Chia update and frequently answered questions

Just 15 days ago, I posted a somewhat quick introduction to Chia farming as well as a quick guide to Chia hardware starting points and, a few days later, a step-by-step build of the Intel NUC 10th gen plotter inspired by chiadecentral. Today I posted the start of a Frequently Ungoogled Chia Questions post that I will add to over the coming weeks.

I expected a few dozen people in the Telegram chats I was in to read it, and some Tech Field Day cohorts, and a few random bots on Twitter. 

Well…

50000 airplane banner by Dake via Wikimedia Commons

Over 50,000 readers later, I’m pretty shocked. In fourteen days it surpassed the former leaders, Cisco UCS for beginners – an end-user’s overview and Five fun and useful uses for an extra PCI slot, to become the most read post in my site’s 10 year history.

Lots of comments have shown that it was useful and provoked interest and thought, as well as showing that not everything was fully covered in that post and its follow-ons (hence the new Frequently Ungoogled Chia Questions post). 

And a lot of you were kind enough to use my affiliate links to buy your Chia gear (and some other things I’m sure), for which this between-jobs blogger is grateful. 

What’s new, Chia-cat? Whoa, whoa whoa…

Since those posts came out, Chia transactions went live a week ago, with a peak price on some exchanges of around US$1500 per XCH and a current price of around US$1000 (as I type this). (Click the link or the image for current charts from CoinGecko.)

The world of Chia will become more interesting next week when the pool protocol and design come out from Chia HQ. Like other crypto pools, this development will make it possible to spread out work and rewards more evenly than solo mining/farming. 

It is not expected to end solo farming, which is what has been going on since mainnet opened in March. So if (like me) you’re plotting and farming already, you can keep those plots up and available for another few years and hope for more rewards. 

How’s your hardware going?

Robert's primary chia farming gear

From left to right: Dell Precision T7910, cheap EMC and Dell SAS arrays for supplemental storage, Dell precision T5810

You may remember from my original post that I’m running Chia on my Ryzen 5 3600 desktop (not pictured), a T7910 beast workstation (pictured above), and a T5810 mini-beast (pictured above). Last week I built a NUC-based plotter, and except for filling up the stopgap slow storage drives, and maybe running a little bit warm, it’s worked pretty well so far. 

I’ve taken a liking to the Micron P420m PCIe flash cards, although they’ve become more scarce lately. These are PCIe 2.0 x8 cards that may be branded Micron, EMC, or HP, with 700GB or 1400GB of storage, and write endurance of 9000 and 18000 TBW respectively…

if you have the spare slots, cards like these are pretty good, and while they’re not photonics-speed, they’re quite fit for purpose. Consider other brands, and check with the seller for any details on SMART or other lifespan monitoring data available. A couple of mine had apparently never been powered up before, but a member of our Telegram chat got one that was a lot closer to demise. 

If you can’t find the affordable PCIe cards, datacenter-class SSDs are always showing up, for as low as $200 for a 1.6TB drive (good for 5 plots) . And as mentioned in a previous post, if your motherboard supports PCIe bifurcation, there are several 4x NVMe cards available to get your high speed storage right on the bus. 

Where do we go from here?

Send your questions in if you have something not answered on the posts so far. I’m thinking about a NUC build video, as I have an older one that’s almost identical in build, so if you think videos or other topics would be good to see. 

I’ll be trying to consolidate storage this week, and upgrading the T5810. Right now I have 40+ TB of underutilized space in my SAS arrays, and some 12TB white label drives to test out and put into use. 

Frequently Ungoogled Chia Questions

This critter came in over the weekend. We’ll see if Hello Kitty grows chia faster than my rigs.

I’ve written a couple of Chia posts in the last week, and it looks like a lot of readers have benefitted from them.

There are still a lot of questions, many of them repeated, that people aren’t gleaning from the other posts. I’ll try to gather those here and update this page more often than the others. This will be somewhat freeform, so feel free to search this post or the blog in general for your answers, and if you have a new question, ask it here and I’ll see what I can do.

I will try to organize the questions and answers to make them easier to follow. For now, this is as-I-think-of-them so you may want to browse or use search to find your questions.

Note that I can’t do hardware audits, basic Linux or Windows admin training, or investment advice of any sort on this site. As with any crypto adventure, don’t spend more than you can afford to lose or repurpose, and don’t expect me to talk you into or out of any particular crypto efforts.

As a side note, no, the acronym was not intentional, but it’s relevant when I hear some of these questions. Thanks for asking.

Now on to the questions…

Updated: 2021-05-13 9pm PT

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Building the Intel NUC Chia Plotter

In an earlier post, I shared a design for a Chia plotter/farmer based around the Intel NUC NUC10i7FNH tiny computer.

Today I built that machine, and it’s running its first plot as I type this.

If you landed here, you might be interested in my other recent Chia posts:

Pricing disclaimer: All prices, availability info, and links are accurate as of the writing of this article (May 3, 2021) unless otherwise noted. Prices vary from day to day and availability does too. Use this info with a grain of salt especially if you are reading this in 2022 or beyond.

Here’s a quick rundown of what was involved in the process.

Shopping List

Feel free to shop in your preferred venues online or locally, or if you already have components, use them. These links are Amazon affiliate links, and if you use them, I get a few bucks to go toward my next hardware adventure. (I bought my NUC and RAM from Central Computer, a local computer store in Silicon Valley, and the NVMe drive came from Amazon.)

