Network Station Galore In Pine64 Heaven

network station rock64 rockpro64 etc.png
Network station galore, baby.

UPDATE: The Rock64 with 4-bay drive enclosure (the gadgets on the left in the pic above) failed the other day. That means, this entire post is null & void. Oh how I wanted the Rock64 (Pine64?) to succeed. But I supposed, for tech newbie/wannabees like me, I’m barking up the wrong tree here. At least the RockPro64 (black box on the right), as a dietpi/Plex/Pihole server hasn’t yet failed me! That said, I can’t get the Rock64, either using OMV or Dietpi, to just work. I’m soooo disappointed. Or maybe not. Although I’ll go ahead and leave this post–for it’d be a shame to waste all the worst-writing–I’m pretty much done with Pine64 products, especially since a new RPi just came out. Oh well. I guess this level of tinkering is fun while it lasts. Or maybe not.

Subtitle 1: Avoiding, circumventing an industry hell-bent on the grand rip-off?

Subtitle 2: In a world of trucks or no trucks, SBC’s rule, biatch!

If you want to skip all my worst-writing about Apple and Trucks, scroll down to it’s a network station galore, baby.

To begin this worst-post, dear worst-reader, I have to express a word or three about trucks. Do you remember that schtick from Steve Jobs about the post-PC era (ca. 2012-13)? As usual, I ate it up. Well, maybe I didn’t exactly eat it up. But I certainly heeded the words of the tech-guru who changed the friggin’ world twice! (1984 with the Macintosh and then again in 2007 with the iPhone.) I mean, even though I’m not a tablet guy (yet), as in, I can’t give up on a real computer, the change that’s being forced upon us consume-to-survivors, especially in all-things tech, is too often in my thoughts. After purchasing earlier this year what might be my last Mac, the question I’m currently dealing with is this: does my tech future include Apple?

One of the questions I’m throwing around in my head is if/when I have to replace yet another device due to strategic, monolithic, corporate obsoletism, what will/should I replace it with? Even though I love my new, retail-bought 2017 MacBook (jewellery galore, eh), there’s something about the tech path that Apple’s taken in recent years that gets under my gander. The truth is: not only do I hate tech-jewellery but I also hate touch screens. (And don’t laugh too hard since my new MacBook is pink-gold.) I mean, I really hate touch screens. (But this pink-gold is growing on me.) In fact, I hate touch screens as much as I hate NAS boxes. Of course, I tolerate touch screens on my iPhone. I even still use a first gen iPad Air (that I inherited from my better-half as she’s full-on iOS) as an e-book reader and a streaming client for Plex, Amazon Prime and YouTube–the latter while I’m in the kitchen cooking. But get this! To throw things into a craze-loop, what does Apple go and do at its 2019 WWDC that confused the hell out of me–especially considering I vividly remember Jobs’ truck analogy–that I ate up? That’s right. Apple brings back the friggin’ truck. And it doesn’t bring it back slightly with, say, a tickle and a smooch. No. It brings those friggin’ trucks back with a vengeance in the form a new, über-fancy, über-über expensive cheese-grater MacPro. WTF!

So let’s recap, shall we?

Steve Jobs claimed back in 2013 (see links below) that the PC was dead. Long live the post-PC era. The gist of his proclamation is simple. We (consumers) don’t need PCs (trucks) anymore. What we need are tablets. I suppose, in a way, he was right. Right, don’t you know, for other people, of course. Me? If I choose to leave Apple after I’m done with my latest MacBook, I’m either going to join the gang and get an iPad (but only if I can accompany it with a MacMini) or I’m going full Linux. Indeed. I’m seriously digging what System76 is doing right now–even though they don’t, as of this worst-post, have a laptop with a German keyboard. (That’s right. I can only speed-worst-type with a German QWERTZ keyboard!) But that’s not all, dear worst-reader, that relates to Apple contradicting its dead hero. The Steve Jobs truck proclamation was about a few things other than just PCs. Wasn’t that also around the time when cloud-computing was getting its mojo on? You know, there’s no need to have a big (truck) PC for storing your files and data anymore cause, well, you can conveniently store it all on well-controlled corporate servers… in the cloud. Now ain’t that the ticket! (Sarcasm off.) Don’t get me wrong here. I’m using the cloud. But should it be the solution for future private data needs?

Before I get too far off worst-subject and get too far on about the conspiracy of corporate control over private data–which is all cloud computing is, really–there is one other thing that has gotten under my gander in this very confused post-PC, corporate control, krapp-touch-screen era. As I’ve said here, here and here, I hate the NAS industry. And don’t get me started on RAID (Synology, Drobo & Co., etc.) and how krappy that is. I mean, come on. With the cost of digital storage these days, why would anyone want/need to fiddle with the added ill-begotten complexity of things like RAID dished out in machines that are built to substandard, if not outdated hardware specs? For you RAID lovers out there, don’t fret. I get why you may (or may not) need it. But I remember RAID when it began. Then it was either about increased data speed or subverting the high cost of HDDs. So let’s move on.

