Motile M142 Cheapo Linux Laptop Notes

I’ve been using Linux laptops for the past few years, most recently a very portable C302 Chromebook running GalliumOS that sadly stopped charging a while back and never recovered (definitely don’t recommend), and a slightly less portable Gigabyte Aero 14 that’s taken a beating, but keeps on ticking.

While the Aero still works fine, and it’s light for a gaming laptop (with a VR capable GTX 1060 GPU), at 2kg and with a massive power brick, it’s still heavier and bulkier than I’d prefer to travel with now that I rarely use the dGPU (which also makes external HDMI output a real pain). I was meaning to just wait for the new AMD Zen2 mobile chips (scheduled to be announced at CES in a couple weeks and with some great performance numbers leaking lately) early next year and seeing how any new laptops announced stack up against some of the strong Ice Lake options before buying a replacement laptop, but since I’ll be hitting the road again next month and the new AMD laptop models seemed unlikely to ship for a while (if the timing gap from last year’s models are anything to go by), and since there have been some crazy laptop deals lately, I decided to grab a dirt cheap last-gen AMD Ryzen laptop as a potential temporary placeholder on a lark and give it a spin. I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far.

I bought the Motile M142 (14″ FHD IPS/Ryzen 3500U/8GB RAM/256GB SATA SSD) for $300 (it seems to be bouncing up and down in price a bit; there’s also a Ryzen 3200U model that’s regularly been dropping to $200). It is a Walmart-only brand (Tongfang is the ODM), and besides being as light as most high-end ultrabooks at just over 1.1kg, it’s also surprisingly well built (it was also originally priced at $700 and has been subsequently discounted). Notebookcheck has a comprehensive review (there are some other discussions, reviews and videos online if you search for Motile M142), and it’s not the only ~$300 AMD Ryzen laptop available (it is the lightest, and the only real trade-off is that it is a single-channel memory device), but I thought I’d focus writing up some of the more Linux-specific aspects.

The TL;DR on it is that running Arch with the latest kernel (5.4.6), firmware (20191215.eefb5f7-1) and mesa (19.3.1), basically everything, from the keyboard (including backlight), trackpad (including gestures), wireless, sound, external HDMI output, screen brightness, webcam, and suspend, all just work. (Yes, I’m just as surprised as you are.)

Some more detailed notes:

  • I got the black version (more of an extremely dark grey) that looks pretty sharp (here’s a video of the silver version, and the black version), although the plastic on the keyboard does immediately start picking up some finger grease. My unit (manufactured in Sep 2019) had a slight imperfection on a corner but I didn’t feel like waiting for another 2-weeks to swap out what ultimately will be a somewhat disposable laptop.
  • As mentioned, this laptop is quite lightweight at 1.1kg (2.5lb), and it’s also thin, at 15mm thick (but still has gigabit ethernet (Realtek) with one of those neat flippy jacks). The screen bezels are also quite thin, which is a nice bonus, and reduces the overall footprint.
  • The screen is matte IPS, but not especially bright or color accurate (about 250nits, 62% sRGB), but it’s comfortable enough to use w/o any complaints. I’m currently using clight for automatic dimming/gamma adjustment and it works great with the webcam and geoclue2. Also no problem using arandr for external HDMI output, resolution switching, etc.
  • I booted into Windows when I got it just to give it a quick spin (the product code is blown into the BIOS so you can get that easily) and gave the included SSD a quick test (SATA3, and the expected ~450MB/s read and writes).
  • After that I cracked the laptop open. All you need to do is unscrew 6 fully exposed #00 screws to pop off the back, but one corner screw on mine was firmly stuck and stripped. I was still able to access what I needed and I swapped out the 1×1 AC Intel 3165 wireless card with an extra Intel AX200 I had lying around (the 3165 isn’t bad and is fully Linux compatible, but I was able to go from 270Mbps to 500Mbps in real-world AC transfers). There is a second M.2 slot, and I put an extra NVMe drive I had lying around for my Linux drive.
  • Probably the biggest caveat worth mentioning is it has a single SODIMM slot – you can upgrade the RAM, but it is single channel. There are also no BIOS options to speak of, you’ll be locked to 2400MHz on the RAM (interestingly, according to dmidecode, the 8GB stick of RAM included is actually rated at 2666, but running at 2400). The biggest impact of single channel memory is on gaming (GPU) performance, which can be 50% slower than a dual channel setup. If GPU performance is a concern, a refurbed HP 15-cw1063wm at about the same price is probably a better way to go (or something with a dGPU if you want to deal with that).
  • While this laptop has USB-C, like many in its class, it’s missing USB-C PD. This was a minor concern for me since I’ve been focused on minimizing power adapters/standardizing on USB-C for travel power, but I’m happy to report that since it uses a standard 19V/5.5mm barrel jack, it worked perfectly with a cheap 5.5mm to USB-C PD adapter cable I had, so if you have a USB-C PD charger you like already, then that’s all you need. It also charges without issue from my external USB-C PD capable power bank.
  • This laptop comes with a 47Wh battery, which is actually pretty great for it’s class (and better than all the similarly-priced alternatives). Out of the box, the laptop idled at around 12W. Running tlp I was able to get that down to about 8W. Surprisingly powertop --auto-tune was actually able to do better and I’m currently idling at about 6W (7-8W under light usage like right now). I’ll probably spend a bit more time tweaking power profiles (maybe using RyzenAdj to throttle to keep temps low), but it looks like right now I’m looking at about 6h of battery life under light usage. This is one aspect that hopefully the new Zen2 models can significantly improve.
  • Speaking of which, I haven’t played around much w/ ZenStates or RyzenAdj yet except to confirm they do work. The fan isn’t too distracting but it will spin up even during normal use at default settings (you could probably use RyzenAdj to keep temps below the fan curve – looks like it starts to spin up at ~42C. The cooling seems to be sufficient: if I use RyzenAdj to bump the temp limits up to 90C, it can sustain 3.2GHz clocks on all cores running stress at about 82C.
  • The screen hinge only goes to 160 degrees, but the laptop is light enough that I can still use a compact tablet stand to stand it up. When I’m working at a desk I tend to prefer that setup w/ a 60% keyboard and a real mouse.
  • The built-in keyboard is fine (nothing to write home about, but perfectly cromulent for typing – I’m writing this review on it) and some of the Fn keys work hardcoded (like the keyboard backlight controls) but the rest show up on xev. The trackpad is also fine (smooth enough and decently sized), and has the usual fidgety middle click support if you are able to click directly in the middle. Both are PS2 devices.
  • Sound works out of the box with pulseaudio/alsa, using AMD’s (Family 17h) built in audio controller. Speakers aren’t very good, but the headphone jack works fine/switches output like it should. Webcam works as well.

