, but my favorite one has almost always been PuTTY. As an alternative, there’s at least one Trade Wars game client that I’ve found so far that I like: SWATH. Unfortunately, it’s not free, and to be honest I think it’s a bit expensive at $26.00. However, there are quite a bit of features and functionality built into SWATH that are extremely handy. In fact, it has a scripting language of some sort that I hope to use and create a bot that can scrape some information about the game and help me automatically tweet a thing or two about what’s going on.

Brian’s TWGS Info
Addresstw2002.briancmoses.com
Port23
Discord Chathttps://discord.gg/57nGRSF

Play!

I have included a very simple javascript telnet client on this webpage. If you’re serious about playing, then I definitely suggest using an actual telnet client like the ones I suggested above, but if you’re just curious and want to check out Trade Wars 2002, then this will do the trick!


Game Info

At the moment, there’s only one game running. That may change in the future, but you can find the initial game’s settings and info as of 3/3/2018 at 9:45 AM below. Everything is currently set to the default values. What sort of tweaks and adjustments would you like to see in future games? Please make sure to leave your suggestions in the comments below!

Registered to    : Brian's Blog
Version          : 3.34b                Host type           : TWGS v2
Age of game      : 141 days             Days since start    : 141 days
Delete if idle   : 30 days

Players in game  : 24    of max 200     Percent good        : 83%
Aliens in game   : 50    of max 0       Percent good        : 36%
Ports in game    : 393   of max 400     Value of ports      : 13052553
Planets in game  : 175   of max 200     Percent w/ Citadels : 26%
Ships in game    : 40    of max 800     Corps in game       : 10
Figs in game     : 563232               Mines in game       : 863

Game type        : Open                 Game time           : 09:52:40 AM
Time per day     : Unlimited            Turns per day       : 250
Planetary Trade %: 60%                  Steal from BUY port : Yes
Initial fighters : 30                   Clear Busts Every   : 7 Days
Initial credits  : 300                  Last Bust Clear     : Yesterday
Initial holds    : 20                   Multiple Photon fire: No
Sectors in game  : 1000                 Display StarDock    : Yes
Start with planet: Yes                  Classic Ferrengi    : Yes
Production Rate  : 5% / Day             Max Regen per Visit : 100%
Tournament Mode  : Off                  Invincible Ferrengal: No


Report Settings
---------------

High Score Mode    : On demand          High Score Type   : Values
Rankings Mode      : On demand          Rankings Type     : Values + Titles
Entry Log Blackout : None               Game Log Blackout : None
Port Report Delay  : No Delay

Delays
------

Ship Attack/Move : Third (1/3 s/t)      Planet Move    : None
Other Attack     : None                 Rob/Steal      : Constant (2 s)
Photon Launch    : None                 Photon Blast   : None
Ship IG          : None                 Planetary IG   : None
Dock/Depart      : None                 Land/Takeoff   : None
Drop/Take Mines  : None                 Drop/Take Figs : None
Planet Transport : None                 Ship Transport : None
EtherProbe Move  : None                 GenTorp Launch : None

IO Emulation
------------

Input Bandwidth  : 1 Mps Broadband
Output Bandwidth : 1 Mps Broadband
Latency          : 150 ms

Sonoff S31: I Cannot Imagine a Better Smart Outlet!

| Comments

I’ve been a big fan of the Sonoff lines of products, starting with the Sonoff and Slampher back in 2015 and then again last year with the Sonoff TH and POW products. I’ve liked them primarily for two reasons: they’ve been based on the ESP8266 and because they are comparatively inexpensive. I’ve tried other products, namely the Belkin WeMo, and I’ve found that the Sonoff products compare favorably in nearly every category. I was really excited when the Sonoff S31 became available—it was by far their most appealing product to date.

With the prior Sonoff products, there was a tiny little bit of assembly required. Not too much, mind you. But you did have to hack into the power cords of your devices, or in my case, I’d cut up little power-extension cables and wire them up. I must admit that hacking these power cords up and integrating the Sonoff products actually wound up being a bit of a selling point for me. It was a bit fun to have to do the wiring, but I could see how that might scare off consumers that are not as eager to play with electricity.

Nothing bad ever happened with my Sonoff products, mind you. The worst thing that happened was that I put a couple together poorly and had to deal with some devices losing power after one of the wires worked loose. Electrocuting myself was never an immediate concern, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind from time to time. However, it made me wonder what might happen if my friends at ITEAD were to try and build a product a bit more finished, like the Belkin WeMo. What would that be like? How would it compete against the other devices like the WeMo?

Enter the Sonoff S31

The Sonoff S31 (specs) appears to be ITEAD’s foray into a more consumer-friendly product. Its most exciting feature is obvious to the naked eye: it has been designed into its own enclosure. The enclosure is small enough that you can comfortably fit two Sonoff S31s into a typical outlet here in North America. What I’d had to do with my previous Sonoff TH and Sonoff POW was to screw them into the wall nearby, which wasn’t always the nicest-looking solution. Even though I had enjoyed hacking into electrical cables and wiring up to the prior generations of Sonoff products, it occasionally worried me that things might come loose. Being able to eliminate the potential of my own shoddy work immediately piqued my interest when I learned of the Sonoff S31’s existence, and at around $18.00, I was really excited with how it was more affordable from the comparable units from other manufacturers.

Power Features Built-in!

I borrowed Pat’s Kill a Watt so frequently that it was every bit as likely to be found at my house as it was his! After borrowing the Kill a Watt for the umpteenth time, I went ahead and bought my own. Over the years, I’ve used it in a number of different ways—just about anything I’ve ever expected to use more than its fair share of electricity has found itself plugged into my Kill a Watt. My curiosity about devices’ power consumption was what had me the most excited about reviewing the Sonoff POW last year.

The Sonoff S31 took the advances of the Sonoff POW a step further. Within the app, in addition to displaying the wattage being drawn by the Sonoff S31, the app also displayed the current and the source voltage. Digging into the details of the device in the EWelink app gives you the ability to measure power consumption over time and set up a number of alarms (realtime power minimum/maximum threshold, current threshold, and voltage threshold).

The ability to monitor and report on the power consumed by the device(s) plugged into the Sonoff S31 is a huge selling point to me. I’ve had my Kill a Watt for quite some time, but its price is pretty much exactly what I paid for it a few years ago. The fact that I can get a Sonoff S31 for pretty much the same exact price would make it really easy for me to suggest that people who are interested in measuring the power consumed by their devices check out the Sonoff S31 over the Kill a Watt. Being able to monitor the Sonoff S31 on a mobile phone from anywhere with Internet access makes it a better alternative to the Kill a Watt.

      

Home Automation

The best part of the maturation of ITEAD’s Sonoff products is the integration of services like IFTTT, and products like Amazon Echo and Google Home. The past couple months I’ve been playing with one of the Raspberry Pi-driven Google AIY Kits at home. Apparently, I have been engrossed enough with the Google AIY Kit, that my wife bought me a Google Home as an anniversary present. And just a few weeks prior, Santa had brought an Amazon Echo Spot for my wife this year. The fact that the Sonoff S31 was being advertised as compatible with both the Google Home and Amazon Echo products was a tremendously interesting feature for our whole household.

That being said, I probably wouldn’t define being able to ask Google (or Alexa) to turn my lights on for me as home automation. You’re simply using your voice to replicate what you used your hands to do previously, turn something on and off. In the end, you’re still the one manually turning the lights on or off. If you have a stricter definition of home automation and you’re looking for a much more truly automatic solution, look no further than openHAB, which boasts modules for the Sonoff products. I haven’t had the time yet to dedicate to it, but one of the things I want to run on my homelab machine is an openHAB virtual machine and to create a set of rules to determine whether or not I’m home using a set of conditions like:

  1. If any of our mobile phones can be pinged on the network.
  2. Whether or not our computers’ screensavers are active.
  3. The TV is on.
  4. The time of day.
  5. Etc.

Using those conditions and openHAB will allow for some actual home automation. But all of that’s a topic for another day! I look forward to seeing how my Sonoff S31 and other Sonoff products end up working into those plans!

I used a Sonoff S31 to control my face!

I wanted to experiment with the different ways I could work with the Sonoff S31, both semi-automated and automated. Especially since my darling wife bought me a Google Home for Valentine’s Day. Here’s a couple quick and tasks that I built around using the Sonoff S31’s capabilities.

