Increasing Chia farmer efficiency with Flexpool’s new ‘FlexFarmer’

You’ve probably seen my previous Chia posts, including how to build an efficient but sufficiently beefy plotter/farmer. As a long-time datacenter guy, I like building affordable, powerful servers.

Chia-specific cryptocurrency posts

However, as many farmers have found, if you plot and farm on the same machine, I/O can impact your farming performance, whether it’s disk I/O within the box, or writing off to a network share somewhere.

On top of that, you have to maintain a full Chia node, and optimally set up distributed harvesting with a somewhat complicated process. The full node currently requires about 13GB of local storage and frequent writes, so a Raspberry Pi or the like with an SD card is suboptimal. This also requires up to two days (for most computers) to sync the node initially, during which time you’re not at your best as a farmer.

Imagine if you could farm with the plots you have, using a tiny computer with very little CPU / RAM / storage requirements, without running and maintaining a full node, and saving 100W or more in the process.

Flexpool has just released their ‘FlexFarmer’ program which does just that.

Disclosure: I do work for Flexpool, but this post is based on my experience, not a press release or the pool admin’s expectations. Some of the testing I did was “on the clock” alongside support tasks, but I was not paid or required to write this post.

What does FlexFarmer do?

At a high level, FlexFarmer communicates with a node proxy on the pool server to communicate work and space, instead of requiring a local full node to operate. This means that anything that would require a full Chia node is handled on a powerful, resilient node at the Flexpool end.

You do still need to install the full Chia software to create your wallet. There will probably be ways around this in the future. You will also want a more formidable system for plotting, as the Raspberry Pi isn’t good for more than 1-2 plots a day.

FlexFarmer configuration file, redacted as appropriate

You download and install a binary called ‘FlexFarmer’ on your system, use a python script to get your farmer private key (used for validating partials and signing new blocks), and configure the farmer with a YAML file (above) with details like your farmer private key, your payout address, a system name (much better than the hexadecimal defaults), and where FlexFarmer should look for its plots.

Note that FlexFarmer only farms to flexpool. This has two considerations.

First, if you don’t pool with Flexpool, you can’t use FlexFarmer. This is easy to fix… just go to Flexpool’s Get Started page and join the pool.

Second, if your plot directories have plots from different PlotNFTs, you will get a lot of errors about the ones that aren’t compatible with Flexpool. You can ignore these errors, but I would recommend identifying the plots by pool contract and segregating them into different directories or folders (see the end of the post for more details).

For example, if you have two NFTs called Purple People-eater and Orange YougladIdidntsaybanana, you might have directories called /plots/purple and /plots/orange. In my case, the flexpool plots are in /<mountpoint>/flexpool, and solo plots in a “chia-final” directory at the same mountpoint.

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Thirty Days On The Front Lines: A return to tech support

In September 1996, I left my desk at IQuest Internet in Indianapolis for the last time. A friend from the MUDs I was on had talked me into talking to her brother, a recruiter at Taos Mountain Software, and two weeks later I had an offer, notice given for my apartment and my job, and the terrifying thought of driving 2300 miles with my possessions in a Ryder truck, my very unhappy cat in the front of the truck, and my Pontiac Grand Prix on a trailer it was too heavy for.

But on the flip side, I was getting out of the Midwest and its glorious winters, escaping a salaried position that ended up being a pay cut, and most importantly, leaving behind end-user tech support. For the next 25 years or so, I did tech support, and infrastructure/architecture/caffeine delivery systems, but for internal colleagues who were generally more aligned with my assigned priorities.

Now, I’ve gone back onto the front lines, supporting end users from around the world in several different languages (thanks to Google Translate or Bing Translate), explaining and troubleshooting and answering questions about cryptocurrency in general, Ethereum and Chia in particular, and specifically how to make them work with one of the more advanced mining pools.

As I told the owner when I started, I’ll scale back or even hand over the reigns altogether when I find something more in line with Silicon Valley expense levels, but for now, it’s an extension of what I’d been doing on Telegram since January, and it’s supplementing my coffers in the process.

I meant to write this last month, when it would have been 30 days, but the conversations get overwhelming and blog posts get distracted-from, so here we are closer to 60 days in reality.

What’s it like working for a mining pool?

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When your corporate message is 15 years too late

This is a fun little gripe, not a particularly deep reflection on anything.

I recently dug back into my email to find the following gem:

As you can see, I’m coming up on 15 years (at least) as a customer of Woot!, the daily deal and “bag o’ crap” seller of geek fame. I’ve been a customer long enough to remember moofi, and I’m pretty sure I remember them having just one deal a day.

Well, Amazon acquired Woot! in 2010, and it’s kinda folded in nicely since then. You can log in and pay with Amazon, and Amazon Prime shoppers get Prime shipping and occasional benefits (like a $5 discount on the already marked down Woot! version of this 100-pack of Peets Nespresso-compatible capsules, which are $62 on Amazon but $39 on a recent day’s Woot! deals).

But somehow the marketing email side of Amazon doesn’t realize they have customers who are already customers of Woot!, because 40 times since 2014 (most of them in the last year), they’ve sent me an invitation to join Woot!.

Now before the Amazon login integration, I could understand it. After all, my Woot and Amazon accounts are under different email addresses, in part because when I started shopping with Amazon in 1999, Gmail didn’t exist.

Darn, I don’t need that Solaris 2.6 guide anymore, and the return window has closed.

Anyway, it’s things like this, and getting ads in my mobile games for other games I already have (even the game I found that mobile game through), that make me feel that AI isn’t quite all it’s feared to be just yet.

And I’m a bit disappointed that they haven’t offered me a new customer promo code in each of those 40 emails. That would be a LOT of deeply discounted coffee capsules and cast iron grill accessories, and maybe, just maybe, my first-ever Bag O Crap.

Where do we go from here?

Well, a new Woot email just came in, so I’m going to go look at what I don’t need from this week’s deals.

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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