This May Be the ODroid You Are Looking For: ODroid H4 Series

In a previous post, I was excited about the arrival of the ODroid H4+. Then I got a bit nervous because of broken SATA connector on the board. For one, the longevity of the product, having never bought anything like this in the ODroid line, and that Ameridroid would make the return difficult. As mentioned, I had no evidence of that, but dealing with returns is stressful at times, and I think I may have imagined the worst based on some of my less pleasant dealings with other companies.

A few conclusions about the ODroid H4+…The Type 4 NAS case and the positioning of the SATA ports puts too much stress on the SATA cables. You need to buy the ODroid cables because I can’t find anyone else who sells the exact same power cables, as power for the drives comes off the board. I opted to switch to this thinner set of bundled cables. There is a right angle version, but I’m not sure, due the positioning of the ports, if you could place this without straining the ports, which after what happened, I’m a bit worried up. But the thinner cabling does seem to strain less.

Thinking about this for the future, I also had gotten a Jonsbo N2 and put a mini ITX board in it. That feels a lot more robust than the ODroid’s metal sheet case, but it also takes up a lot more room.

As I write this, I’m running tests on some drives I bought to place in it, and then I will work on deployment. You can see below how tiny this thing is, but the fact that the hard drives are providing the structural support makes me wonder about its longevity. I would have felt better it there had been some corner brackets. Also, there are no dust shields around the ports, and the bottom is open. So it could accumulate a lot of dust.

The ODroid line is popular, and if you look, all of these cases for the H4 line and its predecessor, the H3 line have this scratchbuilt in a garage feel to them. But, just because something has that look and feel doesn’t mean it is bad. I would recommend this as a server.

 

ODroid H4+ in a Type 4 Case

A Guide To Choosing Switches For Your Budget Silent Keyboards

In order to learn more about assembling keyboards, I’ve been buying a series of budget keyboard equipment. In a previous post, I had talked about buying a barebones TKL keyboard in the mid twenty range and filling it with switches and keycaps. More recently, I found myself stumbling across these $20 hefty barebones 75% keyboards, which I’d share the link to if it hadn’t sold out and been delisted rather quickly. It seems to be older stock someone was clearing out, which is a lesson that you can get some reasonable deals if you hunt around Amazon. Some people prefer something like Aliexpress, because certainly you can get some good deals drop-shipped from China, but I find Amazon has a bit more payment protection.

The switches I tried in my previous post were silent linear switches, but there are also silent tactile. Tactile switches provide a bump through the keystroke, which many individuals prefer, especially those who type a lot.

To evaluate switches of the same type, we need a few more terms. Actuation or operating force is the amount of force needed to activate the switch. Lighter switches may allow for fast registering of keypresses, but they can also increase mistakes due accidental triggering of a key. Heavier switches may reduce accidental keypresses, and can also cause fatigue after long typing sessions. The pre-travel is the distance the switch travels before it is pressed.

I explored a few switches. The Gamakay Pegasus Silent Pegasus Switches, which has a 50g actuation force and 2mm pre-travel. It is reasonably priced at well. Then I checked out the Outemu Silent Yellow Jade Switch, which is even less expensive, and also has a 50g actuation force, but a 3.3mm travel. There are also ones that require less force, for example, the Outemu Lime. Force is a matter of preference. I’ve found the Silent Yellows feel better to me.

Trying out switches is an endless road of preference. There are multiple vendors, multiple types(we didn’t even get into clicky as they aren’t silent deliberately), and a variety of opinions. Today, I’m enjoying the Silent Yellow Jades, tomorrow, I may try something different.

 

Building My NAS: Choosing The Software To Manage My Network Attached Storage

I have gone through a lot of evolution of computer technology over the years, not only the technology, but my thinking. I remember my first server, which doubled as a NAS. It was a yellow full tower server system and had wheels . Why yellow? It was really inexpensive. But it was also really overbuilt for what I needed. I never filled all the bays and I never used it to its full capacity. And technology changed. I started building smaller, rather than overbuilding. I’ve gone from desktop, to laptop, to small PC, to mini PC, which is an evolution conversation in itself.

