Saturday, July 17, 2021

How to Download Windows 10 ISO and Create Windows Install USB Without Using Microsoft's Tool on Windows

 

  1. Get the Win10 ISO
    1. Using Google Chrome navigate here: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10
    2. Ctrl+Shift+I to enter Developer Tools
    3. Click the Phone/Tablet icon in the top-left of the Developer Tools menu
    4. Open the "Responsive" dropdown menu and choose "iPad Pro"
    5. Refresh the page
    6. Select edition > Windows 10 > Confirm > Choose language > Confirm
    7. Click 64-bit download and save somewhere
  2. Create Installer USB
    1. Download Rufus #.## Portable from here: https://rufus.ie/en_US/
    2. Open Rufus
      1. Click "SELECT" and choose the ISO you downloaded in step 1
      2. Make sure the device listed at the top matches your USB drive (name and size)
      3. Choose "MBR" for Partition scheme
      4. Click "START" (note, all data will be wiped from your USB drive)
      5. When this finishes you will have a bootable Windows installer USB

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Storage/Virtualization Server Setup

 

Summary: Built out a storage / virtualization server trying to optimize for budget, while still maintaining features, expandability, and performance. These are just the specific components I used since I had some parts already and wanted to be able to run some docker containers and virtual OSs for testing stuff. CPU, GPU, and HDD prices are still astronomically high, so definitely wait for Black Friday deals or general sales/deals if you can. Put alerts on Slickdeals.com and install the phone app to get notifications.

OS: Unraid (https://unraid.net/). It's proprietary and you sacrifice some performance (but most people won't have 2.5 or 10GbE networks anyway, but you get the most flexibility in scaling drives, preventing data loss on multiple drive failure, etc). It's a powerful hypervisor as well if you want to run server OSs or just host plex / game servers.

Case: Fractal Design Define R5 (https://amzn.to/2TOoFxH): One of the best cases I've ever used and super cheap. 8x 3.5" HDD bays, I think 2 more if you bottom mount and 3 more if you throw in a hotswap bay in the disk drive slots. Plus 2x 2.5" SSD slots for caching drives. It can fit most motherboards you might want as you scale up or you can throw a tiny cheap mobo/processor in it for a budget build.

Motherboard: Gigabyte B450 AORUS M (https://amzn.to/3k18IPe): 6x SATA ports to start and planning on adding in something like this for later expansion (https://amzn.to/3k8inDA).

CPU: AMD Ryzen 3900X 12-core (https://amzn.to/3hPEaxa): I upgraded my desktop CPU so I put this in the server. You can get away with even an old Ryzen 1600 or slower if you are mainly doing storage. Try to find a deal on an older 2200/2400G or 3200/3400G and you won't need the graphics card below since those have integrated graphics (G line are the only Ryzen desktop CPUs that do). If you go with an Intel mobo + processor make sure you get a non "F" labeled processor so they have integrated graphics and you don't need to get an additional graphics card.

Graphics Card: ZOTAC GeForce GT 710 (https://amzn.to/3e53Jcl): One of the only 1x slot GPUs on the market and strangely enough one of the only cards not affected by the current GPU craziness (although this is just to run the server GUI, not to game on). I got this so the full size PCIe slots are available to other devices/GPUs to passthrough into VMs.

RAM: Crucial Ballistix 3200 MHz DDR4 8GBx4 (https://amzn.to/3qZr6cR https://amzn.to/3hUKT92): It's ram and I got it on sale for Black Friday.

PSU: Apevia 800W 80+ Gold (https://amzn.to/2U0zMDs): For a 24/7 server do not skimp out on the PSU. Get at least Gold-rated. I went with this budget PSU but you might want to go with something from Seasonic for more peace of mind (but you will pay 2-3x the price). The fan on this is loud, so it's good for a closet or spare room (make sure there is Air Conditioning / airflow wherever you put this server). UPS: Anything 500-900W depending on how you spec things (https://amzn.to/3xwnv8A): ALWAYS RUN A UPS! EVERYTHING PLUGGED INTO YOUR SYSTEM NEEDS TO BE PLUGGED INTO BATTERY BACKUP OUTLETS ON THE UPS!

Last but not least, HARD DRIVES, glorious Hard Drives: This is the tricky part. Hard drives are going to be the most expensive part of any NAS setup.

