My Thoughts after Upgrading to FreeNAS 11

| Comments

Just over two weeks ago, iXsystems made the announcement of the release of FreeNAS 11. Naturally, this announcement had my full attention because I’ve been using FreeNAS since building my first DIY NAS over five years ago and continue to use FreeNAS on my current DIY NAS, which I beefed up significantly about a year ago.

A major release like this is always going to get my attention, but I was initially a bit hesitant after a rather bumpy release and subsequent un-release of FreeNAS Corral. Setting aside what happened with FreeNAS Corral, my opinion on major release of software like FreeNAS is that it’s always good to let someone else take it out for a spin and see what they think of it. There can be a lot of pain associated with an upgrade, especially a problematic one. My advice is always that you tread carefully on major upgrades and weigh benefits of the new features versus the costs of a potentially painful upgrade.

Typically speaking, I’m pretty cautious in adopting the latest releases of FreeNAS. But this time around, I thought I’d reverse course by being adventurous and becoming a somewhat early adopter of FreeNAS 11 in order to share my experience and thoughts on the upgrade. It’s a bit risky to volunteer to be a guinea pig, but I thought the rewards justified the risk. In particular, two of the many new features in the FreeNAS 11 (release notes) ultimately convinced me to be an early adopter: virtualization and the user interface improvements.

Virtualization

I was especially excited about the incorporation of virtualization into FreeNAS on behalf of many DIY NAS builders, but not necessarily for myself. I built my own dual-Xeon homelab server less than a year ago and it’s been working well! However, this doesn’t make the new virtualization feature any less exciting to me. About my biggest complaint of FreeNAS is that, because it runs on FreeBSD, you can be a bit handcuffed in finding utilities which run natively in FreeBSD. It’s been my experience that many of the things I want to try running on my own DIY NAS box frequently didn’t have FreeBSD ports available.

Prior versions of FreeNAS had some virtualization options and a decent library of plug-ins, but if you wanted to add functionality to your FreeNAS machine, it was a bit more problematic—not necessarily impossible, but ultimately more work than I typically wanted to do. It’s entirely possible that I was being lazy, but having virtualization seamlessly integrated into FreeNAS 11 is an exciting feature!

The addition of virtualization through the bhyve hypervisor makes it easier for a DIY NAS builder to leverage the unused CPU cycles of their NAS to add functionality that may not be readily available on the FreeBSD yet. The DIY NAS: 2017 Edition was built specifically with the fact that a hypervisor was being shipped with the latest versions of FreeBSD and that eventually the FreeNAS UI would soon support the management of its hosted Virtual Machines.

The inclusion of bhyve among the things that can be managed via the FreeNAS user interface is an incredibly exciting new feature. I decided to create a virtual machine just so that I could share my thoughts as part of this review. Thanks to a video I found on YouTube, I found that creating a virtual machine in FreeNAS 11 was incredibly easy. I downloaded a Ubuntu Server ISO and stuck it on an SMB share. Then I created a zvol for the virtual machine’s storage. Following that, I created a virtual machine and added two devices: a hard drive using the zvol I’d created earlier and a CD-ROM drive that I pointed at the Ubuntu Server ISO. I started my new virtual machine up and used a VNC client to work through the installation of the operating system.


I found creating a virtual machine inside the FreeNAS user interface to be every bit as easy as on my own homelab server. It’s exciting to me that virtualization will be more accessible to FreeNAS users than it was in the past. There’s no shortage of tasks that can be done using FreeNAS’s new virtualization features. Home automation, media servers, web servers, etc.—the list is endless!

User Interface

A lot of the people in both my personal and professional networks are experienced systems administrators who have amassed an amazing amount of knowledge and experience with the different features and technologies of the various server operating systems. Almost each and every one of them has looked at me incredulously and asked, “Why did you choose FreeNAS?” Each time my answer to them has been because of the FreeNAS user interface. Ultimately, the FreeNAS UI enables me to build and manage my own NAS server without having to toil at the command line—for guys like me, this is huge!

As I understand it, one of the complaints of the prior FreeNAS releases was that the user interface was dated and stale. Thankfully for me, I lack the discerning eye and style for interface design. I found the FreeNAS UI to be completely satisfactory. I personally didn’t have any particular issues with the old user interface, but I was curious when I read that another major feature of FreeNAS 11 was going to be an included sneak preview of a new Angular-based user interface.


I checked out this new user interface and found it to be to my liking. It felt like it was more responsive in my browser and visually it was more appealing. It’s my understanding that it’s not yet feature-complete and won’t be the default interface until a future minor release.

According to the FreeNAS 11 release announcement, the new user interface is expected to be customizable—I’m excited to see what kinds of neat options the FreeNAS community is able to come up with to supplement or replace the default interfaces.

Other Interesting New Features

A brand-new user interface and the addition of the bhyve hypervisor are what really mattered to me in this upgrade, but there are quite a few other updates included in FreeNAS 11 which might not have tickled my fancy, but may be interesting to you! Use the comments below if you think some of these other features should be discussed in further detail as part of future blogs.

  • Kernel improvements 20% faster than FreeNAS 9.10
  • FreeNAS is now compatible with Amazon S3
  • A new Alert Services page which allows the sending of critical alerts from FreeNAS to other alerts applications
  • Everything else included from FreeBSD 11.0

My Upgrade to FreeNAS 11

A couple of Saturday nights ago, it was late, quiet, and I was incredibly bored. Everybody in the house had gone to sleep for the night, but I wasn’t tired yet. I’d seen the FreeNAS 11 release announcement and decided that I’d ignore my conservative tendencies and give the upgrade to FreeNAS 11 a shot. All of my virtual machines on my homelab server use my NAS machine for all of virtual machines’ storage. Consequently, the VMs all needed to be shut down before I started my upgrades. Once I had the VMs powered down, I went ahead and kicked off the FreeNAS upgrade. I had intended to intently watch the upgrade in order to keep an eye on it and get an understanding of how long it’d take, but then Pat distracted me when he asked me to play some Team Fortress 2.

I checked back in on my upgrade after a few matches of TF2 and was happy to see that the upgrade appeared to have gone quite smoothly. I logged in and out using both the legacy user interface and the new interface. I checked my inexpensive 10gb network connectivity between my desktop and my NAS box, and the NAS’s connectivity to my 1Gb network. As far as I could tell that night, the upgrade had gone incredibly smoothly. Aside from the issues caused by rebooting the NAS, primarily the disconnection of mapped drives on my Windows machines, you wouldn’t have even known that a major upgrade had taken place on my NAS.

For an added bit of intrigue, a few days later I decided I’d put some stress on my NAS by replacing two of my older 4 TB hard drives with Western Digital Red Pro 8TB and Seagate 8TB IronWolf NAS SATA drives. I replaced the first drive, waited for the array to rebuild, and then replaced the second drive. Unsurprisingly, replacing these two drives and the subsequent rebuilds of my array were completed without any kind of issues. Hopefully over the next year or so, I’ll slowly replace the remaining 4TB hard drives with 8TB drives.

Lastly, after about a week (and as I worked on writing this blog), I went ahead and upgraded my ZFS Pool. This is significant, since upgrading the ZFS pool pretty much makes it impossible for me to go back to FreeNAS 9.10. With regards to each of my FreeNAS upgrades, I always hold off on this particular step until I’m happy with the latest version, and I consider the FreeNAS upgrade to be a success. As far as I can tell so far, I haven’t had any issues whatsoever with my upgrade to FreeNAS 11.


Overall, I thought the new features justified accelerating my typical upgrade adoption. And considering how smoothly it’s gone so far, being an early adopter hasn’t bit me in the ass—I sure hope I haven’t jinxed myself!

How did your FreeNAS 11 upgrades go? Please feel free to share your experience in the comments!

An Economical Introduction to Drones: Tianqu XS809W

| Comments

If you were interested in drones and followed my advice, you’d wind up buying a King Kong 90GT quadcopter, a Taranis X9D Plus transmitter/controller, and an inexpensive set of FPV goggles. This setup would have you well-suited for flying your first quadcopter and then have you in the position of buying and flying bigger and faster quadcopters in the immediate future. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

At today’s prices, the gear above would wind up running you nearly $300. We may need to tap the brakes a little bit here! That’s quite a lot of money to spend on a brand-new hobby—especially a hobby that winds up taking practice, determination, and some skill. I don’t know about you, but I’d have to be pretty excited about a new hobby to be willing to invest so much money up front. Especially when I’ve learned that as a newbie pilot, you continue to invest time and money into your quadcopters, replacing parts after crashes.

Thankfully for me, taking the plunge and spending hundreds of dollars to get started building my own 450mm quadcopter worked out really well. I’ve enjoyed myself quite a bit and I’ve amassed quite the collection of quadcopters in little to no time.

But what if you’re on the fence, not wanting to invest hundreds of dollars, lacking experience with remote-control vehicles, and without the access to experts that I had? A different, more budget-friendly alternative is a good idea. An ideal solution for that person might be an introductory-type drone that’s inexpensive enough that if you spent a couple hours on it and decided that quadcopters aren’t for you, it wouldn’t fill you with regret when you completely walked away from the hobby.

Enter the Tianqu XS809W

The Tianqu XS809W is a budget-friendly, camera-equipped, WiFi-enabled, foldable quadcopter. Its best feature is its all-in price of around $50. For that low price, you get a beginner-friendly quadcopter that includes everything that you need to start flying and even taking some pictures. For its size and wingspan, it’s quite compact when folded up, and it’s also incredibly lightweight. The styling of the quadcopter, especially the foldable arms, is a direct clone of the DJI Mavic Pro—but that’s in looks only. The Tianqu XS809W’s price tag is a mere 5% of the DJI Mavic’s—but it’s not like they’re playing the same ball game.

Here are Tianqu XS809W’s primary features:

  • Inexpensive
  • Foldable design
  • WiFi FPV camera
  • Included transmitter/controller, plus you can control it from your phone via an iOS or Android app
  • Variable-speed switch
  • Headless Mode (more on this below)
  • One Key Return (more on this below)

One day this past week, Pat and I met up to fly drones in one of our favorite nearby parks. I charged up the Tianqu XS809W’s battery and put 3 AA batteries into the transmitter and was flying in a matter of seconds! The only difficulty that I wound up having was on actually due to my phone. The drone uses WiFi to communicate with your phone, so your first step is to connect your phone to the drone’s WiFi access point. But because of that, my phone was complaining about the fact the drone’s WiFi lacks an internet connection. The problem wound up being that my phone was refusing to actually connect to the drone’s access point. That particular problem was resolved when I selected the option to remain connected anyways when prompted by my phone.


I snapped my Pixel XL into the transmitter’s spring-loaded holder, used my phone as a display for the Tianqu XS809W, and I was up in the air without great difficulty. I flew it near, I flew it far, I flipped it, I took some pictures, I recorded some video, I crashed it, and repeated through all these things until I drained its battery. Here are my impressions:

The Good

  1. Extremely Inexpensive: At an all-in price of $50 and a coupon-discounted (Coupon: GBXS809) price of $39.99, the Tianqu XS809W is a budget-friendly way to introduce yourself to quadcopters.
  2. Flight Time: It comes with a one-cell, 900mah LiPO battery. Between the battery power and the quadcopter’s light weight, I was able to get over 10 minutes of flight time on a single battery.
  3. Beginner-friendly: At its lowest speed setting, the quadcopter is pretty easy to fly, and the controls are forgiving. LEDs under each motor and at the front of the quadcopter help you understand its orientation when flying line of sight.
  4. Mobile App: The mobile app, XSW UFO, is interesting. It a nearly real-time view of the quadcopter’s camera. The app also features some rudimentary controls and it could be piloted via the app, if necessary.

    The Bad

  5. Headless Mode and One-Key Return: Ether they don’t seem to work, or I don’t know how to use them. There wasn’t anything helpful in the user manual to explain how they should work.

