Showing posts from 2018

A ebay fake GTX 1050/2GB video card is really a GK107B4 GTX 650ti/1GB: restoring functionality by flashing video BIOS with CH431A board

I (knowingly) purchased a fake GTX1050 from ebay for about $90. That's how you know it's fake, of course. It performed OK for desktop apps but was way slow for any benchmarks and also crashed with corrupted video garbage whenever more than 1GB of RAM was used. Of course eBay gave me my money back, which I was counting on when I made the purchase. 

The back of the board gave no real hints to the actual GPU, though it did expose a video bios flash ram chip. NVFLASH couldn't reprogram it, probably due to intentional corruption of the firmware, so I had to purchase a CH431a programmer (for all of $3 on ebay, plus a clip to connect it while still soldered onto the board!!). Before flashing it I had to decide what it actually was. Taking off the heat sink revealed a model number on the board: gk107b4, which could be just about anything in the GTX 600 series. Interestingly, the chip had some of the writing on it worn off. Like they were trying to head off possible returns. Only this part remained: 220-a.

 I eventually guessed it was a GTX650ti, and using tech powerup's video bios database flashed the card. The first flash didn't work - no video output. But I hadn't been that careful about matching up the outputs - this card had HDMI out, and the bios I downloaded only had MiniHDMI. So I tried again with a perfect match. Bingo: Working video card. I benchmarked using userbenchmark which allowed me to compare video card performance to all the other 650ti's out there. The card benchmarked right in the middle of the pack so either I guessed right, or just close enough.

I also tried a longer benchmark with unigine heaven 4.0. Worked fine, no glitches or otherwise. Success! But it's a damn slow card compared to a GTX 1050. Who falls for this kind of thing, anyway? On the upside, this card performs way better than a rectangular scrap of cardboard that I scrawled GTX 1050 on, and for about the same cost. If you discount my time that is, which is always a mistake :-(.

Replacing video BIOS on fake GTX video cards on ebay

For a 3rd or less of the price of a new video card it's possible to purchase the "same" thing from ebay, also new, with slow boat shipping from china. Sadly, the cards are fake, with real GPUs but much older low-end that what's advertised. 

The fake cards I purchased had been reprogrammed to show different, much fancier GPU names, but also more memory than they really had. Thankfully ebay refunded my money with little fuss. Next question: can the cards be reflashed to their original BIOS? A fake name is no big deal but faking more memory than you really have causes massive issues in games.

Here are the tools I used:

A $3 USB eprom flasher called the CH341A. Software to drive this is here (not sure if it has malware, virus total thinks so, so I used a burner winxp image). 

The general method for using the CH341A to flash nvidia firmware is written up here, with some errors (extra steps, not harmful).

The replacement firmware can be found online in this excellent database, for instance here's all the GTX 550 Ti firmware that could be tried for a 1GB card.

After using the CH43A1it's possible to use a hacked version of nvflash to swap in new firmware without using the finicky hardware. nvflash XYZ.rom -4 -5 -6 

I was able to flash 2 out of 3 cards, but only for 1 card could I find a BIOS that made it work properly. So "success" but not full success. Kind of a lot of time wasted! Later I'll discuss each card in detail and post photos.

Weekly grocery specials for Clairemont Mesa Balboa/Genesee area

Food 4 Less (4995 Shawline St)
Harvest international, on balboa ( 4220 Balboa Ave San Diego, CA 92117 )
Ranch 99 (good parking/limited selection or: amazing selection/horrid parking )
Balboa International market (5905 Balboa Ave)

Configuring Raspberry Pi Zero W as NAS/backup server using Unison

"Free" cloud storage: overview 

I built a super cheap linux box for backing up my files remotely. I used the cheapest components, mostly what I had on hand. My costs were less than $50, one time, if you factor in my friend who's willing to let this live at his house permanently ($free/pricele$$). The total power draw is about 3.4W at idle which works out to about $7/year at least in southern California where rates are sky high.  