Specific Storage Drives: Best Buy WD EasyStore drives are everyone's favorite. Buying consumer drives in enclosures and taking them out is called "Shucking" (yes, like a clam). They are usually cheaper than buying bare drives at MSRP. These specific drives are large in capacity, cheap, and usually WD Red/White NAS (network attached storage) drives inside depending on the model. Sometimes you need to cover up the 3.3v pin with tape to make them work with consumer power supplies, but I haven't experienced that. 14TB for $379.99 each is ridiculous for normal people to afford. https://www.bestbuy.com/site/wd-easystore-14tb-external-usb-3-0-hard-drive-black/6425303.p?skuId=6425303. I picked three of these up for $208.04 each (including tax) last November on sale which is about as cheap as you can expect cost/TB until the new 16TB drives go on sale for similar prices (likely won't happen anytime soon). Some might want to consider using a higher number of smaller drives to mitigate data loss. You can find similar WD drives on Amazon and elsewhere and they will likely be Red/White NAS drives, but you will have to look at review / reddit to determine this. Always get NAS drives for something that will be running 24/7 as consumer drives are not rated for this type of operation and can fail prematurely.

Caching drives: Unraid using something called a caching pool. This is a faster storage pool that is used to ingest data at a faster rate and transfer it to your storage array at a set interval (usually nightly). I used 2x of these Samsung 1TB QVO drives in mirrored mode for a total of 1TB cache with redundancy (one drive can fail): https://amzn.to/3wuUitm

Three is the minimum number of drives you need for a setup with data parity (2 drives hold data, the 3rd holds parity data to rebuild if one of the drives fails. You only get the capacity of 2/3 of the drives you put in, but any one of those drives can fail without data loss. Taking it a step further you can have 2 parity drives so any 2 drives can fail. Unraid is nice because it lets you add arbitrary numbers and sizes of drives to your array without rebuilding everything (getting all data off, reformatting, moving all data back on) like some other solutions require. The only requirement is that your parity drive(s) need to be as big as the largest drive in the array, i.e., you can have an array of [ 4, 8, 12(Parity) ] but the 12TB will need to be the parity drive so you will lose out on those 4TB of storage. I built this out planning on using 3x 14TB drives initially (42TB total, 28TB usable) and add two more 14TB drives (one more storage, one more parity - 70TB total, 42TB usable) on the next sale (this hasn't happened yet, thanks Chia coin).

Boot drive: USB Boot Drive (https://amzn.to/3r1ZmUH). I like these, any flash drive that doesn't get too hot will do. I prefer low profile drives for this purpose, though.


Thursday, October 1, 2020

Brendan's New Gaming Computer

UPDATE: This post was originally written in October of 2019. It's being posted almost a year later, but computer and PC hardware prices have actually increased significantly since then. At the start of the pandemic everything skyrocketed and prices are still recovering to where they were around a year ago.


The time had finally come to build Brendan his first “new” computer in almost 7 years. Let's start with what he's coming from:


In 2013, Brendan bought a PC from CyberPower or one of those similar resellers with an AMD FX-4300 processor and an ATI Radeon R7 270X Graphics Card. It worked well until May of 2017, when an accidental spill killed the graphics card. He replaced the card with an Nvidia GTX 1060 but it was all downhill from there and the processor kicked the bucket in September of that year. 


To rejuvenate the system, I sent him a motherboard with an i7-2600 processor, which was actually a significant upgrade to the FX-4300. The i7 paired with the 1060 was a pretty respectable system that worked well for another 2 years and played pretty much anything he threw at it. Some intermittent hardware issues started cropping up and finally the machine refused to turn on. Instead of investing a ton of time on reviving it he decided it was time for an upgrade.



Planning out a Gaming PC on a budget


That led to the following purchasing and build in September of 2019. Our two goals were to build a great bang-for-the-buck computer as well as have some good upgrade pathways down the line. For that reason, I've decided to go with a Ryzen 2nd generation processor and a B450 motherboard. We planned to go with the Ryzen processor because the price-to-performance ratio is a lot higher than the last few generations of Intel options and the B450 motherboard because with a firmware update most (if not all) of these motherboards add support for 3rd Generation Ryzen processors, which, once the price drops in a year or two will be a solid upgrade along with a new graphics card.



For a few weeks I was watching for deals and price fluctuations. All-in-all, everything indicated it was a great time to buy Ryzen 2nd Generation processors, particularly the Ryzen 5 2600 as well as B450 motherboards. So I bided my time waiting for a good deal to come along, checking Amazon Warehouse Deals (used/returned items) everyday. Eventually I was able to pickup a GIGABYTE B450M DS3H motherboard for around $60. Finally, a rare opportunity presented itself when a Ryzen 2600 came on the Warehouse Deals market for $110. When it arrived it was a little damaged with a few processor pins bent as well as a dirty heatsink. I called Amazon before I even tested it to see what they would do and the offered to take an additional 25% off the price. I then cleaned the heatsink, carefully bent back the pins, and booted it up and everything worked fine. Both parts together cost around $150 versus their retail sum of around $300. 


