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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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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On The Road With A Travel Router: The RAVPower FileHub WD009

A few weeks ago, the folks at RavPower asked if I’d like to do a livestream review on their Facebook group for the newest version of their FileHub travel router/battery pack/micro-NAS device.

You can find the video of that 25 minute session here on Facebook.  Skip to 4 minutes in, and excuse the terrible laptop audio artifacts.

Promo codes turn up in the RAVPower Official Group on Facebook from time to time, as well as on the Amazon listings themselves. You can purchase through this link and also support rsts11 a little bit. .

I also talked about their newest “PD Pioneer” 20100mAh 45W Power Delivery charging bank on another live stream on May 8th,

See part one: “Introduction and Overview” for an explanation of the concept of a travel router and what you might look for in one. Watch for part three coming soon.

Disclosure: RavPower provided the review unit at no cost to me, and provided me with a commission for any sales through my promo code. They also shared some use cases to focus on, but did not preview or edit the  livestream or this post.

WHAT’S WITH THIS RAVPOWER FILEHUB YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT?

The WD009 FileHub. Credit card sized hotel key card and US quarter for scale.

The WD009 FileHub. Credit card sized hotel key card and US quarter for scale.

So first of all, here it is on Amazon. The usual price on Amazon is $59.99, but they often have checkbox discounts of a few bucks, or discount codes on their website and Facebook community.

The FileHub WD009 is (I believe) Ravpower’s third generation travel router. I’ve used the first generation (WD02, no longer available on Amazon) and they have a WD03 “FileHub Plus” model that’s available internationally with 802.11n wireless connectivity.

If you can’t acquire the WD009 (sorry to the Aussies in particular), the WD03 is a good deal at $43. It is single-band like the WD008 “FileHub Nano“, so no option for 5GHz band, and I’d expect it to be a little bit slower (and with no one-touch backup option–we’ll discuss this later). It does have the same 6700mAh battery built in. Continue reading

System Build Report: A Xeon-D “HTPC” for FreeBSD Corral or VMware vSphere

I’ve been planning to do some network testing and deploy some new storage for VMware vSphere in the home lab. My Synology NAS boxes (DS1513+ and DS1813+) have good performance but are limited to four 1GbE ports each, and my budget won’t allow a 10GbE-capable Synology this spring. [See below for a note on those $499 Synology systems on Amazon.] Continue reading