Base computer – NUC10i7FNH1 currently $570 at Amazon. You want the i7, and you want the FNH which is the “high” case that holds a 2.5″ drive as well as the m.2.

RAM – 32GB (2x16GB) DDR4 2666 or better SODIMM. Crucial 16GBx2 kit around $182 at Amazon. You can install 64GB, but you probably don’t need it with this processor.

Boot drive – I used a Samsung PM851 that’s not available on Amazon at the moment. Any 2.5″ SATA drive will do, even a HDD. Amazon has the WD Blue SSD 250GB for $45 or 500GB for $60. If you have something else on hand that’s at least 120GB, go ahead and use it, or if you want some internal plot storage, get something bigger. 

Plotting drive – 2TB Inland Premium NVMe is popular with its 3200TBW rating, about $240 on Amazon but out of stock for the next week. If you watch your drive life, you can use cheaper NVMe or even SATA m.2 storage. But check the TBW (Total Bytes Written, or Terabytes Written) and warranty for your drive and take that into account. 

OS install drive – Get a USB 3.0 drive with 16GB or more space, and use Balena Etcher or Rufus to burn Ubuntu 20.04 LTS to it.I like the Sandisk Ultra 32GB for price point and quality, about $10 at Amazon

External long-term plot/farm storage – I’ll be using an 8TB external drive in the near term, but you can use whatever you have, even NAS storage. 

Bonus: Staging disk. A user on r/chia suggested using a staging drive to copy your final plot file to, so that your plot process ends faster than if it has to be copied to slow disk. You can then automate moving the plot files to your external HDD at your leisure, and get back to plotting again up to an hour faster. For this, you can use an external USB 3.0 or better SSD like the WD My Passport SSD ($150 for 1TB), Crucial X8 ($148 for 1TB), or pretty much any SSD that will hold a batch of your plots (1TB will hold 9 plot files). You can also use a directory on your NVMe drive for this, but make sure you don’t let it fill up.

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Robert’s Rules for Success, or at least reduced chance of failure

I’ve made a few references lately to avoiding Jurassic failures. In some tech circles, including cryptocurrency projects, it seems very popular to make bad decisions and not claim responsibility. And yes, I’ve been writing and talking and thinking a lot about crypto this year. I’m not alone, but I’m the only one on this blog who you’d be able to make that observation about.

The Jurassic reference of course is to Jeff Goldblum’s character Dr Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park.

Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.

The Jurassic Park reference is a bit more universal than the one I used to use, which was to Wangdi something. I had a Nepalese classmate in college named Wangdi, and the main thing I remember of him from those years was his disc soccer/disc golf prowess. Well, that, and the time he had someone spread three soccer discs in a throw which he would normally have caught with ease, but in this case he tripped over a sprinkler head about two steps into his run and faceplanted in the quad.

  1. Don’t always do things just because you can

    Corollary: Don’t always do things just because you saw them on the Internet

2. Don’t try to start out at full speed; watch where you’re going and work your way up

Corollary: Set a reasonable plan and try to follow it. Don’t get distracted by squirrels

3. Plan to spend at least one minute for every $100 spent, learning how your item works

Corollary: If you can’t do that, don’t expect others to do it for you for free

Between these two warnings, you can take something away. First, don’t always do things just because you can (or because you saw them on the Internet). Second, don’t try to start out at full speed; watch where you’re going and work your way up.

And third is my One Percent Rule, not to be confused with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Seven Percent Solution. For every $100 you spend on an endeavour, spend at least one (1) minute learning or trying to understand it on your own before demanding help in free volunteer forums or from overworked support staff. So if you’re spending $3,000 on a GPU, but you’re not willing to spend 30 minutes learning how to use it, maybe don’t spend it. See also the first and second rules above.

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Chia hardware starting points

I started writing this section as part of my So you want to farm Chia post, but that post was getting pretty long. So my hardware suggestions will make their own separate appearance here.

If you found this post first, please read So you think you want to farm chia? first. Then come back here. I’ll be waiting.

As I mentioned in the other post, start with what you have, if at all possible. An underused 2-4 cores of CPU, an extra 4-8GB of RAM, 300GB of temp space and a couple hundred gigabytes of permanent storage will get you going.

If you can’t start with what you already have, you can build a very viable system for around $1000. Since it’s not very specialized, you can reuse it for something else (a desktop, another software project, a VMware home server, etc) when you’re done, or when you outgrow it. 

These bills-of-materials will have some pricing and Amazon affiliate links. Prices are current as of the original posting, and will change over time. You can choose to buy them anywhere of course, or change the components up. If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’d recommend checking out Central Computer to support one of our few remaining local computer stores, and I’ll mention their advertised prices here as well as Amazon’s. Sign up for their Preferred Customer program and you will probably save a few bucks. I get nothing if you buy from them, except warm fuzzies. 

Also be aware that some of these items may be hard to find at times, as Chia is becoming more popular and a lot of popular items are getting bought up.

One last caveat before we get to the configurations:

If you’re using an SSD or NVMe drive for plotting, the plotting process will wear out the SSD eventually. A single plot uses up to 1.8TB of writes. Check your drive specs and figure out what lifespan to expect, and don’t use your boot disk as plotting space. As examples, the 1TB Samsung SSD980 is rated for 600TBW, or 333 plots (including failed ones), for $130. A Seagate Firecuda 520 1TB is rated for 1800TBW, or 1000 plots, for about $180. So spending about 50% more gets you 3x the endurance. 

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