  • Raspberry pi Zero W: ~$12
  • 2GB Micro SD card ($3?)
  • Samsung S7 phone charger
  • WD Elements 500GB HD (<$30)
  • Old USB hub with power adapter ($10?)

Linux on a raspberry pi

Using Rufus, I wrote 2018-04-18-raspbian-stretch-lite to a microSD card.  This fit nicely on a 2GB SD card with ~400mb free/leftover.

You can install an OS on the Pi without any screen. To summarize, add these files to the FAT partition of the SD card:

1) wpa_supplicant.conf with unix line endings:

ctrl_interface=DIR=/var/run/wpa_supplicant GROUP=netdev 
       psk="Your Network's Passphrase"

2) ssh (file is empty).

On my first boot of the Pi didn't manage to log into my network. Checking the SD card is confusing because on boot the Pi deletes the ssh and wpa file from the fat partition. To find out what's going wrong connect your pi to HDMI and run journalctl (dmesg reported wlan0 wasn't ready but not why). I had a typo in wpa_supplicant. I wasted a lot of time trying to find solutions, which involved lots of commands and configuration files which are all no longer used in a modern raspbian-stretch image. Don't believe what you read online.

The Pi's green light flashes quite a bit during boot but once it is solid the machine was ssh'able (about 1 minute). I removed the pi user (userdel) and made one for me (adduser), adding it to /etc/sudoers with sudoedit.

The idle power usage at this point was less than 1w if you can believe my killawatt.

Plugging in a hard drive

In /boot/config.txt I added max_usb_current=1 so that enough power is available to run the spinning HD. Actually, this wasn't enough for my drive, so I had to "backpower" the Pi.  That means that I plugged the drive into a 1A powered hub and the hub into the pi's usb (not power) port. The hub powered both the pi and the drive. Some people say this is a bad idea, but only because it bypasses a fuse that would protect the Pi from a surge. My Pi didn't cost that much. Unfortunately in this configuration the power draw was too high to consistently start up the hard drive, so I ended up forward and backward powering the Pi. Which seems to cause no problems, but probably isn't the most efficient. 

This explains how to mount and format an USB drive (not that different from any other type of drive).

Adding   /dev/sda /mnt ext4 defaults,nofail   to /etc/fstab makes the drive mount automatically at boot. chown user /mnt makes it so that your user can write to the mounted drive.

I wanted my hard drive to spin down while not in use. The first hard drive I tried (coolmax)  did not default to this, either under linux or windows.  So I learned all about how to change that setting, which is preserved here.  I tried 4 packages that didn't work before finding the 5th that did:

  1. hdparm is the standard program you see everywhere, but mostly doesn't work with USB drives
  2. sdparm is specific to SCSI drives in theory, but apparently many USB mass storage devices emulate SCSI.  Not in my case anyway.
  3.  sg3-utils is another way of sending SCSI commands. I'm really starting to doubt this whole USB pretends to be SCSI since it didn't work either
  4. udisks2 is another generic disk control program & deamon (not just for SCSI!) that didn't work.
  5.  smartmontools from the name you'd think it's only for SMART (drive health) but apparently they threw the kitchen sink in there (total install footprint is 30MB!). This worked.

Cutting to the chase:

apt-get install smartmontools

add this line to /etc/rc.local:

smartctl --set=standby,15 /dev/sda

When spun up the total power usage reached 6W, but more importantly the idle consumption is just 3.4 W. That's around 3W for the HD for those keeping track. I suspect it could be much better but for the low-efficiency powered hub I'm using. The power adapter actually feels warm to the touch even at idle.  When I was using the coolmax drive my idle consumption was just 2.4W, total using a LG phone USB charger, but the drive didn't always spin up on reboot.

Attempting to save more power (made a tiny difference)

Installing unison

apt-get install unison

Best to read the manual because there's lots of options to consider. Here's the basics of my pi.prf file on my PC. There's really too much to cover here sorry.