When my home built NAS died in the middle of the night some years ago, I ran to the store and bought a commercial NAS, because I was at the point in my life where I didn’t want to deal with another home build. So I went with a NAS and then a dedicated home server next to the NAS. And that was partly because the commercial NAS software was limiting and the manufacturer has stopped updating my model, but also because the hardware in NASes is always behind what you can get if you build it yourself. So, by investing in a NAS case, a motherboard, and using open-source, I can in future swap out the motherboard, upgrade the RAM, etc and continue…provided I keep to the same software platform.The lifespan is much longer.

I could run all my applications on the NAS, especially with the new hardware, but I want something that acts like an appliance…something that only is storage and storage related functions. I don’t want to clutter it with other things, even though it means another system to run server functions. Last time, I installed Linux and configured it. But there is software to make a computer a dedicated appliance, so it eliminated all the work I had to do to get everything working.

There are three popular options for NAS software…TrueNAS, Unraid, and OpenMediaVault.

TrueNAS has a commercial and a community version. It comes in the classic Core version, based on FreeBSD and the newer Linux based Scale. I get the impression impression Scale is the future for the project. Scale allows for containers and virtual machines if you want to run your applications on top of it. For the drives, it offers ZFS and the ability to deploy object storage similar to Amazon’s S3. ZFS is an incredibly robust filesystem.

Unraid, by comparison, is also commercially supported, with a license cost of $49 to $249, which includes the software. The most expensive membership at $249 is lifetime, which means updates for life, and the others offer updates for a year with a fee to upgrade after that. Even with no updates, some security patches are still offered for the older versions. The advantage of Unraid is it can manage drives that vary in size, speed, brand, and filesystem…so no RAID technology. Instead, it uses a dedicated parity drive, and offers a cache drive for speed.

Openmediavault is somewhere closer to Unraid in its simplicity, but has no commercial cost. It seems to be in the middle of the option here and can veer toward the Unraid feature set or the TrueNAS ones.

I ended up with TrueNAS, because I wanted the features it offered for data storage. I’ll be talking more about that, but setting it up took more time to restore my data than it did to set it up. It is now handling 100% of the file serving the previous server did. I still have backup and other redundancy functions to configure, but I’m 100% back online.

Building My New Network Attached Storage(NAS): A Change of Plans, Keeping Up With The Jonsbo

Despite the fact that my ODroid H4+ had an issue, I still remained committed to the course of action of building a NAS to replace my commercial one. So, even as I pursue the Odroid H4+, I decided to explore the other option I’d explored. My original plan was build a mini-ITX NAS. And so, feeling nervous about the ODroid future, I decided to revisit that plan.

I really wanted a low power, small NAS, but while I liked the simplicity of the Odroid 4 drive case, the experience of assembling the case made me a bit concerned about how running a case that is supported entirely by the drives might work out. I decided, since I need to have a secondary location to store the backup for the NAS, I would use this for that, and I’d go more conventional for the primary location. That is a bit more than I’d budgeted for, so this is going to have to last me a while.

On reading a lot of commentary on Mini-ITX NAS cases, I had decided on the Jonsbo line of NAS cases. There’s the Jonsbo N2, which supports five hard drives, or the slightly larger Jonsbo N3, which supports eight hard drives. While I opted for the N2, I can understand some wanting the extra space for future expansion.

The budget board I opted to try is also a N100, the same line I’d been advocating for. There are a variety of variations of this board sold. For example, by CWWK. Or HKUXZR. Or Dytebeply. With minor variations, these boards contain 6 SATA ports…5 of which are via an expansion chip, which may cause throughput issues. They also have 4 2.5 gigabit ethernet ports and 2 M.2 ports on the board. Reading a lot of reviews of these boards, it takes a long time to post, may have limited RAM options, but a lot of people are using these boards, it seems. I’ll be talking a bit more about how I might set up the options I’ve chosen.

If I only wanted a 2 drive NAS, the Aoostar mini PC would be tempting.

The next challenge is how I am going to configure this. There are a lot of decisions, even once I have the hardware.

The Impact of Higher Interest Rates on Solar Panel ROI

As the global push for renewable energy intensifies, solar panels have become a popular choice for homeowners and businesses looking to reduce their carbon footprint and energy costs. However, the economic landscape is ever-changing, and one significant factor currently reshaping the solar market is the rise in interest rates. In this article, we will explore how higher interest rates are affecting the value proposition of solar panels and what it means for potential buyers.

