Desktop computer v2

I’ve been wanting to build a new PC for a while. My current PC was originally built back in 2012, and upgraded in 2018. There’s still a lot of life left in this PC, so it will definitely be repurposed. However, for desktop use, it has fallen short in being unable to run a few modern applications (ok, also games) that I’ve been interested in, namely: DaVinci Resolve, the 2020 version of Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Call of Duty: Warzone.

Spending a lot more time at home due to the pandemic also drove my decision to upgrade the PC. But everyone else also has had the same idea over the past year, so demand was (and still continues to be) crazy high, and supply super low. I couldn’t be too picky about the parts.

I wanted to build something based on the AMD Ryzen 5 3600. For the most part, AMD still has the edge on better price to performance ratio, although with the current economic state of supply chain issues and shortages, that could be somewhat varied. One tradeoff though is that the AM4 socket is nearing the end of its lifecycle, which means significant future upgrades may be limited. On the GPU side of things, I was looking at the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 series. Both of my CPU and GPU choices are popular mid-range options that are last year’s generation, which means the prices shouldn’t be as high as the latest/upcoming generation freshly released.

Over the past month (from Black Friday through Boxing day deals), I managed to get the following components:

Type Item Price
CPU AMD Ryzen 5 3600 3.6 GHz 6-Core Processor $287.67
Motherboard MSI B550-A PRO ATX AM4 Motherboard $164.99
Memory Corsair Vengeance LPX 32 GB (2 x 16 GB) DDR4-3200 CL16 Memory $154.99
Storage Western Digital Blue SN550 1 TB M.2-2280 NVME Solid State Drive $119.99
Video Card Asus GeForce GTX 1660 SUPER 6 GB TUF GAMING OC Video Card $309.99
Case Corsair 100R ATX Mid Tower Case $54.99
Power Supply EVGA B5 550 W 80+ Bronze Certified Fully Modular ATX Power Supply $84.99
Total $1177.61

I don’t think anything in particular was significantly discounted at this time, however the name of the game was snagging the items before they went out of stock.

And here’s a comparison of the new CPU compared to my current PC’s past and current processors:

So far, I’m really happy with the build. It performs well for all the productive as well as entertainment purposes I had planned. I feel it’s going to be a great PC for the next few years, at least.

Virtualmin – Install PHP 8.0 and update all sites

The PHP 8 release is around the corner. This blog post outlines the steps of installing and configuring PHP 8 on an existing install of Virtualmin on a Ubuntu system. It assumes that Virtualmin has already been installed, and that the ondrej/php PPA has been configured on the system.

Install PHP 8.0 (I currently use FPM on my servers):

apt install php8.0-fpm

As of writing, Virtualmin needs to be patched so that it can pick up PHP 8. Apply this one-line change to your server. Then, run Virtualmin’s config check so that it picks up the new PHP version:

virtualmin check-config

The output should say something like the following:

PHP versions have changed to 7.2, 7.4, 8.0 since last check. Regenerating any missing php.ini files.

Then update all the Virtualmin sites to use the new version:

virtualmin modify-web --all-domains --mode fpm --php-version 8.0

There used to be some quirks as to what PHP versions could be used with PHP-FPM, as configured within the Virtualmin panel. However, since the release of the latest Virtualmin 6.13 at the end of October, it seems to have largely resolved these issues.

Streaming audio from a Mac to another computer using VLC

VLC is a very popular program for playing pretty much any type of media under the sun. However, it has a lot of advanced functionality that many people may not know about. One of these is that VLC can send audio as a stream.

My particular case is that I have a wireless headphone set plugged in to my desktop computer in my living room. However, sometimes I would like to play some audio from my Mac laptop (which could be anywhere in my apartment).

I was already familiar with Icecast, a free audio streaming server, so I gave that a try first, but it was not a great experience with a delay of a few to several seconds. Instead, I found that VLC could get me down to just under 1 second of latency, which still isn’t great but is workable; at least the server setup wouldn’t be required simplifying things a bit.

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Upgrading memory on a Synology ds415+

I’ve had my Synology Diskstation ds415+ network attached storage device since late 2015, replacing my custom FreeNAS box. It came with 2GB of RAM, which is fine for basic file serving, but limited when running multiple applications, including Docker containers. Once applications start swapping onto the hard disks, everything starts grinding to a halt. I finally reached the breaking point on this last night when I had to reboot the NAS once more.

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First 3D Print – Projector screen replacement part

3D printing has gaining popularity in the recent years, and since a few years ago, Richmond Public Library has had ‘MakerBot Replicator 2’ stations available for patrons to use to create their own objects. This week, I had the opportunity to use the 3D printers for the first time to print a replacement part for a projector screen.

Backstory

Some time in March, one of these plastic caps popped off the projector screen we use for youth ministry at St. Francis Xavier Parish, and disappeared. It turns out that this small part (about 1cm in diameter), is a critical component for the proper functioning of the projector screen. Without this tiny cap, the locking mechanism for the vertical support does not provide enough force to keep the screen up.

A side lesson learned here is when shopping for projector screens, it is much better to have physical notches and metal components on the vertical support instead of relying on friction and dinky plastic caps.

Modeling the replacement

I was lucky in that I still had one of the caps and that both caps were of the same shape so I brought the remaining one home with me as a reference. I was also lucky that the shape of the cap was that of simple shapes: a cylindrical base, hexagonal prism on top, and a cylindrical hole in the center. I chose Tinkercad to draw the model because it is free and easy to use.

Tinkercad screenshot - 3D model of projector screen replacement part
3D model of the projector screen replacement part in Tinkercad

With the help of a ruler and the remaining cap, the entire modelling process took less than 30 minutes (most of that was probably going through the Tinkercad tutorial). I then exported the result as an .stl file, which I brought to the library for printing.

Printing at Richmond Public Library

I joined a 3D Printing Orientation at the Brighouse branch earlier in the week. All patrons who are wanting to use the 3D printers are required to go through an hour-long orientation to learn about some basic software, print settings and the library’s 3D printing procedures and policies.

At the library, using one of the iMac stations, I loaded the .stl file into the MakerBot program for the staff to check over the settings and print time.

Previewing the print on the Makerbot app
Previewing the print on the Makerbot app

The staff then loaded the printer-specific file onto an SD card, and brought it to the printer, loaded the red coloured filament I requested, and started the printing process.

After about 15 minutes, the machine finished the print. It cost a total of $2.20: $2.00 for the timeslot (fixed blocks of 1.5 hours) and $0.20 for the filament material.

3D print - projector screen replacement part
The red copy on the right is a 3D printed replacement part for a projector screen. I chose red because it stands out better.

Installation

I originally was worried the hole might have been a little bit too small since it looked a bit smaller than the original, but it fit just right.

The hole fit the metal pin snugly.

Putting it all together, everything fit perfectly. And the screen is now once again in working order.

Fitting the cap and pin back into the lock, everything fit perfectly.

Conclusion

For $2.20, this was a cost-effective way to make a replacement for a simple part. I have no idea what the proper keywords are to find a replacement part online (what would you call this thing?). Even if ordering a replacement part was possible, it would probably come out more expensive and take longer to arrive.

The only test now is to see how durable the material is, as it does have to sustain some force for the locking capability. I did specify a 100% infill (should be solid inside), so hopefully it holds up.