I filled out the build with a relatively classy looking (for the price) Thermaltake case, 8 GB of ram, an NVMe SSD, and a budget (but still Gold-rated) power supply


Everything came out to around $360 as we were reusing Brendan's existing Nvidia GTX 1060. When the time finally comes we’ll easily be able to upgrade it to a 3rd Generation Ryzen processor and contemporary Graphics Card


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

On The Razor’s Edge of Difficulty: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice



The relationship that video games have with pacing and challenge is somewhat unique among mediums of entertainment. A book or movie may be challenging to get through, but there will never be anything that is physically stopping you from continuing. There are no boss battles in movies. There are many games (particularly from the late 80s and early 90s) that are nearly impossible for even the most seasoned gamer to beat. 

When I was younger, I rarely finished a video game. This is partially because I was an unexperienced kid and partially because video games were more difficult. This created a strange expectation; no matter how much a I loved a certain game, I didn’t expect to see the end of it. I have never had this expectation with a book or a movie, if I enjoy a book or a film, I finish it. Frequently while playing a game I would reach a particularly challenging section and I would get stuck. This could be an obtuse puzzle or something that pushed my reflexes further than they could go at the time.

Now, I rarely have trouble beating most games. I actually seek out more difficult games because I find the challenge creates a more rewarding experience. I recently played through a game that brought back the feelings I had as a kid. 

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. This is the newest title from the Japanese developer From Software. This company makes the Dark Souls series (my favorite series of all time) and is famed for their brutally difficult games.

There was a lot of buzz on the internet about Sekiro after it’s release. Some people were very upset. This game was supposedly harder than any previous From Software game. There are a lot of posts on reddit about people who had paid $60 for the game only to get completely stuck 20 mins into the game.

I thought this wouldn't happen to me because I have played hundreds of hours of Dark Souls and I felt very prepared.  I was wrong. The first true mini boss (about 20-30 mins into the game) crushed me in into the ground about 50-60 times. It took me hours to get past this early boss and there were multiple times in Sekiro that I wanted to stop playing because of the difficulty. Eventually I got through it, but if I’m being honest, I didn’t enjoy it. The game frequently went over the edge of difficulty into the realm of pure frustration. There was some feelings of satisfaction in progressing, but it was more of a "finally" feeling rather than a "hell yeah I did it" feeling.

The world in Sekiro is fascinating, beautiful and sometime terrifying. Its a fever dream of feudal Japan. The experience of exploring endless castles and corrupted temples is heightened by the consent threats that lurk within. So when a massive bull with flaming horns is keeping you from progressing it can be downright anxiety inducing.   

All that being said, I’m glad Sekiro exists and I wouldn't want it to be an easier. Games are much less challenging and more accessible and I love that, but I still appreciate games that remind us the price of admission alone does not guarantee the full experience. This is on full display in games that are set up to challenge the player and force you to grow in skill and depth of understanding to progress.


2018 in Review






2018 In Review


I played a lot of different games in 2018. Here are my thoughts on those games:

Breath of the Wild: This was by far my favorite game of last year. I have never been a fan of the Zelda series but this title blew me away. I appreciated the free formed nature of exploration. The game gives you very little direction and encourages you to climb up high, look for something and head in that direction. The dungeons are much smaller than in previous Zelda games, which I liked because it meant the solution to any puzzle you are tackling is in the room with you. Also considering the game is running on the fairly limited hardware of the Switch it looks beautiful.

Mario Odyssey: I had a lot of fun with odyssey, but in some ways it was disappointing. It didn’t nail the exploration elements for me and there was no real challenge until the end game. Then it felt like the difficulty ramped up to the point of frustration. That being said odyssey is packed full of charm, controls really well, and I had a fun time with it.

Total War Warhammer 2: More of the same. Very similar to the first Warhammer. It uses the classic Total War formula (control a large empire with turn based strategy- engage in battles with real time strategy). Build your empire on a huge fantasy map and fight in small and large scale battles. I loved the mix of classic strategy and high fantasy.

God of War: My number two, not much more to say on this one, check out my full review already on the blog. Really shows how videos games, as an industry, have grown in the last decade.

Horizon Zero Dawn: One of the best executed stories I have ever experienced in a game.  There is an Interesting and mysterious word to explore, fun combat, and good dialogue/ character development. Rarely do you find a mystery like the one here that has such a satisfying conclusion in any genre.  

