DIY NAS: 2016 Edition

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A few years ago, I asked myself, “Can I build my own DIY NAS?” And ever since then, I’ve been answering that question in the form of a couple different build blogs each year. Each build has a bit of a theme: how I would rebuild my own NAS and what parts I’d select for a more economical build. For 2016, I’m varying from that theme ever so slightly. The DIY NAS: 2016 Edition was specifically written with my own NAS in mind.

In the past 4 years, I’ve added additional drives to my NAS and I’ve also replaced a couple failed drives. Today there are 7 HDDs in my NAS: 3x4TB and 4x2TB drives. But I’ve also had some odd communication errors writing to my HDDs. After replacing all the SATA cables, I’ve become convinced that the drive cage in my Lian Li PC-Q25B is the root cause. Because of this realization, I’ve decided that’s enough reason to go ahead and upgrade my own NAS; it just didn’t make any sense to me to take a 4+-year-old motherboard and put it into a brand-new case! I decided that the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition would be an ideal sandbox for me to go ahead and figure out exactly which hardware I’d wind up buying for my own upgrade.

Unfortunately, my appendix had other ideas—right when I was ready to put all the hardware together it became inflamed and required a trip to the emergency room, and ultimately to the operating room. Instead of spending the holidays working on this NAS blog, I wound up being busy getting better. Curse you, vestigial organs!

With all of that behind me, what exactly did I have in mind for upgrading my existing NAS to? My biggest motivating factor was the incorporation of bhyve into FreeBSD 10, which once it is incorporated into a future version of FreeNAS, would also allow for the potential of virtual machines being hosted on my NAS.

CPU & Motherboard

In my NAS-building experience the selection of the motherboard is the most important and therefore most time-consuming decision made when planning your NAS build. I have a set of criteria that’s incredibly important to me that I work from for each build:

  1. Small form factor: Real estate in our home office is very valuable for two reasons: it’s difficult to find and it’s full of important devices. Because of these factors, I like picking diminutive motherboards that don’t require full-sized computer cases. This usually narrows my search down to browsing through the various available Mini-ITX or Micro ATX motherboards.
  2. Low-power CPU support: Because I leave my NAS running 24/7 the costs savings of a power-sipping CPU justify the premium that gets charged for the low-powered CPUs. Over the life of the device, the low-power CPU will more than pay for its price premium.
  3. 6 or more SATA Ports: 6 SATA ports are enough to build out a pretty decently sized array while also including a couple drives’ worth of parity for the sake of fault tolerance.
  4. Onboard Gigabit: This is mostly because I wired up my house with CAT5e and wanted to make sure I could make use of it. But because transfer speeds to your NAS are going to depend on the speed of the network interface, it makes sense to try and ensure that the fastest possible is included on the motherboard. Because Mini-ITX motherboards usually only have one PCI-e slot, I like to keep it free for a future SATA controller card rather than occupy it with a network card, which is why I prefer the network card to be built onto the motherboard.
  5. Integrated and Passively Cooled CPU: There’s no real requirement here that the CPU is integrated, but I’d rather have a motherboard with an integrated CPU just because I’m a bit lazy and appreciate the simplified installation. But what’s really important here is that the CPU can be passively cooled without an added fan. I’m not a big fan of sitting in a room of noisy computers.

In my research for the DIY NAS: 2015 Edition, I discovered the ASRock C2550D4I motherboard which seemed to be designed entirely for a DIY NAS server in mind. To this day, I’m still impressed with its size, its fan-less design, and the number of SATA devices it can support. For the 2016 DIY NAS, I was quite tempted to stick with it for a second year in a row. However, because I have a goal to also run a small virtual machine or two on my own NAS machine, I decided to upgrade to the C2550D4I’s big brother, the ASRock C2750D4I (specs). The two motherboards are virtually identical, with the ASRock C2750D4I’s CPU featuring an additional 4 cores, which should come in handy considering my virtual machine aspirations. There’s a significant price difference between the motherboards—the extra CPU horsepower carries a hefty price difference of an additional $90. Because of that, I think the ASRock C2550D4I is still a fantastic alternative. Both of these motherboards fit all of my ideal NAS-building criteria.

Running Total: $395.00

RAM

Because the motherboard supports it and because it is the better option, I chose to buy ECC RAM despite my confidence in using Non-ECC RAM for my DIY NAS builds. FreeNAS suggests around 1GB of RAM for 1TB of raw storage, but I haven’t personally run into any issues building machines that fall short of that rule of thumb. For this NAS, I decided to go with a 16GB kit (2x8GB) of Unbuffered DDR3 PC3-12800 (specs).

Running Total: $511.94

Case, Power Supply, and Cables

The case is your second most important item when it comes to building a DIY NAS. I typically wind up spending almost as much time looking at different cases as I do motherboards. Mostly, you want to pick a case that’s going to fit the maximum number of drives you can project your NAS containing. Even if you wind up building a smaller NAS (2-4 HDDs total) I suggest that you pick a case that can hold up to 6-8 HDDs. That way, if you wanted to add storage quickly and easily, you have a few empty hard drive bays to work with.

Last year’s case was the Silverstone Tek DS380B and when I was building it, I was envious of the removable drive bays in the case. I think that easy access to the NAS’s hard-disk drives is a very luxurious perk. I’ve been very happy with my Lian Li PC-Q25B but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted last year to buy that case and use it in my NAS. I was bound and determined to buy another Silverstone Tek DS380B for this year’s NAS (as well as for my upgrade) but then somebody commented on Google+ asking me about the U-NAS cases.

Specifically, I was asked about the U-NAS NSC-400, which I think is a little small. But I was intrigued. If there were bigger version(s) of that same case I thought it’d be a very temping option to my prior favorite cases. I found that as I was hoping an 8-drive version existed, the U-NAS NSC-800 (specs). U-NAS built a great case for their own NAS devices and then wisely decided to sell the same case to others who wanted to build their own DIY NAS. Its most important feature was that it had room for 8 HDDs in removable and hot-swappable drive trays. In addition to that, it has room for a couple 2.5” hard drives. It seemed extremely compact with dimensions of 316mm x 254mm x 180mm and it claimed “Ultra Quiet Operation.”

Of everything I read on their specifications, I was pretty excited and hardly skeptical except for that last item. In addition to claiming it was ultra quiet, it also specified that you needed a power supply designed for use in a 1U server rack. For those of you who’ve never been in a data center or in the vicinity of a 1U server being run, “quiet” is the last word you’d use to describe its operation. Every time that I’ve ever heard a rack-mount server running, it’s sounded a bit like a 747 taxiing for takeoff.

All that being considered, I was hopeful that I could find a 1U power supply that was on the quiet side, hopefully no louder than the number of drives spinning up in the case. I’d actually picked an entirely different power supply, which is what you’ll see in all of the parts photos, but I found out that my original choice wouldn’t work. I instead picked out an Athena Power AP-U1ATX30A (specs) to go in the case.

Learning from one of my past mistakes, I assumed that I wouldn’t have anywhere near the SATA cables I’d ultimately need, so I decided to pick up two packs of (5) 18” SATA 3.0 cables. In my NAS-building experience I’ve found that even though the motherboards are designed to support a large number of drives, the manufacturers are keeping their costs low and only including 1-2 total SATA Cables. My suggestion to other DIY NAS builders is to make sure you have more SATA cables than you actually need.

Running Total: $774.64

Storage

FreeNAS Flash Drive

What’s impressed me most these past few years of building NAS machines is that there’s really only one component which hasn’t changed from year to year: the USB drive responsible for running FreeNAS. I continue to recommend the SanDisk Cruzer Fit USB drives (specs). The FreeNAS hardware requirements say that you need a drive that’s at least 8GB and their suggested size is at 16GB, which is what I picked out for this NAS. I’m a big fan of this USB drive because of its low profile. It can fit in the USB ports on both the front or the back of the case and doesn’t protrude excessively from where it’s inserted. I think it’s ideally suited for the back of the case. Because I continue to have good luck with these drives, I’m pretty certain I’ll be using them again in future builds.

Cache SSDs

I’ve been teasing a few surprises on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ pretty frequently and this is the first of those surprises. For my own NAS upgrade, I wanted to implement both a read cache and a write cache to sit in front of the HDDs. In order to accomplish that, I picked out the Samsung 850 EVO 120GB (specs). Everything that I’ve read about the Samsung EVO 850s is that they perform pretty well and more importantly are pretty durable. I picked a pair of SSDs because it’s imperative that your write cache is redundant. In order to achieve that I’ll end up creating a partition on each of the SSDs and then mirror those two partitions. The rest (or the appropriate remaining amount) of the SSDs will be used to create a striped read cache.

NAS Hard Disk Drives

The hard-disk drives that you wind up using for storage in your NAS should always account for most of your expense. If your HDDs don’t account for at least 50% of your total expenditures then you’re probably spending too much money on the wrong components! In building various NAS machines over the years, I’ve come to believe that it’s quite a bit better to buy more drives instead of buying bigger drives. The tempting advantage of buying bigger drives is that they’re almost always more cost efficient; the larger the drive, the better the dollars-to-gigabytes ratio is.

If you were buying one hard drive for your new desktop computer, I’d tell you to buy the biggest drive you can afford and to make sure you back up all of your critical data. But in this case, you’re not buying just one drive, you’re buying a number of drives, so the same advice doesn’t work out near as well. Let’s consider a couple different theoretical arrays both of 24TB of total raw storage using 6TB (4 HDDs), 4TB (6 HDDs), or 2TB (12 HDDs) drives and two different levels of redundancy: one HDD for redundancy and two HDDs for redundancy:

Size     Quantity Raw Storage Storage w/ 1
Redundant HDD
Storage w/ 2
Redundant HDDs
6 TB     4 24 TB 18 TB 12 TB
4 TB     6 24 TB 20 TB 16 TB
*2 TB    12 24 TB 22 TB 20 TB

* Note: This is an example, I’m not suggesting a 12x2TB array is the optimal configuration.

I think what’s most important here is the “I” in RAID, Redundant Array of “INEXPENSIVE” Disks. The greater the number of HDDs you can squeeze into your budget, the more configuration options you’re going to have. The more configuration options that you’re going to have, your array is going to wind up bigger and/or more fault tolerant which is a very good thing!

Looking at hard-drive prices right now, I think the 4TB drive is definitely still the best bang for your buck. I was pretty tempted by the 6TB drive prices, but they’re still a bit too expensive to compete with the 4TB drives. However, the way things are looking, I’d be surprised if I wasn’t incorporating 6TB drives into next year’s DIY NAS blogs. Here are the two drives that I wound up going with:


Drive
WD Red 4TB WD40EFRX
Seagate 4TB ST4000VN000
Size
4 TB
4 TB
Quantity
3
4
Price
$149.99
$144.99

I typically wind up picking drives from 2-3 different manufacturers for a couple reasons:

  1. Avoid Bad Batches: When buying drives in bulk from the same vendor, you’re extremely likely (but not guaranteed) to get drives that were all manufactured in the same batch. Typically defects in hard-drive manufacturing result in the same issue across the same batch. So if you had 7 disks in your NAS that you bought all from the same vendor at the same time and those drives came from a bad batch, you might see similar issues start popping up at the same time on each of your drives.
  2. It Enables me to Buy Cheap Drives: There are inexpensive HDDs out there that are quite a bit of a good deal compared to their contemporaries. You may think that the price is “too good to be true,” but this is a good way to save quite a few dollars and count on the redundancy within your array to protect you just in case it turns out to be too good to be true. This usually applies more to the EconoNAS builds that I do, but it’s still a great way to trim some of the price down off your own DIY NAS build. That being said—be careful, sometimes you get what you pay for!

And the finishing flourish on this year’s NAS was an additional 3D-printed piece: a “case badge” that we designed and printed on the 3D printers at TheLab.ms. I liked the final product so much, that I printed a handful more. I’ve got enough for at least a couple more years’ worth of NAS giveaways.


The DIY NAS: 2016 Edition nearly broke the bank, literally. I wound up spending nearly $2,000 in total and almost more than I spent building my latest gaming rig. In the future, I’d prefer not to get anywhere near this price point for a NAS build. However, because I’m intending to upgrade my existing NAS I won’t be spending that entire price all at once. In fact, when I do decide to upgrade, I’ll probably do it gradually over a few months: first slowly upgrading the remaining HDDs from 2TB to 4TB and then by upgrading the remaining components. However, that being said, the 2016 NAS is a fantastic little machine which packs quite a punch. Here’s a breakdown of all the parts and their costs:

Final Parts List


Component Part Name         Count Cost
Motherboard ASRock C2750D4I specs 1 $395.00
Memory Crucial 16GB Kit (8GBx2) DDR3 ECC specs 1 $116.94
Case U-NAS NSC-800 Server Chassis specs 1 $199.00
Power Supply Athena Power AP-U1ATX30A specs 1 $49.72
SATA Cables Monoprice 18-Inch SATA III 6.0 Gbps (Pkg of 5) N/A 2 $6.99
OS Drive SanDisk Cruzer 16GB USB Flash Drive specs 1 $8.00
Cache Drives Samsung 850 EVO 120GB SSD specs 2 $69.90
Storage HDD 1 WD Red 4TB NAS - WD40EFRX specs 3 $149.99
Storage HDD 2 Seagate NAS HDD 4TB (ST4000VN000) specs 4 $144.99
    
TOTAL: $1,938.39


U-NAS NSC-800 U-NAS NSC-800 Drive Sleds U-NAS NSC-800 Miscellaneous Parts U-NAS NSC-800 Drive Cage Innards #1 U-NAS NSC-800 Drive Cage Innards #2 U-NAS NSC-800 Drive Cage Innards #3 U-NAS NSC-800 Inside Top – PSU and SSDs U-NAS NSC-800 Backside U-NAS NSC-800 Right Side A few of the many SATA Cables ASRock C2750D4I #1 ASRock C2750D4I #2 Samsung 850 EVO 120GB SSDs 16GB of Crucial ECC DDR3 RAM Seagate NAS 4TB HDDs Western Digital Red 4TB HDDs Almost all of the NAS parts (ignore the red cables and PSU!)

