SM951 – my experience

After quite a bit of research, i have finally purchased a new system – along with a SM951 – 256GB version.

I wrote an article a while back about some of the difficulties of getting appropriate performance out of M2 drives – http://www.hayesjupe.com/finding-the-right-motherboard-for-the-samsung-xp941/

I ended up getting a MSI X99A SLI Plus motherboard which has m.2 x4 (a requirement) and the nice-ity of usb 3.1.

Long story short – the install of the SM951 was a breeze, slot it in, secure it using the “holding” screw – all done.

Interesting – the device does not show up in the BIOS – however, when installing the OS (8.1u1 in my case) the drive showed up without any issues. Even now with the system booting from the device – the BIOS still shows the slot as empty.

So… is it quick?… for benchmarks – check out sites like http://www.anandtech.com/show/8979/samsung-sm951-512-gb-review – yes its bloody quick on paper…

In “real world” usage – my OS now boots in 2 seconds instead of 8 (or so) – nice… but does it really increase productivity?… meh.

Playing games – meh. Loading times of the previous SSD were already fast – this is faster, but again, its a bit of a “meh” difference.

Virtual machines – now this is where it makes a big difference… using multiple VM’s is now just lightning fast. Boot 5 VM’s at once, they are all up in couple of seconds and disk intensive operations that previously took noticeably large amounts of time complete ludicrously quickly.

To sum up – an ultra-fast PCIE drive like this is definitely nice to have no matter what you do – but bang for buck, if your an “everyday” user or gamer, a SATA3 SSD probably delivers better value for money at this point in time. If you are doing lots of disk intensive work, such as virtual machines, SAS/sql/data import & analysis type work – then its a bit of a no-brainer. You will save enough time to warrant the purchase of this drive in one day.

By the way – this drive was purchased from – https://www.ramcity.com.au/buy/samsung-sm951-256gb-ahci-m.2-pcie-3.0-x4-80mm-ssd/MZHPV256HDGL-00000

 

 

HP 250 G3 – avoid it

My existing work laptop was around 4 years old – so it was time to get another one…

I use my work laptop for writing documents, RDP’ing to other systems while at client sites, email, internet…. so pretty basic functionalities – and have always gone an appropriately basic laptop.

This time, I went a HP 250 G3 (because it was cheap, but still ok’ish specs) and swapped out the HDD with an SSD – as I think its a really cheap way to massively improve boot and response times.

While the laptop has generally been fine, the RALink 3290 “wireless N” card is completely useless and only connects at 72Mbps…. and googling around this seem to be a common issue with RALink cards. This makes copying a file of any reasonable size ludicrously slow.

I was previously unaware that wireless-N cards came in any other flavour than supporting 300mbs connections (but understand the throughput rates with different cards can vary significantly) – but now I have learnt that the wireless-N standard doesn’t necessarily define connection speed.

In short, this “feature” makes a laptop that would otherwise be reasonable for the price, quite unusable.

Finding the “right” motherboard for the Samsung XP941

So most nerds would be familiar by now with the Samsung XP941 an M.2 PCIe SSD which offers, what seems to be, substantial performance benefits over standard SSDs.

If not:

http://www.samsung.com/global/business/semiconductor/news-events/press-releases/detail?newsId=12921

https://www.ramcity.com.au/buy/samsung-xp941-256gb-m.2-pcie-x4-80mm-ssd/MZHPU256HCGL-00000

 

Some of the difficulty with new tech, as always, is finding compatible parts…. searching for a motherboard which will work with the XP941, at first, would seem easy…. “some Z97 motherboards and all X99 chipset motherboards”… but unfortunately, when reading bit closer at product descriptions such as this one:

http://www.gigabyte.com.au/products/product-page.aspx?pid=5125#sp

1 x M.2 PCIe connector (Socket 3, M key, type 2242/2260/2280 SATA & PCIe x2/x1 SSD support)

 

When the XP941 specs specifically state (from the RamCity page)

10nm Class Toggle Mode MLC NAND • 1080 MB/sec Read, 800 MB/sec Write • PCIe 2.0 x4 • 512MB cache • 3 Yrs Warranty

 

So there’s a disconnect…. the SSD supposedly needs and M.2 PCIe 2.0 x4 connection….. and yet X99 motherboards that I first looked at seemed to offer an M.2 PCIe 2.0 x2 connection. So, it will work, but at reduced speed….. which kind of defeats the purpose of shelling out a premium for a performance drive.

