Posts filed under ‘Mac’

Comcast blocking Plex? Probably not…

Last summer I used Plex quite extensively.  I took my daughters to swimming practice and instead of driving home, waiting 30 minutes, then driving back to get them, I decided to simply stay there and watch something via Plex on my iPhone while I waited.

Since then, I’ve only used Plex occasionally from outside the home.  Some months ago, I noticed that Plex stopped working when I wasn’t at home.  I briefly looked at it but not too closely.

I decided to dig into it tonight to try to figure out what was going on.

To test, I turned Wifi off on my iPhone and attempted to connect to Plex via LTE.  No dice.  In Plex, I went to Settings > Server > Remote Access.  It complained that Plex was unreachable from the outside.  I noticed that my firewall logs did not show any connection attempts against port 32400, the Plex default.  Interesting.  After trying a few things, I decided to try a different port.  So, I changed the Plex service object (TCP Port 32400) on my Firewall to TCP Port 34200, ensuring the NAT rule still pointed to port 32400 on my Plex machine, and updated the TCP Port setting in Plex.  Within a few moments, it showed “Fully accessible outside your network”.  I validated that I could connect from my iPhone.  Worked great.  In my firewall logs?  Yep, I’m getting hits on 34200 now.

So, is Comcast blocking Plex in NE Florida?  (*GASP*)

I’m leaning toward user error on my part (even though I don’t see an error, and it was working at one point…)

Anyhow, I’m working now…  If I suddenly can’t connect on this new port in a few weeks, I’ll revisit my theory…

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April 13, 2015 at 7:56 pm Leave a comment

Palo Alto PA-200 mini review

I was very happy to get a lab licensed PA-200 in the mail early this week.  If you don’t know, it’s the lowest-end model firewall from Palo Alto Networks.  According to the Gartner report, Palo Alto and CheckPoint are locked in an epic battle for #1 in the enterprise firewall space.  I’ve got a good bit of experience with CheckPoint, so I was eager to see what this competitor brought to the party.

The Palo Alto is not without a learning curve.  Coming from a CheckPoint background, I had plenty of experience with firewalls, but the way things are done is just different in the Palo Alto world.  First, the concept of Zones is something that Palo Alto embraces.  This lets you group interfaces together, put them in the same zone, and traffic between those interfaces is routed without any firewall in the path.

With the large CheckPoint firewalls, we manage them using Smart Dashboard.  To manage a PA firewall?  It’s all in the WebGUI.  Everything from configuration to looking at logs, it’s all right there.  This is nice, as I once connected via my iPhone and was able to make a firewall change, though I don’t recommend doing that often!  But you absolutely can’t do that on the large CheckPoint firewalls.  Don’t get me wrong, there are tradeoffs with a Web interface, but I really do like the fact that there is no need to load a client to manage it.

One thing that is a little difficult to get used to with the PA series is that they are all the same!  I’m used to having CheckPoints for small business, and for Enterprise having completely different feature sets.  Then you have to worry about what blades to get.  With Palo Alto, the highest end firewall has the same user interface as the low end.  So, if you get the smallest firewall for your lab, you’ll be able to see how the high-end units will operate (the higher-end units are much faster at committing config changes, of course).  Palo Alto does have a few subscription features, but it includes quite a bit of functionality in the base price.

So far, I’ve enabled decryption for a few devices on my lab network.  This involved creating certificates and distributing them to the devices that will have their traffic be decrypted.  For most sites, this seems to work very well, but I have ran across a few that it balks on.  I think the issue may be that the root cert those sites use isn’t trusted by the Palo Alto, but I’ve not checked too deep into it yet.  For the most part, the PA-200 effectively does a man-in-the-middle with your SSL traffic.  Having this enabled didn’t seem to actually slow things down much, if at all.  I don’t know if any malware is using SSL today (my guess is that it is), so being able to see inside the traffic and spot the bad actors is a good thing.  I’m also running with Vulnerability Protection, Anti-Spyware, URL Filtering, and WildFire enabled.  I did have AntiVirus scanning enabled, but did see a noticeable decrease in performance with that turned on, so it was disabled.  On their higher end firewalls, you can probably safely run AV without a significant drop in performance, but it did not  appear to be the case for the PA-200.

Update 3/2/2016:  I turned A/V back on much later, and did not see the big slowdown.  I’ve been running with A/V enabled for probably a year now.

I have a number of devices including a NAS attached to the trusted network segment.  Many of these devices are running static DHCP addresses.  Setting them up was easy, but one thing that struck me was you could only put the MAC and an IP into the configuration.  There was no way to mark which IP address was which device.  If I had my way, this would be built into an Address object, so there would be a name associated with the DHCP reservation.  Ideally, you’d simply add an object with the MAC address, and it would add the static reservation for you.  Even better would be if they could figure out some way to tie it into their DNS proxy, so these objects are automatically in DNS.  These are features that are mainly useful for a small office environment, probably not the market PA is gunning for, but they would make nice additions.

I do like the flexibility of the DNS Proxy.  You configure it to forward everything to a pair of DNS servers.  There are options to add your own static FQDN entries for individual names, plus the ability to have entire zones forwarded to specific DNS servers.  You can also have multiple DNS proxies, listening on different interfaces, if you desire.

