Printing and Assembling the MK735, a 3D-Printed DIY NAS Case

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Prior to my DIY NAS builds, I mostly tried to hide my computers under or behind desks because I didn’t really want them to be seen. However, when I embarked in the blogs I wrote around building my first DIY NAS, I knew I’d want to build something I’d be showing off in pictures on my blog. The consequence to this shift in thinking was that choosing a case became much more important to me than it had been in the past. For that first NAS, I wound up picking the Lian Li PC-Q25B.

In the subsequent years, I found that I was envious of the Silverstone DS380B that I used in the DIY NAS: 2015 Edition and then even more envious of the U-NAS NSC-800 which I used the following year in the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition. I decided in 2016 that if in the process of building one of my DIY NAS machines that I became impressed enough by the hardware, I’d upgrade my own NAS to match what I was envious of. Subsequently in 2016, I upgraded my own NAS with my primary intention being to put it all inside the U-NAS NSC-800.

Since my upgrade in 2016, the U-NAS NSC-800 has been hands-down my favorite DIY NAS case. But when Toby K. sent me his 3D-Printed NAS case, the MK735, I knew that was all about to change!

What’s the MK735?

The MK735 is a 3D-Printed DIY NAS case that can hold up to a standard ATX power supply, up to seven 3.5” hard disk drives, two 2.5” SSDs (or 2.5” hard disk drives, probably), a MiniITX motherboard, and two half-height PCI-e cards. And as far as I’m concerned, it is a work of art. Beyond its artistry, it’s also something that I’d be able to make my own mark on with my own crude 3D-design skills. At first, something simple like vandalizing it with my site’s logo. But in the future? I’d like to incorporate the OoberLights as part of the MK735. I’m more than capable of finding a way to incorporate the Ooberlights right into the grill making up the door on the MK735 case.


Printing the MK735

There are no two ways around this, printing the MK735 took a really long time. A number of the prints were well over 24 hours long, with the longest print taking nearly 48 hours. Altogether, it took 227 hours, 11 minutes, and 44 seconds of printing time. And this figure only accounts for the successful prints—along the way there were a number of failed print jobs thanks to some power outages and carelessness on my own part.

However, my success rate on printing these parts was surprisingly high! Primarily, I have Toby K. to thank for that. Included with all the files for the 3D objects was a set of documentation and print settings matrix for each of the objects. The documentation was top-notch, and for each object it made suggestions on how to make sure that the object printed successfully. Without that documentation and those suggestions, I’m certain there would’ve been many more failed prints than I wound up experiencing.

Video of 3D-Printing the MK735’s Parts

Assembling the MK735

Again, thanks to the wonderful documentation that accompanied the MK735, assembly was really pretty simple—with a couple minor gotchas and one pretty big one! Nearly all of my troubles were self-inflicted. Everything was fitting together incredibly well right up until I had to assemble the door.

The first tiny, minor problem that I ran into is that the brilliant dovetail which is used to join the two grills together to form the interior of the case’s door did not fit together smoothly. I simply hadn’t paid enough (or any?) attention to cleaning the three objects up after they printed. They didn’t fit together well enough that I couldn’t even take them back apart to try and clean up the surfaces where the three different objects were coming together. Faced with the prospect of reprinting each of the objects, I gambled that I’d be able to apply a lesson I’d learned from one of my uncles, who taught me: “I’ve never met a problem that a big enough of a hammer can’t fix.”


To my eventual discredit, using the hammer here surprisingly worked! I was gentle, but firm enough that tapping the three pieces with the hammer slowly moved the dovetail and two grills to exactly right where they needed to be. This allowed me to finish assembling the door. I then tried to get the hinges mounted to the case and found out that they were equally stubborn, despite my best efforts trimming and filing the hinges down. I gambled again that I’d be able to install the hinges with the assistance of my hammer and began tapping them into place on the drive chamber. All four of the hinges snapped into place, and when I went to install the door, I noticed that on one of the hinges, there seemed to be some blue plastic fragments falling out of the hinge. Thinking that it was just leftover bits from what I’d trimmed, I shrugged my shoulders and kept working, trying to get the door-side of the hinges installed when all of a sudden, one of the hinges crumbled apart and broke into two pieces!

My brutish hammering had damaged the hinge and it fell apart! To make matters worse, I couldn’t remove the broken hinge. Not by using the clever hinge removal tool that Toby designed, not by using my favorite pair of pliers, and not even by trying to use a drill and a tiny drill bit in an effort to break apart the hinge. None of my efforts bore any fruit at all and it pretty quickly dawned on me that I’d need to start a new 48-hour print to replace my ruined drive chamber. Moreover, I’d have to disassemble nearly everything and start all over from scratch with the assembly.


Then bad turned into worse. In removing the butterfly pins that conjoined the power supply and drive chambers, I heard a sickly creak and crack as one corner of the power supply chamber came apart along with one of the layers of the 3D Print. Now I was in the hole two different 40+ hour prints, plus I needed to find a solution for my hinge problem! That same night, I set off on beginning my new prints and ordered new spool(s) of filament out of concern that I didn’t have enough (I didn’t) and that I’d break something again!

That week, I printed a new drive chamber, a new power supply chamber, a couple sets of new hinges, and a test object which included a hinge pocket to test-fit the hinges in before I risked putting them into the drive chamber again. I hit the reset button and on that Friday night, I set to assemble the case again. That’s when I ran into a new problem: these two objects came from the same roll of filament, but the butterfly pins I had used to join them before wouldn’t fit any longer! For some reason, this new roll of filament seemed to be over-extruding a tiny bit and I had to file down both the butterfly pins and their pockets before everything would fit together nicely.

When it got to the point of assembling the door and attaching it to the frame, I started off by using the test object which included a hinge pocket. My goal was to install and remove each of the hinges before I even attempted to install them in either the door or the case itself. I spent what seemed like hours using my deburring tool, some precision files, and my Xacto Hobby Knife set working on whittling the hinges down to the right size. After quite a bit of sweat and muttering of four-letter words, I finally was able to get 3 out of 4 hinges trimmed down far enough that they could be installed and removed from the test object. But on the fourth hinge, it eventually got stuck exactly the way a hinge got stuck in the case before! On the one hand, I was thankful it was stuck in a test object and not the chamber itself, but on the other hand it meant I was still no closer to having completed the case’s assembly.

Following some discussions with the case’s designer, Toby K., and then also with my fellow beta testers, we all concluded that the hinges might be a bit too snug. I learned that I’d done well filing down how wide the hinges were, but I didn’t think to do anything about their height, either. Other testers had to scrape off some of the height to get them to fit nicely. Having learned about this and removing and reinstalling his own hinges, Toby decided that he’d redesign the hinges by making them a touch shorter and then to also add a chamfer to reduce the friction.

The next day, I’d printed 3 different sets of the hinges: the original hinges, some tweaks of my own, and an early version of the new-and-improved hinges. I immediately set out to use the author’s modified hinges and dropped the hinge right into its pocket and it slid in really easily. Out of paranoia, I used the deburring tool and whittled it down a little bit on the corners. This time around, I snapped the hinges into the door first and then installed the door right onto the case. Much to my relief, it fit like a glove, and my MK735 was fully assembled!

Video of Assembling the MK735’s Parts

What’s Brian Think?

Was I happy that I decided to print the MK735 to be used with own NAS? Absolutely! Do not get me wrong, it was an expensive and sometimes frustrating endeavor. For starters, adding up the filament consumed for each successful print put me right at 800 meters of filament used. That’s about two and a half 1kg spools of filament to print the entire case, and that’s assuming nothing goes wrong with any of the prints. Filament runs about $20-$40 per 1kg spool, depending on the kind of filament used. Moreover, it also involves printing with two different types of filament. So, operating under the assumption that you didn’t have any filament at all, you’d be buying at least 4 new rolls of filament to complete this print. If you wanted to do multiple colors like I did, you might need additional rolls of filament for the new color. Beyond the filament, there’s some hardware—some optional—that you’ll wind up buying: various assorted screws, the internal USB ports, the power switch, and magnets to hold the lid shut. By the time you factored in all the added cost for filament that I spent reprinting the extra drive chamber, power supply chamber, hinges, and test objects, I wound up spending way more than the $199 that my U-NAS NSC-800 cost me.

Altogether, I spent a pretty decent amount of money on what went into the case. But what I spent in actual money is only a drop in the bucket when you consider the amount of time that I spent making my own modifications to objects, preparing to print each of the objects, monitoring each print, working with each object following the print to get it ready for assembly, and then finally all the work that went into the case’s assembly

By now you might be asking yourself, “Then why on Earth did Brian spend so much of his money and time 3D-printing his own DIY NAS case?”

I’m really proud of what I’ve wound up creating. I’ve enjoyed this entire process. Each time a print completed and I added it to my project table to take pictures of before the assembly, I had a fun time working out in my head how everything would eventually go together. I thoroughly enjoyed the actual assembly, even the parts that didn’t wind up working out that well. And the payoff of the final assembled product was the pride that I got knowing that it was something that I made using the tools at my disposal.


Thumbs Up! All the MK735 parts #1 All the MK735 parts #2 Fan and Power Supply Carriers Upper Door Gril and Grill Dovetail #1 Upper Door Gril and Grill Dovetail #2 Upper Door Gril and Grill Dovetail #3 Upper Door Gril and Grill Dovetail #4 Drive Rails Hinge Fully Assembled MK735 with top off #1 Fully Assembled MK735 with top off #2 Fully Assembled MK735 with top off #3 Fully Assembled MK735 with top off #4 MK735 with Door Open #1 MK735 with Door Open #2 MK735 with Door Open #3 Front Panel Grill Close-Up MK735 with Door Open #4 Backside of Door Close Up Fully Assembled MK735 #1 Fully Assembled MK735 #2 Fully Assembled MK735 #3 Fully Assembled MK735 #4 Fully Assembled MK735 #5 Fully Assembled MK735 #6 Fully Assembled MK735 #7 Fully Assembled MK735 #8 Fully Assembled MK735 #9


What about you all? Assuming you have a 3D printer or had easy access to one, would you go the route of 3D-printing your own DIY NAS case? Let me know if you would and why you decided that in the comments!

What’s Next?

Next up? Well, I’ll need to move my own DIY NAS and probably write a blog about that process! For starters, I’ll need a new power supply and network card. I figured this would be a good chance to maybe find a decent modular ATX power supply for my NAS. Because the NIC I bought for my inexpensive faster-than-Gigabit network is a full-height PCI-e card, I’ll also need to swap it out for a half-height card.

