NAS (follow-up)

Last Febuary I built a NAS and I learned two things:

  1. Overbuild.
  2. Get a good case.

1. Overbuild

When I chose the Supermicro A1SRi-2558F, I wanted it because it was a robust board, low wattage, and an all Intel SATA chipset. It only has 6 SATA ports but I figured that would be plenty. Also the runner-up was a commonly used ASRock motherboard with 12 SATA ports but some of those SATA ports used a Marvell controller and at the time there were several forum posts about Marvell controllers losing the drives that were attached. So I figured I’d go the safe route and chose all Intel.

Six-months later, iX Systems announced their new FreeNAS Mini appliance and it looks like it uses that same ASRock motherboard. Maybe the bugs were worked out?

Hindsight

It’s too early to tell, but in a year or so I may be kicking myself for limiting the SATA ports. If I want to expand storage I’ll need to buy a SATA pci-e card and that will burn up the only slot the A1SRi has, and I’d like to do 10G networking too.

2. Get a Good Case

Initially, I reused an old case I had lying around. It was a Lian-Li PC60 and it has served me well over the past 10+ years. However the airflow wasn’t as good as some of the more modern products and the fans were just tiny. At a friends recommendation I purchased a Fractal Design – Define R5 and it’s the best case I have ever seen. This case is amazing, and it will definitely be worth every penny. Especially if I ever have to replace a drive.

Hindsight

Don’t reuse a case that’s 10+ years old. The modern cases have much better designed cable management, expansion, and airflow.

Over all I think I did fairly well for my first NAS. Up next is to redo my ESXi server that’s running Plex and owncloud. I also have a computer rack all setup for it now.

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SlySoft is Dead

It looks like Slysoft has finally succumbed to the pressure of lawyers. That’s too bad, I really liked their AnyDVD and VirtualDrive products. AnyDVD was a bit pricey, but it was solid software that never gave me any issues and always worked.

I’m hoping AnyDVD will be back soon.

“Old Billy was right: let’s kill all the lawyers – kill ’em tonight”

–Eagles

x265

I have been toying around with HEVC (x265) for the past couple days and I’m quite impressed. Billed as having the same quality H.264 with half the bitrate, I was a bit skeptical at that claim, but I’m pleased to say it’s true.

I use a Plex server to serve up my media to a Roku so my goal is simple for this project: I’m looking for the easiest method of getting near original quality in the smallest filesize with reasonable encode times. I’m not one to fiddle with settings for each movie. I’m looking for a reasonable catch all settings that gets me the quality I want easy to use.

I have been ripping my dvds with AnyDVD for a while now and I’m not going back. It is a fantastic little program and was lucky enough to get my lifetime license before they went to a subscription model and upped the prices. I’ve also been encoding with Handbrake and I”m going to continue using it. It’s easy to use and well known.

I was excited to the QuickSync when I rebuild my rig a few months ago. By setting the QuickSync settings to maximum quality and just letting Handbrake do it’s thing I was getting good quality encodes at an incredible 400 frames per second. (for dvds not blu-rays) The results were 3GB encodes. Those aren’t terrible filesizes. They are smaller than the 8GB needed for the original dvd rip; however, I wasn’t pleased with that. I know it could be better. I’ve seen 1-2GB encodes that look good and my plex server is only sporting a 3TB drive for storage. If I can stretch that out by cutting 3GB encodes in half, that will double my movie capacity. It also makes backups much easier. When all my friends spend bookoo bucks on raid or zfs setups, I’m content with mirrored 3TB drives.

Here are some filesize samples from chapter eight of Tucker and Dale vs Evil (blu-ray):

The Handbrake defaults for x265 are Very Fast and RF20. Already I see that x265 on Very Fast is eeking ahead of x264 on Slow.

Now, this doesn’t tell the quality of the encode. I used the Handbrake x265 defaults as a starting point: Very Fast and RF20. I opened up each sample and jumped around to different frames and noted the quality. I looked mostly for actor’s faces. I find that to be the easiest when when I’m judging quality. The x265 defaults look great to me, so the slower speeds with the same RF number looked just as good. Plus, it looks like x265 is delivering on the promise same quality at half the bitrate. If I want smaller filesize with similar quality, turn the speed down.

(Some of my latest tests are indicating that x265 Slow is too slow for me. I was getting 4fps during an encode and it would have taken 6+ hours.)

