drabble from the Tech World

New Insteon Micro Modules

New from Insteon - Micro Modules! At just under 2" x 2" x .7" - they will pretty much fit anywhere!

These could very easily fit behind any switch in a box, or pretty much anywhere.

Last line is the best part: Every Micro Module is Dual-Band! This is game changing! Plus the sense wires for existing switches...can't wait to get a hold of a few of these.

More info is available HERE at SmartHome

FreeNAS Performace: Part 2

I should probably call this one "FreeNAS Performance: The REAL Test" previous performance tests were completely unfair to FreeNAS and I'd like to show what it can really do. So - what was wrong with the first tests?

  • FreeNAS needs RAM for ZFS to do what it does best
  • A single spindle just isn't a good test for ZFS
  • Didn't do my homework on FreeNAS or ZFS
  • FreeNAS needs RAM - more than 3GB
  • ...

So here's the new test setup - granted this is not an apples-to-apples comparison, I feel it's enough to show that FreeNAS can and will perform.

The VMware environment is running on HP DL360G5s, as is the FreeNAS appliance. While the VMware box in this test is more beefy than the previous tests, keep in mind that it is also loaded with several other running VMs during the tests. FreeNAS Specs:

  • Dual Intel Xeon 5160
  • 16GB RAM
  • 3x 10K SAS Raid0 (stripe)
  • P400 with 256MB BBWC

I did a single Windows 7 VM install in 7-8 minutes. Boot\reboot times are excellent - sub 20 seconds...overall, performance of the VM feels great. IOMeter shows it:

This is not the same ~50 IOPS from the previous test...this is 30 times the IOPS! This is the same IOMeter test setup as before, and it is pulling 1500+ IOPS from the FreeNAS NFS datastore. The FreeNAS appliance has allocated ~3-5.5GB once this VM was up and running and during the test...clearly 3GB in the previous test was not nearly enough. Further, I do not have deduplication turned on - instead I am using compression on the ZFS Dataset. In Windows, I am showing 8.6GB space used and only using 4.2GB on the NFS share:

Additionally, I was able to copy a file to a CIFS share (all over a 1Gb network) and saw 110-130MBps.

The testing continues in Part 3!

FoxConn R10-H1 Review

I recently built a cable-box replacement system using a FoxConn R10-H1 barebone system. It is essentially a case, power supply and motherboard all-in-one (plus some extras in this case - a heat-sink fan assembly). Here's a link to the system on NewEgg. After having several AMD systems in the past, this was the first Intel setup I have had in some time. It has gigabit ethernet, and an HDMI port - perfect for an HTPC. Here's a pic of everything assembled:

Notice that there is very little space between the optical drive and the heat-sink fan assembly. The heat-sink is a custom piece for this setup, and you CAN NOT swap it with a stock Intel one if you have an optical drive installed.


All told, the assembly went together well - the biggest issue (and this was reported on the NewEgg reviews) was that the stock fans were LOUD!!! I wanted this system to be nearly silent, so replacement fans were in order. The heat-sink fan was replaced fairly easy, but the clearance between it and the top of the case was CLOSE. The side fan was replaced, but it would not fit into the stock plastic holder, so I had to use a screw into the side...not very pretty, but it works:


The last bit was the HDD - I opted for an SSD as this machine needs to be silent and fast - a 64GB crucial M4 is more than enough. The problem is mounting - the built in cage is clearly meant for a 3.5 drive...but as lightweight as all SSD drives are, a single screw holding this one, does not worry me at all.


The system rating is a 6.2 with the SSD and an i3 2105 - works just fine for streaming HD video and watching HD TV via an HDHomeRun Prime.








Update: specific measurements of the optical drive:

Looks like the drive is 6 5/8":

In all honestly, you could probably fit a bit larger - maybe closer 7" - drive by pushing the cables a bit closer to the CPU HSF:

Office 2013 on a Remote Desktop Session Host

I noticed that Office 2013 had been made available for TechNet subscribers, so I promptly downloaded a copy of Pro Plus to install on the RDS Session Host farm. When I browsed for a license key I was astonished to find that there was no Terminal Services Enablement Key as there had been for previous versions of Office:

You can see here that Office 2010 had this key:

I was further angered when I went to install the software and I was greeted with an error complaining about 'only being able to install Office 2013 with a volume license key on an RDS server' or something of that nature. Despite this warning, the installer continued and asked for a product key. Once the upgrade finished (Office 2010 was previously installed) I opened Word and was surprised to find that everything was activated and I was NOT greeted with a warning about this version running on RDS.

A quick note - this was an upgrade from Office 2010 that WAS installed using a TS Enablement key. Either way, office 2013 is now installed!