Using IFTTT

My son, Gunnar, is nearly two years old and is absolutely the current center of our universe. A couple times while commuting home from my day job, I’ve been apprised that Gunnar’s been screaming “Where’s Daddy?!” at my exasperated wife. Back when I was building my keezer, I purchased a silly custom edge-lit LED sign with my face on it. Since buying it, it has dutifully sat on top of a built-in bookcase and perpetually lit up.

I was looking at it just the other day and thought that it’d be neat if I used [IFTTT][ifttt], my mobile phone, a Sonoff S31, and my sign to indicate whether I was close to home or not. Using the GPS on my phone along with its Internet access, I could turn the sign on as I got within a few miles of the house. Or using the EWelink app, maybe my wife could placate Gunnar for an extra few minutes by turning the sign on from her own phone.

Using Google Home

As a Valentine’s Day gift this year, my wife bought me a Google Home smart speaker. I’ve barely had a chance to tinker with it, essentially using it as a fancy kitchen timer for the making of my morning upside-down method AeroPress cofee, playing some music, and telling me whether or not the weather’s going to let me fly my quadcopter this week. Considering the timing of this blog, it only seemed to make sense to try and see how complicated integrating the Sonoff S31 to Google Home’s functionality was.

And you know what I found out? It’s not hard at all! Not only was I able to integrate ITEAD’s latest in the Sonoff S31, but every Sonoff device in my account was pulled in by Google Home and worked right off the bat. Even the protoype of the first Sonoff product that I was given to review nearly three years ago immediately started working with the Google Home. To be completely honest, I was astonished at how easy it was to get my Sonoff devices working with the Google Home.

How does the Sonoff S31 Compare?

I’ve tinkered with quite a few “smart outlets” like the Sonoff, and in the past I’ve preferred the Sonoff’s inexpensive price despite the Sonoff requiring the splicing of electrical cords as part of its installation. A little bit of work on my part was always worth the fact that the Sonoff products were a fraction of the price of similar products. In the Sonoff S31, ITEAD has built something to compete directly with the likes of the WeMo Mini Smart Plug and tp-link Smart WiFi Plug Mini. However, in the case of the Sonoff S31, it is both considerably cheaper than the other products and it includes power-monitoring features that the other two completely lack.

Final Thoughts

I’m pretty excited about the Sonoff S31. It is absolutely everything that I could ask for in a “smart” outlet. It has a small footprint, it has power-monitoring features, it integrates into both the Google Home and Amazon Echo products, it’s bit hackable, and—best of all—it’s inexpensive! In my opinion, the folks at ITEAD have really hit a home run with this product. ITEAD originally offered to send me one free Sonoff S31 to review, but when I saw its cost and features, I went ahead and bought 4 of my own. Now that I’ve had the chance to use the Sonoff S31, I’m pretty eager to buy additional ones and begin automating or monitoring more of the things plugged into my home’s outlets! As a bonus to my blog’s readers, ITEAD has issued a coupon code. Enter S6CUSNS9 for 10% off either a 1 or 2 pack of the S31 when buying them from Amazon (Link:Sonoff S31 on Amazon)!

Meepo Board: An Electric Skateboard Review

| Comments

Note from Brian: Ever since my good friend, Alex, taught a dingbat like me how to build a quadcopter, I’ve been telling him that he should start up a blog and share that same knowledge and passion for teaching with the rest of the Internet. My persistence and stubbornness finally paid off when Alex bought a new toy and was finally excited enough to write a blog of his own. To try and encourage him to get started, I told him I’d publish whatever he wrote. Hopefully some day in the future, we’ll see Alex’s content hosting on his own blog. But until then, I’m honored to publish what he wants to share.

The search for my first electric skateboard started about a year ago. The idea to acquire an electric skateboard was born out of my love for snowboarding as a teenager, and the subsequent fact that there is not much snowboarding in or around Dallas, Texas. The experience of carving down (or up) slopes and bike trails that ran through the trees, parks, and underpasses was something that definitely sparked my interest. The utility of an electric skateboard seemed like an afterthought, but was intriguing nonetheless.

The Search Begins

I consider myself a fairly DIY-oriented guy and with the previous endeavors of building computers, 3D printers, racing drones, and the occasional A/V rack, I felt prepared to build my own electric skateboard. Just a short four months ago, a simple Google search for a pre-built electric skateboard would return a few Kickstarter projects and the Boosted Board. At $1,500. the Boosted Board was a bit too rich for my blood, which left me to explore DIY options. Another quick search led me to DIY Electric Skateboards and I began pricing out all of the required parts. This website is a great place to get started in all aspects of the e-skate world, from just trying to familiarize yourself, to building your own complete skateboard through their guides and parts, or sourcing your own.

The Basics

To build an electric skateboard you’ll need the following:

  1. Motor/s ($90 per motor)
  2. A front and back truck ($65 for the pair)
  3. The deck ($40 – $150)
  4. Wheels ($50)
  5. Battery ($120 – $300)
  6. VESC ($100 – $150)
  7. Wireless Remote & RX ($20 – $75)
  8. Charger ($30 – $100)

With a few extra odds and ends, you’ll end up spending $600―$1,100 to build your own electric skateboard. This again was a bit pricey for my budget-minded self. I went back to Google, and some new results had bubbled up to the top.

Kieran, aka the Creator of Meepo

The Meepo board was one of the top results. It seemed to be everywhere, reddit, YouTube, Facebook, and about half a dozen e-skate blogs. The Meepo board had blown up. An interview with Kieran was the first result I explored to find out that Kieran used to be an employee at a budget electric skateboard manufacturing company in China, but had decided to create his own company with a more personal touch. The Meepo Facebook page still posts pictures of YOUR board before being shipped out to you, and replies to any questions or problems within the hour. The best part of the Meepo was the price: $400 shipped. This price came in under the DIY cost, and far below the boosted board and pre-built boards like it. The one downside was shipping time: for me this was 29 days. Some of the reason for this delay was the fact that Kieran himself was building the boards with three of his employees, and had a bit of a backlog of orders to fill. Most of the delay was due to his choice of shipping companies and his relatively new relationship with these services.

The Board

When I ordered my board from the Meepo website, it was the only complete board available, now known as the Meepo v1.0. This board had dual hub motors paired with a dual VESC (the speed controller), a 4.4Ah 10s battery, charger, wall mount, deck, trucks, wheels, taillight, and a 2.4GHz wireless remote. The Meepo board has a top speed of 23 MPH and a range of 11 miles depending on the slope or grade of any hills you may be riding up.

Stepping onto the Meepo for the first time brought back some slight nostalgia from my teenage years of cruising around on a traditional street skateboard. It rolls wonderfully without giving the board any power but right out of the box the trucks seemed just slightly too loose (this means the board will turn too easily). I tightened the trucks with the included tool and looked at my remote. There are three speed settings to use on the remote control: slow, medium, and really, really way too fast. They all behave differently in that the slow and medium settings have a nice smooth, maybe even gentle acceleration, but the fast setting is full torque RIGHT NOW.

I chose the slow mode for starters and wow, that feeling of being pushed forward by the skateboard itself is something that everyone should try at least once. The maximum speed on slow mode is about 6 mph, medium is about 15 mph, and of course fast is top speed capped at 23mph. With slow mode enabled, I pushed the throttle to full and the board eased around the parking lot. Six mph is roughly double a normal walking speed, so it was a nice, gentle introduction to the electric-skateboarding world.

After I got my bearings, I decided to pick up the board with the nicely placed handle and move to some paved bike trails. Slow mode was fun, but I decided that it was time to bump it up a notch to medium speed. The behavior of the board remained the same, but it just kept getting faster and faster until I was riding at the full 15 mph. At first I felt a bit uneasy about the speed I was traveling down the bike path. There were no handles to balance myself as I would on a bike or scooter, and finding my center of gravity, whether I should lean forward or back, was something else I was rather unsure of. I slowly got my bearings and was able to relax and lean into my turns a bit more. It really did start to bring back the feeling of snowboarding down the slopes of Michigan again.