  6. Picture and Video buttons on the transmitter: These also don’t work at all; you have to use the XSW UFO app in order to take snapshots or record video.
  7. There’s a picture of a MicroSD card slot on the bottom of the quadcopter, but there’s no MicroSD card reader in there at all: Don’t put a MicroSD card in there, you might lose it! Other similar models of this drone with different features exist, they must all use the same body.
  8. Picture and Video Quality: There’s no getting around this, the quality of the captured images and video (below) leave a lot to be desired. This is due to the fact that the camera is a meager .3MP and also what I assume is a loss of connectivity between the quadcopter and the phone. The “videos” that I wound up recording (see below) resembled slideshows more than videos.
  9. Battery: The battery comes in a proprietary case/cartridge that includes the battery charging. And it’s unfortunate that there’s no indicator at all of whether or not your battery is fully charged on its little cartridge.
  10. Brushed Motors: This is inescapable on inexpensive quadcopters, but it’s worth mentioning. Brushed motors have a much shorter lifespan than brushless motors, but they’re also considerably more inexpensive. If you own this quadcopter and fly it frequently, be prepared to eventually need to replace a motor.

FPV Camera Snapshot

A snapshot from the X809SW after landing in the parking lot.

FPV Camera Video

Final Thoughts

My biggest two complaints about quadcopters have been that it’s an expensive hobby in terms of both monetary and time investments. Getting to where I’ve gotten has required a lot of cash and a lot of time. While I think it’s been a worthwhile investment of both, others might not agree with me. I’ve been hesitant to encourage some of my friends to get into the hobby because I don’t want them spending hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours getting into a hobby that they might not wind up liking. I think the Tianqu XS809W is a potential solution to this problem.

If you keep the cost (regular price of $50, and $39.99 using the coupon below!) in mind, I think the Tianqu XS809W is an excellent value, especially in the hands of someone who is curious about getting into quadcopters. The XS809W has enough of the features of more expensive drones to give someone an idea of whether they’re going to like the hobby or not. The quality of those features is definitely not comparable to more expensive drones, but at its price point, that quality probably should not be expected.

If you’re on the fence about buying a quadcopter and giving the hobby a try, then I think the Tianqu XS809W might be right up your alley. If you do wind up buying the XS809W, I do have a couple suggestions of extra parts that you should buy to enhance your fun.

  1. TIANQU 3.7V 900mAh 30C Lithium-ion Battery for the XS809W: The 10+ minutes I got out of one battery is the longest flight time that I currently get out of any of my quadcopters. But 10 minutes still isn’t very long. The extra batteries are inexpensive enough that I’d recommend buying at least 1 or 2 extras.
  2. TIANQU ABS Propeller – BLACK for the XS809W (set of 4): The Tianqu XS809W does contain an extra set of propellers. But if you’re anything like me, you’re going to wind up crashing your quadcopter, and crashes break propellers. Having a couple spare sets will have you back up in the air in no time.

Are you interested in this quadcopter? Use the coupon code ‘GBXS809’ to get the Tianqu XS809W for $39.99 as a special deal for readers of my blog. As I understand it, the coupon is good until 7/19/2017!

Weaponizing the DIY 450mm Quadcopter with the help of my 3D Printer

| Comments

Due to my curiosity in drones, I built a DIY 450mm quadcopter at our local makerspace, TheLab.ms. I didn’t really have a clear objective when I got into drones, but one of the things I’ve been interested in is doing some aerial photography. While I still would like to do some aerial photography, lately I’ve been a bit distracted by first-person-view piloting (FPV) and haven’t gotten around to buying the necessary remote-controlled gimbals to hook up to my GoPro HERO3 yet.

One day a couple weeks ago, our friend Alex said he had some spare servos from another vehicle and wanted to know if I was interested in a 3D-printed drone drop-release mechanism. At first I was hesitant, since it included adding gear to my 450mm quadcopter that could potentially preclude me from adding the camera gimbals. But after about five minutes of thinking of the kinds of shenanigans that I could potentially get into dropping things from my quadcopter, I quickly changed my mind!

Drop Release-Mechanism Parts and Installation

Because I had plenty of spare channels on my Taranis X9D Plus transmitter and receiver, adding the payload-release mechanism wound up being rather inexpensive in terms of parts cost. Here are the parts that I wound up buying and/or making:

Parts

  1. Drone Drop Release Mechanism from Thingiverse
  2. A remixed version of the drop mechanism’s cover
  3. SG90 Micro Servo (specs)
  4. Paper clip
  5. Some sticky Velcro tape (not pictured)
  6. Superglue and superglue accelerator

Installation

Because the SG90 micro servo is physically 10% bigger than the servo used in the drone drop release mechanism on Thingiverse, I wound up using my slicer to scale it up by 10% before I used my 3D printer in order to print it. We used super glue to hold the servo in place inside the release mechanism. We put the appropriate gear on the servo and used the paper-clip to attach the gear to the release pin.


We wired the servo up to my FrSky transmitter, mapped a channel to it in Betaflight, and tested out to watch the release pin work. Having seen it work, I used superglue to put my customized cover. Because I wanted to be able to easily add and remove the drop mechanism, I used sticky-backed Velcro tape to affix the mechanism to the bottom of the quadcopter. My hope is that in the future, when I add camera gimbals, I can swap between the drop mechanism and camera gimbals without too much difficulty.

Lastly, I capped it all off with an assortment of rubber bands, miscellaneous key rings, and these fantastic leather pouches that Tinkers Leather made for me. This assortment of gear has been used to secure my different payloads to the bottom of my 450mm quadcopter.


Dropping All the Things!

Over the course of the next two or three times we went out flying, we dropped a great number of things from my DIY 450mm quadcopter: a whole division of toy paratroopers, a number of water bottles that we found littered at our favorite parks (which we cleaned up, naturally), a wooden stake from some sort of temporary fencing, and lastly, we dropped drones from my drone!

Paratroopers

I picked up an entire division of toy paratroopers and dropped them from the quadcopter first. Winding their parachutes tightly sure wound up causing for exciting (and likely fatal) attempts early on. Several paratroopers hit the ground without their parachutes opening up at all. At the time, we were just using rubber bands and a keyring, which led to it being a bit tricky to perfectly drop the paratroopers.

Water Bottle

Our favorite park has a few water fountains and even more litterbugs. Due to the latter, we were able to find a plethora of old plastic bottles and caps. We cleaned up quite a few bottles before we were able to find a couple different ones with their lids intact. At a nearby water fountain, we filled the bottles full of water, flew to great heights above the parking lots, and then dropped the bottles. When we were done enjoying the resulting watery explosion, we cleaned the bits of the water bottle up—this is my kind of community service!

On one attempt, we even captured a slow-motion video of the water bottle’s descent and untimely demise.

Wooden Stake

This is probably my favorite of all the things we’ve dropped from my DIY 450mm quadcopter. In scavenging for intact water bottles, one of us found a wooden stake. The stake was probably about ¾” around, mostly straight, and nearly six feet tall. Unfortunately, we didn’t seem to have any way to fasten it to the quadcopter’s drop mechanism. Thankfully, someone recalled having a bungee cord in his trunk. We wrapped one end around towards one end of the stake and knotted it tightly and the other end of the bungee cord we put around the release pin of the drop mechanism.

Once the stake was released, the weighted end with the bungee cord pointed down, and the stake plummeted towards the ground. It hit the ground with such velocity that it stuck from the ground nearly perpendicular and certainly entertained those of us in attendance.

Other Drones

Most recently, we decided to try and drop some drones from my 450mm DIY quadcopter. Because we’re cautiously reckless, we first dropped Pat’s KingKong 90GT. The drops of Pat’s 90GT were particularly routine, and the most exciting point of the video is when the wind pushed Pat’s quadcopter towards the park benches everyone was sitting at and he nearly missed hitting someone in the head at the end of the video!

After successfully hauling a tiny drone up into the sky and dropping it, we were determined to drop something even bigger. We secured Alex’s Blade Vortex 250 to the bottom of my quadcopter and took off. The added weight of Alex’s Blade Vortex 250 made my DIY 450mm quadcopter struggle mightily as it went skyward, but it managed to do the trick. The most dramatic part of this video was imperceptible in what we recorded, but the DIY 450mm quadcopter gained so much altitude after freeing itself of the weight of the Vortex 250 that I was genuinely concerned it’d shoot out of my line of sight.

Conclusion

Dropping things from my drone wound up being inexpensive, easy to put together, and a tremendous amount of fun! We haven’t done it yet, but Pat has a GoPro knockoff (faux pro?) action camera that met an unfortunate accident in a drone wreck, but still records. We’re thinking of packing it in its case and dropping it from as high up as we’re brave enough to do.

And what about my plans for aerial photography? I’m not quite certain that it’s going to be as much fun as dropping things from my quadcopter. However, I was wondering about mounting an FPV camera to the underside of the quadcopter so that I can have a bird’s-eye view of what I’m dropping. That’s technically a form of aerial photography, isn’t it? I’m still pretty interested in doing the aerial photography but it’s definitely slipped down my “things to do with a drone” list.

What should I drop next? Here’s the output of my brainstorming, what am I overlooking?

  • Water balloons
  • Balloons full of flour/chalk dust
  • Produce (oranges? cantaloupe? small watermelon?)
  • Computer components that make me mad.
  • Others? Share yours in the comments section below!

KingKong 90GT: Learning to FPV

| Comments

As a limited-time offer for our readers, Gearbest has issued coupons for each of the three different KingKong 90GT variations that they sell. If you’re at all interested in this quadcopter, make sure you scroll to the end of the blog to grab the appropriate coupon code!

Just a few months ago, I built a DIY 450mm Quadcopter based off a parts list that our makerspace’s quadcopter expert, Alex, led us through building. After building the quadcopters, Alex then gave us a crash course in flying the quadcopters. Shortly after, Alex asked me what my next plans were—as if he predicted that I’d get as hooked on quadcopters as he is. Alex was way into piloting his racing quadcopters in first-person view (FPV), which is using a camera on the quadcopter and piloting by watching the video stream being broadcast from the quadcopter. At first I was hesitant—the FPV Goggles seemed bulky, and I was bit weirded out by standing in a park, completely oblivious to my surroundings while trying to give the quadcopter my full attention. However, after watching Pat learn to fly FPV and snooping on Alex’s broadcast from his racing quadcopter, I began to realize just how much fun I was missing out on.

After seeing Pat throughly enjoy his Holybro Shuriken 180 Pro, I decided that instead of adding the FPV gear to my DIY 450mm quadcopter, I’d buy an extra drone purpose-built for first-person view. I wound up picking out the Holybro Shuriken X1 V2 200mm Racing Drone for no other reason than it seemed to be comparable to Pat’s Shuriken 180 Pro but perhaps a bit bigger. Once it arrived, I was astonished at how quick and how powerful it was. I was hesitant to even fly it line-of-sight because it was so small and so fast; one wrong twitch on the throttle and there was a very good chance that it’d be completely out of my view. After watching what Alex could do with my Shuriken X1, I became convinced that this wasn’t the right quadcopter for me to learn to FPV on.

Learning to FPV: Brian’s Conservative Approach

After a few trips out with Pat and Alex, I began working on a set of the criteria that a quadcopter would need to meet in order for me to join the ranks of the FPV quadcopter enthusiasts:

  1. Outdoor friendly: About my only complaint with the Blade Nano QX was that it was rendered ineffective by even the slightest of breezes, which prevented me from taking it outside and having some fun with it in wider open spaces.
  2. Indoor friendly too: Among the things that had helped me improve my line-of-sight piloting was the fact that I had purchased a small indoor quadcopter, the Blade Nano QX. The DIY 450 Quadcopter required wide, open spaces to pilot around, which wasn’t exactly friendly to getting lots of practice time in. Buying the Blade Nano QX and a few extra batteries meant that I could fly nearly any time that I wanted from the comfort of my own home. This practice was critical for improving my line-of-sight piloting and would be for FPV too.
  3. Durable: Learning something new on my quadcopters consequently means that I’m crashing my quadcopters… often. I wanted something that was going to withstand some bumps and bruises.
  4. Inexpensive: So far everything that I’ve crashed on a regular basis eventually breaks. An ideal drone would be inexpensive to repair and/or replace.