Here’s my inxi output for those curious:

  Host: thx Kernel: 5.4.5-arch1-1 x86_64 bits: 64 compiler: gcc 
  v: 9.2.0 Desktop: Openbox 3.6.1 Distro: Arch Linux 
  Type: Laptop System: MOTILE product: M142 v: Standard 
  serial: <filter> 
  Mobo: MOTILE model: PF4PU1F v: Standard serial: <filter> 
  UEFI: American Megatrends v: N.1.03 date: 08/26/2019 
  ID-1: BAT0 charge: 31.8 Wh condition: 46.7/46.7 Wh (100%) 
  model: standard status: Discharging 
  Topology: Quad Core 
  model: AMD Ryzen 5 3500U with Radeon Vega Mobile Gfx bits: 64 
  type: MT MCP arch: Zen+ rev: 1 L2 cache: 2048 KiB 
  flags: avx avx2 lm nx pae sse sse2 sse3 sse4_1 sse4_2 sse4a ssse3 svm bo
gomips: 33550 
  Speed: 1284 MHz min/max: 1400/2100 MHz Core speeds (MHz): 1: 1222 
  2: 1255 3: 1282 4: 1254 5: 1239 6: 1296 7: 1222 8: 1259 
  Device-1: AMD Picasso vendor: Tongfang Hongkong Limited 
  driver: amdgpu v: kernel bus ID: 04:00.0 
  Display: x11 server: X.Org 1.20.6 driver: modesetting unloaded: vesa 
  resolution: 1920x1080~60Hz 
  OpenGL: renderer: AMD RAVEN (DRM 3.35.0 5.4.5-arch1-1 LLVM 9.0.0) 
  v: 4.5 Mesa 19.3.1 direct render: Yes 
  Device-1: AMD Raven/Raven2/Fenghuang HDMI/DP Audio 
  vendor: Tongfang Hongkong Limited driver: snd_hda_intel v: kernel 
  bus ID: 04:00.1 
  Device-2: AMD Family 17h HD Audio vendor: Tongfang Hongkong Limited 
  driver: snd_hda_intel v: kernel bus ID: 04:00.6 
  Sound Server: ALSA v: k5.4.5-arch1-1 
  Device-1: Realtek RTL8111/8168/8411 PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet 
  vendor: Tongfang Hongkong Limited driver: r8169 v: kernel port: f000 
  bus ID: 02:00.0 
  IF: enp2s0 state: down mac: <filter> 
  Device-2: Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200 driver: iwlwifi v: kernel port: f000 
  bus ID: 03:00.0 
  IF: wlp3s0 state: up mac: <filter> 
  Local Storage: total: 350.27 GiB used: 61.56 GiB (17.6%) 
  ID-1: /dev/nvme0n1 vendor: HP model: SSD EX900 120GB 
  size: 111.79 GiB 
  ID-2: /dev/sda vendor: BIWIN model: SSD size: 238.47 GiB 
  ID-1: / size: 97.93 GiB used: 61.48 GiB (62.8%) fs: ext4 
  dev: /dev/nvme0n1p1 
  ID-2: /boot size: 96.0 MiB used: 86.7 MiB (90.3%) fs: vfat 
  dev: /dev/sda1 
  ID-3: swap-1 size: 11.79 GiB used: 1.0 MiB (0.0%) fs: swap 
  dev: /dev/nvme0n1p2 
  System Temperatures: cpu: 33.5 C mobo: N/A gpu: amdgpu temp: 33 C 
  Fan Speeds (RPM): N/A 
  Processes: 224 Uptime: 12h 12m Memory: 5.80 GiB 
  used: 3.29 GiB (56.7%) Init: systemd Compilers: gcc: 9.2.0 
  Shell: fish v: 3.0.2 inxi: 3.0.37 

Things aren’t perfect, but so far seem to be relatively minor niggles. This list might grow as I use this more (or might shorten with updates or some elbow grease):

  • I’ve read about all kinds of stability and suspend issues with Ryzen mobile laptops, and sleep and suspend seems to work OK, but I have run into at least one compositor issue (which resolved itself when I closed the laptop and reopened it), and the laptop doesn’t like it when you run suspend directly (which seems to bypass the tlp-sleep and systemd-suspend services that do a bunch of cleanup steps. I solved a black screen resume issue I had initially by installing xf86-video-amdgpu.
  • There are a few keyboard niggles. It looks like asus_wmi and wmi_bof are loaded by default (WMI) and hard links about half the shortcuts (sleep, super-lock, network radios, perf-mode, keyboard backlight) and passes through the sound and backlight keys (acpid shows the hard-link events as all the same). One thing that took a bit of figuring out is that Fn-F2 is a super-lock switch which will disable the super/windows key.
  • The lid close works for suspend but not for wakeup (to wake up, hitting the keyboard or power button is required). There are a number of GPP’s labeled in /proc/acpi/wakeup so this may be a future yak-shaving project.
  • I had an occasional issue where the touchpad would disappear on resume or reboot (and required a power cycle to show back up) but this seems to have gone away by itself.
  • An unsolved issue is that the internal MicroSD card reader seems to not detect cards after resume. I have a small USB MicroSD card reader so this hasn’t been annoying enough to try to hunt down/figure out.
  • Gentoo Wiki has some more info:

VR and Gaming Virtualization on Linux

A couple months ago I built a new AMD Zen 2 computer. There was nothing wrong with my previous Ryzen 1700 workstation, or the Hades Canyon NUC that I was also swapping off between, but those that have being paying some attention to PC hardware might understand the excitement (Zen 2 marks a milestone, cementing not just AMD’s price/performance and multi-threaded performance lead over Intel, but also matching IPC and introducing the first chiplet-based design to the market). It doesn’t hurt that I’ve done very well on AMD stock the past few years, so I sort of feel justified with some more frequent upgrades.

For the past few years I’ve been running Linux as my primary computing environment, but have had to dual boot into Windows for most of my VR or gaming. One of my goals for this new system was to see if I could do this in a virtual machine and avoid the inconvenient process of rebooting with my new system.

Luckily, due to the interest in the past few years, driven both by enthusiasts and the demands of cloud gaming, virtualization with hardware pass-through has gone from black magic to merely bleeding edge. This is generally referred to as VFIO, referring to how devices are passed through to the virtual machine.

This is a summary of what I needed to do to get a pretty fully working setup (having decades of experience with Linux, but none with VFIO, KVM, QEMU, etc) in August 2019. There are plenty of sharp edges and caveats still, so those looking for support should also check out r/VFIO and the L1T VFIO forums.

VFIO is very hardware dependent (specifically for IOMMU groups).



  • Arch Linux (5.2.5-arch1-1-ARCH) Host – no problems w/ kernel updates
  • Windows 10 Guest (build 1903)
  • qemu-4.0.0-3, libvirt 5.5.0-1, virt-manager 2.2.0-2, edk2-ovmf 20180815-1, ebtables 2.0.10_4-7, dnsmasq 2.80-4, bridge-utils 1.6-3

Motherboard notes

  • The ASUS BIOS currently really sucks (Note: haven’t gotten around to the beta ABBA update), it seems to die in lots of ways it shouldn’t, including boot looping when PBO is enabled, and requiring CSM mode to boot with both an RX 470 and RX 570 I tried (I set everything network to Ignore and everything else to UEFI only as bootup is slowed significantly by this.)
  • I was getting hard shutdowns in mprime – I ended up finding a tip that DRAM Current in the DigiVRM section of the BIOS needs to be set to 130% to prevent this.
  • IOMMU groupings is decent (30 groups, every PCIe slot I’ve tried in its own group) however all the USB controllers are “[AMD] Matisse USB 3.0 Host Controller” and in board groups, see USB section for more details.

Windows Setup

I set up the Windows drive and GPU first by itself (including AMD Chipset drivers, SteamVR, some initial tuning/testing tools) and then shifted the M.2 over and setup Linux on the primary M.2.

Dual boot was as simple as copying \EFI\Microsoft\Boot\bootmgfw.efi over to my systemd-boot EFI partition on my new main M.2 once I did the switch.


The primary guide I used for setup was Arch Wiki’s PCI passthrough via OVMF. Things I needed to do:

  • Enable SVM in AMD CPU Features in the BIOS
  • Add kernel parameters amd_iommu=on iommu=pt
  • Check dmesg for IOMMU groups and use the bash script to check groups (see the above-referenced guide), which worked without issue
  • Added the GPU and USB card PCI IDs to /etc/modeprobe.d/vfio.conf and the proper modules to /etc/mkinitcpio.conf and run mkinitcpio -p linux (or linux-vfio if you want to manually test first)

Besides discovering the CSM issue w/ my Polaris cards, this part was all pretty straightforward.

