KingKong 90GT: Learning to FPV

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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

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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

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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!

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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

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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

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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
$288.99
$295.99

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 $899.00
Memory Crucial 64GB Kit (16GBx4) DDR4 ECC specs 1 $631.99
Case SilverStone Tek DS380B specs 1 $149.99
Power Supply SilverStone Technology 450W SFX ST45SF-V3 specs 1 $64.99
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 $9.958
Storage HDD 1 Seagate 8TB HDD SATA ST8000DM002 specs 3 $288.99
Storage HDD 2 WD Red 8TB NAS HDD (WD80EFZX) specs 2 $295.99
TOTAL: $3,237.40

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 Update (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!

Brian's DIY NAS: 2017 Edition #FreeNASGiveaway

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

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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!

How Cool is This?!

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For the longest time, I’ve been using a cropped souvenir photo as my website’s favorite icon and my blog’s various social media profile picture. The photo was taken at the Space Needle while on vacation to Seattle a few years ago and I told myself then (and on a regular basis since) that it’d be temporary until I could manage to find something better. But when you’ve got a face as goofy-looking as mine is, “finding something better” is easier said than done.

Ultimately, I decided that I needed the help of a professional. No, not that kind of professional! I contacted an artist, Gilly Hathaway, and asked her if she could apply her creative wizardy to my face and come up with a creative, yet simple, replacement for my old avatar. And this is what she came up with:

Gilly knocked it out of the park, I think she did a fantastic job. If you are in the market for something similar, I can’t recommend her enough. Check out Gilly’s Comissions Page for more details.

As far as my new image goes, I’ve got it updated across my blog’s social media profiles and I’ve changed the site’s favorite icon to use it. In the future, I’ll probably incorporate it into some of my various home automation blogs using something I just ordered from Amazon. I’m a bit excited to see how it turns out!

Sonoff TH and Sonoff Pow – Something Great Just Got a Bit Better

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I am a budding home-automation geek. The lamp that sits behind my desk is fully-automated; I use Tasker, IFTTT, and a Wemo Switch to turn the light on (or off) based on whether my phone is near my WiFi access point, at sunrise/sunset, and based on the time of the day. While I’m pleased with the functionality of the Wemo Switch, I’m not exactly thrilled with the price. Which is why I was pretty excited when the Sonoff (specs)came to my attention. To me, it met all the same requirements that I had but at a fraction of the price of the Wemo Switch.

I wound up reviewing the Sonoff RF Switch and the Slampher and had positive impressions of both products. After my review and using the Sonoff RF Switch for almost a year, my only concerns with the Sonoff-products were that they’d all require you cutting up the electrical cords of the products you wanted to automate and the fact that it wouldn’t work quite that well with any product that contained the third wire for the common ground.

Sonoff TH 10 and 16

In the latest version of the Sonoff product, the Sonoff TH 10/16 (specs) accounts for the third-wire common ground, which opens it up for use with a great number of other kinds of devices. However, the feature that I wound up being most excited about was the fact that the Sonoff TH 10/16 included support for a variety of different temperature sensors. Sensors like the AM2301, DS18B20, and DHT11 are all supported by the Sonoff TH products.

In addition to the third-wire ground, I was also excited to see that the Sonoff TH 10/16 and Sonoff Pow have both achieved the CE certification (source) as well as the RoHS certification (source).

If you’re a first-time reader of my blog, you won’t already know that I home brew my own beer and built a “keezer” (a beer-dispensing freezer) to serve the fruits of my labor. Once I saw that the Sonoff TH products supported the DS18B20, I knew exactly where I’d be using my first Sonoff TH. Up until now, I’d been using a project box that Pat designed and 3D-printed to house a Lerway 110V All-Purpose Temperature Controller and Sensor. Despite the fact it has worked out perfectly so far, I am simply unable to resist the temptation of adding my keezer to the Internet of Things—but not today, that’ll be a topic for the future!

