Welcome To NAS Hell

Update to this post here.

Pseudo alternative subtitle: Years of digital living is hard to leave behind. But behind it must be left.

As mentioned here, I’ve been telling myself for years, and thereby avoiding a certain kind of reality, that I need a NAS (networked-attached-storage). Although I was able to circumvent having to own such a system till recently, after accumulating around four to six terabytes of personal data over the past twenty years, reality has crept in. Circumventing this need, by-the-buy, meant nothing more than instead of buying a NAS all these years, I just owned a bunch of computers. About three years ago, though, I started to cave-in. I was simply tired (and bored) of having to manage all the data on all those computers. Indeed. Three computers, multiple iPhones and iPads and lots of data confusion. Did I back that up, or this up, or what-up?

In order to protect all that data I habitually only trashed stuff I knew I didn’t need or could download again and again from the Interwebnets and then I maintained at least two copies of everything using TimeMachine. By-the-buy, I haven’t lost any data since a devastating disk failure about ten years ago. Since then I’ve lost several HDDs, though. That means, for each computer, I had at least two TimeMachine backups. But then there was all my media data. Since my media library was too big for any TimeMachine backup, I had to use separate HDDs to back it up.

And now for a short mute issue.

Of the three computers I owned, one was a massive 2010 MacPro. You know, the cheese-grader Mac. It was/is quite a machine. After about five to seven years, though, it really started to lose its lustre. Reason? It was useless as a desktop machine–compared to the agility of modern laptops–and it just didn’t cut it as a file server or NAS. I tried using Apple’s MacServer app with it to up its game, but that turned out to be nothing more than bloated and weird Apple dependent Krapp-software that screwed-up two of my HDDs with unix permissions! What I needed was a better and more flexible server that wasn’t all about Apple. I especially needed a way to serve SMB shares because I had long since chosen AGAINST Apple’s continued iTunes krapp and its subsequent Music streaming service. The most important thing I wanted was to be able to stream, on my home network, my personal digital music library to two different Raspberry Pi Hifiberry audio clients. And nomatter what I did, I couldn’t get that to happen with the Mac–unless I used iTunes.

Btw, iTunes sucks!

In its day, the MacPro was a great device. But, as Apple made it more and more obsolete, its graphic card was practically worthless when it was deployed in 2010, by 2015 it was a nightmare. Heck, I couldn’t even render 720p iPhone movie clips on it without wasting part of day waiting for it to finish. Long story short, it was not the do-everything server and headless Mac I was hoping it would be and it was definitely not a viable desktop machine anymore. Why keep it? So I sold it along with a MacMini, my trusted MacBook Air (i7), and gathered enough cash to pay most of the cost of an over-priced, jewellery-like netbook device known as a 2017 12″ MacBook. More on that here. Indeed. Part of getting rid of all that krapp was that I was just tired of how heavy it all felt. And boy is this new MacBook light!

Back to NAS hell.

Since round 2016 I had been looking for alternative hardware for my home network file management. Obviously one of them branded NAS devices was the only solution, right? Having used multi-bay hard-drive cases and even fiddling with a DroboFS a few years back–which I subsequently threw in the friggin trash on account it was so slow and cumbersome–I concluded that I would put off going that route for the foreseeable future. Indeed. That future has arrived. And get this: all those multi-bay hard-disk devices… they are all built like $hit and they all cost way too much. But then I came across some stuff on the Interwebnets and kept on reading and reading and reading. Enter my world of cheap SBCs. Soon one thing lead to another and since I already had a bunch of HDDs lying around, by 2017, I was an avid Raspberry Pi fiddler–as a means of subverting the idiotic NAS industry. It was exactly that little foray into the NAS world that caused me to realise, my world will only change if I make it so.

Apple’s eco-system wants not only all your consumption but also wants to consume you. Thank goodness we live in world where a 35€ credit card sized PC is a way around all that. -Worstwriter dot com

The foreseeable future task is to get out of the old world of monolithic branded computing and enter a world of something new. It was also about weaning myself from all that media data I had accumulated over the years. You now: ripped DVDs, Blu-Rays, my entire audio CD collection, etc. On the other hand, since 2015 I’ve digitised my whole world. But in the last few years I’ve realised that once you move form analog to digital, there’s no need for access to analog anymore. Or am I wrong?

Have the cloud and streamers won?

Between prime-video and/or renting movies with an AppleTV, I just don’t need the hassle of buying disks and digitising them anymore. Then there’s the peace of mind that it’s not all suddenly gonna disappear because, well, HDD makers all make $hit, too, I somehow screwed myself by not backing it up.