Additionally, I’ll need a new power supply. The little 1U power supply being used in my UNAS NSC-800 isn’t going to work in the MK735. I also figured it’d be nice to be back to using a common power supply type. Maybe there’ll even be some improvements both in terms of power efficiency and noise.

I can’t wait to have my NAS sitting in the MK735 over on my other desk!

The Future of my DIY NAS Builds

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Following nearly every DIY NAS build, I reflect on what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what I think the future holds. Almost nearly every year, I make some decisions on the kinds of changes I’d like to see in the future. Most of the time, a bunch of those brainstorms are forgotten as quickly as they’re created. But every now and then, a pretty decent idea will stick with me. The EconoNAS build is an example of one of the better ideas that came from these brainstorming sessions. I’d published the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition for all of about 30 minutes before I started brainstorming about what I’d do differently the remainder of this year.

As a result of this year’s brainstorming, I’ve got a few ideas that I’m going to begin to implement:

  1. I’m not buying hard drives anymore.
  2. Resume building the EconoNAS each year
  3. Grow the FreeNASGiveaway

I’m not buying hard drives anymore

You might be exclaiming to yourself, “Hold on a second, Brian. You do realize that the S in NAS stands for storage, right?!” You’re absolutely correct, but I’m still not going to buy hard drives any longer. With each and every NAS build, I routinely get feedback with regards to the amount of storage; that I spent too much money on storage, that I wasted money having so many drives, that I didn’t have enough redundancy by having too few drives, that the drives weren’t big enough, and other reasons. Ultimately, all of the comments are equally correct and incorrect. The amount of storage that winds up in your DIY NAS build is ultimately a very personal decision comprised of all sort of different opinions on value.

I’d always hoped that people would read my blogs, become inspired, and build their own custom DIY NAS to suit their own needs. But, enough people seem to take what I’ve picked out as some sort of assertion that the parts that I’ve picked out are somehow at the pinnacle of DIY NAS building when they aren’t and I certainly don’t think that. I value the parts that I picked and try to explain how I arrive at that valuation.

Moving forward, I’m going to stop buying hard drives for my DIY NAS builds. Instead, what I’ll do is build a little collection of hard drives that I use for the purpose of filling out the DIY NAS builds and testing what I’ve built. In the blogs, I hope to build a little section on hard drives and build a table of a few different hard drive sizes, array configuration, net storage, and cost. This’ll cover way more options and hopefully cater a bit to people who might have problems reconciling that their opinion and my opinion can coexist.

As an added benefit DIY NAS builds’ prices will compare much more directly to the off-the-shelf NAS offerings you see at your favorite retailers and websites. It doesn’t frequently come up, but from time to time I have been asked why my NAS builds cost so much more than these other NAS. And almost always, the answer has been because mine has hard drives and the other doesn’t.

However, the primary benefit is cost. In the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition nearly a third of the cost was hard drives alone and in the last EconoNAS build nearly half of the cost went towards storage. Somewhere along the line in 2018, Google made a change to their search algorithm and took a huge bite out of the traffic that my blog sees. Similarly, a big chunk of the revenue that I was seeing from the affiliate links in my blogs also disappeared. Saving up to a few hundred dollars on each NAS build will go a long way towards taking the sting off that bite!

Resume building the EconoNAS each year

In a post-EconoNAS brainstorm a couple years ago, I was discouraged that the DIY NAS:2017 EconoNAS and DIY NAS: 2016 EconoNAS were more alike than they were different, at the time it didn’t seem like there was a ton of wisdom to be putting together an EconoNAS on a yearly basis. However, what I neglected to factor together is that the inexpensive equipment needed to build these NAS machines is no longer being produced by the time I’m picking them out to put into NAS builds, their assembly lines have already been reprogrammed to churn out other newer components.

Ultimately, what happens is that the EconoNAS winds up having a much shorter shelf life than my other NAS builds. This year’s EconoNAS might not be all the differen than the following year’s EconoNAS, but it’s going to be more difficult to put together and find the parts. As a result, I’m calling a do-over on that particular brainstorm and moving forward I’m setting a goal to make sure there’s an EconoNAS build on a yearly basis.

Grow the FreeNASGiveaway

The first FreeNASGiveaway was terrifying, I spent a ton of money out of my own pocket back when my blog was barely generating enough revenue to cover my hosting expenses. I calculated at the time that it’d be a much better investment to give away one of my NAS builds rather than try and spend money on advertisements. For the most part, this gamble has paid off extremely well. And as a result I want to grow the giveaway. I had the giveaway partially in mind when I purchased my first set of the USB Drives with my Face on Them. I absolutely want there to be more than one prize in the FreeNASGiveaway, I’d really like to be giving away more than one of my NAS builds.

Ultimately, building an EconoNAS every year and not buying hard drives for future NAS builds are going to compliment this goal very well. For starters, I’ll be back to giving away two different NAS builds every year, restoring the FreeNASGiveaway to the largest its ever been. Additionally, I’ll have an extra few hundred dollars that I saved on hard drives that can immediately go towards growing the FreeNASGiveaway. How would you grow the FreeNASGiveaway? Would you focus on giving away a second DIY NAS and EconoNAS first? Or would you giveaway something different? I’ve got a few ideas of my own, but I’d love to see some of your ideas in the comments below!

Our Horrendous Experience with a Vivint Upgrade

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A few years ago, after our next-door neighbor’s house was burglarized, I casually set out looking for a home-security service provider to help us keep an eye on our home and deter those looking for a quick and easy buck. Mind you, I don’t harbor the delusion that a home-security system will prevent our house from being broken into, but I think at the very least that it’ll deter the lazy, unmotivated thief looking for a quick buck.

Unlike most of my other purchases, my search was not especially detailed or thorough. Primarily, I found that just about everybody hated their home-security providers. Typically, their disdain coincided with three complaints: problematic equipment, lackluster service, and contract terms. The online reviews pretty much taught me that home-security services were pretty much universally disliked, and despite what my common sense was telling me, I opted to continue. I wound up deciding to go with Vivint. At the time I liked some of their home automation options. At the time, I liked some of their home-automation options.

All things considered, we’ve been relatively happy Vivint customers for the past four years. The one time we accidentally set off the home alarm, I was impressed with how quickly they reached out to me on my mobile phone to check in on the alarm, make sure everything was okay, and help get everything straightened out. Unfortunately, that was all about to change.

Beware of the Door-to-Door Salesman

Towards the beginning of May, on a Thursday evening shortly after dinner, our doorbell rang. It’d been a long day, and I was weary from the combination of workday, the soul-crushing commute, and persevering through my toddler’s newfound skill of obstinance. I opened the door and was greeted by a SmartHome Pro from Vivint who happened to be in the neighborhood “a few streets over” helping get one our neighborhood’s new homes fitted with their system.

I’ve long held a policy that I don’t buy anything from anybody who comes to my house uninvited unless they’re children doing fundraising for whatever club, sports, or charity they’re interested in. But for some reason, this evening I was too tired to say my usual “No thanks.”

Vivint’s representative was polite enough and said he was checking in on nearby customers since he was in the area and noted that we had an obsolete (his words) control panel that he wanted to talk to me about upgrading. He also gestured to my Ring doorbell and jokingly said that they’d like to “do something about that.”

The terms he laid out seemed to make sense, and he said that there’d be no lengthening of our contract. Altogether, the cost of the upgrade was going to be a few hundred dollars financed over 5 years with no interest. And the bottom line (or so they said) was going to be no impact to our monthly fee. My wife reminded me later that night that our “new” fee was actually going to be $15–20 more than what we were currently paying because she had negotiated it down earlier in the year.

Regardless, after some crude number-crunching, most of the math worked out. We’d be paying a tiny premium for consolidating our smart doorbell down into the common service. While it was a price hike, it wasn’t sizable enough for me to immediately reconsider. The technician came out the next day and installed all the equipment.

But that’s when our troubles began

The next morning, Saturday, I awoke to an alert from the Vivint app: two sensors had lost communication with the panel—an ominous failure from the prior night. Being an IT guy, I rebooted the panel, cycled power to the sensors, and hoped it was a one-time fluke occurrence. But it was not. A few hours later, the same error recurred, and I reached out to the Vivint support team. I explained in detail that we’d just had the panel upgraded and what I’d done earlier. Despite complimenting me for my troubleshooting prowess, the technician repeated the steps I had done previously and rebooted the panel, temporarily resolving the issue. Over my protests, I was asked to reach back out should the problem reoccur.

Unsurprisingly to me, the issue was not resolved, and the same two sensors failed to communicate with the panel the following morning (Sunday), and I was forced to reach out to the Vivint support team again. This time I was informed that I’d need to swap in a new set of batteries in each of the failing sensors. I protested. I told who I was working with that I didn’t think batteries were to blame and asked what happens during the replacement of the panel that would cause the sensors to use enough of the batteries to require their replacement. I received a weak reply back that the batteries were probably on their last legs prior to the technician’s arrival and that the new panel taxed them just enough to warrant their replacement. Begrudgingly, I ordered the batteries from Amazon, completely unconvinced they’d be of any help.

Surprise, surprise, new batteries didn’t magically make the sensors start communicating.

Amazon had the batteries delivered the next day (Monday), and I immediately replaced the batteries in both sensors. Lo and behold, the new batteries did not fix the issue. I reached out to the Vivint support team, exasperated. This time the Vivint support person concluded that the sensors were bad, that they were under warranty, and that I’d just need to pay shipping and handling to get a new pair of sensors sent out.

At this point, I’d run out of patience of spending more of my own time working on what Vivint had done incorrectly in the first place. Silently fuming, I demanded that they cancel the upgrade. The only solution I would be participating in would be allowing a Vivint technician to come out, remove the equipment they’d installed, and reinstall the previously working panel. Their reply to this? A ridiculous offer to issue a credit for the shipping and handling of the replacement sensors.

I informed the support person that I’d already spent more than enough money (hundreds of dollars for the new panel, new doorbell, and batteries) and time (an entire weekend) on what they couldn’t set up correctly in the first place. My earlier experience with the Vivint support team gave me zero confidence that what they’d suggested would actually fix the issue. I stated at this point that what I wanted was to revert back to what had been working previously. Vivint’s reply? They’d look into whether or not this was possible and get back to me in the next 1–2 days.