Hardware Assembly, Configuration, and Burn-In

Assembly

No matter how much research I do, there are always one or two things that I still goof up. The DIY NAS: 2016 Edition is definitely no exception. First of all, I had a small power supply that I’d tried to use in a previous NAS build (coincidentally, a goof-up from an even earlier NAS build) that appeared to be the size and shape of a 1U power supply, but apparently I was mistaken. When I first attempted to fit it inside the U-NAS NSC-800, it wasn’t even close. It was too skinny to line up with the screw holes on the back of the case. I was tempted to see what kind of creative solutions I could come up with to use that power supply and the case together, but I’d prefer if everybody was able to build the same exact thing as I did by ordering parts from their favorite vendors. I wound up ordering a real 1U server power supply instead.

But when the new power supply showed up I was aghast to discover it was too short! There are two posts towards the front of the case that I assume are intended for the power supply to sit on. Because the power supply wasn’t long enough to reach those posts, it essentially was “floating” in midair parallel to the top of the drive cage. I was tempted to order another, longer power supply but I thought that was stupid. I was pretty confident that there would not be many ill effects of the power supply hanging in midair like it was. However, I did think of one worrisome scenario—shipping. Since I plan to be shipping this NAS to a lucky winner in a month or so, I knew that the NAS would get jostled around quite a bit between here and there. I was worried that it might not survive the trip.

So I called on Pat and his seemingly infinite 3D-printing and modeling expertise. I asked Pat how hard it’d be to design some sort of spacer to slide around the power supply and provide the missing vertical support to the other side of the power supply. Pat laughed at me like an all-knowing father laughs at his young child, grabbed my caliper to take some measurements, and by the next day he designed this: Spacer Bracket for a 1U Power Supply which we subsequently printed during our next trip to the TheLab.ms, a Plano-area Makerspace, on one of their 3D printers.


I don’t think that this spacer is required at all. So there’s no need to start searching wildly for a 3D printer that you can borrow or to join a Makerspace like TheLab.ms (although I’d highly recommend joining a Makerspace!) to print this spacer. It might come in handy if you plan to move your NAS around frequently. Removing the power supply is probably a better option if the NAS isn’t going to be moving around frequently. I would’ve removed the power supply prior to shipping it, but I didn’t want the lucky winner to have to reassemble the NAS before being able to use it.

The next goof-up was my worst of all; at least it was for this NAS. The U-NAS NSC-800 came with its drive cage already cabled up with something I’d never seen before. The drive cage was already cabled up with SAS/SATA cables, each of the 4 cables consolidating down into one single great big connector that I learned was a Mini-SAS connector. Being the neophyte that I am, I simply assumed that I’d need a “reverse breakout” cable to hook into that Mini-SAS connector and then plug the SATA ends into the motherboard, and I was wrong, oh so very wrong. In order to use the cables that came inside the U-NAS NSC-800 there would need to be some sort of SAS controller for it to plug into. What I had to do instead was remove the back of the case in order to access the drive cage’s cabling, remove the existing cables, and then replace them with the dearth of SATA cables that I have been maintaining since running short during the building of a previous NAS.

I had hoped that overcoming my own knuckleheadedness (is that even a word?) would be my only obstacle in assembling the case, however there was one remaining obstacle: space. The U-NAS NSC-800 has very little room for you to work with. Once I took the cover off the case, I knew I was going to hate working inside that case, and boy was I right! The motherboard actually mounts on the left side of the case to the inside of the case’s frame and it mounts rather unconventionally. There are four total stand offs which line up with the Mini-ITX mounting points. However you screw into them from different directions on the different sides of the case. At the top of the case, you screw down into the motherboard and standoff, on the bottom of the case you screw into the motherboard from the reverse side. I can honestly say I’ve never installed a motherboard quite like that, or even seen one mounted like that. The other peculiar part of this install is that a thin plastic sheet, a little bit bigger than the motherboard, is included with the case. The motherboard actually sits atop that sheet. I assume this is to protect the motherboard’s circuitry on the bottom from accidentally shorting out on the sides of the case.

I have two pieces of advice for anyone who wants to build a similar machine around the U-NAS NSC-800:

  1. Do as much testing of components as you can outside of the case.
  2. Hook up everything on the motherboard before installing it.

When you consider everything the motherboard hooks into, especially the 10 SATA cables and ATX power cable, the motherboard actually gets pretty tricky to move around inside the case. This is exactly why I prefer to mount the motherboard first and then hook cables up, but that is impossible with this case. To help illustrate some of my difficulties and challenges assembling this computer, I decided to record it all on video and share it on Youtube:

As you can see from the video, there were some points that I absolutely hated working in this case. Take, for instance, the number of times I installed and removed the SSDs, or the times I struggled putting the case’s cover back on. And the kitchen was definitely rated NC-17 as I carefully maneuvered and worked on installing the motherboard. But that being said, I was pretty excited when I slipped the cover on, booted it up for the first time and saw that all of the RAM, the two SSDs, and all seven of the HDDs were recognized. All I needed at this point was a tiny bit more good luck to survive the burn-in test and I’d have the most difficult part of the build behind me. I may have hated working in the case, but I loved the final product quite a bit more!

Hardware Configuration

This year’s hardware configuration was pretty much the same as last year’s, considering the similarity between the two motherboards. The ASRock C2750D4I features a pretty straightforward BIOS. And I was already expecting the only curve ball: because of the number of SATA controllers in there (Intel and Marvell), it’s a bit overwhelming looking at all the different SATA options. That being said, I validated the same items and made effectively the same changes in the BIOS as I did last year:

  1. Enabled S.M.A.R.T. for the hard-disk drives.
  2. Quadruple-checked that ECC was enabled and that the installed RAM was detected as ECC.
  3. Configured the Boot Options so that the USB is the first device it would attempt to boot from.
  4. Set the Primary Graphics Adapter to Onboard.

Burn-In

The weekend I finished putting the hardware together I began to put the hardware through its paces. There weren’t a whole lot of different things to stress test because there are essentially 3 components to the machine: motherboard, RAM, and disk drives. In order to test the sticks of RAM, I stuck Memtest86 on a spare USB flash drive and booted the machine. Using the default values, I let Memtest86 run overnight. I checked the machine in the morning, ensuring that it had completed at least three full passes, which gave me confidence in the quality of the memory.


After the successful tests, I booted off a different flash drive with Stresslinux on it and ran the same stress tests but using two different durations: a two-hour test run and an eight-hour test run. For those of you interested in the exact parameters that I used, except for the duration I didn’t vary far from what the stress man page offers as an example.


Had I run into problems during the two-hour test, I might have had reason to log on to a new console and monitor some of the various system temperatures. But since the two-hour test went through without a hitch, I had confidence that I would wind up seeing the same results at the end of the eight-hour test, and it passed both the 2-hour and 8-hour tests with flying colors.

FreeNAS Configuration

You’d think I’d have this memorized, having done it twice a year for at least a couple years, but that’s not the case. I typically wind up referring back to my own blogs to make sure I remember how I set things up in the prior year’s DIY NAS machines. I suspect that some of this is due to the fact that there have been new FreeNAS releases between these builds which results in things moving around in the user interface a bit, but primarily it’s straightforward and easy enough that I never have had enough difficulty to justify me etching the appropriate steps into memory.

However, in this build I’m experimenting with a new feature: cache SSDs. So I thought I’d break up the “typical” configuration steps and the new steps that I had to go through in order to use the SSDs for read and write cache.

Typical Configuration

Upon the initial boot, you’re asked to update the root user’s password. Once you’ve done that, you’re free to login to the FreeNAS web interface, which is where all of my typical configuration is done. The newer versions of FreeNAS kick off a setup “wizard,” and being the arrogant techno-blogger that I am, I exited right out of that wizard and begin configuring things manually by myself. The first two items I updated were the hostname and the time zone.

Moving on, I set up users and groups. Firstly, I created a user whose credentials match the credentials I use locally on my desktop (and at my other computer(s) in case it’s needed). After that, I created a group named shareusers and added my new user account into that group.

Having created the users, I got into the creation of the FreeNAS volume (zpool): I added all seven of the 4TB hard-disk drives to a single array. I picked RaidZ2 as my RAID level, which allows for the failure of up to two of your array’s hard-disk drives. Once the FreeNAS volume was created, I added a FreeNAS dataset to the volume. I named the dataset “data” and then manipulated the permissions so that the Owner(group) of that dataset was the shareusers group I created earlier.

Next up, I enabled both the S.M.A.R.T. service and the CIFS service for hard-drive monitoring and filesharing with Windows computers respectively. I configured the S.M.A.R.T. service by providing it an email address that it could send reports to. With the S.M.A.R.T. configured, I turned my attention to the CIFS service. I updated the NetBIOS, Workgroup, and Description to what was appropriate for my home network. Then I went in and created a new CIFS share, sharing the “data” dataset (/mnt/vol1/data). Finally, I used the Windows File Explorer on my desktop to browse to the new share and to make sure I could read, write, and delete files in the share.


The easy setup Wizard,  I exited it! Updating the NAS' hostname. Setting the machine's time zone. Adding myself as a user matching my desktop credentials. Adding a group for use in the file share. Adding my user to the share user group. Adding the new 7x4TB RAIDZ3 Array FreeNAS at work creating the Volume Adding a dataset to the array. Setting permissions on the dataset for the share user group. Enabling S.M.A.R.T. and CIFS Services Configuring the CIFS Service Configuring the S.M.A.R.T. service Creatng a CIFS share. Validating the share is functional. FreeNAS Autotune

But wait, there’s more! Because I’m basing this build off what I’m likely to upgrade on my own NAS too, it simply wasn’t good enough that the CPU, RAM, storage capacity, and network were all substantial upgrades. I really wanted to drive this one out of the park by attempting to add some SSDs for use as a read and write cache.

ZIL and L2ARC

Among the things I’ve been curious about is adding some sort of cache to sit in front of my hard drives. Mostly for no other reason than theoretically it should be much faster and it seemed like something neat to play with. The smaller-sized SSDs have become relatively inexpensive, so it seemed worthwhile to see if it’d boost the throughput of the NAS. The other (and primary) reason I was interested in the read/write caches was my eventual plan to use the NAS for some virtualization. Ramping up the speed of local file operations would pay dividends when I started hosting virtual machines on my FreeNAS machines.

In my research, I found the steps that I needed to follow already laid out for me in this excellent blog: Using one pair of SSDs for both ZIL and L2ARC in FreeNAS. For my build, I picked out two Samsung 850 EVO 120GB SSDs to act house both the write cache (ZIL) and read cache (L2ARC). Ultimately, what I wound up doing is creating a 30-gigabyte partition on each of the SSDs and then mirrored those two partitions together for the write cache. Mirroring the two partitions is critical to the data integrity of the writes. The remaining 90GB of space on each drive went into a striped array for the read cache.

Benchmarks

Power Consumption

I hooked the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition to my Kill-a-Watt and monitored how many watts it used each time I booted it up. As it was booting, the highest it hit was 126 watts. I left the NAS plugged into the Kill-a-Watt for the duration of the NAS benchmarking. During the most intensive write tests the highest wattage I observed was 95 to 97 watts. And while the machine was idle it settled down to around 70 watts. I left the NAS running on the Kill-a-Watt for 3 days, 2 hours and 45 minutes, and during that time it used 6.53 kWh.

Throughput

To benchmark the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition I used IOMeter and a somewhat scientific (me with a stopwatch) measurement of some file copies across from my computer to the NAS. I did the Windows file copy test because it is a pretty decent approximation of a real-world test. As a baseline, I first benchmarked my NAS from 2012, I then ran all the same tests on the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition. I kind of expected it, but my little NAS got trounced! Not that I’m making excuses, but he had a bit of a handicap. I continued using my NAS as I normally do, so our regular day-to-day use of the NAS might have hindered it a little bit, but I highly doubt that reason is why it got so badly demolished in the benchmarks.