OVMF-based Guest VM

This took a bit more fiddling than I would have liked. I had to install a few more packages than was listed:

qemu libvirt ovmf virt-manager ebtables dnsmasq bridge-utils openbsd-netcat

I also ran into issues with the OVMF UEFI loading (you are supposed to be able to specify it in /etc/libvirt/qemu.conf by adding it to the nvram var like:

nvram = [

But this didn’t work (you should see it loading a Tiano graphic vs SeaBIOS if it is) and I had to learn and fiddle with virsh -c qemu:///system until I could get it right. I ended clearing the nvram setting, using the edk2-ovmf package’s firmware and manually updated my XML (note virsh will autocorrect/parse things on save so if it’s eating settings you need to change things up):

    <type arch='x86_64' machine='pc-q35-4.0'>hvm</type>
    <loader readonly='yes' type='pflash'>/usr/share/edk2/ovmf/OVMF_CODE.fd</loader>
    <boot dev='hd'/>

With this I was able to create a q35 VM that uses an existing storage device (pointing to the raw device as SATA – I couldn’t get scsi or virtio working, but running CrystalMark gave me 2GB read/writes so I didn’t try too hard to get it booting with the other methods after that). Here’s the XML config, since that part of the setup in the GUI was pretty confusing IMO (I ended up using virsh to edit a lot of XML directly vs the virtmanager GUI):

<disk type='block' device='disk'>
    <driver name='qemu' type='raw' cache='none' io='native'/>
    <source dev='/dev/disk/by-id/nvme-YOUR-DISK-HERE'/>
    <target dev='sda' bus='sata'/>
    <address type='drive' controller='0' bus='0' target='0' unit='0'/>

I added the GPU/HDMI device, USB board and also the Realtek 2.5Gb (which I didn’t use VFIO for since it doesn’t have drivers by default in the default Arch kernel anyway) as devices to the vm. I’ve actually disabled the bridged network so that Windows uses the Realtek device as the bridging seems to put a bit of extra load on my system.

I use the Nvidia workaround so the drivers don’t give guff about virtualization.


While setting things up, I found it frequently easier to use virsh. Here’s a little note on accessing system vm’s with virsh. There are probably some important settings I’m forgetting that I changed, although I did try my best to document while I was working on it, so hopefully not too many things…

Windows Activation

Win10 will complain about activation if you set it up for your bare hardware first, but there is a workaround (1, 2) involving using dmidecode to output your information and matching it up. For me, I added something like this, which seemed to work:

<sysinfo type='smbios'>
      <entry name='vendor'>American Megatrends Inc</entry>
      <entry name='manufacturer'>System manufacturer</entry>
      <entry name='product'>System Product Name</entry>
      <entry name='version'>System Version</entry>
      <entry name='uuid'>[YOUR_UUID]</entry>
      <entry name='manufacturer'>ASUSTeK COMPUTER INC.</entry>
      <entry name='product'>ROG CROSSHAIR VIII HERO (WI-FI)</entry>
      <entry name='version'>Rev X.0x</entry>
      <entry name='serial'>[YOUR_SERIAL]</entry>

You should use the dmidecode output to guide you on this.

CPU Topology

I used AMD μProf to help with mapping out my 3700X (and this writeup on CPU-pinning):

./AMDuProfCLI info --cpu-topology
 Processor  NumaNode     Die    CCX      Core
   0         0           0      0        0   
   0         0           0      0        1   
   0         0           0      0        2   
   0         0           0      0        3   
   0         0           0      0        8   
   0         0           0      0        9   
   0         0           0      0        10  
   0         0           0      0        11  
   0         0           0      1        4   
   0         0           0      1        5   
   0         0           0      1        6   
   0         0           0      1        7   
   0         0           0      1        12  
   0         0           0      1        13  
   0         0           0      1        14  
   0         0           0      1        15  

I ended up deciding to use one whole CCX (and 16GB of RAM) for the virtual machine:

<vcpu placement='static'>8</vcpu>
   <vcpupin vcpu='0' cpuset='4'/>     
   <vcpupin vcpu='1' cpuset='5'/>     
   <vcpupin vcpu='2' cpuset='6'/>     
   <vcpupin vcpu='3' cpuset='7'/>     
   <vcpupin vcpu='4' cpuset='12'/>     
   <vcpupin vcpu='5' cpuset='13'/>     
   <vcpupin vcpu='6' cpuset='14'/>     
   <vcpupin vcpu='7' cpuset='15'/>     
   <emulatorpin cpuset='0-1'/>     
   <iothreadpin iothread='1' cpuset='0-1'/>   

GPU and Display

I wasn’t too worried about this initially since I basically only wanted to use this for VR, so I just need to be able to launch SteamVR, but early on I bumped up the QXL display adapter’s memory to 32768 in the XML so that I was able to run at a higher resolution.

But, because anything that runs on that primary display chugs and it was giving me issues w/ SteamVR Desktop, I ended up disabling the QXL display in Windows entirely and if I have a screen plugged into my 1080Ti it seems to be happier (I tried Looking Glass but it wasn’t very stable and ended up adding a KVM that works well instead).

Valve Index Setup

I used a combination of dmesg and lsusb to track down the USB devices that comprise the Valve Index. For those interested:

devices = [
  ('28de','2613'), # Valve Software Hub
  ('0424','5744'), # Standard Microsystems Hub
  ('0424','2744'), # Standard Microsystems Hub
  ('28de','2102'), # Valve Software VR Radio & HMD Mic
  ('28de','2300'), # Valve Software Valve Index HMD LHR
  ('0424','2740'), # Standard Microsystems Hub Controller
  ('28de','2400'), # Valve Software Etron Technology 3D Camera

Before digging out my USB PCI adapters I wrote a script to create custom udev rules to do a virsh attach-device with appropriate hostdev files, but this didn’t work. I didn’t want to go down the ACS path (1, 2) for USB, which looked pretty hairy, although I did map out the C8H’s USB controllers (using lsusb -t and plugging things in sequentially, included here for interest:

Rear     Front
5 5 3 3  3
5 5 3 3  3
1 1      4
2 1

# Top Left
Bus 005 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub

# Back USB-C
Bus 002 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0003 Linux Foundation 3.0 root hub

# Bottom Left
Bus 001 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
  Bus 001 Device 004: ID 8087:0029 Intel Corp. 
  Bus 001 Device 005: ID 0b05:18f3 ASUSTek Computer, Inc. 
  Bus 001 Device 003: ID 05e3:0610 Genesys Logic, Inc. 4-port hub

# Front Panel USB-C
Bus 004 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0003 Linux Foundation 3.0 root hub
  Bus 004 Device 002: ID 174c:3074 ASMedia Technology Inc. ASM1074 SuperSpeed hub

# Front Panel USB-A, Top Right
Bus 003 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
  Bus 003 Device 002: ID 174c:2074 ASMedia Technology Inc. ASM1074 High-Speed hub
  Bus 003 Device 005: ID 2516:0004 Cooler Master Co., Ltd. Storm QuickFire Rapid Mechanical Keyboard
  Bus 003 Device 006: ID 046d:c53f Logitech, Inc. 

Instead, I used a separate USB card. I had two, and started with a Fresco Logic card – this actually worked after adding it to VFIO, however it doesn’t reset properly so requires a hard reboot to cycle after a VM start/stop. However, I had a Renasas chipset card as well, which worked fine (here’s a guide, and another discussion) – if you’re looking for a USB card, just do a search for uPD720202 on Amazon or whatever your preferred retailer is (although I am using a 2-port uPD720201 without issues).


I was getting some stutters originally (this might have been because I didn’t vfio the USB card originally) but I also went ahead and added <ioapic driver='kvm'/> per this note.
I didn’t do any MSI tuning or switching to invtsc since things seem to be running OK at this point.

