Archive for February, 2011

Linux kernel got fat!

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Just downloaded the latest kernel sources in preparation for the new server. The bzip2 compressed archive is over 70 MB these days… what the…? Last time I build a custom kernel it was 36 MB.

Should ATI still burn in hell? Very likely so!

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

There’s probably a week’s worth of ranting about ATI’s and NVIDIA’s proprietary gfx card drivers, but for now I’m keeping it short. A short introduction is in order. Years ago I knew exactly which card was needed to get the best performance. It took time reading up and keeping up-to-date with all the latest developments. Since then my interests changed from knowing the exact details to something along these lines: I don’t care how it works as long as it works as you can reasonably expect (and I expect a lot by default. If you can’t deliver a decent piece of hardware, software or service, please do the world a favor and burn down your company as quickly as you can. Stopping myself here, as this is also one of those subjects I can go on about for days).

Anywaaaay… all those years ago I bought ATI gfx cards for the simple reason that they were the fastest. Not that you’d ever notice this in a real life usage, but synthetic benchmarks ruled. But as you know a decent piece of hardware is only half the story. So imagine you’ve got this sexy (the nerdy kind of sexy, not the erotic variant) piece of hardware lying in front of you, you wipe the drool of you chin, you plug it in and boot the latest Linux kernel. Next is installing ATI’s latest driver only to discover you’ve ended up in hell. It may have been years ago, but my mind still bears the scars of agony and frustration… hours on end. For this alone ATI deserves to burn in hell for all eternity (which is a pretty pointless thought if you don’t believe in heaven and hell (but the creation of an artificial hell would be most welcome. We could stuff all those greedy corporate bastards there. Maybe even a webcam and some running man style show for our entertainment to watch (which in turn we would watch via networks run by the same corporate bastards and thus negating the entire idea… anywaaaaay :)))).

Long story short I swore never to use ATI again. Since that time I’ve switched to NVIDIA on systems that required high performance 3D and embedded Intel for everything else. While NVIDIA cards also come with a proprietary driver, their installation process was (or is) much less frustrating. Intel on the other hand sucks for 3D, but just works for everything else. For non-gaming purposes, Intel is a blessing and I can highly recommend it if you don’t want to fiddle around. Now fast forward to 2 weeks ago when I ordered the MicroServer. Never thought of the ATI horror and focused on a card that fit and satisfies the max power limitation (25W for the PCIe x16 slot). And from what I’ve read ATI’s Linux support is still something to cry about. Don’t care about 3D, but for HTPC usage hardware decoding support is more or less mandatory.

So when all components have arrived I’ll be attempting to get a Radeon HD 5450 GPU up and running. This GPU has an UVD2 video engine (UVD = Unified Video Decoder) and uses the XvBA (X-Video Bitstream Acceleration) API. The UVD 2 engine features full bitstream decoding of H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, VC-1 and MPEG2 video streams. If rumours are correct it sucks balls compared to NVIDIA’s Video Decode and Presentation API for Unix (VDPAU). Rumour also has it that this proprietary crap has to do with DRM. Just as you think your hatred of a certain technology can’t get any deeper, it does. In any case I’m already preparing for some torture and if all else fails I’m just gonna get a GeForce G 210 or GT 220 card (only realistic options considering the 25W PCIe limitation).

Btw, anyone else thinks writing your entire company name in capital letters makes you think of sad 16 year olds screaming for attention on the net?

HTPC NAS

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Just realised I never wrote about the whole server thing is for. Silly me! I like watching movies and series and listening to music, preferably in the best quality available (e.g. full hd and lossless). With movies @10GB a piece, series @1.3GB per episode (and going on for several seasons), this takes up a lot of storage.

Currently I use 3 systems – a big noisy power sucking 19″ rack for storage, a silent mini-ITX for torrenting and a Popcornhour for playback. Why replace this setup? The first is pretty obvious, so I’m going into that. The Popcornhour was chosen because I don’t want to fool around with codecs and GUI software. Select whatever you want to play and press play. The mini-ITX sits in the middle and downloads/seeds 24/7 while the 19″ rack is powered down. Every once in a while it’s 1TB harddisk is full and stuff is transfered to the big server (or the other way around if I want to watch something stored on the server). Besides HTPC purposes the setup is used for backups, storing projects, photo’s and so on.