Pat and Alex both chided me for my conservative approach for learning to FPV, and while it’s entirely possible that they are correct, I’m still comfortable with my decision. It’s worth noting that the added time I spent in researching, buying, and waiting for a new quadcopter to show up, I could’ve instead been working through quite a few batteries on the Shuriken X1 and started to get my footing. But in the end I was quite confident that this was the best way for me to learn FPV. Moreover, it’d also be a lot of fun to have an FPV quadcopter that I could fly in and around the house, saving me from having to load up a car with all of my quadcopter gear and drive to the nearest drone-friendly park.

Micro FPV Quadcopter Candidates

Pat and I were both interested in micro quadcopters equipped with FPV gear, but for different reasons. Pat was already quite comfortable flying FPV, but he also wanted a smaller quadcopter he could fly around and outside his home. We collaborated a bit on a search and wound up discussing a few different candidates.

  1. Jumper X73S
  2. Blade Inductrix FPV (BLH8500)
  3. KingKong 90GT

Each of the quadcopters shared a small form factor (73mm to 90mm) ideally suited for indoor flying. All three of the quadcopters had pretty inexpensive price tags with each hovering around $100. All of the quadcopters came equipped with propeller guards sufficient enough to provide some protection in a crash both to the quadcopter and to whatever it was crashing into. We quickly dismissed the Blade Inductrix FPV for two reasons: first, it wasn’t compatible with my Taranis X9D transmitter, and even worse, it has brushed motors like its cousin the Blade Nano QX. The Inductrix FPV simply wasn’t going to have the power to venture outdoors like we wanted.

Eventually, I settled on trying the Jumper X73S, and Pat jumped at the chance to get the KingKong 90GT. And after having our little micro drones for about a day, Pat concluded that the KingKong 90GT was bananas and I concluded that the Jumper X73S was quite junky. The stock propellers simply flew off under light throttle, one of the motors wouldn’t even spin up, and eventually the receiver fried and wouldn’t bind to or recognize my transmitter. Pat had an awesome little micro FPV quadcopter, and I had a colossal dud. Thankfully my friends at GearBest were happy to replace the defective Jumper X73S with my own KingKong 90GT, and while I waited for shipping, Pat was generous enough to let me fly his KingKong 90GT.

KingKong 90GT

Pat was absolutely correct, the KingKong 90GT is bananas! At 90mm, it’s quite tiny but packs a tremendous punch in its little brushless 1103 motors, which are rated at 7800kv. One gusty afternoon, Pat and I were flying our quadcopters into winds that were gusting at 20—30mph, which the KingKong 90GT was able to fight and fly through. Flying into that stiff wind certainly wasn’t much fun, but the KingKong 90GT performed much better than I expected.

As far as indoors goes, flying line-of-sight is no problem whatsoever. I’ve been flying the KingKong 90GT around the house as well or better than I was ever flying my Blade Nano QX. However, FPV has been a bit of a problem indoors for me, as it’s a bit challenging to keep it at the appropriate elevation—I keep hitting the ceiling! This isn’t a shortcoming of the quadcopter, as Pat and Alex don’t seem to have the same challenges. This is a matter of practice on my part and learning how to fly lower and closer to obstacles, which is further demonstrated by this picture from flying up into a tree.

My first trip out with the KingKong 90GT was quite a bit of fun, but because of the tree canopy of where we wound up flying, I wound up spending quite a bit of time either fetching my crashed quadcopter or flying line-of-sight because I was having a hard time staying out of the trees.

The next day, we went to a nearby park with a tremendous amount of wide, open space, and I had infinitely more success flying FPV. Any time I ever felt like I was in trouble, all I had to do was give it gas and go up—up is safe! I was able to do quite a bit of some acrobatic flying—flips, barrel rolls, etc.-—with ease. The only crashes I had the entire afternoon were related to ignoring the timer I programmed into the Taranis X9D and exhausting the batteries.

Oops! I Found the Drone-eating Tree!

I was thoroughly enjoying my KingKong 90GT and flying it on an almost daily basis. We went to one of the nearby parks that we always fly our drones at. The day had a bit of a gentle breeze, but nothing I hadn’t flown in before on my quadcopters—including the KingKong 90GT. But for some reason today, I had tremendously bad luck.

My last three flights each outdid each other in terms of their endings. Firstly, I had a really nice long flight but for some reason I managed to hit a light pole in the parking lot instead of landing nicely. The second-to-last flight ended nearly instantly when I managed to find a different light pole. And then, sadly, my last flight ended with me finding the top of a great big drone-eating tree.

The fact that the tree ate my little KingKong 90GT certainly ruined my day, but the first thing that I did when I got home was to log in to Gearbest and buy another one!

The Demise of Brian’s KingKong 90GT was Greatly Exaggerated!

Three or four days after flying into the tippy top of the drone-eating tree, Pat and I were back at the park preparing to fly our other quadcopters. Being an optimist, I had been stopping at the park to check under the tree once or twice a day, I was hoping that the drone would fall out and I’d find it waiting for me. Disappointingly, but not unexpectedly, my KingKong 90GT was never waiting there for me. But when we were setting up to fly four days later, a pair of guys were driving some radio-controlled trucks around the park. They looked over in our direction long enough that both Pat and I waved to them in a neighborly fashion. A few minutes later, they started walking over in our direction. One of the guys held something out and asked “Do you guys know who this tiny quadcopter belongs to?” And right there in the palm of his hand, was my KingKong 90GT! Apparently the KingKong 90GT fell out of the tree, then another kind-hearted person placed it at a drinking fountain, where our two new friends saw it and must’ve recalled seeing Pat and I stare up into the asshole tree! Talk about a lucky break on my part!


Final Thoughts

I love the KingKong 90GT; it’s exactly what I was looking for in a quadcopter to use while I was learning to fly via FPV. I anticipate that after a few afternoons of burning through the extra batteries I bought for the KingKong 90GT I’m going to work up the gumption to see what the Holybro Shuriken X1 V2 200mm Racing Drone is all about.

I do have a few tidbits of advice for prospective KingKong 90GT buyers:

  1. As you’re learning, you’ll want to have a few sets of extra propellers. Especially if you’re flying primarily indoors. As we’ve flown our GT90s inside, we’ve noticed that crashes lead to broken propellers.
  2. If you’re using the prop guards, the pieces that connect the prop guards to each other pop off on every single crash. I didn’t even bother putting them on the quadcopter.
  3. Use some heatshrink tubing to protect the antennas, especially the dipole antenna that belongs to the video transmitter.
  4. Use Betaflight Configurator to calibrate your ESCs.
  5. Invest in a handful of extra batteries. My average flight time on the batteries has averaged between 3.5 minutes and 4.0 minutes depending on how aggressively I was flying and how windy it was. Ordering six extra batteries has helped keep me in the air for much longer each time I take the KingKong 90GT out.
  6. Watch out for big drone-eating asshole trees!

Coupons!

As part of a limited-time offer to the readers of Brian’s Blog and Patshead.com, our friends at Gearbest have issued coupons for each of the variations of the KingKong 90GT that they sell: with a FrSky receiver, with a DSM2 receiver, and with no receiver at all.

KingKong 90GT VariantRegular PriceCoupon CodeDiscounted Price
with FrSky Receiver $130.90 FRSKY1 $99.99
with DSM2 Receiver $130.90 pat90GT $99.36
without a Receiver $130.90 90gt $115.99

One quick note about the odd pricing on the receiverless version of the KingKong 90GT. I don’t understand why the receiverless version is $15 more! The good news is that removing the receiver from the KingKong 90GT is a piece of cake. Rather than spend the extra money, I’d just buy whichever version is cheapest, remove the unneeded receiver, and sell/give it away to someone who needs it.


Unboxing #1 Unboxing #2 Unboxing #3 Unboxing #4 Unboxing #5 Unboxing #6 Assembled #1 Assembled #2 Assembled #3 Assembled #4 Assembled #5

Creating a Cooling Duct for the SilverStone DS380B

| Comments

In the building of the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition, I’d made a potentially tragic mistake of putting it somewhere with zero airflow, which triggered an alert inside FreeNAS about the temperatures of the hard drives. At the time of the alerts, the hard drives were at temperatures between 45 and 62 degrees Celsius (113 to 143 degrees Fahrenheit), which were hot enough that I immediately shut down the NAS and began brainstorming about what could be done to address those high temperatures.

Obviously, the first thing that I tried was moving the case from in between the two pieces of office furniture I’d squeezed it into. Simply giving the intake and exhaust fans room to breathe was enough to drop the hard drives temperatures down to 45 to 55 degrees Celsius (113 to 131 Fahrenheit) which resolved the critical alerts being reported by FreeNAS, but still seemed quite a bit warm to me. At this point, I took two additional steps:

  1. Replaced the clever magnetic mesh grill on the SilverStone DS380B with a pair of 120mm fan grills.
  2. I rearranged the hard drives so that there were as many air gaps as possible in the drive cage.

These two steps dropped the temperatures of the hard drives down into a range I was much more comfortable with, between 32 and 40 degrees Celsius (89 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit). However I still had a little bit of concern. What if someone filled up the SilverStone DS380B’s drive cage with 8 drives? What would happen to drive temperatures then?

Looking inside the SilverStone DS380B, there seemed to be a couple different minor flaws which could be resulting in the higher drive temperatures. The drive cage is pretty solidly constructed, without many ways for the air to flow into the drive cage from the case’s intake fans. And more importantly, there was a tremendous gap at the back of the drive cage. As air entered the case and followed the path of least resistance, it was simply going to bypass the drive cage entirely! Of those two flaws, I wound up deciding that solving the drive cage’s air gap was most likely to yield the most results.

Solving the SilverStone DS380B’s Air Gap

After a little bit of Googling, it seemed like the most common solution to this air gap was to cut some cardboard and seal up the air gap, like the UnRAID forum user ‘heffa’ described in this forum post on the UnRAID forums. From a cost and simplicity standpoint, I was a big fan of the cardboard duct solution. If the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition were my own personal machine, I’d most likely wind up implementing something similar using the leftover packaging from the component’s parts and a bit of duct tape.

But as you might know, I’ve been raffling off my NAS builds for quite some time. I was worried that the eventual winner of the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition would find that the cardboard had become dislodged while the NAS was transported to them. I was also a bit concerned that both the winner of the NAS and the general viewing public would think that the cardboard duct was a bit of a crude solution. This made me want to come up with a simpler, more “professional” solution for the air gap.

What I wound up noticing was that the end of the drive cage and the end of the case’s intake fans lined up perfectly, which I’m sure is no coincidence. While staring at this gap, a lightbulb came on and I remembered that I had my own 3D printer! I was completely able to 3D design and print my own custom object to close the air gap! I got out my calipers and a spare 120mm case fan, started taking measurement, and jotted down this diagram:

Ultimately, problems exactly like the SilverStone DS380B’s air gap are exactly why I decided to buy a 3D printer! There’s something extremely gratifying about identifying a problem, researching solutions, designing an object to achieve that solution, and then bringing that object to life via a 3D printer. I was able to improve cooling of the hard drives by closing the majority of the case’s air gap; optimizing that airflow would help manage hard drive temperatures and hopefully extend the lives of the hard drives that wound up in the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition.

It didn’t take me long at all before I had my first prototype designed and printed.

In screwing the cooling duct down onto the fan for the first time, I felt the model crack and give way a tiny bit. The 90 degree bend around the screw holes simply wasn’t strong enough to withstand much pressure. A good push on the duct would’ve sheared the vertical piece off the duct entirely. While I was confident that this first draft was good enough to accomplish the task at hand, the perfectionist in me wanted to address this issue. A second iteration would also allow me to add some additional material at the bottom of the duct to help fight some of the flexing that happened due to the torque of the screws being tightened.

I wound up adding a couple wedge-shaped pieces to provide support on both sides of the screw holes and I also added extra material along the bottom of the duct in order to help strengthen against the flexing.

Impressed with myself, I immediately printed a pair of the cooling ducts and installed them in the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition. At the same time, I began affectionately referring to them as my “duct faces.” The next time I saw Pat, I demurely asked him “Hey, wanna see my duct face?” Pat confusedly and emphatically shook his head no—he wanted nothing to do with whatever my duct face was. I flipped him the latest version of my cooling duct and then we had a good chuckle.