# Unison preferences
auto = true
fastcheck = yes
# Skip files ending in Name (mind the /)
ignore = Name *.tmp
ignore = Name Thumbs.db
ignore = Name
ignore = Name Release/*.pch
ignore = Name Debug/*.pch
ignore = Name Release/*.bsc
ignore = Name Debug/*.bsc
ignore = BelowPath $RECYCLE.BIN
ignore = BelowPath RECYCLER
ignore = Name System Volume Information
ignore = Name lost+found
root = h:/
root = ssh://user@DNS//mnt
times = true
xferbycopying = true
perms = 0
maxthreads = 1

Dynamic DNS if you don't have static IP offers free and reliable dynamic DNS so that you can connect to the machine remotely even when it gets assigned a new IP. I used the wget/cron script and crontab -e to install it. Just editing the cron file doesn't work, even though comments in the file suggest it would. 


Cheap. Reliable? I hope so. My last attempt at this using a netbook wasn't reliable, but I think that was the hardware. Plus the netbook used about 3W more power at idle so in the long term this will be a better option (I guess that depends on who pays for the power though). 

update: worked great for a year and then the hard drive died. I suspect I wasn't powering it well enough since it was driven by the same USB adapter that also powered the pi. I switched to a new hard drive with it's own external brick, described here. While the power consumption was higher when on, I was able to make it overall much lower by hot-unplugging the USB hardware when not in use

Choosing a new low-input lag monitor for gaming

I'm looking for a new IPS LCD for my gaming/exercise rig. Because I'm using it for exercise, I need the color to be stable  independent of viewing angle, which means IPS. Which is too bad for gaming, where TN offers the highest speed and the lowest prices. But IPS is non-negotiable.

Modern IPS monitors offer much better response times than what was available a decade ago, which is when my current Samsung LCD was sold. There's no specific measurements for my model, but a very similar one was clocked at 60ms more lag than a CRT.  Even though the measurement methods used in those days were questionable, that's awful.

So far I've found a couple options that don't break the bank:

Dell SE2717HR

27 inches, 75hz max refresh rate, and freesync compatible. Regular lower price is $144, has been as low as $110 with MIR. I have not found a good measure of lag though. Tom's Hardware has some numbers for the same mode minus the R; it looks like very similar specs so???  They measure lag by pushing a button and waiting for the screen to actually change, which is realistic but gives a number much larger than any other measurement method: 47ms. I tried to find some way to translate this to the numbers from, whom supposedly use an oscilloscope to measure response time.

I looked for a common monitor review. The one I found is the asus mg24uq, which Tom's method rates at 63ms, and prad rates at 6ms! Yikes. How can they be talking about the same thing here? I'd like to trust prad here, since I went to all the work of letting google translate the german review into english :-)

VC279H 27in, 60hz max. Not freesync. Currently $160, has been $130 with MIR. prad rates the lag as 13ms in game mode. And it has vesa mounting. Some issues tho: for DVI inputs it seems that it doesn't do a good job of scaling < 1080p inputs. On HDMI it scales properly, but expects "video" luminance levels, meaning it maps the lower 16 shades of gray all to black (presumably a similar issue for white). Interesting that the two inputs clearly use different different hardware paths. No word on VGA.

VC239h 23in, 60hz, no freesync VESA mountable. $136. Presumably the same as above but smaller by 4 inches. This is actually what I purchased. The low-lag is really quite good, and quite a bit noticeably improved over my acient samsung LCD. Interestingly, it took awhile for me to adjust in some of my more twitch-orgiented games to the lower lag. Which is to say it was actually harder to play with less lag at first. I got over it, though.

The ergonomics of this display are so bad though. Most painful is that there's no button for switching between inputs. You have to mess around with the on-screen menus and it requires 3-5 button presses depending on which mode you are in and where you want to go. Man I'm regretting this purchase for that reason alone.

Does anybody prefer windows 10 to windows 7

I'm serious. I've yet to meet anyone who does. And I can't think of a real world usage case where I would prefer 10. I'm open to new perspectives, so enlighten me!

Meanwhile, how embarrassing for Microsoft. Somewhat reminiscent of the xp to 7 transition, where there were some advantages to 7, but not so many that it made the pain of the transition easy to ignore.  In each case the "killer" freature was that Microsoft literally killed the older OS by stopping security updates.