The Financial Dynamics of Solar Investment

Investing in solar panels typically involves a substantial upfront cost, which many consumers finance through loans or leasing options. The total cost of these financing methods is heavily influenced by prevailing interest rates. When interest rates are low, borrowing is cheaper, making the transition to solar energy more financially attractive. Conversely, higher interest rates increase the cost of borrowing, which can dampen the financial appeal of solar investments.

Increased Borrowing Costs

Higher interest rates directly impact the monthly payments on loans used to finance solar panel installations. For example, a homeowner taking out a $20,000 loan for solar panels at a 3% interest rate would pay approximately $360 per month over five years. If the interest rate rises to 5%, the monthly payment jumps to about $377. This increase might seem modest, but over the life of the loan, it adds significant cost.

For many consumers, the primary motivation for installing solar panels is the potential for long-term savings on electricity bills. However, the increased monthly payments due to higher interest rates can offset these savings, making solar less attractive from a purely financial standpoint.

Impact on Solar Leasing and Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs)

Not all solar panel installations are financed through loans. Many consumers opt for solar leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs), where a third party owns the panels and the consumer pays a monthly fee. These agreements are also affected by interest rates. Companies that offer leases or PPAs often finance their operations through debt. As their borrowing costs rise, they may pass these costs onto consumers in the form of higher monthly fees, thus reducing the overall savings from going solar.

Potential Mitigation Strategies

Despite the challenges posed by higher interest rates, there are strategies to mitigate their impact:

  1. Shopping Around for Financing: Consumers should compare different financing options to find the best terms. Some lenders may offer lower rates or more favorable terms that can help offset the increased costs.

  2. Government Incentives: Federal, state, and local incentives can still make solar a viable investment. Tax credits, rebates, and other incentives can significantly reduce the net cost of installation.

  3. Energy Efficiency Improvements: Combining solar panel installation with energy efficiency upgrades can enhance overall savings. Reducing energy consumption lowers the amount of electricity needed from the grid, maximizing the value of the solar investment.

The Long-Term Outlook

While higher interest rates present a challenge, the long-term value proposition of solar energy remains strong. Solar panels offer protection against rising electricity prices and provide environmental benefits. Moreover, technological advancements continue to improve the efficiency and affordability of solar panels, which can help counterbalance the impact of higher financing costs.

In conclusion, while higher interest rates do affect the immediate financial appeal of solar panels and reduce the return on investment(ROI), they do not diminish the long-term benefits and value of solar energy. By carefully considering financing options and taking advantage of available incentives, consumers can still make a wise investment in solar power.

By understanding the evolving financial landscape and staying informed, you can make the best decisions for your energy needs and contribute to a sustainable future.

Odroid H4 Update: Things Take a NASty Turn- My SATA Dream Deferred

When things go wrong, I admit to a certain amount of anxiety about whether or not things will turn out well. I was so excited about settling on the ODroid H4 as my NAS system. It was small, flexible, had the processor type I wanted…When it showed up last week, I was disappointed that a work trip meant I couldn’t assemble it immediately.

Tonight, I got out the YouTube video from Hardkernel, and started constructing. I took my 4 hard drives and used them to assemble the frame of the case, then put the plastic spacers on the board as shown in the video, then attached the SATA cables and power cable, as shown, which I bought with it. I have SATA cables, but I didn’t have anything like the power cables, and they came as a set. According to the video, it should be 2 200mm cables, and 2 250mm cables for the drives further apart.

I put the top on, and put it in the slot, and tried to attach the cables, but quickly realized that the first one was too short to go to the bottom. I realized I’d gotten 4 identical cables. So I unhooked the top and went to take off the cables. I thought I would try a longer one I already had, although I was worried that would still create a problem with the power cable. I’ve built many computers over the years. To remove a SATA cable,, there is a locking connector you gently push in on, then release. 3 came out, the 4th, when I pushed the release and gently removed the cable, and the connector came up with it. I didn’t pull or yank on it. I tried to reseat it, but I didn’t think that would work. My assumption is, as to other ones seemed secure, that it was not secure initially. I wasn’t optimistic about getting the connector to work again, and I need 4 drives, so this rendered the item useless to me.

So, now comes the anxiety. Will Ameridroid claim human error? I don’t think it was, but the fact that they write in their return policy that if an item is deemed to not be defective by them, they will charge a 25% restocking fee makes me nervous. This is not because I had any bad experiences with Ameridroid, but because I now have to wait nervously to know if I’m going to be out the money.

