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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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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So you think you want to farm chia?

Chia is a great fiber supplement for your diet. But have you considered it as a supplement to your cryptocurrency mining?A package of Target Simply Balanced chia seeds

Chia is a proof-of-space-and-time cryptocurrency, invented by Bittorrent creator Bram Cohen and inspired/designed after Satoshi Nakamoto’s original Bitcoin paper. You can read plenty of the underlying details and math around it at chia.net, but what I’ll be covering here is an introduction to how Chia works for the person making it, and how to get started with Chia.

You should read this post first, but I have hardware suggestions in another post, and both the chia.net website and chiadecentral.com have plenty of ideas as well.

There is a Frequently Ungoogled Chia Questions post available as of May 11, 2021; it will get most updates, although if anything in this post becomes totally wrong, I will fix it. 

I wrote up my NUC plotter build step by step.


I also need to note that, while I appreciate all of the feedback and the record-setting number of viewers to this post, I cannot provide free consulting and rig reviews to everyone who submits a configuration. I’m happy to try to address specific questions in the comments, but general “help me get started” and “what hardware should I use” questions are answered in these posts and I won’t be able to review everyone. 

 

First, The Caveats

Read this post, and some of the linked resources, but the best thing to do is to start with what you have on hand. A big part of the design of Chia is to use reusable components (unlike ASIC mining and even certain GPU mining, which eventually outgrows the components, which will then be less useful for any other use). 

If you have a modern desktop with 8+ CPU threads, 16GB or more of RAM, at least 300GB of free SSD space and at least a few terabytes of HDD, you’re good to go. 

If you don’t have anything like that, I’ll share my own configurations below, as well as some hardware lists in an accompanying post to help you find a manageable starter farm for around $1000 and another more scalable one for under $2000 (less if you start from an existing system or components) . You can also find hundreds of tested configs on the Chia subreddit and various blogs. 

If you decide later to invest thousands of dollars in hard drives, SSD, big CPUs, and lots of RAM, you’ll better understand how the process works and where to put your money. Or if you’re like me and have a pile of old servers in the garage, you’ll be able to upgrade what you already have and make the most of it. 

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 SSD 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.  

And don’t expect to get rich on day one. For starters, Chia transactions don’t open up until May, so you can’t do anything with your Chia until then. And it may take you days, weeks, or months to find Chia, and none of us know yet where the value of the currency will go. Calculator sites are estimating $20. Some speculative sellers are looking at a lot more than that. But today, it’s just pre-farming and getting ready for the full launch next month.

High-level Overview of Chia Farming

Most cryptocurrencies are mined, but Chia’s process is called farming. I may accidentally use the ‘mining’ term interchangeably, but in the documentation you’ll see Chia farming, plotting, harvesting, and so forth, following the crop analogy.

There will be three basic steps in creating Chia.

  1. Install the Chia software and create a wallet/keys
  2. Plot one or more plots of Chia space, which will be used as the basis for farming. This uses high speed storage, temporarily.
  3. Farm against the plotted plots of Chia space. This uses cheap, low-speed storage, permanently.
  4. Bonus step – you have no control over this (it happens as a function of luck and #3), but hopefully you will farm successfully and find block rewards of XCH, the Chia coin. These come in blocks of 2, so your first successful match will earn you 2 XCH. 

Hardware considerations

You need three functions for Chia, in addition to a supported OS (Linux or Windows probably), a network connection for your node, and the usual power/space/cooling:

  1. CPU threads and RAM. You need a minimum of 2 threads and 4GB of RAM to create a single plot. You will not want to use all threads or RAM, or the rest of the OS will be sluggish, so if (for example) you have 6 cores, 12 threads, and 24GB of RAM, you should run no more than 5 plots in parallel, not 6 (which would use up all your resources). 
  2. High performance storage for creating plots (about 300GB of temporary space per parallel plot)
    You will generally plot on high performance storage. NVMe is popular for this, but SAS disks can be used with fair performance, and even your desktop 7200rpm SATA drive will function, albeit more slowly.
    While a k32 plot only requires 256GB (238.3GiB) of temporary space since the release of Chia 1.0.4, a single plot will use 1.6-1.8 TB of writes, which you should take into account when planning SSD storage. more on this later. 
  3. Low performance storage for storing and farming plots (about 108GB of permanent space per plot)
    This should be the largest cheapest storage you can find. A home grade NAS (such as an older Synology or QNAP) or even an external drive enclosure (like Drobo or Orico or Syba) with large 5400rpm or 7200rpm drives is good, or a few large internal SATA or external USB 3.0 drives on your plotting machine are acceptable as well. Since you are writing sequentially once and reading a lot, RAID5, RAID6, SHR with Synology, or ZFS are viable options. 
    Plots will be stored for a long time (they are expected to be valid for 10 years), so you will probably keep adding storage as you grow your farm. 

There are a lot of other considerations, especially in matching up threads, RAM, and high perf storage to make the most of a single machine. you should read some of the Reddit (r/chia) and chia.net posts as well as chiadecentral.com to get a better grasp on this. But for now, 2 CPU threads, 4GB of RAM, 300GB of high performance storage, and 1TB of slow storage (can be the same if you have nothing else) is enough to get started with two plots a day.