For the hell-of-it, and still pondering what I was gonna do with a half dozen or so HDDs lying around, most of which included copies of all my movie and tv files, could I, should I, finally break down and buy a $hit NAS? The SBC (and RPi thing) was working but something didn’t feel right about it. Yeah, a world of all-things beta just ain’t reassuring. Also, when I get bored, I have to consume-to-survive, don’t you know. So come on, worst-writer. Buy something!

Side note: Btw, all my personal and important data is now in the cloud and no longer solely dependent on HDDs. Although I still maintain HDD copies of it all, I’ve finally given in to the Apple’s iCloud being part of my digital life. So what about all those media files?

Break on through to the other side.

Since 2016 I’ve fiddled on/off with Raspberry Pi and a few old USB2 external HDDs. To my astonishment, the RPi as a NAS is viable. The only issue I’ve had using them is the size and capacity of external USB2 HDDs. Both 2TB and 3TB eternal HDDs seem to work but not 4TB. But that’s ok. Or? Also. TimeMachine backups using OMV work great. Of course, the little RPi couldn’t transcode a Blu-Ray ripped MKV file for my iPadAir but that just doesn’t feel important anymore.

Oh. Wait. Another mute-issue.

The RPi thing got my lips wet. So I thought I’d up my game and last year I gave an RPI killer a try. To my astonishment, the Rock64 SBC, offered by Pine64, was really, really cool. To my disappointment, though, the Rock64 ain’t ready for prime-time. External USB HDDs were unstable, ethernet was always falling off, and OMV (OpenMediaVault), compared to how it worked on the RPi, was wishy-washy at best. But those little Pine64 devices did prove themselves to be plenty more powerful than an RPi. Hopefully the software for the Rock64 will get out of beta soon. We’ll see.

Back again to NAS $hit.

Right after Xmas 2018 I started seeing various NAS offerings on sale on that you-know-who online retail site. For the heck of it, knowing with Prime I can always send it back, I purchased a mid-range 4-bay NAS through a warehouse-deal. It was a WD device from around 2015. But after reading various reviews and watching a couple videos, I thought: what the heck. When it finally arrived I filled it with four drives and waited for it to set up a RAID5 configuration. About two hours later I then plugged in one of my backup media drives to its “copy-now” USB3 port and hit the copy button. It took about eight hours but eventually it copied almost 3TB of movie and tv files. I then plugged in another drive with all my music files. After four hours that was done copying. I then went about setting up the NAS to be a Plex media server.

And here we go with all-things-worst.

Long story short: the WD My Cloud EX4100… sucked. The thing couldn’t even transcode one MKV blu-ray ripped movie to my iPadAir. At least it couldn’t do its anybetter than my RPi could. When I utilised both of its gigabyte ethernet ports, setting them up as some kind of duel connection to my home router, it only marginally improved file transfer speeds–but video was still choppy and broken. How is it that WD can even make such a krappy device and then make claims that Plex runs on it? So I erased Plex and gave the WD device’s internal DLNA capabilities a try, thinking that maybe Plex was just too bloated for the minimal specs of this device. Using VLC on my new MacBook and on my old iPad as a client, things only improved slightly. Nomatter what I tried, as far as I’m concerned, that piece of krapp NAS failed at everything–except being a basic file server from the early 2000s. Humbug!

So. Is there room for regret here? Should I have kept my old MacPro? At least that thing handled all the transcoding I ever needed. Heck, that thing could deliver transcoded movies and tv shows to four or five devices on my home network. So do I miss it? The honest answer is: No. I haven’t ripped a DVD or Blu-Ray since 2017 and I had no plans to do it in the future. Those days are gone. I’m committed to that change in (my digital) life.

I guess my worst-point about all this NAS ranting is this: WD, Drobo, Synology, for what they cost… suck-a$$. Too expensive or too slow–makes them no different than the world of PCs for the past thirty years. That’s why I’ve long since given into the MacBook I’m worst-writing this on right now and then simple fact that it is just my/a glorified typewriter that allows me to do lots of research, watch a video or three and manage files here and there. Which is all I need. Which also means: I’m slowly freeing myself from digital hell.

But all is not lost. I returned the krappy WD device and have gone back to the drawing board with those SBCs–as I’m not quite ready to dump all those media files yet. Heck, I even bought a super SBC from Pine64, its RockPro64. It took about three months to get here and when it finally arrived I could feel all my digital boredom making way for some renewed tinkering excitement. Considering I have spent less money for three different SBCs than I spent for a warehouse-sale on a branded NAS device that worked like $hit… And I’m not sure I give a hoot about all that media data anymore…

Yeah, it’s time to bravely move on and while doing so continue tinkering to my hearts ill-content.

Rant on.

-T

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