Instead, I thought I’d set up a similar basic test of the Sonoff TH. I gathered up a few parts: my Bonavita Electric Kettle, a coffee mug, the Sonoff TH, the DS18B20 sensor, a 3-foot power extension cord, and my awesome novelty police light. I cut the 3-foot power extension in half and wired the severed ends into the Sonoff TH 16—I prefer this approach to what I did in my first Sonoff blog because it’s much more reusable and it doesn’t involve modifying any actual appliances. After that, I plugged in the DS18B20 temperature sensor from ITead, filled up one of my beer glasses with some room-temperature water and lowered the temperature probe in the beer glass. After some quick setting of temperature thresholds via the eWeLink app I used the hot water from my kettle and some ice water to alter the temperature in the beer glass enough to cause the Sonoff TH 16 to automatically turn the novelty light on and off.

The Sonoff TH will likely wind up being a superior solution for keeping my beers ice cold. It’s got a smaller footprint and it’s part of the Internet-of-Things which means I’ll be able to check the temperature from anywhere. Moreover, with some luck I can tinker with the Sonoff TH to the point where I could incorporate other automation like temperature-based alerts or the automation and scheduling of changing the temperatures during the fermentation stages of future beers.

Sonoff Pow

But wait, there’s more! This generation of Sonoff products also includes the Sonoff Pow (specs) which includes all the same WiFi remote control and home automation that the Sonoff TH features but also includes power-consumption features. If you’ve read some of my other blogs on computer builds, especially the DIY NAS builds, then you know one of the things I do with each new computer build is to hook it up to a Kill-a-Watt and see how much power it uses.

I like the Kill-a-Watt plenty, but it’s expensive enough that I wouldn’t buy multiples. It’s also inconvenient enough to use that I wouldn’t just permanently plug it in somewhere. ITEAD Studios is selling the Sonoff Pow (when they’re in stock) at just $10-11. That’s an incredibly reasonable price just for a WiFi switch. Being able to control an appliance remotely, plus also monitor and keep track of that appliance’s power consumption makes the Sonoff Pow a very compelling potential replacement for the Kill-a-Watt.


eWeLink: Devices Screen w/ Power Consumption eWeLink: Pow Device Screen w/ Current Power Consumption eWeLink: Tracking total Power Consumption since 11/30/16 eWeLink: Daily Power Consumption eWeLink: Time-based On and Off Rules

Hopefully there’s aftermarket firmware available for the Sonoff Pow which allow for incorporating power consumption into your home automation. Right off the top of my head, I think it’d be a neat option for allowances on electricity. On power-hungry appliances, you could define a daily budget and once that budget is used up, the power is cut to the appliance. In the same vein, some sort of “allowance” for children. You could award them with kilowatt-hours as they do chores, complete their homework, etc… That allowance could be used to power their gaming consoles and phone charges.

Conclusion

I was (and still am) pretty excited about the first generation of Sonoff devices. This new generation has simply furthered that excitement. I’m especially excited that the Sonoff TH can be applied so quickly to one of my other hobbies—beer brewing. I’m also pretty stoked that the Sonoff Pow is a potential Kill-a-Watt replacement that can help you remotely control an appliance and remotely monitor its power consumption.

I’m also excited that the Sonoff products are beginning to start being signed off on by different regulatory bodies like CE and RoHS. I continue to be excited that the Sonoff products are built around the ESP8266 solely because of clever people’s ability to build their own software to enhance the feature set of the Sonoff products.

About the only thing I found disappointing was that the physical footprint of the Sonoff TH/Pow has increased a little bit. But considering all the new features I found compelling, I think it’s beyond an acceptable trade-off. The third wire ground by itself justifies the bigger footprint. Especially when you consider that the Sonoff TH and Sonoff Pow are still smaller than things like the Wemo Wifi Switch.

The Sonoff TH 10 and TH 16 and the Sonoff Pow are both feature-laden and inexpensive WiFi switches. The Sonoff TH and Sonoff Pow are ideally suited to be in the hands of the burgeoning home-automation enthusiast. I’m really looking forward to replacing my temperature control on my keezer, plus I’m really interested in automating the temperatures of my fermentation station aka “The Brewterus”. What other sorts of home-automation tasks would you build around the Sonoff TH and Sonoff Pow? Share your ideas in the comments!

