Pseudo-Review: DietPi And RockPro64

 

Subtitle: Avoiding monolithic-monopoly personal computing on the cheap?

Follow-up is here.

Note on text: if you want to skip all my worst-writing, just scroll down to the The Pseudo Review.

As noted here, I’m not a NAS fan. The problem with not being a NAS fan is that one may still require some form of home data storage. But where to turn? Remember those days of ripping CDs, DVDs/Blurays, etc.? What to do with all that data? Even if you’re no longer into ripping stuff, there is a need to not lose all that has been ripped. Or?

A few years back I realised that my ripping days were over. I haven’t ripped a CD in years. Other than online (and free) internet-radio, I don’t consume music anymore either. If I watch a movie or a TV show, I do so by either Amazon Prime or I rent something with AppleTV. (That’s right, I don’t use Netflix and I also do not watch cable or satellite TV!) That means, the only requirement I have for home data storage is being able to back up my Macs and figuring out what to do with all my old data. For my Macs the solution is easy. I rely on multiple TimeMachine iterations. Btw, after getting rid of my Mac collection in late 2018, which consisted of a MacPro, 2x MacMini, a MacBook Air and a 12″ MacBook, I’m now down to 2x 12″ MacBooks, 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Btw, as a writer, I highly recommend the 12″ MacBook–butterfly keyboard n’all. It is, in fact, my daily driver. Obviously if you’re into video production the 12″ MacBooks is a no-go. For everything else, as I took the chance to figure out for myself, Apple’s smallest, lightest, minuscule-ness and perhaps slowest PC… is a blast! And so, my wife uses the 2016 MacBook connected to a 24″ screen as her personal desktop device which replaced her 2010 MacMini. FYI, her main personal comuting driver is an iPad Pro. But I digress.

It was after fiddling around with my wife’s 2016 MacBook–which she bought on a whim after we returned from India in 2016–that something clicked with me. And be warned: when we entered the Apple store that day to get her a new Mac, it had never crossed my mind to buy the 12″ MacBook. I was trying to steer her to a low-end iMac. But you know how the women-folk are these days, eh worst-reader? You know, they be all emancipated and stuff. The only contribution I got to make about her new Mac purchase, in the end, was that she didn’t buy the pink MacBook1. Here my thoughts on going full Apple über-expensive (pink) netbook for 2019. Anywho.

Each MacBook has it’s own external HDD which is connected as required plus there is a TimeMachine HDD connected to an AirPort Extreme in the basement accessible by our home network. I can’t tell you what a relief it is having gotten rid of all those ageing Macs, but more importantly having gotten rid of the burden of having to maintain them. Obviously–or as usual–Steve Jobs was right when he initiated the post-PC era–with his comment–even though I don’t agree with it 100%–that tablets are cars and PCs are trucks. The thing is, I’ve never been sold on tablets replacing PCs. I’m also all-in on laptop makers trying to compete with desktop. More importantly, I’m not sold at all on touch screens. No. I need a keyboard. There is obviously a burden to be shouldered in the future of PCs but that’s mostly due to a monopolised and monolithic tech industry–that Apple will hopefully threaten if it ever gets around to having ARM as processors on its Macs. But, once again, I’m off subject.

The minimalist design, ports, weight, etc., of the MacBook has in part lead to my acquiescence and further delayed my having to consider going tablet. Although I can see the future is about touch-screen devices, the MacBook I’m using to worst-type this post, might just be my last Mac. Indeed. The likes of System76 laptops is looking pretty sweet to me right now–even though I just paid twice the cost for a laptop (a 2017 12″ MacBook in pink) compared to the likes of what System76 is offering. So the only question that remains is this: can I give up the luxury of Mac? That’s a whole other worst-post, eh. Anywho–I’m still off subject.

Not only have I gotten rid of all those trucks but I’ve also consolidated my personal computing data requirements. I’ve even given in to Apple’s ill-engineering to remove things like an ethernet port, let alone modern I/O ports. In other worst-words, for my personal computing requirements, I’ve since learned that the amount of hardware I require is actually quite negligible. For don’t you know, dear worst-reader, I am a worst-typist (worst-writer), and the amount of hardware space to store year and years and years of worst-writing, just ain’t that much. In fact, in a pinch, I can get my life’s digital work onto a decent sized USB thumb-drive. As for other digital stuff, aka music, photos, movies, TV, etc., that’s another story. And here’s part of that story.

I don’t consider media stuff to be a priority in my digital life. As much as I don’t like subscription-based digital streaming (I prefer the pay as you go/view stuff), streaming is definitely the future. Hence the rigamarole of whether or not to invest stupid money into an over-priced multiple HDD system (NAS) which just adds more complications (i.e. truck krapp) to one’s life.