Here are the tests I performed and how the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition fared in each test:

IOMeter

  • 12 workers, 4K, 100% Read, 0% Random: 17349.16 IOPS and 67.77 MB/sec
  • 12 workers, 4K, 0% Read, 0% Random: 12898.3 IOPS and 50.8 MB/sec
  • 12 workers, All Tests: 9501.66 IOPS and 121.81 MB/sec

Timed Windows File Copy

  • 1 40GB file (40GB total) both to and from the NAS:
    • To: 7:15.66
    • From: 12:06.32
  • 31,250 128KB files (~4B total) both to and from the NAS
    • To: 28:04.08
    • From: 12:09.82

As an aside, I also grabbed the same benchmarks for the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition before I added the ZIL and L2ARC because I was curious what kind of performance bump I might see from it. Suffice it to say I did not see a performance boost when using the ZIL and L2ARC when running the same tests on this NAS. I’ll be digging into those benchmarks between now and the end of the giveaway and potentially use that data for a future blog. But for the time being, I’m chalking this up to the fact that neither my home network nor my usage (either typical day-to-day use or my benchmarks) simply don’t tax the NAS enough to see the benefits of using an SSD for a read/write cache.

Conclusion

First and foremost, I spent a ton of money. I honestly had a real hard time pulling the trigger and buying all of the parts when I saw how much they’d add up to. Spending this much money on the NAS puts you up into the neighborhood of many of the commercial NAS machines from QNAP, Synology, iXsystems, etc. I’m still quite confident that the specifications and features of the DIY NAS are favorable when comparing them to those other products, but the sticker price makes it much less of a no-brainer than it has been in the years past. That being said, my objective was actually to upgrade my own NAS, which is showing a bit of age. Because I won’t need to replace quite a few of the hard drives, the price tag becomes quite a bit easier for me to swallow.

The most disappointing part of the build wound up being the pair of Samsung 850 EVO 120GB SSDs to use as both a ZIL and L2ARC in the NAS. This was a feature that I was pretty excited to add to the NAS; in theory it seemed like it’d be a great way to accelerate the performance of the NAS. But ultimately I believe that my network and my usage simply don’t justify the addition of these two caches. Additionally, the machine isn’t exactly whisper quiet like I’d prefer it to be. The one drawback of drive sleds is there’s little to no material around them to dampen the sound of the spinning drives. The noise of the seven spinning HDDs escapes the front of the case and accounts for a bit of hum. But the ability to access the drives and swap them out without opening the case is a nice feature and makes living with that extra noise a fair trade-off.

My favorite part of the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition almost wound up my least favorite as well. I have a strong dislike for small cases, and the U-NAS NSC-800 is certainly a very small case; I can’t imagine cramming more components into a smaller area than what’s in the NSC-800. That being said, I do actually love how small the case is even after working inside it for what seemed like an eternity. I also really like the quality of the drive sleds; they remind me the most of the drive sleds found in rack-mount servers. My experience with prior cases has been that the removable drive sleds usually wind up feeling pretty chintzy and cheap. Even though I hate working inside a small case, the finished product was worth it to me. Of all the components I used for the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition this is the most likely to wind up being part of my own eventual NAS upgrade.

Don’t want to spend almost $2,000 building your own NAS? I don’t blame you! If you’re balking at the price, I suggest the following:

  1. Go with the ASRock C2550D4I (~$90 cheaper)
  2. Ditch the SSDs for the ZIL / L2Arc (~$140 cheaper)
  3. Different hard-drive configuration(s) (Varies)

Altogether, I’m pretty pleased with this machine even if it’s way beyond what my own usage seems to require. When it comes time to upgrade my own NAS, these parts are going to get heavy consideration, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find that the same case, motherboard, and RAM all wind up in my own NAS by the end of the year.

Giveaway

Like with the DIY NAS: 2014 Econonas, the DIY NAS: 2015 Edition, and the DIY NAS: 2015 EconoNAS, I’ll be giving the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition away to a lucky reader. The giveaway works like this:

  1. You follow my blog and myself on Twitter, the blog’s Facebook page, and the blog’s Google+ page.
  2. You retweet or share the promotional posts from these social networks (links below) with your own friends and followers. (Note: Make sure that your share is public, otherwise I won’t be able to see it and give you credit!)
  3. Your name gets entered up to three times (once per social network) in a drawing.
  4. After a month or so, I’ll pick a winner at random and announce it here.

Here’s a link to the best posts to promote for each social network:

If there are any questions, please go read the #FreeNASGiveaway rules page, I explain it in a bit more detail there. Please keep in mind, it’s more about the “spirit” of these rules, rather than the letter of the law. If you go to the trouble of helping promote my blog, I’ll do whatever I can to make sure you get an entry into the giveaway. The best way to make sure you get your entry is to follow the steps above.

Nextion HMI Display: Brian’s Review

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Towards the end of 2015, I was contacted by ITead Studio after they read my Arduino blogs. Based on what they saw in my blogs, they asked me if I’d be willing to take a look at a couple of their related products. The first product they asked about was their HMI Display. My curiosity piqued, I quickly rummaged through their website and a few relevant Google searches. What I discovered had me pretty excited—it looked to be a product right up my alley.

The HMI (Human Machine Interface) Display is a cost-effective TFT touchscreen which can be controlled via an on-board serial port. The Nextion Editor is used to design an interface which is saved to a Micro SDCard and then loaded on the device. There’s quite a bit of interface logic built into the editor: you create pages and place objects (buttons, sliders, text boxes, etc.) within the page and include whatever control is needed to move between the pages you create.

More importantly? The serial interface on the devices also allow you to control the display from something like a Arduino, Raspberry Pi, or any other system-on-a-chip with the ability to communicate over a serial port. The ability to create a user interface in front of one of my Arduino creations piqued my curiosity the most.


The 2.4” and 7.0” displays side-by-side The 7.0” display atop the 2.4” display The 2.4” display atop the 7.0” display Front side of the 7.0” display Back side of the 7.0” display Front side of the 2.4” display Back side of the 2.4” display

Initial Thoughts and Impressions

Because the manufacturer claimed they were low cost, the first thing that I did was go out on Amazon to find out how much resellers were selling them for. I found the 2.4” Nextion HMI Displays for $17.99, 4.3” Nextion HMI Displays for $49.98, 7.0” Nextion HMI Displays for $79.99, and other sizes (both bigger and smaller) priced in a similar fashion. About my only complaint about what I found on Amazon is that there don’t seem to be many vendors selling the displays yet, which means they’re in and out of stock pretty quickly. Worse, there are unscrupulous vendors attempting to capitalize on the scarcity within Amazon by gouging buyers with exorbitant prices. Considering what’s going price-wise on Amazon, I’d suggest trying to buy through the ITEAD Studio Store or eBay until the Amazon vendors get their acts together. But for what you’re getting it certainly seems like a good value. Especially when you consider that the Nextion Editor will allow you to build a fully independent user interface without hooking up an Arduino or Raspberry Pi to control it.

After getting the editor installed, I started poking around Google, Youtube, and the Itead Studio website. There’s no shortage of information out there, but my initial impression is that it was a bit difficult for me to consume. It was pretty apparent that the authors of most of the content and the designers of the editor do not speak English as a primary language—quite a bit of the documentation and software dialogs were poorly written, sparse, and in some cases in Chinese.

This wound up being a bit of an obstacle, but nothing that I couldn’t overcome with a few dozen tabs open in Google Chrome and some trial and error.

Putting it to Use

The first thing I did was install the Nextion Editor and start tinkering around. It didn’t take me very long to figure out how to add a page, put some naughty words on that page, and get that profanity displayed on the 2.4” Nextion HMI Display. I learned a few things in the process:

  1. From within the editor, you needed to “compile” your file and locate the build output (File –> Build Output) to find the *.tft file that gets copied to your Micro SDCard.
  2. The HMI Display will process that file after being turned on.
  3. You may need to remove the MicroSD Card and power it back on in order to see it work the first time. I’m not 100 percent positive about this, but it seemed that if I left a Micro SDCard in the slot, it wouldn’t ever run what I loaded.

After having that success, I wanted to design something a bit more complicated that showed off a feature or two of the display. In the editor, I created a new project that had three different pages. In the lower left-hand corner of each page were three buttons labeled as 1, 2, and 3. Clicking on those buttons would take you to the page it corresponded to. And naturally, I added three images as a background for each page so that I could tell if the buttons were working.

Apart from the fact that the touchscreen isn’t particularly responsive, I pulled this off pretty simply. I found the editor a bit difficult to get started with, but once I got a bit more familiar with the display I was able to create this example in just a few minutes. Naturally, this was just my initial attempt at using the Nextion HMI Display. My basic interface wasn’t really good for much at all unless you’re an Animal fanboy like I am! In order to abstract the most value from the Nextion HMI Display, I’d want to be able to control it from an Arduino.

What’s Next?

I am thoroughly impressed with the Nextion HMI Display. The device falls right in a gap that I think exists between the Arduino and RaspberryPi devices; the Arduino lacks the processing capability to power much in the way of displays. Some of that can be offloaded onto the Nextion HMI Display. Along those same lines it can be done relatively inexpensively, and the Nextion Editor makes creating that interface a bit simpler. If you are an Arduino tinkerer, I think at the very least you should have one of the 2.4” HMI Displays in your inventory of spare parts.

Here in the very short term, I can think of two projects where the Nextion HMI Displays will come in handy:

Firstly, I recently got into home brewing my own beer in the home-brewing group at TheLab.ms, a Plano-area makerspace. As a result of the home brewing I wound up building a keezer to serve our beers from. My original design was that I’d simply write on the keezer which brews are in each faucet using dry-erase markers. However, thanks to the Nextion HMI Displays, I’m now entertaining the idea of building an interactive menu that describes what’s in each tap and features some photos to set atop or mount to the keezer somewhere.

Secondly, I’m using curl on my Nexus 6 to display some of my web traffic metrics in an Android Notification. I think it’d also be pretty neat to have that data displayed and kept up to date in real time somewhere other than right on my desktop.

Conclusion

I’m pretty excited with what you can do with the Nextion HMI Displays, both as a standalone device with an interface that you design and load on it yourself, and as a “smart” display with an Arduino or RaspberryPi behind it adding additional features and functionality. The Nextion HMI Displays have a nice set of features and present quite a bit of value considering the price points of their various-sized displays.

What kinds of projects would you build around a Nextion HMI Displays? Please share your brainstorms in the comments below!

Sonoff & Slampher Home Automation Review

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My own recent foray into home automation went well earlier this year — I wound up automating the lamp closest to my desk, which has worked brilliantly so far. My only complaint with that solution so far has been that the WeMo Switch from Belkin is a bit on the expensive side. I couldn’t really justify the expense of buying a WeMo switch for every outlet that I wanted to automate in the house. My good friend, Pat, wound up doing some more complicated home automation of his own that really encouraged me. Pat used some inexpensive remotely controlled electrical outlets and an ESP8266 to begin automating some tasks around his house. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little jealous.

Well, as it turns out my little home-automation blog caught the eyes of some people at ITead Studio, which was fortuitous since they had just launched a crowd-funding effort on Indiegogo that was right up my alley: Sonoff & Slampher: Low Cost Smart Home Solution

The folks at Itead Studio were wondering if I’d be willing to write a blog about their Sonoff and Slampher products if they sent me a sneak-peek sample of the product. For me, the answer was easy; “Yes, have some!”

I was excited about the Sonoff and Slampher because they were effectively providing product(s) that were competitive with the WeMo Switch but at a phenomenally better price. Pat and I both had discussed that it was within our ability to build inexpensive remotely controlled WiFi relays (essentially the Sonoff) on our own which were much cheaper than their commercial alternatives. But in this case, it’s a commercial-quality product which beat our own pricing.


Getting off to a rough start, RIP cheap-o wire strippers! Slampher installed and ready to go Sonoff test fit and experimentation Sonoff in place on the Beer Stein lamp #01 Sonoff in place on the Beer Stein lamp #02

Sonoff

Almost thirty years ago, a teenage friend amazed me when he added a switch (like this one) to a lamp so that we could turn it on/off more easily from the floor while playing video games in front of his television. I’m hoping that one day he gets to sit down with his children and amaze them too, but instead this time he’ll be able to turn it off from anywhere on the Internet using his phone or tablet. As a remote switch, the Sonoff could be used to turn off/on anything that runs off of electricity.

For the sake of demonstrating its capabilities, I used my favorite lamp and something that I’ve wanted to home automate for a long time: my grandfather’s beer stein lamp. To me, it was a priceless heirloom that I remember fondly from hours of playing down in his basement where it sat on an end table. A cousin brought him the beer stein as a gift back from Germany, and due to its size it eventually was brilliantly converted into a lamp — that lamp is now a focal point in my home office.

One of my favorite things about the Sonoff is that it’s relatively slim and it could be located anywhere. However, that comes at a price. It’s essentially hacking a switch into the device’s power cord, which is both potentially dangerous and would likely void any warranty you have on that item. That being said, I can think of a number of things I’d like to use the Sonoff with:

  • Lamps
  • Coffee machine
  • Several pieces of #MyNetworkCupboard:
  • Anything installed anywhere in the world where a friend/family member/associate/random stranger would call me for technical support, so I could remotely turn it off (and maybe back on… maybe)

Slampher

On its face, I think the Slampher is a sexier product than the Sonoff for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it takes some gumption to use the Sonoff—you have to be willing to cut apart an electrical cord and wire it up correctly into both ends of the Sonoff. Secondly, most of my lighting is accomplished via built-in fixtures which don’t have readily accessible power cords for hacking into. In fact, it may not even be allowed in your city’s electrical code to use a switch like that with the Sonoff.