If you’re planning to follow the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition and you have access to a 3D printer, I’ve posted and shared my cooling duct for the DS380B on Thingiverse. Please feel free to print yourself a pair. While you’re there, please go ahead and like it and let me know that you made one! Don’t have access to a 3D printer? Then check out how awesome Pat is by printing and selling the pairs of the cooling ducts on his Tindie Store.

After adding the cooling ducts to the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition, drive temperatures fell a bit more, but not as dramatically as previously. The temperatures dropped down to between 31 and 38 degrees Celsius (87.8 to 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit). While this wasn’t as dramatic of an improvement as my earlier steps, after installing the cooling ducts I could definitely feel more air exiting the back of the drive cage than before. I think that if the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition were fully loaded with eight drives, you’d see a marked improvement in the drives’ temperatures.

For builders who are aspiring to build their own versions of the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition and others who want to house their own DIY NAS in the SilverStone DS380B, I’d strongly suggest finding a way to minimize the case’s air gap. Printing or acquiring a pair of these cooling ducts would help reduce the size of that air gap and force more of the intake airflow into the hard drive cage and over your hard drives.


Initial Measurements and Doodling for the Duct OpenSCAD rendering of final version of DS380B Cooling Duct Initial Draft of Cooling Duct #1 Initial Draft of Cooling Duct #2 Initial Draft of Cooling Duct #3 Initial Draft of Cooling Duct #4 Final Draft of DS380B cooling duct #1 Final Draft of DS380B cooling duct #2 Final Draft of DS380B cooling duct #3 Final Draft of DS380B cooling duct #4 Final Draft of DS380B cooling duct #5 DS380B cooling ducts installed in DIY NAS:2017 edition #1 DS380B cooling ducts installed in DIY NAS:2017 edition #2 DS380B cooling ducts installed in DIY NAS:2017 edition #3 DS380B cooling ducts installed in DIY NAS:2017 edition #4 DS380B cooling ducts installed in DIY NAS:2017 edition #5 DS380B cooling ducts installed in DIY NAS:2017 edition #6 DS380B cooling ducts installed in DIY NAS:2017 edition #7


My First Quadcopter Upgrade: Taranis X9D Plus

| Comments

A few months ago, I built a DIY 450mm quadcopter in an exploratory foray into yet another hobby, and much to the chagrin of my wallet and my free time, I was hooked. As I began to form a very rudimentary understanding of quadcopters, I quickly began to realize that my Spektrum DX6 was going to hold me back. Please don’t conclude that this is the fault of the Spektrum DX6— it is a fantastic transmitter! It’s worked with my couple quadcopters well, others’ quadcopters that they’ve loaned to me to try out, and switching between the different quadcopters on the transmitter was quite easy. I was pleased enough with the Spektrum DX6 that I bought one as a gift for Pat to nudge him into the hobby. Overall, I was very happy with the Spektrum DX6.

Then Why Upgrade?

You might be asking yourself, “If Brian Likes the Spektrum DX6 so much, then why is he replacing it?” The answer to that is easy: cost and channels!

In order for a transmitter like the Spektrum DX6 to work, it needs to be paired up with a receiver like the Spektrum AR610, or the vehicle needs to have the appropriate receiver integrated into its electronics. If you come to the realization that you want multiple drones for multiple different purposes, switching your transmitter starts getting more and more expensive due to all of the new receivers you’ll have to buy for your collection of vehicles. Once I realized that I wanted at least three different quadcopters for different purposes, I began to realize that the cost of switching transmitters was going to be less expensive if I made a switch sooner rather than later.

In considering upgrades to my Spektrum DX6, the number of available channels was also an important factor. The Spektrum DX6 has six channels, all six of which are being used by my quadcopter’s basic functions: an arm switch, a flight-mode toggle, throttle, aileron, elevator, and rudder. When I want to add functionality for aerial photography, like a remote control gimbal, more channels would be needed to add those features. It’s not entirely accurate, but I think a good rule of thumb is to assume that additional features on radio-controlled vehicles are going to require additional channels.

Taranis X9D Plus

After some careful consideration, I wound up on planning to upgrade my Spektrum DX6 by replacing it with the Taranis X9D Plus. This decision was made infinitely easier when I was able to find an interested buyer for my Spektrum DX6, my Blade Nano QX, and a set of Nano QX batteries in a fellow TheLab.ms member. He just so happened to need a transmitter because he was building one of Pat’s PH145 quadcopters at the TheLab.ms’ most recent Quadcopter Build Weekend. It wound up costing me a little bit (roughly the cost of the Blade Nano QX and batteries), but that drone wasn’t going to be compatible with the Taranis X9D Plus. I wound up deciding it’d be less expensive in the long run to simply replace the Nano QX with something comparable—or better!

When my friends at Gearbest.com offered to send me the Taranis X9D Plus to review, I leapt at the chance. However, had I not been sent the Taranis X9D, then I would’ve purchased one for myself without any doubt. For starters, it’s a few dollars cheaper than the Spektrum DX6, but more importantly the Taranis X9D has sixteen channels. Because aerial photography is in the future for me, using more channels is an inevitability. Based on the price and channels alone, the Taranis X9D seems to be the ideal match for me. The icing on the cake? The remaining specifications and features!

Specifications and Features

  • Up to 16 Channels
  • Runs OpenTX Firmware
  • Voltage Range:6-15v (2s, 3s Lipos are acceptable)
  • Current: 260mA maximum
  • Backlit LCD Screen: 212*64 Monochrome
  • Model Memories: 60 (expandable by MicroSD card)
  • Compatibility: FrSky X series, D series and V8-II series receivers
  • Stick mode: Mode 2 (Left hand throttle)
  • Quad Ball Bearing Gimbals
  • Audio Speech Outputs (values, alarms, settings, etc.)
  • Antenna Status Detection and Alerts
  • Real-time Flight Data Logging
  • Reception Signal Strength Alerts

I was further encouraged by the fact that the Taranis X9D firmware is built upon OpenTX. OpenTX is an open source firmware for radio control transmitters like the Taranis X9D Plus. Having the ability to use hardware that uses the OpenTX firmware ultimately means that the sky is the limit on what can be done with the transmitter. Running an OpenTX-based firmware also means that the Taranis X9D can be configured using the OpenTX Companion on your desktop computer.

Having the option of making your changes to the transmitter’s preferences, model-specific settings, and other features from a desktop application instead of the user interface of the transmitter itself is a tremendous benefit. About the only thing I dislike about the Taranis X9D in comparison to the Spektrum DX6 is that its user interface on its display is really clunky. There’s only so much that you can do with 6 buttons and a small monochromatic display, but the Spektrum DX6 does that way better than the Taranis X9D. However, that disadvantage is pretty much rendered moot by the fact that you can download a desktop application and do the same things with your computer that you’d have to do on the transmitter itself.

But beyond that, the OpenTX Companion lets you do other things like use custom graphics for your different vehicles, use custom WAV files for the various prompts and alerts, and making updates to the splash screen. Being able to change the splash screen was by far my favorite!

Lastly, the Taranis X9D seems to have an ardent community of people who are modifying/improving the X9D. As an example, these 3D-printed Taranis Thumbsticks have already found their way onto my transmitter. In browsing through all the Taranis X9D objects uploaded to Thingiverse, I’m quite certain that I’ll keep my own 3D printer busy for quite a few hours printing things to compliment my Taranis X9D.

Conclusion

I wouldn’t exactly say that buying the Spektrum DX6 first was a mistake; I just had no idea what I was doing and it never occurred to me how deep down the quadcopter rabbit hole I would go. If six months ago I would’ve known how quadcopter-crazy I’d go, then I would’ve immediately realized that the Taranis X9D Plus was a much better fit for my goals. Considering how competitively priced the Taranis X9D Plus is, I think my advice would be to buy the Taranis X9D Plus over the Spektrum DX6.

And from what I’m reading, the new Taranis Q X7 could be a good route to consider—it’s $60-$75 cheaper than its older (and bigger) sibling. On the Taranis X9D, that extra money gets you a bigger display, 2 additional switches, 2 additional sliders, the battery-charging capability, MicroSD card storage, and others. Assuming you can find it in stock somewhere and you’re not as determined to do aerial photography as I am, the Taranis Q X7 is an excellent alternative. Personally, I’m glad I stuck with the X9D for the extra switches and especially for the sliders. The positioning of the X9D’s sliders is almost ideal for manipulating a camera gimbal without having to move your hands off the flight controls.

Overall, I think that the Taranis X9D is an excellent value. It’s got an incredible feature set at the price of transmitters with half (or fewer) features. If I had to do it all over from scratch today, I’d be tempted by the Taranis Q X7, but given the extra features of the Taranis X9D Plus—especially the two convenient sliders for use with aerial photography, I think I’d still wind up buying the X9D.

My friends at Gearbest.com have created a coupon code for the Taranis X9D Plus. Enter ‘TAX9D’ during your purchase and get the Taranis X9D Plus for $210.89. The discounted and normal pricing at GearBest are a bit less expensive, the transmitter and receiver at GearBest sells for about the same price as the transmitter alone on other sites.

I Built a Quadcopter!

| Comments

This past fall, I got bit by the quadcopter bug. One of the TheLab.ms members, Alex, brought his DJI Phantom 4 Pro to SlingFest 2016 and he demonstrated the Phantom’s impressive feature set. After seeing what all the DJI Phantom 4 Pro could do, I knew I wanted to give some aerial photography a try too, but hopefully at a more cost-effective price. My goal is by the time we’re at SlingFest in 2017, I can shoot and assemble a video nearly as impressive as Alex’s video from last year!

Video by Alex Courville

Much to TheLab’s good fortune, Alex decided to start leading some drone-related events, including quadcopter build events. One of the things that Alex stressed to me at SlingFest was that it was guaranteed that I was going to crash my drone, and that all things break eventually when they’re crashed repeatedly. One of the biggest advantages of building my own quadcopter would be that I’d be in a position to repair what I broke. Furthermore, going the DIY route would allow me to include the specific features that I liked about the DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone without breaking the bank.

Parts

Normally in blogs of this format, I’ll go through each of the parts in the parts list, describing the benefits of the parts and how they fit into my grand design. However, this blog is going to have to be an exception—I am far too new to the world of quadcopters and remote-controlled aircraft to have formed knowledgeable opinions. These parts were picked by Alex in the initial drone build event at TheLab.ms and I followed his parts list to the letter because I have that much faith in Alex’s subject matter expertise.

Note: The quadcopter was built at TheLab’s Quadcopter Build Weekend in early December 2016 and in the time that has passed some of the parts are no longer available from our first Amazon parts list. In those cases, I found equivalent parts and listed them here.

Frame

The quadcopter’s frame was built using the RipaFire® F450 4-Axis Multi-Rotor Quadcopter Frame, which consists of four arms, a pair of printed circuit boards (PCBs), and a whole mess of M3 hex bolts. An XT60 connector and wire was soldered to the PCBs and used for power distribution to the four arms. An obvious advantage of this design is that in the event an arm was damaged or broken in a crash, it could be pretty easily swapped out with another arm.

Flight Controller

The flight controller is the brains of the entire drone; it contains several sensors and uses its processing power to help steady the quadcopter and work with the receiver in order for the pilot to fly it. For our quadcopters, we selected a XCSOURCE Acro Afro Naze32 10DOF Rev5. The Naze32 10DOF models include a barometer, a magnometer, and a compass chip. The Naze32 flight controllers are inexpensive and carried all of the features our entry-level quadcopter could need and more.

Motors and Propellers

We used the WOAFLY 2212 920kv Brushless Motor for our DIY 450 quadcopters. Alex promised that the 920kv motor would be more than powerful enough to enable our DIY 450 quadcopters to be as acrobatic as us newbies were daring enough to try. Moreover, combined with the Hausbell 9450 Self-tightening Propellers, we’d also have the ability to carry a payload, such as the camera gimbal and camera needed for aerial photography.

It was even suggested that the drone would be powerful enough for nefarious deeds. As my inner villain ruefully rubbed his hands together, I envisioned some sort of water-baloon quadcopter bomber to torment my family and friends with. I also would love to be able to fly my drone out into my front yard, pick up the neighbors’ dog’s poop, and return it to my neighbors’ yard since they refuse to pick up after their dogs.