It's unfair to expect Microsoft to continue to improve or support an os so old that many customers payed for it more than 5 years ago. But forcing an unloved "update" on your users is not the way to maintain market share. If only osx wasn't a crappy alternative or Linux had better q/a the choice would be obvious.

PS. I'm not saying there are zero improvements in 10. Although the only one that comes to mind is the improved file copying status dialog box. I'm just saying none of those mild improvements justifies all the huge regressions in usability.

Lg Stylo 4: a disappointing "upgrade'

I've been saying a lot of positive things about the Stylo 3, and had high hopes for the 4th edition. Sadly LG is not the only one not reading my blog ;-)
Most disappointing is that the Stylo 4 does not have a removable back. No longer can you replace they battery. Or other broken components (which I have actually done on my Stylo 3). In this day and age there isn't such a huge improvement in phones every year. Continuing to make them disposable instead of repairable is morally questionable, and I thought that at least the the Stylo team had this figured out. The Stylo 3 was trivially easy to disassemble, and replacing a broken LCD took 10 minutes. No longer with the Stylo 4, which has a glued on back just all the other phone of this era.

Testing a generic 128gb microSD card: it's junk!

I purchased a 128GB SD card from ebay, for $10. At this price it pretty much had to be a lower capacity card that's been programmed to report greater capacity than it really has. Given how good ebay's buyer protection is I was curious to see how one of these preformed. Man, it's junk.

Delivery was quick, just 3 days. The package is so generic it doesn't even have a capacity printed on it. You have to look at the microSD card itself for that, which as advertised on ebay says 128GB.  No speed listing or anything but I will say it was a very easy to open package. So in that one way only, it was superior to what you would get in the store.

Windows recognized it as having 125GB of space, A somewhat odd compromise between marketing GB (1GB=1000^3) and real GB (1GB = 1024^3). FYI  a real SD card marketed as 128gb has 119 real GB. Since we don't expect it to have all that space anyway, who cares. So I tried writing just 1GB to it. Write speed quickly dropped to 1MB/s, and then  failed completely at about 400MB!  I had to reinsert the card to get windows to see it. Interestingly, it now claims to have a 55 GB file on (I've heard of hardware that employes file compression but never file expansion!).

Unsurprisingly, the 400MB that did get written were highly corrupted. I got tired waiting to see how much was actually good, since read speed was just 65KB/s! I mean, what is that? Class .0001? After reading 280MB, only 60mb of the data "written" was stored.

I tried the same trick I  used with my other fake SD card and added a dummy 500mb partition to the start of the disk so that the real file system would start at a later, perhaps better functioning region of flash memory. But that failed even worse, with only 80MB "written" before the drive became inaccessible.

So in conclusion, this generic SD card is complete junk. I paid $10 for "128"GB, but got perhaps .06GB. At that price ratio, a full 128gb would cost $2000! So that's a pretty bad deal. Of course, I asked for a refund, but even at $0, .06GB isn't worth anything.

Testing a fake 128GB Samsung EVO+ micro SD card

For about $45 you can buy a Samsung 128GB Micro SD card from Amazon. Sellers on Ebay offer them new for a lot less. I selected one for $26, shipped (from S. California), suspect it would be a fake, but curious what I would get. What I got looked reasonably real (shown here after opening).

My phone and laptop both reported full 128GB of space. Interestingly, the case contained the regular disclaimer that 1GB = 1000,000,000 bytes, but presumably in an attempt to avoid suspicion the card reported a full 128GB of space (using 1024^3 = 1GB). I tested it by copying some files to it and immediately had problems. The transfer rate was abysmal, between 1 and 2 MB/s, nothing close to the advertised rate on the package. And Windows kept on saying the card wasn't inserted, or needed to be checked for errors. After checking for errors some of the files were missing. I figured maybe the first part of the disk was bad, corrupting the FAT file system data, so I partitioned the disk in two, starting with a dummy 8mb partition.

The dummy partition helped. The write speed of the disk went up to about 5MB/s and Windows stopped reporting damage to the file system.