The best post I have found on this is over on a tomshardware message board:

http://www.tomshardware.com/answers/id-2316109/system-ssd-question.html

To quote the user – JohnnyLucky

The situation with the new X99 motherboards is a little better. There are a few more X99 motherboards that can fully support the XP941 but the majority of boards still only use M.2 connectors with two PCIe 2.0 channels.

One of the biggest problems is trying to determine which motherboards support the XP941. Most motherboard descriptions are incomplete. They do not distinguish between M.2 PCIe 2.0 x4, M.2 PCIe 2.0 x2, and M.2 SATA 3 6Gb/s. There are a few exceptions. ASROCK calls an M.2 PCIe 2.0 x4 connection “Ultra M.2” and an M.2 PCIe 2.0 x2 connection as plain “M.2”. Some of the other motherboards are listed as “M.2 10Gb/s” which is PCIe 2.0 x2 and M.2 32Gb/s which is PCIe 2.0 x4. Unfortunately a lot of the motherboard descriptions only list “M.2” and it is a royal pain trying to find out which ones actually use 4 PCIe channels.

 

So there are a few issues here:

  • Samsung have made an SSD which while they are targeting at the OEM market, nerds want to get a hold of it
  • OEM’s, as usual have been very slow in bringing products containing the drive to market
  • When OEM’s do bring products to market – they will be aimed at the “premium” price point
  • Nerds would normally prefer to build their own rigs anyway
  • Marketing people creating confusion (as usual) by labelling things “ultra M.2” (just like super speed USB!), just call it what it is
  • Motherboard specification pages are incomplete or use disparate terms for describing the same thing. If ASRock call I ultra M.2, are you really gaining anything by calling it Turbo M.2? or super-jet-speed-mega-good-now-M.2 ?
  • Depending on where in the world you live, sometimes getting a hold of some motherboard brands can be slightly more challenging than it might be for the writers at tomshardware or anandtech or <insert your favourite hardware site here>

So…. which motherboards have an M2 PCIe 2.0 x4 connection ?

From some searching around, the ones I have found which (claim to) have M2 PCIe 2.0 x4 connectors (as at 18/11/2014):

All of the ASRock X99 motherboards (using the term Ultra M2) – http://www.asrock.com/mb/index.asp?s=2011-3

All Asus x99 motherboards list ultrafast M.2 x4 on the sales page, but don’t specify a speed on the specifications page – http://www.asus.com/au/Motherboards/Intel_Platform_Products/

All MSI x99 motherboards list Turbo M.2 x4 on the sales page, but don’t specify a speed on the specifications page – http://www.msi.com/product/mb/#?category=Socket 2011-3&category_no=1179

One gigabyte motherboard – GA-X99-SOC Force

 

I had a look around at the following x99 motherboards too:

GA-X99-UD3 – x2 only

GA-X99-UD4 – x2 only

GA-X99-UD5 WIFI – x2 only

GA-X99-UD7 WIFI – x2 only

GA-X99-Gaming 5 – x2 only

GA-X99-Gaming 7 WIFI – x2 only

GA-X99-Gaming G1 WIFI – x2 only

Intel do not appear to have motherboards based on the x99 chipset according to the drop downs in this page… http://www.intel.com.au/content/www/au/en/motherboards/desktop-motherboards/motherboards.html

 

So really, I started this article because I went to the gigabyte page first and saw something funky…. but it pretty much appears that they are the only major MB manufacturer that don’t support M2 PCIe 2.0 x4 on all of their x99 boards. (Gigabyte is of course the only manufacturer my local wholesaler stocks…. the law of maximum inconvenience strikes again!)

 

The next questions are, is the XP941 bootable from these motherboards, does it nerf anything else and what’s the performance like ?

for more info and discussion on these, head over to https://www.ramcity.com.au/blog/m.2-ngff-ssd-compatibility-list/189 and have a look in the comments section. You will see some people have gone through the pain of differing BIOS versions, mucking around with BIOS settings and in some cases, having their video card performance nerfed or having to use different slots for other devices.

 

Intel NUC as a media centre

For the past few years i have been using a variety of DLNA clients, including an Astone MDT310, WD TV Live Streaming, PS3, Xbox360 and the built in DLNA client in samsung TV’s. The Xbox and PS3 media centres are ok – but the rest are just plain terrible.