The Good

I’ve had the Meepo board for about two months now. Every part of the board is still in perfect condition even after a few mishaps. The polyurethane wheels and tires on the hub motors has held up perfectly and the battery is still performing as well as it did right out of the box. The board will automatically power on when rolled in any direction, which is handier than you’d think. Not having to pick up the board and press the power button after unloading it onto the sidewalk is a nice touch. The construction of the Meepo is also top-notch. In speaking with Kieran over Facebook chat, he informed me that the control board (known as a VESC) has been sprayed with a water-resistant coating to help with slight splashes from a small puddle or something of that nature. The polyurethane was also upgraded shortly before I had purchased my board, and the wireless remote was improved to add the medium speed settings. Being able to talk to the creator of the company as a normal customer and seeing how he is constantly improving his product through customer interaction just makes the experience of acquiring an electric skateboard so much better.

Extras

On the Meepo board website, all spare parts are available. From batteries, wheels, remotes, decks, and hub motors, Kieran keeps stock of anything that might need to be replaced. The option to purchase your board with a larger battery is also available, albeit at a substantially higher price. These spare parts are shipped from China, so expect the usual two- to three-week total wait time and order ahead if you think you may need a replacement part. There are also videos of Kieran swapping out batteries in about three minutes with the included skate tool if that is of interest to you.

The Bad

I really don’t have much to say here from a functional standpoint. The downsides of the Meepo board really come down to comfort. Traditionally, skateboards have a concave shape to the deck. This allows your heels and toes to rest on the deck at all times and makes steering and cruising a breeze. The Meepo board unfortunately has a convex shape that makes riding the board akin to balancing on a thin bar rather than a nice, wide longboard. I experienced some slight pain in the arches of my feet after about 15 minutes of riding. I believe this is because the convex shape of the board makes it harder to steer. Your really have to lean into your turn and press on the ball or heel of your feet to carve. This should be an easy, almost subconscious action on a standard concave longboard deck. This problem is evidenced by the community of Meepo board riders performing “deck swaps,” where they buy an aftermarket standard longboard deck and move the electric skateboard components to the new deck to regain the nice feeling of riding a true longboard.

Since acquiring the Meepo board and writing this review, Kieran has upgraded the Meepo board to version 1.5. This new board comes with a more concave deck and a stronger battery to address problems stated from the community about the version 1.0 board.

The Verdict

The Meepo board has been a wonderful first electric skateboard. The price is a perfect place to enter the hobby and still have a reliable skateboard to cruise around on whether you are getting groceries from down the street, or just enjoying a nice day cruising around the local park. The customer service and ever-improving product line really shines when dealing with Meepo. This is a budget skateboard, but you get substantially more than what you pay for. I would recommend this board for someone who is just getting into electric skateboarding or for a budget-minded person like myself. I will update this review as time goes on to speak for the longevity of the board, as the community has stated that the hub motors do have a shorter lifespan than your average belt-driven system.

About the Author

Alex Courville is a DIY enthusiast. Originally from northern Michigan, he now lives in Dallas, TX, where he has convinced five grown-ass men to become addicted to building DIY racing quadcopters. Don’t worry, they don’t actually race the drones, unless the finish line of the race is to hit the ground, trees, or any solid object as fast as possible. They do that well. Anyways, Alex enjoys beer, riding electric skateboards, and traveling, as long as it’s outside of Texas.

Mavericks: Elite Grooming Made Simple

| Comments

When I started writing my blog, I hoped that eventually companies would find my content interesting enough that they might send me things which they wanted me to review. While this has happened for a few products and items, I’m still primarily purchasing most of the items I wind up reviewing. However, in some cases I’ve been a bit surprised at the kinds of companies that will contact me willing to send me their products for me to review.

As an example, men’s beauty products! I am not what you would call a handsome man. But many moons ago, Pat talked me into trying shaving with Cremo Cream. I wound up being so impressed by Cremo Cream that I just had to write a blog reviewing it. And ever since publishing that blog, I get approached every few months by the maker of some sort of men’s beauty product. Usually, I explain to them exactly how unqualified I am to review that kind of product and that the best I could muster would be to use it and share my experiences with my readers. In many cases, my lack of experience of reviewing these kinds of products wind up scaring off most folks.

But that’s not always the case. My new friends at Mavericks contacted me quite a few weeks ago asking if I’d be willing to review their products Mavericks Shave and Mavericks Face Kit. After trading a few emails with the Mavericks team’s management and reading over their successful Indiegogo campaign, I started looking forward to what I was expecting to see in my mailbox.

I’ve been using the products on a nearly daily basis ever since, and whether I’m qualified to share an opinion on it or not, here goes my review of the two products!

Mavericks Face Kit

The Mavericks Face Kit was sent as a bonus in addition to the Mavericks Shave product, which is covered later in this same blog. The Mavericks Face Kit is a three-stage kit of different products: a protect product to use in the mornings, a wash to use at the end of the day, and a rebuilding concoction which is to be left on overnight.

I’m a creature of habit, and modifying those habits can be a bit of a challenge sometimes, especially my nighttime and morning-time routines. But for the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to remember to use the wash and rebuild products before bedtime and then the protect product in the morning before I head out to work or my weekend adventures. For the most part, I’ve been successful.

Considering that my typical nighttime routine is to brush my teeth and get in bed as quickly as I possibly can, adding the Mavericks Face Kit to my routine had a pretty dramatic effect. Each night that I used it, I went to bed feeling refreshed a bit. Between the wash and rebuild products, I could certainly tell how much cleaner my face felt the nights that I used the Face Kit.

Mavericks Shave

Ultimately, my Cremo Cream review is what drew the attention to my blog from Mavericks. What they really wanted was a review of the Mavericks Shave. Considering that I’ve currently got a beard, I’m not doing nearly as much shaving every day as when I reviewed the Cremo Cream, but I’ve been using Mavericks Shave exclusively for a few months now.

Just like Cremo Cream, it takes very little of the Mavericks Shave to properly protect your face while shaving. Their directions indicate that a peanut-sized dollop is all that’s needed in order to shave your entire face, a claim which stands up in my own use. I still shave my neck and above my beard on a near-daily basis and I rarely use any more of the Maverick Shave than something the size of a regular M&M, the majority of which goes on my neck and then I save a tiny bit for around my two cheekbones.

Mavericks Shave

In comparison to Cremo Cream, Mavericks Shave is minty and it is also a bit more waxy. In my opinion, neither of these characteristics make it better or worse than Cremo Cream, just different enough. In the months that I’ve been using Mavericks Shave, I’ve routinely used it with dull razor blades that should’ve been swapped out a week or two earlier. I’ve also tried using too little or too much of the product to see its impact. When I’ve used too little, it’s been a tiny bit more difficult to finish shaving, but not extraordinarily so. There’s enough of the Mavericks Shave left on your face after one pass that with a little bit of extra water, you’re still able to shave your face without too much discomfort.

Final Thoughts

After using products like Mavericks Shave and Cremo Cream, I know that I’ll never go back to using a traditional shaving cream or gel again. For starters, when used appropriately, one package of Mavericks Shave/Cremo Cream completely outlasts one package of your traditional gel or shaving cream. And while the upfront cost for the Mavericks Shave might be higher than your traditional shaving creams, I think the value is better because of how long it lasts. I’ve been using Cremo Cream now for almost four years and I think I’m only up to buying my 2nd container.

Are you looking to change up your shaving routine a bit? Do you want to use something other than a traditional shaving cream or gel? I think the Mavericks Shave is a definite upgrade over what you’re probably using. The up-front cost might be a bit more than you are used to paying, but in the long run it may even work out to be less expensive due to how little you have to actually use in order to shave your face.

Similarly, if you’re anything like me, the Mavericks Face Kit is an absolute upgrade over how you’ve been taking care your of face. In my case, just about anything would be an upgrade over what I do to take care of my face. But the benefits of the three-stage system of the Mavericks Face Kit have been readily apparent on each of the days that I’ve used them. It’d certainly seem that my face feels better after using both the Mavericks Shave and Face kit products.

Brian’s Pseudo Micro Quadcopter

| Comments

I was hooked on quadcopters the moment I built my first quadcopter. After building that quadcopter, I’ve spent lots of time and money building up a veritable fleet of different quadcopters, equipment, tools, and accessories. The amount of stuff I’ve accumulated since building that quadcopter at the end of 2017 is equally amusing and alarming. I’ve had to buy at least two pieces of furniture just for quadcopter storage.