KVM Setup

I got an AV Access HDMI 2.0 4 port KVM (4K60P YUV444 18Gbps) for $80 which seems to work pretty well. I had some issues with QXL being detected as the primary monitor (maybe due to lag on switching or something) though and in the end, I used virsh to manually remove the QXL adapter entirely from my XML config, which seems to be fine and solves that (a bunch of VR titles get unhappy if they are not connected to the primary display) – note that <graphics> needs to also be removed along with <video> otherwise a video item gets readded (see here).

TODO: libvirtd startup

For whatever reason, on bootup the systemd service has issues so before I run my VM, I need to systemctl restart libvirtd (which runs fine). This could probably be solved by swapping around the service order or something…

TODO: Dual Boot

Somewhere in between where I started and ended, dual booting got borked (Windows says it can’t find the boot media when booting) – I suspect this might have to do with when I installed some virtio drivers trying to get virtio-scsi to work or maybe an UEFI issue. I will need to get motivated enough to poke sometime, as Ryzen Master nor Thaiphoon Burner work in the vm.

Besides the last to niggles mentioned, this setup has worked pretty darn well for the past couple months. I noticed that recently the Windows Activation message popped up, I’m not quite sure what’s up with that and might need to re-register it at some point, but besides that, and being a bit of a technical workout, after the initial setup, this has been surprisingly trouble free. Fingers crossed (and a potential addendum) after the next BIOS upgrade.

Classic Code

I’ve been syncing files/copying drives onto my new NAS for the past few days and I may actually end up running a bit low on space (currently up to 26/40TiB, 13M+ files and counting).

While my main plan is to do mass deduplication as a part of a larger effort (there are multiple backups/copies of many of the files I’m dumping onto the NAS) if I run out of space I may have to do some manual lookups, which will probably involve using something like fdupes.

One interesting thing looking at the fdupes repo is that it’s about to turn 19 years old soon (actually pretty close in age to this blog), maintained basically by a single author over the years. It’s at version 1.6.1 currently.

Anyway, just thought that was a neat little thing. When you think about it, all computing is about people dedicating time and energy towards building this larger infrastructure that makes the modern world possible (one bug at a time), but there are tons of these small utilities/projects that are stewarded/maintained by individuals over the course of decades.

On a somewhat related tangent, a small anecdote which I don’t think I ever posted about here, but a few (wait, 8!) years ago WordPress asked me if I’d re-license some really old code (2001) I wrote from GPLv2 to GPLv2+. It turns out this code I wrote mainly as a way to learn Cold Fusion (which also still runs in some form in Metafilter I believe) lives on in the WP formatting code and gets run every time content is saved. It’s some of my oldest still-running code (and almost certainly the most executed), and what’s especially interesting is that it pretty much happened without any effort from my part. I put it online on an old Drupal site that had my little code projects back in the day and one day Michel from b2 (proto-WP) dropped a line that he had used the code. The kicker to the tale is that I switched majors (CECS to FA) before taking a compilers class or knowing anything about lexing/parsing (which, tbf, I still don’t), so it’s really just me writing something from first principles w/ barely any idea of what I was doing. And yet, if the stats are correct, probably a third of the world’s published content has been touched by it. Pretty wacky stuff, but probably not such an uncommon tale when you think about it. (I’ve also written plenty of code on purpose for millions+ of people to use; it’s one of the big appeals of programming IMO.)

Tangent two: eventually I will publish my research into file and document crawlers, indexers, management systems. I’m trying out Fess right now, which was pleasantly easy get running, and plan on trying out Ambar and Diskover. I have an idea of the features I actually want and they don’t exist, so it’s likely that I’ll end up trying to adapt/write a crawler (storage-crawler? datacat? fscrawler?) and then adding what I need on top of that.

2018 DIY ZFS NAS (Disaster, mitigated)

My last NAS build was in 2016 and worked out pretty well – everything plugged in together and worked without a problem (Ubuntu LTS + ZFS) and as far as I know it’s still humming along (handed over for Lensley usage).

Since I settled into Seattle, I’ve been limping along with the old Synology DS1812+ hand-me-downs. They’re still chugging along (16.3TB of RAID6-ish (SHR-2) storage), but definitely getting long in the tooth. It’s always performed terribly at rsync due to a very weak CPU, and I’ve been unhappy with the lack of snapshotting and inconvenient shell access, among other things so, at the beginning of the year I decided to finally get moving towards build a new NAS.

I wanted to build a custom ZFS system to get nice things like snapshots and compression, and 8 x 8TB w/ RAID-Z2 seemed like a good perf/security balance (in theory about 43TiB of usable space). When I started at the beginning of the year, the 8TB drives were the best price/perf, but w/ 12TB and 14TB drives out now, the 10TB drives seem to have now taken that slot as of the time of this writeup. I paid a bit extra for HGST drives as they tend to historically have been the most reliable according to Backblaze’s data, although it seems like the newest Seagate drives are performing pretty well.

Because I wanted ECC and decent performance (mainly to run additional server tasks) without paying an arm and a leg, and I had a good experience with first-gen Ryzen on Linux (my main workstation is a 1700 on Arch), I decided that I’d wait for one of the new Ryzen 2400G APUs which would have Ryzen’s under-the-radar ECC support with an IGP (so the mini-ITX PCIe slot could be used for a dedicated storage controller). This would prove to be a big mistake, but more on that in a bit.

2018 NAS

In the end, I did get it all working, but instead of an afternoon of setup, this project dragged on for months and is not quite the traditional NAS I was aiming for. This also just became of of those things where you’d start working on it, run into problems, do some research and maybe order some replacement parts to test out, and then put off because it was such a pain. I figure I’d outline some of the things that went wrong for posterity, as this build was definitely a disaster – the most troublesome build I’ve had in years, if not decades. The problems mostly fell into two categories – SAS, and Ryzen APU (Raven Ridge) issues.

First, the easier part, the SAS issues. This is something that I simply hadn’t encountered, but makes sense looking back. I thought I was pretty familiar w/ how SAS and SATA inter-operated and since I was planning on using a SAS card I had laying around, and using an enclosure w/ a SAS backplane, I figured, what the heck, why not get SAS drives. Well, let me tell you why not – for the HGST Ultrastar He8’s (PDF data sheet) that I bought, the SATA models are SATA III (6Gb/s) models, which will plug into anything and are backwards compatible with just about everything, however the SAS drives are SAS3 (12Gb/s), which it turns out are not backwards compatible at all and require a full SAS3 chain. That means the 6Gb/s (LSI 9207-8i) controller, SFF8087 cables, and the SAS backplane of the otherwise sweet NAS chassis all had to be replaced.

  • I spent time fiddling with applying various firmware updates to the 9207 while I was trying to diagnose my drive errors. This might be relevant for those that decide to go with the 9207 as a SAS controller for regular SATA drives as P20 sometimes has problems vs P19 and you may need to downgrade. You’ll also want the IT FW (these are terrible RAID cards and you want to just pass through the devices). Note, despite the numbering, the 9207 is newer than the 9211 (PCIe 3.0 vs 2.0)
  • Some people have issues with forward vs reverse breakout cables but I didn’t and the spreadsheet at the end of this writeup links to the right cables to buy
  • SAS3 is more expensive across the board – you pay a slight premium (not much) for the drives, and then about double for the controller (I paid $275 for the Microsemi Adaptec 8805E 12Gb/s controller vs $120 for my LSI 9207-8i 6Gb/s controller) and cables (if you’ve made it this far though, $25 is unlikely to break the bank). The biggest pain was finding a 12Gb/s backplane – they didn’t have those for my NAS case, and other cases available were pretty much all ginormous rackmounts. The cheapest option for me ended up being simply buying 2 hot-swap 12Gb/s enclosures (you must get the T3 model w/ the right backplane) and just letting them live free-range
  • BTW, just as a note: if you have a choice between 512b and 4K (AF) sector drives, choose the latter, performance will be much better. If you are using ZFS, be sure to create your pool with ashift=12 to match the sectors

All this work is for bandwidth that honestly, 8 spinning-rust disks are unlikely to use, so if I were doing it over again, I’d probably go with SATA and save myself a lot of time and money.