It also makes me a bit nervous about ODroid and their manufacturer, Hardkernel. Maybe I shouldn’t have bought a product that was just released? Maybe I should have gone for something from a more established provider? Does the manufacturer stand behind their product? I have limited experience with them, but people seem to generally like them.

They say don’t sweat the small stuff, but I hate sometimes how one bump in the wrong can make me question a less conventional route. It’s hard to pick your hardware and assemble it. I’m already regretting my last upgrade for not leaving enough room for future proofing. Is this going to go the same way? What advice do you have for me?

The Intel N-Series Chips: A Perfect Balance of Performance and Power Consumption

The Intel i3 N Series launched in 2023, consisting of the 4 core N-100 and N-200, as well as the 8 core N-300, and N-305.

For years, Intel’s low power CPUs were items I used because I needed something low power and was willing to suffer the slow speeds. But technology has caught up. The series is perfectly fast for the majority of my needs, be it a server, or even a web browsing system. It isn’t a gaming powerhouse, but can handle media playback admirably, and has the power to handle transcoding for a Plex server, if you wanted it to be one, and all at low power. I’ve acquired 3 N-100 powered items to replace older systems…to power my NAS, a backup/portable desktop for various uses, and as a dedicated computer for a scanner project.

It seems, with this line, Intel has finally gotten to a place of reasonable performance and power usage. So, I wanted to show some examples of what reasonable little systems you can buy. Of course, I usually wipe Windows and switch to my preferred Linux desktop or server OS, but…to each their own.

For example, you can try something like this CWWK N-100, which has 4 2.5GBE ports, and looks perfect for a router. It does not come with drive or RAM for a little over $200.

This Beelink S12 Pro offers 16GB RAM and 500GB of RAM for $169. It does lack a USB-C port, which I do like to have, but Beelink has a good reputation for inexpensive devices.

Even smaller is this GMKtec Mini PC with 8GB of RAM/256GB SSD, at $135. It looks to be 4 inches square from the image.

Minisforum also gets good reviews, and this one, the UN300, has that USB-C port I was looking for, although not a 2.5GBE port, if that’s important to you.

So, this isn’t just about me showing off little toys I wouldn’t mind buying. It is the cornerstone of my refresh plan for old technology. It’s inexpensive and I can deploy it to replace 5-10 year old systems, and it will last another 5-10 years, if not more…which is why I’m already thinking about 2.5GBE ports… My systems are all wired with gigabit ethernet. 2.5GBE is 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet…and is becoming more mainstream. There are 5 and 10GBE, but as gigabit ethernet was once expensive, 2.5 gigabit capable equipment is rapidly more affordable and being included in hobbyist level equipment.

 

Building My New Network Attached Storage(NAS): Introducing the ODroid H4 Series

I’ve been back and forth between a commercial Network Attached Storage(NAS) product and a homebuilt NAS product. But for the last iteration, I had given up on something I built and moved to a commercial product. But I’m finally ready to go back to homebuilt. Except this time, I’m going to try TrueNAS, because my barrier is always how much time I spent tinkering with it.

I debated a variety of different system configurations and decided I wasn’t going to have my NAS also handle other server duties. It’s primary job would be to run applications. I have a server for that. I just want to run functionality related to file serving, and TrueNAS offers most of that out of the box…although there are more decisions to be made. It isn’t a pure drop in replacement.

So, I settled on the N100 series of CPU processors. Generally available, reasonably priced, and more than enough power for what I wanted. Looking around, that meant I needed to pick a case, a motherboard, etc. While looking, I stumbled across a product just launching, from Hardkernel, who makes the Odroid line of products, which are single board computers. I’d rejected single board, wanting a x86 compatible processor, but the newly launched H4 series is just that.

There are three models, the H4, H4+, and H4 Ultra. The H4 and H4+ use the N97 processor, and the Ultra ups that to an i3 N305. The basic difference between the H4 and the H4+ for me is that is offers 4 SATA ports. The power profile of this thing is perfect for a headless server. They offer a mini-ITX conversion kit, but they also offer 4 different designs of metal cases you can buy, and DC adapters to power them. Case Type 4 allows for 4 SATA hard drives, a fan, and the board. It is essentially 4 cut pieces of metal you can assemble, as well as screws and a fan. The picture in this post is courtesy of their site.