DIY NAS: EconoNAS 2016

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Giveaway Update (11/21/16): If you can forgive a Thanksgiving pun, it looks like @chrisgonyea has a little bit more to be thankful for in 2016—due to winning this edition of the #FreeNASGiveaway! Chris won in an unconventional fashion, the original winner failed to respond to my numerous attempts after the first drawing. Undaunted and determined to give this EconoNAS away to a reader, I picked another number from the hat out of the 450-something entrants into the #FreeNASGiveaway and pulled Chris’ number and thankfully I had no issues at all contacting him! I appreciate everyone’s interest and participation, while you may not have won this particular giveaway, your ensures there’ll be EconoNAS giveaway in 2017 too!

Have a happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Quite a few years ago, I decided I wanted to build my own DIY NAS, primarily for the purpose of backing up my Windows PCs. But Google let me down—I wasn’t able to find a good build blog to get me started. So I decided to set out and build my own NAS and blog about it along the way. Much to my surprise, I quickly found there were a number of other people asking Google the same kinds of questions, and my DIY NAS category of blogs has seen the bulk of my traffic over the years.

In an attempt to defend my turf at (or near) the top of the Google search results related to building your DIY NAS, I’ve been publishing new NAS builds every year. As I’ve gotten more interested in one-upping myself, I quickly found that I was spending and suggesting parts that far exceeded the budget of what my original NAS wound up being. Consequently, I’ve been publishing two very different NAS builds every year: a large, powerful, and expensive DIY NAS and something more budget-friendly, which I coined “the EconoNAS.” Of the two, the EconoNAS is what most closely resembled my very first DIY NAS, a machine built from some inexpensive parts that I could find in an effort to add as much redundant storage that my limited budget could offer. Each year, I do my best to set a budget of around $500 and then ultimately go over it. The 2015 EconoNAS missed that mark quite badly, so this year I doubled down my efforts and tried really hard to both exceed the specifications of last year’s version but to also bring the price down considerably closer to my goal.

CPU & Motherboard

As you might expect, the component that I find to be the most important is the motherboard. Ideally, it’d be inexpensive (under $100), a small form factor, have 6 or more SATA ports on it, onboard Gigabit network controller, and have some sort of onboard video. Most years, I wind up having to compromise on some of the bits of criteria. Typically the compromise has always been made on the size of the motherboard. The smaller the motherboard is, the more expensive it tends to be, especially when it has a sufficient number of SATA ports to be used in a NAS.

You can imagine my delight when I found that the ASUS B150M-K D3 (specs) was in my price range. The smallish MicroATX motherboard supports CPUs from the Intel Skylake CPU family and features the Intel B150 chipset. The B150M-K D3 has six SATA III (6.0 Gbps) ports. If additional storage were needed, the board includes one PCIe (x16) expansion slot and a pair of PCIe (x1) expansion slots. To cap it off, the motherboard also features a built-in Realtek RTL8111H Gigabit LAN. Normally when shopping for DIY NAS components, I agonize over the motherboard and pour over options for what seems like an eternity, but when I saw the list of features and the price tag on this motherboard, I immediately purchased the motherboard.

My budget ultimately made my CPU choice for me. I picked the Intel Celeron G3920 CPU (specs) largely because it was the least expensive CPU that I could find that was supported by the ASUS B150M-K D3. However, while the G3920 might not have the performance and sex appeal of its bigger siblings, it is a very capable CPU. Last year’s EconoNAS featured the Intel Pentium G3220 and in comparison the G3920 scores quite a bit higher on the PassMark benchmarks. The icing on the cake of that comparison is that the G3920 also is more power efficient. More computing ability and a lower power consumption is a significant upgrade over the 2015 EconoNAS.