Both Pat and I have become a bit quadcopter-crazy and we’ve both been a bit perplexed as to why this has happened. Prior to this, neither of us have ever had much interest in any kind of remote-controlled vehicles. But there’s just something about quadcopters that appeals to us. Not only is flying them fun, but we also find a bunch of enjoyment in building them, repairing them, and upgrading them. In discussing this the other day, we nearly simultaneously arrived at the exact conclusion! Building drones reminded us both of two of our favorite past hobbies, which are building our own computers and modifying cars.

My first two FPV racing-style quadcopters were off-the-shelf quadcopters that I both enjoyed immensely and almost immediately started upgrading. Crashes were largely responsible for the first few upgrades. But as my meager piloting skills improved, the upgrades became more performance related. It wasn’t long before I started thinking about what I’d want to do if I were to build my own smaller micro quadcopter from scratch.

The KingKong 90GT was my very first FPV quadcopter and I absolutely loved flying it. It was a small, 90mm quadcopter which fit in the micro quadcopter category. My favorite thing about this little quadcopter was that it was small enough that I felt emboldened to try the things I wasn’t quite ready to do on my bigger and more expensive quadcopters. My only other wish was that I could make my little KingKong 90GT feel a bit more like my bigger five-inch quadcopter, the Holybro Shuriken X1, which was more responsive and far more powerful.

What’s a Micro drone? Size Matters…sort of

Quadcopter-sizing convention is vague and not very well defined at all. Different sites have their own different classifications on what differentiates a mini quadcopter from a micro quadcopter. My Shuriken X1 is a mini quadcopter and the KingKong 90GT is most definitely a micro quadcopter, but determining where exactly the line is drawn between those two classifications is a bit fuzzy. Depending on where you look or shop, people will use the motor’s stator size, the propeller diameter, and even the dimensions of the frame to delineate between the mini and micro sizes.

In picking out the parts for my quadcopter build, I concluded that the motor’s stator size is what ultimately defined whether a quadcopter was either a micro or a mini quadcopter. In my humble opinion, motors with a stator size 13mm or above (13XX) fit in the mini category and anything smaller fits in the micro category. Having decided that, I semi-naively went searching for and selecting parts.

Frame

My first quadcopter had a pretty boring-looking frame; it served its purpose but it didn’t look very impressive and it certainly wasn’t designed for the FPV-racing style quadcopters that I had gravitated towards. I wanted something that was small enough to accommodate a flight controller and four-in-one ESC that used the 20mm x 20mm layout. But it needed to be large enough to fit three-inch propellers. My criteria led me to discover the GEPRC Sparrow GEP-MSX3, a frame with a stretch-X layout that weighed 41g and would easily accommodate the electronics that I wanted to fit in there.

In my haste to place my order, I wound up overlooking the fact that the frame was designed to fit 13XX and 14XX motors. During the assembly of the drone, this wound up presenting a challenge that took a bit of patience and elbow grease to overcome!

Motors

My experience with the KingKong 90GT’s 1103 motors had me really interested in staying well-within the micro quadcopter genre (by my own definition) and sticking with the 11XX motor size. What I opted to do was to find a more powerful and taller motor capable of reaching much higher revolutions than what the 90GT had, and boy did I succeed! I ultimately chose the Brotherhobby Returner R3 1106 7100KV for my motors. In comparing these motors to what was on the 90GT, I knew that I had most definitely eclipsed what the 90GT was capable of when it came to sheer thrust.

Propellers

Among the things we learned about the 90GT was that propeller size really wound up making a difference. The little quadcopter had a ton of hidden potential that we slowly uncovered as we bought bigger and more aggressive propellers. Pat wrote an excellent blog about the 90GT upgrades and talked quite a bit about the advantages of better propellers. For my own little micro quadcopter build, I picked out the DYS 3045 3-inch, 3 hole propellers which seemed about the biggest, most aggressive pitch that I could find that would fit atop the Brotherhobby Returner R3 1106 motors.

Flight Stack

The wheels in my brain started thinking about this build the first time I saw the HGLRC XJB F428 Flytower. The entire stack contained all the computing needed for powering and flying my micro quadcopter all within a minuscule 20mm x 20mm mounting footprint. The stack contained a F4-grade flight controller and a 28 amp 4-in-1 ESC that was capable of supporting between 2S and 4S batteries. The option of being able to power my micro quadcopter with a 4S battery had me salivating about the possibilities of my micro quadcopter.

FPV Camera

I’m a big fan of the Runcam line of FPV cameras; there are about half a dozen (or more) quadcopters in my bag that have all received some sort of Runcam camera as an upgrade at one point or another. With the building of my micro quadcopter, I was excited about my chance to try out one of Runcam’s smallest cameras, the Runcam Micro Swift with a 2.1mm lens on it. I had been led to believe that the quality of the image would remind me the most of the Runcam Eagle that I had been using for ages on my beloved Shuriken X1. About my only complaint with the Micro Swift was its 4:3 ratio, had I realized how much I preferred 16:9 sooner then I probably would have opted for the Runcam Micro Sparrpow instead.

Video Transmitter

For my video transmitter (VTX), I was looking for something that was small, lightweight, capable of broadcasting at 200mw, and had an antenna connection that I could easily swap without having to solder. Much to my surprise, I found the Full Speed TX200, which ticked off all of my requirements and then had an even better feature; it literally installed onto the back of the Runcam Micro Swift. Because I’m hard on things like antennas, I also bought a few tiny cloverleaf antennas that would work with the Full Speed TX200. A lesson that I’ve learned so far in the hobby is that you rarely break the components which you have spare parts for!

Receiver

Building this quadcopter introduced me to my favorite receiver, the Frsky R-XSR. Above all else, it was small and it had antennas that I could swap easily without soldering. Moreover, it paired well with my Taranis X9D Plus transmitter. It was the first receiver that I owned which supported telemetry, which opened me up to all sorts of information about my quadcopters that I could then display on my transmitter, like the quadcopter’s current battery voltage. I opted for the Frsky R-XSR primarily for its small size, but if I could get telemetry working too that’d be the icing on the cake.

Battery

Of all the decisions I made while picking parts out, I agonized the most over picking out the right battery. I had purposefully selected the higher kV version of the Brotherhobby Returner R3 1106 7100KV and I had also picked out an ESC that was capable of handling a 4S battery. The combination of the higher-voltage battery and the faster spinning motors was a potentially risky decision. In picking parts out, I knew there’d be a chance that the 4S batteries would be too much voltage and too much weight for my new little quadcopter.

I decided to split the difference. I ordered two batteries, the BetaFPV 850mAh 3S battery and the ZOP Power 750mAh 4S. My intention was to try both out and then buy a whole mess more of the ones I liked better. To spice things up, Pat loaned me a handful of his variety of 2S and 3S batteries to also try out. I was hoping that in my first few days of flying the new micro quadcopter, I’d wind up stumbling upon which battery felt the nicest with hopefully at least 5 or more minutes’ worth of spirited flight time.

Final Parts List

Component Part Name Count Weight Cost
Frame GEPRC Sparrow GEP-MSX3 specs 1 41g $35.00
Flight Controller HGLRC XJB F428 Flytower specs 1 6.5g $65.58
ESC 4-in-1 28 AMP BLHeli_S ESC 1 4.2g
Motors Brotherhobby Returner R3 1106 7100KV specs 4 7.8g $17.55
Propellers DYS 3045 3 Hole Propellers (XT30453) specs 4 5.44g $6.99
FPV Camera RunCam Micro Swift 600TVL w/ 2.1mm Lens specs 1 5.6g $29.99
Video Transmitter Full Speed TX200 specs 1 2.9g $13.99
Antenna 4-Leaf RHCP Micro Clover Antenna IPX   1 2.9g $4.29
Receiver FrSky R-XSR Ultra specs 1 1.5g $24.99
Battery ZOP Power 14.8V 750mAh 4S 70C 1 78g $11.54
TOTAL: 177.34g $262.57


All the parts

Assembly

Having never really picked out the parts for my own custom quadcopter before, I had a bit of apprehension about putting it together. That apprehension was quickly justified as I laid down the motors next to the GEPRC Sparrow GEP-MSX3. The frame was clearly designed for 13XX- or 14XX-sized motors, and my little 1106 motors weren’t going to fit nicely. But then Pat grabbed my little set of precision files that I use for cleaning up 3D-printed parts and started filing away at the motor mounts. Within a few minutes he had connected each of the four motor holes in a little cross pattern, which allowed the smaller 11XX motor pattern to get mounted to the frame. However, in the process Pat made a mess!

