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.

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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

Money Pit: 3D Printing Part 3 – OctoPrint and OctoPi

This is one topic in a series of what I’m calling “money pit” projects. To be fair, it’ll be money and time pit topics, and nothing that you’d really have to get a second mortgage on your house to do… but things always get a bit out of hand.

This project is the 3D Printing project. Expect it to be an ongoing series, and I’m hoping to have some friends join the effort and offer their feedback as well. Links and prices are accurate as of November 2020, and may get updated in the future… but don’t count on it.

See the previous parts for the lead-in to this project. From here we’ll get into the enhancements and early printing.

Octopi / OctoPrint

The first day or two, I was running out to the garage to check on prints, and shuttling the included 8GB MicroSD card back and forth to load print files onto it. Since the only storage the printer has is this MicroSD card, I couldn’t add files during a print run, and it got somewhat tiring.

Enter OctoPrint and OctoPi.

OctoPrint is an open-source management program and web front-end for many/most 3D printers. It communicates with the printer over a USB cable. It can be installed on a Linux, Windows, or MacOS computer. However, you might not want to dedicate a full-sized computer to this task.

OctoPi is a Raspbian (Raspberry Pi Debian image) based distribution with Octoprint and the video streamer software included. you just need a Pi 3B or later board (and case and power supply) and an SD card with OctoPi installed. Older boards will work, but with the camera option or other intense plugins (like gcode viewers) you won’t like it according to the folks behind OctoPrint and OctoPi. Continue reading

Rabbit Reorganization: Building low power clusters from a rabb.it door

As you saw in my 3D Printing series, after years of pondering a 3D printer, I was finally inspired to buy one when a pile of clusters came up on eBay from the defunct rabb.it video streaming service.

In this series, I’ll take you through turning a rabbit door into some useful computing resources. You can do something similar even after the clusters are sold out; a lot of people have probably bought the clusters and ended up not using them, or you can adjust the plans here to other models.

Part 2 is out: Rabbit Launch: Loading up the NUC cluster with a usable operating system (but read this one first).

The first thing I will put out there is that these are not latest-and-greatest state-of-the-art computers. If you’re looking for a production environment or DDR4 high density memory, keep looking. But if you want an inexpensive modular cluster that’s only about 5 years out of date, there’s hope for you in here.

Update – As of December 2021, I’ve updated some of the links and prices, and updated the description to show that the door clusters have been sold out for some time.

The original cluster

eBay seller “tryc2” has several hundred of these “door clusters” from rabb.it, a now-defunct video streaming service that closed up shop in mid-2019. I call it a “door cluster” as the 42 inch by 17 inch metal plate resembles a door, and gives you an idea of the ease of manipulating and fitting the environment into your home/homelab as it is delivered.

The cluster bundle would have set you back US$300, plus tax where applicable. The seller seems to have had a thousand or so and they were sold out by late 2020. [Updated 2021]

The cluster includes 10 Intel NUC quad-core boards (mine were NUC5PPYB quad-core Pentium; my friend Stephen Foskett got some that were newer NUC6CAYB Celeron boards which took more RAM). These boards feature one DDR3L SODIMM slot (max of 8GB), one SATA port with a non-standard power connector (more on this later), Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI out with a headless adapter (to fool the computer into activating the GPU despite no monitor being connected), four USB ports, and a tiny m.2 slot originally intended for wireless adapters.

In the center of the “door” are five NVIDIA Jetson TK1 boards. These were NVIDIA’s first low-end foray into GPU development, sold to let individuals try out machine learning and GPU computing. There are much newer units, including the Jetson Nano (whose 2GB version is coming this month), if you really want modern AI and GPU testing gear, but these are reasonably capable machines that will run Ubuntu 14 or 16 quite readily. You get 2GB of RAM and a 32GB onboard eMMC module, plus a SATA port and an SD slot as well as gigabit Ethernet.

The infrastructure for each cluster includes a quality Meanwell power supply, a distribution board assembly I haven’t unpacked yet, two automotive-style fuse blocks with power cords going to the 15 computers, and a 16 port Netgear unmanaged Gigabit Ethernet switch. With some modifications, you can run this entire cluster off one power cord and one network cord.

What’s missing?

So there is a catch to a $300 15-node cluster. The Jetson nodes are component complete, meaning they have RAM and storage. However, the NUCs are barebones, and you’ll need some form of storage and some RAM.

For the Jetson nodes, you’ll need an older Ubuntu machine and the NVIDIA Jetpack software loader. For the installation host, Ubuntu 14.04 is supported, 16.x should work, and later versions are at your own risk. You’ll also need an Ethernet connection to a network shared with your Ubuntu machine, as well as a MicroUSB connection between your Ubuntu host and the Jetson, to load the official software bundle.

For the NUCs, you’re looking at needing to add a SODIMM and some form of storage to each. I bought a bunch of 8GB SODIMMs on eBay ($28.50 each) to max out the boards. For storage, I tried USB flash drives and 16GB SD cards and had OS issues with both, so I bought the MicroSATACables NUC internal harness for each board, along with Toshiba Q Pro 128GB SATA III SSDs (these are sold out, but there’s a Samsung SM841N currently available in bulk for the same price, about $25 each).

If you do get a cluster bundle with the two-memory-slot NUC boards, you have two options beyond the above. The easy and documented option is to look for 4GB SODIMMs instead of 8GB; you may save a buck or two, or if you’re like me, you may have a box of 4GB SODIMMs from various upgrades and not have to buy anything. The other option is to update your BIOS on the NUC and try out 2x 8GB. For some uses, 16GB will be worth the cost (vSphere or other virtualization clusters). I’d suggest going with a known quantity to update the BIOS to the latest version, and then trying 2x 8GB.

One other thing you may need is a pack of spare fuses. I know they do their job, as I blew a few of them while plugging and unplugging the boards. But you may wish to have a few extras around. They’re the standard 3 amp “mini blade” fuse that can be found at auto parts stores (although my local shops tended to have one card of them, if that, on the shelf). You can also buy a 10 pack for $6.25 (Bussmann brand) , a 25 pack for about the same price (Baomain brand) or a 100 pack (Kodobo brand) for about $9.

Choose your own adventure

There are two paths to take once you have your gear collected and connected.

  1. How do we lay out the gear?
  2. What do we do with it?

I’ll look at my journey on both paths in upcoming episodes of this series. Spoiler: I’ve 3d-printed stacking plates for both the NUCs and the Jetsons, and am still working on how to mount the remaining pieces so I can e-waste the door piece. And as I write part 1, I still haven’t figured out what to do with the clusters.

Where do we go from here?

If you’ve bought one of these clusters (or more than one), feel free to chime in on the comment section and let me know what you’ve done with it. And stay tuned to this post (or @rsts11 on Twitter or Facebook) for updates on the next installments.

Money Pit: 3D Printing Part 2 – First Round of Enhancements

This is one topic in a series of what I’m calling “money pit” projects. To be fair, it’ll be money and time pit topics, and nothing that you’d really have to get a second mortgage on your house to do… but things always get a bit out of hand.

This project is the 3D Printing project. Expect it to be an ongoing series, and I’m hoping to have some friends join the effort and offer their feedback as well.

See the previous part (The Back Story, The Rationale, and The Assembly) for the lead-in to this project. From here we’ll get into the enhancements and early printing.

Our first round of enhancements include:

  • Power protection
  • Metal extruder and printed filament guide
  • PEI print bed
  • Upgraded Bowden tubing

I mentioned OctoPi / OctoPrint in the first installment, so I’ll leave the details out this time other than to say you really should set one of these up. Let me know in the comments if you’d like more details in a future post. 

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