The Slampher fits right into a regular light socket and a bulb fits right inside it. About the only drawback of the Slampher is that it adds to the total height of the bulb and some width at the base. In my video, I had to completely remove the lampshade and its support structure in order to fit both the Slampher and the bulb in there.

Conclusion and What’s Next

Overall, I’m very impressed with the Sonoff and Samphler. My only points of constructive criticism is that it’s obvious that this product isn’t actively being designed for consumers in the United States. Some of the language in the documentation and within the app is a bit off and can make the product a bit more difficult to use. However, this is something I would expect the ITead Studio team to be improving on as their crowdfunding efforts near completion. More importantly, the price that they’re crowd funding at is low enough that I’m quite willing to fight through any unintentional communication issues.

What’s next for Brian using the Sonoff & Slampher? Is the best question that anyone could ask me about these products. For starters, I’m getting involved with their Indiegogo campaign and pledging enough money to buy myself a handful of both the Sonoff and the Slampher devices. Repeating some of Pat’s lessons working with his remotely controlled outlets, I fully expect to be able to reverse engineer the WiFi or RF signals being transmitted to the devices and incorporating it into my own home-automation schemes.

What about you? What would you use the Sonoff & Slampher: Low Cost Smart Home Solution for at your home? Use the comments below to share your brainstorms!


SlingFest 2015

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When I first joined the Plano-area makerspace, TheLab.ms, there were a number of programs I was interested in. There seemed to be no end to the amount of creative endeavors the other members were into: homebrewing, information security, wearable electronics, etc.. But one of the programs that really got my attention was presented by a subset of trebuchet aficionados within TheLab.ms. This contingent of designed, built, and fired their own medieval siege weaponry as a hobby.

Better than that? They put together an annual event called SlingFest to showcase and compete amongst each other. A video from the 2014 SlingFest cemented it for me—I’d be attending SlingFest in 2015, especially since it was happening practically in my backyard at Oak Point Park & Nature Preserve where I’d previously attended the Plano Balloon Festival.


All the Competitors,  Ready to Fire! Fibonacci's Apprentice by Trey Bouchet Frankchet by Manly Team Delta Thunder Explosion Squad KRAKEN by Heart of Experian Mother Chunker by  Old School Trebuchet Not So Little Monster by Texas Trebuchet SlingKong by TheLab.ms SNS by Paul Sanders Velocichunker by Velocichunker Funky Flings being showed off to the Crowd Baby KRAKEN's eating this pumpkin Superman sort of flew but did NOT stick the landing SlingKong covered everything in powdered sugar HexBug Tent and Catapult Competition #1 HexBug Tent and Catapult Competition #2 Smokin' Jalapeno Food Tuck #1 Smokin' Jalapeno Food Tuck #2 What remains of a fired pumpkin

Event

SlingFest was broken up into three primary competitions:

Accuracy: Each team placed a marker out in the field and then fired their trebuchet. The distance between the target and where their projectile landed was recorded and added up across three shots, with the lowest score winning.

Funky Fling: The funky fling was by far my favorite competition of the event. Each team thought of creative things to load onto their trebuchets and then flung them out onto the field. The Kracken team attached a fresh squid to a pumpkin and launched it with horrifying success—the force caused the squid to be ripped apart and flung across the field, I believe I even saw some of it land amongst the competitors. TheLab.ms’ own entry, SlingKong, decided to hollow out a pumpkin, cram it full it with powdered sugar and fling it — it was delicious! The winners of the event, team Old School Trebuchet, were picked by the crowd for launching a mannequin draped in a Superman cape with a horrific limb-removing landing.

Distance: Each team was given three attempts and the longest throw of all won this event. It was interesting standing amongst the trebuchets as the teams loaded them down with extra weight. The amount of creaking and groaning that came from the trebuchets had me both excited and a little terrified.

SlingFest was even kid-friendly with two “baby” trebuchets launching potatoes and golf balls, the latter of which fired at such a velocity that I had an impossible time trying to record any video for it. However, I did manage to film the launching of a potato or two.

In addition, there was a tent from the company HexBug which contained their Hexbug Kids VEX Catapult kit for the kids at the event to play with. They got to set up and fire the pumpkin-shaped marshmallows at targets. Each competitor received a score, and I believe a few lucky kids even won those catapult kits and are hopefully playing with them as I write this blog.

Lastly, The Smokin’ Jalapeno food truck came out to SlingFest and served up some food. Personally, I enjoyed the heck out of my brisket tacos, and judging by the constant line of people I saw at the food truck, I wasn’t the only one enjoying the food.

Competitors

Pretending to be a journalist, I attempted to take pictures and video of everybody at SlingFest 2015. Because I’m a terrible journalist, some of those videos and photos didn’t come out too well. For a better experience, I suggest you start keeping an eye out for SlingFest 2016 and come see it in person! Here’s a rundown of each team competing in SlingFest 2015 with the names of their trebuchets in parentheses. Much of this information was gleaned from the SlingFest flyer as well as from what was announced at the event. If there’s anything incorrect or missing, then let me know and I’ll get this updated!

TheLab.ms (SlingKong)

SlingKong was TheLab.ms’ entry to SlingFest, and as the title sponsor, they earned no benefit of the doubt from the field marshal. This is the team that I wound up spending most of my time around during the event, since Pat was an official team member. SlingKong is considered a traditional trebuchet whose prior claim to fame has been that it generated so much torque it cracked its arm in the 2014 competition. This year the team captain (and pretty much one-man band) engineered a new arm that was so strong and covered so much square footage that they ran out of spray paint covering it!

A few sling issues had SlingKong primarily firing in a backwards direction. In fact, for the accuracy contest it was suggested that he even be rotated 180 degrees! However, one of the biggest cheers from both the competitors and the audience was heard when SlingKong fired in a forward direction! Additionally, SlingKong had by far the best-tasting funky fling as they launched a pumpkin packed full of several bags of powdered sugar. Everyone downwind of the trebuchet and the pumpkin’s trajectory got a slight dusting in powdered sugar—it was delicious.

Heart of Experian (KRAKEN)

The KRAKEN is a trebuchet I’ve had the pleasure of seeing come to life over the past few months. The team captain, Richard, is also TheLab.ms’ brewmaster and the driving force behind the Brew of the Month program. Because each brew event has taken place at his house, I’ve been able to see the KRAKEN slowly being assembled. While they wound up a few trebuchets down from where I was sitting, the smell from their funky fling draped the field in its aroma. I’d really wanted to get their funky fling on video, but I missed the signal that they were firing. However, that poor squid was torn asunder by the forces of the spinning pumpkin; bits of squid stench were strewn all over the battlefield. I have sympathy for the team member or volunteer who cleaned that up!

Texas Trebuchet (Not So Little Monster)

Not So Little Monster is a floating arm trebuchet that stands about 13 feet tall. It was one of two trebuchets at SlingFest whose arms are moving so fast they sounded much like a bullwhip moving through the air. Team Texas Trebuchet brought it all the way up to Plano from Houston and performed quite well. In addition, Not So Little Monster is a very-much scaled up version of the golf ball trebuchet that kids were getting a chance to fire.

Velocichunker (Velocichunker)

Velocichunker is a modified MURLIN (multi-radius linear nodes) trebuchet and as I understand a new entry to SlingFest. I especially liked their team sign. Prior to SlingFest and seeing Velocichunker, I’d never seen this type of trebuchet before. I feel a bit guilty because I think the one video I captured of Team Velocichunker happened to be on a couple of their less-than-impressive throws. I spent a bunch of my time assisting with SlingKong who was right next to Velocichunker, so I missed a bunch of their throws. They did however attempt to fling a pumpkin wrapped in what looks to be a basketbal hoop’s net; it went pretty high but not pretty far!

Trey Bouchet (Fibonacci’s Apprentice)

Team Trey Bouchet also brought a MURLIN-style trebuchet, Fibonacci’s Apprentice. As this trebuchet’s arm moved through the air, it sizzled much like a bullwhip. The velocity of the arm moving and the projectile being flung from the sling caused me to lose my calm journalistic demeanor and exclaim “Jiminy Christmas!” It’s my understanding that Fibonacci’s Apprentice is the baby brother of a much larger trebuchet, Trebzilla, who suffered at the hands of a cruel road trip to Route 66 Pumpkin Chunkin and was not repaired in time for SlingFest 2015.

Paul Sanders from Lavaca, Arkansas (SNS)

Paul Sanders brought his trebuchet, SNS, all the way from Lavaca, Arkansas, turning SlingFest into an intra-state competition. Not much was written in the SlingFest materials about this trebuchet on account of his late entry to the competition. However, I was at the field when they rolled in from Arkansas with SNS on a trailer; it was an impressive sight. My favorite SNS highlight was a slightly problematic trigger on one throw that caused a brief bit of micro-consternation and the subsequent humorous recovery.

Old School Trebuchet (Mother Chunker)

Mother Chunker is the output of the efforts of team Old School Trebuchet. Mother Chunker is truly keeping it old school with its traditional construction. Mother Chunker has been competing for 5 years and over those years has endured a number of repairs from whatever scrap materials can be found to get it back in competing form. Mother Chunker is the last remaining competitor from the original SlingFest and took home a championship in 2013. From what I overheard, it is very likely that SlingFest 2015 will be Mother Chunker’s last competition. After that, he’ll be put out to pasture and sired out as a stud in order to bring more trebuchets into this world.

Manly Team Delta Thunder Explosion Squad (Frankenchet)

Frankenchet, from Manly Team Delta Thunder Explosion Squad, was my personal favorite from SlingFest. As its trebuchet type, they listed it as a “floating arm nightmare” which seemed to be quite the apt description. It is a massive, complicated-appearing machine. It is a two-time returning champion whose counter-weight is built around a rusted-out engine block. Watching Frankenchet hurl objects through the Sunday afternoon was exciting, and at the end of my video you can hear me say “Wow!”

Final Thoughts

If you didn’t make it out to SlingFest 2015 then you really did miss out on a good time. The eight competitors each built really impressive machines, whether they were big or small and whether they fired forward or backwards. Each of the teams were proud of what they built and were gracious when interacting with the audience. Beyond gawking at the trebuchets and being entertained by their feats of strength, there were enough kid-centric activities to do. If you got hungry, there was The Smokin’ Jalapeno food truck serving up

And lastly, kudos to TheLab.ms for being the driving force behind this year’s SlingFest as a title sponsor. The entire organization really got behind SlingFest and turned it into the great event that it turned out to be. Hopefully they can use this year’s success and build an even bigger event for 2016. I’m already looking forward to it!

Building a Keezer and Kegging my first Batch of Homebrew

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In my previous homebrewing blog, I talked at length about fermenting my first batch of homebrew beer, which I did during TheLab.ms’ program, Brew of the Month. I also wrote about the fact that I had decided to keg my beer and that I’d need to buy/build some sort of keg-dispensing system for use at my house.

In my research I was pleased to find that there’s a plethora of ideas on the Internet for the burgeoning home brewer to consider for their own dispensing system. If you’re inclined, there are plenty of off-the-shelf kegerators which are essentially modified mini-fridges which have room for the keg, CO2 bottle, keg connections, and the beer-dispensing tap, already assembled and waiting to be hooked up to your home brew.

In order to design my own beer-dispensing solution I decided to make a list of requirements and nice-to-haves in order to facilitate my shopping. I covered that list briefly in my previous blog too:

Requirements:

  • 4 total taps
    • 3 carbonated tap (for most beers)
    • 1 nitrogenated tap (for stouts like Guiness or nitrogenated cold-brew coffee)
  • Each tap capable of running at a unique pressure
  • Room for at least 4 Cornelius (aka “corny”) Kegs
  • Fits in my laundry room alongside the washer and dryer

Nice-to-Haves:

  • Dry-erase-marker-friendly surface
  • Doesn’t look too out of place alongside my washer and dryer
  • Avoid having to heavily modify the refrigerator/freezer.

What I found is that my requirements pretty much eliminated all of the off-the-shelf kegerators and practically put me up into the kinds of equipment you’d need if you wanted to open your own bar, which naturally carries a much heftier price tag.

Since I was delving off into something outside of my usual comfort zone, I was perfectly willing to buy a consumer-grade kegerator, but I just couldn’t find one that would meet my requirements. Because I wasn’t willing to compromise on those requirements, I decided instead that I’d build my own.

Kegerator vs. Keezer

Among DIYers, there are essentially two styles of DIY beer dispensing setups: kegerators and keezers. Just like a kegerator is built on top of refrigerator, a keezer is built on top of a freezer. Ultimately, I decided that the keezer was a better format for my purposes for a couple reasons. First, most refrigerators (especially those that would fit 4 corny kegs) were too tall to fit in the space that I had carved out inside the house. A chest freezer would be a much nicer fit. Second, a chest freezer appeared that it’d need much less modification than a refrigerator would require. As an added bonus, the chest freezer’s dimensions and layout were ideal for dropping the cornelius kegs down into.