Pat's messy hands after filing

Assembling the remainder of the quadcopter was pretty simple, but we quickly discovered that I am awful at soldering. Prior to building my first quadcopter, I’d hardly ever touched a soldering iron except for a couple of Arduino projects. Building the gigantic 450mm quadcopter was pretty easy. Largely because all the components were nice and spread out from each other. The condensed nature of a micro quadcopter was the absolute opposite. It wasn’t nearly as simple to put together, but that was offset by having a friend nearby to be an added set of hands or available to solder some of the bits I wasn’t quite confident enough to handle.

Ultimately, I was really thankful for the combined 4-in-1 ESC that came part of the HGLRC XJB F428 Flytower. The inclusion of that in the stack helped eliminate a good chunk of the different solder points (a dozen), I’m pretty certain one of those extra twelve would’ve ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back for either myself or Pat.

Brian's Micro Quadcopter

First Few Flights

I alluded to agonizing over picking a battery earlier. Among the things that led me to settle on the ZOP Power 4s 750mAh battery was my initial experience with a myriad of smaller batteries that I tried it with. I had fun flying them, but most of the flight of the smaller batteries fell quite a bit short of my five-minute flight time goal and they definitely felt less zippy than what I was hoping for. However, I was pretty pleased with the performance of the BETAFPV 3S 850mAh battery. Making it four and a half minutes on the battery was pretty impressive and it seemed to have enough oomph to be fun.

When I hooked up the 4S battery, the little pseudo mostly turned into exactly what I was hoping for. It really cooked zipping around the park, dancing in and out of trees. Its smaller size emboldened me into trying things I didn’t normally try. The on-screen display was flashing the low-voltage warnings (more on this later) and the quadcopter beeped at me in protest the entire time. I expected the motors to be extremely hot or the battery a bit puffed up, considering what I’d just put them through, but they were both in pretty good shape. For the most part, I felt like my 4S battery experiment was a success!

We went to our favorite park with wide-open spaces because for Christmas I gave Pat a radar gun. I just had to see what my psuedo micro quadcopter could do. I’d line up Pat out in the middle of the park and then do my best to fly full-throttle flight right at his face. I was astonished when Pat yelled that my little 3” quadcopter registered 72mph on his radar gun! All good, right? As it turns out, not so much!

What happened shortly thereafter was one of the motor screws backed itself out and came out. Because of how we modified the frame the other three mounting points started to wiggle back and forth, and eventually the motor fell right off! It ended my radar gun fun that day, but it wasn’t something a little Loctite Blue couldn’t fix. I was back up in the air the next day!

Final Thoughts

Considering my goal was to build a micro quadcopter that reminded me of my Holybro Shuriken X1, I felt mostly like I accomplished my goal. However, in accomplishing my goal I’d taken some pretty big liberties and probably bent at least two rules of drone building:

  1. I was running a high-kV motor on high voltage batteries. This usually isn’t a wise combination.
  2. I had to use a pretty heavy battery in order to get a decent amount of flight time.

My pseudo micro quadcopter was definitely hard on its motors and batteries. Nearly every single rapid adjustment on the sticks was accompanied by a low-voltage warning beep from the quadcopter. In the first video I shared, the battery was completely done as I came in for a landing, which resulted in a rougher-than-usual collision with the ground. And if you keep an eye on the battery voltage on the on-screen display, you can see how much the voltage sags any time I really got on the throttle.

In the end, I had tried so hard to build a micro quadcopter that I’d made the mistake of building a mini quadcopter and then put tiny little motors on it. It’s a fun little quadcopter—for its size it really screams around—but if I really wanted it to be a micro quadcopter than it should probably be built atop a smaller, lighter frame and running off a 2S or 3S battery

So What’s Next?

Now that I’ve finally admitted this is really a mini quadcopter, I think the appropriate thing to do is to go out and find more powerful motors and angrier propellers. I love the T-Motor F40 motors that are on my Shuriken X1. The T-Motor F20 II (3750kV) is the 1408-sized little brother of the newest generation of F40 motors. It’ll be a full-on mini quadcopter by adding these bigger, heavier, and much more powerful motors but I think I’ll get much better performance and be much kinder on my batteries in the long run. If I’m really lucky, I’ll match or exceed the flight times I was seeing before.

FuriBee GT 215mm Fire Dancer

| Comments

Those of you who follow my blog may have noticed that my blogging has been a bit sporadic over the past few months. The primary reason for this has been the birth of my son back in 2016 and the fact that I accepted a new job a few months back. But a big contributor to my absence has been my introduction to the world of drones. Almost exactly a year ago, I built a 450mm quadcopter, and ever since then I’ve been pretty quadcopter crazy. In fact, I now have a military-grade 55-liter backpack full of goggles, batteries, tools, spare parts, transmitters, action cameras, and most importantly, anywhere between four to six quadcopters which can be found inside or strapped to the outside.

My friends at Gearbest discovered early on that I’ve been quite obsessed with quadcopters and they’ve sent me a couple to review, starting with the KingKong 90GT micro-quadcopter that I’ve enjoyed so much that I still carry it around with me every time I go flying. When Gearbest offered to send me the FuriBee GT 215mm Fire Dancer FPV Racing quadcopter, I leapt at the chance to review it.

At the moment, I have two other different 5-inch FPV racing quadcopters: the Holybro Shuriken X1 and the insanely economical BFight 210. I really like both of these quadcopters. How would the FuriBee GT 215mm Fire Dancer measure up with my favorite two racing quadcopters? Which of the two quadcopters do you think the Fire Dancer would be the most similar to?

Specifications and my First Impression

On paper, the FuriBee GT 215mm Fire Dancer compares well with both my Holybro Shuriken X1 and BFight 210 quadcopters. While reading over the product’s specifications, my gut seemed to be telling me that the GT 215mm was more likely to remind me of the BFight 210:

Component Description
Frame 215mm X-configuration made of 4mm thick carbon fiber
Flight Controller Omnibus F4
Motors 2306 2400KV brushless motors
Propellers 3-blade 5048
ESC 4-in-1 BLHeli_S 35 amp
VTX 5.8GHz VTX, 48-channel w/ broadcast power 25mW/200mW/600mW
Camera 960 CCD camera with a 2.1mm lens
Weight 325g

About the only thing I’d squabble with from the product’s specifications is their claim about 1080P HD video. Perhaps the lens and camera sensor are indeed capable of 1080P, but there’s nothing onboard to record at 1080P and certainly nothing to broadcast in high definition either. If you’re wanting some HD video recorded on this quadcopter, you better strap a GoPro to it.

Unboxing the FuriBee GT 215mm Fire Dancer was pretty exciting. I was impressed with its light, yet sturdy build. The composition of the BFight 210 and the Fire Dancer are pretty comparable, but the frame seemed a bit more rigid than the BFight 210’s frame. More importantly, the Fire Dancer has bigger motors, bigger ESCs to feed those motors, and a better flight controller than you’ll find on the BFight 210.

However, I was not quite impressed with tiny little antennas on the cheap little Frsky receiver that was provided with the GT 215mm Fire Dancer, so I immediately swapped it out with a Frsky R-XSR that I had here in my collection of spare quadcopter parts. I also found that the quadcopter’s VTX was wired into the SBUS on the flight controller. I assume this was done to set up the possibility of controlling the VTX from my transmitter. However, in practice what I found was that my band and channel for the VTX were changing on what seemed to be each and every flight. Because the VTX lacked any documentation to explain why it was wired up to SBUS, I ultimately decided to just clip that wire. I was more than willing to set the VTX’s band, channel, and broadcast power by using the buttons built into the VTX.

Initial Flights

A quick note: as you will soon find out, I am still quite the novice at flying FPV. There’s a lot that I can’t do well, like soft landings or traversing our drone gates (aka kids’ soccer goals sans nets). While I feel like I’ve made a ton of progress since my first few FPV flights with the KingKong 90GT, I definitely lag behind many of my contemporaries. I’m not brave enough to follow in Pat’s shoes and do power-loops over trees, at least not quite yet!

I was super impressed flying the FuriBee GT 215mm Fire Dancer. My first flight was uneventful; I zipped around one of our favorite wide-open spaces and didn’t experience any kind of funkiness that can accompany a flaky quadcopter with suspect parts or a bad tune. It stayed up in the air for the entire duration of my 4S 1500mAh battery. If you’ve seen me fly a quadcopter then you’d recognize the magnitude of this accomplishment. My quadcopters seem to find their way to the ground long before their batteries have been drained!