Galaxy S2 Wireless Constantly Disconnects

I recently upgraded my wireless AP in an effort to stream live TV wirelessly (more on that later). The new AP is a dual-band N capable model from Cisco - it replaced a G model from NetGear. Ever since then I noticed that our phones would CONSTANTLY disconnect then reconnect to the wireless in our house. This only happened at home - it didn't happen in the office.

Looking at the configurations I noticed the only real difference - I had enabled Wireless Multi-Media (WMM) to get 300Mbps instead of 150Mbps - again, all trying to get as much throughput as possible for Live TV.

It turns out that the Samsung Galaxy S2 is not compatible with fact it is not compatible with all the MCS rates of wireless N. Needless to say, I disabled WMM and the issue went away. Here's a screenshot of the web config of the AP:

This is located under Services > QoS > Advanced Tab for Cisco 1200 series APs.

StarWind iSCSI SAN V6 Released

Although it has been available for about a month, the next major release of the StarWind iSCSI target is here! Some of the biggest features include (taken from here):

High availability:
- 3-node HA configuration. Synchronous mirroring between 3 nodes of an HA storage cluster. Such storage architecture ensures higher uptime and higher performance compared to a 2-node HA configuration.
- HA device nodes manager. You can add, remove, or switch nodes of HA cluster on the running device instead of the creation of a new HA device from scratch.
- An HA device can now use other types of StarWind devices (deduplicated, thin-provisioned IBV, or DiskBridge devices) for storing data. Thus, you can apply deduplication, thin provision, snapshot technologies, etc., for the data stored on the HA device. Experimental feature.
- ALUA. Asymmetric logical unit access is required for cases when individual nodes use very different by performance metrics storage types like SATA on one node and SSD on another. With ALUA enabled most of I/Os are served by faster node resulting less latency for I/O intensive applications.

- Asynchronous replication to remote iSCSI Target over WAN as an experimental feature.
- Data deletion support (experimental feature). Unused data blocks are overwritten by the new actual data.
- Memory usage reduced by 30%. When the dedupe block size is set to 4kb, 2MB of memory are required per 1GB of stored data.

iSCSI Boot:
- StarWind can be used to build and configure environment for iSCSI boot.
- Two modes added for Snapshot and CDP device: redirect on write and redirect on write with discard. These options can be used for booting multiple clients from one image.

Event notifications:
- Free space low watermarks are now reported for thin-provisioned and deduplicated volumes.

Backup Plug-in for Hyper-V virtual machines:
- Incremental backup and delta data saving features added.

Backup Plug-in for ESX virtual machines (experimental feature):
- Full and incremental backup of virtual machines.
- ESX VMs management.
- Backup archives are saved in the native VMware format – VMDK.


The current version is 6.0.4768 - the biggest reason for me to upgrade to this version was the deduplication deletion support. Previously, a deduped device would continue to grow in size when data was deleted as it did not keep track of unused blocks. This would cause the .spdata file to grow rather large, especially if you do a storage VMotion or have a lot of changing data. Here's a snapshot of the dedupe device creation:

The deletion support in its current form (still an 'experimental feature') will now overwrite unused blocks with actual data - keep in mind, though that the container files on the StarWind server will not shrink in size - that is a feature that will likely show up in a future release.

Currently, I'm "using" around 270GB of storage which is only occupying ~68GB on disk. Bear in mind that this ratio could be better - but I am currently running both Server 2008 R2 AND Server 2012 VMs.

For best performance, set deduplication block size to 4K and do NOT use thin-provisioning on top of deduplicated devices.

Media Center Extender With a Windows 7 VM

The XBOX 360 is proving more and more useful these days. First, there is the Verizon FiOS app (which I have not tried yet). But more importantly is the fact that it is a Media Center Extender (one of the best...and only, really). I had paired it to a desktop that I wasn't really using and could leave powered on...

But the real power came when I upgraded the lab\infrastructure to VMware. I never had the hardware to do a RemoteFX VM, but VMware has a virtual 3D video card that works very well. So long story short, it is completely possible to use a virtual machine as the source for a media center extender...

...including live TV coming from a cable card thanks to the HDHomeRun Prime 3CC. This was simply not possible when the VM was running in Hyper-V - for whatever reason - slow disk (local storage) or if 3D hardware resources are required, then they certainly were not available in the old environment.

Once the HDHomeRun software is installed, MediaCenter will try to run the Digital Cable Advisor tool - but will fail on HDCP connection to a monitor (obviously) - performance of the VM is suitable for MCE\CableCard support - here's the machine rating of the VM:


I ran a procmon trace on a system where DCA was successful and found the following executable was run after validation succeeded:


Once this was run on on the VM, the DCA noted it had previously "succeeded", the CableCard support was installed successfully, and the tuners mapped as expected, downloaded guide data, etc. Once the XBOX was mapped as an extender, live TV worked perfectly, including HD channels!!

I have not tested extensively, but it looks like this will work well.