Setting up your Chia node

You can plot and farm on a very basic PC, just as you can mine Ethereum on a very basic GPU. However, you will want to consider some aspects of the plotting process, as well as long-term farming storage, if you plan to hope to make some XCH out of this. 

You can do this on Windows, Linux, or both in parallel. I will discuss the Windows version for the most part, but I’m mining on Ubuntu 20 and Windows 10. And most of this can be accomplished from commandline on either platform, or through a third party Python application called plotman on Linux or a beta port to Windows.

The Chia software is a small bundle you download from chia.net’s front page. It’s been updated about 8 times in the month I’ve been farming, so you will want to check often or follow reddit.com/r/chia or other forums of your choice. Some updates are bug fixes, others increase the efficiency of the processes (like reducing temp space or plot size by 20% or more). 

Install it, create a wallet and keys, and make sure it starts up. The first time, you won’t see the “Private key with public fingerprint,” so you’ll choose “Create a new private key.” Store your 24 word mnemonic somewhere secure and offline. You’ll use it to install on other machines, or to recover if you lose your wallet on this computer. 

Your chia node will not be able to farm until it has synced the blockchain. This will take a day or two (as of original writing in late April 2021; as of May 5, 2021, expect two days). 

The above screenshot is from a system I installed chia on about 20 hours earlier. 

Plotting your first plot

Plots are the ground you try to grow Chia coins from, more or less, so without them, Chia is not useful to you.

In the GUI for Chia, you’ll see a Farm link and a Plots link. 

Farm shows what you already have to work with, and what you’ve earned. 

Here you see that the system I’m screenshotting from has 13 plots, for a total of 1.287TiB, and I have earned 4 XCH in the time I’ve been plotting. When you first install the software, you will not see any XCH or plots, and probably no Estimated Time To Win. And given the luck of farming, that 5 months is an estimate, not a minimum or a guarantee. Some people have found Chia (“Win”) with 2-3 plots, and others have hundreds of plots and no Chia. I found mine before I hit 100 plots, for what it’s worth. 

Since you have no plots, or you want more, you’ll go to the Plots link. 

Here you see that I am running six plots now, and have others that are farming. You You won’t have those at the moment, so we’ll start our first plot.

As you are getting started, you can leave the defaults alone. In about 6 years you’ll want to increase the plot size, but for now, leave it there. 

Make your first plot with the default settings. If you’re on a computer with close quarters, you can later do multiple plots in the queue, making one after another. After your first plot or two, you can go into parallel plotting, using the math above to make sure you don’t overrun your resources. 

After you’re comfortable with single plots, you can consider increasing the advanced option settings. Currently the advice in the Chia world is that more than 7GB of RAM is a waste (per plot), and there’s some debate on increasing threads. Certain parts of the process use one or the other more, and I have designs for three plot levels depending on your resources. 

Scroll down to set your storage locations. 

Your temporary directory is the fast high-throughput storage. Lots of people are using NVMe storage, and others use enterprise SSD, PCIe card flash storage (think Fusion-io type storage), or even hard drives. 

As noted above, you need about 300GB of space, and about 1.6-1.8 TB will be written for each plot.

You can stripe this storage. 4x 512GB SSD striped will give you about 1.8TB (or 6 plots in parallel without offset) whereas 4 individual 512GB SSDs will give you about 480GB each, or 4 plots in parallel. 

Your final directory is the huge slow storage. You need 100GB of space per plot, and these pile up, so 100 plots will be about 10TB. 

My Chia hardware experiences

When I started out, I was using a 6 core, 12 thread Ryzen 5 3600 on my desktop, with 64GB of RAM, a 512GB USB 3.1 external SSD from RAVpower, and an 8TB USB 3.0 external HDD. This let me do one plot at a time and hold about 75. I later upgraded to a PNY CS2130 2TB internal NVMe SSD, and started moving the plots to my Synology NAS or another node with more disks. This let me do up to 6 parallel plots (although that ate all my CPU threads). 

I usually plan for 12 hours per plot (or set of parallel plots). Some people have tuned their plots to under 4 hours, and some take a day or more. 

When I figured out what was going on, and realized I had a spare workstation in the garage with lots of resources (28 cores, 56 threads, 64GB RAM, and 1TB across four NVMe drives), I set that machine up–some of you may remember the Dell Precision T7910 I described here three years ago. I later upgraded to 4TB of NVMe and replaced the 6TB of internal SATA with four 8TB internal SAS drives for a total of 30TB internal space. 

My third Chia project machine was a T5810 with a 6 core 12 thread E5-1650 v3 processor and 32GB of RAM. It also has an external SAS HBA connecting to some SAS arrays that I’m still trying to optimize. 

At some point I will be merging the T5810’s functionality with the T7910, so I can get the beefy external storage and the mountain of CPU threads. 

You may be considering power draw for this equipment. The circuit that has the T5810, the T7910, a 15″ LCD monitor, and two 24-drive 2.5″ SAS arrays is currently using around 820 watts. I believe about half of that is the SAS arrays, so if you stick with internal storage, you’ll be way under that. The original Ryzen desktop is around 210 watts. 