Electronic Speed Controllers

The electronic speed controllers (ESC) are responsible for receiving the signal from the flight controller and turning that into something that the brushless motors can understand. Each of the ESCs is hooked up to power on the frame’s PCB, has a signal wire connected to the flight controller, and is soldered to the motor itself.

Batteries and Charger

Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries are by far the most popular choice for powering quadcopters, as well as many other remote-control vehicles. LiPo batteries offer advantages in weight, size, shape, and their discharge rates. Powering our DIY 450 drones are the Floureon 3S 2200mAh 11.1V batteries and I’ve also used the Zippy 4s 5000mAh 14.8V battery with my DIY 450 quadcopter with excellent results. My average flight time on batteries has been somewhere between 7 to 9 minutes of time up in the air. We used some hook and loop velcro and some battery straps to hold the battery to the top of the quadcopter’s frame.

It goes without saying that batteries require some sort of charger, and one of the drawbacks of the LiPo battery is that it needs some pretty specialized charging equipment. For the size of batteries we were using, the SKYRC iMAX B6 Mini Professional was ideally suited to handle our recharging. I was, however, disappointed to find out that we’d need to buy a separate power supply in order to power the battery charger.

Transmitter and Receiver

By far the most expensive piece of equipment in building the drone is the transmitter and receiver. The Spektrum DX6 accounted for nearly 50% of the cost of the entire project. We opted to spend a little more money on the transmitters because we were all convinced that we’d be flying numerous different quadcopters in no time; the advanced features of the Spektrum DX6 worked well towards that goal.

Tools

A battery beeper is a handy tool to have nearby in order to quickly check the status of your LiPo batteries, but it’s also a critical piece of flight gear. The battery beeper’s purpose is to alert you when your battery is running out of juice. Running out of power in the battery is both damaging to the entire drone (it’ll fall out of the sky!) as well as the LiPo battery itself, from the additional stress of being drained completely.

I found that having a nice additional hex set worked really well for my drone-building activity, both in the intial assembly but also in subsequent field repairs as well as more serious repairs back home. This metric hex set has come in quite handy at our occasional drone-flying events—there’s always somebody crashing and breaking their quadcopters and needing to borrow a tool or two.

Video by Sam Peterson

Quadcopter Parts List

Component Part Name Cost
Frame RipaFire® F450 4-Axis Multi-Rotor Quadcopter Frame $19.99
Flight Controller XCSOURCE Acro Afro Naze32 10DOF Rev5 Flight Controlle $21.99
Motors WOAFLY 2212 920kv Brushless Motor(CW/CCW) (Set of 4) $35.00
Propellers Hausbell 9450 Self-tightening Propellers (3 Pairs) $15.99
ESCs Hobbypower SimonK 30A ESC (set of 4) $24.97
Batteries Floureon 3S 11.1V 2200mAh 25C RC Rechargeable Lipo Battery (set of 2) $33.99
Transmitter & Receiver Spektrum DX6 Transmitter System MD2 with AR610 Receiver” $229.99
Battery Charger SKYRC iMAX B6 Mini Battery Charger & Discharger $35.88
Charger PSU Hooshion Adapter Supply Imax B6 Lipo Battery Balance Charger $15.49
Beeper Floureon RC Lipo Battery Monitor/Alarm/Tester (set of 2) $8.99
Hex Driver Set Dynamite Machined Hex Driver Metric Set Red $20.38
TOTAL: $462.66

Video by Sam Peterson

Crashes!

When we were at Slingfest, Alex was nearly adamant that I go and build something inexpensive and learn to fly a quadcopter before spending the money on a DJI Phantom 4 Pro, and boy was Alex correct! The first few times I flew my quadcopter, I crashed it numerous times. In my first three attempts, I managed to break my quadcopter in spectacular crashes that required me to order new parts from Amazon. In fact, it very soon became a running joke whether I would break my drone or finally drain my first battery.

Those first few times out, I broke a motor, then another motor, and finally in my most spectacular crash ever I snapped an arm in half and damaged one of the ESCs in the process. Thankfully, due to our DIY quadcopter’s design and my experience from assembling it, these repairs were easy for me to complete and affordable.

Video by Sam Peterson

What’s up Next?

I’m really glad that I built this DIY 450mm quadcopter, because I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do. Building and flying this quadcopter has helped me recognize, prioritize, and set a few of my own quadcopter goals:

  1. Just like I do with cars and computers, I want a much faster, nimbler, and more powerful quadcopter.
  2. I need more piloting practice; I’d like a small drone that’d be safe to fly in and around the house.
  3. … and I still want to do aerial photography on par with what Alex did at Slingfest 2016.

What do these goals mean for me? For starters, more quadcopters! No one quadcopter is going to meet all three of these goals. My DIY 450mm quadcopter is well-suited to fill the aerial-photography need. But it’s going to require an upgrade to my Spektrum DX6 because I’ll need more than six channels to be able to add the hardware needed to control a camera. I’ve already got my eye on a potential transmitter upgrade and look forward to blogging about that in the immediate future. And what about those other two goals? I’m going to look for either an off-the-shelf quadcopter, or a DIY parts list to fill them too!

Garage Makeover: Fleximounts Overhead Garage Rack

| Comments

A few years ago after buying our first home, I identified two DIY projects that I wanted to tackle immediately: First, wiring up a network across the entire house, and second put my own stamp on the garage by giving it a makeover. Being a bit of a car geek, I was really amped up to have a place to park my biggest toy and to finally have somewhere that I can dedicate some space to my tinkering. I wound up scraping down the popcorn ceiling, adding some air conditioning to help fight the Texas summers, painting the entire garage, and finally adding lots of shelving.

As the months turned into years, my garage has gone from sparsely used to nearly filled to the brim. You name it—Christmas decorations, homebrew supplies, excess computer equipment, tools, and quadcopter parts have all slowly accumulated and filled up each of the five shelving units that I added to the garage. On any given day, just about all of my workable surfaces have been occupied in some form or fashion by this accumulation of stuff.

My new friends at Fleximounts wound up finding my garage makeover blogs and noted there was one way I could improve my storage capacity in my garage—from the ceiling!

Fleximounts 4x8 Overhead Garage Rack

Fleximounts 4x8 Overhead Garage Rack

I was sent a Fleximounts 4x8 Overhead Garage Rack to use in my garage and share my thoughts on it. The garage rack was made up of six brackets which are anchored to the ceiling joists in the garage, six posts (four corner posts and two middle) attached to the brackets and then adjust between 22 inches and 40 inches. At the bottom of those posts, suspended from them, are a series of 4 foot by 2 foot shelf units. All of these pieces are interlocked with what seems to be an unending supply of nuts and bolts.

According to the product features, the garage rack can hold up to 550 evenly distributed pounds across the unit, which I found to be an impressive claim. And if I were more coordinated, and a tiny bit braver (or dumber?), then I would’ve gladly put that to the test. At one point, I had convinced myself that I would climb up on the garage rack and do a sexy boudoir-style photo whilst splayed across my ceiling-mounted garage rack. Thankfully (for me and for anyone who would accidentally look at a sexy boudoir photo of me) my common sense was able to point out that actually climbing up and achieving that pose would be beyond my ability to achieve—at least safely.

Installation

In the product’s description on Amazon, the words “easy to install” are proudly stated, and I agree with that claim. The instructions are very clear about how the product is to be installed, the included template allowing you to help install the brackets and get the product safely hung from your garage. Unfortunately, when it comes to installing things like this, my utter lack of ability and experience often make the easiest things to install quite difficult.

Ultimately, what I wound up discovering is that joists in my ceiling aren’t exactly true—or that I can’t measure straight. My father and I spent the better part of two afternoons hanging five of the six brackets but then realized that nothing we hung really seemed all that straight. In looking at the brackets alone, I turned to my Dad at one point and said “There’s no way I’m ever parking my Corvette under anything that hangs from THAT!”

Installation Diagram

Considering what was going to be parked underneath this garage rack, it began to make more and more sense to bring over a friend or hire a professional who was quite a bit more handy than my father and I. I wound up contacting a handyman, and he and I looked at it one afternoon and I pointed out all the things that I felt we’d done wrong. I beamed with a little bit of pride when he said that we’d “done a nice job,“ and that “it’d only take a little tweaking.” Within thirty minutes, the handyman had the garage rack hanging from the ceiling and he only wound up moving one of the five brackets we’d installed.

The directions were easy to follow; we knew exactly what we needed to do to get the Fleximounts 4x8 Overhead Garage Rack suspended from my ceiling. Unfortunately, I’m just not very handy and not confident enough in my own handiness when it comes to storing up to 550 pounds of stuff above my car—I’m not sure I’d be able to live with myself if something fell onto the Corvette’s hood due to my shoddy workmanship.


Empty Packaging Brackets, Vertical Posts, and lots of nuts and bolts. Shelving Grid Installed Brackets – Nearly Straight! Installed Brackets – Nearly Straight! Rack hangs about 2 Feet below the Ceiling Completed Install #1 Completed Install #2 Completed Install #3

Conclusion

As far as I’m concerned, the Fleximounts 4x8 Overhead Garage Rack is very well made and would have been easy to install for just about anybody with an average amount of skill. My lack of skill and experience undermined my confidence in what we had put together, but in seeing the final product after the handyman was finished, we were much closer to getting it right than I was giving us credit for. About my only complaint is that the Fleximounts 4x8 Overhead Garage Rack includes a very crude set of “wrenches” (I use this in the broadest definition of the term) that you could use in the installation. If you’re not willing to subject yourself to the pain and discomfort of repeatedly using these awful little tools, you’re much, much, much better off getting the appropriately sized wrenches and skipping trying to use these.

All things considered, I’m really pleased with being able to add the Fleximounts 4x8 Overhead Garage Rack as a storage option in my garage. In a perfect world, my garage would be about 2 feet taller and then I’d be tempted to line the entire area above the garage door with the overhead garage rack.

DIY NAS: 2017 Edition

| Comments

Way back at the end of 2011, I decided that I wanted to build a file server in order to store the backups of each of the computers in my house. I immediately set out on Google and started looking for suggestions on what hardware to use. Ultimately, I was frustrated by what I found. There was no shortage of information, but a lot of the information was buried in forum threads and other difficult-to-consume places. This is what convinced me to build my own NAS and then publish a blog chronicling my adventures. A few weeks after being published, that DIY NAS blog quickly became the most popular article on my blog. So popular in fact, that I’ve repeated it on a yearly basis.

Over the years, there have numerous comments and questions about the other things that could be done with my different DIY NAS builds. The majority of these questions and comments have typically surrounded the serving up of media—a perfectly valid question considering the immense storage requirements of media collections. Other authors of the blogs’ comments have wanted to know about the feasibility of hosting virtual machines on the hardware to fill other computing needs in their homes. The past couple DIY NAS builds, especially the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition, have been on the cusp of being able to stream high-definition video or host virtual machines.

Ultimately, I decided that my goal was to pick hardware capable of handling all of these tasks: file server, virtual machine host, and media streaming. Achieving this goal came at considerable expense, and because of it my bank account has suffered enormously. Please take a moment of silence to commemorate the dollars lost.

Wouldn’t you know it, iXsystems stole a bit of my thunder! They’ve released FreeNAS Corral (aka FreeNAS 10) nearly on the same day that I’m publishing the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition. The ultra converged features of FreeNAS Corral are the ultimate compliment to the hardware I selected for this year’s DIY NAS build.

Update (4/13/17): Unfortunately, a recent announcement by iXsystems on their forums indicates that FreeNAS Corral is being taken back to a “technical preview” state while the development team works through some shortcomings of the implementation. It would’ve been nice to run FreeNAS Corral on the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition and work on a review. That will have to wait until FreeNAS Corral reaches a release state in the future.

CPU & Motherboard

When planning out the DIY NAS builds, the motherboard is where I spend the most effort and typically the most of my budget. When shopping, I’m looking for a motherboard that’s small (Mini ITX form factor preferred), that has a low-power CPU, and has 6 or more SATA ports. In addition to these critical criteria, I’m always on the look-out for passively cooled CPUs, on-board Gigabit network controllers (preferably 2), and even IPMI. Considering my goal of building a box capable of handling the hosting of Virtual Machines and/or transcoding multiple media streams, I was a bit worried that I might have to consider buying a non-integrated CPU and the needed CPU cooling equipment.