The Astone has difficuly connecting to network shares with auth, is slow, noisey and bulky, the sound drops out constantly and the interface is average.

The WD TV Live streaming seems to randomly loose its settings occasionally, the networking settings also randomly disappear and only seem to be reconfigurable after a random combo of turning off/on, resetting etc…. and again and has similar difficulties when connecting to any authenticated shares.

The Samsung TV’s… well, the DLNA client is slow, cumbersome interface etc

All 3 of the above also have difficulty with fast forward, skip to time and when combined with my Synology NAS media player, cannot be paused… as the Synology goes to sleep and apparently doesnt wake up quickly enough for them to resume playing.

The xbox 360 and PS3 suffer from far less of these issues – in fact they are quite good…. but im not going to put a 360 in multiple rooms just for this… and the PS3 and xBox 360 lack some other functionality.

So, the solution – go a full PC. I have a full PC media centre on my home cinema setup, but especially now with a kid, its handy if the missus can put a TV show or movie on during late night feeds or general baby grizzling “i dont want to go to sleep” type nights. I wanted a small form factor though (similar to WD TV live type size) if possible – and a quick search led me to the intel NUC or the Xi3….. not surprisingly, the intel NUC was available locally, the Xi3 wasnt.

So im purcahsed a Intel NUC (DC3217IY), a stronium 4GB DDR3 1333 SODIM and a Kingmax mSATA 32GB SSD for $450 – a substantially larger investment than the $100 required for a WD TV live or similar media box.

Got it home, opened the box and got the incredibly wanky intel sound which some marketing chump thought would be cool, chucked the drivers onto my bootable Win7 USB stick, plugged everything in…. straight into windows setup…. but no HDD detected…. loaded the drivers from within setup, thinking it was just a driver issue… still no drive. Re-seated the drive, tried again…. nothing. Tried to get into the BIOS…. no dice…. couldnt see the screen, wasnt sure what was happening.

Long story short, the NUC seems to not display the BIOS or any POST screens when run through an amp (mine is going through a denon 1911)… so plugged it directly into the TV (a panasonic) – could now see the BIOS screen, but whenever i pressed “F2” to get into the BIOS, the machine just rebooted. After a bit of googling, i found that it was a common problem with certain TV’s and amps…. pretty poor. Eventually i found a TV in the house it worked on, got into the BIOS and found the drive wasnt there at all… thinking it was a faulty drive, i returned it, got another…. same problem… (very) long story short, the Kingmax 32GB mssata SSD does not work in intel NUC’s….. so i swppaed it out for a kingston 64gbmsata ssd – the drive detected, and it was all good.

Installed Win7, installed drivers, updated, created domain account , added autoadminlogon, granted read access to the NAS, added lync account, customised background etc – and we were all good to go.

The device delivers what it needs to…. its a low power use media centre, that allows me to use lync, a web browser – has no compatibility, speed or configuration issues (like the WD live and Astone), gives me full flexibility to run any application i need to in the future. As its a windows device – i can also put it on my domain and address security and configuration issues via AD/Group policy…. which is nice.

On the downside – the piece of hardware has obviously not been well tested…. not being able to get into the BIOS on what seems to be a whole swag of TV’s/recievers is obviously a pain…. once the device wakes up from sleep, it takes an absolute age (15 seconds + ) for the network to become available again, which is a pest. (A setting in the BIOS may help – but since i cant get into the BIOS…..) and obviously the price, when compared to a WD TV Live or equivalent is substantial. Feature wise, it would be very nice if there was either included or optional IR sensor built into the case…. it would just finish it off nicely.

In summary – it’s a device that is a good size, good power usage, has a decent amount of power for what it is – they just really need to fix the BIOS so its actually usable on most TV’s and receivers! Sure its $400-$500 (depending on what components you put in there) – so a good $300-400 more than a WD TV box…. but i think its worth it. Management, flexibility, compatibility – all the things that WD TV live (and similar) doesnt have.

Synology Diskstation 2413+

As some of you may have seen from a previous post, i purchased a Thecus N7700 pro NAS a few years back…… i was most unimpressed by this NAS.

The performance was poor, the AD integration simply doesn’t work, the iscsi is flaky and the support is non-existant……

So, when this NAS reached capacity, it was time for a new one…. i tossed up between QNAP and Synology, both of which seem to have generally positive reviews around the web and friends/clients that have them speak of them is a generally positive light.

