Steam & Your Small SSD

I just finished “upgrading” my main PC for the first time in almost two years, and this is the first mainboard and CPU upgrade in nearly four.  For those of you reading familiar with my PC upgrade habits you know that is like having and Ice Age occur, having the glaciers come and retreat and the Earth turning green again between upgrades.  In truth, this is fairly minor upgrade in that I bought nothing new, save a $30 case in order to pull it off.

Well, in truth I did buy a shiny, new 180GB Intel Solid State Drive.  Yes, it is Sandforce based, which I vowed never to buy… but it is also Intel, which I always promise to buy but then shrink back from the cost… *shrug*  I had completely grown out of the 40GB Gen2 Intel SSD however, and so this purchase was completely spousal approved.  I am typing from the very machine which I put together, fancy water cooling kit and all.  It’s a little louder than I would prefer, but the big upgrade comes a year from now and I’ll save the money and trouble until that time…

ANYWAY – the main event.  I put Steam and all of my Steam games on a Western Digital Black 640GB 7200 RPM drive.  It is plenty speedy for the load times for games, but Steam annoyingly always took a while to launch and the UI was painfully laggy compared to the apps installed onto the SSD boot drive.  A bigger SSD makes this all better, right?  Well, at any given time I have over 200GB of Steam games installed, not too mention the ~30GB of Blizzard games sitting on the hard drive.  There wasn’t room in the budget for a 512GB or 600GB SSD (I paid $130 for 180GB, a 512 is at least $350 if not $4-500), especially given the minimal increase games gain by being installed to an SSD.

Simple solution, right?  Install Steam to the SSD, install the games to the spinning cheap drive, call it a day!

If only it were that easy!  Steam installs all of the games you manage through it in the same directory that you install the Steam application into.  Remember, I have only a 180GB drive and 200+GB of games installed.

Enter “symbolic links” and easy apps like http://www.traynier.com/software/steammover/ that allow you to move installed games to a secondary drive by using a clever trick of NTFS.   This means you can have your cake and eat it too – a minority of your games are on the SSD, along with the core Steam files, meaning the best possible performance while the games you aren’t actively playing or are too big are more economically stored on spinning disk.  I started using this tool, which meant I copied my downloaded games from the steamapps/common directory from my old Steam install (the same secondary disk was in my old system, carried it over to the new system) over to the SSD, then the handy tool moved the data back to the secondary directory on the spinning drive.

This took a while, even at ~100+MB a second.  Plus, writing data to an SSD wears it out, so it should be minimized if possible.  I got to Rage, the newest game from Id that is ~21GB on disk and decided there had to be a better way.

I found a great work around.  Now, I create the same directory in the SSD steamapps/common directory and copy the .exe and other miscellaneous top level files from the spinning drive, which is about 30-50MB depending on the game, which takes less than a second.  Next, I use the tool to “move” the game from the SSD to the secondary drive.  Finally, I cut the massive files out of the original steamapps/common/game directory and paste them into the new directory on the same drive and partition.  Since this is a simple modification of the file system tree and no data gets moved, it is essentially instantaneous.

Win for me!  Hopefully a win for you!

Note – the Valve games put their darn big files right in the root of the steamapps directory, so this relocation trick doesn’t even work on them.  If you are planning on playing TF:2, L4D, CS:S, etc you are going to need a decent amount of room on the SSD to pull this off.  I wouldn’t do it with less than an 80GB SSD.

–Nat

(also, not shut out in July! :) )

VMware Technology Network Subscription – Bring it Back!

One of the biggest beefs I’ve had with VMware over the last few years, and I apologize to everyone to whom I’ve already ranted about this to, is that they don’t have program that is like Microsoft’s TechNet.

What’s so great about TechNet, you might ask?

