New PC – Great things come in small packages

My current PC is based around a Antec P183 case which is hench to say the least, and this meant when I switched to a standing desk, I had this placed on a secondary desk next to my main desk.

Antec P183My last build (Intel i7 3770, 16GB Ram, NVidia GTX 660) also used a fair whack in the power department (avg. 250W).

This lead me to my key requirements for a new PC:

  • Core i7
  • Support for up to 32GB of RAM & DDR4
  • M2 SSD Support
  • As small as possible (NUC / SFF)
  • Can drive 2 4K Monitors @ 60Hz (future proofing)
  • GPU does not need to be entirely as powerful, but good enough for work station task
  • Use <100W

So I started looking at the various NUC style PC’s which seemed to be perfect from a size, power point of view, but they only really went up to Core i5 most of the time, the i7 models were really out of date (Haswell, 4th Gen), with not much of a GPU. Those with their own GPU (Gigabyte Brix Pro GTX), still used out of date CPU’s.

Then Intel released the Skull Canyon which seemed to fit all my requirements. Latest Core i7, 4 Core, 8 Threads, support for up to 32GB of RAM, M2 SSD support.

New PC vs Old PC

As you can see it is tiny. It is fitted out with 32 GB of DDR4 Ram, a Samsung 950 Pro NVMe 512GB SSD. It is beautifully silent, mind blowingly fast, and just a wonderful machine. I teamed it up with 2 new Dell U2515H monitors and we have the near perfect setup

New Desk Setup

Anandtech have put it through its paces. Peaks at 87W. 

Its been a long year

Last year I got a new job, and since then I have not blogged that much, I didn’t even get around to finishing my series on my new NAS server. I have been very busy since then, but I have learned a lot about development, people, and project management.

This post will be a round up of many topics, which I hope to develop into deeper posts at a later stage.

New Phone – Lumia 950 XL

So I just got a new phone the Lumia 950 XL in black, it is amazing, and Windows 10 Mobile is great. People keep asking me, why have I stuck with Windows as a phone operating system. People make good arguments about the lack of Apps (which I have never used, or have needed to use) but I have everything I need and I seriously prefer the UI and UX over iOS/Android.

Its fast, fluid, great camera, easy to develop for (far better tooling, language, and platform), its perfect for me.

Xbox One

After having upgraded to a Raspberry Pi 2 for my Plex client, I have since aqquired an Xbox One. So I have replaced all of my living room devices with just the Xbox One.

  1. This means only one device needs to be on – this seems to have created a small power reduction, even when I include the new soundbar
  2. I can switch between lots of different media sources, using consistent and wonderful voice controls (thanks Kinect!)

Health, Body, Food and Gadgets

Just a note on this section, when I use the word diet I use it in a general sense of what one eats, not a weight loss plan.

In the last 18months I have gotten the Microsoft Band (now replaced with the Microsoft Band 2) and a Withings Body Analyzer Scale, which has enabled me to keep and eye on my activity levels and accurately measure my calories used and weight, which has really help me to lose weight. Simply by knowing how much I have burnt off a day and comparing that to how much I have consumed (thanks MyFitnessPal) I can ensure I am always losing weight.

Its amazing how being able to monitor your activity levels pushes you to make small changes in your day to day life to just do more. For example now instead of going to Bank station, and standing on the esclators, I either walk up the esclators (about 6-8 flights of stairs) or I go to Tower Gateway and walk into work (0.7miles) depending on the weather. At the weekend I will walk to Waitrose instead of getting the tube (Tube takes about 20minute, walking takes 30minutes).

Making small changes really does add up, and its sustainable, It’s making small, changes that I can keep doing forever to maintain my health, rather than requiring significant unsustainable changes.

I also noticed as a batchelor that its really hard to cook healthily, varied and tasty food for one, which lead me to eat the same thing day in and day out, and it wasn’t that healthy. So what I have done is to switch to Joylent which is a European Soylent alternative. Which I eat for 2 out of 3 meals a day, having pasta and meat (and sometimes Spinach) for lunch.