I eneded up getting a Synology 2413+, after changing my mind from a Synology 1813+…. i figured the bit extra was worth the extra bays. After some consideraton – the reasons i ended up going with synology over QNAP were

1) Price – Synology gear was/is a reasonable amount cheaper than the equivalent QNAP gear

2) Expandability – The synology NAS’s i was looking at can both be expanded by adding up to 2 additional, 5 bay enclosures…. i really like that

3) The UI – After having a play around with friends QNAPs and Synology solutions… Synology DSM 4.1 is a nice interface

After making my mind up, i purcahsed the 2413+ and the 2GB RAM expansion from techbuy.com.au and 5 x WD Red 3TB drives from a local supplier, i wanted to start off with 8, but couldnt find anywhere that had that many in stock…. the prices locally on these drives were 15-20% cheaper than techbuy or other large australian online stores… (and no, not from MSY – I tend to avoid those incompetent thieves)

Setup of the device was quick and simple, creating a port trunk on the NAS and enabling LACP on the switch took less than 5 minutes all up….. copying the data from the old thecus NAS then proceeded to take 3.5 days….

Once this was completed – and the Thecus was still on…. i just did some basic testing by copying large files (10GB+) to my PC from each NAS…. average from the thecus was around 20-25MB/Sec… average from the Synology was around 95-100MB/Sec…. the limiting factor here would have been my PC, which only has the one 1GB interface…. but a very big difference between the two already.

The synology is also dead quiet, compared to a roudy thecus, but this may partly be the difference in drives…. WD RED 3TB’s in the synology, WD EARS 2TB greens in the thecus.

The AD integration on the synology works… not exactly a big deal…. but after fighting with the thecus for so long its nice to have something that “just works”…

In the next week or so (when the additional drives turn up) ill be expanding the RAID, testing out the iSCSI target functionality and later again, testing out the surveillance station app….. so I will update this article when this happens…. I hope the RAID expansion and iscsi has been as simple as everything else.

So far…. the Synology kicks the absolute shit out of the thecus…. not because the Synology is brilliant (although it does seem to be good), but because the thecus is so bad.

* Update 23/01/2013 *

I finally got the additional 3 x WD 3TB red drives – whacked them in and expanded the volume. The wording of the expansion dialogue makes it sound like the expansion is going to wipe out the entire RAID volume…. which is enough to give anyone a heart attack…. but what it really means it that its going to wipe out the new expansion disks.

Took 3 days to expand- but outside of the poor wording of the dialogue box, it was very simple.

Next up, setting up an iSCSI target…. was an absolute breeze and “just worked”…..

Haven’t got my camera’s yet, so that’s next on the list – i’ll update again when I do.

In summary though – the Synology so far has been very good…… haven’t had to use support as yet…. which is a good thing – but that’s really the last major question I have about Synology before recommending this device.

* Update 28/03/2013 *

After a fair wait, i recieved my foscam IP camera’s yesterday…. these devices are cheap and nasty-ish…. but considering the price difference between foscam and others – the foscams do seem to represent reasonable value….

Anyhoo – unfortunately the Surveillance Station does not yet support the foscam FI9802W or FI9821W. From doing some digging around, this is primarily because these devices did not support RTSP until a recent firmware upgrade…. hopefully they will be supported soon.
On thing i have noticed is the ludicrous price of the licensing for additional cameras as part of Surveillance Station, not only that, but when purcahsing it seems (and other comments seem to confirm it) that the licenses are physically shipped to your address instead of being sent via email or via some other online method – how fucked up is that! Obviously the licensing people at synology are still living in the 70’s.

* Update 18/12/2013 *

I gave up on Synology offering these licenses in a logical way, so I ordered them from a local supplier…. who, I just found out, they cant get until January (sometime)…. good job Synology. Your NAS’s are great, but your surveillance station licensing model sucks arse.

Home audio distribution – another thing that seems to be way harder than it needs to be!

So, we’ve almost been in our new house a year now – and things are slowly getting done.

Based on the advice of an electrician mate, we went with a btcino home automation system….. suppoedly its one of the btter ones around…. i think because he’s used to comparing it to the (seemingly) universally panned clipsal “automation” solutions.