Building my Keezer

One weekend not too long ago, I sat down at my computer and spent the entire day reading Home Brew forums gathering ideas from people who’ve built their own DIY keezers and placed what seems to be a dozen different orders from Amazon, who somewhat surprisingly had very competitive pricing and availability of the parts I’d need for a keezer. I halfway expected having to order a number of parts from a bunch of different websites, but that really didn’t wind up being the case.

What I wound up deciding to do is to build a collar, remove the lid from the chest freezer, affix the collar on top of the freezer, and then attach the freezer’s lid to the top of the collar. Ultimately, I’d drill holes for the taps and beer gas lines through the front of the collar.

Collar

Collar Parts:

The most important selection here was my choice of the melamine shelving, which we’d use to face the front and sides of the keezer. I picked the material because of melamine’s dry-erase-marker-friendly properties, as Pat captured in his blog article on building huge and inexpensive dry erase boards. We wound up using the 2x10” lumber to build a box that sat flush on the back of the keezer and left enough room on the front and sides for the melamine shelving. The melamine shelving was cut to run the length of each side with a “nice” uncut end facing the front of the keezer. The last piece of melamine shelving was cut to fit across the front of the keezer.

After test fitting the collar to the keezer many times, we were confident enough to use a healthy bead of silicone window caulk to attach the collar to the keezer. Once it was cured, the silicone was surprisingly sturdy and was holding the collar to the keezer quite well. However, we felt that the collar needed a bit more support to hold the collar in place.

The 2x4” pieces were used for two purposes: to hold the keezer in place on top of the freezer and the leftover 2x4” material was attached to the back side of the collar but still inside the collar for mounting some of the beer gas hardware. The legs were cut to length of the inside of the keezer and then we used the lag bolts to put a leg inside the keezer on two opposite corners. Originally, we planned to build 4 different legs to hold the collar in place, but after feeling how sturdy it was with the two legs and silicone we decided that four legs wouldn’t be necessary.

The freezer’s lid had a beveled edge to help guarantee a good seal when the freezer was closed. We emulated this on the keezer via the difference in height between the melamine shelving and the 2x10s used in the collar’s framing. But because we didn’t face all four sides with melamine shelving that left a gap on top of the collar on the backside of the keezer—a 1x2” was used to close that gap.

Finally throughout the collar’s build process, the lumber used for the collar framing and legs was coated on all sides in polyurethane to protect it from the conditions inside the keezer.


Test fitting the melamine shelving to the collar frame #1 Test fitting the melamine shelving to the collar frame #2 Test fitting the melamine shelving to the collar frame #3 Test fitting the freezer lid to the collar frame #1 Test fitting the freezer lid to the collar frame #2 Test fitting the collar frame to the freezer #1 Test fitting the collar frame to the freezer #2 Test fitting the collar frame to the freezer #3 Test fitting the collar frame to the freezer and lid #1 Test fitting the collar frame to the freezer and lid #2 Pat slopping polyurethane all over the collar frame #1 Pat slopping polyurethane all over the collar frame #2 Collar frame mostly coated in polyurethane #1 Collar frame mostly coated in polyurethane #2 Test fitting the melamine to the collar frame while on freezer #1 Test fitting the melamine to the collar frame while on freezer #2 Test fitting the melamine to the collar frame while on freezer #3 Test fitting the melamine to the collar frame while on freezer #4 Test fitting the melamine to the collar frame while on freezer #5 Melamine shelving screwed into collar frame #1 Melamine shelving screwed into collar frame #2 Melamine shelving screwed into collar frame with lid resting on top #1 Testing out the dry-erase marker on the melamine facing #1 Testing out the dry-erase marker on the melamine facing #2 A bead of silicone ready to hold the collar in place. Collar is attached to freezer with silicone #1 Collar is attached to freezer with silicone #2 Collar is attached to freezer with silicone #3 Close up on the collar's joints #1 Close up on the collar's joints #2 Close up on the collar's joints #3 Close up on the collar's joints #4 Lid is attached to the collar Rear view of freezer lid attached to collar Testing using the lid to ensure it's opening and closing nicely

Keezer

Keezer Parts:


All of the Keezer parts Beer Gas Tanks,  Secondary CO2 Regulator, Taps, Kegs and Clamps CO2 Regulator, Secondary CO2 Regulator, Nitrogen Regulator, and Kegs Ball Lock Keg Adapters, Keg Rebuild Kits, and Kegs Clamps, Taps, Handles and Tank Kegs, Beer Gas Tubing,  Beer Tubing, and miscellaneous brewing supplies Cleaner, Sanitizer, Beer Gas Tubing, and miscellaneous brewing supplies Secondary CO2 regulator CO2 Regulator and Nitrogen Regulator A mountain of boxes.

Surprisingly, putting together all of the beer-dispending equipment wound up being easy compared to building the collar. The hardest part of any of that, was getting some of the various hoses pushed onto their respective barbs. A bit of Keg Lube helped make that quite a bit less difficult. Ultimately, we wound up deciding to store both the CO2 tank and the Nitrogen Tank outside the keezer: the MFL Bulkhead 4” pieces were pushed through holes on the backside of the collar and then each end had barbed fittings installed on both ends. From the outside of the keezer the high-pressure hose was hooked up to the CO2 tank and Nitrogen tank.

Inside the keezer, the MFL bulkhead was connected to the secondary CO2 regulator. Continuing further on down, each of the three barbs on the secondary regulator were plumbed to separate Cornelius Kegs. Similarly, the nitrogen line’s MFL bulkhead was plumbed directly to the Cornelius Keg since there’s only one nitrogenated tap. All of the hoses used for this plumbing were done using 5/16” ID High Pressure Braided Clear Tubing and each end of hose was kept in place by hose clamps on both ends.

Continuing on, the kegs were connected to the barbed side of the shank assemblies for each of the different kind of faucets on the keg. Because stout beers are served at a higher pressure, a more heavy duty and purpose-built faucet was required.

The most problematic part of the keezer build-out wound up being the drip trays. When we were first building the collar, we meticulously measured the taps, drilled holes from them and then began discussing how to install the drip trays. Pat and I both decided that the drip trays would screw into the bottom of the collar and hang down flush with the bottom of the collar. That way, if the collar ever moved, the drip trays wouldn’t be in the way or accidentally get damaged. We measured about fourteen times and drilled holes to hold screws for hanging the drip tray from and proudly began assembling one of the faucets to admire our handiwork.

And that’s when we realized our mistake! We never even bothered considering how much room would be needed beneath the faucet for a glass to fit. As it was, a shot glass would barely fit between our drip tray and the bottom of the stout faucet. We were equally shocked, amused, and disappointed in our utter lack of planning. This snafu caused us to have to remove the melamine shelving from the front of the collar, replace it, and drill new holes for each of the faucet’s hardware to fit through. And after that, I still had no way to mount the drip tray.

My first thought was to just get some sheet metal screws and install the drip trays exactly as we intended before by drilling into the keezer (but this time, with enough room for some beer glasses!) but I got cold feet when I realized that the cooling filament of the freezer wrapped all around the back and front. In order to safely drill the holes, we’d need to use a field repair manual in order to determine exactly where those cooling tubes were located and then make sure to not hit them when drilling into the freezer. Furthermore, I wasn’t very excited about permanently altering the freezer if it could be avoided. After thinking about it for a few days and discussing with my friends and wife, my wife asked a brilliant question: Why not use magnets to hold the drip tray to the freezer? Thankfully Pat has had a stockpile of neodymium magnets that he salvaged from old computer hard drives squirreled away for an undefined project. Using some quick set J.B. Weld, I glued five of the magnets to each drip tray and let it cure overnight. The next morning, I set a drip tray underneath each set of faucet(s) and each held strongly to the front of the keezer. The magnets held the drip trays in place, but the weight of a glass on the drip tray would cause the tray to start sliding down the keezer. In order to avoid any accidents, I keep the drip trays down the keezer far enough that nobody would be tempted to place a glass on one when filling their glass.


Taps Installed #1 Taps Installed #2 Secondary CO2 Regulator Mounted #1 Secondary CO2 Regulator Mounted #2 Secondary CO2 Regulator Mounted #3 Affixing magnets to drip trays Drip Trays Mounted #1 Drip Trays Mounted #2 Drip Trays Mounted #3 Plumbing the kegs, taps and gas connections #1 Plumbing the kegs, taps and gas connections #2 Setting different pressures on the Secondary CO2 Regulator #1 Setting different pressures on the Secondary CO2 Regulator #2 Testing the taps,  doesn't that beer look funny? Relocating the beer gas to come from outside the Keezer Completed Keezer – Taps and Drip Trays #1 Completed Keezer – Taps and Drip Trays #2 Completed Keezer – Kegs and Plumbing #1 Completed Keezer – Kegs and Plumbing #2 (and my toes) Completed Keezer – Kegs and Plumbing #3 Completed Keezer – Kegs and Plumbing #4 Completed Keezer – Kegs and Plumbing #5 (notice the different pressures) Completed Keezer – CO2 Taps and Plumbing Completed Keezer – Beer Gas Tanks before being Tucked Away Completed Keezer – Nitrogen Tap and Drip Tray Completed Keezer – CO2 Taps and Drip Tray Completed Keezer – Drip Tray Completed Keezer

Post Keezer Build Thoughts and What I’d do Differently

Overall, I’m estatic with how my DIY Keezer turned out. Its feature-set far exceeds the things that I found in the available consumer-level kegerators. About the closest thing I could find to my keezer were things like the Turbo Air TBD-4SB and even then, I’m not sure if it allows for two different kinds of beer gasses like mine does. It’s a product intended for commercial use inside restaurants and it carries an astronomical price tag of over $3800. Altogether my keezer cost me right around $1250 and quite a few hours of our time—that’s less than 33% of the cost of the similar commercial product.

One of the things I was worried about was leakage of the cold air through the construction of the keezer’s collar. I had been prepared to go absolutely bonkers with my silicone caulk to seal up every little potential gap on the collar as well as considering buying some sort of spray-on insulation or insulated board to line the inside of the collar with. However, once the keezer got down to my desired temperature (34 degrees Fahrenheit), I felt all around the outside edges and seams of the collar to feel if I was being chilled by cold air escaping. But it felt exactly like everything in the room around it. I feel pretty confident that additional insulation simply isn’t necessary.

I started writing this blog a couple days after we finished putting it all together and here are some things I’d do differently if I were starting all over from scratch again:

  • Think a little bit harder before drilling holes in things to hang accessories like drip trays.
  • Consider building a shorter collar. This because I’ve found that hoisting kegs in and out of the keezer is a bit more difficult than I would’ve liked it be.
  • Or instead of a shorter collar, attach the collar to the lid instead of the freezer. That way opening the lid would move the collar out of the way.
  • Buy an additional drip tray. The one drip tray is not enough to cover all three of the carbonated taps.
  • For the beer gas (CO2 or Nitrogen) include: a tee-fitting, some extra tubing, and an additional set of Ball Lock adapters for Corny Kegs. This would allow for the carbonation of additional keg(s) without having to remove a keg that’s already on tap.

So far it’s a pretty short list but since completing the keezer a couple weeks ago it’s grown slightly. None of the above are deal breakers, and I’ve already taken steps to eliminate one of them buy picking up a third drip tray. It’s interesting how when you do a DIY project, you’re already thinking of things you would’ve done differently. Had I just bought something from the store, I think I’d probably be more accepting of its weaknesses, but when it is a product of your own labor you’re way more critical of it. That’s especially funny in this case because my keezer is already so much better than what I found online.

Don’t get me wrong though, I love this thing. I’ve showed it off to anybody who has come by the house. I keep waiting for one of the delivery people to make a comment about all the beer stuff I’ve had delivered lately, I’d invite them in and show them what we made. I’d even pour them a club soda or a nitrogenated coffee, or if they wanted to come back in when they’re off the clock, the could have a pint of my first batch of homebrewed beer!

Kegging “The Mexican”

Ultimately, my fermenting and clarifying batch of beer from the Brewterus was our primary motivation for completing the keezer. The same night we finished the keezer, we were scheduled to keg this beer. After the assembly of the keezer, we cleaned the kegs, sanitized them and left a little sanitizer in each keg. We pressurized the kegs with CO2 and when we felt confident there weren’t any CO2/Nitrogen leaks, we ran that sanitizer through the faucets looking for leaks along the way.

Once we were confident in the plumbing and that everything was sanitized, we transferred ‘The Mexican’ from each of the five-gallon glass carboys into two of my corny kegs. According to the recipe, we were aiming for a carbonation level of 2.50-2.80, so using one of the calculators out there we determined that would be anywhere between 9 psi to 12 psi. Since there were two taps free in my keezer, I wound up setting one keg to 9 psi and the other to 12 psi.