It doesn’t look like a normal NAS, or a computer…it looks like an appliance, which is what I want. I sourced the equipment through Ameridroid, who is the O-droid provider in the US and who I have dealt with minimally before. This included ordering the type 4 case, the board, and the power adapter. That ran me a little over $200.

It also limits me. If I install the operating system on an NVME SSD, plus the 4 SATA drives, I can’t grow the system with additional drives. Any changes become a drive replacement, or a system replacement. But I’ve stuck with only 4 drives up until now in my commercial unit, and even in the home built ones I’ve had in the past. It allows me to have a good mix of redundancy and performance.

Redundancy in the same system is not the same as a backup though. I will be talking more about that as I learn about the options TrueNAS offers, and will talk a little about my backup strategy in future.

We’ll see what happens when the board comes and if I made the right decision.

 

Building A Silent Keyboard On A Budget- An Inexpensive Approach To A Better Typing Experience

Continuing my keyboard experimentation, I wanted to see what you could get in a build project for as cheap as possible. So, this is the M87 Pro Keyboard, a TKL keyboard that is hot swappable, with south facing RGB LEDs. It was going for $29.99 before a 20% instant coupon. I didn’t disassemble it, but the video of its disassembly shows a gasket mount with 5 layers.

I already had some keycaps I had taken off another keyboard for cleaning(they were getting a bit shiny), and I decided this was also a good time to try some new types of switches. Because the description for the product said, “Sound Absorption Foam & Silicon Bottom Pad…Each press feels like a symphony of comfort and precision…”, I opted to try two types of advertised silent switches.

The Akko V3 Fairy Linear Silent Switch and the Epomaker Sea Salt Silent Linear Switch, as pictured below. Of course, my first box of Fairy switches showed up pre-opened from Amazon(which I assume was a return they didn’t detect). I apparently wasn’t the only person with this problem, as there were similar reviews. Either way, the Fairy feels a bit better, is definitely more silent when I type, and is actually cheaper. At the same time, the Seat Salt is a box type switch, seems a stronger construction(none of them showed up broken or pre-used) and are rated for 10 million more uses. So, I can see the benefits of both of those.

I did consider some alternatives to try in the sub-$50 kit space. You can find some even cheaper on Aliexpress and sites like that, but there is a comfort with using Amazon, I suppose. The CIY GK68 Wireless Hotswap Keyboard is only $37.90 at time of writing here, and that adds in, obviously, wireless capability using AAA batteries, as well as being a 65% layout as opposed to TKL, and comes in a few colors.

Also, being as keyboard kits, unless they are higher end, can cost more than keyboards where you just discard the switches they provided, you can also consider some budget models that you intend to completely strip.

Much to my annoyance, or happiness(just wish I’d known it was coming), the Keychron C3 Pro, which was a budget model I really like, now has a hotswap version. I recommend it even more, and it is selling for $48 at the time I write this for the hotswap version, and I’ve seen the regular version for as low as $30.

 

 

 

State of the Open Home 2024

On Saturday, the annual State of the Open Home occurred. I got a chance to watch the stream afterward, and took away some interesting notes.

The State of the Open Home is the annual briefing by the Home Assistant developers on the state of that project, and has gradually expanded to their other umbrella projects. Which is what has lead to them announcing the Open Home Foundation. They’ve transferred over 240 projects, including Home Assistant, ESPHome, Zigpy, Piper, Improv Wi-Fi, Wyoming, etc to the foundation, and collaborate with projects like WLED, Zigbee2MQTT, ZwaveJS, etc. The for-profit arm of Home Assistant, Nabu Casa, is a contributor to the foundation, but has no direct control over it.

From what I can deduce, this seems to be in direct response to concerns that the Home Assistant project would be taken in a commercial direction as Nabu Casa tries new initiatives. It also preserves the privacy and choice philosophies Home Assistant is founded on.

They also mentioned the roadmap for Home Assistant as well, with moving toward additional improvements in usability.

I think I will be talking a bit more about Home Assistant in the future. It is mostly a hobbyist system today, but they are making the attempt to make it easier for more casual users, with the Home Assistant Green and other efforts. They did mention the Green will be more commercially available in future as well.