Speaking of wastes of time and money, the biggest cause of my NAS building woes by far was the Ryzen 2400G APU (Raven Ridge). Quite simply, even as of July 2018, I simply can’t recommend the Ryzen APUs if you’re running Linux. You’ll have to pay more and have slim pickings on the motherboard front if you want mini-ITX and ECC, but you’ll probably spend a lot less time pulling your hair out.

  • I bought the ASRock Mini-ITX board as their reps had confirmed ECC and Raven Ridge support. Of course, the boards in channel didn’t (still don’t depending on manufacture) support the Ryzen APUs out of the box and you can’t boot to update the BIOS without a compatible CPU. AMD has a “boot CPU” program but it was an involved process and after a few emails I just ordered a CPU from Amazon to use and sent it back when I finished (I’ve made 133 Amazon orders in the past 6 months so I don’t feel too bad about that). I had intermittent booting issues (it’d boot a blank screen about half the time) w/ Ubuntu 18.04 until I updated to the latest 4.60 BIOS).
  • With my LSI 9207 card plugged in, 18.04 LTS (4.15 kernel) seemed happy enough (purely with TTYs, I haven’t run any Xorg on this, which has its own even worse set of issues), however with the Adaptec 8805E, it wouldn’t boot at all. Not even the install media would boot on Ubuntu, however, the latest Arch installer would (I’d credit the 4.17 kernel). There’s probably some way to slipstream an updated kernel into LTS installer (my preference generally is to run LTS on servers), but in the end, I couldn’t be that bothered and just went with Arch (and archzfs) on this machine. YOLO!
  • After I got everything seemingly installed and working, I was getting some lockups overnight. These hangs left no messages in dmesg or journalctl logs. Doing a search on Ryzen 2400G, Raven Ridge, and Ryzen motherboard lockups/hangs/crashes will probably quickly make you realize why I won’t recommend Ryzen APUs to anyone. In the end I went into the BIOS and basically disabled anything that might be causing a problem and it seems to be pretty stable (at the cost of constantly high power usage:
    • Disable Cool’n’Quiet
    • Disable Global C-States
    • Disable Sound
    • Disable WAN Radio
    • Disable SATA (my boot drive is NVMe)
    • Disable Suspend to RAM, other ACPI options
  • It’s also worth noting that while most Ryzen motherboards will support ECC for Summit Ridge (Ryzen 1X00) and Pinnacle Ridge (non-APU Ryzen 2X00), they don’t support ECC on Raven Ridge (unbuffered ECC memory will run, but in non-ECC mode), despite Raven Ridge having ECC support in their memory controllers. There’s a lot of confusion on this topic if you do Google searches so it was hard to suss out, but from what I’ve seen, there have been no confirmed reports of ECC on Raven Ridge working on any motherboard. Here’s the way I checked to see if ECC was actually enabled or not:
    # journalctl -b | grep EDAC
    Jul 28 20:11:31 z kernel: EDAC MC: Ver: 3.0.0
    Jul 28 20:11:32 z kernel: EDAC amd64: Node 0: DRAM ECC disabled.
    Jul 28 20:11:32 z kernel: EDAC amd64: ECC disabled in the BIOS or no ECC capability, module will not load.
    # modprobe -v amd64_edac_mod ecc_enable_override=1
    insmod /lib/modules/4.17.10-1-ARCH/kernel/drivers/edac/amd64_edac_mod.ko.xz ecc_enable_override=1
    modprobe: ERROR: could not insert 'amd64_edac_mod': No such device
    # edac-ctl --status
    edac-ctl: drivers not loaded.
    # edac-ctl --mainboard
    edac-ctl: mainboard: ASRock AB350 Gaming-ITX/ac

OK, so what’s the end result look like? The raw zpool (64TB == 58.2TiB):

# zpool list                                                                                                          
z       58T  5.39T  52.6T         -     0%     9%  1.00x  ONLINE  -    

And here’s what the actual storage looks like (LZ4 compression running):

# df -h | grep z                                                                                                      
Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on                                                                              
z                40T  4.0T   37T  10% /z

# zfs get compressratio z                                                                                             
NAME  PROPERTY       VALUE  SOURCE                                                                                            
z     compressratio  1.01x  -

Temperatures for the card (I have a 120mm fan pointed at it) and the drives seem pretty stable (+/- 1C or so):

# arcconf GETCONFIG 1 | grep Temperature                                                                              
   Temperature                              : 42 C/ 107 F (Normal)
         Temperature                        : 41 C/ 105 F
         Temperature                        : 44 C/ 111 F
         Temperature                        : 44 C/ 111 F
         Temperature                        : 40 C/ 104 F
         Temperature                        : 40 C/ 104 F
         Temperature                        : 43 C/ 109 F
         Temperature                        : 43 C/ 109 F
         Temperature                        : 40 C/ 104 F

Performance seems decent, about 300MB/s copying from a USB-C/SATA SSD. Here is are the results of an iozone (3.482) run (settings taken from this benchmark):

# iozone -i 0 -i 1 -t 1 -s16g -r16k  -t 20 /z                                   
        File size set to 16777216 kB
        Record Size 16 kB
        Command line used: iozone -i 0 -i 1 -t 1 -s16g -r16k -t 20 /z                  
        Output is in kBytes/sec
        Time Resolution = 0.000001 seconds.
        Processor cache size set to 1024 kBytes.                                       
        Processor cache line size set to 32 bytes.                                     
        File stride size set to 17 * record size.                                      
        Throughput test with 20 processes
        Each process writes a 16777216 kByte file in 16 kByte records                  

        Children see throughput for  1 initial writers  = 1468291.75 kB/sec            
        Parent sees throughput for  1 initial writers   = 1428999.28 kB/sec            
        Min throughput per process                      = 1468291.75 kB/sec            
        Max throughput per process                      = 1468291.75 kB/sec            
        Avg throughput per process                      = 1468291.75 kB/sec            
        Min xfer                                        = 16777216.00 kB               

        Children see throughput for  1 rewriters        = 1571411.62 kB/sec            
        Parent sees throughput for  1 rewriters         = 1426592.78 kB/sec            
        Min throughput per process                      = 1571411.62 kB/sec            
        Max throughput per process                      = 1571411.62 kB/sec            
        Avg throughput per process                      = 1571411.62 kB/sec            
        Min xfer                                        = 16777216.00 kB               

        Children see throughput for  1 readers          = 3732752.00 kB/sec            
        Parent sees throughput for  1 readers           = 3732368.39 kB/sec            
        Min throughput per process                      = 3732752.00 kB/sec            
        Max throughput per process                      = 3732752.00 kB/sec            
        Avg throughput per process                      = 3732752.00 kB/sec            
        Min xfer                                        = 16777216.00 kB               

        Children see throughput for 1 re-readers        = 3738624.75 kB/sec            
        Parent sees throughput for 1 re-readers         = 3738249.69 kB/sec            
        Min throughput per process                      = 3738624.75 kB/sec            
        Max throughput per process                      = 3738624.75 kB/sec            
        Avg throughput per process                      = 3738624.75 kB/sec            
        Min xfer                                        = 16777216.00 kB               

        Each process writes a 16777216 kByte file in 16 kByte records                  

        Children see throughput for 20 initial writers  = 1402434.54 kB/sec            
        Parent sees throughput for 20 initial writers   = 1269383.28 kB/sec            
        Min throughput per process                      =   66824.69 kB/sec            
        Max throughput per process                      =   73967.23 kB/sec            
        Avg throughput per process                      =   70121.73 kB/sec            
        Min xfer                                        = 15157264.00 kB               