Notice of Cancellation

I ended this conversation thoroughly worked up. I’d wasted a ton of time and aggravation into resolving something that I shouldn’t have even been needing to resolve. I kept asking myself “Why won’t Vivint just send out a technician to take care of this?” And I was doubly frustrated when I couldn’t come up with any reasonable answer. It also began to gnaw at me, wondering what the fine print of the contracts I’d signed the previous Thursday night might hold in store for me.

I began digging around the paperwork that had been given to us and other paperwork that’d been digitally delivered via email, when I stumbled upon this: a notice of cancellation, which outlined that exactly the cancellation I’d requested earlier should be possible.


Upon reading this, I was incensed. Nearly everything that the Vivint support team had me do so far—buy new batteries, ship me replacement sensors, and get back to me in a day or two—all would’ve eaten into the three business days outlined in this Notice of Cancellation document. Immediately, I filled this paperwork out, emailed it to the Vivint SmartHome Pro, and made plans to send it to their mailing address via registered mail.

Vivint says a downgrade is impossible, repeatedly

Despite what is described in both their Notice of Cancellation document, given to me at the time we made this purchase as well as what’s described as their “Right of Rescission”, Vivint has steadfastly repeated that what I want is not possible.

After installation, you are given a Right of Rescission (ROR) period, which allows you to cancel your agreement without penalty. Please refer to your agreement to find your ROR.

According to Vivint, downgrading from the panel that they upgraded me to is impossible; no reason or justification for this impossibility has been offered. Their statements that this is impossible don’t jive with their own documentation regarding cancellation. The email that I received after 1–2 days earlier this week said that it was impossible, and my reply back with the notice of cancellation did not generate a subsequent reply.

Last night, I reached back out to Vivint’s support to ask why this was the case and got the same weak answer of that it “was impossible” to revert back to the hardware that I was using before. I have yet to hear an explanation or justification of why it’s impossible. Pathetically last night, they offered to credit the purchase of the doorbell back to my account if I were willing to have a technician come out and repair the sensors. Had this option been offered a week ago, I would’ve gladly accepted it. But having been through Vivint’s support for the past week trying to get this squared away, I’m not even sure I want to be their customer any longer.

In speaking with that person, I was offered basically two options, neither of which would be the removal of the new hardware and reverting me to where I was at the very beginning of this.

  1. A technician could be sent to repair the new panel’s problems: I would’ve accepted this offer at any point during the initial weekend I spent resolving this. But having been through the wringer of Vivint’s support, I don’t want any of the components that they tried to upgrade. I don’t really feel like spending hundreds of dollars on the hardware, and right now I don’t really feel like spending hundreds of more dollars for the level of service that I’ve received would be a wise investment.
  2. I cancel my service and buy out the remainder of my service contract: We’re under contract until 2021, and to cancel our service, Vivint expects that we’d pay the totality of our contract.

They’re both expensive choices, but right now the latter of the two choices is looking best to me. I’ll have nothing to show for buying myself out of the contract, but it’ll cost me the fewest amount of dollars. Paying for the panel and continuing to pay for the “service” might potentially yield some benefit to us, but at this point I think it’d be shameful to reward Vivint for this horrendous upgrade and their refusal to honor their own Notice of Cancellation for orders like ours.


So what’s next?

I’m not entirely certain! Supposedly, I was going to get a phone call back sometime today from Vivint’s “Loyalty Department” in order to work on a solution. Instead of stewing and getting even more pissed off as more of the day went by, I sat down and started writing this blog. It’s about 5PM and I still haven’t had a call back, and as I understand it, that department will be closed in about an hour.

As it stands right now, I don’t feel like Vivint values me as a customer. If they valued me as a customer, they would’ve dispatched a technician immediately to resolve their problematic upgrade. If Vivint valued me as a customer, they would’ve worked to honor their Notice of Cancellation.

But because they don’t value me as a customer, Vivint’s chosen to not honor their Notice of Cancellation and “Right to Rescission”. And because they don’t value me as a customer, Vivint’s wound up ruining another day of one of my weekends as I sit here awaiting a phone call that I was promised.

As far as I’m concerned, I’m beginning to think it’s time that Vivint reaps what they sow, let this blog be the beginning. If you’re considering becoming a Vivint customer, please read over how they’ve treated me and factor that into your decision-making.

I’m still hopeful of a positive outcome. I hope that they call me back any minute now. I hope that whomever talks to me can make me explain exactly why it is that it’s “impossible” to downgrade back to the panel that I was using. And I sure hope that they want to find a way to keep my business and offer some sort of compromise that gets them out of honoring their own cancellation terms. When something happens, I’ll come back and post an update.

How about you all, do you have similar experiences with Vivint or other home-security companies? Please share your experiences in the comments!

The Dramatic Conclusion?!

After being promised a call back for the following day last Friday evening, I finally received a phone call from Vivint the Monday afternoon following the second weekend of this fiasco. The timing of the phone call worried me, since it came toward the end of my workday while I was still at my desk. I was a bit concerned that the entire building might wind up hearing unleash all my frustrations if Vivint continued to claim that they couldn’t abide by their own agreement, as had been evidenced by numerous previous contacts with their customer support the prior 10 days.

I gritted my teeth, answered the phone, and a pleasant-sounding person greeted me and asked me to describe what the issue was and how they could help. I explained that our upgrade hadn’t gone well and that we wanted to have a technician come back out and revert us back to the state we were in prior to the upgrade. And wouldn’t you know it, she scheduled a technican to come out the very next day! It turns out that after all, a downgrade was possible!

The following day a technician came out and did exactly what we’d asked for two weekends prior, he was able to revert us back to the state we were in prior to the upgrade in a matter of minutes. As far as I can tell, everything is working completely fine. While I am both relieved and satisfied with the conclusion, it really bothers me that this had to be so incredibly difficult. From my point-of-view, it seems like the Vivint support team’s efforts were delbierate and intentional to stall until I was outside of the cancellation period or frustrate me into just accepting the upgrade.

Thankfully, in the end, I did wind up getting what I wanted. I’m glad I put in the effort and stuck to my guns. However, I’m disappointed that this devolved into a situation that put a huge damper on two weekends as well as severely damaged my opinion of Vivint’s services. They’ve got a tremendous amount of work to in order to get me to agree to extend beyond whatever I’m currently contractually obligated to.

What about a 3D-Printed Mini-ITX NAS Case?

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I love it when the Venn diagram of any of my interests overlap! It always results in grabbing a much tighter hold of my attention and an increase in the enjoyment of the time spent on whatever is managing to overlap multiple interests. A good example of this is my enjoyment of FPV freestyle quadcopters, which is a combination of many interests that I have; tinkering/upgrading, going fast, electronics, and gadgets. The other day I was marveling at how engrossed I’ve become with quadcopters, but given the number of my interests it touches, it makes perfect sense.

Another such example would be DIY NAS building and 3D Printing. When I assembled the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition, I noticed that the hard drives were running a bit warmer than I would’ve liked. I’d done some reading on the Internet and people had solved similar problems by crudely creating a duct to force more air towards the hard drives. Right off the bat, I knew that this was a problem I wanted to solve with my 3D printer, and I created a duct that screwed into the cooling fans that addressed my problem. While I really enjoyed building the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition, the enjoyment of its assembly pales in comparison to what I felt in the cooling duct’s design and creation.

Over the years, there have been a handful of comments in my various DIY NAS build blogs asking “Why don’t you 3D print your own NAS Case?” I almost always answered those questions with the fact that it was well beyond both my capabilities with 3D design as well as with the abilities of my first 3D printer. My first printer had a print surface of about 9” wide by 6” deep and 6” tall—even printing a case for a small MiniITX motherboard was going to require me to create and assemble many, many, many objects that would need to fit together in order to accommodate one of my NAS builds. To be frank, it always seemed like something miles beyond my ability.

As I was teasing the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition, the same question was posed to me in social media. But this time the person asking had an ace up his sleeve—he’d actually 3D designed and 3D printed his own NAS case! The creator, Toby K., shared a few details of his creation with me and asked me if I’d be willing to review it for my blog. I answered quickly that I’d be excited to review it once I’d published the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition blog.

Features

  • 100% 3D printable except for the power button, USB ports, screws, door lock, door magnets, and fans.
    • Printed out of: PLA, TPU, and PETG filaments
  • Designed for MiniITX motherboard, SFF height PCI-e cards
  • Full ATX power supply up to 165mm deep
  • Drive bay will handle 7 x 3.5” disk drives
  • Dimensions: (approximately) Width: 245mm, Depth: 230mm, Height: 360mm (with feet)
  • Cooling
    • Up to three 92mm or 80mm cooling fans (2 in rear for drive bay, 1 up front for motherboard)
    • Support for two 40mm fans on rear panel
    • Door grill allows for extensive ventilation
  • Door
    • Opens full 180 degrees
    • Keyed door lock (optional)
    • Magnetic door latch (optional)
  • Cover
    • Removes from front after opening door
    • Screw-less design

Grey grill from front #1 Grey grill from angle #1 It's really 3D Printed,  I swear! Grey grill from angle #2 Grey grill with door open Drive cage and power supply cubby Case rear from angle Motherboard tray #1 Motherboard tray #2 Drive cage drawer on rails #1 Drive cage drawer on rails #2 Removing drive cage drawer Drive cage drawer back in place Black grill from front #1 Black grill from front #2 Black grill from angle #1 Black grill from angle #1 It's really 3D Printed,  I swear!

Brian’s Initial Thoughts

All I could really say was “Wow!” as I opened the case and examined it the first time. Toby has developed and produced an amazing little NAS case. When the package came, I think I said “Wow” out loud for the first time about fourteen milliseconds after taking off the bubble wrap and then repeatedly continued it as I looked over the case. The case made a fantastic first impression, and things only improved from there.

The power supply and hard drives are installed in the bottom of the case and the motherboard sits atop of the case. The entire front of the case makes up the door. The front of the door is largely composed of a grill which should allow for awesome ventilation. Speaking of ventilation, I really like how the heat-producing components (CPU and power supply) are segregated from the drive cage and have their own fans.

The drive cage itself is amazing. The drive rails are made from TPU, a softer, more flexible filament, and the rails install on either side of the drives. The left-hand drive rail has cable management notches to help organize the SATA power and data cables. If you don’t want to fill up all 7 bays with drives, Toby has designed a container to turn an empty bay into a drawer for storage.

Toby’s printer (a Prusa I3 Mk3) prints so well that I’m a bit envious and shamed. I bought my own Prusa I3 Mk3 not too long ago and haven’t achieved nearly the print quality that Toby has with his printer.