With the TechNet subscription you get access to everything that Microsoft offers  - with full retail keys.  This isn’t some time bombed trial, this is the real deal.  You get access to all of their software from the distant past right up through early release betas of their software – like the upcoming Windows 8 and Server 2012.  This is essential for long term test VMs and testing software with what can be complicated, involving installs like Active Directory and Exchange, for example.  Also, you get access to the creme of their productivity software crop like Project and Visio.  Best of all its “only” $200 to start and $150 to renew.  If that sounds expensive, remember that a single Server 2008 R2 license can  run you $700 alone, and the productivity software can also run hundreds of dollars.

Why might Microsoft sell this subscription if they could get so much more money for each project by forcing you to buy real licenses for real products?  It’s pretty simple, really. As individuals, we are not going to buy this software at these prices, and would then turn to free or cheaper alternatives.  Microsoft must know that  TechNet sub is something a very technical person is going to buy – like IT Professionals.  What IT Professionals use at home directly influences what they use at work – and business purchases are Microsoft’s bread and butter, they’ll tell you this to your face no matter how much it seems like they are about conquering the home PC.  Having your home PCs run Windows and Office is just another way to keep business running what their employees know and can be efficient with.

Back to the VMware Technology Network Subscription (VMTN).  They used to have a similar program that let you use full versions of their software in your home and labs and many attribute this program with the rapid adoption of VMware in the Enterprise space – since you could play with it on the cheap and gain confidence in it, then it made sense to champion it within your organization.  VMware discontinued it about five years ago (or so…) when they made clear that Windows GSX Server (VMware Server) and VMware player were free products that could be used.  GSX has totally gone the way of the dinosaur now, and while VMware player is immensely useful in some tasks, it doesn’t allow you to play with the Enterprise features that you might actually want from VMware.

VMware does offer a free version of their bare metal hypervisor, ESXi.  The problem?  This Hypervisor also does not allow you to experiment/implement any of the Enterprise features that differentiate VMware from the rest – and it doesn’t even allow for any scripting automation, another of VMware’s strengths.  This very much limits the usefulness of the platform.  It should be noted that you can get sixty day trials of just about everything VMware offers easily online, but the issue there is that the “big” offerings like SRM and VDI are so intricate in their setup that it can take easily longer than sixty days to get them fully off the ground if you are just doing it in your free time.  You also have to completely scrap the entire setup, from ESXi to vCenter to these addons as they are all tied to that same sixty day time frame.  Want to do it again?  You need a new email address to sign up for the trial again!

The elephant in the room is this – Microsoft is very serious about taking VMware’s ball and going home with it.  Virtualization was the #1 focus of Server 2008 R2 SP1 and it appears that Server 2012 will continue the trend.  IT Professionals that are using TechNet will have easy access to using Hyper-V in all of its glory (and 2012 is looking much easier/sweeter than 2008 R2 SP1) already.

Even with my VCP and years of VMware experience along with a fairly sizable investment in specialized RAID hardware for native disk redundancy in my home lab, Server 2012 looks mighty attractive for my home platform.  It doesn’t need to be this way, VMware.

I am not the only one who thinks so.

Agree?  Raise your voice.  VMware is missing a big opportunity here and anyone invested in VMware from a technical expertise level or from a shareholder level knows the dangers of competing with Microsoft (just ask Novell or the other companies they have left bloodied in their wake.)  Do the right thing, VMware.  Let me pay you a little money so I can recommend your products to those with the big checkbooks.

–Nat

50/50

5050image

Kristin picked out a movie at Redbox as a surprise, and she picked a movie that I hadn’t really heard of, 50/50.

Wow, it was really good.

It’s a “comedy” about dealing with cancer, and I was really impressed with the way it took a serious topic, worked it for some laughs, but at the same time had complex, flawed characters and made us care about them.  I have never watched such an up/down (laugh one minute, cry the next) movie before.

You should just pick it up, it’ll be better if you don’t read about it too much first.

Good pick, Kristin!