The Pseudo Review.

So it’s been a few months now since I’ve batted an eye or puckered an ear about avoiding NAS truck-dom and/or monopoly-monolithic über-expensive personal computing krapp. It turns out that my skepticism/cynicism was/is warranted. As of fall 2018, I’ve resorted to other means of storing twenty years of music and movies and TV–and thereby separating personal data from media2. Obviously what I’m doing is not as convenient as a NAS but at least I’m NOT having to give more stupid-money away to monopoly-monolithic tech companies. Also. The whole fiddling and figuring-out process has been (kinda) fun. And so, here’s the solution I’m currently using in order to avoid monopoly-monoliths…

  • RockPro64 (4GB/MicroSD/Sata-card)
  • Pine64 NAS Case
  • 2x 3TB HDD
  • DietPi

Initially, and based on positive experience with Raspberry Pi, I fiddled around with OMV on the RockPro64, more on that here. Unfortunately OMV doesn’t work. I’m regularly checking here to see if/when it gets out of beta. That’s kind of a shame, really, on account I liked the way OMV worked on the Raspberry Pi. The only problem was/is, the RPi couldn’t stream to my home network using Plex. As a pure file server, though, OMV on the RPi worked flawlessly.

After a few initial difficulties with the RockPro64 and its fancy-pants NAS case3, I finally got it all together and working. As far as my choice of software, I’ve been happily surprised with DietPi. After a few weeks I not only got used to such a throw-back, if not archaic interface, I really started to dig DietPi. In fact, once you get used to it, DietPi isn’t as CLI/archaic as it may initially appear. It’s actually got a pretty neat and well thought-out interface, see pics above. Of course, if you like, you can just use the terminal and linux commands to do everything. I’m not a Linux command expert by and long stretch, so what DietPi has come up with has worked really well for me. The only issues I’ve had so far have been minor and require nothing more than a restart. So allow me to repeat: The thing to keep in mind is that I was looking for a way to avoid the bigshots and their overpriced krapp–and I found it.

As far as it being a server, you have to kind of piece together DietPi to get things to happen. Where OMV is a standalone server application that acts just like a NAS, DietPi is more like an operating system with various apps, some of which can be servers. I’m using Plex Media Server and Samba shares. I’ve also got a few other apps running, e.g. WordPress and Pi-hole. More on that in another worst-post. I have one RPi Plex client connected to my sound system and a flat screen TV. It’s where I watch all those old, ripped media files. I can also access it all via Plex apps on my Mac, an old iPad Air and and even my ageing iPhone 6s. So far the RockPro64 has been able to stream to multiple devices without issue. For audio I have two separate RPi’s running Volumio. I have a separate Samba share for audio files only. All in all, I’m able to stream movies, TV shows, and audio without issue to multiple devices. As far as backing up media from the RockPro64 and its internal HDDs, there’s a DietPi app to cover that, as well.

And let’s not forget the fun-factor in all this. The biggest thrill so far with being able to avoid sucking up to monolithic-monopolistic tech arsehole corporations is that OpenSource and SBCs (single board computer) have lead the way. The fact that I sold an old albeit still powerful 2010 MacPro (cheese grader Mac) with the idear that (but no proof it would work) I could replace it with an SBC, no longer seems absurd–as a lot of tech guys tried to tell me. At the least, personal computing doesn’t have to be as complicated and expensive as it has become simply because jerk-offs in the tech world have got nothing better to do than screw customers more and more. But what the hell do I know?

Rant on.

-T


  1. Indeed. I would be the one to buy it in pink. Laughs on me, uh? ↩︎
  2. For those interested: I utilise iCloud for photo backup, which is my only external backup source of photos. I have no other means to externally back up other media. I’m probably playing with fire but what the hell! ↩︎
  3. I had the following issues with the case: cheap SATA cables included with case are hard and stiff. In fact, I damaged PCIe adapter while trying to wire SATA cables internally. I used superglue to fix that damage. Once RockPro64 board and HDDs are installed, cables connected, etc., the only way to access board is to dismantle entire case. You also pretty much have to dismantle entire case to remove/change a HDD. Case designer(s) didn’t take into consideration access to MicroSD card. The only way to access the MicroSD card is with a pair of tweezers or very little fingers. Routing both SATA cables and power cables in case is extremely cumbersome. To make life easier and to prevent further damage, I purchased a set of thin, light, flexible SATA cables to replace the ones included with the case. ↩︎

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