I built a NAS out of it, sort of.

Over the last 7 years, my NAS adventures have led to me collecting a various number of extra hard drives and other NAS-related equipment. And thanks to my initial motherboard mishap in building the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition, I just so happened to have an extra motherboard lying around. The only thing I wound up lacking to build a computer was some extra RAM. However, I had all of the parts that I needed to evaluate how capable of a case Toby’s 3D-Printed Case would be. It may have looked great, but an equally important factor in evaluating the case is the experience of working inside the case.

The design of the case resulted in something that’s a tiny bit bigger than most MiniITX cases and considerably bigger than the extra tiny DIY NAS: 2019 Edition which I just finished building. That extra little bit of room made it so much easier to work in when compared to most of my other NAS builds. One of the really impressive feats of genius in the design of the case is how many small parts went together to form something bigger. The benefit of that is that you could literally assemble the case around the components if you needed to. In putting the motherboard into its tray, I had a hard time connecting the power button and LED to the motherboard, but the piece that was causing me inconvenience was easily removed via four screws.


A whole mess of parts HDDs installed in cage #1 HDDs installed in cage #2 HDDs and PSU installed in cage #1 HDDs installed in cage with power and SATA #1 HDDs installed in cage with power and SATA #2 HDDs installed in cage with power and SATA #3 HDDs installed in cage with power and SATA #4 Motherboard Mounted from side  #1 Motherboard Mounted from side  #2 Motherboard Mounted from rear #1 Motherboard, Fans, and PSU from Rear #1 Motherboard, Fans, and PSU from Rear #2 Fully Assembled #1 Fully Assembled #2 Fully Assembled #3 Fully Assembled #4 Fully Assembled #5

In assembling the NAS, I was a bit worried that I’d find out that the 3D-printed material was delicate, but instead I found that the case wasn’t actually delicate at all. It stood up to my wrestling and wrangling just fine. You should notice in the pictures that the grill on the front was switched out from a gray one to a black one. Toby felt that a black grill was a better-looking option (and I agree) and subsequently shipped me a pack of replacement parts to put into the case myself. Disassembling the case and reassembling with those new parts was quite simple and gave me further insight into how well the case was designed.

It can’t be that good, can it?!

Actually, yes, it can be, and it is! It’s a flat-out fantastic case. Of the different cases I’ve used over the years to build DIY NAS machines, it’s by far my favorite case so far. However, I will admit that when it comes to buying computer cases, there are two kind of people:

  1. People who think that a computer case is a piece of their interior design.
  2. People who want a simple beige box that they cram out of sight and out of mind.

If you are the second kind of person, I could see why you might not be nearly as excited about this case. For the most part, I’ve been a beige-box-case-guy most of my life. The only cases I’ve ever showcased in my office has been whatever have been holding my personal DIY NAS build: first the Lian Li PC-Q25 and now the U-NAS NSC-800.

And if you’re the first kind of person, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t think this case is amazing. The case looks fantastic; it begs to be tweaked and customized to your perfection. It’d be super easy to customize, anywhere from somewhere simple like picking out your own filament colors and all the way up into tweaking the 3D models themselves to make your own changes. In comparison to most of my MiniITX DIY NAS builds, it was a pleasure to work in, and consequently it took me around half the time to assemble this compared to the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition. If this case were available on Amazon, I’d already have it penciled in for my next DIY NAS build.

What’s Next?

From what Toby explained to me earlier, his intention is to continue perfecting the case. His current focus is creating the documentation he feels is necessary to be able to print and assemble the case, which I applaud. Toby’s eventual plan is to sell copies of the 3D model’s files. It’s painfully obvious that Toby’s invested hundreds of hours into the design and printing of this prototype—Toby estimated that he’s probably invested at least 500 of his own hours into it. I want him to be successful in his efforts. While I don’t have the pricing details yet, I’d be inclined to buy a copy of the files out of admiration for what he’s done. Maybe that’d be a fun giveaway to do when they’re released?

Please stay tuned to my blog and social media accounts. I hope there are updates to be made to this blog, possibly additional blogs of my own as this project moves from a prototype to an actual product, and if we’re really lucky, I can convince Toby to write his own guest blog about his design and printing efforts—I think it’d be fascinating!

Update (3/22): Toby decided to start his own page on Patreon, 3Dwebe for Functional 3D Printable Designs. Due to in large part, the outpouring of interest in obtaining the STL files. If you’re wanting to stay in the loop, I think this is the place you’ll want to start monitoring. Hopefully Toby can even come up with a few unique ideas to provide you some one-of-a-kind modifications to the case to make yours stand out!

Conclusion

Let’s pretend that seven years ago in 2012, instead of building a DIY NAS machine, I opted to buy a 3D printer instead. Then a couple years later, I decided to build my very first DIY NAS. In this very plausible scenario, would I have used the same Lian LI PC-Q25 Case or the U-NAS NSC-800 that I eventually upgraded to? Or would I instead be slaving over my 3D printer investing the 120+ print hours and filament to print my own NAS case?

After working with Toby’s case, I think I’d be 3D printing my own NAS Case instead! I can’t really think of a better endorsement than this. In the long run, it’d be way more work and effort than buying an existing product, but I’d love the fact that I produced it myself and that it was one of a kind. I’d love to import it into OpenSCAD and find a way to add my face to it, somehow!

To top it all off, Toby managed to create a design which fit into a printable area of 9.84” x 8.3” x 8.3”. Those parts, when printed, could be assembled into the MiniITX-sized case, with 7 drive bays, room for a full-size ATX power supply, well-thought-out cable management, and excellent cooling. It’s just flat-out amazing.

What about you guys? Those of you with access to a printer, would you consider printing a case for your DIY NAS? Those of you without 3D printers, does this kind of object tempt you even further to buy your own 3D printer? Please let me know what you think in the comments below!

DIY NAS: 2019 Edition

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Seven years ago, I decided I wanted to start backing up all of my computers to a NAS. In doing some research for that NAS, I couldn’t find a blog, forum post, reddit thread or anything else which contained the kind of guide that I was looking for. This fruitless search led me to blogging about my own experience in building my NAS. Based on the traffic from Google and search results for DIY NAS building keywords, I’d struck a chord that resonated with others, and I’ve been both upgrading my own NAS or building other different NAS machines ever since.

For each year’s DIY NAS build, I try and come up with a “theme” that drives the architecture of that year’s NAS build. For the most part, this is something that I do to help keep myself from building the same exact machine year after year. But I also like to do it because it causes me to tackle the concept from different angles. For example, up until last year, I’d never really dedicated much of the budget towards the CPU. My reasoning had always been that it doesn’t take much CPU to serve up files to my household, but there’s many people out there with needs for storage due to their interests in media streaming, and that DOES require more CPU. So in the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition, I designed the NAS with media streaming and/or virtual machine hosting in mind.

So what did I wind up deciding to do in 2019? Make it even smaller! I’ve always preferred making my NAS builds diminutive on account of my limited desk space. Additionally, what I saw as one of the biggest advantages in comparing a DIY NAS build to the off-the-shelf NAS offerings from folks like Drobo, QNAP, Synology, et al. is the fact that the off-the-shelf NAS machines are nearly always compact. In building my own NAS, I wanted to demonstrate that a DIY builder could do it better!

How would I wind up making my DIY NAS builds even smaller? Find out what’s taking up the most amount of space—the hard drives—and replace them with something smaller! The footprint of a single 3.5” hard drive is about 147mm x 101.6mm x 25.4mm for a volume of 376.77 cm3. The smaller 2.5” hard drive form factor is 100mm x 69.85mm x 19mm for a volume of 132.72 cm3. A 2.5” hard drive is roughly 35% the size of its bigger brother. When you multiply that savings in space across 8 HDDs, the amount of space saved adds up to something impressive.

CPU & Motherboard

As is always the case, the motherboard wound up being the component that I spent the most amount of time and energy into selecting. The DIY NAS: 2019 Edition was especially problematic in that my original motherboard choice wound up not working out so well! After going back to the drawing board, I was quickly drawn to the Supermico A2SDI-4C-HLN4F(specs). The motherboard’s features which really drew me in were:

Due to my own experience and the experience of at least one #FreeNASGiveaway winner, I was a bit reluctant to try the latest Intel Atom CPU. The Atom C2000 hardware flaw had bricked my own NAS twice as well as that of one of the winners. However, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the motherboards powered by the Denverton CPU to both hit the market and to come down into the price range I considered acceptable.

While I opted for the Supermico A2SDI-4C-HLN4F, I liked that the Supermicro family of motherboards contained several bigger, badder versions of the motherboard also available for DIY NAS builders:

Ultimately, I wound up feeling like the Supermico A2SDI-4C-HLN4F fit what I expected a NAS’ workload to be. However, I wouldn’t fault anyone for picking a more powerful and more expensive motherboard because they wanted their NAS to be able to act more like a Homelab server. This is exactly why I encourage people to build their machine themselves to suit their needs.

RAM

Among the areas that presented with a significant opportunity to create some savings over last year’s NAS, RAM was probably among the top. In last year’s NAS, I went over the top with nearly every component, and RAM was no exception. I spent nearly $900 on RAM last year, and a good chunk of that was most likely money not ideally spent. Among the “guidelines” you’ll find when building a DIY NAS that runs FreeNAS, you’ll see people make the recommendation of 1GB of RAM per TB of storage. However, hopefully you’ll also see people like me routinely pointing out that hard drive capacities have long outpaced RAM capacities and that this isn’t really pragmatic or sustainable.

I’ve routinely built my NAS machines with around the bare minimum recommended amount of RAM, and I’ve yet to wish that I hadn’t. Last year’s NAS wound up being an exception because I wanted the machine to be able to host and power virtual machines. For this year’s NAS, I chose to buy 8GB of Crucial 2666Mhz ECC DDR4 RAM. While I’ve long advocated the use of non-ECC RAM in the building of DIY NAS machines, it made sense to use ECC since I’d already chosen to pay the premium of an enterprise-grade motherboard. Had I gone a different route with the motherboard, I would’ve been more than happy to use non-ECC RAM.

