August 29th, 2019 by Mike Fulton
Categories: System Bulding

On my last PC I had problems with it overheating on hot days. It wasn’t in an air-conditioned environment and when you combined a heavy processing load with a hot day, it would sometimes shut down. Then I’d have to wait an hour for it to cool off before restarting it.

I’d never really had any similar issues before, with any previous machines, so I wasn’t sure what to do. The machine had a fairly beefy CPU fan, which I would have thought was sufficient since I wasn’t doing any overclocking .

I bought a liquid cooling system to put into the machine, a Corsair h110i GTX. It was fairly basic with a 240mm radiator and I got a good deal on a refurbished unit. However, before I got around to installing it, I discovered that if I took the side cover of the case off, and aimed a fan into the machine, the overheating problem went away. I was a bit relieved. It was not really an ideal solution, but it was the path of least resistance at the time.

Earlier this yar, I decided to build a new machine and this time I wanted to go with liquid cooling from the start. I selected the Enermax LIQTECH II 360 kit because it had pretty much the most hefty cooling capacity of any ready to install kit I could find, and I didn’t think I was quite ready to design and assemble a completely custom system. Plus, it had RGB lighting compatible with other components I’d selected.

The Basics Of Liquid Cooling

All liquid cooling systems share a certain anatomical layout. There is a heatsink that attaches to your CPU instead of a cooling fan. This heat sink will have places to connect an output hose and an intake hose. There will be a pump that keeps the liquid circulating. Often the heat sink and pump will be a single combined unit. And t here will be a radiator designed to dissipate the heat of the circulated liquid. The radiator will usually have one or more fans.

Custom or Pre-Configured?

When creating a liquid-cooled system, the first choice you have to make is if you want to do something custom, or if you want to buy a pre-configured ready to install model. If you’ve ever see a fancy liquid-cooled system that caught your eye, chances are good it was a custom job, but recently there are more and more ready-to-install kits that are fairly cool looking as well.

One big advantage of ready-to-install kits is that they are usually a closed system with the hoses and coolant liquid already in places .

If you go custom, you’ll probably want to start by familiarizing yourself with all the various components out there and figuring out how they’ll go together piece by piece to create a complete system. You may want to include custom lighting or not. And keep in mind it’s also possible to take ready to install kit and add or replace parts to customize it.

Another thing you’ll have to decide early-on is what case you’re going to use. Are you using an existineg one or buying something new? Many new PC cases these days are designed with liquid cooling in mind, and have specific places to mount a radiator setup. However, some will take a 120mm radiator, others take 240 or 280mm, and the big ones can fit a 360mm radiator.

And of course, some cases aren’t really designed for a specific size radiator, but they are big and have enough room inside to do whatever you want.

Should You Go Liquid?

Many people associate liquid cooling with high-end gaming machines with multiple video cards and extremely overlocked CPUs. And there’s certainly a good reason for that. If you put together a high-powered rig like that and don’t go with liquid cooling, then it’s time to start examining your life choices.

However, there benefits to liquid cooling that even non-gamers might enjoy. For one thing, liquid-cooled PCs are generally extremely quiet, even under a full load. You might occasionally hear the fans turn on, but with my system, I’ve noticed that happen only rarely, on hot days. And t here’s another thing, liquid cooling can keep your PC cool under conditions where fan-based systems will not. If you computer isn’t in a nice, air-conditioned environment, a fan-based cooling system simply won’t get it done on a really hot day.

But I Heard About What Happened With This One Guy’s PC…

There certainly isn’t any shortage of horror stories about things going wrong with liquid cooling systems, s you might be excused about being nervous about the idea.

Most of the worst stories I’ve heard tend to be from the early days of liquid cooling being a thing. Back before there were ready to install kits and every installation was a custom job probably being done by someone without much experience. The most common kind of problem in these stories was the system leaking and the coolant getting everywhere. I have no doubt that sort of thing happens sometimes, but I think it’s a lot less common than it once was. Be careful, methodical, and realistic about your system building skill level. Consult with experts as needed. If in doubt, buy a new PC that includes liquid cooling right off the bat.