Im completely baffled as to why each endpoint (such as a light or a switch) doesnt have an IP address – and a central management station allows association between a light/switch/dimmer/sensor etc etc… but thats another story – im sure there are reasons why this is not common place – and i would really love someone who’s in the know in that area to tell me why! From an IT nerd point of view it seems so incredibly logical! (i realise there is control4, creston, x10 etc – but trying to get a hold of these devices seems inordinately difficult…. or in the case of creston, they want you to use an implementation partner… <and i couldnt get any of the implementation partners to talk to me when i told them it was for a home install – they just didnt care> i.e. mega-bucks!)

Anyway, back on topic…. so the btcino has an audio distribution system with 8 x RCA inputs and an AM/FM radio module…. so, my first thought, lets get a device with multiple audio outputs and stream mp3’s and internet radio though the device into the inputs – which are then setup in 5 rooms around the house…. nup, none of them seem to be around… how about a PC with a multi-output soundcard… dont seem to exist (although there are a couple of solutions for using a 7.1 soundcard as a 4 x a 2 speaker stereo output… which i thought was pretty smart) – to add to that, windows 7 (and ive assumed 8) doesnt support playing multiple audio streams simultaneously though different cards (again, there seems to be a $20 app to solve that)… so with a bit of dicking around, it may be possible – and im going to give it a crack (and ill post results here if it turns out!)…. BUT….. i cant be the only one that wants to have PC level flexibility to stream multiple audio sources from any location i choose into an audio distribution system…. so WTF ?

Ofcourse – one could argue (and i will) that a decent home automation system would have the ability to allocate a DLNA streamed playlist, internet radio station etc to audio channels natively…. but that seems not to be the case.

Anyhoo – any electrcial engineers interested in an open source project  to fix this fucking stupid state of affairs ? (and, in the mean time, if anyone has run into a multi-channel sound card that google cant seem to find, let me know)

Samsung DLNA TV’s

So over the past year, i have purchased 2 new TV’s… both samsungs based on reviews around the web etc. which generally seem to be pretty positive.

Now the TV’s themselves seem to be pretty good…. picture quality is nice, sound is crisp enough for TV speakers (although top volume is not very loud).

One of my TV’s is a e series 6200 50″, firmware 001026, running smart hub 4.4841-5.0…

A large part of the reason i purchased these particular TV’s is because of the DLNA functionality built in and ability to play a wide variety or formats.

since then, i have run into a number of not-so-good things with the DLNA functionality

  • the interface is not only painful – but not customisable. Its also incredibly slow
  • The “Smart Hub” constantly goes through the wizard of re-aquiring an IP address… for which going through the wizard is required each time. This would probably happen every 2nd or 3rd use
  • Lack of support. I have been unable to find any samsung TV support forums. A google search of “samsung tv forum” brings back a cnet forum, whirlpool posts etc…. but no official forums. What a fucking joke.
  • Loss of network connectivty. If i should do something whacky, such as pause a movie being played from a DLNA device, 70% of the time, i will get “network error” and the interface will go back to the “smart hub” – with no option to resume when re-entering “all play” (which is the ironic name of the DLNA client)
  • The “all play” DLNA server software will not index anything located on a network drive…. so thats useless
  • the DLNA server/client solution “Plex” is available for some samsung TV’s….. but not mine. This may offer some relief from the issues above – which begs the question, why not just make plex the default DLNA client for the TV?

The DLNA interface is effectively unusable and completely unsupported. So i have been forced to go back to using an additional media player on each device….

In short – while the TV itself isnt bad – do not expect to get a usable DLNA client from this device.

Ericsson video compression

Every now and again – i do a quick search to see what new compression techniques are coming – as obviously any advances in this area have a large impact on many aspects of what we do…

Came across this article – http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9230510/New_video_compression_tech_will_cut_bandwidth_use_in_half_Ericsson_says

claiming a 50% reduction in bandwidth for streaming….. as per usual, the article is scant on detail… but it will be interesting to see what comes of it.

 

Still on compression, visited a client yesterday who is implementing silver peak WAN optimisation (http://www.silver-peak.com/)

He’s saying in their (so far) limited roll out, he’s seeieng an 90% reduction in SAN replication traffic, 70% in SMB and around 30% in non-cached HTTP…. impressive figures indeed, will be interesting to see if the figures are still as good when it is fully deployed. On the down side, the silverpeak stuff is bloody expensive… but with the potential savings on telco charges – it may be something worth looking at.