I wound up deciding on the Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O (specs) which pretty much demolished any sort of budgetary goals that I had for this year’s DIY NAS build. However, on the other hand, the Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O literally checked off every single feature that I could dream about needing for a NAS:

  • Integrated Intel® Xeon® Processor D-1541
  • Mini-ITX Form Factor
  • Supports up to 128GB DDR4 RAM (ECC or non-ECC)
  • 6 x SATA 3.0 (6Gpbs)
  • IPMI
  • 2 x 10GbE Network
  • 2 x 1GbE Network

The Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O is more than enough motherboard for what I wanted to accomplish. The Xeon D-1541 CPU benchmarks at nearly 3 times the CPU used in last year’s DIY NAS, the Avoton C2750. As far as I’m concerned, the Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O is almost laughably over-equipped for inclusion into a machine whose primary purpose is the storing and hosting of files. And those features are expensive! Coming in at $899, the Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O is the most expensive motherboard/CPU combination I’ve ever purchased. However, considering that the price of last year’s motherboard, the ASRock C2750D4I, is routinely found for $400-450, the Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O actually provides more bang for your buck. It’s definitely expensive, even prohibitively expensive, but I believe that at this point it’s a better value than the ASRock C2750D4I.

RAM

For the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition I wound up deciding to go with 64GB (4 x 16GB) of Registered ECC DDR4 2133MHz RAM (specs). In last year’s NAS build and my own DIY NAS upgrade I had wanted to use 64GB of RAM, but the cost on the DIMMs that worked with the ASRock C2750D4I and ASRock C2550D4i were prohibitively expensive at the time. After spending $900 on the Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O motherboard, the cost of the RAM seemed to be a bit more in-line with the rest of the components. Among the things I’ve learned about ZFS is that ZFS loves RAM. If I had a do-over on the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition then I probably would’ve opted to exclude the ZIL/L2ARC SSDs and use that money towards RAM instead—even if it wound up adding two or three hundred dollars to the price tag.

Case, Power Supply, and Cables

If you’ve read last year’s DIY NAS build blog or watched last year’s time-lapse assembly video, then you know that I found working inside the case to be a tad bit challenging. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the U-NAS NSC-800 case and I’m super glad I went through the effort to use it in my own NAS. I wound up having to replace the ASRock C2550D4I in my NAS a couple months ago and I swore back then that I wouldn’t go through that hassle again—especially for a NAS that I’m just going to give away!

In the DIY NAS: 2015 Edition, I used the SilverStone DS380B (specs) and I was quite happy with it. It seemed to have the right set of features: Mini-ITX, 8-hot swappable drive bays, room for a couple 2.5” drives inside, and a decent price point of around $150. About my only complaint with the case was that the drive bays felt a bit on the chintzy/fragile side. I didn’t actually break any of the drive bays, and I was really happy with the end result. Happy enough that I have been planning to use it in the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition for quite some time. The SilverStone DS380B is still ideally suited to be used in a DIY NAS build.

I went a bit overboard with the power supply. The Intel Xeon D-1541 is the most power-hungry component, but has a TDP of a meager 45W. The SilverStone DS380B could support up to 10 total hard drives (8 in drive bays, 2 more in the internal bays) using an additional 100W (10W per drive is a generous estimate) or so. Considering the power consumption of the hardware, you may wonder why I bought the 450W SilverStone ST45SF-V3 (specs)? That’s an easy question to answer—compatability! When building the DIY NAS: 2015 Edition I wound up going through what seemed like fourteen—but was more like two—different power supplies trying to find something that fit inside the SilverStone DS380B case. I found that different manufacturers seemed to have different interpretations of the SFX standard or that I was very bad at shopping. The SilverStone ST45SF-V3 was moderately priced, well reviewed, and I was quite confident that it’d work in the SilverStone DS380B case.

In building the machine, I ran into my only disappointment in the Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O: what I found was the onboard headers used to connect to the SilverStone DS380B case’s USB 3.0 front-panel ports were only USB 2.0. Because of that, I had three options: leave the front-panel USB ports disconnected (which I did when I built the DIY NAS: 2015 Edition), buy a USB 3.0 PCI-e card that had a header to support the front panel connectors, or find an adapter to connect a USB 3.0-style connector to a USB 2.0 header. The adapter wound up being the best option because it was inexpensive, it didn’t eat up the only PCI-e slot available on the Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O, and having the added speed of USB 3.0 on the front of the case just isn’t very important to me.

Later on in the assembly, I ended up deciding to replace the SilverStone DS380B’s clever magnetic mesh grill for the side’s case fans with a pair of traditional 120mm fan grills. What I found shortly after I installed and configured FreeNAS was that the hard drives were running alarmingly hot—hot enough for FreeNAS to trigger a critical hard drive temperature alert. While that alert wound up being completely my fault, I did still notice that the hard drives were still quite warm. Removing the SilverStone DS380B’s default fan grill wound up having the most dramatic effect in lowering the hard drives’ temperatures. I’ll dive into this in much greater detail further down in the blog.

Storage

FreeNAS Flash Drive

You might be asking yourself, “Why didn’t Brian use some sort of SSD for the OS drive?” and the answer to that is simple: this machine is primarily a NAS! I would rather all M.2, PCI-e, and SATA ports to be used to making additions to improve the performance of the actual NAS. An added benefit of using the USB for the boot device is that it’s an excellent chance to save a few dollars or at the very least redirect the dollars you would’ve spent on an operating system drive and use them to actually add storage or improve the performance of your NAS.

For some reason, I’ve been pretty loyal to SanDisk throughout my NAS-building years. For every NAS that I’ve built since my very first one, I’ve been using the SanDisk Cruzer Fit or Ultra Fit USB drives. They’re small enough that they can plug right into the USB ports on the back of the computer, which makes them readily accessible in the event of a failure. For the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition, I wound up choosing the 16GB SanDisk Ultra Fit. In my own NAS upgrade, I decided I wanted to mirror the FreeNAS USB boot device, and that’s something which I chose to do with the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition as well. Having an OS drive fail in FreeNAS isn’t a huge deal, thanks to it saving your settings on to disk on a daily basis, but adding a mirror is inexpensive and easy, so why not do it?

NAS Hard Disk Drives

Up until this year, I’ve been primarily buying 4TB hard disk drives in my DIY NAS builds. After building the 2016 NAS, I had a feeling that the days of the 4TB hard drive were probably behind me. While upgrading to a 8 x 4TB HDD configuration for the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition would’ve been a logical progression, I wasn’t too crazy about it because I knew it’d definitely be the last time I was going to use a 4TB HDD for this series of NAS builds. This was further complicated by the fact that the Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O motherboard only has 6 SATA ports. Using 8 HDDs would’ve required adding SATA ports via a SATA controller card.

Bigger drives helped solve the limits imposed by the fact that the Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O motherboard only had 6 SATA ports onboard. I wound up digging through both 6TB and 8TB hard drive prices and I ultimately wound up deciding that the 8TB hard drives were the way to go. They carried the biggest sticker price, but similarly offered the best price per terabyte.


2017 NAS HDDs
Drive
Seagate 8TB (ST8000DM002)
WD Red 8TB (WD80EFZX)
Size
8 TB
8 TB
Quantity
3
2
Price
$264.99
$279.99

When I pick out hard drives for a NAS, I always consult the Backblaze drive statistics blogs. I wasn’t surprised to find that they’d already arrived at the conclusion I had. They also wrote about beginning their migration towards using 8 TB hard drives. I had already decided to buy five 8TB hard drives. In my typical RAIDZ2 configuration, that would leave 24 TB of net storage—a 4TB upgrade from the prior year’s blog. Because I’ve had good luck to date with Western Digital’s Red series of drives, I wound up deciding on buying the WD Red 8TB HDD (WD80EFZX) (specs) and due to the statistics from Backblaze, I also picked the Seagate 8TB (ST8000DM002) (specs). Because I value Backblaze’s statistics more than my own personal experience, I chose to pick three of the Seagate drives and two of the WD Red drives. The fact that the Seagate drive was more affordable made that decision a no-brainer.

Final Parts List

Component Part Name Count Cost
Motherboard Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F specs 1 $952.99
Memory Crucial 64GB Kit (16GBx4) DDR4 ECC specs 1 $817.99
Case SilverStone Tek DS380B specs 1 $141.83
Power Supply SilverStone Technology 450W SFX ST45SF-V3 specs 1 $59.99
USB 3.0 to 2.0 Motherboard Adapter SIENOC USB 3.0 20 Pin Male to USB 2.0 9 Pin Motherboard Female Cable N/A 1 $5.08
Case Fan Grill 120mm Black Fan Grill / Guard with screws (2 pack) N/A 1 $7.50
OS Drive SanDisk Ultra Fit 16GB USB Flash Drive specs 1 $10.85
Storage HDD 1 Seagate 8TB HDD SATA ST8000DM002 specs 3 $264.99
Storage HDD 2 WD Red 8TB NAS HDD (WD80EFZX) specs 2 $279.99
TOTAL: $3,362.03

When I first saw my Amazon Shopping Cart, I think I stopped breathing for a minute or two. Spending more than three thousand dollars on any computer seems to be a bit financially reckless. My suggestion for most readers would be to avoid faithfully following this parts list as a blueprint for your own NAS, but to instead use it as a starting point and look for areas to cut costs and tweak it to your needs. However, I do think it’s important to point out that about 50% of the total machine’s cost is storage and nearly 30% of the machine’s cost is a seriously powerful, power-efficient, and feature-rich motherboard that carries quite the price premium. It’s an expensive build, but it is also quite powerful and I think it is an excellent value. In fact, I think that it’s a much better value than the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition even if last year’s NAS is around $1,000 cheaper. When you spend smart, you can expect to get what you pay for!


All the 2017 DIY NAS parts,  and then some! Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F Motherboard Crucial 64GB Kit (16GBx4) DDR4 2133 ECC RAM 2 x SanDisk Ultra Fit 16GB 2 x WD Red 8TB NAS HDD - WD80EFZX 3 x Seagate 8TB Desktop HDD - ST8000DM002 SilverStone Technology 450W SFX (ST45SF-V3) SilverStone Tek DS380B DS380B Case - Drive Trays DS380B Case - Drive Cage #1 DS380B Case - Drive Cage #2 DS380B Case -  Interior #1 DS380B Case - Interior #2 DS380B Case - My ugly Mug


Hardware Assembly, Configuration, and Burn-In

Assembly

The DIY NAS: 2016 Edition and my own NAS were by far the most difficult computers I’ve ever put together, but I still feel that it was worth the effort. I love my NAS in the U-NAS NSC-800, and everybody I showed it to has been impressed. All that being said, I sure am glad that the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition was built around the SilverStone DS380B again. One night, after my one-year-old son finally zonked out for the evening, I got out all the parts and had the computer assembled and booted up in an hour or two. Working inside the SilverStone DS380B is straightforward enough that I don’t even have any gotchas or helpful tips to suggest. Here are my best suggestions:

  1. Install your RAM while the motherboard is outside the case.
  2. Use your power supply, the motherboard (and its box), and the case’s power button in order to fire up the parts once before putting in the case.
  3. Zip ties, lots and lots of zip ties. You’ll hate them if you ever have to take the machine apart, but you’ll still be glad you did it.

Based on the video above, or the full-length version, it took me less than an hour to put together the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition. Quite a bit faster than the number of hours it took to build either last year’s NAS or my own NAS.

Hard Drive Temperature Issues!

I didn’t really discover this during the actual assembly, but if I had the ability to predict the future, I would’ve wanted to tackle it during the assembly. Once I had FreeNAS installed and running, I noticed that the drives were running hot…very hot. I leapt into action after seeing the FreeNAS GUI log a critical error. The hottest drives were running at 60-62 degrees Celsius and the rest of the drives were between 45 and 55 degrees Celsius. This was way too hot for my comfort.

