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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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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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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