Category Archives: Computing

Grooveshark in your Steam browser

I got this idea from a post I saw on reddit and thought it was so cool that I wanted to share it here.

Grooveshark and Steam may seem like a weird combination to talk about at once, but if you are a big fan of both, like I am, there is a great application for these two programs that you may not have realized.

You can use the in-game Steam browser and load up Grooveshark.com and that way you can listen to and control your music without leaving the game! Even if you have dual monitors you may typically leave Grooveshark opened on one screen while playing on the other, but you have to Alt+Tab out of the game in order to get to the browser, sometimes minimizing the game.

Complete Overview of Installing FlexRAID in Windows 7

If you are not familiar with FlexRAID, it is essentially an alternative to the traditional RAID and more similar to unRAID, except that it is free. FlexRAID offers a number of benefits over traditional RAID. Currently FlexRAID is a snapshot RAID and not real-time, making it suitable for data that does not change very often (eg. movie/music archive) as you are only able to revert to a state when a snapshot was taken, not the most recent state before disk failure. However, a real-time version of FlexRAID is under development called FlexRAID Live.

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I put together this guide because I was looking all over the place for a comprehensive, beginning-to-end, guide to running and installing FlexRAID so I could evaluate the software and decide if I wanted to move to FlexRAID for my filestorage.

This guide will take you through the process of installing FlexRAID on a Windows 7 computer. This will include managing the configruation through the WebUI and installing FlexView so that all your drives show up as a single instance of pooled storage. This guide was written when FlexRAID version 1.4 beta was the most up to date release.

FlexRAID Installation (Host, CMD, and WebUI)

  1. If UAC (user account control) is enabled you must disable it during this installation process but it can be re-enabled afterwards. A guide can be found here.
  2. Install the FlexRAID Basic Host Service 1.4 with default settings so that it installs FlexRAID as a service.
  3. Install the FlexRAID CMD client for Windows
  4. Launch the CMD Client.
  5. It will prompt you to Connect to: and here you type “localhost“.
  6. It should connect immediately and leave you with a command prompt where you want to type “view install” to install FlexView. You will see a message saying FlexRAID-View was successfully installed and you can proceed.
  7. Download and save the WebUI 1.4 beta for Windows client to your Desktop
  8. Unzip the WebUI folder and move it to C:\FlexRAIDWebUI. You can move it wherever you want, but you need to make sure there are no spaces in the path.
  9. To launch the WebUI you need to open the folder C:\FlexRAIDWebUI and run start.cmd, this will open a command prompt that will begin to startup the WebUI. The first time you run this you will be prompted by Windows Firewall to Allow access to java.exe, you must click Allow.
  10. Give the webserver a few moments to start up and then you can type http://localhost:8080 into your browser to bring up the FlexRAID login screen.
  11. The default login and password are admin, admin

FlexRAID WebUI Configuration

  1. This is a very good guide by FlexRAID’s author, Brahim, about how to go through configuring a FlexRAID setup through the WebUI, so I will not bother to re-explain these steps. If you have just added hard drives to the computer and they do not show up in the WebUI, you must go into Computer Management>Disk Management to Initialize and Format the disks. The WebUI will only show the disks that are visible in the My Computer window.
  2. For my setup I am running the T1+ RAID engine and have 2 DRU’s set up, H:\ and I:\ and drive J:\ is the single PPU. I have decided to dedicate entire disks to this array, but one of the features of FlexRAID is the ability to put certain folders in the array if you wanted.

FlexRAID-View Configuration

From the other guides I read on the topic, I found this portion to be the most confusing and it took experimenting in order to get it to display the way I had wanted and expected. The official guide can be found here and includes more details and tweaks than I will discuss.

  1. Open the FlexRAID CMD window, login to “localhost”, and then enter the following 2 commands to install patches to make it work on Windows 7 and then close out of the command window.
    • patch install view-sys-patch
    • patch install view-cl-patch
  2. We need to change the permissions of the FlexRAID Host folder so that we can create a View Configuration file. In order to do this. navigate to the OpenEgg directory which by default is “C:\Program Files (x86)\OpenEgg.org” and right click on the “FlexRAID Basic Host Service 1.4” folder and select Properties. Click on the “Security” tab and click “Edit” to change the permissions. Click on Users and check off Allow for the Modify and Write permissions and press Apply.
  3. Now open the “FlexRAID Basic Host Service 1.4” folder and Right Click>New>Text Document and name this file “ViewConfig”.
  4. The contents of my ViewConfig.txt file are below. With FlexRAID-View you have to model every folder join that is taking place, even in the sub-folders. This is a simple example, but what is happening is that I have specified drive Z to be the drive that shows up with the specified “virtual” view, using DRU’s H: and I:. Then I go on to model Z: which contains the virtual folders Music and Videos. Then each of those virtual folders are defined below. The syntax for this file can be found in the guide FlexRAID-View guide mentioned above, but for me a simple example really helped get a basic understanding.
  5. The config file below allows me to open the Z: drive and see 2 folders, Music and Videos. The contents of those folders will be a combination of the files and folders found within the respective folders on the H: and I: drives.