Case, Power Supply, and Cables

Because I’d pinned my hopes on reducing the DIY NAS’ footprint around dropping from 3.5” hard drives to 2.5” hard drives, my hope to achieve my goal centered around my ability to find a case. Thankfully, I quickly found the SilverStone CS280 (specs). The SilverStone CS280 is a compact case which measures 221.5mm x 176.7mm x 301mm and a volume of 11.8 liters. It is considerably smaller in volume in comparison to last year’s NAS using the SilverStone DS380, whose volume measured at 21.6 liters. It may be small, but there’s still room inside for a Mini-ITX motherboard, eight 2.5” hard drives in a hot-swappable drive cage, and an SFX power supply. For what I was wanting, the SilverStone CS280B was ideally suited to my objective.

For the power supply, I wound up choosing the SilverStone ST45SF-V3 (specs). The 450-watt, 80 PLUS Bronze certified power supply was going to be more than enough to meet the needs of the power-sipping CPU and 8 hard disk drives.

Because of the proximity of the drive cage’s backplane to the power supply, my collection of straight-through SATA cables wound up being too tight of a fit for me to be comfortable with. Thankfully, the SAS cable that came with the Supermico A2SDI-4C-HLN4F had really thin cables, but for the other 4 ports on the drive cage’s backplane, I was forced to use SATA cables with a 90-degree bend for the first time ever. Which is ironic because I’ve always despised the 90-degree bend connectors whenever I’ve gone to build some sort of computer, whether it be a NAS or not. I opted to get a pack of the Posta SATA III Cable (5 pack) with 90 Degree Plug. The 90-degree bend wound up being perfect to clear the close proximity of the power supply in the SilverStone CS280.

Speaking of the proximity of the power supply and the drive cage, I also wound up deciding that instead of stretching and tugging power cables across the already crowded space in the drive cage, that I’d buy a SATA-to-Molex Power Adapter for providing power to the drive cage. This allowed me to route two of the separate accessories’ power cables from the power supply to either side of the case and keep the drive cage clear for just the SATA cables.

Unfortunately, the SilverStone CS280B had two USB 3.0 ports on its front panel, but the Supermico A2SDI-4C-HLN4F lacked an appropriate header to plug the connectors into. I was a bit disappointed in this, because I would’ve loved to have kept the FreeNAS OS drives plugged into the front of the case.

Storage

FreeNAS Flash Drive

I had some pretty exciting plans for the USB drive in the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition. I was hoping that through Tindie I could buy and resell my own USB drives. I’d even spent a few hundred dollars buying some USB drives, but in the course of trying to use them for building this NAS, I knew I was going to have to change my approach! I went back to my favorite maker of USB drives, Sandisk, and opted for their SanDisk 16GB Ultra Fit USB 3.1 Flash Drive (specs). Over the years I’ve been impressed with the Sandisk Fit-line of USB drives, and they’re routinely well spoken of when it comes to their use as a FreeNAS OS drive.

NAS Hard Disk Drives

I wound up picking 2.5” hard drives primarily because of their small footprint and the goal of building an even smaller NAS than in the years before. But beyond that, the 2.5” hard drive was designed to be used in laptops and other mobile uses, and as a result they tend to give off less heat and be more durable. All things considered and all things being equal, the 2.5” hard drive would seem to be a pretty ideal choice for a zealous DIY NAS builder such as myself.

On the other hand, 2.5” hard drives are also much more expensive per terabyte than their 3.5” cousins. This year, the average price per hard drive for the 2.5” drives was in the neighborhood of $85 each. At that same exact price point, there is a plethora of 3TB and 4TB hard drives in the same neighborhood for the price. Wouldn’t a zealous DIY NAS builder such as myself also want to get the most amount of storage out of his budget too? Wouldn’t he or she jump at the chance to double their storage at the same price?

When I built my very first NAS, I was pretty focused on building a DIY NAS with a footprint that was small. In planning that NAS out and shopping for parts, it never even occurred to me to take a peek at 2.5” HDD prices or to try and do the math to figure out how much space a smaller hard drive would wind up saving me. If I had a time machine and I went back to share all of my experience building these different NAS machines, do I think I would’ve wound up building a NAS with 2.5” HDDs or would I stay with 3.5” HDDs instead? I’m not really sure what the answer to that question would wind up being!


2019 NAS Hard Disk Drives
Drive
Seagate ST2000LM003   
WD Blue WD20SPZX   
Seagate Barracuda ST2000LM015   
Size
2TB
2TB
2TB
Quantity
2
3
3
Price
$98.99
$78.90
$74.99

The hardest part about picking out the hard drives this year was the fact that I couldn’t use the Backblaze Hard Drive Stats to help guide my decisions in picking out hard drives! The most interesting part in picking 2.5” hard drives as my preferred form-factor is that I’d have something that would be ideally suited for the person who wanted to build a NAS out of SSDs. There are generally one or two people out there each build who ask questions about building a NAS out of SSDs. I’d still never do it because the network itself is going to be a bottleneck, but barring some astronomical development in affordable network technology, this NAS build will be the closest I ever come to building an SSD-based DIY NAS.

As a suggestion for other DIY NAS builders, I’d reccommend that you potentially avoid the Seagate ST2000LM003, not for any quality reasons, but because it appears that it’s now discontinued and the price has steadily climbed ever since I purchased two for the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition. I originally paid $99.99 for the drives. At any price above this, I’d suggest looking for something else.

Final Parts List

Component Part Name Count Cost
Motherboard Supermico A2SDI-4C-HLN4F specs 1 $364.99
Memory Crucial 8GB (2x4GB) 2666MHz DDR4 ECC specs 2 $49.99
Case SilverStone Technology CS280B specs 1 $179.99
Power Supply SilverStone Technology ST45SF-V3 specs 1 $65.42
OS Drive SanDisk 16GB Ultra Fit USB 3.1 Flash Drive N/A 2 $6.65
Storage HDD 1 Seagate ST2000LM003 specs 2 $98.99
Storage HDD 2 WD Blue WD20SPZX specs 3 $78.90
Storage HDD 3 Seagate BarracudaST2000LM015 specs 3 $74.99
SATA Power to Molex Adapter SATA Power Adapter Cable 15-pin SATA Male to 4-pin Molex Female N/A 1 $7.69
SATA Cables Postta 18-inch SATA III Cable w/ 90 Degree Locking Latch (5 Pack) N/A 1 $7.39
TOTAL: $1,405.80


All Parts SilverStone Technology CS280B #1 SilverStone Technology CS280B #2 SilverStone Technology CS280B #3 SilverStone Technology CS280B #4 SilverStone Technology CS280B #5 Assorted 2.5 HDDs #1 Assorted 2.5 HDDs #2 Supermicro A2SDi-4C-HLN4F #1 Supermicro A2SDi-4C-HLN4F #2 Crucial 2x4GB DDR4-2666 RDIMM #1 Crucial 2x4GB DDR4-2666 RDIMM #2 Brian's Face USB Drives (2x16 GB) SilverStone Technology ST45SF-V3 SAS / SATA Cables SATA Power Splitter and MolexAdapter


Hardware Assembly, BIOS Configuration, and Burn-In

Assembly

Assembly was painful, literally! The metal insides of the SilverStone CS280 were not cut in a fingers-friendly fashion, and in my efforts of getting all the SATA cables plugged in, I wound up cutting the knuckles on both of my thumbs! I sliced them open the exact same way on the sharp edges of the interior of the case. Having worked in and built dozens, if not hundreds, of computers in my early career, the only time I found sharp edges like these were in extremely inexpensive cases. I was a bit disappointed that SilverStone opted not to further machine their cases and make them a bit more finger-friendly.

My usual complaints about working in small spaces also presented themselves in the building of the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition. While I love the smaller footprint that the NAS wound up taking up, I did actually almost equally disliked the act of assembling it. You’re operating in limited space, and you’ve got a ton of repetitive tasks like plugging in SATA cables. I typically build the NAS, then burn it in, which is what I did this time. But I regretted when I had to repeat all that work. I disliked when I had to swap out the first motherboard that I picked out.

Working in a small space certainly upped the degree of difficulty on the assembly, and the razor-sharp edges inside the case sure upped the sense of danger when working on the case, but the only actual problem that I wound up running into was with the straight-through SATA cables I mentioned above. The size of the connector and direction of the SATA cable was just too long to close the narrow gap between the power supply and drive cage backplane. Thankfully, the SAS cable that came with the motherboard had thinner cables which actually worked, but my traditional straight-through cables simply would not fit. I wound up replacing the straight-through cables with cables that had a 90-degree bend.

BIOS Configuration

Generally speaking, I like to keep the BIOS configuration as close to factory defaults as I possibly can. The DIY NAS: 2019 Edition was no exception. I made the usual edits by making sure that legacy USB support was enabled, legacy boot and UEFI (usually the dual setting) were configured, and that the only boot devices set up in the boot order were the USB devices. Under ideal, and usually typical, circumstances, I save my changes and exit the BIOS and then boot right up and start running a memory test or some sort of CPU torture test.

I’m not sure how detectable it is in the assembly’s video, but I ran into two problems immediately in the BIOS and then on the next boot.

  1. Only 6 of the 8 drives were showing up in the BIOS.
  2. I couldn’t seem to get the machine to boot up off either my Ultimate BootCD flash drive, or my Memtest86+ flash drive.

The first problem was pretty quickly solved via some Google-searches and tinkering in the BIOS. Under Advanced > Chipset Configuration > South Bridge Configuration, there’s a setting called Flexible I/O Selection. I experimented with the different values and ultimately found that setting it to Mini SAS/SATA[3:0] caused the other two missing drives to show up in the BIOS. I captured all of the changes I made in the BIOS in a video that’s embedded down below with the FreeNAS installation.

The next problem nearly ruined an entire weekend! For whatever strange reason, I couldn’t get the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition to boot up off of any of my usual USB drives that I use in these builds. Primarily, neither my Ultimate BootCD on USB or my Memtest86+ on USB from Memtest.org would work. I recreated each of the USB sticks, I confirmed they worked on other machines, I tried setting the Boot Mode in the BIOS to Legacy, UEFI, and Dual. But no matter what, nothing seemed to work. I even went as far as to open a ticket with Supermicro’s support. One of my patrons, Uffe Andersen, commented sharing some of the same pain that he went through with a motherboard from the same family and suggested that I try a UEFI USB boot device to see if that worked, because it had worked for him.

Burn-In

All I’m trying to do when I burn-in one of my NAS machines is to look for any kind of defect in the computer’s hardware or how it’s been put together. My primary concern is that once I button up the case, I’d rather not have to open it up until I’m doing some sort of upgrade. I tend to zero in on the motherboard, CPU, and RAM in how I burn-in the DIY NAS. The fact that I have redundancy amongst the hard drives makes me feel a bit cavalier about testing the hard drives.