August 27th, 2019 by Mike Fulton
Categories: NAS, Networking, QNAP

A few months back, I bought a QNAP 451+ 4-bay Network-Attached Storage device. I had been using Drobo RAID boxes for fault-tolerant storage for over a decade, but the Drobo is a fairly simple device and I wanted something a bit more sophisticated.
For purposes of comparison, in case you’re not familiar, Drobo is a proprietary RAID storage device. You plug hard drives into it and it combines all of them together into a unified, fault-tolerant block of storage that offers roughly 60% of the raw total as useable storage space. Drives are hot-swappable so if you want to replace a bad drive you simply eject it and insert a new one of equal or greater size.

Drobo doesn’t use standard RAID formats.  They use their own proprietary format. Unlike standard RAID solutions, you don’t need a certain number of drives.  You can start out with just one drive, but keep in mind the system won’t be fault-tolerant until you’ve added a second drive.  The drives don’t eed to all be the same capacity, but if you pair a 500gb drivewith a 4tb one, your useable storage space will be closer to the smaller drive than the bigger.   Some Drobo units are Direct-Attached Storage (DAS) which connect to your computer via USB, Firewire, or Thunderbolt. Others are Network-Attached-Storage (NAS) devices with one or more Ethernet ports.

Some have 4 drive bays, some have 5, and some are even larger. Most are designed to use 3.5″ drives but there’s one model t hat takes 2.5″ drives.

NAS -v- DAS

There are some important differences between the Drobo NAS models and the FAS ones. Both aggregate the drives into a single fault-tolerant storage unit. You can divide that into one or more logical volumes. On NAS devices, the unit formats that volume and manages the storage. However, on DAS units, you format the volume using your computer’s OS, so it can be NTFS, FAT32, or even Mac HFS. This is important because it impacts file/folder security. On a DAS, if you format using NTFS, for example, then then you can manage all of the folders and files using regular NTFS security. Each file and folder can have its own security settings. on a NAS unit, however, security is managed by the device. On a Drobo NAS, you create shared folders and assign simple options to them on.

SMB 1.0

Oh, by the way. the Drobo NAS units use the common SMB protocol to make things available on the network. Unfortunately, it’s v. 1.0, which is known to have some security vulnerabilities. In fact, on Windows 10 you have to jump through a few hoops to enable SMB v1.0 on your system.

My Old Drobo

Before I got my first Drobo box over a decade ago, I was using a regular PC running Windows XP as a file server. One day one of the hard drives failed and while I didn’t lose anything critical, it got me thinking about fault-tolerant storage.  Of course, it’s possible to configure mirrored or striped RAID setups in Windows, but  I wasn’t convinced that was the way to go.

ABout that time, Cali Lewis was talking about the Drobo on her Geek Brief podcast and I was swayed.  So I got one of the original 4-bay models, with USB 2.0 and Firewire 800. The file server PC at only had Firewire 400 so I had it connected via USB. It was no speed demon but in other respects it got the job done. I’m a photographer and used it mainly to store my digital image files.
A few years later, I had extra hard dives laying around doing nothing so I got a second unit. Those two boxes were my main storage for about 10 years. Then one of the units broke down when I moved to another apartment and I decided to get one of the newer units with 5 bays and USB 3.0. And then a few months ago, I saw a good deal on Craigslist for an 8-bay fs800B unit so I got that, thinking I might be able to consolidate everything into one unit.

Other Choices


Over the years I’ve tried a few other NAS boxes from
Buffalo, Lenovo and Western Digital, but these units were aimed at the mass consumer market and were designed primarily for simplicity and ease of use nd did not offer the more sophisticated features I wanted.

So what are those features? Most NAS devices have some basic ability to run apps but in many cases this is limited to something simple like a media server or an image gallery t hat can let you view images you have stored on the unit.

Most have some sort of a download manger app where you can have the NAS perform downloads directly to the internal storage.  In many cases this includes Bit-Torrent.

One thing I Was looking for was the ability to run a security camera system. Modern security cameras are digital and broadcast their video feed to your network via WIFI or Ethernet.. Some NAS units have an app that lets you record and playback this video.

Some NAS units can run a basic web server. I wasn’t sure if I’d have a need for this, but it sounded worth investigating.

One app that QNAP provides for their NAS boxes is called Virtualization Station and it allows you to create and run a virtual machine running a full-blown operating system. This can be Linux or Windows, or whatever other Intel-based system you want. Well, maybe not Mac OS X ‘cos Apple doesn’t play well with others about that sort of thing.