My concern with both my BFight 210 and the FuriBee GT 215mm Fire Dancer was definitely durability. Not necessarily because the drones were flimsy, but because I’m hard on my quadcopters, as my BFight 210 can testify to. Moreover, the frames on both quadcopters are sleek and a bit on the slight side. Plus, I’d heard Pat’s horror stories about breaking his beloved BFight 210 in a particularly hairy crash one day.

Given my track record, it wasn’t entirely unsurprising to me that on my first day I wound up wrecking the FuriBee GT 215mm Fire Dancer. I was attempting at taking the GT 215 through one of our drone gates and winged the side pretty good—hard enough that it tore the propeller right off the motor. I was pretty pleased when I was able to put the propeller right back on and get flying again. It’ll be quite some time before I’d declare that the FuriBee GT 215mm Fire Dancer is durable enough to withstand my treatment, but the fact that it bounced back from this first-day crash so well seemed like a pretty good indicator.

So what does Pat think?

In Pat’s most recent blog about the demise of his own X1 and how awesome he thinks the BFight 210 is, he mentioned the arrival of my FuriBee GT 215mm Fire Dancer. Specifically, he said that he was looking forward to being able to kick its tires and take it for a flight. Naturally, I was excited to hear what he thought, so I handed him my transmitter on the condition that he write a couple paragraphs with his thoughts.

Brian let me try out his new Furibee racing quad. He had the camera angle set lower than I’m used to, but I had no trouble flying it. I did a power loop over a tree, and I hit a few aps in and around “The Lady Tree.” It was fun!

The Fire Dancer reminds me of the BFight 210. They’re both light drones with skinny arms, and they feel quite similar in the air. The Furibee has bigger motors, bigger ESCs, and an upgraded flight controller compared to the BFight 210—I didn’t do a good job putting those to the test in my short flight!

I like the Furibee GT 215, and it doesn’t cost much more than my BFight 210. It seems like a “no-brianer” to pay a few dollars for all those little upgrades!

Conclusion

There were two things about reviewing the FuriBee GT 215mm Fire Dancer that really stuck out. For starters, I really thought that GT 215 was excellent both in its features as well as its value. Like Pat said, it is only a few dollars more than the BFight 210, but it has bigger motors, can use bigger batteries, and has a better flight controller.

My biggest complaint was with the FrSky receiver that it came with. It was cheap enough that I simply decided to replace it before even trying it. I think my advice to others would be to buy the receiverless “plug and play” version of the quadcopter and spend the few dollars you save to buy a better receiver like the FrSky R-XSR.

But altogether, I think it’s a pretty fantastic quadcopter. To be able to find such a powerful and entertaining racing quadcopter for as little as $160 seems pretty incredible to me—especially when you consider the cost of quadcopters like my beloved Holybro Shuriken X1.

Naturally, Gearbest is selling the FuriBee GT 215mm Fire Dancer with a variety of receiver types:

But more importantly, with the help of the FuriBee GT 215mm Fire Dancer I was able to put together what I think is easily my “best” FPV flights so far. Perhaps I’m beginning to get enough stick-time in that my piloting skill is improving, or the GT 215mm is just that nicely put together and tuned than a clumsy novice like me would be able to fly it. Whatever the reason, it resulted in what I think is my best FPV video to date.

DIY NAS: EconoNAS 2017

| Comments

Ever since building my first NAS over five years ago, I’ve been keeping current by building a pair of new NAS builds each year: a powerful, budget-oblivious NAS build and an economical, price-efficient NAS build in an effort to demonstrate to prospective do-it-yourself NAS builders that a NAS can be built and assembled to suit their needs and budget. The DIY NAS: 2017 Edition was off the charts in storage, processing power, throughput, and also price! It was fun to build and blog about and even though its price tag was incredible, I thought it still had a pretty good price-to-performance ratio.

For 2017’s more budget-friendly NAS build, I decided to double down on my yearly goal to exceed the prior year’s EconoNAS performance while keeping the total price as close to $500 as I can. Every year I set this difficult goal and every year I wind up missing that goal. Will I wind up hitting that goal in 2017?

CPU & Motherboard

In shopping for the motherboard, I found out right off the bat that my new dedication to my budget goal was going to likely make this year’s EconoNAS remind everyone a bit of last year’s EconoNAS. I wound up picking an ASrock B150M-DVS R.20 (specs), which ultimately wasn’t all that different in specifications from the 2016 EconoNAS build, the Asus B150M-K D3. Chief among its feature set for me was the support for Intel’s LGA 1151 CPUs, its support for up to six SATA 3.0 devices, and its affordable price point. I’ve built a few DIY NAS machines (including my own) using ASRock motherboards and I’ve been pretty pleased with the results so far.

I am always stingy when it comes to paying for a CPU in the EconoNAS machines. I usually wind up seeking out the least expensive CPU that I think can handle taking care of FreeNAS and that fits in the motherboard. For this year’s EconoNAS, I wound up picking the Intel® Pentium Processor G4400 (specs). The Pentium G4400 wound up being a tiny bit more powerful than the G3920 which was used in the prior year’s EconoNAS.

RAM

As I did in 2016, I decided to go with 16GB of RAM. In the FreeNAS hardware requirements the minimum requirement is 8GB of RAM, but the recommended amount of RAM is 16GB. With my $500 budget in focus, I was tempted to dial the memory back down to 8GB in an effort to save some dollars, but then I decided against that. The two Kingston Technology ValueRAM 8GB 2133MHz DDR4 DIMMs (specs) were also an additional tiny upgrade over the 2016 EconoNAS, coming in at a few hundred megahertz faster at 2133MHz.

Case, Power Supply, and Cables

In looking for a case, I had one thought in mind: value! I pinched as many pennies as I could and sought out the least expensive case and power supply that I could find which would accommodate a decent number of 3.5” hard drives. My search turned up a manufacturer that I hadn’t been aware of before, Logisys. The Logisys CS305BK (specs) is a mid-tower ATX case that features a total of 10 bays (six 3.5” bays and four 5.25” bays). In my goal of being thrifty, I couldn’t avoid the temptation of this very inexpensive 10-bay case. At 480 watts, the included power supply should be more than enough to drive the rest of the components I picked out for the EconoNAS.

As it often happens, being thrifty came at an expense. In order to hook everything that I bought up, I wound up needing a set of extra SATA cables, a 3.5” to 5.25” drive bay adapter, a molex to SATA power adapter, and a 4-port SATA splitter. Regardless, I would’ve had to buy more SATA cables because motherboard manufacturers are notoriously skimpy in sending SATA cables with their motherboards. However, I did wind up spending another ten dollars buying adapters that I may not have had to buy if I’d chosen a different case entirely. Is it possible that this very inexpensive case was deceptively more expensive in the long run?

Storage

I go about buying storage for each NAS system with two goals in mind: first, to exceed the prior build’s storage capacity, and second, to spend less money on storage than the prior year. As you can imagine, these two goals conflict with each other. Bigger hard drives are a better value in terms of dollars per terabyte, but bigger hard drives carry a bigger sticker price too. Considering how similar the 2017 EconoNAS was winding up to the prior version, I wound up spending most of my effort shopping for hard drives.

FreeNAS Flash Drive

As is the case nearly with every NAS I’ve built since my first one, the SanDisk Ultra Fit 16GB was my choice for using to store FreeNAS on. I was tempted to add a second drive so the EconoNAS could have a mirrored pair of OS drives, but I opted to save the few bucks a second USB drive would wind up costing. I originally wound up picking the SanDisk Fit because of its compact size and reliability and because their performance over the years has earned my loyalty.

NAS Hard Disk Drives

To say I agonized over shopping for hard drives would be putting it mildly. The 2016 EconoNAS featured 6x2 TB harddrives for 12 TB of RAW storage. Adding a seventh 2TB hard drive in 2017 seemed like too much of a cop-out, and unsurprisingly, the prices of 2TB HDDs had not really changed much since building the 2016 EconoNAS.