Both of my favorite tools (UltimateBootCD or stresslinux) for doing the CPU burn-in aren’t bootable via UEFI. When discussing my challenges with my good friend, Pat, he mocked me a bit and said he was surprised that I did any kind of CPU burn-in as part of my testing. Pat’s an excellent sounding board and he’s also probably correct—modern CPUs have the ability to throttle themselves back based on their own thermal budget, so the kind(s) of burn-in testing I’d been doing in the past wasn’t really providing much benefit. I opted this year to not do any kind of CPU burn-in testing.

MemTest86

Due to challenges presented by the motherboard with regards to booting USB drives, I wound up using a different flavor of Memtest86 for the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition. I wound up downloading PassMark’s Memtest86, putting it on a boot drive, and using it instead. I’m not entirely certain what the exact differences between PassMark’s Memtest86 are and the open source Memtest86+ actually are, but as far as I could tell, they’re very similar. I expect that they share a common ancestor and can be used pretty interchangeably. I ran PassMark’s Memtest86 with pretty much the bone stock defaults and monitored its execution via the IPMI interface.

Altogether, it used all 4 of the CPU core to make 4 passes of the 12 different testing algorithms types supported without any reported errors. Usually, I just like to leave the memory test running for day(s) on end while I work on other things, but the free version of PassMark’s Memtest86 is sadly limited to 4 passes, which should be more than enough to give me a warm and fuzzy feeling about the RAM installed. I got an especially warm and fuzzy feeling, as I had to do this several times as I tried to capture it in video for the blog.

FreeNAS Installation and Configuration

In past years, I usually list out step by step the number of different things that I do and accompany that with screenshots of part(s) of those steps. But for this year, I opted to handle it a bit differently. I recorded the entire setup, from the initial boot all the way up to testing out the file shares from one of my Windows machines. If you’re interested, I captured all of the step by step BIOS, FreeNAS installation, and FreeNAS configuration content into its own blog post—check it out!

Benchmarks

I have two primary concerns with regards to the performance of my NAS: throughput and power consumption. The throughput of the machine determines how useable it winds up being, and the power consumption typically determines how much it’s going to wind up costing me on a recurring basis. Naturally, there are untold other possible metrics that could be of interest; these are just the two that wind up of the most interest to me. Are there any benchmarks that I’ve overlooked? Please leave a comment for any metrics you’d like to see in future NAS builds.

Power Consumption

I measured the power consumption of this year’s NAS by using one of my Sonoff S31 smart outlets. For nearly two days, I had it keep track of the amount of power drawn. During those two days is when I performed the bulk of the configuration, tinkering, and the throughput testing.


In those 47.47 hours, the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition consumed 1.98 kWh of electricity, which is really damn close to being 1.0 kWh per day. I extrapolated the hourly consumption (.0417 kWh) over an entire year and arrived at 365.355 kWh for the year. Assuming I understand the details of my electricity plan, I’m paying around 12.5 cents per kilowatt-hour today. At that rate, it’d cost me around $50.00 to power this NAS for an entire year.

Throughput

Over the years, I’ve tried to test throughput using a number of different methods— crudely timing large file transfers early on and in most recent years using tools likely IOMeter. Each of the different NAS builds has been unique in its own way, but I like using the throughput to compare the builds from the past to the builds of today. I started off with the results from last year’s benchmarks, but omitted the 10Gb results since the Supermico A2SDI-4C-HLN4F only contains the four Gigabit interfaces.

  1. Mapped a drive in Windows to the share on NAS that’s being tested.
  2. IOMeter
    1. Set up 2 workers per CPU core. On each worker I set the Maximum Disk Size number of sectors to a number that’d be 2.5 times as big as my total amount of RAM (~512 bytes per sector) and also picked the drive letter of the mapped drive as the Target
    2. Under Access Specifications, I created four different Global Access Specifications all with a 512KB block size.
      1. Sequential Read: 100% Read and 100% Sequential
      2. Sequential Write: 100% Write and 100% Sequential
      3. Random Read: 100% Read and 100% Random
      4. Random Write: 100% Write and 100% Random
    3. I quadruple check each IOMeter worker because I almost always forget to update one when repeating these steps.
  3. I execute each of my four different tests (described above) individually in IOMeter against the drive mapped above.

Overall, I’ve come to expect that a typical DIY NAS built today should be readily able of saturating a gigabit link during the read test, and this year’s NAS did not disappoint in this regard. I enjoyed monitoring the sequential throughput test in both my desktop machine’s task manager, but also in the new dashboard in the latest version of FreeNAS:


The hardware in this year’s NAS compared to last year’s DIY NAS build are a bit less powerful, and that shows up in the benchmarks. The performance over the Gigabit in the sequential write, random read, and random write tests were all lower than both last year’s NAS and my own NAS. Given the amount of money spent, I expected this year’s NAS to have a hard time competing against last year’s NAS. The fact that this year’s NAS didn’t outperform my own was a bit disappointing.

FreeNAS-11.2-U2

I was very interested in building the most compact DIY NAS as I could reasonably achieve, but I was almost nearly as interested in evaluating the latest release of FreeNAS, FreeNAS-11.2-U2. The DIY NAS blogs wind up being an excellent way for me to tinker with the latest version of FreeNAS, before deciding to upgrade my own NAS. The release notes from the FreeNAS 11.2-Release r talk extensively about the new Anuglar-based UI, which has been something I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time.

I really enjoyed using the new user interface. I didn’t have any issues or concerns about FreeNAS’ legacy interface, but it was quite dated. Among the biggest improvements of the new UI is the improved dashboard. Being able to log into the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition and get a live peek at what was going on with the NAS was really helpful in the creation of this blog.


Given what I’ve experienced of FreeNAS-11.2-U2, I’m looking forward to getting it installed and configured on my own NAS here in the very near future!

Conclusion

Once I’d finished building the NAS, installing and configuring FreeNAS, and working through some of the throughput benchmarks, I stopped and asked myself two questions: Did I successfully build a smaller NAS? Was it worth it? Ultimately, I think the answer to those questions is going to be a matter of opinion. The DIY NAS: 2019 Edition is absolutely much smaller than my own personal NAS and my own NAS was built to have small footprint. In order to answer the two questions above in the affirmative, you’re going to definitely need to place a considerable amount of value on the NAS’ footprint.

Considering the small footprint was the primary objective in the design of this NAS, you can understand why I think the answer to both of those questions is yes. But aside from the footprint, I think I’d still be inclined to answer in the affirmative when considering these features:

  • 10TB of total storage with two drives’ worth of fault tolerance
  • Intel Atom C3558 CPU: 4-core 2.20GHz CPU with 17W typical TDP
  • 8 GB of ECC DDR4 RAM
  • 8 Hot swappable drive bays

Comparing the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition to other off-the-shelf solutions reinforces this pretty well. Off-the-shelf NAS systems like the Synology DS1817 ($829), QNAP TS-873-4G-US ($863), and the ASUSTOR AS6208T ($749) all wind up being more expensive than a diskless version of the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition which comes in around $725. With the exception of a feature or two, the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition is both friendlier to your bank account and has a more powerful feature-set than these other comparable NAS systems.

Ultimately, space is what mattered the most in this blog, and I think that I’ve been unquestioningly successful in that regard. The amount of space that the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition takes up (11.8 liters) is nearly half of what the prior year’s NAS used up (21.6 liters). It’s been quite a few years since I built my NAS, but given what I know of my data-storage habits today, I probably would have been quite comfortable to trade a bit of storage capacity to build an even smaller NAS.

But Brian, your conclusion is WRONG!

Fear not, my disagreeable NAS enthusiast, my conclusion basically boils down to a question of value and opinion—there’s plenty of room for conclusions other than my own. I wouldn’t blame any of you for accepting a larger footprint in order to move up to 3.5” hard drives, which are definitely a better value than their diminutive 2.5” siblings. Simply swap out the SilverStone CS280 case from this year’s NAS for something like the SilverStone DS380B. And then spend about $75 to $100 per drive on about 8 hard drives. It looks like there’s a healthy variety of 4TB drives in this price point. I wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to double the storage capacity by also nearly doubling the volume.

Giveaway

#FreeNASGiveAway Update

05/10/19: Everybody please put your hands together and join me in congratulating Tim Malone, who’s been lucky enough to be the winner of the #FreeNASGiveaway of the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition. I drew Tim’s name earlier today when the contest concluded. Thanks to everyone who joined the contest, you all made this the biggest #FreeNASGiveaway to date and I can’t wait until the next give away!

For more details please check my FreeNAS Giveaway page. In short, you can enter several different ways by interacting in various ways with my social media accounts. For fun, I’ll be ending the giveaway on my birthday (May 10th) and announcing the winner that weekend. Thanks for helping make the giveaway successful, and good luck!

DIY NAS: 2019 Edition

DIY NAS: 2019 Edition’s BIOS Configuration, FreeNAS Installation, and Initial FreeNAS Configuration

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For those of you who preferred the in-depth, step by step recounting of what I did in the configuration of the DIY NAS: 2019 Edition, you’re in luck! Not only did I record it all in video, but I also captured that list for you too.

Ultimately, I only opted to remove this from the main blog after how long that blog had grown to be!

Please make sure to leave a comment down below if you value what’s captured below, I’m strongly considering excluding it from future builds’ blogs in an effort to keep things more concise.

FreeNAS Installation and Configuration

BIOS Configuration

  1. Connected to the IMPI Interface using the SuperMicro IPMIView Utility (link)
  2. Launched the iKVM Viewer to remotely control the machine and powered it up.
  3. Make the following changes in the BIOS
    1. Advanced Tab
      1. Under Chipset Configuration > South Bridge Configuration changed the “Flexible I/O Selection” to Mini SAS/SATA[3:0]
      2. Checked for the presence of all 8 SATA HDDs in the Bios, when only 6 showed up, I saved my changes and exited the BIOS.
      3. Went back into the BIOS and confirmed all 8 SATA HDDs were being detected now.
    2. Boot Tab
      1. Set the “Boot Mode Select” to: UEFI
      2. Set the “UEFI Boot Option #1” to: UEFI USB CD/DVD: UEFI: SanDisk (the name of my FreeNAS install device)
      3. Set UEFI Boot Option #2 through UEFI Boot Option #9 to Disabled

FreeNAS Installation

  1. Used the BIOS’ boot menu to boot from my FreeNAS USB Installer
  2. Picked to “Install/Upgrade FreeNAS”
  3. Selected the two SanDisk Ultra Fit 16GB drives (da1, da2) as the targets of the installation.
  4. Chose “Yes” on the warning about the partitions and data on da1 and da2 being erased.
  5. Entered and confirmed a password to be used for the root account.
  6. Chose “Boot via UEFI” for the FreeNAS Boot Mode
  7. Removed my FreeNAS Installation USB device and hit OK on the successful installation dialog.
  8. Used the Shutdown option to power down the NAS.