This recipe is supposed to be a Dos Equis tribute, I’ve tried it before but I’m not real familiar with the style. But, as far as I’m concerned, I think what we’ve made sure tastes pretty good. I think that I’m a little disappointed with the lack of head the beer poured at both 9 and 12 psi. I’m going to consult my home brew oracle, but I’m guessing I should probably up the carbon dioxide pressure a bit to get what I think is missing. Even without the head, the beer’s carbonation level seems fine, and most importantly it tastes quite delicious.


Siphoning the beeer from the carboy to the Keg Pat's really excited about the siphoning Pat's really excited about the siphoning, plus he's lit better! More siphon action Slowly filling the keg. Close up of the keg's mouth Nearing the end of the keg,  don't want any of the sediment! The Mexican,  Pre Carbonation #1 The Mexican,  Pre Carbonation #2 The Mexican – 9 PSI #1 The Mexican – 9 PSI #1 The Mexican – 12 PSI #1 The Mexican – 12 PSI #2 The Mexican – 9 and 12 PSI #1 The Mexican – 9 and 12 PSI #2

I found Sixth barrel kegs (approx 5.0 gallons) starting around $92.00 for Dos Equis. My cost was $60 cheaper due to the monthly rental fee of $30 in the Brew of the Month club from TheLab.ms for members. Now all I need to do is drink (with help from friends and family, of course!) 20 corny kegs’ worth of beer. 100 gallons of beer comes out to be about 1,066 cans of beer—it might be a while before it will have paid for itself!

Movember: 2015

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It is that time of year again, Movember is upon us! During the month of November men shave their faces and grow mustaches in order to raise awareness and hopefully a few dollars towards men’s health issues.

It’s also an excellent time for me to take part in one of my favorite past-times, self deprecating humor—there’s very little that I enjoy more than poking fun at myself! Last year I took Movember to the nth degree, in addition to offering to match dollar-for-dollar the first $500 raised, I also said I’d keep my mustache for an entire calendar year, which I have. Leading up to the 1st, I was both excited to get this thing off of my face and a little bit petrified about how weird I’ll look without the mustache. Please keep in mind, I look weird with the mustache too, it’s just a different kind of weird.

This year, I’ve set a goal of raising $1,000 dollars before my contribution. I’ve also decided to match donations again but instead of matching up to $500, I’m going to match all the way up to $1000! When donating to my Movember page your donation will likely be twice as effective! It’s practically a no-brainer! Simply follow this link to my Movember 2015 page and make a donation!

For those of you unfamiliar with Movember, here are the rules:

  1. Once registered at Movember.com, each Mo Bro must begin the 1st of Movember with a clean-shaven face.
  2. For the entire month of Movember each Mo Bro must grow and groom a mustache.
  3. There is to be no joining of the Mo to your side burns. (That’s considered a beard)
  4. There is to be no joining of the handlebars to your chin. (That’s considered a goatee)
  5. Each Mo Bro must conduct himself like a true country gentleman.

Pretty easy rules, I think. Well all for number five, that always gives me fits!

Because I need all the help I can get, I literally shaved and took my first picture at 12:00 a.m. Here’s what the starting point looks like!

 
Before
 
After
 
     

Progress

Moving forward, I’ll take a daily photo and post updates (at least once a week) along the way. If you donated, please feel free to leave a note in the comments and mock my inability to grow facial hair. As a perk, I’ll personally thank you for your mocking.

Week One

Week one’s in the books, my progress is meager but steady. There’s a hint of nonsense on my upper lip, which either matches or exceeds my expectations. I suppose that’s the beauty of low expectations. The first week also so a total of $120 donated to the Movember cause, which is definitely more than I would’ve predicted. Let’s keep growing!


Day #1 of mustache growth Day #2 of mustache growth Day #3 of mustache growth Day #4 of mustache growth Day #5 of mustache growth Day #6 of mustache growth Day #7 of mustache growth

Week Two

Week two moved along at a pretty lethargic pace. There were two highlights of week two; I experimented with both dark and bright clothing to try and create contrast in order to accentuate my growth atop my upper lip and I’m pretty sure I got a compliment from one of my superiors at work on my progress. I studied him carefully post-compliment and detected no hint of stifled laughter — a very promising sign!


Day #8 of mustache growth Day #9 of mustache growth Day #10 of mustache growth Day #11 of mustache growth Day #12 of mustache growth Day #13 of mustache growth Day #14 of mustache growth

Week Three

Three weeks in and there’s a significant mustache burgeoning atop of my upper lip! In fact, halfway through the week I was annoyed to realize that the mustache had grown long enough that it was poking my lower lip when I pursed my lips whilst scowling at things; a frequent happening whenever I’m working on something or deep in thought. Having to break out the trimmer during week three was an unexpected surprise!


Day #15 of mustache growth Day #16 of mustache growth Day #17 of mustache growth Day #18 of mustache growth Day #19 of mustache growth Day #20 of mustache growth Day #21 of mustache growth

Final Week (or so)

The Movember wheels came off a bit due to the Thanksgiving holiday, an onset of crummy weather, and most importantly due to me getting sick. I’m barely photogenic as it is already, subjecting my readers to an unwashed, snotty, tired, and disheveled shell of myself seemed cruel and unusual. During those days, I stopped with my daily photos and mostly. Thankfully none of these factors can stop the growth of my mustache. By the end of the month, it’d grown back to all of its glory!


Day #26 of mustache growth Day #27 of mustache growth Day #28 of mustache growth Day #29 of mustache growth

Donations

Thanks a million to everyone who’s donated so far. As the month draws to an end, I’ll make my matching contribution. All together, we raised $240 for the Movember charity!

  • Julia Moses ($20)
  • Karen Moses ($100)
  • Brian’s Blog ($120)

Friends’ Movember Pages

I’m not the only Mo out here (both figuratively and literally). I’d love to spread the Movember attention around to the rest of you participating. Go ahead and leave a comment, send me an e-mail, or order up a singing telegram with your Movember page and I’ll share it here!

Release the Brewterus!

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I’m a big fan of beer—a really big fan. I’m also a fan of things that I can do myself with a little help from my friends and the Internet. Pat and I recently joined TheLab.ms, which is a Plano-area makerspace. One of TheLab.ms’ more interesting programs to me is their Brew of the Month program and it was a big reason that convinced me to join the group. Essentially, members of the TheLab.ms are invited on a monthly basis to come out and participate in brewing some beer and for a pretty meager fee, members of TheLab.ms are welcome to rent equipment and brew their own beer.

Over the past three or four months, we’ve lurked at the Brew of the Month events and partaken of the prior months’ beers as they’ve been kegged and made ready to serve. Having enjoyed observing the process almost as much as I enjoyed its outputs, I knew this was something that I wanted to get involved in. About a month ago, I decided that I’d go hog wild and start down the home-brewing path myself.

To Keg or To Bottle?

This was one of the first questions I asked myself, did I want to bottle my beer or did I want to put it inside a keg? From what I understand, at the end of the fermentation process you bottle all of your brewed. Fermentation continues (at a greatly reduced amount) due to some sugar that you place in each bottle, which results in the bottle becoming carbonated. The advantages of bottling seemed to be a lower up-front cost and portability, which meant sharing my beer with others — like my softball team on Friday nights. However, bottling sounded pretty repetitive. With both Pat and I brewing, we’d have up to 10 gallons each month of beer to bottle. The typical beer bottle here in the US is 12 ounces and there are 128 ounces in a gallon, so that’s a total of 1280 ounces each month needing bottling—that’d be over 100 bottles every month!

Kegging on the other hand had its own advantages and disadvantages. If you’re an American then you expect your beers to be served ice cold, which means you’d need to find a way to store and serve them that way. I’ve even been able to experience Oktoberfest in person and drink beer brewed to the German Beer Purity Law in all of its glory. At room temperature it’s wonderful and delicious, but it’s still my preference that beer is served ice cold. I hope I get the chance to brew a beer according to the German Beer Purity law and that beer will definitely be served at room temperature for authenticity’s sake!

The primary problem with this is that kegs are big and there’s not any room in a typical household to keep them cold. This is typically solved by something like Kegerator, which in short is a smaller refrigerator converted to serve kegs of beer from. If you clicked the Kegerator link, it should be apparent what the drawbacks of this approach are: cost and real estate. Eliminating the inconvenience of bottling is an expensive proposition!

Ultimately, I decided that I would keg the beers that we brewed at TheLab.ms’ Brew of the Month events. Because variety is “the spice of life,” and because I’m anticipating that I’m not going to be able to drink 10 gallons of beer every month all on my own, my Kegerator was going to need to support more than just 1 or 2 taps like the less-expensive kegerators can handle. Ultimately, I decided my kegerator was going to need to accommodate the following:

  • 4 taps.
    • 3 carbonated for most beers
    • 1 nitrogenated for stouts like Guiness or nitrogenated cold-brew coffee.
  • Each tap capable of running at a unique pressure.
  • Room for at least 4 Cornelius (aka “corny”) Kegs

Of the “off-the-shelf” kegerators I found, I couldn’t find a single one that matched my requirements. And the ones that got close to my requirements were all pretty expensive. Based on their prices and the fact none of the ones I saw met my requirements, I’ve decided that I’ll build my own. Because I made all of these decisions literally the days leading up to my first brew, I spent the weekend researching an ordering parts I’d need to build my kegerator — sure to be a topic of a future blog in the next one or two months!

The Brewterus

My followers on the various social media platforms have probably noticed I’ve been babbling quite a bit about my “Brewterus.” Those of you that haven’t (and probably some that have) are probably asking yourself: “WTF is a Brewterus?” The answer is a bit silly, which is why I like the name so much. The Brewterus is a name for my fermentation chamber, essentially a brew uterus. Once the beer is brewed, I needed to have a temperature-controlled space to ferment the beer. Different recipes call for different temperatures for fermentation which typically takes roughly 3-4 weeks. As I understand it, the different yeasts used in brewing behave differently under different temperatures, and if the recipe calls for it, it’s a requirement to be able to manipulate the temperature at which your brew is fermenting.

Essentially, this means in addition to the kegerator, I’d need a second temperature-controlled space, capable of holding at least two 6.5-gallon containers of fermenting beer. Based on my research (Googling), the temperature-controlled space can be accomplished in a number of ways: swamp coolers, cool basements, via buckets of ice, and temperature-controlled fridges or freezers.


7.1 cu/ft freezer 7.1 cu/ft freezer – in the garage STC-1000 Temperature Controller Parts for the DIY Temperature Controller Testing our Wiring DIY Controller Begins Regulation of Temperature Temperature Logging #1 Temperature Logging #2


Because I couldn’t devote half of the kitchen or living room to brewing, I decided whatever approach I took, it needed to work out in the garage. In the past I’ve set up an air conditioner in my garage, but I doubt very much that it is capable of lowering the temperature of the entire garage down to something that’d allow the beer to ferment. Even if it could, it didn’t make any sense to spend the money cooling my entire garage, especially during the ridiculous summers we have in Texas.

My solution? A 7.1 cu/ft chest freezer that I picked up off of Craigslist. Please note that mine has a different brand name but it is literally identical to the one in this link, the only difference being the name brand, I have a strong hunch that these two freezers likely came off the same assembly line. In addition to that, I built a DIY temperature control which enabled me to set a temperature and maintain it to facilitate fermentation.

DIY Temperature Control Unit

There are some food-grade temperature control units out there like the Johnson Controls Digital Thermostat Control Unit but it felt a little expensive at $70. Especially after I found these blogs (listed below) from other home-brewing enthusiasts who all built their own DIY Temperature Control units. Their DIY temperature control units were both dual stage and cost much less than $40 in parts. Ultimately, I’d need two of these control units (one for the Brewterus and an additional one for the kegerator) so spending as little around $25 per DIY unit wound up saving me almost $100 compared to the other temperature-control units I looked at. Here are the few blogs I found most helpful in building my temperature control unit:

There are a couple differences in my own DIY dual-stage temperature controller from the ones above, but they’re pretty minor:

  1. Instead of modifying a power extension cable and wiring it directly to the STC-1000 to power the device, I bought a power inlet which would work with a PC-power cable. I have lots of PC power cables lying around the house.
  2. Rather than using a standard outlet for the heating/cooling plugs, I used a couple 3-pin power sockets.
  3. Pat is in the process designing and 3D-printing my own custom project box for holding the STC-1000 and various outlets. But while Pat was working on designing and 3D-printing the box, I temporarily used a black project box to hold my prototype.

With the prototype assembled, I hooked the freezer into the cooling side of the STC-1000 on my project box. For the time being, I haven’t put anything in the Brewterus for heating. I expect that the garage will remain warm enough to keep the Brewterus at the programmed temperature.

After that, I wound up filling up a 32oz cup full of sanitized water and submerged the STC-1000’s temperature sensor in that water. I did this because what I’m interested in is the temperature of the beer and not the air in the brewterus. However, I am curious about what the various temperatures are inside the Brewterus, so I also picked up an inexpensive thermometer as well as a temperature logger too. Because the temperature logger did not appear to be water-resistant, I taped it to the side of one of the fermentation buckets and rotated the bucket so that the logger was between both buckets. Because plastic isn’t a great conductor, I expect that the data pulled down by the logger will wind up being a bit warmer than the temperature inside the buckets, but I think it’ll be close enough for me to decide if I need to tweak the temperature setting on the STC-1000 and to also show whether or not I actually need to add a heat source to the Brewterus.