When I first tried the PSNR tune, I thought it was a must have. It dropped the filesize significantly with similar quality. However, I was using an older source for my initial testing (The 5 Deadly Venoms blu-ray release) and the quality loss was unnoticeable during playback. I later found that on a new source like Tucker and Dale vs Evil the quality was noticeably degraded. I’m thinking I will leave PSNR off for my rips, especially with newer sources.

I don’t follow too closely to all the forums on x265, so I’m not sure if I’m missing any easy/must-do tricks. I want something easy and bulletproof, so my final choice for ripping and encoding will be Handbrake for it’s ease of use, and x265, Medium, RF20. That seems to get me original quality (or at least my eyes can’t tell the difference) with the smallest filesize without taking forever.

Update: I stopped using x265 because my Plex server is running off of an old Core 2 Quad Q9450 and it just can’t keep up decoding x265. I’m back to h264, speed: Slower, and RF20. Also, I now have lots of space with my new NAS so I’m not as worried about filesize anymore. Maybe someday I’ll move back to x265.

Property Owner Not Available

I ran across an issue today where I did not have access to the properties on a database. I was logged in as an administrator and still couldn’t. Here was the error:Property Owner Not Available

This blog post helped in fixing it. Running sp_helpdb <dbname> showed that the owner field was NULL. Probably because the old dbowner was removed from Security Logins of the SQL Server.

I ran the following and the issue was fixed.

use <dbname>
go
sp_changedbownder @loginame = 'sa'
go

(Although I’m not really sure why Microsoft decided to spell loginame that way.)

SpyBot, Windows 8.1, and Explorer crashes

I’ve been fighting an issue where explorer has been crashing on me when ever I’d right-click something in the Navigation pane (the left side tree view). I would right click on a folder and boom! the window would disappear. I tried to use ProcMon hoping something would stand out to me, but all I could see was a bunch of registry keys and folders with the word ‘shell’ in them before explorer.exe stopped showing up completely.

I knew it had to be an extension because this only happened on right-clicks and it didn’t happen when I first installed Windows. So I started uninstalling anything with a right-click menu option. I had uninstalled Dropbox, Virtual CloneDrive, and 7zip before I stumbled across Spybot (2.4.40). Luckily, Spybot has options to disable the shell integration without uninstalling the entire program. I turned the Windows Explorer integration options off and the problem was gone.

The other thing I found out was the 32bit shell extensions will work, but the 64bit extensions will cause the crash. Very odd as I’m running x64 Windows.

To fix the crashes:

  1. Check the Advanced User Mode checkbox on the main window of Spybot.
  2. Click Settings.
  3. Click the System Integration tab.
  4. Click the “Uninstall” button next to the 64bit shell integration option. (I have disabled all the options. I like a clean system tray.)

Spybot Shell Integration

Photo Tests

Here is an example of a low(er) light photo with HDR on an iPhone 6 Plus. The lights weren’t too low, but they were much lower than what I would have liked with my iPhone 4S. The focus is incredibly fast and I’m the optical stabilization will help me out a lot. I was constantly retaking blurry pics on my 4S because I’d shake the camera. So far, I’m quite impressed.

My (currently) favorite beer.
My (currently) favorite beer.

Lost pre-share key in Aruba

After taking over several Aruba Instant swarms, I lost the pre-share WPA passkey to a wireless network. Luckily, in InstantOS I could still see the key unencrypted with this enable mode command:

sh run no-encrypt

Other blog posts said to use:
encrypt disable
sh run

However, that didn’t work for me. That may only be for the full controller.

Mint.com and TouchID

How to use TouchID in the Mint.com app (from the Mint Community):

  1. Log into the Mint app.
  2. Set the passcode.
  3. Close but don’t logout.
  4. Open the Mint app and unlock with Touch ID instead of the passcode.

This is a convenient and quick way to secure apps. I know it’s not bulletproof in terms of security but it helps keep honest people honest without being a pain in the ass. I hope more apps adopt this. Chase, this means you.

A List of Domain Controllers

This blog post had a simple solution for getting a list of domain controllers in Powershell.

Get-ADDomainController -Filter * | Select-Object name

Although for my script I ended up dropping the Select-Object name.

foreach ($DC in (Get-ADDomainController -Filter *)) {
  $DCName = $DC.Name
  $file = (Get-Item "\\$DCName\netlogon\file.txt").LastWriteTime
  Write-Output("$DCName :: $file")
}

I’m used this as a (very) quick and dirty way to diagnose an AD replication issue by comparing a file’s known modify datetime with copies in the other DC’s netlogon folder.