It was a motivating factor for me to modernise a bit so I could 1) free myself and 2) live a little. Plus, I guess, I wanted some jewellery! (Sarcasm off.) The other reason I wanted to get rid of ageing hardware wasn’t because it didn’t work or anything like that. Apple computers are great even when they’re old. In fact, my old stuff ran flawlessly–and I’m sure the nice folk that bought it all will be happy with it for years to come. By-the-buy, that old friggin’ MacPro worked even when I took it with me to Bangelore, India, in 2016, where–get this!–the power went out ten times a day for the six months I lived there. With every power outage (surge?) that damn MacPro turned itself right back on and on and on. I never had one hardware issue with it. But enough about spilt milk, eh. It’s time to clean things up.

The main reason I got rid of the MacPro was because I was tired of maintaining large amounts of data (yes, for me, 3.5TB is large) on a device that needed days to move or copy it. Over the years, as stated, I’ve never had any major problems with Apple hardware but I have lost a few hard drives here and there–and the data that was on them. Indeed. The days of ripping, hoarding, maintaining multiple hard drives and waiting for terabytes of data to backup or copy are over. I’m tired of it. So it was time to prioritise, organise, get rid of the hardware, keep the data, see how it goes. And so. My personal data was about 1TB, including paper correspondence*. Media data is about 3.5TB. Since, as you can tell, I’m kinda frugal and cheap, if not bored of hardware, there was no way I was gonna invest in upping my data bandwidth or capacity. Fcuk thunderbolt & Co., and the same for 3.5″ HDDs, don’t you know!

Most of my personal files and data (1TB) was a rigamarole of duplicates and excess of worst-writing, employment data, official correspondence, etc., and I needed to dive into shark waters to clean it up. Indeed. Over a few months I weeded through it all and got it organised. I discarded all excess. And get this. It’s amazing, when you put the effort into it, to realise, like in the analog world, how much waste there is in the/your digital life. That worst-said, you’d be surprised how much digital AND analog space you can save if you put a bit of effort into getting organised–as opposed to just hoarding it all in the name of cheap HDDs that build up over the years. I was able to reduce that 1TB of personal data down to about 250GB, an amount that is easily maintainable considering the price and accessibility of portable (non spinning drive) storage. On top of that, I’m also using multiple and cheap 2.5 inch (yes, still spinning) external HDDs with TimeMachine for my remaining (2x) Macs. (At one point till mid 2018 I had five Macs running in my house.) Ok. Ok. My personal data is organised. What do I do with 3.5TB of media that I’d still like to stream–in my home media setup?

It’s a network station galore, baby. It’s not a NAS!

It’s taken a while, dear worst-reader. About two years, to be exact. Which also means I’m a bit slow (in more things than just tech). Nomatter. Starting with the genius of Raspberry Pi, I currently solely rely on single-board-computers (SBC) for all my personal home network activity, including household media streaming and, where applicable, extra data storage. With that in mind, what I’m doing here I also take with a grain of salt. I do not rely solely on this setup as a means for securing my data. Of all the old hardware that I sold late last year as a way to reduce my personal digital footprint, which was really about replacing too much old with a bit of new, this is where I’ve arrived–and it’s starting to look rosier and rosier. In fact,  I’m getting more and more confidant, if all continues as it has, I will be able to heed my PC-truck-age cries: to never buy one of those stupid, fake-priced NAS boxes, e.g. Drobo, Synology, etc., that I love to hate. And. Since. Apple has contradicted its Master, let me just add: Trucks are $hit, too!

My network station setup. (Did I mention it’s not a NAS?)

In the pic above, I finally got my Rock64 (far left), that I bought in mid 2018, running OpenMediaVault (OMV). Using USB 3.0, it’s attached to my most recent thrifty purchase, an IcyBox JBOD 4-bay HDD enclosure. I got that enclosure for about 50,-€ used. It’s Stocked with 2x 2TB, 1x 3TB and 1x4TB drives, which are most of the drives left over after getting rid of old hardware. As far as OMV on the Rock64 goes, you can forget the ease–due to the variety of functional software–of R-Pi’s. These Pine64 SBC’s take a bit more effort, don’t you know–especially considering, what should be a staple on it, OMV, should work toot-sweet, even with a novice like me is at the helm. Anywho.

Rock64, baby.