What the new server must do is replace all 3 systems mentioned above. It must be able to run silently 24/7 without using too much power. It must be able to play full HD and play music (hence the gfx and audio cards) . And it must have a shitload of storage to keep safe and accessable. 10TB might seem much, but my guess is I’ll run out of space within a year.

Delays and the search for decent audio

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

As you might have guessed by the non existing happy post earlier this week the ProLiant MicroServer project has suffered some setbacks.  All components were in stock and the payment was made. Here the trouble began. A bank transfer which should have cleared within an hour took almost a week to clear. By now the server itself was no longer in stock and I’m currently still waiting for it. Harddisks, memory and gfx are en route and should arrive today. But without a server to connect it all to, there’s not much happening.

On top of that my plans for cheap  S/PDIF out were also foiled. Had my sight set on a Terratec Aureon dual USB stick. Analog sound would be pretty poor, but it came with an optical adapter which offered possibilities. Hooking it up to my amplifier means the amplifier’s DAC is used (which is by far superior to the cheap stick). Order placed and again payment troubles… sigh… This time a DDoS attack aimed at my bank. Over a day later the bank was back online, but the price of the Terratec stick had gone up 35% (WTF!?). And due to Mycom’s crappy ordering system you have to order again if payment fails. Well done Mycom, you’ve lost a customer.

However in a way this was a good development. I did some reading in the meantime and for some reason the Terratec stick doesn’t only offer analog stereo sound, but they also limited digital output to stereo. One of the requirements for the new server is that it must have pass-through S/PDIF for AC3, DTS, etc. So the Terratec was out. In Terratec’s defense, they mention this limitation in the specs. It’s just that I never expected this. What idiot limits digital output to stereo only?!

So what’s next? USB-wise I haven’t found a decent solution yet. No matter what, cost goes up. There are cheap low quality brands that I swore never to buy (might as well flush your money down the toilet). Another big name is Creative, which I also swore never to buy again (I’d rather chew off my arm). All USB things considered, this was quickly going nowhere…

A nicer, but more expensive solution would be to use an internal cards. The server has a PCIe x1 and a PCIe x16 slot. The x16 slot is taken by the gfx card leaving the x1 slot free for a low-profile card. Since my desktop PC already has an Asus Xonar DX which fits all requirements, I think that one’s the ideal candidate for trying. Considering it’s designed for proper analog output, it’s overkill for just S/PDIF usage. But given the choice between a cheap and crappy card or this one, I’d rather spend a bit more on a decent card that has a future beyond digital out. Besides, try finding a card that is low-profile and PCIe (very limited choice!). Whether it fits or not remains to be seen. It’s not the shortest card and it needs additional power, but we’ll see :)

Oh and in case you’re wondering why not use the HDMI output of the gfx card; HDMI is not an option. MY amplifier doesn’t have HDMI. Now I could route audio through the TV (HDMI in, S/PDIF out), but that introduces a very annoying delay between video and audio. I blame my Samsung TV for that as it has other troubles as well (as in not properly detecting the signal of a Popcornhour mediaplayer).

Way to go Microsoft!

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Microsoft managed to cock things up again big time. Don’t install Win7 SP1!. It’s crash and bluescreen galore :(

Server replacement

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

It’s been a while since my last post, but I’m still alive and kicking (happy new year btw :P). Another thing-to-do-before -you-die was building a decent server. At the time I found a 2nd hand 14U 19″ rack build by HP. Also picked up a 4U Chenbro 16-bay hot swap case and build a massive storage server. Love the setup, but over the years it only seemed to grow bigger and bigger. The rack itself is build like a tank (and weighs 61 kg without server!), but with a size of 72 x 100 x 60 cm I’ve been on the lookout for something smaller.

Until today! I’ve gotten an offer noone in their right mind would refuse (as in biggest discount ever received). Components won’t be here until early next week, but here’s what’s in the pipeline;

  • HP ProLiant MicroServer
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM with ECC
  • 10TB storage with RAID5

Still working out the details, but as it’s only 27 x 25 x 21 cm in size, weighs under 10 kg  and is much more silent, it should be a major improvement. Interesting times ahead :D