RAM

Because I intend to use FreeNAS, the most controversial part of this build will be the RAM. The controversy being that I’m an advocate of using Non-ECC RAM with FreeNAS/ZFS, especially on cost-conscious builds like this EconoNAS. Many, especially a vocal majority of the FreeNAS forum, don’t agree with this sentiment and think that ECC RAM is an absolute requirement for use with ZFS. Considering that cost is a driving factor in the EconoNAS, non-ECC RAM is an ideal option. Furthermore, my selection of the ASUS B150M-K D3 motherboard eliminated ECC RAM from contention. All that being said, RAM is important, especially with the ZFS file system. The 2015 EconoNAS featured 8GB of RAM, so for this year’s build I decided to up it to 16GB by purchasing the Crucial 16GB Kit (2 x 8GB) DDR3L-1600 (specs). The kit features two 8GB DDR3 DIMMs running at a 1600MHz clock speed. Doubling the amount of ram found on 2015’s EconoNAS is a very nice upgrade for the current build.

Updates:

10/15/2016: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. The motherboard mentioned below does indeed support (I use this term very loosely) ECC RAM, but only if you’re willing to run it as non-ECC RAM. In other words, the RAM fits, the machine will run, but it’ll never do any kind of error checking and correction—you’ll never get the benefit of the ECC feature.

02/11/2017: A reader pointed out that 1.5v RAM is out-of-specification for the Intel Celeron G3920 CPU. Choosing to err on the side of caution, I updated the blog to point at memory that is within the Skylake specification; 1.35v DDR3L.

But What if You Want ECC RAM? It’s going to cost you!

Typically, buying ECC RAM meant buying a whole different grade of motherboard to support it—and economical was not a word you’d use to describe the prices of those motherboards. However, thanks to @comfreak from Twitter, I learned that’s not the case with the Skylake-generation of Intel CPUs. Buying a MSI B150M Pro-VDH (specs) motherboard and pair of Kingston Technology 8GB DDR4-2133MHz Unbuffered ECC DIMMs (KTH-PL421E/8G) would cost roughly an additional $25 (4-5%). The option of being able to add ECC RAM to this build for an additional $25 is a reasonable value, and I certainly wouldn’t fault anyone for choosing that route. Having learned this I’d be tempted to go the ECC route, but still think that I would end up choosing my non-ECC approach for this EconoNAS build and most likely others like it in the future.

Case, Power Supply, and Cables

For my regular DIY NAS builds, I spare no expense on the cases and typically purchase the best NAS case that I can find: something small, compact, loaded with easy-access drive bays (preferably hot-swappable), and ultimately rather expensive. The EconoNAS budget doesn’t allow for such an extravagance. Regardless, I’m pretty excited about the case I chose. The Cooler Master Elite 342 (specs) includes a 400watt power supply, mini tower MicroATX case. The included power supply made the case an absolute bargain at around $55. Out of the box, there are enough drive bays to fit six 3.5” drives (five internal and one external), and depending on what 5.25” to 3.5” adapter you buy, there’s room for 2-3 more drives in the two external 5.25” bays. In terms of drive capacity, the Cooler Master Elite 342 meets or exceeds my favorite DIY NAS case so far, the U-NAS NSC-800. My favorite unexpected feature of this case is the removable drive “cage” (more like a bracket) which contains four of the internal 3.5” drive bays.

The ASUS B150M-K D3 may have six SATA ports, but as is standard these days, only included 2 SATA cables with the motherboard. What’s even worse is that one of the cables has the aggravating 90-degree bend that I absolutely hate. I had to dig into my surplus SATA cables to hook up all the drives; if you don’t have any extras of your own, a pack of 5 Mudder 18” SATA III cables is probably a good idea. The included power supply has 4 SATA power cables necessitating an additional 1 or 2 cables to adapt a standard molex connector and split it into two SATA power connectors, which my supply of excess parts was also able to provide me with.

Storage

FreeNAS Flash Drive

Of all the parts and pieces in my DIY NAS builds, this is where there’s been the least amount of variation. I have been extremely loyal to the SanDisk Cruzer Fit, using the 8GB and 16GB versions in every single one of my DIY NAS builds except my very first one. If you’re doing your shopping on Amazon, the 16GB version is currently one of their “Add-On” items that you can get added to a qualified order for free. From a budget perspective, it’s still perfect. For this year’s EconoNAS, I ultimately went with the Cruzer Fit’s bigger brother, the SanDisk Ultra Fit 16GB.