        Children see throughput for 20 rewriters        =  337542.41 kB/sec            
        Parent sees throughput for 20 rewriters         =  336665.90 kB/sec            
        Min throughput per process                      =   16713.62 kB/sec            
        Max throughput per process                      =   17004.56 kB/sec            
        Avg throughput per process                      =   16877.12 kB/sec            
        Min xfer                                        = 16490176.00 kB     

        Children see throughput for 20 readers          = 3451576.27 kB/sec            
        Parent sees throughput for 20 readers           = 3451388.13 kB/sec            
        Min throughput per process                      =  171099.14 kB/sec            
        Max throughput per process                      =  173923.14 kB/sec            
        Avg throughput per process                      =  172578.81 kB/sec            
        Min xfer                                        = 16505216.00 kB               

        Children see throughput for 20 re-readers       = 3494448.80 kB/sec            
        Parent sees throughput for 20 re-readers        = 3494333.50 kB/sec            
        Min throughput per process                      =  173403.55 kB/sec            
        Max throughput per process                      =  176221.58 kB/sec            
        Avg throughput per process                      =  174722.44 kB/sec            
        Min xfer                                        = 16508928.00 kB               

While running this it looked like the each of the 4 cores hit about 10-15% on htop and load about 21-22 (waiting on iozone of course). Here are the arcstats during the top of the run:

# 1
    time  read  miss  miss%  dmis  dm%  pmis  pm%  mmis  mm%  arcsz     c              
18:15:40  266K   24K      9     0    0   24K  100    24    0   7.2G  7.2G              
18:15:41  293K   26K      9     2    0   26K  100    28    0   7.1G  7.1G              
18:15:42  305K   27K      9     0    0   27K  100    26    0   7.1G  7.1G              

Anyway, those were some surprising big (totally synthetic numbers), but I don’t have much of a reference, so a comparison, I ran the same test on the cheap ADATA M.2 NVMe SSD that I use for my boot drive:

# iozone -i 0 -i 1 -t 1 -s16g -r16k -t 20 ./
	File size set to 16777216 kB
	Record Size 16 kB
	Command line used: iozone -i 0 -i 1 -t 1 -s16g -r16k -t 20 ./
	Output is in kBytes/sec
	Time Resolution = 0.000001 seconds.
	Processor cache size set to 1024 kBytes.
	Processor cache line size set to 32 bytes.
	File stride size set to 17 * record size.
	Throughput test with 20 processes
	Each process writes a 16777216 kByte file in 16 kByte records

	Children see throughput for  1 initial writers 	=  737763.19 kB/sec
	Parent sees throughput for  1 initial writers 	=  628783.43 kB/sec
	Min throughput per process 			=  737763.19 kB/sec 
	Max throughput per process 			=  737763.19 kB/sec
	Avg throughput per process 			=  737763.19 kB/sec
	Min xfer 					= 16777216.00 kB

	Children see throughput for  1 rewriters 	=  537308.31 kB/sec
	Parent sees throughput for  1 rewriters 	=  453965.01 kB/sec
	Min throughput per process 			=  537308.31 kB/sec 
	Max throughput per process 			=  537308.31 kB/sec
	Avg throughput per process 			=  537308.31 kB/sec
	Min xfer 					= 16777216.00 kB

	Children see throughput for  1 readers 		=  710123.75 kB/sec
	Parent sees throughput for  1 readers 		=  710108.56 kB/sec
	Min throughput per process 			=  710123.75 kB/sec 
	Max throughput per process 			=  710123.75 kB/sec
	Avg throughput per process 			=  710123.75 kB/sec
	Min xfer 					= 16777216.00 kB

	Children see throughput for 1 re-readers 	=  709986.50 kB/sec
	Parent sees throughput for 1 re-readers 	=  709970.87 kB/sec
	Min throughput per process 			=  709986.50 kB/sec 
	Max throughput per process 			=  709986.50 kB/sec
	Avg throughput per process 			=  709986.50 kB/sec
	Min xfer 					= 16777216.00 kB

# oops, runs out of space trying to run the 20 thread test
# only 90GB free on the boot drive...

One more iozone test, pulled from this benchmark. The ZFS volume:

	Using minimum file size of 131072 kilobytes.
	Using maximum file size of 1048576 kilobytes.
	Record Size 16 kB
	OPS Mode. Output is in operations per second.
	Auto Mode
	Command line used: iozone -n 128M -g 1G -r 16 -O -a C 1
	Time Resolution = 0.000001 seconds.
	Processor cache size set to 1024 kBytes.
	Processor cache line size set to 32 bytes.
	File stride size set to 17 * record size.
                                                              random    random     bkwd    record    stride                                    
              kB  reclen    write  rewrite    read    reread    read     write     read   rewrite      read   fwrite frewrite    fread  freread
          131072      16   107383   153753   454176   497752   402551   100747   337201    228240    143842   149257   107891   243222   227732
          262144      16   114165   134997   194843   209168    62298    78727   166649    227852     47554   120907   121755   206258   208830
          524288      16   108586   130493   228032   235020    53501    48555   190495    224892     45273   110338   113536   229965   205326
         1048576      16    83337    94119   203190   231459    46765    34392   180697    230120     44962    92476   112578   198107   230100

And the boot NVMe SSD:

	Using minimum file size of 131072 kilobytes.
	Using maximum file size of 1048576 kilobytes.
	Record Size 16 kB
	OPS Mode. Output is in operations per second.
	Auto Mode
	Command line used: iozone -n 128M -g 1G -r 16 -O -a C 1
	Time Resolution = 0.000001 seconds.
	Processor cache size set to 1024 kBytes.
	Processor cache line size set to 32 bytes.
	File stride size set to 17 * record size.
                                                              random    random     bkwd    record    stride                                    
              kB  reclen    write  rewrite    read    reread    read     write     read   rewrite      read   fwrite frewrite    fread  freread
          131072      16   124072   218418   407623   392939   462018   211145   392298    520162    435927   218552   206769   411371   453720
          262144      16   125471   236933   454936   427993   449000   212884   423337    525110    452045   229310   221575   451959   494413
          524288      16   123998   252096   520458   459482   511823   229332   496952    526485    509769   243921   239714   519689   547162
         1048576      16   125236   266330   562313   480948   476196   220034   498221    529250    471102   249651   247500   560203   571394

And then one more quick comparison testing using bonnie++. The ZFS volume:

# bonnie++ -u root -r 1024 -s 16384 -d /z -f -b -n 1 -c 4
Version  1.97       ------Sequential Output------ --Sequential Input- --Random-
Concurrency   4     -Per Chr- --Block-- -Rewrite- -Per Chr- --Block-- --Seeks--
Machine        Size K/sec %CP K/sec %CP K/sec %CP K/sec %CP K/sec %CP  /sec %CP
z               16G           1084521  82 933471  88           2601777  99  1757  52
Latency                         103ms     103ms              3469us   92404us
Version  1.97       ------Sequential Create------ --------Random Create--------
z                   -Create-- --Read--- -Delete-- -Create-- --Read--- -Delete--
              files  /sec %CP  /sec %CP  /sec %CP  /sec %CP  /sec %CP  /sec %CP
                  1   125   1 +++++ +++   117   1   124   1 +++++ +++   120   1
Latency               111ms       4us   70117us   49036us       5us   43939us

And the boot NVMe SSD:

Version  1.97       ------Sequential Output------ --Sequential Input- --Random-
Concurrency   4     -Per Chr- --Block-- -Rewrite- -Per Chr- --Block-- --Seeks--
Machine        Size K/sec %CP K/sec %CP K/sec %CP K/sec %CP K/sec %CP  /sec %CP
z               16G           118358   7 49294   3           392088  10  5793  63
Latency                         178ms    1121ms              1057ms   32875us
Version  1.97       ------Sequential Create------ --------Random Create--------
z                   -Create-- --Read--- -Delete-- -Create-- --Read--- -Delete--
              files  /sec %CP  /sec %CP  /sec %CP  /sec %CP  /sec %CP  /sec %CP
                  1  2042   3 +++++ +++   857   1   767   1 +++++ +++   839   1
Latency              2135us     106us   39244us   10252us       5us   35507us