    Note: FlexRAID View does not manage load balancing the drives or distributing your files in a smart method, but rather all the files you move into a folder will be on your first drive specified, in this case for Videos it is drive H: and then once H: is full it will overflow to drive I:.

DRIVE=Z UNIQUE=H:\;I:\ RESTRICT= RESERVE=2GB THREAD=5 REMOVABLE=false -Z:\ |-<Music> |-<Videos> -Z:\Music |-*H:\Music |-*I:\Music -Z:\Videos |-*H:\Videos |-*I:\Videos

FlexRAID Data Recovery Simulation/Test

Before you decide to transition to FlexRAID it is a good idea to test the recovery to make sure it works and make sure you understand the proper procedure to recover from various failures. I was initially unsure about how to go about these tests but I have documented them below. All my testing is being done with VMWare Workstation so I can easily simulate suddenly disconnecting (eg. failure) and adding disks but the same can be done using physical hardware.

  1. In order to test a simulated failure, copy some files to the disks you want to be fault resistant.
  2. Enter the web-ui and run an update to rebuild the parity.
  3. After the build is complete, disconnect any one of the disks and you will be unable to access the files from the disconnected disk.
  4. Insert a new disk (or you can just use a new folder on one of the disks if you do not have a spare drive laying around).
  5. Map the new drive to replace the failed drive.
  6. In the web-ui, restore the data to the newly added drive.
  7. If it restores the data that was on the original drive, you are all set.

I hope this was helpful.

NOTE: The author of FlexRaid is working on v2 of the application and from the screenshots on his website it looks like a very sleek new interface. The core part of this guide seems like it will still be applicable, but many of the steps will likely be simplified with the new Web-UI.

Jolicloud Review

Jolicloud is a version of linux that is designed for the computers designed to stay connected – netbooks. They have recently release version 1.1 of their operating system so I decided to take another look. I immediately saw major visual changes from what I experienced when I fooled around with the pre-release v0.9. What makes Jolicloud different from other versions of linux is that it is based around the cloud as is geared towards non-technical users.

Having only played around in linux for brief periods of time I found it to have an extremely steep learning curve. Jolicloud completely eliminates this.

Jolicloud is basically an application launcher that sits in front of the typical linux desktop. That way when you log in you are presented with a set of icons for your applications in a format that upon first glance resembles an iPhone.

I have gone through the process of installing applications in linux and have run into many issues due to my lack of experience. However, in Jolicloud, the process of adding applications could not be simpler. You just press the big green Add application button and you are presented with all the applications (over 700). This list of available applications is not only sorted into categories so you can browser, but it is also completely searchable. You just click Add next the the application(s) you want and they get downloaded and installed for you.

One of the features that Jolicloud prides itself on is its cloud storage abilities. What this means for a user is that when they add an application on 1 computer, that application is also automatically synced and added to any other computer that you log into with your Jolicloud account. That means you will no longer have to worry about installing all of your programs when you switch/transfer computers.

The major focus of jolicloud is staying connected and to me it feels similar to Boxee. You can follow your friends and you can see streams of information from them about things like what applications they recommend or what they have recently installed.

You may be thinking, what good is syncing and cloud storage if I only want to run this OS on my single netbook or laptop. But recently Jolicloud has come out with a Chrome extension, allowing you to access all your files and applications from anywhere, using your Chrome browser.

Jolicloud Chrome dashboard

Create a gPXE bootable USB drive

gPXE is an open source network bootloader which I have been using to boot of iSCSI targets.

In order to get gPXE onto a bootable USB drive you must first create a custom image using their ROM-o-matic. Here you can choose the appropriate NIC and add additional options or an embedded script that will run automatically. You will want to choose “USB Keychain disk image (.usb)’ as the output format.

Rename the downloaded gpxe-xxxx.usb to gpxe-xxxx.img

Then download and run Win32DiskImager and point the application to gpxe-xxxx.img

Chose the device that corresponds to your USB flash drive and press ‘Write’.

Now all you have to do is plug the USB drive into the destination and boot from the USB device.

WHS Redirect My Documents with Offline Sync

In this guide I will explain how to redirect the the My Documents folder to the User share on a Windows Home Server. Also, I will set up Offline File Syncing so the computer can be disconnected from the network and still maintain access to the files. Upon reconnecting to the network the changes will by automatically synchronized.

The individual User folders are automatically created when adding a user to the Windows Home Server and it is set so only the specific user has read/write access. This is a great way to manage your files if you are working on multiple computers and/or are using a laptop that is occasionally removed from the local network and you still need access to all of your files.

Part I: Redirect My Documents Folder

In Windows XP or Vista, you can can right click on the “My Documents” or “Documents” folder in Windows Explorer and click on Properties.

In Windows 7 you need to navigate to the actual My Documents folder which is located by default in C:\Users\UserName\My Documents. Right click on that folder and click on Properties.

Navigate to the Location tab where you will see the current My Documents path.