I also got more systematic and used a tool called H2testw to verify the actual storage space on the card. h2testw is not the nicest tool, but it got the job done, revealing that a full 24gb of "usable" space on the disk. Well, sort of usable: even keeping within that fraction of space, some of the data written was corrupted, though well below 1%.  So the card had about 20% of the advertised 128gb, which is a pretty bad deal for $26, especially given the random corruption of that 24gb (undetected until read back). For comparison, Amazon currently sells real 32GB Samsung cards for $16, or 50 cents/GB, whereas this card cost about 100 cents/GB.

I suppose I could use it to store my MP3 collection for playing back on a old phone. Time will tell if the usable storage remains usable long enough to make even that worthwhile.

Final note: that SD card adapter was so cheap that it failed after just a couple insertion/removal cycles. See the crack in the lower left corner. Thus, all my tests were conducted with a genuine Samsung adapter.

Repairing Win7 autochk "Cannot open volume for direct Access" error after power loss

My Win7 PC recently lost power while it was doing heavy work (compiling my latest android app). The result was file system corruption that could not be fixed the normal way (by scheduling to run chkdsk during bootup).  Here's the very useful error message Win7 gave me:

Checking file system on C:
Cannot open volume for direct access
Autochk cannot run due to an error caused by a recently installed software package.  Use system restore....
An unspecified error occurred (766f6c756d652e63 3f1)

I doubt a power failure really counts as installing a software package, MicroSoft.

What's going on here is unclear, but the problem persists; no amount of rebooting and running chkdsk at bootup fixes it, you always get this message. Nor could I run chkdsk while the OS is fully loaded (since it's my C drive).

But there is a solution, it seems. Reboot into system repair mode (F8 during boot up), and then select the command prompt. Find you C drive (it almost certainly won't be labeled as C; in my case it was H), and run chkdsk /r on it. For some reason it does not let the file system corruption prevent the scan here. The process is slow: on my mostly full 110GB SSD drive (samsung 840), it took a good 30 minutes. But it found and fixed the errors and now my PC can boot properly. Somewhat oddly the scan concluded with "Failure to transfer logged messages to the event log with status 50." but this seems to be non-fatal. 

Sony PSone power supply 7.5v 2a scph-113 disassembly and failed repair

Didn't work & I thought maybe the plug flip mechanism was the cause since there was no conductivity between the prongs and the DC tip. Breaking it open meant breaking glue so it wouldn't have been a pretty fix even if it worked. But it didn't - on the inside it was possible to measure continuity between the prongs and the circuit board. And no caps were visually failing, so I gave up :-(

Wanted: small-screen phone with stylus

Why is it that the only two phones that have built-in styli are phablets? The bigger your phone the easier it is to use your fat fingers to type, touch, tap, and swipe. A stylus is really most useful on a small screen, where every key, link and button are just a little too small for comfort.

Consider for a moment why you might want a phone with a big screen. Probably because you wanted to be able to see more, right? Larger web pages, more lines in your email. But here's the thing: that's a function of screen resolution and font choice, not screen size. If you think a small font would make it too hard to read keep in mind that you could just hold the phone closer to your face. There's no equivalent trick to making your fingers smaller, however. Thus the stylus.

So here is the proposal: a pocketable phone with a smaller screen, but relatively high resolution. And a built in stylus so that it's not too hard to use the smaller screen. Personally, I think a 4.7" or 5" screen size would be about right.

Such a phone would not appeal to everyone, but it certainly would stand out amoung what seems to be a lot of nearly identical phones currently on the market.

Monument valley is a beautiful walking simulator

It looks amazing and sounds pretty good, but it's not really a puzzle game. Except for a couple levels it's always obvious what to do next. That said it's a pretty amazing experience, if kind of short. The dlc "forgotten shores" is slightly harder and even more of a Escher tribute, and totally worth $2.

I also played Evo explores, a less inspired clone. Except, it had actually challenging puzzles. So it was really better as a game, even if the overall experience wasn't as good.