Instead, I wound up going with generic “White-label” 3TB HDDs for the same price as the Hitcahi 2TB HDDs I’d purchased the prior year. In seeing them, I asked nobody in particular, what exactly is a “white-label” hard drive? Wikipedia defines a white-label product as “A product or service produced by one company that other companies rebrand to appear as if they had made it.” So effectively, the hard drives were manufactured by an unspecified, but well-known manufacturer likely intended for the use inside other products or by anyone who buys hard drives in volume.

This seemed like a riskier option, but at only $4 more per hard drive than I paid for the storage drives in the 2016 EconoNAS, it seemed like a risk worth taking. Having decided to buy the White Label 3TB hard drives, I then had to pick how many to put in the system. I wound up opting to buy five hard drives, for a raw total of 15TB of storage. Because I advocate at least using two drives of redundant data, the net storage will wind up being 9TB.

In comparison to last year’s build, it’s an increase of 3TB raw storage (15 vs 12), and 1TB of net storage. But I actually wound up spending less money on hard drives this year (~$300) than I did last year (~$340) because I bought one fewer drive total and their relatively close price points. Final Parts List

Final Parts List

Component Part Name Count Cost
Motherboard ASRock B150M-DVS R2.0 specs 1 $64.19
CPU Intel® Pentium® Processor G4400 specs 1 $53.60
Memory Kingston Technology ValueRAM 8GB 2133MHz DDR4 Memory specs 2 $89.95
Case and Power Supply Logisys Corp CS305BK w/ 480W PSU specs 1 $36.11
SATA Cables SATA Cable 26AWG SATA III 6.0 Gbps with Locking Latch for HDD 10 inch SATA Cables (10 pack) N/A 1 $8.50
Power Adapter StarTech.com 6in 4 Pin Molex to SATA Power Cable Adapter N/A 1 $2.74
Power Splitter StarTech.com 4x SATA Power Splitter Adapter Cable N/A 1 $6.27
OS Drive SanDisk Ultra Fit 16GB specs 1 $9.99
Storage HDD White Label 3TB 7200 RPM Hard Drive N/A 5 $59.99
TOTAL: $652.24

Hardware Assembly, Configuration, and Burn-In

I’ve been pretty proud that I’ve yet to hit a serious issue when assembling my different NAS builds. They typically go right together, boot up, and burn-in without any problems. It would seem that in 2017 my lucky streak would hit a bump in the road. How big of an issue do you think that I ran into?

Assembly

My very first thought about the assembly came in working with the case. The Logisys CS305BK is inexpensive for a reason: it’s cheap! The first case I received got abused in transit and the fascia of the case had completely shorn off its posts. The power supply wound up coming loose and had banged around hard enough to bend the sheet metal that held the power supply in place and bowed the hard drive cage a tiny bit. The metal used in the case is so incredibly thin, that I jokingly referred to it as foil on a number of times—it almost seems like it should be protecting a pumpkin pie rather than a host of computer components. That being said, I expected this case to have warts. No matter what way you look at it, it’s an inexpensive case with a ton of room inside for a plethora of hard drives.

Everything went together quite easily and I didn’t have any issues assembling the computer, but I did wind up having an issue on its first boot up. It wouldn’t post at all! After quadruple-checking all of my work and removing/disconnecting everything but the CPU, a single stick of RAM, and the power, I had no luck whatsoever. I swapped in a known good power supply that I had lying around, hoping that I’d just received a defective power supply. But that different power supply didn’t solve my problem.

I wound up being in a bit of a pickle, because I didn’t really have any way to verify whether the CPU, RAM, or motherboard was to blame for my problem. In doing some research into the ASrock B150M-DVS R.20, I learned that a BIOS update was required in order to support the newest Kaby Lake CPUs and I just so happened to have originally picked the Intel Celeron G3920, a Kaby Lake CPU. Without a spare Skylake CPU laying around, I wasn’t going to be able to flash the BIOS in order to support the CPU that I’d originally bought. Instead, I opted to buy an additional CPU, the Intel® Pentium Processor G4400 . The price was a few dollars more, but it had the dual benefits of being supported by the motherboard in its current form and it benchmarked a little higher than the Celeron G3920 that I picked.

Overall, not a huge issue. But I was a bit bummed that it snapped my lucky streak in building NAS machines for my blog! Onward to the next lucky streak, I hope.

White-Label Hard Drive Roulette

Among the things I was most interested about was exactly what kind of hard drives I was going to wind up receiving. One of the things I do in my the DIY NAS series of builds is buying hard drives from multiple manufacturers to try and avoid a bunch of drives that could’ve come from the same bad batch at the same manufacturer. When I placed the order for my five white-label drives, I briefly imagined receiving hard drives from three or four different manufacturers and getting the best of both worlds.

In looking at the five different drives, it was quite obvious to me there were two distinct models of drives. I had four of one model of drives, and one of a different model. This wasn’t quite ideal, but it is an upgrade from EconoNAS builds in the past where I’ve frequently bought what seems like the most amount of storage for the fewest dollars.

A little bit of detective work in the BIOS and taking a peek at the drives’ S.M.A.R.T data showed me that I wound up with:

  • 4 of MaxDigital MD3000GBDS
  • 1 of Hitachi HUS724030ALE64

The MaxDigital drives are a bit of a surprise to me. To be completely honest, I hadn’t heard of MaxDigital prior to my white-label hard drive roulette experiment in building the 2017 EconoNAS. When I ordered the hard drives, I bought the absolute best deal I could find on the 3TB hard drives.

My bottom line on hard drives is that I’ve been burned and massively disappointed in every single hard drive manufacturer at one point or another. I’ve had failed hard drive experiences and painful RMA process war stories to carry a grudge against all of the hard drive manufacturers at one point or another. My preference would be to use the hard drives from a manufacturer I’m at least familiar with, so I’m not entirely sure how I feel about these MaxDigital hard drives.

I am happy with the price I got; they were by far the best deal among 3TB hard drives when I did my shopping. Ultimately, the EconoNAS is all about deciding how much risk you’re willing take in order to save a few dollars. I’ll be curious to see how these drives perform and how reliable they wind up being.

Hardware Configuration

When I built my first NAS, getting the BIOS configured to boot up only via USB was tricky enough that I dedicated a paragraph or two to the hardware configuration. But in the years since, this has gotten better and simpler. Pretty much the only change I wound up making in this year’s EconoNAS was setting it up to boot off the FreeNAS USB drive. Beyond that, I didn’t make any other changes.

If I wanted, I could’ve theoretically updated the BIOS and switched back to the original CPU that I purchased for this year’s EconoNAS. But that CPU’s only benefit was being a CPU-generation newer and saving between $5 and $10. Personally, I would’ve been happier to spend the extra money and not have to deal with swapping the CPU. Ten bucks to save myself some time and frustration seems like a good deal. I decided to leave the older, but more powerful CPU in the machine and decided to forgo updating the BIOS.

Burn-In

For burn-in, I really like to focus in on the RAM and the CPU, primarily because they’re kind of a hassle to replace and because there’s no redundancy for this hardware. If I were truly anal-retentive about the burn-in, I’d also try and run some sort of burn in test on the network card and also the storage array once it is put together. But, I think that burning in the NIC and the hard drives might be a bit over the edge of reasonable. This is just my opinion, I wouldn’t blame any of you for wanting to also burn in those other components too.

My first boot is almost always into Memtest86+ to check the system’s RAM. This is for any computer I buy, but in particular for my NAS builds. I always have a bit of lingering doubt in my mind about the RAM until I’ve seen Memtest86+ complete at least three passes without any errors. Because I usually wind up doing something else, like flying drones, I usually wind up doing quite a few more passes than just three. Keep this in mind when you see the number of passes of Memtest86+ I wind up going through—I think anything over 3 is pretty much overkill.

For the CPU, I use my UltimateBootCD—but on USB—and I run the Mersenne Prime Test. My goal in running the test is to peg the CPU at 100% for a long time and look for any kind of instability or lock-ups. I usually do my testing in “waves” a shorter test of only 5 minutes or so and then subsequent tests of 10, 20, and finally 30 minutes. I’ll usually hop over into another console and monitor CPU usage and temperatures to keep an eye on anything getting out of hand.

As I expected, the 2017 EconoNAS survived my round of burn-in tests and was ready for the installation and configuration of FreeNAS.