Unfortunately (and thankfully), I’d done a really dumb thing in the placement of the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition. I had the NAS down on the floor, literally squeezed between a desk and a file cabinet. Due to the lack of any measurable gap on either side of the SilverStone DS380B, this placement was abysmally atrocious for airflow. I’d put it down there to protect it from my nomadic son, who has already developed a fondness for crawling up to devices and pressing power buttons, as my homelab server, my FreeNAS box and my desktop computer can each testify to. Getting better airflow around the NAS helped, but I felt that the drives were still all running a bit warmer than I’d like. The temperatures of the drives fell, but only down to 42 to 49 degrees, which was still too hot.

I wound up taking additional steps, and I’d strongly recommend these for other SilverStone DS380B users—especially those of you with similar hard drive temperature issues.

  1. Remove the SilverStone magnetic grill and replace it with a pair of less restrictive traditional case fan grills.
  2. Set the speed of the fans to HeavyIO Speed in the IPMI interface (or via the BIOS)
  3. Rearrange the drives to create as many air gaps between drives as is possible.

The combination of these three steps immediately resolved any issues I had with critically hot drives. After making these changes, the temperatures on the drives dropped down to a range of 32 to 40 degrees Celsius. Of the three steps, removing the magnetic grill had the most immediate and dramatic impact on the drive temperatures. The material of the grill must really be restrictive for it to have had that dramatic of an impact on the drive temperature. The second two steps each helped as well, but not nearly as dramatically as removing the grill.

For this year’s build, the above three steps resolved the issues I saw with the hard drives being too hot. However, it also gnawed at me knowing that other people might wind putting more than five drives into the cage and the SilverStone DS380B’s airflow might also haunt them. One additional solution that I’d read about was to create a duct inside the case to force the air across the hard drive cage using cardboard. Because of the DS380B’s big air gap on that side of the case, the path of least resistance for the airflow is to avoid the drive cage. This duct would encourage the air being pushed into the case by the fans to actually enter the drive cage. Even though there’s no shortage of “free” cardboard lying around from all the parts’ packaging, I was a bit worried how the duct would hold up in shipment to the giveaway winner, and it also seemed a bit unprofessional to brag about a computer where I’d employed cardboard and duct tape to solve a problem. Instead of taking the easy route of using some of the cardboard, I decided to go ahead and put my 3D printer to use and design my own fan duct which screws into the case fans. I even published a blog about the implementation, design, and creation of the cooling ducts.

Because he’s a good dude, my friend Pat is putting his 3D Printer to use in order to sell the pairs of the fan ducts on his Tindie store for $12. If you’re a SilverStone DS380 case owner who wants to increase the airflow across the drive cage, I’d recommend implementing the steps above and also picking up a set of these cooling ducts. You’ll probably also want to make sure you have four 120mm fan screws laying around or pick some up!


First Duct Face Prototype #1 First Duct Face Prototype #2 Final Duct Face #1 Final Duct Face #2 Final Duct Face #3 Final Duct Face #4 Duct Face in the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition #1 Duct Face in the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition #2 Duct Face in the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition #3 Duct Face in the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition #4

Burn-In

MemTest86+

Once I’m confident that the motherboard will POST, my biggest concern is always that there’s a lurking bit of bad RAM somewhere on one of the DIMMs. I use one of my numerous spare SanDisk Ultra Fit flash drives to create bootable MemTest86+ USB drive and run it for at least three passes. I almost always wind up running MemTest86+ for more than three passes, but that’s just because I walk away from it for a few days and come back to it at a later point in time. A successful completion of three passes without any errors should be more than enough to give you a warm-and-fuzzy feeling about the condition of your RAM and your computer’s ability to use it.


CPU Torture Test(s)

After a few days (or longer) of running MemTest86+, I’ll run a CPU stress test. My CPU stress test of choice is Prime95 the Mersenne Prime Search program. In Prime95, I choose that I’m doing stress testing and picking the Blend test. The Blend test should hammer away at the CPU and RAM pretty soundly. To gain confidence in the machine’s overall stability, I’ll usually let Prime95 run for around four hours. If the motherboard can handle the CPU being pegged at 100% constantly for four hours, then I usually have a pretty good feeling about the machine’s stability. Keeping the CPU running at 100% capacity generates a lot of heat, and heat is the number one enemy of all computer hardware, particularly components with defects.


FreeNAS Installation and Configuration

Using one of my other computers, I created a bootable USB drive out of the FreeNAS installer ISO. For my sanity’s sake I picked a different brand of USB device than the SanDisk Ultra Fit drives that I’d selected for housing the FreeNAS Operating System. Normally I get out my trusty old monitor and keyboard for first installing and setting up FreeNAS, but for the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition I did the entirety of the setup headless without a monitor using the motherboard’s IPMI interface. When I got to the Choose destination Media screen, I made sure to select both of the SanDisk Ultra Fits. I chose the Boot via BIOS option for the FreeNAS Boot Mode and then allowed the installer to reboot my machine after removing the installation USB drive. The NAS booted FreeNAS up from the OS drives and at the console it reported the URL for the FreeNAS web user interface.



Typical Configuration

In configuring FreeNAS, I employ a very KISS (Keep it simple, stupid!) approach. The more straightforward things are set up, the easier it is for me to understand and fix problems when they arise. I don’t use Active Directory (or any equivalent) at home, so all of my computers’ network configuration is done individually and consistently across each computer. The FreeNAS machine is no different. Here are the steps that I took to set it up:

  1. Updated the FreeNAS hostname to the . where the workgroup matches my other computers (eg: diynas2017.lan)
  2. Created a user in FreeNAS where the username and password reflected the local username and password I’m using on my Windows machines.
  3. Created a group called ShareUsers
  4. Edited my user and added my account to the ShareUsers group
  5. Using the FreeNAS Volume Manager, I created a volume named storage, added all 5 of the 8TB HDDs to the volume, and picked RaidZ2 as my RAID type.
  6. Created a Dataset named share underneath the storage volume.
  7. Modified the permissions of the share dataset:
    1. Set the Owner(group) to ShareUsers
    2. Checked the boxes for Read, Write, and Execute beneath Group
    3. Selected the Set permission recursively checkbox.
  8. Selecting User Services, I enabled the SMB service and made the following settings:
    1. NetBIOS name: diynas2017
    2. Workgroup: lan
    3. Description: DIYNAS2017
  9. Navigating to Sharing –> Windows (SMB) Shares –> Add Windows Share I created a new Share
    1. Path: /mnt/storage/share
    2. Name: share
  10. Enabled Autotune under System –> Advanced

Initial Login Main FreeNAS Page Creating a User in FreeNAS Creating the user group to access the Share Adding user to Share Creating a Volume in via Volume Manager Post-volume creation Creating the Share Dataset Giving the ShareUser group access to the dataset Configuring Samba/CIFS Creating a Windows share pointed at the dataset Enabling the wizardy of Autotune

Completing these steps effectively sets up a disk array which contains two drives’ worth of redundant data. On that disk array, it creates the share folder which the ShareUsers group has permissions to read, write, and modify. Finally, using SMB, that folder is shared as the name “share.” After completing all of these, it’s possible for me to open the share in Windows File Explorer and then make changes to the contents of that new share.


Setting up the Plex Plug-in

Media collections take up so much space that I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they’re at the top of the list of things that people want to store on their NAS. And as long as you’re storing it somewhere, why not also then be able to access that media collection over the network from your various TVs, computers, smartphones, and tablets? It only makes sense that many users would want some way to access their media collections directly on their NAS machines. This is where the FreeNAS plug-in for Plex comes in so handy and is one of the reasons that the Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O’s Xeon D-1541 CPU comes in most handy. With a Passmark score of over 11,000, the Xeon D-1541 CPU would be able to simultaneously transcode five different 1080p streams.

For the first time ever, I decided to try and tackle setting up Plex using the FreeNAS plug-in.

  1. Created a Dataset called media for media storage in FreeNAS.
  2. Set the permissions on the media dataset:
    1. Set the Owner(group) to ShareUsers
    2. Checked the boxes for Read, Write, and Execute beneath Group
    3. Selected the Set permission recursively checkbox.
  3. Added a Windows (SMB) Share for /mnt/storage/media and called it Media
  4. Under Plugins in the FreeNAS UI, I selected PlexMediaServer, hit install, and clicked Ok to install the plugin.
  5. Added storage to the Plex Jail (Jails –> select plexmediaserver__1–>Add Storage)
    1. Source: /mnt/storage/media
    2. Destination /media
  6. Enabled the Plexmediaserver plugin
  7. From the dialog box that popped up afterwards, was able to pull up the Plex UI

At this point, the Plex Media Server was running in its own jail on the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition. I then set up my Media libraries, copied over some of the videos that I recorded while assembling the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition, and via Plex I was playing those videos on a number of devices on my network. If you need help setting up Plex, you can pick up where I left off by starting with Step #2 of the Quick Start Guide from Plex.


Creating FreeNAS Dataset for Media Setting permissions on the Media dataset Creating a Media share in Samba Installing the PlexMediaServer plugin Confirming the PlexMediaServer plugin installation Post PlexMediaServer installation Adding storage to the PlexMediaServer jail Turning on the PlexMediaServer service Logging in to Plex Plex Server Setup Setting up Media Library’s folders in Plex Completing Plex Server Setup Browsing Plex Media Library Watching a video in Plex

Benchmarks

When benchmarking the performance of my NAS builds, I’m really interested in two things: throughput and power consumption. The NAS’s ability to send/receive data quickly is its most key component, and power consumption is a sneaky hidden cost that’s good to keep an eye on. However, because I put the Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O in this year’s NAS, it would seem criminal to not point out the phenomenal upgrade in processing power the Intel Xeon D-1541 brings to the table. The Xeon D-1541 benchmarks at nearly three times what last year’s Atom C2750 does and nearly quintuples 2015’s Atom C2550, which is an important benchmark to share.

That being said, on to the benchmarks I care most about!

Power Consumption

Depending on where you live, especially outside of the United States, power consumption winds up being a very sneaky cost of running your own NAS. Especially if you decide to run yours 24x7 like I do. Since building my first NAS, I’ve been willing to pay a premium for hardware that is more power-efficient, which is something I did this year by buying the Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O for its Intel Xeon D-1541 CPU.

Bootup Idle Memtest86+ Prime95 Drive Write Test
124 watts
83 watts
86 watts
126 watts
111 watts

Using the app for one of my Sonoff POWs, I’ve been keeping track of the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition’s consumption of power. In the past 16 days, the NAS used 33.06 kWh worth of energy. That averages out to about 2.066 kWh per day.

Throughput

I’m a bit embarrassed about the throughput testing. I was so excited about the dual 10Gb NICs that I spent even more money on an Intel X540T2 Network Adapter T2 just so that I could test the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition. I spent more on the X540T2 than I did on my entire 10GbE SFP+ network, which interconnects three different computers! I bought this dual-port 10Gb NIC for the sole purpose of testing something I hadn’t done anywhere yet: link aggregation. I was pretty excited to team the 10GbE interfaces and see if I could really see some high throughput numbers.

Here’s a quick run-through of how I wind up testing throughput on the NAS. With these settings, I’ve been able to routinely demonstrate the saturation of Gigabit NICs. In building my own inexpensive 10GbE SFP+ network, I’ve found that I wasn’t able to use these steps to saturate those 10GbE links. For the sake of testing everything in the same way, I didn’t make any adjustments based on which link I was testing on.

Here’s how I benchmarked the throughput:

  1. Mapped a drive in Windows to the share on the interface that was being tested.
  2. IOMeter
    1. Set up 2 workers per CPU core. On each worker I set the Maximum Disk Size number of sectors to a number that’d be 2.5 times as big as my total amount of RAM (~512 bytes per sector) and also picked the drive letter of the mapped drive as the Target
    2. Under Access Specifications, I created four different Global Access Specifications all with a 512KB block size.
      1. Sequential Read: 100% Read and 100% Sequential
      2. Sequential Write: 100% Write and 100% Sequential
      3. Random Read: 100% Read and 100% Random
      4. Random Write: 100% Write and 100% Random
    3. I quadruple check each IOMeter worker because I almost always forget to update one when repeating these steps.
  3. I execute each of my four different tests (described above) in IOMeter for each of the IP addresses assigned to the different NICs for a duration of 10 minutes per test.