With FreeNAS now successfully installed, I went ahead and powered the machine on. Given my difficult with Legacy Boot mode not seeming to work on the motherboard, I was a tiny bit nervous that the machine would not cleanly boot off the USB drives I’d just installed FreeNAS on. But, given the choices I had made, I was still pretty confident it’d boot right up—and that’s just what it did!

FreeNAS Configuration

  1. Using the IP displayed in the FreeNAS console (10.7.0.19), I pulled up the FreeNAS web interface in a browser.
  2. Logged in using root and the password I picked during the installation.
  3. Went under “Storage and Pools” clicked Add and Create Pool
  4. Selected all the hard drives listed under Available Disks and then moved them to the right under Data VDevs
  5. Named the new pool “storage”
  6. Below the Data VDevs I picked Raid-z2
  7. Clicked the Create button.
  8. Created a dataset called “share” under the “storage” pool.
  9. Attempted to set permissions on the share dataset, and realized I hadn’t created a Group yet to assign the permissions to.
  10. Created a new group under Accounts > Group and named it “shareusers”
  11. Added a new user named “brian”, set the password to match what I’ve used on my local machine(s), and added that user to the “shareusers” group.
  12. Validated that the “shareusers” group had my new account listed as a member.
  13. Under Services> SMB, I started the service and set it to “Start Automatically”
  14. I opened the SMB Configuration and made the following changes.
    1. Set the “NetBIOS Name” and “NetBIOS Alias” to: diynas2019
    2. Set the “Workgroup” to: lan
    3. Set the “Description” to: DIY NAS: 2019 Edition
  15. Opened Sharing > Windows (SMB) Shares and clicked the Add button.
    1. Set the Path to “/mnt/storage/share”
  16. Went back to Storage > Pools, expanded the storage pool and chose to Set Permissions on the “share” dataset.
    1. Changed the group to “shareusers”
    2. Chose the option to “Apply permissions recursively”
    3. Checked Confirm and clicked the Continue button.
  17. Opened Network > Global Configuration and made the following changes
    1. Set the “Hostname” to: diynas2019
    2. Set the “Domain” to: lan
  18. Under System > Advanced I chose the “Enable Autotune” option.
  19. Under Tasks > S.M.A.R.T Tests I added two tasks
    1. A weekly Long Self-Test on Sundays
    2. A daily Short Self-Test
  20. On my desktop, I browsed to \diynas2019, opened share, and created a file, modified a file, and deleted a file to test the permissions.

Because I’m nitpicky, I probably should’ve created my user and sharegroup before creating the storage pool and share dataset. If I had taken step-by-step screenshots like I did in prior years, I would’ve just juggled those screenshots around into a more efficient set of steps. I suppose I could’ve done the same by carefully editing the video, but I didn’t think it was worth all that effort to disguise that I wasn’t perfectly efficient in the FreeNAS configuration.

Integrating my 3D Printer into my Home Automation

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Back when I was involved with our local makerspace, I really wanted to help show off the 3D Printers that the makerspace had purchased. At that time, access to the printers and Pat’s 3D-Printing expertise were among the best reasons to become members of the makerspace. As the guy with the keys to the makerspace’s social media accounts, I really wanted people to share pictures and videos of everyone’s 3D prints so that we could showcase what our members had been up to.

In fact, I was so enamored with the printers’ outputs—I had expressed my intentions of finding a way of capturing pictures of what people printed and automate the sharing of those prints. Unfortunately, the enclosed-style printers that they had at the makerspace (and that I bought to use at home) simply prevented getting a decent picture of the items printed on the printers.

Fast-forward a year or two and I’ve decided to upgrade my old Qidi Technology I — Dual Extruder 3D Printer with something newer. I opted to upgrade to a Prusa I3 MK3 3D Printer. Among its features was an open design that was infinitely more friendly to capturing the time-lapse photography that I had been wanting to do previously.

Enter OctoPrint, Octolapse and OctoPrint-IFTTT

OctoPrint

For those of you unfamiliar, OctoPrint is a fantastic print controller for your 3D printers. OctoPrint runs on a Raspberry Pi and manages your 3D printer; it’s got a fantastic feature set and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who owns a 3D printer. The moment I’d completed my purchase of the Prusa I3 MK3, I started shopping for a Raspberry Pi, and wound up buying a CanaKit Raspberry Pi 3 B+ Kit whose job it’d be to manage my new 3D printer.

My first 3D print on the Prusa I3 MK3 was Pat’s Mounting Brackets with Swivel for Logitech C270 and C920 Web Camera which works so nicely with the inexpensive IKEA Tertial work lamp.

After a little bit of work, I had my Logitech C922 Webcam attached to the Tertial work lamp in place of the lamp, and mounted to my 3D printer’s stand and ready to record time-lapses of all my prints.

OctoPrint has some time-lapse photography features built right into it, but it’s pretty basic. The pictures are taken throughout the print job and the print head was frequently in different positions, oftentimes obscuring the printed object. I’d dug around the Internet a bit and learned that people have improved the quality of their own prints’ time-lapse photography by working with their slicing programs to generate the appropriate GCode on every single layer change. What they do is send the code to move the bed and print head to the same position on each layer and get that to coincide with the time-lapse photography.

Octolapse

Thankfully, there are options for people who don’t want to have to monkey with settings to insert custom GCode on every layer, like me. A very handy OctoPrint plug-in exists named Octolapse. As I understand it, Octolapse interprets and analyzes the GCode uploaded and handles inserting the correct GCode to improve your time-lapse videos. Just working through the few set-up steps improved my videos dramatically!

But after viewing a few of my first couple time-lapse videos, I still had a few complaints about what I was seeing:

  1. Too Darn Bright: My beer-stein lamp is right next to the 3D Printer, and while it’s a fantastic source of light to keep my office lit to what my specifications are, it was washing out everything in the videos of my prints.
  2. Lights turning on and off!: Over the duration of my prints, my home automation had been turning the lights in my office on and off. In the time-lapse, every now and then you’d see a chunk of frames with the lights in either position and it annoyed me that the videos’ lighting wasn’t consistent the whole way through.
  3. Not Automated Enough: I was thrilled to be getting the time-lapse of my 3D prints captured, finally. But I was still disappointed that I was having to manually find the files, download them to my PC, and share them on my own.

The first two problems were solved pretty easily by just manually turning the lights off and keeping them off during my prints. But as I was turning lights off and manually uploading time lapse videos to my social media accounts, I wondered what it’d take to do this in a more automated fashion.

OctoPrint-IFTTT

And then, out of nowhere, OctoPrint let me know via a notification that a brand-new plug-in had been published, OctoPrint-IFTTT. I’ve been using IFTTT for a smorgasboard of automated activities for years now and I eagerly installed the new plug-in and got started tinkering with it.

Now about those lights!

For whatever reason, the combination of my Logitech C922, the colors of my various rolls of IC3D ABS filament, and my nearby beer-stein lamp resulted in all of my videos looking really washed out. White filament almost appeared to be glowing and was so bright, it was devoid of features. Bright green filament looked practically pastel, and my red filament wound up looking pretty pink. So the first thing that I did was configure OctoPrint-IFTTT to call IFTTT’s Webhook with OctoPrint’s PrintStarted event and then tied it to the trigger I had set up to automate turning off my beloved beer-stein lamp.

Making it a bit darker in the room when my 3D printer is active improved the filament from looking to be so washed out and I was mostly happy with the results. I think ultimately I probably need to do a bit of research and experimentation to find the best lighting for these time-lapse videos, but I’m pretty excited that I can automate that solution to be triggered by my 3D printer’s activity.

Publish the Time Lapse Videos Automatically

After studying the supported OctoPrint events, I knew what I wanted to take a look at next: the MovieDone event. On the surface, it seemed like it’d be a simple task to trigger IFTTT to post my time-lapse videos to Twitter using IFTTT, but in the initial releases of OctoPrint-IFTTT, that wasn’t possible. The file’s path and name was just being passed as a string on to the IFTTT actions and not the actual file content.

I reached out to the developer, tjjfvi on GitHub, and submitted a feature request. The developer was gracious enough to offer me a few tips and in the process we found that (for what I’d been looking) IFTTT was expecting to be passed a URL where the file was accessible. We came up with a solution that’d allow IFTTT to pull it directly from my OctoPrint server, but that’d involve exposing my OctoPrint server to the Internet and that seemed like not the greatest of ideas.

However, by the end of the day, the developer had put out a beta version using the file.io file-sharing. If asked, the OctoPrint-IFTTT would upload the file to file.io, which returned a URL that could then be sent on to IFTTT for performing whatever action you wanted done. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any actions in IFTTT that’d upload video clips to either my Twitter account or blog’s Facebook Page. Ultimately, I wound up adding IFTTT’s competitor, Zapier, into the mix as well. In the end, what I built seemed convoluted, but it worked!

Brian’s Time-Lapse Sharing Automation

  1. OctoPrint-IFTTT creates a webhook to IFTTT at the completion of creating a time-lapse video and triggers activity that uploads the video to a particular folder in my Google Drive account.
  2. Zapier monitors Google Drive and when a new file is uploaded to the specified folder, it is uploaded to my YouTube channel.
  3. Using IFTTT, I created two new actions to share the YouTube video’s URL to both Twitter and Facebook.

What’d I think?

I was—and still am—pretty excited to have achieved a goal that I’d had in my head for quite a while. But in this particular case, most of the value wound up being found in the travel—not in the actual destination. I knew that automating the sharing of these videos would be formulaic, but I wound up being turned off by what showed up in my social media feed. I also didn’t quite appreciate how convoluted the automation wound up being. I was reliant on far too many different services working independently of each other in the hopes of accomplishing my task.

In the end, a somewhat convoluted process to generate a formulaic result seemed like a bad combination to me. However, I did decide to go ahead and keep the initial step that results in the time-lapse being uploaded to Google Drive. Having the time-lapse videos up on Google Drive would make sharing them to social media quite a bit simpler.