Why the change? It’s priced competitively, at about $0.50 more than the Cruzer Fit, and it’s USB 3.0. For a long time FreeNAS had not yet adopted USB 3.0 support, and ever since they included USB 3.0 support I have pondered an upgrade to a USB 3.0 flash drive. That being said, I doubt that the improvement in USB 3.0’s faster throughput is going to have much (if any) impact on day-to-day operations of the NAS itself. Ultimately, the upgrade to the SanDisk Ultra Fit 16GB has to do with the eventuality that I just won’t be able to find the prior generation at competitive prices.

NAS Hard Disk Drives

Ahhh, the meat and potatoes of every single NAS build. When building a budget-based NAS, my recommendation is to buy as many small drives as your budget allows—that is assuming that their price per terabyte is at least in the same neighborhood as larger drives. Bigger drives almost always have a cheaper price per terabyte, but one detriment of bigger drives is the net storage lost due to your redundancy requirements. If you’re trying to build an economical NAS, instead of using the raw storage to calculate your price per terabyte, add everything up together, factor in storage used for redundancy, and figure out your price per terabyte on the overall net storage. Here’s an example, using some Western Digital Red Hard Drives of varying size to build a 12TB NAS with 2 drives worth of redundancy:

HDD HDDs Needed
for 12TB
Price Per
HDD
Price Per
HDD TB
Total Cost
for HDDs
Net
Storage
Price per
Net TB
WD Red 1TB
12
$60.99 $60.99 $731.88
10 TB
$73.19
WD Red 2TB
6
$89.99 $45.00 $539.54
8 TB
$67.49
WD Red 3TB
4
$109.00 $36.33 $436.00
6 TB
$72.67
WD Red 4TB
3
$147.83 $36.96 $443.49
4 TB
$110.87

Across the Western Digital Red Hard Drives, when building a 12TB NAS, you’re going to get the most net storage using 1TB HDDs, but get the second-worst net price per terabyte due to the fact that 1TB drives have gotten so expensive. Old drives get expensive when they’re scarce because people still need them for their like-for-like replacements. Of all the drives, the 3TB drive has the best price per terabyte, but that doesn’t carry through to the best price per net terabyte across all the drives due to using 6TB for the redundancy. In the end, the 2TB drive winds up being the best deal despite having almost the worst price per terabyte for each drive. When building an economical NAS, use your budget, redundancy requirements, and capacity requirements to calculate out the net price per terabyte of all options. Then pick the configuration which meets your needs the best.

An added benefit of building the biggest array possible out of smaller drives is that it’s a simpler upgrade path when using FreeNAS—especially for small NAS builds like the ones I do. For the DIYer, adding a drive to an existing zpool is not impossible, but it’s very difficult and it takes planning in advance. For a NAS of this size, it is much easier to simply swap out each drive with bigger ones as they fail or go on really good sales; once all of the drives have been upgraded, ZFS will automatically use as much of the added space as is available on each of the drives.

I debated back and forth between 2TB and 3TB HDDs for quite some time and ultimately arrived at the decision to continue using 2TB hard drives for this year’s EconoNAS. And I found a good deal on the 2TB HGST Deskstar 2TB hard drive at $48.50—I generally budget around $60 per drive for the EconoNAS. Because the 2015 EconoNAS featured 5x2TB drives in total storage, I decided to surpass it by adding a sixth drive to this year’s EconoNAS. Had I found a motherboard with capacity for a 7th or 8th SATA drive, I would’ve been tempted to add an additional drive or two. Typically in my DIY NAS builds, I like to avoid buying all of the same drive, especially all from the same vendors. Typically I do that to avoid issues with a particular model of a hard drive, or even a bad batch of hard drives. However, Backblaze’s ongoing hard drive reliability reports indicate that this particular drive has a very low failure rate: 1.57% of the 4,264 drives have failed in over 3 years. That low failure rate emboldened me to capitalize on the inexpensive 2TB HGST Deskstar 2TB hard drives.