Overall, I was impressed with the throughput of the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition, but not overwhelmed. In buying the Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O, I paid quite the premium for the dual onboard 10GbE RJ45 interfaces. But what I discovered is that my inexpensive 10Gb network cobbled together out of parts I found on eBay performs nearly as well and at a fraction of the cost. Where the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition shone brightest was in my sequential write speeds, in fact it showed up my personal NAS by so much I re-re-re-tested both to make sure the results were accurate.

I attempted to use link aggregation using LACP to team the two 10GbE NICs together on NAS and my PC. But in each of the throughput tests, the aggregated connection actually performed slower than one of the single 10GbE links. I assume that there’s something that I’m missing here, so I’ve omitted those results. When (or if) I get to the point where I have confidence in this configuration, I’ll rerun my throughput tests and publish an update.

Conclusion

The DIY NAS: 2017 Edition is way, way, way beyond “just a file server.” It has an incredible amount of extra potential that my prior years’ DIY NAS builds have lacked. The processing power of the Xeon D-1541 nearly triples last year’s NAS, the 64 GB of RAM doubles the previous build, and the 2x10GbE and 2x1GbE network interfaces dwarf the throughput of the 2016 build. Moreover, there’s even room for future growth in RAM, additional hard drives, and a free PCI-e slot for whatever tickles your fancy.

If I were you, I wouldn’t be too discouraged by the fact that I couldn’t get the link aggregation working to the point that it was faster than a single 10GbE link. 10GbE switches are still priced well beyond what I think is reasonable for a home user. I think you’re far better off using the Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O’s two 10GbE interfaces to connect directly to two other PCs and build a couple small point-to-point 10GbE networks in the process. I’ve found that a 10GbE link between my computer and my NAS is quite ridiculous.

My biggest disappointment in this build is its astronomical cost. Don’t get me wrong, I think if someone emulates this build on their own then they’re definitely going to get what they pay for, they’re just going to wind up getting (and paying!) a lot in order to do it. I always attempt to compare my latest DIY NAS build to equivalent off-the-shelf machines, but this year that was difficult. For starters, this is a 6-bay NAS. There is certainly room in the SilverStone DS380B for eight hard drives, but there are no available SATA ports on the motherboard.

In order to make the comparison a bit easier, I’m adding the cost of a FreeBSD-compatible SATA controller card to the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition, which means that a diskless 8 bay version of the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition_ would cost around $1,800. How does it compare? Unfortunately, due to my motherboard choice. It’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison any longer.

The closest equivalent off-the-shelf-NAS that I could find was the QNAP TVS-871-i7-16G-US, which features an Intel Core i7-4790S, 16GB of DDR3 RAM, and 4x1GB NICs and sells for $2,177 dollars. When you do a side-by-side comparison of the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition and the QNAP TVS-871-i7-16G-US, the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition wins nearly every comparison except for maybe the GPUs’ capabilities. Other 8-bay NAS systems like the Synology DiskStation DS1815+ and QNAP TS-831X-8G-US both have price tags that compare favorably to the price tag on the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition, but beyond each having 8 bays, the comparisons really end there. The amount of computing power, memory, and throughput that exists in the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition simply can’t be matched by the consumer grade 8-bay NAS devices from Synology, QNAP, Drobo, and others.


Ultimately what I wound up building out this year was way, way, way beyond just a NAS. The DIY NAS: 2017 Edition really has more in common with my homelab server build than it does with my prior NAS builds. Calling this build a NAS is akin to calling the Ferrari LaFerrari a car, the Mona Lisa a painting, or the Pyramids of Giza a few buildings. Hyperbole notwithstanding, the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition really is pushing the boundaries of good sense. There’s no doubt about it, it’s a remarkable machine that carries an equally remarkable price tag. However it compares very favorably to its closest off-the-shelf competitor, the QNAP TVS-871-i7-16G-US. It easily surpasses the QNAP processing power, available memory, and throughput while remaining around $400 cheaper.

But Brian, I don’t want to spend over that much building a NAS, even if it is a super NAS!

I don’t blame you, not one bit! I’ve definitely overdone it with the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition. Please keep in mind, this is just a suggestion of what you could do; there are certainly other ways you can build a NAS. My number-one suggestion to any potential DIY NAS builder is always:

Understand your requirements and choose your hardware based on your requirements, not some yahoo blogger on the Internet! (aka me)

At $900, the Supermicro X10SDV-TLN4F-O is in rarefied air—it’s an incredibly expensive motherboard thanks to the Xeon D-1541 CPU and the dual onboard 10Gb Ethernet NICs. During my shopping, I discovered that the Supermicro X10SDV-4C+-TLN4F-O is a very comparable motherboard with a slower CPU and missing the 2x10GbE network controllers that still carries a hefty price tag around $525, but that price tag is nearly $400 cheaper than what I used in this year’s NAS build.

Another area ripe for massive savings is the storage drives. The 5x8TB HDDs in this year’s build wound up accounting for nearly $1,500—opting for very expensive drives yielded a nice price-per-terabyte but it still cost a pretty penny. However, in choosing large drives, 16TB of space was dedicated to redundancy. The total net storage is 24TB. A similar configuration of 4TB drives at around $145-150 per drive (8x4TB HDDs RAID-Z2) would wind up costing around $300 less, although some of that savings would need to go to adding a SATA controller card like the oft-recommended IBM Serveraid M1015 for around $139 or a more budget-friendly SATA controller card for just under $30.00.

Changing the drive configuration, picking a less expensive motherboard, and adding a SATA card would bring the price down from $3200 down to around $2500. Re-building the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition using today’s prices would cost around $2200, which is actually more than what it cost to build a year ago. All things considered, this alternative build is very tempting. I very nearly picked out the Supermicro X10SDV-4C+-TLN4F-O and a 8x4TB HDD configuration for the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition. Ultimately, I wound up being convinced that the Xeon D-1541 CPU and the dual 10GbE were worth the added expense. I wouldn’t fault anyone for disagreeing and picking the alternative configuration—I debated this myself for quite some time before making my decision!

One final note on saving a few dollars—shop around! In the couple months that I’ve been working on this blog, I’ve been keeping an eye on the prices. Due to Amazon’s wonky pricing, I’ve seen the total price as low $2,750 and as high as $3,400. The prices have been especially chaotic on the RAM and hard drives. The Amazon prices were cheapest or at least competitive when I purchased my parts, but that hasn’t held true since my original purchases.

Giveaway

#FreeNASGiveAway Updates

05/16/17: Congratulations are in order to Jon Halvorson for winning the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition! Out of the 6,902 entries, following me on Twitter was the entry that wound up being figuratively drawn from the hat! Thanks are owed to Jon as well as the 2,109 other people who entered the contest and making the #FreeNASGiveaway a smashing success! The fact that the #FreeNASGiveaway was 530% larger than last year’s giveaway practically guarantees that I’ll continue the tradition in a few months with a new EconoNAS build!

06/06/17: Jon Halvorson was kind enough to share a Tweet and an action shot of the DIY NAS: 2017 Edition at home in its new home. Hopefully it’s getting a warm welcome from all its new neighbors!


Brian's DIY NAS: 2017 Edition #FreeNASGiveaway

Begin Laser Ignition! A Review of the NEJE DK-8-KZ Laser Engraver

| Comments

A few months back, the folks at GearBest.com contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to review things they sent me from time to time. The first item they suggested appealed directly to a childhood fascination that’s stuck with me all the way into my so-called adulthood: LASERS! I’m pretty certain that five-year-old Brian would’ve eagerly gobbled down his broccoli if his mother had convinced him that the accursed vegetable was the secret behind obtaining his own laser weaponry. Chief among the things that excited me about our fledgling Plano-area makerspace, TheLab.ms, was the possibility of making things with a laser cutter for some of my DIY projects. If you’d told five-year-old Brian that one day he’d be using lasers to complete projects, he would’ve demanded to borrow your time machine and see this fantastical future.

NEJE DK-8-KZ Laser Engraver

GearBest wound up shipping me a NEJE DK-8-KZ Laser Engraver. It’s definitely a little guy, something that you could sit right on your desk without taking up much more room than a giant cup of coffee. It measures out to be 6” x 6” x 7.5”. The laser on the engraver is a 1000mW and it’s powered by two different USB ports (Standard and Mini) connectors. Additionally, the Mini USB serves as the data connection for hooking up to your PC to control the engraver. The actual workable surface of the engraver measures around 3” x 3.5”. A MicroSD card is shipped with the printer, which contains the drivers, software, and a bunch of different images (512 x 512) that the engraver is capable of handling.

Based on the specifications, I harbored no delusions of being able to use the NEJE DK-8-KZ Laser Engraver to do any of the tasks I’d been hoping we’d eventually be able to do at our nearby makerspace. In fact, I completely abandoned any concepts of actually cutting anything thicker than your ordinary office paper. Perhaps the tiny laser is capable of cutting thin enough materials, but I just couldn’t fathom the value of those cuts. But what could I wind up doing with the NEJE DK-8-KZ Laser Engraver? I had a few ideas:

  1. Engrave my face into things… All the things!
  2. Subvert the balance of Scrabble by adding my own tiles.
  3. Make a very unique business card.
  4. Convince TheLab.ms to buy one or simply find room in the garage for my very own.

Of these four reasons, I really think last one resonates with me as the best reason to recommend the NEJE DK-8-KZ Laser Engraver. It’s inexpensive, it’s small, and it’s easy to use. After a few engraving jobs, you get the idea of the amount of work, patience, and tinkering it takes to be successful. The NEJE DK-8-KZ Laser Engraver is something I’d recommend to anyone who wants to do some serious laser cutting, but doesn’t know where to start.

Considering that the NEJE DK-8-KZ Laser Engraver was a significant contributing factor in my commission of a work of art, it only made sense that my face would need to be the first thing I attempted to engrave on anything. I scrounged around the house and found some retail packaging in our recycle bin. I loaded up the engraver’s device drivers and application, and in the immortal words of Frau Farbissina, I screamed “Begin laser ignition!!!!!!!!!!” at the top of my lungs and then hit the application’s Start button.

Note: If you’re impatient and don’t want to sit through the entire 18-minute video then check out this time-lapse video.

I went through about two or three attempts before I was successfully engraving my face into the scrap pieces of paper retail packaging. Much to my chagrin, figuring out how to use the NEJE DK-8-KZ Laser Engraver took fewer attempts than it took me to get a decent video recorded of the process. Overall, I found the engraver and its software to be very easy to use. Once I had it working, it only required a matter of trial and error in order to get the laser focused and to set the duration to the right amount for burning my face into the material.

Conclusion

Before GearBest.com contacted me and asked me if I wanted to review the NEJE DK-8-KZ Laser Engraver, I wasn’t even aware that small laser-engraving tools like this existed. If I had been aware of their existence, I would’ve bought one in a heartbeat just because I’m curious about laser cutters, but I’m not willing to spend hundreds (thousands) of dollars to buy my own. About the only complaint that I have is that the NEJE DK-8-KZ Laser Engraver is tiny. Small enough that it’d be pretty tricky to engrave anything much larger than a business card. Not impossible, but tricky. If you’re considering buying a laser engraver, it might be wise to determine the size of the things you’d want to engrave and make sure your laser engraver can accommodate them.

Here’s hoping that after showing it to our makerspace’s leadership team, they’ll get their acts together and float a laser cutter towards the top of the priority list. If not, I might just have to wind up buying my own to keep out in my garage!


Components Safety First Safety First Engraver Only Closeup on the 1000mW Laser Engraving Brian’s Face Sample #1 Engraver in Action Sample #2

Are you interested in the NEJE DK-8-KZ Laser Engraver? GearBest has created a coupon code specifically for my readers. Enter ‘NEJE16’ get your NEJE DK-8-KZ Laser Engraver for $69.99! Are you looking for something a bit bigger? Here’s a couple other laser engravers of different sizes and wattages that might be more your style:

If you had the ability, what sorts of things would you use the NEJE DK-8-KZ Laser Engraver to engrave? What sorts of things would you engrave with a bigger engraver? Please share your experiences and ideas in the comments!