Monster Hunter World: I have tried to play previous monster hunter games on three or four occasions and it didn’t stick. This one finally clicked. I got in the rhythm of killing monsters and upgrading my gear to kill bigger monsters. This title features many quality of life improvements that make it much less daunting than previous titles in the series.

No Mans Sky: I heard the update had the game closer to what was promised. Turns out I’m not interested in what was promised. I thought it was boring and repetitive from the getgo.

Crash Bandicoot remastered: Holds up better than I thought it would. I really enjoy the straight forward challenge. There are some crazy spikes in difficulty that can be frustrating, but not impossible.
Bayonetta: I didn’t like it. The combat didn’t age well and I wasn't into the story.

Mario kart 8 Deluxe: Mario kart is fun, switch is portable, what else do you need?

Red Dead Redemption 2: Takes a while to get into it but one you do it’s fun game that is well written, beautiful, and takes it time. The game can be really slow, but if you let yourself get wrapped up in it you'll find an amazing experience.

SNES Classic Console: Why did I buy this if I already own most of these games? System looks cute. So far I re-beat Super Castlevania and played a bit of almost every game on it. Nice package with 21 great games.

Dead Cells: A rougelike is a subgenre of game where when you die you start all over from the beginning, only you keep some limited items you collected. Dead Cells is a rougelike with tight controls, a pretty art design, and procedurally generated levels. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roguelike). The game can be really challenging, but it great for the Switch because each run is only around 20 mins.

Stardew Valley: I am normally not into farming sims, but I really adored this game. The map is well thought out and fun to explore there are interesting people to meet and different ways to play. You can farm, fish, mine, or fight monsters. The art style and music is also very relaxing and charming.

Smash Ultimate: It’s all the previous smash games combined into one. There are over one hundred maps, tons of items, content, music, and playable characters. If you love smash you’ll love this. You’ll need to get a real controller though.

Celeste: This was my biggest surprise this year. It’s a very very difficult platformer that centers on dealing with depression and anxiety. It’s hard to pin down what makes it so special, but you really shouldn't miss this one.

A Simpler Time Part 4: Finale 1999


1999 was a year of momentous change. Almost all of the major titles were in 3D and took a large step towards looking more like a modern game. Some of the classics from 1999 included

Tony Hawk Pro Skater- The first in a long line of titles where you could play as your favorite skater (or Darth Vader) and achieve tricks and heights we could only dream of. This game and those that followed had awesome soundtracks and precise addictive gameplay. There were also hidden areas and collectibles.

I spent hours and hours as a kid playing Roller Coaster Tycoon- This was probably my first experience with a simulation game. Building a theme park and designing the most over the top, and sometimes very unsafe, roller coasters was a blast.

Donkey Kong 64- One of the last games made by Rare for Nintendo before they were purchased by Microsoft. DK 64 was a game all about exploring and collecting. To its own fault actually, some people complained there was just too many things to collect. I don't know if there were too many collectibles  I never beat it. I do know that it had the dopest theme song of all time. see : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKuO-1GoNJk

Jet Force Gemini- This was a third person shooter that leaned heavily towards the outrageous. A species of alien ants invades a planet of teadybears and its your job to stop them. There was a large variety of weapons and the levels utilized verticality in a manner that was rare for the time. You could also play as dog that had a gun attached to his back, which was pretty rad. I use to love playing this common on local coop with my cousins.

Ape Escape- This was the first game that I ever played that utilized a dual stick controller. Having two joy sticks is now a standard feature for a controller, but at the time is was a big change. Stores sold Ape Escape bundled with a PS1 dual stick controller because so few other games utilized the control scheme at the time.

Super Smash Brothers- Talk about saving the best for last. SSB is on of my favorite games of all time. SSB was an instant classic because it featured characters and levels from the most beloved Nintendo franchises. The game played in 2D, but had 3D models and stages. I still play original SSB frequently. Four player local multiplayer with a easy to learn hard to master styled game play made SSB my most played game in college, by a wide margin. There is also a strong variety in play styles, maps, and items that adds depth to the game. There have been three sequels since the original and Super Smash Brothers Ultimate comes out in December. Although I have extensively played all of the sequels and eagerly await the new title nothing will ever replace the special place I have in my heart for the OG Smash blue Kirby for life.

So much changed in video games throughout the 90s. Trends came and went, technology rapidly advanced, and new series and developers were born as others faded away. This was a time before micro transactions. The game you bought day was always the finished product. Although Computers had online multiplayer most competitive and cooperative play was done locally creating another reason to have friends over. If you had trouble beating a game you would have to ask a friend on the bus how to proceed or get an older relative to surpass an obstacle. I don't mean to be overly nostalgic and I'm not saying that games have gotten worse, but there is a strong part of me that misses gaming in the 90s and its been a lot of fun thinking about these games again and writing about them, thanks for reading.