I akso tried Mekorama, since it was free (no ads, no nags, amazing!). Too much of a walking simulator, no real puzzles. The presentation was more inspired than Evo explores, but nowhere as good as monument valley.

How does the lg stylus (stylo 3) work?

The LG Stylo is the only budget stylus phone, and it doesn't cost much more than similar spec'ed phones without a stylus. Did LG find a way to make a cheap s-pen or Wacom stylus? Not at all. 

The LG stylus is actually passive and works on capacitance just like the stylus you can buy at the dollar store! Which is not to say it's useless. The LG stylus has a very sharp tip, roughly the size of a blunt pencil, so it's much, much more percise than those dollar store varieties which often are about as percise as a blunt crayon.

The "magic" if there is any, is that the Stylo needs much less capacitance to detect the tip location than most phones.  Maybe the hardware is better, or maybe they just tuned the software to respond at lower thresholds. Point in case, the stylus stylus does work on other phones, like my Samsung S7. But you have to push pretty hard to get enough signal. The experience is much better on the Stylo.

The downsides of LG's approach: no pressure sensitivity, and no palm rejection. The later is the bigger issue, since it means you can't rest your hand on the phone to steady your strokes. Since the stylus is quite slippery it can be hard to draw lines and shapes unless the phone is laying flat on a table. Gravity gets in the way if the phone is at any kind of significant angle. For just tapping, however, it's fine.

Typing in the lg sylo (3)

Typing on the 5.7 inch screen is a joy.  I was excited to use the stylus to type because I figured it would allow error free  letter selection, and indeed it does. But it turns out the extra half an inch over my Galaxy S7 means that 2 thumb typing works really, really well. Very few errors and quite fast. So I end up never using the stylus for typing.  A built in stylus would be more useful on a 5.0" screen. Anybody listening??

Interestingly it's almost possible to "touch type" on the Stylo,  meaning without looking at the keys. This also reduces error rates because you can see errors as they happen and can be sure to select the proper word suggestions. I've never been able to do that on another phone, and I suspect it's the screen size combined with my greater experience with Gboard.

Swiping works fine too, but it's completely unnecessary, unlike with a smaller phone. I never thought I'd want a screen this big but I'm starting to come around.

The one area it works very poorly is one hand typing. The screen is just too big to reach across with one thumb.  There are one-handed keyboards that stick the buttons in one corner, but I find it too much trouble to switch back and forth.

Lg stylo 3 stylus test and review

Given the main point of this phone is the stylus, it's criminal that the reviews don't really discuss how well it works.
The answer is pretty well. Here is a comparison of my best writing, and box with a dot inside-ing. Top is finger, bottom two are stylus, at two different angles of incline.
Note that for some shapes I find it much easier to use the stylus when the phone is laying flat on the table. Then you don't have to fight gravity. That is one notable downside to the stylus. No gliding resistance, and no good way to brace your hand. Makes drawing long straight lines surprisingly hard and fatiguing.

Have we reached peak smartphones?

There's an idea going around that there's not a whole lot of improvement in smart phones these days. If there  isn't  much  improvement  in  the new phones  there  isn't much reason  to  upgrade  until  yours breaks.

In such a market repairability and durability seem like they become much more important than they used to be. I haven't seen any evidence of that currently but I sure would like to. The only phones that are easy to take apart and swap parts on are budget phones made of plastic. You know, I have nothing against plastic. The problem with budget phones, by and large, are the processors and screens, Etc. At the very least, we all know that batteries wear out. Being able to put in a new battery seems like such an obvious feature if you're going to use your phone for more than a year.

Peak smartphone refers to the number of shipments per year.

Samsung screens scratch easily?

I've had my Samsung S7 for about 6 months ( it was cheap because the s8 had just come out ). Despite being the most expensive phone I've ever owned, the screen is already a haze of near invisible scratches. More than I can count. None of my other phones (Nexus 4, Moto x2, LG volt) had any scratches on them in over 2 years use. I doubt I suddenly got clumsy six months ago. So what's your excuse, Samsung?