The New QNAP

While looking at the various choices out there, the brand that bubbled to the top was QNAP. QNAP’s products range from relatively small and simple storage-only units to larger, more powerful full-blown servers. with lots of incremental steps in between. You have a choice of processors ranging from modest to extra beefy and the units have expandable memory.

The model that caught my eye was the QNAP 451+ 4-bay NAS.  Out of the box it came with a 2.0ghz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM.  That configuration would be fine for most uses, but I wanted to use the Virtualization Station app so  I upgraded mine to 16gb.

I’ve created a VM (virtual machine) running Windows Server 2012 R2. It’s no speed demon but it works. I’ve set it up as a domain controller for my local network, and as a test web server.   I’m thinking I may also create another VM running some version of Linux, just to play with.

Expandable

Another feature I really like about this unit is the ability to expand the storage with external drives.  Most NAS boxes these days have USB ports you can use to connect an external drive but QNAP takes it a step further, offering a 4-bay expansion box that can be used as a stand-alone DAS or as an extension of the internal storage.  I just got one of these, and it took all of about 10 minutes to get it going, including mounting the hard drives.  It connects to the main NAS via USB 3.0 and then you manage it via the same web interface as the main NAS.  The only thing I don’t really like is that you cannot combine both boxes into one big storage pool.

In Conclusion

I’m generally very happy  with the QNAP products but it’s not without a few reservations.  First, their support seems to be a bit slow, and half the time I try to view the status of support tickets on their website, I get an “under maintenance” message.  The other thing is, most of their documentation is in the form of an unorganized collection of web articles and it can be rather difficult to find the info you need.

I keep seeing posts on Facebook and stories on websites about how Microsoft Windows 10 is getting installed on people’s system without their permission.

Nope. Wrong. Ain’t happening.

You may have heard that Microsoft lost a lawsuit about this, or that they were “fined” $10000 over it.

Nope. Wrong. Didn’t happen.

Yes, there was a lawsuit. Microsoft was sued by a California real estate agent in over this and settled out of court for $10k. They didn’t lose the suit in court, and there was no fine.

The bottom line is, if Windows 10 is getting installed on your system, then it’s absolutely because you gave permission. The problem is that people don’t pay attention and that granting that permission may have already happened long before the upgrade actually happened.

The Windows 10 “Update”

A lot of the controversy here is because before the upgrade actually takes place, Windows shows the user a message, like this:

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If you actually bother to read it, the message is very clear. The Windows 10 upgrade is already scheduled to occur on the date shown. This update is scheduled automatically because of the Windows Update settings on that machine. Settings which you, at some point, had to say “yes” to.

But I Closed The Window Without Clicking Upgrade!

Some people are making the argument that clicking the red “X” at the top right corner should close the window without taking any action.

The problem with that argument is that’s EXACTLY what it does. The upgrade is ALREADY scheduled and simply closing the window doesn’t UNSCHEDULE it. In fact, the window clearly gives you an option to CANCEL the upgrade.

It’s not really Microsoft’s fault if you can’t be bothered to read the message and click the link to cancel if you don’t want to upgrade. The problem really boils down to the fact that some people are just too lazy to read a few lines of text.

The real estate agent who brought forth the lawsuit claimed to “had never heard of Windows 10” so it seems pretty obvious we’re not really dealing with a power user here. In fact, it’s rather hard to take such a claim seriously given the amount of media coverage each new version of Windows sees.

Her complaint was that the upgrade “rendered her computer unusable”. However, that’s as much detail as we get about her computer. There’s been nothing in any version of this story to indicate that there was actually any genuine problem after the upgrade. My guess is that the upgrade went perfectly fine, and that she was simply confused by the different colors and menu choices.

Not Microsoft’s Fault, But They Could Have Done Better

Arguably, Microsoft should have realized that people are lazy and that many wouldn’t read the message. And clearly, this real estate agent isn’t a particularly advanced user. When you combine these things, it’s practically guaranteed that there will be problems.

With that in mind, it’s probably a mistake for Microsoft to install the upgrade without any last-minute “Yes, please do it now” button, and in fact they’ve changed things so that the upgrade is not scheduled to happen automatically. Now the window comes up and gives you the option to upgrade, rather than giving you the chance to cancel an already-scheduled upgrade.

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