This enables 5 positive things:

  1. I am eating much healthier and it is a balanced diet.
  2. It is significantly easier to control the calories being consumed.
  3. I always feel full from it
  4. I get a steady energy release across the day from it, instead of high’s and lows compared to my other diet
  5. I save ALOT of time and money

So I still do not have a lot of variety in my meals, but I make up for it at the weekend, when I can spend a bit more to get special ingredients and make something different. I’m 90% of the way there.

Finishing off the NAS

I will not be completing my series on the NAS I built, and I never really got to the applications I run on it, to make it useable:

  1. Plex Server – for media streaming and some management
  2. Sonarr – for managing TV shows
  3. Syncthing – for Backing up from various devices

And that’s it nice and simple really.

Wrap Up

That’s about it for now, I have a new other posts up myself that I want to get to.

Thoughts on the Surface Pro 3

The Surface Pro 3. Wow, just wow.

It looks like an amazing device and one which could finally fulfil Microsoft’s aims and goals with its Surface line. That is to provide productive tablets, which truly can replace the need for a laptop. It also looks like the best device on the market which could fulfil my needs.

I am a prolific note taker, I make pages and pages of note (today I covered 3.5 A4 pages with notes just at work!!). Really though in those 3.5 pages of notes there’s only actually 1 page of notes that’s useful, its just that erasing pen is hard which leads to notes being consistently rewritten (as its quicker and tidier) or information that become useless very quickly. What I’ve always wanted is a great device for note taking and digitizing it all, so I can access it in better and more efficient ways (and search for information easier!!). Microsoft has been pushing Digital Ink for years, (2003 with XP Tablet Edition and Windows Mobile could both handle pen input and do some really quite cool things with it), and it seems the hardware has finally caught up with it fully.

It really is amazing and while the reviews are not in yet, I would be surprised if its not as good as it looks and I think it is, The hardware is just amazing in itself. for a 12″ tablet, with Core i7 and 9 hours battery it weights just 800gms (iPad Air = ~450gms, iPad 4 = 652gms) which is insane when you think about it.

Today though I was really disappointed though, I was really waiting for a 8″ Mini Tablet, but I think Mary Jo Foley’s here gives a good and reasonable reason why it hasn’t been announced yet. There are two main reasons why I want the Mini over the Surface Pro 3.

  1. It will be ARM. This means no badly written x86 applications running in the background sucking out the performance and battery life of the device, when I want that performance for tablet things (hence worsening the experience and annoying me).
  2. Size, its more portable – it should *just* slip into my jacket pocket, and while I prefer to note take on A4 it would be preferable to take this device with me over a smaller note pad, or over a A4 note pad. Generally my note pads just sit on my desk and don’t go anywhere.

That’s my thoughts now, based on what I currently have, (Dell XPS 13, and Surface RT) and what I think I may need in the future.

So what’s next for Surface?

Well this is where I’m not sure.

There could either be an autumn refresh (Broadwell maybe – but unlikely) with the improved battery and design of the Surface Pro 3, applied to the existing Surface Pro 2 range.

But given the expected arrival of Windows 9 in April next year (February for the preview), and this release of the Surface Pro 3, that they will hold off on the autumn refresh, and do a refresh in the new year. Which I suspect (and hope) will contain a Surface Mini/Surface 3 (Qualcomm 808/810 based), with high resolution displays. Along with a refresh of the existing Surface Pro 2 lines (10″ tablets) and the Surface Pro 3 lines with Broadwell CPU’s (massively improving their battery life), and taking on the thinner and lighter design of the new Surface Pro 3 designs if not improved even more.

I definitely don’t think we will see a refresh of the Surface RT/2, as Microsoft will want the next variant of the ARM tablets to not have a desktop. So unless (like I suggested here) Windows 8.1 Update 2 (is optional) and removes the desktop on ARM and introduces the Office Touch apps as a stepping stone for these users, they will hold off until Windows 9 to announce this and release it (which makes sense).

I do expect all the pen functionality to be spread across the whole line up of devices in the next refresh (so significantly thinner and lighter tablets with better battery with the pen input)

Its because of these reasons, I’m going to hold off on getting the Surface Pro 3, even though I believe it can now replace my laptop and tablet, and introduce features I really want. But I feel its worth waiting for Broadwell CPU’s if I am going to spend £1000+ on a new Tablet / Laptop, I might as well get the best! Also my Surface RT and Dell XPS 13 still do their jobs fine at the moment. Also its missing LTE connectivity

I need to access my needs properly really.

Actually what would be prefect maybe is given how I don’t really need a pocket able Mini tablet, as even my Surface RT doesn’t really go anywhere with me, I don’t think a smaller tablet would make much difference to that. But a 12″ ARM tablet with no desktop (if Core i7 can get 9hours, imagine what an ARM CPU could get!) but then just remote into my PC for any work. This would solve the performance issues surrounding legacy applications, while ensuring a stellar tablet experience.

Windows 9 will be key I think. Maybe they can find away around ensuring that legacy applications cannot destroy the performance of the tablet, just like a Modern App cannot.

Update: Neowin is posting that the Surface Mini was canned at the last minute. I reckon that this was because like the Surface RT and Surface 2 it didn’t support the Pen input and therefore didn’t differentiate from its competitors enough. Which I think is fair enough, they don’t want to annoy OEMs by doing the same things as them, but to instead do something different.



The Future of Windows

Everything is changing, form factors, device usage, platforms, Microsoft is changing! and it seems to be changing in many exciting ways.

So lets look at what I believe Microsoft will do with the next version of Window (9, not the expected second update for Windows 8.1). I’m going to break down what I believe will happen for each form factor.

Please note, these points, are all conjecture based on rumors and notes from journalists and websites.


Firstly I expect to see Windows Phone, and Windows to become even closer, with even more shared. At the moment its pretty close, but I expect to see with Windows 9, it to finally be fully realised.

This means any app running on Windows, will run on Windows Phone, but also vice versa. We are almost there with Universal Apps, but its not fully realised yet,  as many apps are still separate between the two platforms (Mail app, Office apps etc.).

I also expect to see a much closer alignment of the UI, and I hope to see the Charm bar make an appearance.

This will be the Phone SKU, which will be a super set of the Basic SKU I will discuss next. This SKU will be free.

Mini Tablets (ARM, Atom CPU) & ARM Tablets (Surface RT/2)

These devices will come with a new free SKU of Windows. Which I’m going to call the Basic SKU. This SKU will not have the desktop or any of the legacy Windows features. It will be a Metro only environment.

Along side this SKU, Microsoft will include a new product, Windows “365”, which given the System on a Chip, incompatibles or low power will be used to run legacy applications, and provide the user with a desktop. I suspect this service will be fairly cheap for consumers to utilise.

This will be the core new way Microsoft will compete with free OS’s like Android, iOS (OS X should be mentioned here but isn’t targeting cheaper device markets). This Basic SKU will be constantly updated (about every 6months, for free). This SKU will come with basic versions at the very least of the Office Touch apps.

By offering a free basic OS, they will be able to compete on device prices, while offering the user better enterprise integration, security and updates than others do, and a way for Microsoft to sell users up into their ecosystem.

Microsoft may along side this offer a basic subscription. Which would include OneDrive storage, full Office Touch apps, Windows 365, Skype usage, Xbox Music (or maybe a way to mix and match these bits). This subscription maybe also be used to unlock extra professional features within the Metro environment (think Enterprise only features, domain login for example).

It would also be nice for this SKU especially on Mini Tablets to be able to run ANY Windows Phone app, not just Universal Apps, I suspect this wont happen, as it will stop users moving to Universal Apps.

Note: Just because its a subscription to unlock features of Windows, do not take this to mean that the PC will have to be online constantly to be able to use those features. Just like how Activation doesn’t need a constant internet connection to remain activated, these will be something where you pay a monthly subscription OR you can buy a perpetual license (or for enterprise / school, volume licensing). The OS will just have to go online once in a while to recheck your license. Given that this is a consumer device, the expectation of internet access once every 30-90 days seems reasonable in this day and age.

Large Tablets (Surface Pro) & Convertible Ultra books

These will too come with the Basic SKU initially, but then you will be able to either buy a Professional SKU as a subscription (includes all future updates, while your subscribed) or a perpetual license (included updates for 2 years, then support for another 2-3 years, so 5 in total) for a one off cost for those who prefer that style. Enterprise customers will continue to use their Volume Licensing as per normal (which is basically a subscription anyway).

The Professional SKU will come with a fully working, as you would expect Desktop, with no restrictions like it does with Windows 7/8/8.1

This subscription will give you a Professional license for up to 3/5 devices including activating any features on other SKU’s

Laptops, PC’s – Legacy Form Factors

These devices will continue to be sold with perpetual Windows Professional licenses, which can be when first brought translated into a subscription (which includes 2 years free of the subscription as its already been paid through the OEM).

Although I suspect many OEM’s will keep to just include the Basic SKU to keep the price down, but that Microsoft will try to restrict this for the following reason.

The downside to this model, is I suspect it will frustrate and annoy consumers to get their new device home and find to run any of their desktop applications that they have to pay even more, when they feel they have already paid for the device (these would be cheap devices so were talking about ~£220 per laptop). If a user feels shafted at this point, chances are they wont understand the changes, and feel shafted by Microsoft, and not the OEM/Sales person (who is the person who really shafted them).

The positive side to this though is that because its just a Metro environment, OEM’s wont be able to include tons of painful to remove junk ware, they will only be able to include Metro apps, which the user can quite easily remove.


So I believe next year Microsoft will introduce 3 new SKU’s (excluding Enterprise SKU’s)

  1. Basic SKU (Free, Metro Only)
  2. Phone SKU (Free, Metro Only, Phone Optimised)
  3. Professional SKU – (Non-Free, enables Desktop on compatibles devices (x64, excludes Atom, drops x86?), Enterprise Metro features), Perpetual OR Subscription pricing.

In addition to these I suspect they will also start to offer Windows “365”, and a Microsoft Services subscription.

  • Windows “365” – Offloads the desktop for devices (ARM, Atom) to run legacy applications in the cloud
  • Services – OneDrive, Office 365, Skype, Windows “365”, Xbox Music, Advert removal in, in an all inclusive subscription, (or one which enables users to mix and match what they want) for all of Microsoft’s cloud services.

I think this is a nice rationalisation of Windows, and how the platform needs to evolve going forward. It protects existing markets for sales, and customers who want to do things in a what will be regarded as a “legacy” way. While allowing Windows to properly compete in a world with new devices and form factors, and where free is king.

It should be simple to describe to users, and for a user looking at a Chrome book/Android PC/Tablet should be persuade back to Windows, as price is no longer an issues. While Microsoft may not have the biggest App Store yet, it has the biggest selection of legacy applications. More apps (real apps, plus the web) than Chrome OS, and solves the many issues with Android (Security, Performance, Updates).

But the danger is that it offers, a new and untried business model, for Microsoft, and the technology world. Google gives Android away for free to try and profit from advertising, Microsoft is going it in a sort of “Apple” way, to try and upsell people into the  app stores, and into the Microsoft Ecosystem.

Can Microsoft encourage its users to pay for its products and its ecosystem? I think its possible, but it will take ALOT for consumers to get used to. Microsoft is unlucky in that it has a extremely conservative user base that doesn’t like change, and while Windows 9 will offer something for everyone, legacy and new, I suspect, part of the media, may cry hysterically when Microsoft announces consumer subscriptions, if like usual Microsoft fails to explain its plans and positions, clearly to customers and the media alike (think of the shenanigans that came around, with Xbox One, when Microsoft announced it. They didn’t explain it brilliantly and the media ran with what they could infer, which was fear of change, plus it helps that conflict increases the number of clicks an article gets).

If Microsoft can get its story correct, and the media and user education correct, I think their onto a winner. I think with the changes we have recently at Microsoft makes me think they can just about do it.

Final Points

If Microsoft does this, what will it do with the Surface RT/2/Mini and other ARM tablets (the few that exist), who currently have a Desktop. Will they lose it? Will they mind if they use it? Or will Microsoft do a trade in / up scheme for users who feel let down by this, this will depend though on the numbers sold. Or maybe Microsoft will allow those users to block the update somehow? This will be the hard question for Microsoft to answer.

I feel partially that they should clear this up when they announce the Surface Mini, by introducing a new SKU of Windows RT or updating the existing SKU (forced update??), which doesn’t have a desktop but comes with the Office Touch apps (Beta) instead, and allow existing users to update to that SKU. This would give Microsoft a chance to test how it will deal with this issue before Windows 9.

If Microsoft forces this now, then when Windows 9 comes, it wont be a big negative point from any reviewers or the media.

The Home Server Part 3: ZFS Recovery

To illustrate zfs recovery, and to check it works. I am going to:

  1. Create a number of files, of various sizes.
  2. Produce a strong hash of those files sha512
  3. Shutdown
  4. Remove a disk
  5. Put in a different disk, but of the same size
  6. Repair the pool with the new disk – somehow
  7. Validate that the files I created, match the recovered files by checking their hashes

Now this is only a basic test, and wont cover all scenarios. Its more about getting acquainted with zfs, checking it works as I hope (although the large body of users using it, hopefully means it does). And learning how to rebuild my pool in the case of a disk failure.

The latter is probably the most important part.

So lets create some files. I just ran the command below a number of times changing the output filename and count to change the size of the resulting file.

dd if=/dev/urandom of=testfile1.a bs=1M count=1024

As a interesting note, I saw I was getting a consistent 10MB/s throughput with this which seems quite good.

Next I did

ls -al > ~/test_ls_output.txt

To create a directory listing I can use later for comparison.

Then I generated the hashes:

sha512sum testfile1.a > ~/testfile1.a-CHECKSUM

Then to validate the hash:

sha512sum -c ~/testfile1.a-CHECKSUM

So that’s steps 1 and 2 done, now to shutdown and switch out the drives.

So having rebooted I ran:

$> zpool status

pool: storage


status: One or more devices could not be used because the label is missing or         invalid.  Sufficient replicas exist for the pool to continue         functioning in a degraded state. action: Replace the device using ‘zpool replace’.    see:

scan: none requested config:

NAME                                           STATE     READ WRITE CKSUM

storage                                        DEGRADED     0     0     0

raidz1-0                                     DEGRADED     0     0     0

ata-WDC_WD5000AAKS-00TMA0_WD-WCAPW1902486  ONLINE       0     0    0

ata-WDC_WD5000AAKS-00TMA0_WD-WCAPW1908191  ONLINE       0     0     0

ata-SAMSUNG_HD501LJ_S0MUJ13P651726         UNAVAIL      0     0     0

errors: No known data errors

So we can see a disk is missing, and the pool is degraded (its raid5/RAIDZ so we can still access the pool and its data!) And it gives a hint on how to fix it.

A quick google, and the following command tells zfs to switch out the old disk, with the new one, and to then resilver. (I had to use -f to force it too, as my replacement disk had data and other bits on)

zpool replace storage -f /dev/disk/by-id/ata-SAMSUNG_HD501LJ_S0MUJ13P651726 /dev/disk/by-id/ata-SAMSUNG_HD501LJ_S0MUJ13P651727

If you run

$> zpool status

(only interesting parts of output included)

scan: resilver in progress since Sun Feb 23 10:19:11 2014
265M scanned out of 5.25G at 33.1M/s, 0h2m to go
86.2M resilvered, 4.92% done

replacing-2                                UNAVAIL      0     0     0
ata-SAMSUNG_HD501LJ_S0MUJ13P651726       UNAVAIL      0     0     0
ata-SAMSUNG_HD501LJ_S0MUJ13P651727       ONLINE       0     0     0  (resilvering)

About 3minutes later it finished, and running zpool status again, shows the zpool all backup and running again fine.

Quick and simple.

Now to validate the data is the same and correct.