All of the Boxed Parts ASUS B150M-K D3 Motherboard Intel CPU BX80662G3920 Celeron G3920 2.90Ghz Crucial Ballistix Sport 16GB Kit 1600MHz DDR3 Cooler Master Elite 342 – Case and Accesories Cooler Master Elite 342 – Inside the Case 6 x HGST Deskstar 3.5-Inch 2TB 7200RPM SanDisk Ultra Fit 16GB Motherboard, CPU, CPU Heatsink & Fan and RAM All parts ready for assembly

Final Parts List

Component Part Name Count Cost
Motherboard ASUS B150M-K D3 specs 1 $85.94
CPU Intel Celeron G3920 specs 1 $51.90
Memory Crucial Ballistix Sport 16GB Kit DDR3 PC3-12800 specs 1 $108.60
Case and Power Supply Cooler Master Elite 342 specs 1 $63.65
SATA Cables Mudder 18 Inch SATA III Cable (Pkg of 5)” N/A 1 $7.99
Power Splitter LP4 to 2x SATA Power Y-Cable N/A 1 $3.59
OS Drive SanDisk Ultra Fit 16GB specs 1 $5.99
Storage HDD HGST Deskstar 2TB 7200RPM HDD (0F10311) specs 6 $59.95
TOTAL: $687.36

Hardware Assembly, Configuration, and Burn-In

Assembly

If you’ve seen the time-lapse video of me putting together the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition then you know it was a challenge to assemble the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition. The U-NAS NSC-800 fits a ton of features into a very small case, which was a pain to work inside. Comparatively, assembling this year’s EconoNAS was a breeze. Even though MicroATX is considered a smaller form factor, working inside the Coolermaster Elite 342 was much roomier than the other two machines that I put together this year.

Even though I didn’t have to work too hard, I did run into a couple wrinkles. Firstly, half of the brass standoffs included with the case were for wider screws than are used for mounting motherboards. The screws included (and screws from my excess-parts stash) wouldn’t bite and would pull right back out of the standoffs. Thankfully, I have a number of extras that I was able to raid and replace the defective standoffs with. The second wrinkle was the thumbscrew provided to help mount the drive “cage” inside the case. At the bottom of the case, the drive cage had 4 standard case screws that fastened it to the bottom of the case, and at the top of the cage was a single thumbscrew that attached it to the part of the case the holds the sixth internal 3.5” drive bay and one external 3.5” drive bay. The thumbscrew provided was just a bit too tall, and I wound up having clearance issues trying to get a hard drive installed in there. It’s possible that I wouldn’t have had these clearance issues if I’d installed the drives before the motherboard, but I’m skeptical. Thankfully I was able to use one of the extra case screws and a small stubby screwdriver to replace the problematic thumbscrew.

Lastly, I discovered that the 18-inch SATA cables were probably longer than I necessarily needed. 12-inch cables would’ve probably been good enough. As a result, there was quite a bit of excess slack in the cables to try and manage. Back when I worked on or fixed friends’ computers more often, I hated finding lots of zip ties inside computers. Much to my chagrin, I used nearly all of the zip ties that came with the Coolermaster Elite 342 to bundle up the extra slack in the SATA cables.


All things considered, it was an incredibly simple assembly, especially when you compare it to with what I went through when I assembled both the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition and my own NAS this year. I was actually a bit disappointed that it worked out so well: I was hoping to have to design an object to print with my 3D printer to include as a component in this year’s EconoNAS.

Hardware Configuration

Back when I built my first NAS, there were all sorts of machinations that you had to do in the BIOS in order to get it working just right—or at least it felt that way. Now? It’s just a matter of making sure that the USB devices are the only devices the machine is allowed to boot from. While I was tinkering around the BIOS and looking at the motherboard’s support page, I learned I was on the original BIOS and that there’d been a few stability and performance updates in subsequent BIOS releases. So for no particular reason at all, I went ahead and updated the ASUS B150M-K D3 to the latest available BIOS.

Burn-In

I typically burn-in my NAS focusing primarily on the motherboard, CPU, and RAM. Of all the components that go into a NAS, these are the most difficult to get replaced, so they get the bulk of my attention. If I have a bad motherboard, CPU, or RAM, then I want to know about it right away, not down the road.