– Nat

Book Purchase

I haven’t purchased a book in a while, but this one I felt I needed to have after hearing the author on NPR. I’ll give it a read and let you (all!) know what I think…

http://www.npr.org/books/titles/152424276/we-can-all-do-better

The author sounded like he was approaching the situation with way too much common sense and pragmitism…

–Nat

New Phone

DVP_small

This wasn’t going to be that big of a deal.  Kristin and I just made a pact to step into the current decade and get data plans on our phones – and get phones worthy of data plans.  Blackberry’s circa  2007 just didn’t do enough with the data plan to make it worthwhile.

It bears noting that we were able to move to unlimited data (2GB highspeed, 50MB capped roaming) and 1000 anytime minutes (up from 750) for $10 a month.  You have to love T-Mobile for their pricing if not their coverage, which is definitely a disadvantage.

In any case, Kristin gave me a new phone (permission to purchase one) for my b-day.  Requirements?  T-Mobile.  Qwerty. 3G (for reasons mentioned later, beyond the data rate).  Not an iPhone  because they have no 3G on T-Mo and they are flippin’ expensive, plus we are not already in the Apple ecosystem and have no desire to join it.  Android but only an ICS (Android 4.x) or soon to be ICS because the mess that is Android 2.x + carrier customization makes me want to gag and I don’t want to have to root my phone to make it usable. Windows Mobile, very dependable interface/performance, not a lot of handset options though.   Blackberry, best QWERTY in the business but fading from relevance and the newer handsets (needed for T-Mo 3G) are also pretty darn expensive.

Well, the Android options were too expensive and I deemed the H.M.S. Blacktanic an unwise investment.  That left me with WinMo (some would say I was going that way all along… maybe, I do miss my Zune but I think it was a justified move) and there happened to be one phone that met my requirements, the Dell Venue Pro.  I’d love to link that to the Dell site which was live last week, but it has since disappeared which probably has something to do with the phone being cancelled on March 8th.  Sigh.  I still bought one from Amazon though.

Thoughts on the phone to follow soon!

–Nat

Building the VT Class Server

outletpc_2198_154109048

Based on my previous experience in teaching my Virtualization (VT) class, I knew that I needed to have something portable to host the various VT environments on.  This is what I have assembled for this years class, after testing it as a pure Hyper-V server it is clear that it is very capable.

Processor:

AMD 1090t, Six Cores @ 3.4 Ghz (200 Mhz mild OC)

Motherboard:

MSI 880G ATX Motherboard

This has worked out really well as the onboard video means that I don’t have to worry about a video card and the NIC was automatically discovered by both Server 2008 R2 SP1 and ESXi 5.  This along with the 1090t set me back “only” $170.

RAM:

16GB (4x4GB) Kingston Hyper-X DDR3 1333 ($60)

Hard Drives:

1x Samsung 470 128GB SSD ($115 used), 1x OCZ Petrol (Indillix based) 128GB SSD ($110 AMIR), 1x Hitcahi 250GB 7200 RPM Drive (old), 1x Seagate 7200RPM drive (older), 1x 16GB USB3 Drive (For ISO files under Hyper-V only, connected to an add in 1x PCIe USB3 card, $16)

The hard drives were really the crucial piece.  Under ESXi 5 and prior to the SSD drive investment creating VMs was a fine experience when done one at a time, but when ten groups of students tried to do it the system just crawled along due to the lack of disk IO.  It took nearly two hours just the students to activate Hyper-V and reboot the VMs a couple times.

Just this weekend, under stress testing, I was able to create ten Server 2008 R2 SP1 VMs under Hyper-V simultaneously and it only took 10 minutes!   That’s a huge improvement!

Case/Power Supply/DVD Drive:

Cooler Master Elite 310, Cooler Master GX 450W/Samsung DVD-RW.  $30, $25, & $18 respectively.

So, for about $550 I’ve built a PC that can act as a server for my class and that I also have access to 24/7.  It draws about 200W under load and spends its “spare time” running the BOINC Client and helping to save the world from various maladies.  I am pretty happy how it turned out, I think it is fairly balanced from a CPU/RAM/Disk standpoint.