I pulled the temperature logger out of the Brewterus just a couple hours shy of having it in there for 3 days and based on the summary data from the temperature logger, I’m pretty happy how the DIY temperature control unit is performing. According to the recipe of the current beer, I should be fermenting at 54 degrees Fahrenheit for the first two weeks. Per the data logger, the average temperature over those three days was 53.9 degrees Fahrenheit and the raw data was even more exciting:


According to the graphed data, the DIY Temperature Control unit seems to be working as well as I had hoped. Despite many people saying that it’d work just fine, I was concerned that the freezer I purchased would be too cold to control the temperature tightly; I expected that it’d cool far past the point that I set and spend a lot of time warming back up to the correct temperature. These concerns are what led me to buy the temperature logger, but seeing the data that it has spit out has given me quite a bit of peace of mind. Temperatures seem to be hovering right where I have the temperature control unit set at. I’ll probably continue to use the temperature logger to keep an eye on how things are inside the Brewterus and check it on a periodic basis.

Next Up? The Keezer

I really liked the chest freezer I used in the Breweterus, and I discovered that they’re sold at Lowe’s, so I picked one up to use for my kegerator, or more accurately a “keezer.”“ All this week, parts for my keezer have been showing up from Amazon; every day’s been a bit like Christmas! In my upcoming brewing blogs, I’ll talk about the parts I picked, share my thoughts on assembling the keezer, talk about getting the beer into the keg, and finally talk about how well the first few frosty beverages tasted out of the tap!


An assortment of boxes from shipments. All the Keezer parts CO2 and Nitrogen Tanks, Taps, and Clamps Corny Kegs, Secondary CO2 Regulator, and Primary CO2/Nitrogen Regulators Clamps, Taps, Handles, and Tanks Corny Kegs, Gaskets, and Ball Tap Adapters Some Random Homebrew parts and supplies Primary CO2 and Nitrogen Regulators Secondary CO2 Regulator Supplies and Hoses


We Simply Don’t Have Enough Power, Brian!

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Do you know one of the things that’s great about all of these devices that charge via USB? Travelling! A decade ago, anytime I had to travel I was stuck making sure I had a handful of different power supplies packed in order to keep devices charged and all of those power adapters were device-specific. In the current day, considering our number of different devices, I’d need the airlines to allow me to bring a third carry-on item of all my different toys! Thankfully, I can usually get away with a single AC adapter to charge my various devices.

But at home, it’s a bit of a different story. I’ve literally got AC adapters scattered throughout the house: in the bathroom, in the bedroom, next to the couch in the TV room and near the computer. And in some of those places, there are more than one or two adapters capable of charging devices. All of this is fine and dandy, until everybody has a device which needs charging. It’s a bit of a first-world problem, but it’s a modern inconvenience nonetheless. A few times I’ve wondered out loud to myself: Why hasn’t someone created a power strip for charging USB devices?

The answer to that first-world problem? The gofanco® 7-Port USB Charging Station (specs) — exactly what I had wondered. A 7-port USB power strip for all of your mobile devices. I’d finally be able to charge my iPad Air, Nexus 6, Dexcom G4 CGM, Fitbit Flex and Kindle Paperwhite at exactly the same time without having to use up more than one power outlet. And even then, I’d have two spare ports for any of Julia’s devices or for any visitor.

I recognized the goFanco brand from an adapter that I needed for my QNIX 2710 monitors. My positive experience with that device encouraged me to go ahead and give the 7-Port USB Charging Station a try after seeing that it was priced extremely competitively with similar products I found on Amazon. On top of ordering the gofanco® 7-Port USB Charging Station, I purchased six StarTech.com 6 inch Micro USB cables and an AmazonBasics 4” Apple Certified USB-to Lighting cable. The AmazonBasics 4” Lightning cable wound up being a bit too short to reach the tablet and I remembered that my glucometer charges via plugging directly into a USB port, so I also bought a couple Mediabridge USB 2.0 – USB Extension cables to allow me to charge those two devices. I decided on the shorter cables because I didn’t want a bunch of loose USB cables ruining my cable management system that I’d set up earlier this year.

Immediately out of the box, I was most impressed with something unexpected on the gofanco® 7-Port USB Charging Station. It wasn’t the abundance of USB ports, the dedicated power switch, or anything else I found on the product’s specification page — it was rubber! Specifically, the rubber feet on the bottom of the charging station. The rubber kept it in one place on my computer desk; picking up and removing devices from the charging station didn’t cause it to move one bit. Furthermore, that same rubber lines both borders of the stations “slots” to hold your devices, which keeps the devices from sliding when they’re left in the station or accidentally brushed up against.


In the box. Unboxed #1 Unboxed #2 Charging station from the front. Charging station from the side Placed at my desk #1 Placed at my desk #2 Loaded up with 7 devices #1 Loaded up with 7 devices #2 Loaded up with 7 devices #3


Update (9/28/15): Corrected an assumption that I made about the charging unit after gofanco® contacted me, I originally had said that devices like my iPad Air and Nexus 6 could not charge at 2 amps or higher, which was incorrect on my part!

One of the things I especially appreciate about the gofanco® 7-Port USB Charging Station is the fact that it supports charging at 2.1 amps (for theiPad Air) and 2 amps (for the Nexus 6). Based on what gofanco® explained to me earlier today, its Smart IC will allocate the maximum amperage allowed to the devices requesting it. However, it’s also my understanding that it’s not possible to charge 7 different 2.1 amp devices all at once, but as long as the unit isn’t going over its total allowed output of 65 watts it will continue to charge devices at the devices’ maximum capabilities.

Altogether, I’m really pleased with the gofanco® 7-Port USB Charging Station. It’s found a permanent home here on at my computer desk and to me, that’s some pretty valuable real estate. I appreciate having one place to set a device down and charge it up, rather than taking it to any of the dozens of AC adapters or USB ports around the house.

Brian’s 2015 Gaming Rig

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It’s been a very long time since my last computer upgrade, almost three whole years! It’s been long enough since I built that computer that when I finally decided to upgrade, it made more sense to build a new computer than to try and piecemeal upgrade of my existing PC. Based on what I was wanting to do, I thought that it was a bit beyond the capabilities of my old motherboard and CPU to pull off.

On the flip side, that meant I would wind up having a whole extra computer here that could be used to upgrade or replace my wife’s old computer. In the three years I’d owned the computer, I wound up needing to RMA the Crucial m4 256GB SSD. During that process I decided to just go ahead and upgrade to a Crucial M550 512GB SSD. On top of that the AMD FX-8350 Black Edition has aged pretty well. Overall, my old computer was going to be a rather nice upgrade for Julia.

Bang-for-Buck vs. Bleeding Edge Performance

Typically in my builds in the past, I’ve made attempts to get as much performance out of as few dollars as possible, although I usually splurged on an item or two to make sure my new computer wasn’t too pedestrian. So far I’ve been very happy with this approach and the fact that my current computer has almost made it to 3 years old is a testament to how well that plan has worked for me so far. However, in looking at some Geekbench scores for CPUs I began to worry that this approach wasn’t going to produce results that I’d be very happy with this time around.

For this upgrade, I allowed my impulsive side to abduct, hog-tie, and stash my frugal side in the basement. I ultimately decided to build a pretty high-end machine, especially by my previous standards.

Hardware

Case and Power Supply

I used a couple random power-supply calculators and the rest of my hardware specifications to decide that I’d probably want somewhere in the range 600-700 watts of power for the hardware I was considering. In addition to that, the GeForce 980Ti video card I wound up picking had two 8-pin power connectors. After some trials and tribulations (more on that later), I wound up deciding that I wanted a bit more total wattage than what was being recommended, that I wanted the power supply to be modular, and I wanted to have at least two separate 12 volt rails for powering the video card. This led me to pick the Raidmax Vampire RX-800GH (specs) as my power supply.

Even though it gets hidden underneath my desk, I wanted a pretty simple case without all the angles and LEDs you see in so many popular cases. Enter the Fractal Design Define R4 case (specs), a case built satisfying exactly those needs. Among my favorite features of the case is the perpendicular position of the hard drive bays which allow for much neater and easier access to the drive bays. The fact that this case holds up to 12 total hard drives has tempted me in the past to use for it for one of my DIY NAS blogs, but its price and size has usually been a bit too big for my NAS-preferences. There is quite a bit of sound dampening material inside the case to try and keep things as whisper-quiet as possible. About the only complaint that I had about the case is that its “Two Extra 2.5in. SSD Positions” are pretty useless. They’re located on the flipside of the motherboard plate and in order to mount a drive in those positions you’d have to install them before the motherboard. In all of my experience building PCs, the last thing I’ve always put in are the hard drives, which meant by the time I got to mounting my storage I couldn’t access those two positions any more. Furthermore, what happens if your SSD fails or needs to be upgraded? If you used one of those two positions, you’d have to remove your motherboard in order to replace the SSDs!

Storage

Based off of my experience with my prior computer upgrade in 2012 I already knew I was going to be using a SSD manufactured by Crucial. I actually wound up buying nearly the same SSD that I was already using in my current PC (after an RMA); the Crucial 512GB MX100 SSD (specs). For this new PC, I wanted to increase the redundancy and reliability by a bit, so I wound up ordering two SSDs which I’d use in RAID1 configuration using either the software RAID built on the motherboard itself.

Video Card

The video card wound up being the easiest (or most difficult) item to choose. I knew that I wanted an nVidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti video card for my machine, but I was also using Dual QNIX 2710 27” LED monitors which have DVI-D connections only. I’ve had luck using a DisplayPort adapter with my work laptop, but there are some noticeable artifacts occasionally. It’s fine when I’m doing some working from home, but it’d be a huge distraction on my personal PC. Keeping that in mind, I went out hunting for GTX 980 Ti video cards which had two DVI-D ports and found only one: the Gigabyte GeForce GV-N98TG1 GAMING-6GD (specs). Only having one option sure made picking out the best one for me an easy decision, albeit not a very inexpensive one!

CPU, RAM and Motherboard

Ultimately, the CPU is what drove all of the remaining decision points. While I wanted to build a powerful new desktop machine, I didn’t want to go so far out on the bleeding edge that it really became painful to my wallet. I knew that I wanted an LGA 2011-v3 so I picked out the Intel® Core™ i7-5820K Processor (specs). As an added bonus some of my research seems to suggest that its a particularly overclock-able CPU. Which essentially left me with three viable upgrade options down the road: by overclocking, by replacing the CPU, or by both!

DDR4 is the supported type of RAM type for the LGA 2011-v3 CPUs, of which I hadn’t collected a stick yet. Every now and then, I like to save a few bucks by supplementing RAM from a prior machine with additional RAM of the same type to achieve a higher amount of total RAM, despite the fact there are usually faster supported speeds. Intel’s specification sheet for the i7 5820k CPU had 2133Mhz listed as the fastest supported memory type. The Corsair Vengeance LPX 32GB (4 x 8GB) DDR4 DRAM 2666MHz C16 kit (specs) had a base speed of 2133Mhz and a tested speed of 2666Mhz and seemed to be priced well amongst the DDR4 memory that’s out on the market.

I wound up digging through quite a few Intel X99 chipset motherboard reviews and thought I’d found a motherboard priced pretty competitively with a pretty awesome suite of features. But that motherboard wound up getting replaced (much more on that later) by the ASUS TUF Sabertooth X99 (specs). Ultimately, I decided that a couple of the features of the Sabertooth X99 were right up my alley. Especially the “TUF Fortifier” which adds rigidity to the motherboard and really helped support the full-length Gigabyte GeForce GV-N98TG1 which is also quite heavy for a video card. An added feature that I liked of the motherboard was that plastic covers were included for just about every feature on the motherboard to protect unused DIMM Slots, PCI-e slots, SATA connectors, etc… from dust. It also didn’t hurt that I was routinely seeing the ASUS TUF Sabertooth X99 at the tops of Intel X99 motherboard round-up reviews and reading that people were getting good results when overclocking their CPUs with the motherboard.

Assembly Challenges

Normally at this point in a blog like this, I’d have a couple nice galleries of pictures to show off, featuring the pictures of the parts and step-by-step photos of the computer’s assembly. But this time around, fate had something completely different in mind for me.

For those of you that follow me closely on Twitter, you already know that I had some initial problems after putting the hardware together. The computer was very unstable with frequent BSODs and unresponsiveness; especially while playing games. I thought that the video card may be to blame, and after swapping my new video card with my old video card, it sure seemed like it. But then the new video card didn’t have any issues in my old PC either. Unfortunately, I couldn’t swap out any other components between machines since this is my first LGA2011-3 CPU and first set of DDR4 DIMMs. However, I was pretty confident in the RAM because it went through numerous passes in Memtest86+ without any issues.

