Workstation upgrade

My daughter ask for a GPU to run her Minecraft game with the new texture packs, hey Ryzen 2400G IGP can’t run it smoothly anymore even if I crank up the frame vuffer to 2gb. So, being the doting father that i am, i gave her my GTX 1070.

I was originally looking to get her a used RX580 8gb at arounf 9,000PHP or 160USD. But I couldn’t find a descent one to get until I came across a newly refurbished Zotac 1080ti Amp edition for 24,000PHP or 460USD complete with receipts and paperwork for extended warranty. It was like getting a physically new card. I couldn’t resist, especially how the new RTX cards are priced.

So I got me a new GPU that fits like a glove in my Dan A4.

I had to remove my H60 AIO to make room for the 1080ti. It’s all good since the L9i can cool the 9900k even at load.

7.25L of awesome

After being on the AMD Ryzen platform for 18 months, I decided to go back to Intel & NVidia. Yes they present tremendous value in terms of hardware but I find Intel/NVidia to be more stable in terms of day to day operations and overall more efficient in thermals and power consumption. But I want to highlight the Dan A4 SFX ITX enclosure that can house all these hardware:

  • Intel i9 9900K
  • G Skill Trident Z 2x16gbgb 3200 DDR4
  • Asus Strix Z390-i
  • Gigabyte GTX 1070
  • Corsair SF600 SFX PSU
  • Corsair H80 AIO
  • Dan A4 SFX case
  • …and I managed to fit 2x 2.5 drives and 2 M.2 drives 🙂


Apart from the case, all the parts are off-the-shelf hardware you can purchase at reputable resellers. I had to go with an AIO to cool the 125W TDP 9900k since the Noctua L9i/a isn’t rated for my CPU. I can opt to get a 65TDP part and use a full length GPU but I have more CPU intensive workloads and a GTX1070/1080 or even an RTX2070 is more than enough for me. That and the prices for new GPU’s are just banana’s! It’s really not worth buying new GPU’s now a days, I’ll probably hop on the RTX / Navi hype train when a new architecture is released and the prices of those parts drop.

Schiit Stack review

I got myself a new audio setup as a Christmas gift last year. I pulled the trigger when I saw the Sennheiser HD6XX was an active drop and ready to ship within 24hrs on Mass Drop. The headphone amp was an after-thought, but after trying my Audioengine D1 on the HD6XX I knew I needed a better headphone amp to drive the headphones better. Don’t get me wrong, the AudioEngine D1 DAC/Amp can drive the Sennheiser HD6XX but not at the volumes I am used to listening to.

I ended up with the Schiit Stack, consisting of the Modi 3 and Magni 3. At $200 USD for the pair, it’s still at a comparable price point to the Audioengine D1 at $170 USD. Though the Schiit Stack ended up consisting more because of sales tax and shipping to the Philippines, as oppose to the D1 which is available locally. I also opted to get an Introprose Rigid Y cross connect specifically for the Schiit Stack. This is primarily for convenience,  so I don’t need to unplug the headphone jack in-order to output to the speakers. It also allows me to use the speakers without having to use the Magni 3 and save a bit of power. The Modi 3 supports 3 inputports (Co-ax, SPDIF and USB) which can be toggled using a swing in front of the device; which is handy and still allows me to hook it up to my PS4 Pro and computer at the same time..

The change, or should I say upgrade is worth it, coming from a D1/M50X combo without a significant price premium from my previous setup. Personally, I think the sound difference is noticeable and justifs the price point. I get audiophile quality without the steep cost of admission. I think this setup is just shy of where the line of diminishing returns start and where the happy medium of price to performance is.

Re-building my Playstation, NES, SNES & Arcade classic console

Following the disappointment that was the PlayStation Classic Console, which I was totally set on buying; I decided to re-build one myself. I really wanted to have one for nostalgia and to revisit Resident Evil 2 before I play the remastered version on the PS4 next year… unfortunately the overwhelming negative reviews knock some sense into me. So After window shopping on Lazada and Shopee, I ended up with a cheaper yet more capable system. Here’s a quick rundown

  • Raspberry P 3i Model B plus : 2,349.75 PHP (Lazada)
  • Raspberry Pi Official 2.5A wall charger : 374.75 PHP (Lazada)
  • Raspberry Pi fan and Heatsinks : 179 PHP (Lazada)
  • Retroflag NESPI Case+ (with safe shutdown/reset) : 1,089 PHP (Lazada)
  • Retroflag SNES Wired game controllers 2 pcs. : 1,424 PHP (Shopee)

This brings me to a total of 5416.50 PHP which is still cheaper by 1,000 PHP compared to the PlayStation Classic which as of the time of writing retails at 6,500 PHP locally. I didn’t buy a micro SD card since i got a lot laying around, but the cost can be easily swapped out with the fan and heatsink which were optional. I primarily use an XBox One controller with this but I purchased 2 wired controller for visitors and/or kids who wanna play.

I opted to get the Retroflag NESPI Case+ primarily because it had the safe Shutdown and Reset functionality which works with Retropie 4.4. It also helped that it looked and functioned almost the same as the Original NES Classic from Nintendo. In order to make the buttons on the NESPI Case+ work, you’ll need to install a script on GIThub:

In order for the script to work, you’ll need to turn a switch to “ON” on the NESPI Cae PCB as shown in the upper left corner of the photo below. The PCB also has a fan header you can use to attach a fan to the case. I  attached one to mine along with some heatsinks to help with thermal performance.