Now granted, this is a cheap/slow NVMe SSD (I have a 512GB 970 Pro in a box here, but I’m too lazy/don’t care enough to reinstall on that to test), but the ZFS results surprised me. Makes you wonder whether an array of enterprise SAS SSDs would beat out say those PCIe SSD cards, but I don’t get revved enough about storage speeds to really do more than pose the question. I may do a bit more reading on tuning, but I’m basically limited by my USB and network connection (a single Intel I211A 1 Gbps) anyways. Next steps will be centralizing all my data, indexing, deduping, and making sure that I have all my backups sorted. (I may have some files that aren’t’ backed up, but that’s outweighed by many, many files that I probably have 3-4 copies of…)

Oh, and for those looking to build something like this (again, I’d reiterate: don’t buy a Ryzen APU if you plan on running Linux and value your sanity), here’s the final worksheet that includes the replaced parts that I bought putting this little monster together (interesting note: $/GB did not go down for my storage builds for the past few years):

Misc notes:

  • If you boot with a USB attached it’ll boot up mapped as /dev/sda, nbd if you’re mapping your ZFS properly
  • Bootup takes about 1 minute – about 45s of that is with the controller card BIOS
  • I replaced the AMD stock cooler w/ an NH-L9a so it could fit into the NSC-810 NAS enclosure, but obviously, that isn’t needed if you’re just going to leave your parts out in the open (I use nylon M3 spacers and shelf liners to keep from shorting anything out since I deal with a lot of bare hardware these days)

2018-08-30 UPDATE: I’ve been running the NAS for a month and while it was more of an adventure than I would have liked to setup, it’s been performing well. Since there’s no ECC support for Raven Ridge on any motherboards at the moment, I RMA’d my release Ryzen 7 1700 (consistent segfaults when running ryzen-test but I never bothered to swap it since I didn’t want the downtime and I wasn’t running anything mission critical) so I could swap that into the NAS to get ECC support. This took a few emails (AMD is well aware of the issue) and about two weeks to do the swap. Once I got the CPU back, setup was pretty straightforward – the only issue was I was expecting the wifi card to use a mini-PCIe slot, but it uses a B-keyed M.2 instead, so I’m running my server completely headless ATM until I bother to find an adapter. (I know I have one somewhere…)

# journalctl -b | grep EDAC
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC MC: Ver: 3.0.0
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC amd64: Node 0: DRAM ECC enabled.
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC amd64: F17h detected (node 0).
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC MC: UMC0 chip selects:
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC amd64: MC: 0:  8192MB 1:     0MB
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC amd64: MC: 2:     0MB 3:     0MB
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC amd64: MC: 4:     0MB 5:     0MB
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC amd64: MC: 6:     0MB 7:     0MB
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC MC: UMC1 chip selects:
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC amd64: MC: 0:  8192MB 1:     0MB
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC amd64: MC: 2:     0MB 3:     0MB
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC amd64: MC: 4:     0MB 5:     0MB
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC amd64: MC: 6:     0MB 7:     0MB
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC amd64: using x8 syndromes.
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC amd64: MCT channel count: 2
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC MC0: Giving out device to module amd64_edac controller F17h: DEV 0000:00:18.3 (INTERRUPT)
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: EDAC PCI0: Giving out device to module amd64_edac controller EDAC PCI controller: DEV 0000:00:18.0 (POLLED)
Aug 30 08:00:28 z kernel: AMD64 EDAC driver v3.5.0
Aug 30 08:00:32 z systemd[1]: Starting Initialize EDAC v3.0.0 Drivers For Machine Hardware...
Aug 30 08:00:32 z systemd[1]: Started Initialize EDAC v3.0.0 Drivers For Machine Hardware.

# edac-ctl --status
edac-ctl: drivers are loaded.
# edac-ctl --mainboard
edac-ctl: mainboard: ASRock AB350 Gaming-ITX/ac

# edac-util -v
mc0: 0 Uncorrected Errors with no DIMM info
mc0: 0 Corrected Errors with no DIMM info
mc0: csrow0: 0 Uncorrected Errors
mc0: csrow0: mc#0csrow#0channel#0: 0 Corrected Errors
mc0: csrow0: mc#0csrow#0channel#1: 0 Corrected Errors
edac-util: No errors to report.

Printing with a DYMO LabelManager PNP on Linux

A while back I bought a DYMO LabelManager Plug N Play Label Maker to help organize things. Before I bought it I had done some cursory searching and saw there were Linux drivers, and I set up CUPS, fixed permissions (of course), and installed the DYMO drivers, but nothing was showing up.

Well, turns out there’s a reason for that – the LabelManager PnP actually labels itself as a HID device, not a printer! (lsusb -v to peep the details)…

Luckily, with a bit of searching, I found a nice little Python 3 script called dymoprint (github) that reverse-engineered the USB protocol and works perfectly. Another dev subsequently wrote a Perl script that generates 64px tall bitmaps to the printer. (I have lots of existing image generation code to build a Python version of this, but honestly, the first dymoprint script does just about everything I want, which is just to print some simple labels).

I saw that someone else did get it to run on CUPS – it looks like you have to set up modeswitching, but I haven’t tested that personally.

Switching from urxvt to termite

I’ve been running urxvt for years and have it pretty much dialed in as I like it with base16 Ocean and a bunch of mostly font-specific options. It works reliably and quickly for me, without any muss or fuss (I run my Openbox without any menubars and the chromeless, super minimal look fits right in).

There’s just one problem. I use nload a lot (bandwidth monitoring tools deserve it’s own writeup one day), and it flickers in urxvt. Now, to be clear, this isn’t a bug with urxvt, which is merely doing what it’s told, but I noticed that this sort of ncurses flicker on clear screen, due to the way it buffers, doesn’t happen in vte-based terminal emulators.

I’d previously tried a few other terminal emulators (Terminator, sakura) and I gave alacritty and xst and (a few others) a good try this time around, but I ended up settling on termite as basically a drop-in replacement for urxvt.

Setting up the fonts and colors was relatively painless and you can even dynamically reload those. The one niggle was that the left scrollbar was much more distracting than in urxvt. A little bit of searching led me to a related issue, which pointed me on ways to update GTK styles. It took a bit of tweaking to get things just right (there was some stray corner rounding that required some creative CSS), but here’s where I ended up with my ~/.config/gtk-3.0/gtk.css:

.termite scrollbar.vertical slider {
  background-color: #969896;
  border: 0;
  min-width: 7px;
  border-radius: 0;

.termite scrollbar.vertical {
  background: none;
  margin: 0;
  padding: 0;
  padding-right: 2px;

  border: 0;
  border-right: 1px solid rgba(0,0,0,0);
  border-radius: 0;

One thing to note, is that termite is actually a bit slower than urxvt (even ignoring it’s slightly weird refresh – when showing lots of text it tends to buffer and seems to skip rendering things you might see zip by in other terminal emulators), but it does handle mpv --vo tct rendering correctly (whereas my urxvt just barfs). For some more on terminal emulator performance, this alacritty github issue is a good start (alacritty may be hot shit on OS X, but it’s slower than urxvt on Linux and I don’t like its HiDPI handling). Also related and interesting is this Dan Luu writeup on Terminal latency.

And that wraps up today’s episode of Yak Shavers. This might become an ongoing series as I tweak some of the remaining issues on my Linux systems (next might be migrating from 1Password due to the Firefox plugin being broken, or better notification supression when videos are playing). Past issues/fixes have been largely chronicled in my Arch Linux Install doc, although a number of new things are in a private wiki. One of my goals this year is to figure out the best way to publish most of that stuff publicly.