Quite a few people have asked in the past why I don’t do any kind of burn-in on the drives, but I’m not too concerned about the bad drives for a couple reasons. Firstly, the Backblaze drive quality reports typically have me pretty confident in whichever drives I’ve selected for the NAS. Secondly, the hard drives are the only components that have some redundancy. Thirdly, the hard drives are much, much easier to replace. For these reasons I typically choose not to do any kind of burn-in on the HDDs.

For burning in the memory, I run Memtest86+. If there are no errors found after three passes, then you’re typically in good shape. But usually in my tests, I’ve gone way, way past 3 passes. That’s usually because I get busy working on the blog while I do the various burn-in tests. Between blogging, my day job, and sleep, I’ve been known to let Memtest86+ run continuously for several days! But those first 3 passes are the only ones I ever care about.


I’ll also use some sort of load tests, like the ones found on the StressLinux, Ultimate Boot CD, and Hiren’s BootCD. Particularly, what I want to do is to put the system under heavy load for a few minutes and keep an eye on temperatures and such. If everything goes well, then I repeat the tests and leave it running for around an hour, and finally running a third test and leave it running for a duration of a few hours (3-4). Assuming there’s no random lockups or reboots during any of those tests, then I consider the hardware sufficiently burned in.

FreeNAS Configuration

In setting up FreeNAS for the purposes of these blogs, I usually take a pretty short path towards getting it functional. On your first login, you’re asked to set the root account’s password and then you’re put into the Initial Wizard, which is quite handy and will help you set things up from scratch, but I always exit out of it and manually set up everything I need.

When manually setting everything up, I first update the hostname (EconoNAS) and domain (lan) to match the rest of my computers. After doing this, I like to reboot and then log back in using the new hostname to make sure it worked. Then I enable the services I’m going to need: CIFS (for Windows file sharing), SSH (for remote access) and S.M.A.R.T. (for drive monitoring). Then I work through each service and configure them:

  • CIFS: I update the NetBIOS Name, Workgroup, and Description to match what I picked for the hostname and domain name.
  • SSH: I use the suggested default settings.
  • S.M.A.R.T.: I update the Email to report field and set it to my email address.

Using the Volume Manager, I then go create the volume (ZFS pool) named Storage. I added all 6 of the 2TB HGST Drives to the pool and pick RaidZ2 (the ZFS equivalent of RAID 6), which will result in my two drives’ worth of redundant data. Once I’ve created my volume, I add a dataset to that volume, I name that dataset share, and accept the remaining default values. Then I set permissions on the dataset, changing the owner to the user, nobody (more on this below), and making sure that the owner has Read/Write/Execute permissions to the dataset.

At that point, I drill into sharing and create a CIFS share pointed at the new dataset that I just created. For this year’s EconoNAS, I set up the permissions to be wide open by allowing guest access. No password is then required to access the share, and the privileges of the guest account (“nobody” from above) are used when accessing the share. At this point, I pull the share up from another machine and ensure I’m able to read, write, and delete files on the share.


Initial Login Exiting the Initial Wizard Update Hostname and Domain Enable Services Configure CIFS Service Configure SSH Service Configure S.M.A.R.T. Service Create FreeNAS Volume Create FreeNAS Dataset Set Dataset Permissions Create CIFS Share Testing newly created CIFS Share

Please keep in mind this is a very basic and very wide-open setup for the purposes of keeping things brief in this blog. I have a list of a few other tips that you might want to delve deeper into if you’re following along:

  1. Create users whose credentials match the credentials used on your network’s PCs. Tighten down the share(s) so that only those users have access.
  2. Set up a monthly scrub of the Volume (aka ZFS Pool)
  3. Set up some periodic S.M.A.R.T. tests of the hard drives (long and short tests)
  4. Others: Leave your tips in the comments below!

