Techie Bro

Thursday, 11 October 2012

FreeNAS: your very own home-shared file network

This article is originally published at www.pinoygigs.com by xarki, on Mon, Sep 10 2012

Networked Attached Storages (or simply NAS) has been a growing alternative for businesses and corporations worldwide. With the implementation of such system, electronic data (of all sorts) can be properly shared throughout a large network across different platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.)

Though majority of businesses take advantage of this network system, some individuals like me do not disregard the possibility for the application of the same technology in the comforts of my own home. The piling number of documents, photos, music and videos will be too cumbersome if managed through different storage devices and computers. I always find myself stalled when doing certain tasks like compositing digital art for a certain project which leads me to mounting several disks to access my library of digital images needed to build my next master piece.

I did consider buying large capacity external hard drives. Even though their portability may be an advantage, there is this minute limitation in expanding my storage capacity in the near future that forbids me to do so. Also, the unwanted access of my personal files and folders will be defeated by this idea. Additionaly, I may have to purchase several external storage devices just to keep personal things out of reach.


The NAS concept somehow gave me a better idea with what I need at the moment – a central location for all of “our” files with the right user security access, expandable and manageable system, and a cross-platform medium for all our gadgets. With the NAS, I can access all my files from whatever device (tablet, netbook or desktop PC) I get my hands on simultaneously without the need to transfer an external device from one computer terminal to another.

What’s good with a PC-based NAS is that it gives you more room for upgrades (hardware side), nice data back-up (through RAID) and get to choose which software to run your NAS. I tried to use one of those commercially available NAS devices but they are a tad slower than my current setup plus it does limit my storage expansion (usually max of two hard drives only).


Among the softwares available, I chose FreeNAS because of its low system requirement and widely customizable options. I installed FreeNAS in a 2GB USB drive giving me more room to fully use the rest of my four hard drives.

Now, we can save and retrieve our files on a single location, watch our favorite movie collection simultaneously through different media devices and the best of all, I get to save money by reusing my old PC to do the work. Isn’t that nice?

To view the complete set of photos for this project, visit my Facebook page - The Techie Bro: FreeNAS Project
To know more about FreeNAS, you can visit their website at www.freenas.org/

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Enjoying HD movies with Measy's NMT

Movie watching is one of my avocations. It does not only provide me rest and relaxation but also hours of fun and entertainment.

I started a movie collection with my sister a few years ago when CDs and DVDs are still topping the home movie viewing charts. Maybe, it is something we acquired from our father after he brought home with him a box of VHS tapes from abroad. Yeah we even had Betamax tapes back then! Now I can even remember owning a re-winder for those tapes (The good old days!)

And now come the birth of high-definition multimedia where everything promises crystal clear audio and full detailed high quality films. And the only possible way of having them is to own a blu-ray disc player. Darn it! Do I need to buy another one of those?

Now, my unsettled mind invited me to hunt for better tech alternatives. If I would be crashing my funds for another home entertainment equipment, why not figure out better ways of enjoying film watching at home.

I asked a few people around and lurked on some forums online to get some better ideas before putting my foot in the water.

So then, I found out that HD movies (720p and 1080p) are the best of quality and I could own these high quality films through some P2P file sharing networks. That’s not bad! After all, I’ve got a fair Internet speed to start downloading these eye catchers!

But, wait a minute! Where will I watch these films? … Ah! No other way but on my computer. But is there any other way for me to watch it without setting up an HTPC (Home Theater PC)? You know the power costs here in the Philippines is way too much.

Then, came an answer. Why not get hold of one of these Networked Media Tanks (NMT). What are they? These are stand-alone multimedia devices that has the capacity to receive large capacity disks for file storage (Hard disk drives) which you can plug in directly to your TV for instant viewing. Also, it has the capability to serve as an online file server on your home network because it can be connected through a LAN cable or compatible wireless dongles. This means you can also watch a video from your desktop PC through your home network from this device.

There are a large number of brands that you can find in the market today. Each promising unique features like content management and torrent download support yet everyone of them is carrying a bit pricey tag depending on what they offer.

I went over some kind of research so as to find the best brand to start up with that can match my requirements and most importantly, fit my budget.

Measy peasy nice and easy!
My brother bought himself one of these NMTs and though he purchased a not too popular brand in its class, I can say it is a bang for the buck. Why? Because of the following features which NOT ALL similar devices have all of them included:
  • presence of multiple audio and video ports
  • can play a wide range of multimedia formats particularly MKVs (matroska) and MP4s
  • torrent support (Peer-to-peer file sharing)
  • large disk capacity support up to 2 Terrabyte SATA Hard Disk Drive
  • expandable storage options (via its 2 x USB ports)
  • upgradable firmware (important part for us techies)
  • live community support (bulletin board and forums)
  • cool led backlit remote (take control of your viewing even in the dark)
Aside from videos or movies, the Measy E8HD NMT can also play music (mp3's), view photos (just plug-in your photo filled USB disk and watch the auto-slide show) and watch online video streams from selected channels like Youtube.

Here are a few snapshots of the media player.




The quick access Hard drive bay supports 2GB max SATA HDDs
The back panel showing all connector ports: (from left to right)  Power port, Coax, Optical audio, RCA, Component, HDMI, USB 2.0, LAN, USB x 2
My portable 2.5" HDD connected to the NMT
The backlit remote showing the buttons on the top part
Another shot of the backlit remote
Though the E8HD does not have support for meta content (detailed video info) like that of Popcorn hour, Egreat or the HTPC, I will still go for this home theater gadget. Not does only it boasts a low price tag but it also assures hours of fun without worrying so much on your monthly electrical charges. (The E8HD Media player consumes an average of 24 watts compared to an HTPC which ranges from 40-80 watts depending on its build).