To be fair the scratches are invisible during use, but it doesn't bode well for the future.

Windows 10 feels like beta software: removing photos app

I'm amazed how Microsoft could go from an os that did everything you need (xp) to a bloated but somewhat improved os (7) to a barely useable unfinished os (8) and then get accolades for releasing something barely better (10).  

My latest run-in with 10 is with the built-in "photos" app. I installed irfanview which is much more powerful, and windows immediately proceed to reassociate all image formats with the built-in viewer. At least I got a notification. But it included no way to undo Microsoft's "fix", which kept on being applied every time I told infanview to take over jpgs again.

The solution seems to be to uninstall "photos". Well easier said than done.  "Add/remove" programs does list "photos". But it helpfully indicates that uninstall is not a supported option but flashing when you click that button.

Thanks Microsoft.

The solution was to Google. Thank goodness for Google in this messed up world of windows 10. Because to un-install photos you need a rather long powershell command: Get-AppxPackage *photo* | Remove-AppxPackage Luckily Google knows your pain and it's the first hit.

Now recall xp, fondly, where you never had to Google to know how to remove an app. Or 7, where the built in search was good enough to find the right screen to do it.

2 years till Microsoft stops supporting 7. Oh what am I to do.

The hidden cost of internet (power): cable vs Fiber/DSL (Uverse)

We have cable internet, delivered via a cable modem (ARRIS (formerly, Motorola) SB6120) to our wireless router (Asus RT-N16). Both have reasonably efficient power supplies, but their combined power consumption is measurable, around 12 Watts, at least under moderate use.  In SoCal that's about $24 a year for power. 

We just "upgraded" to ATT U-Verse. I was curious to see how much power it uses, since the service comes with an all in-one modem/router/wifi combo box (Pace 5268AC). You might think that would mean a lower power draw, but under light use it's coming in at 13 Watts. So the yearly cost is a near tie. I was pleased to see the router was just as configurable as RT-N16 in the ways I cared, such as routing external ports to internal devices. 

The other downside to our U-verse service is it's much, much slower - but that was a choice. The up-side is that you can choose to pay less for lower bandwidth. I was happy to only pay $40/month and only get 25MBps. Only a month ago I was paying $40 for ~100MBps from TWC (ahem, spectrum) but now they want $55/month for that service. Ever since the merger TWC has been raising prices steadily. So much for mergers leading to cost savings. 

Fix PowerShell: The term 'Install-Module' is not recognized as the name of a cmdlet, function, script file, or operable program

I tried to use PowerShell to Check and Update Windows Systems for the Meltdown and Spectre CPU Flaws but I was dead in the water because the first step, installing the software, didn't work. What follows is the steps that worked to get Windows 7 to install a version of PowerShell that supports "Install-Module".

Here's the error I got:
The term 'Install-Module' is not recognized as the name of a cmdlet, function, script file, or operable program. Check
the spelling of the name, or if a path was included, verify that the path is correct and try again.
At line:1 char:15
+ Install-Module <<<<
    + CategoryInfo          : ObjectNotFound: (Install-Module:String) [], CommandNotFoundException
    + FullyQualifiedErrorId : CommandNotFoundException

The supposed solution was to install the newest version of PowerShell but all the advice didn't work, because all the recommended downloads from microsoft's website refused to install.  The only one that did work was Windows Management Framework 4.0, for windows Vista (6.1). This provided an older version of PowerShell but still didn't support Install-Module. However, once WMF 4.0 was installed I could install PowerShell-6.0.1-win-x64.msi from github and that finally supported Install-Module!

What a involved process! I guess microsoft doesn't test Windows 7 compatibility much any more. Sadly, while the PowerShell script now installs via Install-module, it crashes mid-execution. Oh well. Instead I used a simple Win32 app to check the registry status.

Power consumption of DIY NAS (network attached storage)

I've been working to set up some network accessible storage (NAS) for remote backups. Cloud storage seems to run about $10 a month for a reasonable (200gb) amount of storage. Can we do better running the server ourselves? Very likely, though it depends on how much you pay for the hardware and electricity (and your time!).