Upgrade to the Home Lab

My home lab environment (or home datacenter as it is starting to become...) started several years ago. First I had just a Server 2003 box that was a DC, file server, RAS server...then Server 2008 and Hyper-V beta came out. A few more disks were purchased to store virtual machines - but 2 spindles and limited RAM only goes so far. Then Server 2008R2 was released so the host received an upgrade - both the new OS but also hardware. Several disks for both storage and VM storage were purchased and installed locally on the server - and this hardware configuration has lasted quite some time...short of a motherboard swap and 2008R2 SP1, it's all the same. Here's how it sits now, and how it has been for about 4+ years:

The RocketRaid 2300 Sata2 adapters have worked well for my needs - and there's two of them in there - 4 ports each. They are software based RAID...but the arrays are now only RAID1 so there isn't all that much overhead.

It's time for some new hardware. I'm ditching the white-box method..and going for rack based. The rack serves two purposes - servers, and A\V equipment for the media room. Storage will no longer be local, and EVERYTHING will be backed up and redundant.

This is all great, except for the fact that there's lots of changes that need to occur on the network. First and foremost is a subnet change. When first setup, I used a subnet for everything...the default gateway wasn't at the end of the range, there were static IPs everywhere....things that should have been in a seperate VLAN weren't...time to clean up and change.

The first major change was to enable subinterfaces on the firewall to enable multiple VLANs on the switch. The first thing I had trouble with was being able to communicate with the subinterface on the firewall from the main subnet. Keep in mind that this was on VLAN 1.

Problem: The native VLAN is not tagged by default on Catalyst switches

Fix: Enable tagging on the native VLAN

vlan dot1q tag native

Problem: Aside from re-IPing the entire network and changing all of the access lists and rules, I could not communicate accross the subinterfaces on the firewall - even though they were the same security level.

Fix: Enable same security traffic accross interfaces, and create a static to map the traffic

Part 1:

same-security-traffic permit inter-interface

Part 2:

static (inside,inside-storage) netmask
static (inside-storage,inside) netmask

Problem: iSCSI datastores disconnect and fail when the vSwich MTU is changed to 9000

Fix: Disable 9000 MTU when trying to use Broadcom NX2 iSCSI HBAs, or don't use them at all, and use software iSCSI. There are a few reports that Software iSCSI + 9K MTU is better than iSCSI HBA + 1500 MTU, but I just opted to use the iSCSI HBAs and multipathing.

Still building out the environment, but it's good to get things started...hopefully I can retire that box soon.

Streaming Live TV over a Wireless Network with the HDHomeRun Prime

With the recent purchase of the HDHR3-CC, I had been hoping to eliminate one of the cheap-no-HD-no-guide cable boxes and replace it with an ultra-fast, SSD based PC. The PC works great....the problem is the network - or more specifically, the lack of a wired network to the PC in question. So I purchased a wireless adapter...then I realized that I still have a Wireless-G access point, and I am therefore limited to 54Mbps (if that). I've tried to improve signal by moving the AP from the basement to the 1st floor - which did help, but ultimately, this is still a single antenna, single channel AP running G.

Long story short - it still works...sort of. As long as you don't want to watch anything in HD, and there's nothing else trying to use the wireless network. According to task manager, *trying* to watch an HD channel will result in around 12-13Mbps (of 54) network utilization, or upwards of 20-25% utilization...this is confirmed in the HDHR GUI. Trying to watch HD channels completely cripple the wireless network.

SD Channels only consume about 7-8% of the G network or 3-4Mbps.

The screenshot below shows the network utilization - the left side of the graph is an HD channel, and the right side is an SD channel:

 I will be investing in a better (and N capable) wireless AP shortly.

HDHomeRun HDHR3-CC Review

I did not think I would be coming down this road again...but after hearing some great things about the HDHomeRun prime and sharing cable card tuners over the network - there I was at the Verizon store picking up an M-Card. I picked up the HDHR3-CC when I heard that you could share 3 tuners accross any devices on your network...the HD channels even worked over wifi...the tuner itself stays powered on while the PCs can power on and off at will - I saw it on sale and ordered.

The setup could not be easier:

  • Install M-Card
  • Plug in network and coax
  • Power on
  • Install software
  • Run digital cable advisor, activate M-Card
  • Watch TV

The software is compact and effective - it installs in a snap. It found the HDHomeRun immediately - and even did a firmware update on the fly. Within the app, you have access to signal strength, chanel info, and the web interface.


This is where FiOS has the edge over any other provider - 100% signal strength. The fiber termination point is no more than 25ft of coax away from this device...I needed to install an amplifier\filter on my Comcast equipment to deal with a signal problem. Also, did I mention that Cable Card activation (pairing) was done by me over the internet?! I received an activation code and entered the device ID and data ID at their activation website: