Redesigning the Hardware for the Virtual TV Streaming Server

This article discusses a hardware design change to the Virtual TV Streaming Server discussed in Creating a Virtual TV Streaming Server.

If you are not familiar with the previous setup. The design revolved around an array of TV tuners connected to a 7-port USB 3.0 hub. In turn, this connected to a USB 3.0 controller which was passed through Discrete Device Assignment (DDA) through to a Windows 10 Virtual Machine. This run DVBLogic TV Mosaic, the IP TV streaming software.

 

Virtual TV Streaming Server Meltdown

The solution has run extremely well. There have been no crashes from TV Mosaic, the VM or the Hypervisor. Until last week.

The system missed last Saturdays recording schedules and on Sunday afternoon, wouldn’t initiate playback. On inspection of the VM, one of the Tuners was showing as “unknown” on the TV Mosaic console. The others were all fine. Once this phantom tuner was removed from the console, everything started working again.

Initially thinking that it was related to a coincidental BIOS update on the server, it turned out that the tuner was simply dead. I RMA’d it with DVBLogic – who didn’t challenge my diagnostic or offer any resistance – but I did have to ship it Internationally at my own expense.

A week later, I came to use the system again and, once more, it was dead. A trip to the attic later and the was dead. A multimeter confirmed that the power supply had died, and I begun an RMA process with StarTech this morning.

 

Analysis

If the power supply on the StarTech was defective, it could potentially have caused the fault with the TV Butler tuner. Although this is speculative and unprovable. My main suspicion is that the problems were caused by heat. The attic roof space is uninsulated, and the UK is in the summer period. With temperature in the attic space certainly to have ranged into the 40c’s.

Unlike with the physical TV server that this setup replaced – which had fans. This setup doesn’t. PCIe TV Tuners are intrinsically designed to withstand higher thermal variances than USB ones. The StarTech and TV Butler products are quite simply basic consumer devices. It is possible that this factor led to both of their demises.

There was a power outage mid-week last week, and the StarTech itself was not sitting on the server UPS – but it was on a surge protector. It is my belief that this did not contribute to the issue.

 

Hardware Redesign

The brief for the redesign is simple

  1. Remove essential electrical components from the attic
  2. Minimise space use
  3. Minimise electrical consumption (as everything will now be powered through the UPS)
  4. Do not clutter up the backplane of the server with dongles

 

Power

To accommodate #1, #2 and #3 the USB Hub is going to be eliminated from the design. The TV Tuners will now connect directly to the DDA USB controller. In order to do this, the dual port controller will need to be replaced.

After deliberating on whether to get an externally powered or bus powered 4-port controller, I chose a , bus powered card. A risk, given my previous experience here. The DG-PCIE-04B reviewed better than a similarly priced externally powered one. The decider was that it uses a NEC chipset and not a RealTek/SiS (i.e. cheap) chip. Finally, the fact that each of the ports had its own voltage management and fuse circuit is a valuable quality safeguard.

 

Patch Panel TV

To satisfy design brief #4, the USB TV Tuners will need to be mounted away from the server. To achieve this, I am going to mount the Tuners in the patch panel.

Using a set of keystone jacks. A USB lead will run between the USB controller and the Patch panel; simply mounting to the TV Tuners held in the patch panel.
TNP USB 3.0 Keystone Jack Image

The patch panel happens to be near the ceiling, directly above the TV aerial distributor for the house. Using 4m coaxial cable, the aerial feed can route through the existing ceiling cable run and clip neatly into the TV Tuners.

The Amazon order consisted of

  • 1x
  • 1x Pack of 5
  • 4x Rankie USB 3.0 Type A Male to Male Data Cable, 3m (Server – Patch Panel)
  • 3x Ex-Pro White Coax F Plug Type – to – Male M Coax plug Connection Cable Lead – 4m (Aerial distributor – TV Tuners)

 

Installation

The installation was extremely simple.

  1. Replace the existing 2 port USB controller with the 4 port one
  2. Clip the USB 3.0 keystones into the patch panel
  3. Run cables between the USB controller and the front profile (base) of the USB keystones
  4. Passing the USB controller through to Hyper-V
    1. Shutdown the Virtual Streaming TV Server VM
    2. Get the Device Instance Path from the Details tab > Device instance path section in Device Manager e.g.
      PCI\VEN_1912&DEV_0014&SUBSYS_00000000&REV_03\4&1B96500D&0&0010
    3. Use PowerShell to dismount the USB Controller from the Hypervisor and attach it to the VM
$vmName = 'TvServer'
$pnpdevs = Get-PnpDevice -PresentOnly | Where-Object {$_.InstanceId -eq 'PCI\VEN_1912&DEV_0014&SUBSYS_00000000&REV_03\4&1B96500D&0&0010'}
$instanceId = $pnpdev.InstanceId
$locationPath = ($pnpdevs[0] | get-pnpdeviceproperty DEVPKEY_Device_LocationPaths).data[0]
Write-Host "    Instance ID: $instanceId"
Write-Host "    Location Path: $locationpath"

# Disable the Device on the Host Hypervisor
Disable-PnpDevice -InstanceId $instanceId -Confirm:$false

# Wait for the dismount to complete
Start-Sleep -s 15

# Dismount the Device from the Host Hypervisor
Dismount-VmHostAssignableDevice -locationpath $locationPath -Force

# Attach the PCIe Device to the Virtual Machine
Add-VMAssignableDevice -LocationPath $locationpath -VMName $vmName

# Note: You may need to reboot the Hypervisor hosts at this point.
# If the VM's device manager informs you that it can see the controller, but is  unable to initialise
# the controllers USB Root Hub. A reboot should fix it.
  1. Clip the DVBLogic TV Butler TV Tuners into the patch panel USB keystone jacks using the inside (top) port on the keystones
  2. Start the TV Server VM
Photograph of USB Tuners mounted in patch panel
The patch panel now has three USB ports – the left-most TV Butler is missing as the RMA replacement has not yet arrived.

Photograph of USB Tuners mounted in patch panel Photograph of USB Tuners mounted in patch panel

The Virtualised Windows 10 Streaming TV Server came back online and there hasn’t been any instability caused by the bus-powered USB controller. The TV Butler’s are warm to the touch, have plenty of air-flow and the ambient temperature can be monitored via existing sensors in the room.

The completed assembly in the Patch Panel

With any luck, I will not need to revisit this project for quite some time!

Powerline Comparison of Features & Functionality: Expanding your Powerline Adapter Home Network

If your home or small business has a Powerline network, there may come a time when you wish to expand your network. This could be to add wired connectivity in a different room or to a new WiFi access point. Offering better coverage for mobile and fixed wireless devices than your main router can provide.

It is not always clear from the manufacturers site which part number(s) you should buy in order to expand your existing network. Most Powerline units are sold as initial getting started kits only with little information on how to grow your network.

This Powerline Adapter Comparison attempts to simplify the options in making Powerline product choices.

 

Contents

The following seeks to clarify some easily misunderstood and often muddied points about Powerline.

Feature Comparison

The Powerline Comparison is divided into comparing the Powerline Adapter ranges of the six main Powerline manufacturers.

Common Questions

  1. How many adapters do I need?
  2. Can I mix and match different manufacturers adapters?
  3. I can get a 2000 Mbit/s Powerline adapter, seems like a no brainier to make my computer/Internet faster?
  4. When shouldn’t I use Powerline adapters?
  5. What should I tell my electrician if I’m having work done?

Feature Comparison: Expanding Your Network

The following table can be used to help you expand your Powerline network. For each manufacturer they show the combination of WiFi, Ethernet Port Numbers and Passthrough Port availability. Manufacturers are displayed in alphabetical order.

Passthrough: Passthrough means that there is a standard electrical socket on the front of the Powerline adapter, allowing you to plug the Powerline adapter into the wall without sacrificing access to the electrical socket for other devices.

e(#) = 1Gbps Ethernet

e(#) = 100Mbps Ethernet

(#) represents the number of Ethernet ports present on WiFi adapter modules

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Asus

WiFi
1 Port Ethernet
2 Port Ethernet
3 Port Ethernet
4 Port Ethernet
Range Max Speed Mbit/s No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through
AV1200 1200 PL-AC56 (802.11ac 867) e(3)
PL-E56P e(1)
AV600 600 PL-E52P e(1)
AV500 500 PL-N12 (802.11n 300) e(2)
PL-E41 e(1)
PL-X51P e(4)
AV200 200 PL-X31M e(1)

BT

BT Powerline adapters are not internationalised and only come with UK 240v plugs.

WiFi
1 Port Ethernet
2 Port Ethernet
3 Port Ethernet
Range Max Speed Mbit/s No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through
1200 1200 11ac Dual-Band Wi-fi Extender 1200 080462 (802.11ac 867) e(1)
1000 1000 Wi-Fi Home Hotspot 1000 088156 (802.11ac 583) e(1) Broadband Extender 1000 088158 e(1) Broadband Extender Flex 1000 080219 e(2)
1000 600 11ac Wi-Fi Home Hotspot Plus 1000 080461 (802.11ac 867) e(1) Mini Connector 087372 e(2)
750 750 11ac Dual-Band Wi-Fi Extender 750 85854 (802.11ac 733) e(1)
600 600 Dual-Band Wi-fi Extender 610 083530 (802.11n) e(1) Broadband Extender 600 084284 e(1) Broadband Extender Flex 600 084285 e(1)
Wi-Fi Home Hotspot Plus 600 084286 (802.11n) e(2)
Mini Wi-Fi Home Hotspot 600 084288 (802.11n) e(2)
300 300 Essentials Wi-Fi Extender 300 088159 (802.11n)

D-Link

WiFi
1 Port Ethernet
2 Port Ethernet
3 Port Ethernet
Range Max Speed Mbit/s No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through
AV2000 1900 DHP-701AV e(1)
AV1000 1000 DHP-W610AV (802.11ac 867) e(1) DHP-601AV e(1) DHP-P610AV e(1)
DHP-W611AV (802.11ac 867)
e(1)
DHP-P601AV e(1)
AV500 500 DHP-W310AV (802.11n) e(1) DHP-P509AV e(1)
AV200 200 DHP-309AV e(1)

Devolo

WiFi
1 Port Ethernet
2 Port Ethernet
3 Port Ethernet
Range Max Speed Mbit/s No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through
dLAN 1200 1200 dLAN 1200+ e(1) dLAN 1200 triple+ e(3)
dLAN 1000 1000 dLAN 1000 duo+ e(2)
dLAN 650 650 dLAN 650+ e(1) dLAN 650 triple+ e(3)
dLAN 550 550 dLAN 550 duo+ e(2)
dLAN 500 500 dLAN 500 duo e(2)

NetGear

WiFi
1 Port Ethernet
2 Port Ethernet
3 Port Ethernet
Range Max Speed Mbit/s No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through
PL2000 2000 PLP2000 e(2)
PL1200 1200 PL1200 e(1) PLP1200 e(1)
PL1000 1000 PLW1000 e(1) (802.11n 300) PL1000 e(1) PLP1000 e(1)
PLW1000v2 e(1) (802.11n 300)
PLW1010 e(1) (802.11ac)
PLW1010v2 e(1) (802.1ac)
PL500 500 XWN5001 (802.11n 300) e(1) XAVB5101 e(1) XAVB5401 e(1) XAVB5602 e(2)
XAVB5201 e(1)
XWN5021 (802.11n 300) e(1) XAVB5221 e(1) XAVB5421 e(1)
PL200 200 XAVB1301 e(1)

TP-Link

WiFi
1 Port Ethernet
2 Port Ethernet
3 Port Ethernet
Range Max Speed Mbit/s No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through
AV2000 2000 TL-WPA9610 (802.11ac 1200) e(1) TL-PA9020 e(2) TL-PA9020P e(2)
AV1300 1300 TL-WPA8630P (802.11ac 1350) e(1) TL-PA8010P e(1)
AV1200 1200 TL-WPA8730 (802.11ac 1750) e(3) TL-PA8010 e(1) TL-PA8030P e(3)
TL-WPA8630 (802.11ac 1200) e(3)
AV1000 1000 TL-WPA7510 (802.11ac 433) e(1) TL-PA7010 e(1) TL-PA7010P e(1) TL-PA7020 e(2) TL-PA7020P e(2)
AV600 600 TL-WPA4220 (802.11n 300) e(2) TL-PA4010 e(1) TL-PA4010P e(1) TL-PA4020P e(2)
AV500 500 TL-WPA4530 (802.11ac 433) e(3) TL-PA4010 e(1) TL-PA4020P e(2)

TRENDnet

WiFi
1 Port Ethernet
2 Port Ethernet
3 Port Ethernet
4 Port Ethernet
Range Max Speed Mbit/s No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through
1300 AV2 1300 TPL-430AP e(3) (802.11ac 866) TPL-422E e(1) TPL-423E e(1)
1200 AV2 1200 TPL-420E e(1) TPL-421E e(1)
500 AV 500 TPL-410AP e(2) (802.11n 300) TPL-408E e(1) TPL-407E e(1) TPL-405E e(4)
TPL-406E e(1)
TPL-401E e(1) TPL-4052E e(4)
200 AV 200 TPL-331EP e(1)

e(#) = 1Gbps Ethernet

e(#) = 100Mbps Ethernet

(#) represents the number of ethernet ports present on WiFi adapter modules

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Buying Tips & Recommendations

If you are using the Powerline Comparison to create a new or expand an existing network. The following tips may offer some guidance.

  1. If you live in a flat, apartment, communal living (e.g. Student accomodation) ony consider devices with AES encryption.
  2. When expanding your existing network consider now whather you want to start swapping out any older devices. If you do, stick to the same manufacturer, but go to their newer models. If you do not, stick to the same manufacturer and range for the best  interoperability.
  3. Wired Powerline network users should only consider new adapters with 1Gbps ethernet. The adapter should have a minimum Powerline bandwidth of 1000 Mbit/s.
  4. If you intend to create a wired network with more than two wired ethernet device connected, and will be making non-Internet file transfers (e.g. backing up to a NAS or PC to PC file copy). Only look at the 2000 Mbit/s Powerline ranges.
  5. When creating a new wireless Powerline network. Only look at the 802.11ac ranges.
  6. If your broadband Internet connection is fast (e.g. true fibre optic) ideally do not let any single part of the Powerline network be slower than your broadband connection.

 

Common Questions

How many adapters do I need?

It is not always clear to new users starting out with Powerline adapters that you can expand the network beyond the first two appliances that you will probably have (or will) purchased in a starter kit bundle.

Powerline is in essence a broadcast technology, meaning that it is not limited just to the first two devices that you place in your home. Neither is is necessary to operate any subsequent device that you add in a pair of devices – so you do not have to have 4,6,8 adapters live at any one time and can just as easily have 3, 5 or 7 adapters live on your network.

You do have to have more than 1 adapter however!

 

Can I mix and match different manufacturers adapters?

‘Powerline’ is a technical standard, not a proprietary solution to each manufacturer – although they may add proprietary innovations on top of the standard. This means that in practice you should be able to mix and match Powerline devices from different manufacturers on your network provided that the product is advertising standards compliance to the following certification combinations.

Standard Max Line
Speed (standard)
Max Client
Speed (standard)
Backwards Compatibility Notes
IEEE 1901 500 Mbit/s
IEEE 1905.1 / nVoy HomePlug n/a The standard for Powerline + Wifi devices
HomePlug 1.0 14 Mbit/s IEEE 1901
HomePlug 1.0 turbo 85 Mbit/s IEEE 1901
HomePlug AV 200 Mbit/s 80 Mbit/s IEEE 1901, HomePlug 1.0 (in theory) ‘AV’ standard for Audio/Video
HomePlug AV2 1000 Mbit/s IEEE 1901, HomePlug AV, HomePlug 1.0 (in theory)

Being standards compliant does not mean that an individual manufacturer or model of Powerline adapter will actually meet the performance levels prescribed by the standard. It also does not prevent the adapter from exceeding the standard either under conditions defined by the manufacturer.

The standard exists to ensure that if you mix your ecosystem, you can expect that under optimal conditions, the devices will operate at the speed advocated for by the standard – but not (necessarily) at the maximum capable speed of both/either device. Conversely, if you do not mix your ecosystem, and only use devices made by manufacturer x, your realised real-world performance may instead be higher than that advocated for by the standard. Consequently, it is generally recommended that where possible you stick to the same manufacturer for your Powerline network and ideally the same series/range of device.

 

I can get a 2000 Mbit/s Powerline adapter, seems like a no brainier to make my computer/Internet faster?

Having looked at many reviews and videos on the subject, this topic is horribly misunderstood by people ‘in the know’ to the extent that they are further confusing the issue with false information. There are 5 aspects that influence why a typical single computer/single WiFi Extender scenario isn’t in most cases going to mean a 2000 Mbit/s solution will deliver.

Electrical wiring, distribution, electrical noise and distance: The age and quality of your home electrical system will have an impact on the performance. If your electrical system isn’t up to 2000 Mbit/s, you will never see anything like that speed, possibly pulling the performance down under 100 Mbit/s. Equally, the longer the distance between the adapter termination points, the more this figure will trail off.

IEEE 802.3 (ethernet): If you are going to connect your desktop PC at one end to your router at the other (and you have modern equipment) then the Ethernet cable and the network adapters at your computer/router are only capable of a theoretical maximum of 1000 Mbit/s. Having a 2000 Mbit/s Powerline adapter will not make this point-to-point, two device network any faster even if the Powerline adapter does operate at a speed higher than 1000 Mbit/s.

IEEE 802.11 (wireless): Similarly to that of the Ethernet, wireless technology is also rated at a maximum theoretical speed 54 Mbit/s for 802.11a/g, 11 Mbit/s for 802.11b, 600Mbit/s for 802.11n and up to 3466 Mbit/s for 802.11ac – in practice it usually isn’t more than ~ 1300 Mbit/s on current generation general consumer hardware. If the WiFi Access Point module on the Powerline adapter is only capable or 600 Mbit/s or your laptop/tablet/smartphone are only capable of 600 Mbit/s, having a faster Powerline adapter will not make your wireless any faster.

Internet Connection Speed: Most home installs are probably just being used to push the Internet connection arriving at your router a little further into your property, usually because you need it to reach into another room that is out of range of the existing wireless access point. Most home internet connections (in the UK) at the current time run at sub-100 Mbit/s. Assuming that your Powerline adapter is 2000 Mbit/s, your wired desktop is 1000 Mbit/s and your tablet is 600 Mbit/s, you will not get anything faster from the Internet than the 100 Mbit/s maximum speed of your home broadband. A faster Powerline adapter can not improve the spped of your actual Internet connection to the street.

Contention: This is the most important one that people misunderstand. Powerline is what is known as a contended broadcast medium. This means that every piece of information sent to one Powerline adapter is received and processed by all of the other Powerline adapters on the network. If you have 4 Powerline adapters that try and access the network simultaneously, then the available maximum bandwidth (e.g. 2000 Mbit/s) must be shared between them. There are more sophisticated underlying technologies in newer Powerline adapters, such as OFDM and latterly MIMO that significantly help to improve this, however the key thing to understand is that the 2000 Mbit/s figure on the box is the speed available to the holistic group of all Powerline adapters on the network and must be shared amongst all termination points.

In the case of OFDM bandwidth is shared as a proportion of the total frequency spectrum available to each adapter while in the case of MIMO it is shared up to the number of available MIMO channels. For very old adapters, the full bandwidth was available, but only one Powerline adapter could communicate on the network at any one time; during which time the other adapters had to wait.

At the beginning of this section I stated that getting faster network performance it isn’t a reality in most cases. So where is it a benefit?

The benefit of having the faster line speed (the maximum theoretical bandwidth available to the group of Powerline adapters) is when there are multiple end-point devices and/or multiple Powerline adapters.

Take a scenario where Internet access is removed from the equation and pretend that there are 4 Powerline adapters, A, B, C and D. Each Powerline adapter has a single wired ethernet connection running at 1Gb/s (1000 Mbit/s). If computer A copies a file to computer B while computer C copies a file to computer D and you have 2000 Mbit/s available to the Powerline network, simplified, a 1000 Mbit/s file copy + another 1000 Mbit/s file copy (with access to MIMO) = 2000 Mbit/s. So the 2000 Mbit/s adapter will in theory allow both copies to occur at the 1Gb/s line speed (full speed).

Again, this is a theoretical figure and there are a lot of variables that will define the actual speed. In reality you may only get 800 Mbit/s during the parallel transfer (1600 Mbit/s total), but this is only achievable because the Powerline back-end is capable of supporting the higher line speed. If the Powerline network was only itself capable of 1000 Mbit/s, then the best you could have hoped for during this parallel file transfer would have been 500 Mbit/s. This is the impact of contention.

In practice, there are a lot of tweaks and optimisation’s to how OFDM, MIMO and proprietary manufacturer innovations are applied on different products. These tweaks make the examples that I have outlines significant simplifications over what may actually be going on in any given Powerline adapter. It is also true that the Powerline network will likely not run anywhere near its theoretical maximum speed, bringing down the contended bandwidth figure that you are starting out with.

In these cases a faster device with MIMO and more frequency groups available may help you to realise slightly faster speeds. It is however important to understand what the figure on the box is actually telling you -and- to set expectations (and even save money) with end users.

Simply put: If you are only looking to have a point to point link and are only ever going to be using it to access the Internet there is usually little point spending money on faster Powerline modules for your use case.

 

When shouldn’t I use Powerline adapters?

Powerline should not be used if:

  1. You are involved in any form of secure network or secure data workflow. Powerline can easily leak data to your neighbours or into the street. Modern adapters usually come with AES 128 encryption support as an option, however AES 128 is not the strongest form of encryption by any means here in 2018. Equally, firmware updates and patches for Powerline adapters to fix security holes are not applied automatically. Unfortunately, neither are they made available by some manufacturers as frequently as they should be.
  2. If AES Encryption technology is illegal in your country: do not use an AES enabled device.
  3. You do not have direct access to a wall socket: Powerline adapters should not be used on power gangs, PDU’s or through surge protectors. If you do, at best they will either have significant signal degradation or will not work.
  4. If the length of your internal wiring is over 300m (try and keep it far shorter than this in practice i.e. under 200m).
  5. Your house has extremely old wiring or archaic distribution / fuse boards.
  6. You want to get a good signal across multiple distribution boards / fuse boards.
  7. The electrical system has a high number of noisy appliances and you are expecting to get performance out of the system.

 

What should I tell my electrician if I’m having work done?

If you are having work done or want to get an electrician in to troubleshoot poor Powerline adapter performance. Offer them the following tips and get ready with a laptop, ethernet cable and a test plan (e.g. SpeedTest.net, benchmark tool or a consistent large file copy).

  1. The electrician needs to provide a low-loss RF path across all circuits, and rings. The system requires low levels of electrical noise.
  2. Aluminium wiring, knob and tube wiring, old copper wiring, old fuse boards, distribution boards and sockets will undermine the performance. Unless it is 1990’s or newer, try and eliminate it from the system.
  3. Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI), Arc-Fault Detection Device (AFDD), Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI), or Residual Current Device (RCD) circuit breakers can cause depleted or even entirely blocked Powerline signals. You can purchase “Powerline Compliant Outlet” surge protectors, which may mitigate some of the loss.
  4. Devices with switch-mode power supplies can create noise that limits performance. Isolate such devices before testing (especially near the receiver Powerline unit).
  5. Any appliance on your power system/ring with an electrical motor should be placed on its own surge protector e.g. air-conditioners, washing-machines and electric-fans.
  6. Remember the distance rule: Under 300m, ideally under 200m. This is especially important in the UK where rings are used allowing a run to be far longer than it might otherwise seem.
  7. 3-phase electrical systems do not work as well with Powerline. Avoid their use if possible in favour of 2-phase.
  8. If you are in a communal building, or high density residential environment, use a circuit breaker from the street to reduce the risk of data leakage out of your home.
  9. Loose screws, poor joints and thin or frayed cabling at connections can all cause problems. Ensure that everything is nice and tight.
  10. Crossing between ring mains will attenuate performance. Where possible keep adapters on the same ring main.

QNAP TVS-1271U Top Row of Drives (drives 9-12) do not start on boot/reboot of the NAS appliance

System Requirements:

  • QNAP TVS-1271U
  • QTS 4.3

The Problem:

A brand new, out of the box 12 drive 2u NAS appliance, with the “firmware” up to date gets thrown into production. During its first maintenance cycle, the firmware is updated again and it is rebooted.

On completion of the reboot, the array is offline. Visual inspection of the appliance reveals that the top row of drives in the array, drives 9, 10, 11 and 12 are offline. They just are not powered. Drives 1-8 are online and all green.

Rebooting the array shows the diagnostic LED’s on all 12 drives flash red, but the 4 drives in question then go into a powered down state and the boot completes with an inconsistent volume layout.

  1. Hot swapping the drives did not make a difference
  2. Rebooting the array did not make a difference.
  3. Testing all of the top rows worth of drives externally showed no errors in any drives
  4. Performing a couple of hard power downs and cold booting did solve the problem and allowed the array to start normally.

The same thing happened during the next test and diagnostics window.

The Fix

Disgruntled customer note: I want to add at this point that trying to phone QNAP UK is an exercise in futility. I sat in their queue system for more than half an hour listening to the same loop of music without getting anywhere. By the time that I gave up, I’d managed to get the thing to start through cold boot cycles and done quick SMART tests on all of the drives. When it came to this occurring the second time, I used the online chat feature with their people in Taiwan, who were more responsive and most helpful, but would not entertain speaking on the phone come what may.

My bigger issue is that QNAP support seems to have little sympathy for the needs of a production IT department, where as you would have thought that QNAP would be the kings of working to such constraints.

 

Once I had got to second line, the fix in itself was quite simple in the end, but its implementation leaves something to be desired. The system needed a BIOS update.

You might assume that when you are updating your “firmware“, this sort of things is being accommodated for in those updates. Apparently not! It seems as this new device may have been sitting in a warehouse for some time so was out of date, but it was immediately firmware serviced as soon as it was first booted. You would have expected that this sort of well know about, intermittent issue was being dealt with through the update delivery mechanism.

As soon as the BIOS of the TVS-1271U was updated to version QW10IR12 and rebooted, the problem was fixed. Why QNAP have not put information on this on their website knowledge base I do not know. This would seem more than sensible. QNAP does itself more reputational damage by trying to hide the issue and hope that only a few people see it. The reality is that they are likely causing stress and grief to end users and unnecessary RMA’s to their suppliers.

After checking power rails, our initial response was that it was a dead backplane and we were assuming it would have to be an RMA. Fortunately, it wasn’t and fortunately I went to QNAP before I went back to the supplier, but you do not always, especially with companies increasingly insisting that you deal with suppliers for RMA processes. A little public disclosure about this known issue would have just saved a lot of headaches (and disclosure makes you look good QNAP!).

The execution of the BIOS update itself was unfortunately quite cumbersome, requiring the support tech to back-up and then re-programme all of the NIC MAC addresses built into the motherboard. Something that could have easily have been sorted in a shall script and then transparently bundled into the firmware delivery, saving QNAP Taiwan more than an hours’ worth of time on this and some 8 emails.

It did however fix the problem and the Taiwan support team were pretty accomodating about doing it at 7am UK time.

Here for the benefit of the rest of the world, is the process that the tech went through to flash the BIOS. I have substituted real MAC addresses with fake ones below.

Note: I strongly recommend that you do not try this yourself and that you contact QNAP via their web chat support if you have a need to perform this procedure. If you try it, it is entirely at your own risk.

login as: admin
admin@192.168.1.1's password:
[~] # md_checker Welcome to MD superblock checker (v1.4) - have a nice day~ Scanning system... HAL firmware detected!
Scanning Enclosure 0...
RAID metadata found!
UUID: 3e5d7c85:95d82d3e:42647860:c0aaec32
Level: raid6
Devices: 12
Name: md2
Chunk Size: 512K
md Version: 1.0
Creation Time: Apr 19 11:57:42 2017
Status: ONLINE (md2) [UUUUUUUUUUUU]
===============================================================================
Disk | Device | # | Status | Last Update Time | Events | Array State
===============================================================================
1 /dev/sdc3 0 Active Jun 16 07:15:08 2017 156 AAAAAAAAAAAA
2 /dev/sdd3 1 Active Jun 16 07:15:08 2017 156 AAAAAAAAAAAA
3 /dev/sde3 2 Active Jun 16 07:15:08 2017 155 AAAAAAAAAAAA
4 /dev/sdf3 3 Active Jun 16 07:15:08 2017 155 AAAAAAAAAAAA
5 /dev/sdk3 4 Active Jun 16 07:15:08 2017 155 AAAAAAAAAAAA
6 /dev/sdl3 5 Active Jun 16 07:15:08 2017 155 AAAAAAAAAAAA
7 /dev/sdm3 6 Active Jun 16 07:15:08 2017 155 AAAAAAAAAAAA
8 /dev/sdn3 7 Active Jun 16 07:15:08 2017 155 AAAAAAAAAAAA
9 /dev/sdg3 8 Active Jun 16 07:15:08 2017 155 AAAAAAAAAAAA
10 /dev/sdh3 9 Active Jun 16 07:15:08 2017 155 AAAAAAAAAAAA
11 /dev/sdi3 10 Active Jun 16 07:15:08 2017 155 AAAAAAAAAAAA
12 /dev/sdj3 11 Active Jun 16 07:15:08 2017 155 AAAAAAAAAAAA
=============================================================================== [~] # cd /share/CACHEDEV2_DATA/Public/
[/share/CACHEDEV2_DATA/Public] # ls
@Recycle/ messages
[/share/CACHEDEV2_DATA/Public] # wget http://download.qnap.com/Storage/tsd/bios/TVS-1271U_QW10IR12.zip
--2017-06-16 07:16:51-- http://download.qnap.com/Storage/tsd/bios/TVS-1271U_QW10IR12.zip
Resolving download.qnap.com (download.qnap.com)... 2.17.149.135, 2a02:26f0:ec:38c::1b52, 2a02:26f0:ec:398::1b52
Connecting to download.qnap.com (download.qnap.com)|2.17.149.135|:80... connected.
HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 200 OK
Length: 5931607 (5.7M) [application/zip]
Saving to: ‘TVS-1271U_QW10IR12.zip’ TVS-1271U_QW10IR12.zip 100%[=====================================================================>] 5.66M 5.50MB/s in 1.0s 2017-06-16 07:16:52 (5.50 MB/s) - ‘TVS-1271U_QW10IR12.zip’ saved [5931607/5931607] [/share/CACHEDEV2_DATA/Public] # chmod +x TVS-1271U_QW10IR12.zip
[/share/CACHEDEV2_DATA/Public] # unzip TVS-1271U_QW10IR12.zip
Archive: TVS-1271U_QW10IR12.zip
creating: BIOS_QW10IR12/
inflating: BIOS_QW10IR12/flashrom
inflating: BIOS_QW10IR12/QW10IR12.bin
[/share/CACHEDEV2_DATA/Public] # ls
@Recycle/ BIOS_QW10IR12/ TVS-1271U_QW10IR12.zip* messages
[/share/CACHEDEV2_DATA/Public] # dmidecode -t bios | grep version
[/share/CACHEDEV2_DATA/Public] # cd
[~] # cd /
[/] # dmidecode -t bios | grep version
[/] # cd -
/root
[~] # cd /share/CACHEDEV2_DATA/Public/
[/share/CACHEDEV2_DATA/Public] # head /etc/config/uLinux.conf
[System]
Model = TS-X71U
Internal Model = TS-X71
Server comment =
Version = 4.3.3
Build Number = 20170606
Number = 0224
Time Zone = Europe/London
Enable Daylight Saving Time = TRUE
Workgroup = QNAP
[/share/CACHEDEV2_DATA/Public] # cat /etc/model.conf | grep INTERNAL_NET_PORT_NUM
INTERNAL_NET_PORT_NUM = 4
[/share/CACHEDEV2_DATA/Public] # hal_app --se_sys_get_mac obj_index=0
35:35:35:35:36:31
[/share/CACHEDEV2_DATA/Public] # hal_app --se_sys_get_mac obj_index=1
35:35:35:35:36:32
[/share/CACHEDEV2_DATA/Public] # hal_app --se_sys_get_mac obj_index=2
35:35:35:35:36:33
[/share/CACHEDEV2_DATA/Public] # hal_app --se_sys_get_mac obj_index=3
35:35:35:35:36:34
[/share/CACHEDEV2_DATA/Public] # cd
[~] # cd /share/Public
[/share/Public] # ls
@Recycle/ BIOS_QW10IR12/ TVS-1271U_QW10IR12.zip* messages
[/share/Public] # cd BIOS_QW10IR12/
[/share/Public/BIOS_QW10IR12] # ls
QW10IR12.bin flashrom
[/share/Public/BIOS_QW10IR12] # ls
QW10IR12.bin flashrom
[/share/Public/BIOS_QW10IR12] # chmod +x *
[/share/Public/BIOS_QW10IR12] # ls
QW10IR12.bin* flashrom*
[/share/Public/BIOS_QW10IR12] # ./flashrom -c MX25L128050 --programmer internal -w QW10IR12.bin
flashrom v0.9.8-unknown on Linux 4.2.8 (x86_64)
flashrom is free software, get the source code at http://www.flashrom.org Error: Unknown chip 'MX25L128050' specified.
Run flashrom -L to view the hardware supported in this flashrom version.
[/share/Public/BIOS_QW10IR12] # ./flashrom -c MX25L12805D --programmer internal -w QW10IR12.bin
flashrom v0.9.8-unknown on Linux 4.2.8 (x86_64)
flashrom is free software, get the source code at http://www.flashrom.org Calibrating delay loop... OK.
Found chipset "Intel C226".
This chipset is marked as untested. If you are using an up-to-date version
of flashrom *and* were (not) able to successfully update your firmware with it,
then please email a report to flashrom@flashrom.org including a verbose (-V) log.
Thank you!
Enabling flash write... Warning: SPI Configuration Lockdown activated.
OK.
Found Macronix flash chip "MX25L12805D" (16384 kB, SPI) mapped at physical address 0xff000000.
Reading old flash chip contents... done.
Erasing and writing flash chip... Erase/write done.
Verifying flash... VERIFIED.
[/share/Public/BIOS_QW10IR12] # hal_app --se_sys_set_mac obj_index=0,value=35:35:35:35:36:81
eth port = 0, Set MAC address = 35:35:35:35:36:31,ret = 0
[/share/Public/BIOS_QW10IR12] # hal_app --se_sys_set_mac obj_index=1,value=35:35:35:35:36:82
eth port = 1, Set MAC address = 35:35:35:35:36:32,ret = 0
[/share/Public/BIOS_QW10IR12] # hal_app --se_sys_set_mac obj_index=2,value=35:35:35:35:36:83
eth port = 2, Set MAC address = 35:35:35:35:36:33,ret = 0
[/share/Public/BIOS_QW10IR12] # hal_app --se_sys_set_mac obj_index=3,value=35:35:35:35:36:84
eth port = 3, Set MAC address = 35:35:35:35:36:34,ret = 0
[/share/Public/BIOS_QW10IR12] # reboot

 

Comparison of IOCrest SI-PEX40071 SATA III Controller with onboard Intel RST SATA II

System Requirements:

  • A free PCIe 4x slot
  • IOCrest SI-PEX40071

The Problem:

This came about, not because I needed or intended to bench mark the controller, but because I had a large number of 1TB drives that I wanted to string together into a Dynamic Disk Volume and didn’t have enough ports on a motherboard to connect all of the drives up.

The cheapest solution that I could find was the £45 IOCREST 8 Channel PCI-Express Serial ATA Host Controller Card a non-RAID HBA for up to 8 SATA III drives. Model number SI-PEX40071.

The controller is a cheap 8 port SATA III interface running on a Marvel Chipset. The device uses a PCIe 4x slot and presents two controllers to the system bus, not one. This is significant as it a) means that it requires special IOCrest drivers to permit Windows to see the second controller and b) means that only the disks on the first controller, i.e. ports 0-3 are presented to the BIOS.

Please keep that in mind if you need boot support! It can boot from the controller on BIOS or UEFI if the interface is attached to port 0-3.

As I had it and before I put it to use in the dynamic disk, I thought that it would be interesting to see what sort of a difference it would make to a system that only shipped with SATA II on the motherboard. While rotational hard drives cannot saturate a SATA II bus, let alone SATA III. A SSD might come close and consequently SATA III + a SSD in a PCIe 8x slot (with boot support) would seem like a way to achieve higher transfer speeds.

More Info

I did not have long to test it, so I only performed some rudimentary testing.

The test compared a Samsung 840 Pro 250GB SSD running on Port 0 of the IOCrest controller vs. Port 0 of an Intel STA II controller on a X58 chipset running in AHCI mode. In all three tests the same SSD was running with the write cache enabled and cache control set to write back i.e. optimal. All tests were performed on Windows 10 Enterprise and the SSD was the boot drive and the only drive present in the system.

The IOCrest controller was tested twice, one batch with the Microsoft Windows 10 default Marvel driver (only ports 0-3 working) and the second batch with the latest driver from IOCrest (not an actual Windows 10 driver and in actual fact fairly old at late 2012).

Testing was performed 3 times for each test with the data being generated by the latest version of Samsung Magician. The mean of the three runs is presented in the table below.

Test
Sequential Read (MB/s)
Sequential Write (MB/S)
Random Read (IOPS)
Random Write (IOPS)
Intel RST SATA II (Microsoft)
285
273
41497
47480
IOCrest SATA III (Microsoft)
203
172
32472
26492
IOCrest SATA III (IoCrest)
209
166
35803
29177

In all cases higher values are preferable.

The onboard Intel storage controller running in AHCI mode out performed the SATA III PCIe controller by a considerable margin. 70MB/s on read and 100MB/s on write! These values aren’t even close.

Simply put, cheap controllers – especially ones labeled SATA III – are a false economy. I wouldn’t have expected to see something close to enterprise level hardware, however I was expecting to see something that offered at the very least moderate performance increase over a SATA II controller.

The sad thing is that using this controller, Samsung Magician stops complaining that it is running on a SATA II controller, citing the SATA III controllers presence as meaning that it is running optimally even though its performance has been frankly nothing short of crippled.