Based on my gut feeling and because I wasn’t crazy about powering the Gigabyte GeForce GV-N98TG1 6GB PCiE Video Card entirely off the same 12 volt rail, my first step was to go ahead and replace the power supply that I had selected. The issues were just random enough and I didn’t care for the fact that my original power supply was powering the video card solely off the same 12V rail. I decided my easiest step would be my first — pick a new power supply. That’s how I arrived at putting the Raidmax Vampire 800W RX-800GH in the computer. Unfortunately, this did not solve my instability issues. Which wasn’t a huge deal at the rate I’m building computers (especially DIY NAS machines); I’d have use for the previous power supply in no time.

After failing to solve the problem with a new power supply, I decided to try the motherboard next because it was the biggest pain in the neck to swap out. I had originally selected the ASRock ATX DDR4 X99 EXTREME4 primarily after having a great experience with different ASRock motherboards in my NAS blogs, especially the DIY NAS: 2015 Edition. But after beating my head against the rock trying to solve whatever issues plagued the ASRock motherboard and not getting any response from their technical support team, I eventually decided to spend a few dollars more and replace it with the ASUS TUF Sabertooth X99.

Once I’d replaced the motherboard, I figured I’d repeat some of my burn-in tests in the same order and that’s when I found out that my “gut feel” had been all wrong for this issue. While running the very first pass in Memtest86+, many errors were captured by memtest. Which was equal parts disappointing and relieving. It was a relief because after testing each DIMM one-by-one, I determined that there was a particular DIMM that would not pass Memtest86+ under any circumstances. But it was disappointing both because it hadn’t been caught the first time through on a different motherboard and it was especially frustrating since it meant I then needed to exchange a third component of the hardware.

Ultimately, I wound up swapping three different components than the ones I originally ordered. I’m a little disappointed that some of my gut feelings hadn’t proven to be more accurate, but I’m glad that once I upgraded the motherboard, it helped me determine exactly what the issue is. The worst lingering effect was that I had a bunch of photos that I couldn’t use with this blog.

Burn In

Before I considered my new machine “worthy” of being my primary desktop, I essentially put it through a number of steps. It’d have to pass each of these with flying colors before I used it:

  1. At least 3 error-free passes in Memtest86+.
  2. At least 12 hours of Prime95’s torture test.
  3. Problem-free runs of my favorite benchmarks (Geekbench, 3DMark Vantage, 3DMark Advanced, PCMark Vantage, PCMark 8)

Thankfully, after finally getting four good sticks of RAM in the machines, it survived/passed all of the above without any issues.

Benchmarks

For apples-to-apples comparisons, I installed the same benchmarking utilities I used two years ago: Geekbench, 3DMark Vantage, and PCMark Vantage and ran them on the new computer. On top of that, I wound also updating to latest version of both 3DMark and PCMark to use as a baseline for any upgrading/overlocking/tweaking that I wind up doing in the future.

A quick note on the graphs below, if I didn’t have a particular benchmark for a computer (especially my old, old computer) then I just left its value as zero on the charts. The performance of my older PCs is certainly less than my newer ones, but it wasn’t that bad!

Butt Dyno

If you’re a car guy like me, you’re familiar with the term “Butt Dyno” but for everything else the butt dyno is an unscientific way of measuring the increase in performance to car after some upgrades. Once you upgrade into the car, you hop in the driver seat and take it for a spin. How the upgrade winds up feeling the first time you experience it is more or less the cognitive dissonance of the car’s performance after the upgrade. It also works pretty well with computers; after a major upgrade like this one I’d expect that everything I do on the computer feel faster and smoother.

Which is exactly what I experienced with this PC. It was a bit difficult for me to gauge some of the differences, since I’d moved from Windows 7 to Windows 10 in the process. But within the games I spend quite a few hours playing, the difference was pretty evident. Especially in multiplayer games, my prior computer would begin to bog down the more objects there were on the screen and even start dropping frames.

Geekbench

In my prior blog’s benchmarks I’d only run the “free” versions of both Geekbench 2 and Geekbench 3, which is the 32-bit version. This year, I decided to go ahead and purchase Geekbench 3 so that I could get both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions to see if there was much of a difference. I also did two sets of tests, one with the RAM set at it’s conservative default of 2133MHz and a second at the 2666MHz the RAM is advertised at.

With the RAM set at 2133 MHz, I managed to score 14725 in the Geekbench 2 32-bit, 19074 in Geekbench 3 32-bit, and 20070 in Geekbench 3 64 bit. When bumping the RAM up to 2666 MHz, I saw a performance jump anywhere between 5.03% and 6.47% and scored 15465 (5.03%) in Geekbench 2 32-bit, 20280 (6.32%) in Geekbench 3 32-bit, and 21368 (6.47%) in Geekbench 3 64-bit.

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3DMark / PCMark

3DMark and PCMark were a bit problematic, as there have been new versions and releases over the years since my last upgrade. Which meant just installing the latest versions wouldn’t give me very good data for an apples-to-apples comparison to past benchmarks. So I decided to also install the “old” versions (3DMark Vantage and PCMark Vantage) in addition to the latest version of each. Based off the results and the data out there for similar computers, I’m a little disappointed in my numbers out of the default tests. Compared to my prior PC there’s a very good performance bump as well as some room for improvement with some further tweaking.

Like with the Geekbench tests, I saw a bump when running the RAM at 2666MHz. In 3DMark Vantage I scored P46769 and 15303 on the latest 3DMark Firestrike test with the RAM at 2133MHz. Setting the RAM to run at 2666MHz saw an increase in performance between 3.43% and 7.37% with 3DMark Vantage scoring P50215 (7.37% better) and 3DMark Firestrike scoring 15828 (3.43% better)

While at 2133MHz PCMark Vantage’s score came in at 20356 and in PCMark 8’s two tests I scored 3856 on the conventional test and 4065 on the accelerated test. With the RAM set to 2666MHz, I saw gains in each test but they were pretty meager coming in between 1.58% higher and 6.2%. At 2666MHz I scored 21635 in PCMark Vantage (6.28% higher), 3917 on the PC Mark 8 Conventional test (1.58% higher), and 4159 on the PC Mark 8 Accelerated test (2.31% higher).

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Disk

Back in 2012, I made the switch from a platter hard drive to a solid state disk. I was pretty excited then about the performance increase related to using a SSD, which is pretty evident in that blog’s graphs. But for this upgrade, I wasn’t all that interested in seeing the marginal performance increase from my Crucial m4 256GB 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive to my Crucial 512GB MX100 SSD. However, that being said I think I should get a bit of a boost in performance from the newer generation of SSDs and from the fact that a RAID-1 configuration should have some modest performance gains in reads. But I didn’t really feel the need to try and measure that boost in performance. Until we experience another leap in performance like we did as we started using SSDs instead of platter drives, I probably won’t be doing any benchmarks of my storage devices.

Conclusion

This was a pretty problematic upgrade due to the bad RAM and/or motherboard I experienced early on. I’m the first of my close friends to upgrade to an LGA 2011-3 CPU and DDR4 RAM, so not only did I not have any working systems to test parts with, but also the people I’d ask for help couldn’t test my parts in their machines either. Ultimately, this made something I could’ve sorted out in a matter of hours, stretch across a couple weeks — not exactly the best outcome for someone who’s notoriously impatient.


Coolermaster Hyper 212 EVO CPU Cooler Intel Core i7-5820K #1 Intel Core i7-5820K #2 GeForce GV-N98TG1 980Ti Pair of Crucial MX100 512GB SSDs Fractal R4 Case #1 Fractal R4 Case #2 Motherboard, RAM and CPU Installed #1 Motherboard, RAM and CPU Installed #2 Motherboard, RAM and CPU Installed #3 All drives installed. GeForce 980Ti Installed. Fully Assembled Machine #1 Fully Assembled Machine #2 Fully Assembled Machine #3 Fully Assembled Machine #4


But with these problems in the rear-view mirror, I’m pretty excited with the result. Primarily, performance in my games is noticeably better. It’s been fun going into games and changing the level of detail from pedestrian settings and crank them all up to their most advanced settings.

By my standards, I definitely spent way more money than I normally do on any kind of PC even when I’m already quite the hardware enthusiast. However, if my 2012 PC is any indicator, I should expect to get 3+ years out of this PC too. And I purposefully picked out hardware that should have room for upgrades in the future, as well as quite a bit of potential for overclocking. Between those upgrades and overclocking, perhaps I can go even further before needing to build another brand new PC from scratch again!

Our Foster Hillbilly, Jed

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Update (10/10/2015): Today is Jed’s birthday, his eighth, and for his birthday he got the best gift he could be given — a forever home! As I type this update, he’s in the B.R.I.T.-mobile headed further south into Texas to join his new family. Happy trails, Jed, you’re a lucky guy!

As I mentioned in a previous blog, we’ve been on a bit of a hot streak with our foster dogs recently from Brittany Rescue in Texas. Our past three foster puppies Sunshine, Emily, and Pardner all wound up finding their forever homes quickly. In Emily’s case, just after a few minutes! I’ve been frantically working on this blog about our newest foster dog, Jed, as soon as possible because I’ve got a feeling that he’s headed to his forever home shortly!

When we found out that our next foster dog was named Jed, I immediately started humming this song aand hence the title of this blog. I remember during summer break, we’d occasionally watch the Beverly Hillbillies reruns in syndication and from what I remember of J.D. “Jed” Clampett, a few of his traits are present in Jed the Brittany. Especially loyalty and a calm demeanor!

Jed is an eight-year-old Brittany, he’s neutered and he’s probably a bit on the heavy side. When we picked him up from BRiT we were told he weighed 47 pounds. However, Crockett is around 45 pounds and he’s quite a bit smaller than Jed. Jed’s got a bigger frame than Crockett does and Jed’s is a bit more filled out than Crockett too!

Unlike our other two Brittanys, Crockett and Zoe, Jed is low-key. If I could describe Jed in a single word, I think that “mellow” is the best adjective that comes to mind. Compared to Zoe, he’s practically catatonic. However, our little Zoe’s probably on the high-energy end of the spectrum — she’s frenetic.

When the time is right, Jed likes to curl up and lay down in front of us or near us and just relax. I came home from work the other day, exhausted and irritated after my commute home and I laid down on the bed to take a quick little nap to recharge my battery for the evening’s activity. I had been on the bed all of 3 seconds when I felt Jed gently jump on the bed and curl up right next to me and join my restful state.


Checking out everything in the backyard #1. Checking out everything in the backyard #2. Patroling the backyard and enjoying some sunshine. Enjoying some shade in the backyard. Relaxing while Zoe and Crockett investigate. Catching some Zzzzz's with Zoe. Posing with Zoe and Crockett. A selfie with Brian. Posing in the backyard with Zoe and Crockett. Is that a treat?! Gimme! Worn out after watching some Thursday Night football.


Normally we’ve found that the excitement of unfamiliar places and perhaps a lack of indoor manners have led to a few indoor accidents with our other foster dogs, especially Marley and Pardner. However in Jed’s case, he’s not had a single accident inside. In my opinion, I’d say Jed’s completely house trained.

Jed seems to have some basic obedience training. When outside in the backyard, he’ll come when called and if he’s being oblivious it’s not difficult to get his attention and get him to come to you anyways. In working with some of the standard dog obedience commands, he seems to understand both “sit” and “down” pretty well. And when on a leash, he’s been pretty complacent. Considering his larger size, I halfway anticipated that Jed would attempt to pull his handler around by the leash, but so far that’s not been the case. Jed also didn’t seem to have any issues staying in a kennel both overnight and while we’re away at work. Finally, we also didn’t have any reservations about letting Jed stay out of his kennel overnight on special occasions.

If Jed is laid back, he’s certainly not lazy. He gets real excited when either Julia or myself come home, he’s quite vocal about barking at the neighbor’s dachshund whose owner lets him out to relieve himself in our yard, and he likes to play with our other two dogs. Jed certainly seems to have that high-energy Brittany spirit within him; perhaps his age and previous activity level have just taught him how to have a better on/off switch than most dogs. I think Jed would benefit from being a bit more active and I certainly think he has the motor and the spirit to do it.

All that being said, I’d recommend that both Jed and his new owner take some fundamental dog obedience lessons in order to get on the same page. Ultimately, that’s my recommendation for anyone adding a dog to their household even when the dog is as well behaved as Jed has been.

It’s our understanding that Jed’s prior home had quite a bit more backyard and front yard than we did. At first we were a little concerned that Jed was used to running around an patrolling a large backyard with most of his time and that he’d need some time adjusting to being an inside dog with much less property to be responsible for. However, what we’ve found is that if Jed is more comfortable outside, then he is every bit as comfortable inside with us. His indoor manners are fantastic, he doesn’t jump up on furniture without being invited. He will put his forelegs on the couch and stand up to get closer to you. When invited, he’ll jump right up on that couch and snuggle right next to or in between whoever is currently on the couch.

Just like each of our foster dogs before him, Jed is a fantastic dog and would make a great addition to the right home. Are you that home? I certainly hope so! If you’re interested in Jed, your best bet is to first check out Jed’s page on the BRiT website and then go fill out the BRiT adoption application. On top of that, please feel free to use the comments below to ask any questions you might have about Jed and I’ll answer them as best that I can in a quick fashion.