Benchmarks

Power Consumption

One of the sneaky costs of a NAS is power consumption, so when building a NAS, I’ll typically have it plugged into a Kill-a-Watt to see how much power it is consuming at any given moment. Usually, I use the numbers to come up with a best-case and worst-case scenario for power consumption, then use my most recent power bill to try and figure out my monthly costs to keep it running. I tend to take a look at the power being consumed at first boot, when the machine is in an idle state, during my CPU burn-in tests, and lastly during a write speed throughput test.

Boot Idle CPU
Burn-In
Disk
Throughput
175 watts
73.9 watts
96.6 watts
85.2 watts

Throughput

For the DIY NAS builder, the most likely bottleneck for you to hit is the speed of your network. In building the EconoNAS, my goal is to hit that bottleneck. I won’t begin to predict what the most common network speed is for DIY NAS builders, but I’m going to guess it’s Gigabit. My preferred throughput-testing tool is IOMeter. I was able to saturate my desktop computer’s Gigabit interface easily with a sequential read test. And to my surprise, a sequential write test was in the same ballpark but a few MB/sec slower. I’m rather pleased that the EconoNAS can pretty much monopolize a Gigabit network connection in both read tests and write tests.

Sequential Write Throughput Sequential Write Results Sequential Read Throughput Sequential Read Results

Conclusion

When last year’s EconoNAS was first published the, price tag was roughly $675. My biggest regret in last year’s EconoNAS was missing my budget so badly—it was 35% over budget. I’m really excited to say this is a regret that I’ve rectified this year. At around $620, I’ve exceeded the budgetary goal by only 10%. This is way more worthy of the EconoNAS label than last year’s attempt. If you were to buy and build the 2015 EconoNAS right now using current prices, it’d still cost you in the neighborhood of $530. Building the 2016 EconoNAS costs an additional $90, but gets you the following upgrades:

  • A more powerful CPU
  • Twice the RAM
  • Improved power efficiency
  • An additional 2TB of storage.

All of that for an additional $90? I’m sold! The extra 2TB of HDD space is $50 by itself. It’s a bit unfair comparing last year’s NAS against this year’s NAS, but that’s not even the most outrageous comparison that I was able to come up with. I took the key attributes of a NAS machine (number of available drive bays, CPU, RAM, and network interface speed) and did some searching online to compare the 2016 EconoNAS with other popular NAS solutions and even compared it to the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition. Here’s what I found:

NAS Price # of Bays CPU Passmark
Score
RAM Network
2016 EconoNAS $264.81
6
Intel Celeron G3920 3760 16 1xGigabit
Seagate WSS STEE100 $449.99
6
??? ??? ??? 1xGigabit
NETGEAR ReadyNAS 316 $599.00
6
Intel Atom D2700 844 2 1xGigabit
Synology DS1515+ $699.00
5
Intel Atom C2538 ~2329 2 4xGigabit
Brian’s 2016 DIY NAS $768.46
8
Intel Atom C2750 3831 16 2xGigabit
QNAP TS653A $939.00
6
Intel Celeron N3150 1706 8 4xGigabit

In comparing the most important features of each NAS, it’s my opinion that the 2016 EconoNAS is a tremendous value. It compares favorably to every single one of the off-the-shelf NAS systems, and I picked the ones that were the most price-competitive. In my opinion, the 2016 EconoNAS even compares favorably to the two other NAS machines that I built this year: DIY NAS 2016: Edition and my own NAS upgrade.

That being said, these other NAS systems do have their own unique advantages: they’re all smaller, they all have nice purpose-designed NAS cases with easy access to the hard drives, they almost all have CPUs which are more power-efficient, and for the most part they all have support teams standing behind them. These features carry a pretty hefty price tag, but I wouldn’t fault anyone for thinking that they were a better option. If you’re willing to put it together and support it yourself, there are considerable savings to be had in building your own DIY NAS. If you can live without the really nice NAS cases and easy drive access, you can build the EconoNAS and get even more considerable savings!

Giveaway

Like with the DIY NAS: 2014 Econonas, the DIY NAS: 2015 Edition, the DIY NAS: 2015 EconoNAS, and the DIY NAS: 2016 Edition, I will be giving the DIY NAS: 2016 EconoNAS away to a lucky reader. Here’s how this giveaway works:

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

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

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