In this section change the path to the Windows Home Server share that you will be using as the new My Documents folder. In my case I changed the path to \\whs\Users\ben.

You will be asked if you want to move over the contents My Documents to the new path (do this if the files do not already exist in the destination). In my case, I copied over the files before I started this process. Make sure your files are in the new location and then you can delete your old My Documents folder.

Part II: Configure Offline File

Navigate to the new My Documents folder in the WHS share, right click on it, and select Properties. Go to the Offline Files tab and check off ‘Always available offline.’ Press sync now to begin the sync which should take a few minutes.

You can test to make sure everything is working by creating a test file and saving it to your My Documents folder, disconnecting your network connection, open the test file, make a modification, save it, reconnect network connection and navigate to the share (ex. \\whs\users\ben) and open the test file from that location. If it shows the modification that you made when you were offline you are all set.

Note: I found that Battlefield Bad Company 2 and possibly other games or applications that access game files in the My Documents folder do not run properly when it is redirected to a network share (ex. extreme lag in BFBC2).

Hauppauge PVR-150 with 4 Gb of RAM

I installed my old Hauppauge PVR-150 analog tv tuner in my new primary desktop that I built a couple of months ago and for some reason I was seeing laggy/frozen video that was extremely blocky and had green blocks throughout like the screenshot I took below.

After doing some digging I found out that the older Hauppauge PVR-150 does not work with computers with over 3Gb of ram due to the hardware address lines on the card. So I set out to find a way to get this to work on my new system without having to cripple the computer and remove 2Gb of ram.

After searching for a while it seems like the only options to get this to work with 4Gb or ram installed is to make only 3Gb of it usable. In order to do this, go to Start, run and type ‘msconfig’. There you will chose boot menu > advanced option and there you will see an option to change your memory. Change this to 3800. I originally thought this would solve my problem completely by sacrificing only a few Mb of ram, however once you reboot into Windows you will notice that the OS is only seeing the 3Gb.

I am  unwilling to forgo the 1Gb of ram  in order to get my old analog tuner up and running, so I will just leave everything as is for the time being.

VMWare ESXi flash drive only 4Mb

If you were using a flash drive or external hard drive to install VMWare ESXi then you will notice that when you want to use that drive for something else, it only appears to Windows as ~4Mb.

You will probably try to format it inside of Windows but this will still only leave you with the 4Mb of usable space as if the max capacity of the drive has been reduced. Even in Windows Disk Management, you will be completely unable to remove the partitions that were created by ESXi

In order to return this drive to its original capacity you must use the HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool. Just format it with this program and then you will be all set.

Windows Home Server not Virtualized Benchmark

I tried bypassing the virtualization solution and wanted to see what kind of performance I could get running straight off the hardware kind of like a benchmark so I have something to compare WHS VM performance to. I installed WHS directly on my secondary PC and have seen pretty good results so far. File transfers have been generally ranging from 40-50MB/s and I was able to stream a 10Gb 1080p .MKV file with no stuttering and basically immediate response to FF/RW requests.

I did once see transfer speeds below 1MB/s but it worked fine before and after that. I am assuming the slow speeds in that instance were do to the storage balancer since it was shortly after I had turned on some folder duplication and it was likely moving large amounts of data. Although I have no proof, if it happens again I will try to track it down.

I think I will try tweaking this WHS installation a bit and then perhaps try running a virtual machine on top of WHS to see how that works (many people have reported success).

Note: I did notice that another computer on my gigabit network was able to get transfer speeds in the range of 80-90Mb/s so this has left me wondering why I cannot achieve these speeds with my primary pc. It can perhaps be due to a low quality NIC or mismatched settings. In the future I will work on optimizing the connection on my main pc to achieve these speeds.

ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe and VMWare ESXi

For anyone out there who may have the same motherboard as I do, the ASUS A8n-SLI Deluxe Socket 939, I wanted to let you know that it DOES in fact work with VMWare ESXi. Since their hardware compatibility list (HCL) is limited to commercial off-the-shelf servers I wanted to note that it is fully functional (except for that only 1 of the 2 NICs work).

I was able to attach a storage pool directly to the onboard SATA controller and 1 of the 2 gigabit NICs is supported by ESXi with no modifications necessary.

I was also able to plug in a USB drive with ESXi installed and boot right into the OS, connect remotely, and manage the server.

Install VMWare ESXi on a USB stick

Next I wanted to try to set up VMWare ESXi. I also read about how you can run ESXi off of a flash drive and I thought I would give this a try so I could dedicate the entire physical hard drive to running WHS.

I read that I could run through the installation normally and just tell it the installation destination is the USB stick, however this did not work for me as it said it was unable to find a location to install to. And after loading the installation files I was forced to restart and try again.

I did find these great instructions that guided me through the process in a lot less time then it would have taken to run through the standard installation. I used Method #2 with WinImage and the whole thing took under 10 minutes.

I stuck the USB stick into the PC and it booted right into ESXi, obtained an IP address, and I was able to download/install the VI Client to manage the server very easily. The VI Client is very overwhelming at first but once you understand its layout it becomes manageable.