WordPress Security

By far the most insecure piece of software that I still run on my main web server these days (where you’re reading this!) is WordPress. It seems like there’s never more than a few months (also) that go by without some new XML-RPC exploit or some-such pops up. The easiest way to stay reasonably secure is with regular updates. About 4 years ago I automated that with a simple daily WP-CLI (best tool) update script that basically looks like:

wp core update
wp plugin update --all
wp theme update --all

There look like there are some slightly better featured scripts (also also) floating around, but it seems to do the job.

I also run a few security plugins, like Activity Log, WP fail2ban, and Sucuri Security and I haven’t seemed to have had too many problems over the past few years on my main blog, however my terribly neglected travel blog apparently wasn’t getting regular updates this past year and needed a bit of delousing (some spam urls etc, that just needed to be reverted) – the sad thing is that it had an update script, but wasn’t being run in cron (wah wah).

2017 Year In Review

I originally had somewhat more ambitious plans for my 2017 wrap up, but well, the end of the year is just about here so instead I’ll just type for a couple hours, hit publish, and call it a day.

Part of the motivation is that it’s felt like a good time again to write up some of what I’ve been thinking about in technology trends. In 2006, while I was hip-deep in Web 2.0 work (and my blog output had already fallen into the abyss where it remains today) and I wrote up a 5 year tech projection. I ended up revisiting it 5 years later and you know what, didn’t too badly. What’s interesting reviewing it now is the a few of the things that I had missed were actually on the cusp then and happened shortly after. I didn’t do a direct followup, but did do a 2013 Review in Tech writeup – the most interesting things that happened that year weren’t in consumer/SV tech scene (which was deep in their Uber for X/app obsession at the time).

In 2014 I started collecting some Emerging Tech notes that I never published. That might be worth checking out (there are some late 2017 notes as well) – these seemed to have caught the tech zeitgeist a couple years in advance but it’s a bit fuzzy on how these will play out. This year, I also started collected some notes on a future-trend focused Tumblr (it’s not private per-se, just not very publicized/widely read, although the same can be said for this blog at this point – just pissing into the wind). For 2018, I’m hoping to both publish more and to better rationalize where/how I’m publishing what I’m tracking.

In many ways 2017 was a trash fire, so before I dig into it, I did want to start off Charlie Stross Reasons to Be Cheerful style. In just about every measure of human development and global, now is the best time to be alive. For those that are interested in visualizations, the World Bank’s 2017 Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals is simply fantastic (Hans Rosling style, RIP) and again, shows the marked improvements we’ve made. If you’re into listicles, this recent article 99 Reasons 2017 Was A Great Year highlights some nice things. I started a Twitter list today that I hope to add to dedicated to accounts focused on sharing useful metrics/trends on the state of the world.

Now enough of that, and into the weeds. Per usual, I spent a lot of time reading things this year (example) – too much on Twitter and Reddit, but on the whole, more worthwhile things than not – I spent a fair amount of time digging through writings of the socio-techno-political variety, lots on crypto-economics and other financial topics, and rounded off by the usual geek topics. Also, a lot more YouTube than usual. This marked year 4 of semi-nomadicism although I may spend some more time settled to try to get through a backlog of housekeeping. Being out and about in different parts of the world helps give some perspective (places visited for the first time included Colombia, Cuba, Iceland, Greece, Kazakhstan, and Brazil).

Like many others, I spent much of the end of last year and the beginning of this year reading and thinking about the state (and fate) of liberal democracy in the modern world. I collected some of that into a doc Sensemaking in the Age of Social Media. While most of the participants haven’t realized it yet (or are disingenously denying it), we are now living in the age of weaponized information – memetic warfare. This is as cyberpunk and dystopian as it sounds, and it’s worth giving a shout out to sci-fi authors. The easiest way to understand where we are is to re-read Gibson, Sterling, Stephenson, Egan, Stross, Doctorow et al with the lens of what we are experiencing. It’s also worth thinking about how unprepared humans and human societies currently are against the future-shock mechanization of the modern infosphere (hyper-personalization and filter bubbles, bot/troll manipulation and other social signal hacks, infoglut and overload, clickbait and yes, fake news). These are second order effects that web pioneers and SV techies were unprepared for and misincentivized to address (who knew that driving engagement for advertising revenue would bring down free society, wah wah). This of course made it’s way into the news zeitgeist this year (that the modern media landscape is a key part of this dysfunction is an irony that is sadly lost to most, I believe). A smattering of headlines: Former Facebook executive: social media is ripping society apart, Facebook must wake up to its disastrous potential – it has the power to subvert American democracy, What Facebook Did to American Democracy, Facebook Wins, Democracy Loses, Can democracy survive Facebook? – now this is all a bit unfair to Facebook, after all Twitter is perhaps even more of a trash fire (and @realDonaldTrump will probably start WW3 on it next year). Anyway, before I go full rant – there aren’t easy answers, but it’s clear that we must fix this. These are design failures – some driven purposefully by misaligned economic incentives and externalized risk, and some by the short-sightedness and failings of designers, engineers, and product managers. IMO, if we can not fix this, humanity will probably not survive.

Over the course of the year I tried to crystallize a line of thought – that there were no problems humanity faced that could not be solved, if we could solve the problem of how to cooperate in rational self interest. Not such a deep insight, and not pithy enough yet (still a work in progress, obviously) but good enough as a direction to point one’s mental energy and efforts towards. (For those in doubt, and as a benchmark for this, nominal global GDP is about 80T USD – look at any looming existential crisis that we face and ask how much actual effort/cost it would take to address, mitigate, or fix.)

Also tying into perhaps the next topic, on cryptocurrencies. Or perhaps, more accurately a discussion on distributed trust network, or resilient distributed consensus in the presence of byzantine adversaries, or about censorship-resistant transactions, or incentivization structures for said networks.

Yes, we are currently in a bit of a mania phase of a bubble at the moment. One that hasn’t, but will inevitably pop (although I wouldn’t pack it in until the institutional money gets a dip – this might not even be the big bubble yet in the same way that 2014 wasn’t). At the end of it though we’ll be where we were at the end of the Internet bubble – with a whole bunch of new toys to play with that with the power to reshape society. Hopefully, having gone through it once already, we can try again a bit wiser.

A few interesting recent reads that might spark some ideas:

The Blockchain Economy: A beginner’s guide to institutional cryptoeconomics

The great ICO freeze is beginning. What does it mean for crypto in 2018?

Co-evolving the Phase Shift to Crypto Capitalism by Founding The Ethereum Commons Co-op

OK, this is getting long, and there are so many other things I want to cover.

I’m a big fan of Ramez Naam’s talks and projection on energy production costs and trends. Here’s a recent one from October:

I’ve previously linked to a fascinating writeup on AlphaZero and DeepMind. Here’s a Year in Review of AI and Deep Learning in 2017.

I’ve been thinking a fair bit about the “4chan problem” – there’s the whole Gamergate to literal nazis thing, but just repeated over, and over, the emergence (and maybe this is the actual new part, the ability to cause damage) of a generation of sociopathic man-children. The Mirai botnet came out of some socially maladjusted Minecrafters (a fascinating read; followup, background, interesting related color on how fucked IoT security is) and say, the recent swatting incident (follow @briankrebs for fascinating infosec/cybercrime insights, @radleybalko for reporting on police brutality, militarization, and how messed up criminal justice and civil liberties are in the US).

OK, well, enough of that. Perhaps a bit less on the tech insights than a more planned essay would have been. My resolution for the coming year will be to figure out a better way of collecting and publishing my research on an ongoing basis. Maybe not quite gwern style but I think that a lot of what I come across and read about might be useful to others, and the act of publishing would probably encourage better organization/clear thinking. Another resolution: trying to waste less time on the Internet.