I used this guide I found on reddit to build Non-merged rom-set for Final Burn Alpha and load most of the games I played as a kid.

Once everything is put together, it looks identical to the NES Mini.

Work/Play station audio update

Pun intended!

I finally got my audio setup sorted. I have my Audioengine A5+ speakers hooked to an Audioengine D1 DAC, which is connected to my desktop (Dan A4) via USB for power & audio input. Then I have my PS4 Pro connected to the D1 via optical cable to route the PS4’s sound to my speakers. I connect my Audio Technica M50x on the D1 DAC if I want to used headphones. And finally i have a Blue Yeti mic in black on a Rode PSA1 boom arm.

The Audioengine D1 DAC prioritizes the optical input, so when I boot the PS4 it automatically changes signal sources. I did opt for quality RCA and optical cables which I got from The Listening Room, nothing fancy though. They do have a noticeable difference in static noise and crackling over generic cables you can get at Ace Hardware or the like.

On a side note: I like how my desktop is smaller yet more powerful than its PS4 Pro neighbor. It packs an 8 core, 16 thread cpu with a GTX 1070.

Height Adjustable Desk Review

I’ve been wanting to try a Height Adjustable Desk ever since I heard of it some 2 years ago but couldn’t due to logistics and cost to acquire one here in the Philippines. Desks range from $500-$1,000 USD plus shipping which was the primary limiting factor for me. Fortunately you can purchase one locally at Offix for just P20,000 ($400 USD) with free shipping within Metro Manila and a 2 year warranty. You can chech them out at Qube along Aurora blvd. near Gilmore.

The table frame itself lacks features of the one I originally wanted like cable-management support, and better linear stability but the quality is comparable and works as advertised. It does have 2 motors on each leg with 3 programmable height settings and can handle a load of 120kg. The only thing I didn’t like initially is the slow movement of the motors and the lack of responsiveness of the controller, but you’ll get used to it over time.

Features aside, having a height adjustable desk which I primarily use standing up has been one of the best decisions I made since I started working on a desk. I’ve been using it for a month now and the benefits I experienced are already well worth the price of admission:

  • I don’t have lower back issues (soreness, numbness, pain etc) when working anymore.
  • My flexibility has improved, particularly my posterior chain.
  • My posture improved too, particularly my shoulders and neck, since I can adjust the desk to have a more ergonomic typing position.
  • I burn slightly more calories than I typically did when I was working sitting down

Those are just the tangible / noticeable benefits I got from the desk. The biggest benefit to me was fixing my back issues, that in itself is priceless to me, the other benefits are just icing on the cake. Now that I think about it, P20,000 is a small price to pay if you make your living off your desk, considering it is a long term investment in your health and productivity. For me, I feel I already got a return on my investment. I do plan to upgrading my desk in the future if I can source a better one, but this should serve me well into the foreseeable future.

Dan A4 birthday gift

Wife got me an advanced birthday gift which I am totally stoked on! I’ll probably receive it a month after my birthday and I can hardly wait!

Thankfully DAN, NCase and NFC got into a colab with Lian-Li a.k.a. SFF Lab to make the fabrication and shipping significantly cheaper, especially for Asian customers since it now ships from Taiwan. Shipping is only $10USD to the Philippines!

Cooling & Storage upgrades

Updated my shoe box for the coming summer heat:

  • Replaced stock AMD cooler with a Noctua L9i with AM4 mounting kit
  • Added a 92mmx25mm Noctua fan on the side
  • Added a 120mm Noctua fan in the front
  • Added a Seagate 2tb SSHD drive for my media and games.

Temperatures seems to be nominal, everything considered.

Also updated my BIOS to v4.40 and AMD Chipset drivers to 17.40, hopefully that sorts out the Spectre/Meltdown vulnerabilities

Synology DS216+II RAM Upgrade

image

Just finished upgrading my Synology DS216+II to 8GB of DDR3L (low voltage) Kingston memory, from the stock 1GB RAM.. This will hopefully improve performance and caching, especially since I can turn off memory compression now and perhaps help with Plex Hardware Transcoding.

image

The disassembly was pretty straight-forward. After removing the drives and  sliding the top cover backward (fastened to the frame by 2 plastic pegs inside) simply remove the 7 screws holding the chassis in place.

image

Then gently pry the board out to reveal the DIMM slot at the bottom:

image

…put it back together, and viola!

Plex Hardware Transcoding on the Synology DS216+II

image

I signed up for the Plex Pass for $4.99 to have access to the preview release of the Plex Media Server 1.7.x which had support for hardware transcoding for inlet based Synology NAS units. Fortunately my research turned out to be true and it actually worked!

My DS216+ii running DSM 6.1 can install Plex 1.5.3, but opted to install 1.5.7 which is available for download on Plex site. Unfortunately it can’t even stream
1.5Mbps

480p without stuttering to a single client. After installing 1.7.4.4017 I can stream at 4Mbps 720p smoothly without any noticeable issues so far.

Next up is to upgrade to 8GB of RAM from the stock 1GB of RAM the DS216+II ships with.