My choice for a file server is OpenMediaVault. It’s worked well on the R-Pi, albeit slow and hence the reason to go with the Rock64 (which has gigabyte ethernet). After numerous tries with both release and pre-release from Ayufan, I could never get OMV to work on the Rock64. Although it would be recognised on my network, once I started configuring shares, it all fell apart. Frustrated that no OMV Rock64 builds were ready–and I’ve been fiddling with them for six or so months–I gathered one of my spare R-Pi’s (far left in the pic) to give it a go–slow bandwidth be damned. Just before flashing the R-Pi’s SD-card,  though, I did another quick search for a different Rock64 OMV build. Lo and behold, I found a build via the OMV website here. I flashed the SD-card and boom, baby. Immediately the look and feel of the build was spot on. Not only that, I was able to access all the drives of the external JBOD enclosure and set up shares. It’s been purring–with gigabyte ethernet!!!–on my network ever since.

Media = RockPro64 + Dietpi.

On the far right of the pic above is my RockPro64 in its fancy-pants Pine64 NAS case. It has a PCIe sata card and 2x 3TB HDDs. It’s been my trusty Plex media server for the past six months where I am able to store and serve my old 3.5TB of media data–as good if not better than my old MacPro. Just like the Rock64, though, it was a rough start with the RockPro64. I could never get OMV to work on it which was a big disappointment. The RockPro64 sat on my shelf because of that for a few months. Again, although the R-Pi’s are stable and are much easier to setup, there is that bandwidth limitation they have with ethernet and USB, the two being combined on the USB 2.0 bus. Nomatter.

So I kept fiddling around with various other builds for the RockPro64 till I finally discovered DietPi. And don’t you know, DietPi has been the best solution so far turning the RockPro64 into an amazing media server. Although it took of bit of effort to get back into the cryptic, command line interface of DietPi, I’ve since come to think of it as fun-time whenever I have to do anything with the RockPro64. DietPi has done a great job of creating a really friendly but also minimal build that is loaded with software that all seems to work–except, of course, OMV. But that’s neither here nor that at this point. Not only does Plex run great but I’m also running Pi-hole, to rid my home network of all those stupid and obnoxious internet ads, a WordPress iteration (that I use to experiment with) and, using a single Samba share, the RockPro64 serves various R-Pi audio devices in my house that all run Volumio. I’ve not yet begun to find all the RockPro64’s fun. Yeah, baby.

The stuff in-between.

Also included in the pic above is what remains of some old but functional hardware. As you can see, I’m still an Apple Airport fan. In fact, this is my third Apple Airport still in use. I use these devices for all my WIFI thereby turning off the WIFI from those krapp routers issued by ISPs. On my top floor I have an Airport Express that serves two bedrooms and a bath. For the ground floor, living room, kitchen, atrium and our master bedroom, is a newer AirPort Extreme. The older Airport Extreme (pic above) is in my basement and still provides great bandwidth when I’m ironing, working on my bikes, or just hiding from my better half and Beckett, the killer pug. In fact, I might even buy a fourth, newer AirPort Extreme in the future to replace the Airport Express upstairs. Even though Apple has cancelled these excellent routers, I’m gonna use them till the cows come running. By-the-buy, this one also serves as second TimeMachine. You see that HDD underneath it? That is an Iomega 2TB Firewire, USB 2.0 and USB powered hub HDD. It’s gotta be over ten years old now. I know. I know. I’m waiting for it to fail, too. But it just keeps going and going and going. But don’t worry, dear worst-reader. As stated, I’ve got more than two TimeMachine backups. So we’re all good there. (I hope!)

The other HDD case (the black case to the left of the AirPort Extreme) is a 2-bay IcyBox raid enclosure. I’m not sure how old it is–but I’ve had it for a long time. It has 2x 2TB drives in raid-0, i.e. 4TB. Although I rarely use it anymore, it does have some old data on it–none of which is unique. Once I get the Rock64/OMV to meet a few more criteria for file serving, I’ll transfer all that old data to it and then retire it, salvaging the HDDs for other use.

As far as being thrifty and rebelling against an industry hell-bent on ripping us off, also being able to re-use stuff that shouldn’t be made obsolete, the cost for the SBC’s mentioned in this post, is under €300,-€. Obviously, it takes lots of time and effort to get this thing up and running and I’m sure most working-stiffs out there don’t have the time for such endeavours. For tech gurus this is a nothing-burger. With that in mind, I’m kinda joyous right now. I’ve really had fun getting back into CLI, Linux and taking some of my fate into my own hands. Kinda rewarding, don’t you know. Or. Put another way:

This has been PRICELESS, baby.

Ok. Nuff for now.

Rant (and Rock64) on, baby.

-T

Links:

*For worst-moi paper correspondence is all that snail-mail krapp you get, some of which can also be kind of important, that requires space. Sick of having to provide space for it, a few years ago I purchased one of them fancy-pants document scanners (only documents, NOT one of them stupid scanner-printer thingies that have been ripping people off for decades). I digitise all important snail-mail and store it appropriately. The remaining paper gets shredded and recycled, of course.

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