–Nat

 

 

NATLAN 2012

Setup

It was a great time!

It was a cold time!

Fourteen of us huddled together around out PCs in a ~50F garage and rocked out Team Fortress 2 (plenty of anger here), Day of Defeat (friendly fire is on, folks!), Counter-Strike (gets older and older, thank goodness a new one is coming out next year) and Serious Sam: BFE (in which 10 players cannot be stopped.)

 

We raised $77 for Childs Play Charity through the raffle:

Dan with the "empty" bottle of Rum, Sean with the RAM as always, Nat with HS, Drew with Portal 2 and Brian w/both Blizzard Trials, Mitch not pictured won the Golden Ticket

There was an impromptu costume contest, which Brian won by virtue of the face paint:


"Don't Ask"

 Let’s hope there is another NATLAN this fall or next spring :)  I am already looking forward to it…

–Nat

Linked Clones: Lab Manager vs vCloud Director v1.5

One of the big “features” added to vCloud Director that allows it “parity” when compared to the outgoing Lab Manager is the re-introduction of Linked Clones.  These Copy-On-Write (CoW) disks provide for VMs that are actually little more than differencing disks from a base disk.  Using Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solutions, this is common to preserve disk space for all of your XP/W7 desktops you are spawning and allows you to better utilized small, expensive SSD drives.

Well, in LM and vCD, it is supposed to save space too. One beef I have with the current implementation in vCD is that it is actually worse when compared to LM.  The root of the issue, you see, is that in Lab Manager you could cleanly create a VM from a template, this would stay thin provisioned and it would act just like a classic VM, no linked clones and no CoW.  Well, in vCD you always get a linked clone no matter how you provision the VM if your Org has fast provisioning enabled.  This is also true for consolidations, where in LM you get a clean VM as result and in vCD you continue to get a linked clone, chain length of one.

In the long run, this is going to negatively impact disk space utilization.  As you are forced to always write to the differencing disk with Linked Clones, LM actually offered a nifty hybrid approach that allowed for overwriting the base disk when the VM was freshly provisioned or freshly consolidated.  This is a step backwards that I hope VMware will address.

–Nat

I found a big Prime Number!

“Dear Primefinder,

Congratulations! Our records indicate that a computer registered by you has found a unique prime number. This computer is running BOINC, is attached to the PrimeGrid project, and is assigned to the Proth Prime Search. What makes this prime unique is that it’s large enough to enter the Top 5000 List in Chris Caldwell’s The Largest Known Primes Database.

Since you have auto-reporting selected, the following prime was submitted on your behalf:

Added 105269 : 4695*2^781278+1 (235192 digits)

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me and we will surely resolve any problem.

Once again, congratulations on your find. Thank you for participating in PrimeGrid.

John Blazek of PrimeGrid”

Very exciting! :D

–Nat

Raffle Prizes for NATLAN 2012

For those of you at the LAN, you’ll have four “buckets” that you can put your tickets into, and they will be for these items:

  1.  A Golden Ticket: Your Free (and a new to NATLAN guest) pass to a NATLAN in the future.
  2. 8GB DDR3 Kit – Kingston 4GBx2 Sticks that looks suspiciously like this one: http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0360526
  3. Cooler Master Hyper 212+ Heatsink: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835103065
  4. A bottle of Captain Morgan Black Label Rum and a two liter bottle of both regular & diet Coke.  Or you can drink it on the rocks or neat, your call.  Obviously only available to those over 21.
All raffle proceeds to be sent to Childs Play charity, as always.
One ticket is included with your admittance fee, additional tickets are $1.  If you buy 5 additional tickets when you pay for the LAN, a bonus ticket is included (you’ll then have 7 tickets to put into the buckets).   This way, when you pay with a twenty I don’t have to have so many $5 bills on hand and you get an extra shot at some good stuff :)
Based on past feedback on the raffles I “cut the crap” and hopefully there is something that will interest everyone on the table.  I love the heatsink, you bet that is where my tickets are going…
–Nat