Favorite toys update: LG 27UK650-W 4K monitor, Crucial MX500 SSD

LG’s new 27UK650-W 4K monitor supports HDR, which corrects my one complaint about its predecessor. I don’t think it’s worth replacing my 27UD68 but if I come up with an excuse for a second 4K monitor that’s what I’ll buy.

Crucial’s MX500 SATA SSD series is a minor update to its predecessor. I picked up a couple of the 1TB models. I’ve deployed dozens of MX100, MX200 and MX300’s at my day job and they’ve been great. They make the cheap 3rd and 4th gen i3 desktops (never, ever buy i3’s) we have much more tolerable. If you have the money and a bootable M.2 slot then Samsung’s 960 EVO NVME SSD series is a good way to go. They are much faster than SATA drives at about twice the price. Nice to have but not as dramatic a difference as replacing spinning rust (hard drives) with a SATA SSD.

Google Project Fi cell phone service

I’ve had Project Fi for 2 years now. It uses T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular for its backhaul and favors WiFi for calls and texts whenever possible. You can use Gmail to make calls and texts on your PC and Mac too. So long as you’re not a heavy cell data user the price is right: $20/mo, plus $10/GB data and taxes. I’m nearly always on WiFi so my bill is usually ~$24. The catch is that you need a recent Nexus or Pixel phone and the current Pixel’s aren’t cheap on the Google Store. Use my Fi referral link and it’ll pay most of a month’s Fi bill: https://g.co/fi/r/7RJ582

macOS El Capitan on a 2006 or 2007 Mac Pro

These vintage Mac Pro desktops only officially support up to macOS Lion. Bad Apple! Fortunately there’s a very slick workaround:

https://forums.macrumors.com/threads/2006-2007-mac-pro-1-1-2-1-and-os-x-el-capitan.1890435/page-56#post-22335903

The easiest approach for a clean install is to put the boot HD in a USB dock, plug that in to a working Mac running current macOS, format it with Disk Utility (GUID partition scheme), and use the createpikeinstallmedia script to put the installer directly on the drive. Swap it back into the Mac Pro, power up, and let the installer run. Note that 12GB RAM or more is required. As we had a few 4GB DDR2 Registered DIMMs lying around this was not a problem.

We picked up a vintage 2006 Mac Pro with dual 3GHz dual core Xeons and 7600GT video card for $25. macOS thought that there’s only 8MB video RAM (there’s really 256MB) so we swapped in a (circa 2011) Gigabyte Radeon 6670 that was lying around. Swapping in quadcore Xeons would be interesting but hardly required. Fun project.

Testing HDs with smartmontools

smartmontools is great for diagnosing HDs and SSDs, especially from live Linux distros like GParted. You can run:

Linux:  smartctl -t long /dev/sda
Windows:  “\Program Files\smartmontools\bin\smartctl.exe” -d ata /dev/sda -t long

from the command line to start the test. Replace /dev/sda with the relevant drive. Use the –scan switch (two dashes) to display available drives.

Linux:  smartctl -l selftest /dev/sda
Windows:  “\Program Files\smartmontools\bin\smartctl.exe” -d ata /dev/sda -l selftest

to display progress. Windows users must use an Administrative command prompt. Results can be displayed with

Linux:  smartctl -a /dev/sda
“\Program Files\smartmontools\bin\smartctl.exe” -d ata /dev/sda -a

In particular, look for reallocated sectors, ID #5 in the list. If the RAW_VALUE is not zero I’d replace the drive. I’m more forgiving for SSDs. HDs are far less reliable in general and reallocating sectors can wreck their performance.

GSmartControl is a GUI for smartmontools. The Windows version is especially useful. Most live Linux distros don’t include it. I’m just scratching the surface of what smartmontools can do. Be sure to read the documentation, etc.

Under Windows, using -d sat instead of -d ata allows the use of my USB SATA dock. YMMV.