Starter hardware configurations

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. 

Since this post is getting long, I’ve put the hardware notes in another post. Check it out here: https://rsts11.com/2021/04/27/chia-hardware-starting-points/

And since a few people have asked, you can do Chia and GPU mining on the same machine. However, I don’t recommend it. If you have to restart your machine (OS or driver updates, hardware issues, etc), you may lose up to 12 hours of plot building work, and as far as I know, an interrupted plot just needs to be deleted and started over. But if you have one machine that is your workstation, your gaming rig, and your GPU miner, go ahead and give it a shot. But plan to break it off at some point if you’re going whole hog into Chia farming.

Where do we go from here?

At this point I’m going to try to centralize my farming operations and get them onto auto-pilot. By using Plotman, I should be able to optimize my available space and let my T7910 mine like crazy. 

What about you? What have you started with on the Chia farming path? Share your configs, your questions, and your bounty in the comments below. And for those of you who buy components through my links, thank you so much. 

Note: I will be updating this post over time as feedback comes in. Last update: 2021-5-08 1:45am PT.

 

Colin Quinn and the Art of Mining Rig Maintenance

I’ve been doing a lot with cryptocurrency mining lately, so there’s been a lot of activity here on rsts11 about it as well. For this post, a lot of the concepts can apply to a home lab in general, although it was inspired by several conversations on mining channels on Telegram and Discord over the past month.

In the late 1980s, actor Colin Quinn was an announcer on a game show called Remote Control. It’s not terribly remarkable in context, but as I’ve had a few people of differing technical levels ask about remote control for their mining rigs, it seemed relevant. 

Whether you’re managing a single server, a home lab, a mining rig, or an entire farm, it’s likely that your gear will not be in  your home office or possibly not even in your home at all, but you won’t want to travel to where the gear is everytime something needs to be power cycled. In the case of one of the people I consulted for recently, he was going to deploy mining rigs at a friend’s house in another country, and would not be able to be hands-on with the gear more than 2-3 times a year.  

So the considerations I’m making here are tuned for a relatively small number of systems that may not have IPMI console access, and may not have convenient access or remote hands services available. In a datacenter or similar environment, you may have contracted services to send someone to hit the reset button or look for issues. For many of my readers, this is not a luxury you’ll enjoy. 

My own remote access adventure happened when my oldest mining rig was a few miles from home. Thanks to my Meraki networks, I did have direct VPN access, but the rig would occasionally crash and require a physical power cycle. It was only 5-10 minutes each way, and I did have 24/7 access to the facility, but it got very inconvenient at times. 

The considerations I’ll layout here fall into a couple of categories. 

  1. Network access (usually via VPN of some sort)
  2. Console access (remote KVM)
  3. Power control (remote power controller over Ethernet, via #1 above)

Disclosure: Neither Robert M Persig, Colin Quinn, nor Ken Ober have any association or endorsement or even awareness of this blog post. 

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Wrestling with an ONDA B250-D8P-D4 mining motherboard

Most casual crypto miners use a conventional motherboard, especially if they have a PC/case/power supply with sufficient PCIe slots for their GPUs. But when you get beyond 2-4 GPUs, you either need a rat’s nest of riser extenders, or maybe (just maybe) a dedicated mining motherboard.

I recently got a new-to-me mining motherboard, and found it painful to find some information and resources I needed. I’m aggregating this information in this post, and it will get updated as I get more relevant experience with the ONDA motherboard in question. If you have any info to share, feel free to comment below and I’ll update. (Last update 2021-03-14)

I’ve mined with an Octominer 8-slot motherboard for 3 years now. In addition to an onboard Celeron 3855U and a single DDR3 SODIMM RAM slot (max of 8GB), it has eight PCIe x16 slots, so you don’t need to use the common x1-to-x16 risers. It’s complicated in that you have to power the motherboard with a number of additional power connectors (in this case, 6-pin PCIe power leads from the power supply). But it sits flat on a custom frame I ordered in 2018, and it doesn’t have much that I don’t need (like lots of drive controllers, extra memory slots, audio, etc). And if you get a custom mining power supply (or breakout board) with only 6-pin connectors, you’re in good shape. 

Octominer has discontinued their 8-slot boards, and the boards may not support the latest GPUs on the market (much like the Ethos mining distro I used on it until this past week). I couldn’t get the board to boot with an AMD 5500XT GPU (Amazon, eBay) in the first slot, for example. So it’s chugging along with eight Sapphire Nitro+ RX580 8GB cards (Amazon, eBay), seven of which have been chugging for almost three years now.

While they still make custom boards, the only ways to get their products are either to find the rare used item on a marketplace, or to buy the one integrated rig they currently sell in quantities less than 10 (their x12 rig with everything but the GPUs, which runs almost $1,000 shipped to the US). 

Another company making custom boards is ONDA. You can usually find them on eBay or other marketplaces for a couple hundred dollars, with a range of slot support. I found a good deal on the B250 D8P-D4 recently, and since I wanted to aggregate a mess of old GPUs, it was an easy way to go. Continue reading