What’s Next?

To be honest, I don’t know! Regardless of the fact that I wasn’t a huge fan of how it turned out, I’m still pretty in shock that one of the more meaningful goals was achieved. I probably would appreciate adding a couple new IFTTT applets to send me a Pushover notificationon my mobile devices when a print finishes or failed. I think maybe it’d be neat just to keep a Google Spreadsheet to log all the different prints I’ve done and how long they took. What sort of functionality would you like to see triggered in IFTTT by your 3D printer?

What Makes a Good PC Monitor?

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To say that there are a lot of options out there when you want a PC monitor is an understatement. However, not every PC monitor comes with the same quality as others on the market. This can make the process of choosing a PC monitor rather overwhelming.

To help you out, in the heart of this article, we have highlighted some features you need to look out for in a great monitor.

What Are You Going to Use It For?

The first question you need to answer is, why are you buying a PC monitor? Are you looking for something to do office spreadsheets on? Are you a video editor that needs the best quality? Are you a casual/hardcore gamer?

The point behind this introspection is to make sure you are getting the features you need. For instance, a monitor intended for gaming is going to need a lot of high-tech features, such as faster refresh rates, faster response times, adaptive sync support, and relatively higher resolutions. If you opt for a monitor with all those features for your office computer, you’ll definitely have a good PC monitor, but odds are you won’t use the features to their full potential.

Of course, a PC monitor equipped with greater resolution, more response time, and more refresh rate will put a dent in your pocket more significantly than the one with less quality. After all, the more features and capabilities a monitor has, the more expensive it is likely to be. When trying to find the balance between quality and budget, it’s important to know what you need so you don’t buy extras you won’t use.

Size

When you are looking at monitors, the first thing that you’ll notice is the size of the monitor. Once again, the size you want depends on what you are looking for. For purposes like gaming, many users find that bigger is better.

On the other hand, if you work in a small office, you might find that a large monitor is too bulky.

The good news is that monitors come in almost any size you might want. You can choose something as small as the size of a tablet or as large as 49 inches.

Though you know your PC monitor needs clearer than we do, we have offered a few suggestions to help you reach an informed buying decision:

  • Larger monitors are ideal if you will be making use of them for graphics-related purposes, such as editing or watching videos, photography, graphics-intensive video games, and the likes.
  • If you do numerous work on the computer, you should opt for larger and multiple displays to make you more productive.
  • If your PC isn’t used for these kinds of intense activities, a large display might not be the best for you.
  • Bear in mind that some PC monitors could simply be too big to use on your desk comfortably. For standard (or normal) PC viewing distances, anything that is more than 34 inches is generally too big.

Armed with these tips, go for a screen size, expressed in diagonal inches, that is well suited to your needs and style.

Curved or Straight?

One of the latest innovations when it comes to monitors is that some of them are being released with curved screens. These are usually larger monitors. The choice of curved or straight really comes down to preference, though. Usually, this is a feature that individuals choose when they want an extremely spacious display.

Type of Screen

There is more than just one type of screen to choose from. These include cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors, liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors, and light-emitting diode (LED) monitors.

The most modern choice is LED monitors. These are a great choice because they offer higher contrast images and use less energy to do so. This environmentally friendly option does come at a higher price, so lower-priced monitors tend to use LCD displays.

CRT monitors aren’t often used anymore. These are the monitors that were bulky and heavy rather than flat like their modern counterparts.

Resolution

The size of the monitor is measured in inches. However, the resolution tells you the length and width of the monitor measured in pixels. This is the specification you see in measurements such as 1920 x 1080p. There are recommended resolutions for the size and type of monitor that you are using, but generally, users look for the highest resolutions possible.

The resolution of any monitor shows the number of pixels it is able to accommodate. Owing to the fact that higher pixel counts means better image quality, if you are purchasing a monitor for gaming, higher is better concerning the native resolution of a monitor.

The 3 most commonly used monitor resolutions in this day and age include the following:

  • 1080p (commonly referred to as Full HD)
  • 1440p (commonly referred to as QHD)
  • 2160p (commonly referred to as 4K/UHD)

While it is true that a higher resolution brings better detail and clarity, you need to note that the higher the resolution, the more powerful the capabilities of your hardware should be. The majority of gaming enthusiasts seem to agree 1440p displays do strike a balance.

Contrast Ratio

The contrast of a display tells you the difference between the purest white and deepest black. The higher the contrast, the more vivid the images on the display. Unfortunately, unlike measurements such as resolution, there can be differences from manufacturer to manufacturer on how contrast ratios are measured. They are all, however, formatted into a ratio.

Response Time

The response time of a monitor tells you how often your monitor refreshes the information on it per second. It is measured in milliseconds (ms), and the higher the response time (or the smaller the number), the smoother your monitor will show images.

Though a fast response time offers enhanced video quality, for most people (including graphic professionals), it is not an important specification.

But faster response times are critical to PC games’ performance because slower response times can bring about motion blur. Gamers need to demand a quick response time, which lies below 8ms (and the smaller, the better) to make sure their monitor is not having a subtle impact on their performance in games that are fast-paced.

Refresh Rate

Expressed in hertz, the refresh rate of a PC monitor depicts how often it refreshes the image on its screen. 60 hertz, ideal for regular office use, is the standard refresh rate for LCDs, and the majority of users do not need a PC monitor that has more than this value.

For a gaming monitor, though, this number is extremely important to prevent lagging images during gameplay. Hence, gaming-branded displays can have as much as 120Hz, 144Hz, or even 240 hertz.

Connections and Extras

Another aspect that you will want to look at when you are choosing your monitor has nothing to do with the display at all. It’s important to consider what ports you want in your monitor. While it might seem like a given, some monitors don’t include USB ports, HDMI ports, and other ports. There is also the consideration of extras such as integrated speakers. If you want these features, make sure to check that the monitors you are looking into have them. Another extra you might want to consider is if you want a touchscreen monitor. This isn’t a feature limited to tablet-style monitors, either. Full-size monitors also often have a touchscreen option. For instance, this is a feature useful for graphic designers.

In a Nutshell

While monitors will not make your PC faster, the best among them enhance your computing experience, as they make everything look much better and boost your productivity. When looking to buy a quality monitor, you need to consider the purpose you’re getting it for, as this will determine the resolution, screen size, refresh rate, and other features to focus on. By taking note of the suggestions offered in this article, you will be able to purchase a monitor that strikes a balance between quality and cost-effectiveness.

I Put My Face on a USB Drive

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Ever since comissioning my face as the site’s logo, I’ve incorporated my face into many things. Things I’ve designed like the cooling duct for the Silverstone DS380B (Thingiverse), stickers on my recent DIY NAS builds, or anything else I feel emboldened to put my face upon.

When an intrepid promotional company reached out to me and offered customized USB flash drives, I was immediately tempted and gave in to my urges by buying quite a few of them. Hopefully with a little bit of good fortune, I’ll wind up buying these regularly on into the future as more people use my NAS builds as templates for their own.

Introducing Brian’s USB Drive

Without further ado, here’s Brian’s USB drive! It has my face on it, my site’s URL is on it, it is 16GB, it is diminutive, and it can be used as a paper clip!

I think its specifications are ideal for many of the USB-related things that I talk about on my site: you can use it to load FreeNAS on your own DIY NAS, you can use it (or a pair!) to function as the FreeNAS OS drive on your own DIY NAS, you can use it to run Memtest and test the RAM in your new gaming rig, or you can use it for any of the other things you might use a 16GB USB flash drive for.

I plan to sell two variations of this USB drive on my store at Tindie:

  1. Brian’s Face USB Drive (Blank) for $12.00
  2. Brian’s Face USB Drive (w/ FreeNAS) for $15.00

In an effort to keep shipping inexpensive and simple, I’ll be using USPS First Class postage for shipping. I’ll be shipping anywhere in the United States for $2.50 per USB drive. I learned from last year’s FreeNASGiveaway that shipping internationally is expensive and aggravating, so for those of you reading my blog from outside of America—I apologize that this won’t be available to you yet. Please use the blog’s comments if you’d like to see it available outside the United States—maybe you can change my mind!

Brian's Face USB Drive

But…why?

This is an excellent question! Unless stated otherwise, everything I talk about in my DIY NAS builds comes out of my own pocket. Early on, I found that my own blogs talking about hardware which I didn’t even put my hands on seemed artificial and lacked the authenticity of my other blogs I’d written about actually building my own NAS. This led me to the conclusion that if I was going to write a blog about something, that I’d at the very least have my hands on the hardware. Naturally this has made some of my blogs, especially the DIY NAS builds, a more costly topic to write about. Hopefully, the sale of these USB drives helps offset that expense.

In the past, I’ve tinkered with trying to find enough spare cash to stock up on some of the hardware that I recommended and take a stab at reselling it myself on Amazon, instead of linking to others’ products out there on Amazon. This has been tempting, but I simply couldn’t be competitive with the prices that are already out there. Reselling the hardware myself at the quantities that I could afford to buy it would’ve resulted in a huge competitive disadvantage for me.

But with USB drives, I found that wasn’t quite the case, or at least USB drives were inexpensive enough that my own markup only wound up amounting to what seems like a more palatable price premium. I am also gambling that there’d be enough people out there willing to support my blog by buying a slightly more expensive USB drive and that might make this a profitable endeavor—or at least not a tremendously expensive failure.

What about the Quality?

This is a question that gets asked about USB flash drives as the FreeNAS boot device all the time, even before I was buying and reselling my own. The cheaper the memory, the lower the quality. The quality of the memory used in flash drives is less than that of the memory used in RAM or SSDs. It’s a logical conclusion to think that the memory used in inexpensive promotional drives like mine is among the least expensive and therefore lowest quality.

Brian's Face USB Drive on my desk

While I believe this is a valid concern, I don’t think it is a significant one. Personally, I didn’t let that concern stop me from using two on my own NAS! However, for the people concerned about the quality, I’d urge them to make sure they mirror their FreeNAS USB Boot Device, to stick with my favorite SanDisk Cruzer Ultra Fit, or even better yet—do both!

Final Thoughts

What do you think? Was there a better way to try and generate some revenue for my site in my DIY NAS blogs? Do you wish there were other sizes of the Brian’s Face USB drive? Or are there other images other than FreeNAS that you’d like to see as an option to choose from? Let me know what you think. Assuming this experiment goes well, I’d love to work in your good ideas!

Backing up my FreeNAS to Backblaze B2

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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?