Finally, I got myself a Measy media player. Now my kids are enjoying hours of Dora and Barney series from this piece of equipment. I think I may have to buy another one for myself :(

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Changing your DNS server address

Here is a follow up article on my post Addressing the ISP's poor DNS service. I have written here a walk through on how to implement the suggested DNS server addresses I have shared on that previous blog post.

Throughout this tutorial, I will be using Windows 7 as my operating system. And to make things simple, I prefer making the modifications on my desktop PC. (You can also make wide area changes to your home network through your router just so you know) 
  1. In order for us to make use of the lists of recommended DNS addresses, we must first modify our network adapter settings via the control panel. Open your control panel via Windows' start menu. Then make a left mouse click on Network and Sharing Center.

  2. control panel

  3. A new window will open and this time select Change adapter settings. Left click on it.

  4. Network and Sharing Center

  5. It will now bring you to a window with a list of your network adapters. Make a right click on the desired network adapter and a context menu will open. Make a left click on Properties. Note: If you have more than one network adapters installed, make sure to select the one that connects you to the internet.

  6. network adapter

  7. It will open a window showing some advance properties of your Network Adapter. Under the "this connection uses the following settings" look for Internet protocol version 4 (TCP/IPv4). Left click on it to highlight it then left click on properties.

  8. Connection settings

  9. It will again open another properties window. This time focus your attention to the input box located below this property window (boxed in red). Make changes on this one. In this example, I made use of Google's Public DNS addresses. Note: Make sure that the "use the following DNS Server addresses" radio button is selected.


  10. Left click on OK to validate the settings. Then left click on close to exit the properties window. 
  11. Browse through the internet using your favorite browser. If you have successfully opened a webpage, then your done. Congratulations!
Advanced configurations (for the more technically inclined)
  1. If you want to input all the DNS server addresses I have provided, you may proceed by left clicking on the ADVANCED button.

  2. advance DNS

  3. Left click on the DNS Tab. You can now enter additional DNS servers on this list by (1) Left click on the ADD button and type in the desired address (2) Use the priority buttons to change the queue of the DNS addresses (3) Left click the OK button to apply the changes.

  4. DNS advance tab
For the list of recommended DNS servers, refer to this post.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Addressing the ISPs’ poor DNS service

Have you encountered a selective browsing problem? Like you can instantly surf to your FB account page but then you are having a hard time going over on some of the other sites in the web? Here is one way to make it out of that puzzling issue. (This can also be a solution to slow internet browsing speed) Normally, we make use of ISPs default DNS server. But then, it can cause us some trouble if they are doing some maintenance works on their system (even if they deny it) which deters our travel through cyberspace. Fortunately, we can resolve this issue. Modifying your default DNS server address is one way to get away with it. Wait a minute! What is DNS?

According to wikipedia.org,

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a hierarchical distributed naming system for computers, services, or any resource connected to the Internet or a private network. It associates various information with domain names assigned to each of the participating entities. Most importantly, it translates domain names meaningful to humans into the numerical identifiers associated with networking equipment for the purpose of locating and addressing these devices worldwide.
Well, that's a mouthful. Albeit too technical for most of us.

DNS serves as a phone book to the World Wide Web which maps out each connected device to the global network. It manages the name of our websites so we and other people can access them by typing them in our web browsers. That is why we can only have one specific address that we can use in naming our websites. Duplicate domain names are not allowed to avoid problems in accessing our web pages.

Our computers acts as hosts to each incoming connections and also works as clients to other computers in the Internet. Some computers works as DNS servers to provide us with a better network directory and reach our desired destination. That is why replacing your default DNS server address can make a considerable impact on how you browse the Internet.
  • It can increase your Internet speed. (though this will vary on other factors eg. PC specs, subscribed Internet speed) 
  • It can lessen or completely resolve your selective browsing issues 
  • It can give complete control on how you browse the Internet on your network by using filters (like that of OPENDNS) 
Here is a list of the recommended DNS addresses that yields better than the default ones as provided through our Internet service providers.

The desired DNS addresses (my preferred and tested lists):

DNS Server Preferred Alternate
Google's Public DNS 8.8.8.8 8.8.4.4
DNSAdvantage 156.154.70.1 156.154.71.1
OpenDNS 208.67.222.222 208.67.220.220
Verizon/GTEi 4.2.2.1 4.2.2.2
4.2.2.3
4.2.2.4
4.2.2.5
4.2.2.6
Destiny Cable Internet 202.8.248.254 202.8.224.1

What's left for us to do now is to make use of these numbers and start punching them in our PCs and see if they do work. I have tested Google's Public DNS and OpenDNS as well.

I prefer Google's DNS addresses since it has never failed me to access most of my frequently visited websites (and it is faster than that of my ISPs). OpenDNS on the other hand served me a different purpose. That is, filtering my Internet Cafe's access to some of the restricted sites in the web :) (You know what I mean!)

How to use them? Here's a separate article for that - Walkthrough on how to change your DNS server address

Friday, 2 December 2011

Thinking Green!


Computer parts, tech devices and high-tech gadgets are among the things that contribute to the growing number of garbage in the world.

Normally, we throw out computer parts and gadgets that are broken and are considered unrepairable. Buying a new one to serve as a replacement is so much better than wasting our time holding on to our current item with the hopes of having it brought back to life and be used again.

That changed everything when my wife has called upon my participation in a greening task and somehow help save the environment. Yeah right! The green advocacy. What everybody else is doing right now in the hopes of slowing down the deterioration of our planet.

As a tech person, I never thought I could contribute much to this endeavor. As I was never aware that my junked stuff can can make the world a better place. A challenge as it seems from my wife as she started working on things that she can do on her part.

How can I do my deed with all this junk inside my drawers that I long getting rid off A-S-A-P?