Ubiquiti Networks 8-Port UniFi Switch

I received my new Ubiquiti Networks 8-Port UniFi Switch, Managed PoE+ Gigabit Switch with SFP, 150W (US-8-150W) today. I’m planning on setting up a pfSense router using an old PC over Christmas break and realized I needed another switch. Since I already have two Ubiquiti Networks Unifi 802.11ac Dual-Radio PRO Access Point (UAP-AC-PRO-US) I decided that having a Unifi switch, managed by the free Unifi controller software, made sense. The two SFP slots make it a 10-port switch, and it occurred to me that I could use my existing Cat5e runs to upstairs and den to power my APs (and not have them plugged into a second switch) and run what is certainly an excessively long Monoprice 40 meter 10Gb LC/LC multi mode patch cable to the switches. My upstairs TP-Link JetStream 16-Port Gigabit Ethernet L2 Managed Switch with 2-Combo SFP Slots (TL-SG3216) is all set but I’ll need either a new switch or a TP-Link Gigabit Ethernet Media Converter for the den. Courtesy of some surplus Cisco GLC-SX-MM SFP modules (~$6 each on eBay in quantity) and a short patch cable I was able to test all four modules successfully between the Ubiquity and TP-Link switch. Neat! My one concern is that this fanless Ubiquity switch runs a bit hot, 63C according to the Unifi console. It is a bit warm upstairs, but still. Anyhow, so far so good. There’s a very thorough review of this switch on Ars Technica: Ubiquiti’s 8-port POE switch is a solid complement for a home Unifi setup.

MacBook Pro HD cables keep going bad

I ran across my third MacBook Pro with a bad HD ribbon cable last week. There’s a thriving cottage industry selling replacement cables. The cable has multiple 90 degree bends that fail over time. The last MacBook needed cable model 821-1480-a. Make sure you get the right one for your Mac. iFixIt has excellent guides on replacing the cable. Their iFixIt Pro Tech Toolkit is a must-have for tearing apart Apple hardware and notebooks/tablets/phones/etc in general.

Zentyal

Zentyal was mentioned in the FreeNAS 10 Beta 2 announcement. It’s a Linux Active Directory and Exchange server appliance. Granted, if you’re going to use Exchange for email you should buy an Office 365 subscription and let Microsoft deal with hosting it but overall this is a very interesting project. I’m making note of it for personal reference more than anything.

BTW, if you need a NAS or SAN then you really ought to look at FreeNAS. I rolled my own at home and we bought a box from iX Systems (sponsor of the FreeNAS project) at work. The FreeNAS Mini is a nicer equivalent to what I built. The FreeNAS Mini XL is its big brother. Both are ideal for home and maybe small business users. Don’t bother with the read and write cache upgrade options, just get as much RAM as you can afford and consider the 10Gbps Ethernet upgrade.

The most cost-effective computer upgrade you can make

is usually to buy a SSD. I’m a big fan of Crucial MX300 275GB SSDs and their larger siblings. The 525GB model is a better deal. Price scales linearly from there. If you’re upgrading a desktop, these Icy Dock MB290SP-B 2.5 Inch SSD to 3.5 Inch brackets are excellent. If you have less than 8GB of RAM, going straight to 16GB DDR3 RAM for your notebook (pair of 8GB) or 16GB DDR3 RAM for your desktop (pair of 8GB) makes sense, if your computer supports it. Crucial has an adviser tool on their website that will tell you what to buy. Newer machines have switched over to DDR4, older machines (2nd gen Intel Core series and older) won’t take 8GB DIMMs so you’ll want an 8GB kit (pair of 4GB). For DDR2 and earlier you might as well look on eBay for used parts if you bother upgrading at all.

If you upgrade to a SSD you’ll have to either clone your old HD to the SSD or clean install the operating system. I use Clonezilla, which isn’t the most user friendly and tends not to work when migrating from larger to smaller drives. Macrium Reflect is supposed to be good. I haven’t used the Acronis True Image HD that comes free with Crucial SSDs. You can download the Windows 10 installer from Microsoft. For Macs, Time Machine does an amazing job of restoring systems. Use it. If you want to clean install your Mac it’s fairly easy to make your own bootable macOS 10.12 Sierra USB install drive. iFixIt has toolkits and instructions for tearing apart Apple products. Older MacBook Pros are well worth upgrading with SSDs and RAM. Newer ones aren’t upgradable.