FreeNAS Configuration

Installing FreeNAS is a snap. I always wind up downloading the latest FreeNAS ISO and then writing it to a USB drive, since I always seem to have about half a dozen USB devices floating around. I then boot up off that USB device, and then installing to the actual intended USB drive for running the FreeNAS OS. The trickiest part of this is remembering which USB device holds the FreeNAS installation and which USB device is going to hold the FreeNAS OS. Once the installation is finished, I remove the USB drive with the FreeNAS ISO on it and let the machine boot up for the first time.

Once it’s booted up for the first time, I do almost everything from the FreeNAS web interface. The default server name is FreeNAS, so you should be able to pull it up entering in the URL of http://freenas. On occasion, I’ve been industrious and figured out the IP address by logging in to my router and reviewing what IP addresses have been handed out to which machines via DHCP. Once the FreeNAS web interface has been pulled up, I usually go through these steps:

  1. On the first screen of the Initial Wizard, I hit exit because Initial Wizards aren’t complicated enough to make me feel like I’m accomplishing something.
  2. I set the hostname to: my machine name.my local workgroup name (example: econonas2017.lan)
  3. Create a new volume under storage. I always add all of the hard drives to the volume and I pick RaidZ2 for my Volume Layout. I opt for RaidZ2 because the data gets written to the different drives in such a way that you have two hard drives’ worth of redundancy.
  4. Add a group to contain all the users who’ll be able to access my share.
  5. Create a user for myself. Because I want to keep things simple for authentication, I make sure my username and password matches that of my computer(s) I’ll be accessing the NAS from and I also add myself to the group that I created in the prior step.
  6. Create a dataset belonging to the volume created earlier. I fill out the Dataset name and Comments, set the Share type to Windows, and made sure the Compression level is set to Inherit.
  7. Update the permissions on the dataset I just created, setting the Owner (group) to the group I created earlier. I set the Permission Type to Windows and I check the box for Set permission recursively
  8. Underneath the Sharing > Windows (SMB) Shares, I add a new share pointing at the path of the Dataset created earlier. I updated the Name and make sure Apply Default Permissions is checked.
  9. Following the share creation, I choose to enable the Windows SMB Service
  10. Under Services > SMB I configure the service by making sure the NetBIOS name matches the server name and the workgroup matches what I put in before (in step 2.)
  11. Because I’ve had luck in improving performance in the past, I choose to Enable Autotune under System > Advanced.
  12. I’m lazy, so at this point I just go ahead and reboot the NAS after making all of these configuration changes. This probably isn’t necessary and everything that I accomplish in a reboot can probably be achieved by releasing/renewing the IP address from your DHCP server.
  13. Following the Reboot, I go browse to the NAS from Windows Explorer and I validate that I can see the share and make changes to it.

Initial Wizard Updating Hostname Creating a Volume Adding a Group Adding a New User Create a Dataset on the Volume Setting Dataset Permissions Creating a SMB Share Enabling SMB Service Configuring SMB Enabling the wizardy of Autotune Reboot! Exploring the Share


Way back when I built my very first FreeNAS box, I was really surprised at how simple it was for a dingbat like me to install FreeNAS, get it configured, and be able to access the shares from my Windows machines. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten a bit better at it and hopefully it shows in the few steps above. But I think it’d be negligent if I didn’t also point out that this is only beginning to scratch the surface at what you can do with FreeNAS.

Benchmarks

When it comes to my NAS builds, only two numbers matter to me: power consumption and throughput. Power consumption is interesting to me because I intend to run my NAS perpetually. The only time my NAS is off is when the power is off at my house and the battery in my UPS has drained. Because of that, I like to keep an eye on how much electricity it uses. And beyond that, I like to see throughput numbers. I especially like to see the NAS builds fully utilizing the NIC on the NAS during a file transfer.

Power Consumption

Electricity is a sneaky, hidden cost of owning a NAS. Typically, I’m so eager to try and hit my $500 goal that I completely ignore the cost of electricity. I wouldn’t be surprised that spending a few dollars more for a low-power CPU and motherboard wouldn’t ultimately wind up being a cheaper option once you calculate in the cost of electricity over the lifetime of the device. To help everyone make a better decision on their own with regards to power consumption, I did a little bit of power-consumption benchmarking.

I’ve been using my Sonoff POW for these power benchmarks for quite some time. I really like being able to check and see how much power a particular outlet has used just by pulling it up from my mobile phone. I monitored the power consumption remotely and grabbed the highest number that I saw (while monitoring) during each of the following scenarios:

  1. Boot Up
  2. Idle
  3. Memtest86+ burn-in
  4. CPU burn-in
  5. NAS write throughput testing
Bootup Idle Memtest86+ Mersenne Prime NAS Write Test
116 watts
75 watts
98 watts
102 watts
80 watts

Altogether, I was satisfied with the power consumption. Using 80 watts during the sequential file write (more on that below) seemed like a pretty decent number for making the disks work. Ultimately, I felt that 2017 EconoNAS was up to the task of fulfilling it’s primary function without causing exorbitant utility bills.

Throughput

When benchmarking a NAS, it is important to remember that your primary bottleneck is going to be your network interface. For example, the 3TB HGST Ultrastar 7K4000 HDD in this year’s EconoNAS has a sustained throughput of 171MB/s which converts to about 1.368 Gbps. All by itself, that single hard drive is capable of saturating a gigabit connection all by itself.

I like to do a throughput test to see how the NAS performs on a sequential write and a sequential read. I use IOMeter to perform the test. I used my primary desktop computer to perform the test, so I set up 2 workers for each of my 8 CPU cores (16 total). And I ran two different tests: a sequential write and a sequential read, both of which used a 512Kb transfer request size.

  • Sequential Write: 92.21 MB/sec with transfer speeds as high as 810Mbps
  • Sequential Read: 91.24 MB/sec with transfer speeds as high as 876Mbps
Sequential Write Throughput: 92.21 MB/sec Sequential Write Performance: 810Mbps Sequential Read Throughput: 91.24 MB/sec Sequential Read Performance: 876Mbps

Overall, I though that the throughput testing was a bit of a mixed bag. I was pretty bummed out that I wasn’t fully utilizing the 2017 EconoNAS’s Gigabit link. It’s certainly something that I’ve accomplished in prior years’ EconoNAS builds, including last year on the 2016 EconoNAS. But I was pretty pleased to see the write tests perform in the same neighborhood as the read tests.

Conclusion

Quite a few things disappointed me this year about putting together the 2017 EconoNAS. For starters, I was going to miss my $500 price point … again. I thought the case was pretty chintzy and cheap enough that one was even damaged while it was shipped to me. I was more than a little bummed when it didn’t completely saturate my gigabit link. And most of all, I was extremely let down when it seemed like there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between this year’s EconoNAS and last year’s EconoNAS.

I think that the 2017 EconoNAS is a fine machine. For right around $650, you get 15 TB of raw storage, an Intel Pentium G4400, 16 GB of RAM and quite a bit of room to grow with 3-4 empty drive bays inside the case. If you’re looking to get the most storage possible for as few dollars as you can, I think this build is a very good direction to go and that my disappointment shouldn’t wind up also being your disappointment. Compared to the current pricing of the 2016 EconoNAS, this new build is better in nearly every way and a better value to boot!

The root of my disappointment is that I’m simply building these NAS machines too fast. Newer hardware isn’t pushing the prices of older hardware down fast enough to justify a new EconoNAS build every 12-18 months. I even purposefully postponed the EconoNAS build several times to see if the parts got any better or the prices got any lower—they didn’t! This also probably applies to my “regular” DIY NAS builds too. In 2018, I imagine that one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to come up with a new approach on the frequency of DIY NAS builds.

How do you guys think I did? Where would I be able to trim some money, but also exceed what was built 18 months ago for the DIY NAS? Or should I have spent even more money to truly set it apart? Do you think I’ll ever build a $500 EconoNAS?!

Giveaway

#FreeNASGiveAway Updates

02/06/18: Congratulations to James Viray of the Phillipines! Of 2,958 entries from 949 different people he was randomly selected and became the first international winner of the #FreeNASGiveaway! James’ subscription to the briancmoses.com RSS feed wound up being the entry that won him the #FreeNASGiveaway. Once you calculate in the cost of shipping the NAS overseas, the EconoNAS turned out to be not-so-economical for me, but it wound up being a great deal for James! Thank you all for entering, I appreciate the attention and interest in my NAS builds. If we continue seeing this much interest, perhaps I need to start giving away more than one?

briancmoses.com’s 2017 EconoNAS #FreeNASGiveaway