These days we pay about $0.23/kwh in So.Cal. Very high relative to the rest of the country. So that's going to make this tricky since the server will be running 24x365 = 8760 hours a year. That means that each watt will cost us about $2 a year (eg a 5 watt LED bulb will cost $10 a year to run).

Lenovo S10-3 Atom N455 netbook (pinetrail)

First up is an old 1.6ghz Atom netbook (Lenovo S10-3).  I installed Linux on a SD card, and left the 250GB mechanical HD for the storage partition. The idea is that the hard drive can be physically put to sleep most of the time and only spun up when data is being stored or retrieved from the NAS.

I chose lubuntu because it's small and aimed at modest hardware AND as a member of the ubuntu family there's tons of stackexchange posts and such relating to configuring it.

Plugged in, booted up and using the X desktop the power draw of the netbook was about 12-14W. That would be about $26 a year, which is much less than paying for 200gb of storage on the cloud. But we should be able to do much better with the screen off and power saving features maximized. Since this is Linux there's an infinite number of tweaks, an unknown number of which are supported by the particular distribution in use. What worked for me was the following:

 powertop --auto-tune

An interactive tool which, among many things, enables power management features for most parts of the hardware. The invocation above skips all the interactivity and just enables all power saving features.

xset -display :0.0 dpms force off 

This turns off the display hardware to a deeper extent than just shutting the lid. Worth an extra watt, maybe even 1.5. The downside is there's no way to turn it back on without shell access (xset -display :0.0 dpms force on) . So hopefully your box is good and stable before you do this!

 hdparm -B1 /dev/sda1 -S100

This set the HD for maximum power saving (which means that it spins down quickly). It might be overly extreme, but in my use case the hard drive will either be working hard or off for a couple days, so it seems reasonable. I tuned it to wait 8 minutes before spinning down -S100 /dev/sda1

With those 3 settings I get 6.6W power usage at idle. Rounding up just to be realistic that's $14 a year, or not that different from the monthly cost for cloud storage. Of course my system has no redundancy, tech support, etc. 

According to this forum post, that number is reasonably representative of another netbook of that era, the Dell mini 9, which drew 7W at idle. Which goes to support my theory that all Atom netbooks are pretty much the same. 

One annoyance is that lubuntu insists on suspending the machine if the lid is shut, despite any settings in the gui, but the link describes how to fix it. Shesh, linux is not for the faint of heart. 

Raspberry Pi (Zero w?)

The choice not taken, perhaps to my detriment was to buy a cheap linux computer (more like chip, or SOC) like one of the Raspberry Pi models. I would expect that it could do much better in terms of power consumption. The hardware's not free but it is cheap. How much lower would the power draw be, though?

This fellow measured power consumption for a bunch of Raspberry Pi models. None exactly matching what I need but at idle all used between 0.5W and 1.5W, with WiFi powered on (but presumably not transferring anything). That sound fantastic, but you'll need storage to go with that. The same fellow measured idle consumption at 5W with a 64GB SSD drive connected. I don't know if that's as idle as my mechanical HD spun down, but it makes the Pi series much less appealing if that's what it draws with some attached storage.  I'm not sure if I trust those numbers because another source tested SSDs in a desktop and found closer to half a Watt at idle. 

The remaining issue is hardware costs. The Zero W costs about $15 delivered. 256GB of storage in MicroSD costs ~120. The same size in USB flash is $50, so I'd go with that. Total then, depends on some more factors: Case? Power supply? USB-OTG to plug in that USB drive?  Let's guess 20 for those misc. items, bringing the total to $85. If it magically used 0W then the breakeven would take 6 years, but assuming a more realistic 2W breakeven takes 9(!) years. 

Not done yet

Other than getting linux installed I haven't set up the actual NAS yet. I'll need some kind of dynamic DNS so it's reachable from anywhere, and if I'm using it for backup, some decent backup software (cross-platform, hopefully). I've used Unison in the past as a poor-man's (or geek's) alternative to dropbox and I expect I'll do that here as well. 

Email me


Email *

Message *