A Simpler Time Part 3: 1996-1998


1996 was a huge video game year for me. The Nintendo 64 released and it featured four titles that made it into the top 30 of my top 50 list (now top 51 since I updated it). Crash BandicootSuper Mario 64Pokemon Red (and Blue for losers), and Mario Kart. In the long run Mario 64 was the most important title from 1996, as it became the template and gold standard for all 3D games of the generation, but I am going to be discussing Crash Bandicoot. I recently purchased the Crash Bandicoot N'Sane Trilogy, which is a careful recreation of the Crash Bandicoot trilogy in HD. So far I have beaten the original Crash so here is my retro review:

Crash Bandicoot- I want to start by saying  wow this game was hard. I gave up trying to 100% every level around half way through because it was driving me a little crazy. That being said I loved it. The challenge felt fun and fair. The levels are unique  and varied and are short enough that even if it took me 20 tries to beat a level that would only amount to about half an hour. I have read some other reviews that said Crash hasn't aged very well and that the ultra precision required in some of the platforming is unfair. I really felt that Crash has aged  well. I enjoyed the challenge and felt it was difficult, but fair, and rewarding. There were very few instances where I died and I felt it wasn't my fault and even fewer instances where I didn't want to jump back in and give the level another shot after a game over screen. The simple layout with a single path filled with challenges was refreshing. What is also great about Crash is the secrets and collectibles. Hidden bonus levels and a 100% reward for getting every box in a stage adds an obtainable extra challenges for those who want to get more out of the game. All in all I was almost surprised at how much fun I had revisiting the SONY mascot.     

1997 had some heavy hitting titles, Golden EyeFinal Fantasy 7, Starfox 64Grand Theft Auto, and Gran TarismoGolden Eye stands out to me because it was my first experience with a competitive split-screen first person shooter, which would become a staple activity with friends from middle school through college. Final Fantasy 7 was a landmark title for graphics and story telling, and actually has a remake in the works right now. I remember watching my older brother and his friends playing Final Fantasy 7 and being blown away by the graphics and presentation.  

I feel like I have said almost every year was a big year or an important year as I have gone through the 90s, and that is because it’s true. 1998 however, is different. 1998 was the biggest year of the decade and maybe the biggest and best year for game releases ever. Let me list all the titles, then we can unpack why this year was so important I want you to picture me reading the next three paragraphs in one breath.

Here are just some of the titles: The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of TimeBanjo- KazooieGrim FandagoHalf-LifeStarcraftBalder's GateResident Evil 2Sonic Adventures (also the dream-cast released), Star Wars: Rouge SquadronDelta ForceSoul CaliberMetal Gear Solid, Spryo the Dragon.

Although, I don't personally care for Ocarina of Time, the first 3D Zelda title is held near and dear by millions and you can often see atop best games of all time lists. (I was once talking with a friend from law school who apologized that it was only his second favorite game of all time saying he knew it was sacrilegious to not have it number one). Banjo-Kazooie represents the high water mark for the collect-a-thon genre that was huge in the late 90s, Grim Fando is widely considered the best point and click adventure game of all time, Starcraft is widely considered to be the best RTS game of all time (second maybe to Starcraft 2)Metal Gear Solid redefined the stealth genre as well as narrative structure and player interaction in video games. For example, there was a boss fight in Metal Gear Solid where the boss read games from your memory card stating he was reading your mind and to beat the boss you had to take unplug the controller and plug it back in the player 2 slot.

Delta Force was the first online shooter game that I ever played. I could go on saying why each game I mentioned was critically important and successful. And I will, Star Wars: Rouge Squadron kicked so much ass, you flew space fighters from Star Wars with a huge variety of ships and missions. Watching Paul play Resident Evil 2 gave me nightmares for years, also people really love it, so much so that its being remade in HD this year. Sonic Adventure was the first true 3D Sonic Game. Soul Caliber launched a fighting series based around sword combat that is still around today, Soul Caliber 6 is coming out this October. I've never played Boulder's Gate, but it sold over 2 million units and reinvigorated the classic DnD based computer role playing game. I think that's all of them.... Oh wait I forgot that little title, Spyro the Dragon. Spyro became almost as popular as Crash and the first game alone sold over 4 million copies. Spyro eventually spawned ten squeals and a remastering of the original trilogy is currently in development. Also, I had a deal with my mom that if I read 10 books over the summer she would buy me one video game at the end of the summer, and I got Spyro and loved it. 

That's it for now, tune in next week for the finale and an update on the state of the blog.

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