I have the PA-200 attached to a Cable Modem, pulling a DHCP address., something that complicates things if you wish to use GlobalProtect to run an SSL VPN.  Late last night, I spent about 2 hours putting together documentation from several sources to come up with a configuration that works for SSL-VPN on a DHCP address.  So far I’ve only tested it with the iPhones built-in VPN client (IPsec), but it worked great.  I plan to test it with Windows and Mac clients in the next few days.

I found it refreshing that the PA SSL VPN solution is not based on Java.  This means they have to have three individual clients (32 bit Windows, 64 bit Windows, and a combined 32/64 bit Mac OS X client).  The CheckPoint SSL VPN product is based on Java.  When I first installed it on my Mac, it worked well, but it has been giving me problems as Java or OS X has upgraded.  CheckPoint doesn’t seem to put much energy in keeping that client up-to-date, but PA seems to.

There is a QOS feature built-in.  I added a single QOS rule, placing traffic from a VoIP device into Queue 1, which is the “Real Time” priority queue.  I talked on it for almost an hour as a test, and it worked beautifully the entire time.  The caller on the other end reported that it sounded like I was right there with her.

Anyhow, that’s about all I have to report at this point.

October 25, 2014 at 5:47 pm 7 comments

New Samsung 840 EVO SSD install in 2011 Mac Mini

My recent post recounted the problems that I’ve had since doing my own DIY Fusion drive installation.  Basically, it sounds like my 500 GB drive was starting to die, even though running a SMART test against it showed everything was great.  The clicking I heard on boot-up definitely sounded mechanical, and since the only two mechanical things in the Mini are the system fan and the hard drive, I think the hard drive is the safer bet as the source of the problem.

I ordered a Samsung 840 EVO 500 GB SSD on Saturday.  It was scheduled to arrive sometime today, so I made sure to have a recent backup via Time Machine and via SuperDuper! (to an external drive).  Once that was complete, I shut down the Mini and proceeded to disassemble it.  It arrived around 5 PM and I set off to installing it.

If you’ve never opened up the DVD-less Mac Mini, I’ll say it’s not for the faint of heart.  Today, I removed both the original hard drive and the 128 GB Crucial m4 drive that had been running as a fused pair.  I have serious doubts about the HDD, but I expect that I’ll reinstall the 128 GB SSD in a machine my kids use for homework and such.

The installation of the Samsung 840 EVO went very well.  The most difficult part was getting it aligned with the two holes in the carrier.  Perhaps I should have done that with the carrier outside of the chassis.  One of the two screws that goes through the perforated aluminum plate wouldn’t reach the SSD hole.  Not wanting to dissemble things again, I let that one minor flaw in place and completed the assembly.

I had previously created an 8 GB flash drive to make re-installing OS X 10.9 easier, so I went that route.  The SSD was seen by disk utility, I formatted it, and then installation went without incident.  After it rebooted, it prompted me to restore.  I selected Time Machine, put in the password to pull the Time Machine Backups off of my NAS, and let it start restoring.  Here, OS X had all sorts of difficulty figuring out how long it would take to completely restore everything.  It might show 51 minutes, or 4 hours.  The restore process actually took more like 2 1/2 hours.

Now, I’m back up and running with 10.9 installed on a 500 GB SSD, with about 370 GB of it in use.

My Mini is now significantly faster than with the Fusion drive.  Don’t get me wrong, the Fusion drive was faster than the HDD alone, but the SSD alone is so much better than the Fusion drive.

The 840 EVO is among the fastest consumer SSD drives available now, at a great price point.  I wasn’t too keen on the 840 series when I read it uses the cheaper TLC.  Not only does it allow for fewer writes than SLC, it’s slower doing those writes.  This means it should be less reliable and perform worse, a bad combination if there ever was one.  However, the EVO version pairs the TLC with a SLC cache of sorts, so you can perform faster writes.  And Samsung’s reliability of the 840 hasn’t been bad at all.  According to what I’ve read, I’m expecting this new SSD to last 15 years or more.

My mini has had new life breathed into it.  Moving from a Hard Drive to a SSD is truly one of the best upgrades you can do yourself.

October 29, 2013 at 11:02 pm 6 comments

Downside of a DIY Fusion Drive

This is a long-winded post, so skip it unless you are really interested in DIY Fusion drives and the strange issues I’ve started having.

Almost 1 year ago, I posted about creating my very own DIY Fusion drive.  I combined a Crucial M4 128GB SSD with a 500 GB HDD in my Mac Mini.  It has had it’s ups and downs.

My first BIG problem

Much earlier this year (I don’t believe I posted about it at the time), I had an issue with my Fusion drive.  All of a sudden, it stopped working.  From what I could gather, the SSD died.  After much experimentation, and after I had wiped the 500 GB hard drive, the SSD suddenly came “alive” again.  I think I upgraded the firmware at this point, did a bit of testing, and all seemed well.  Ultimately, I restored my time machine backup to an external drive, then cloned it to my Fusion drive, and was back in business.

Since around this time, I have occasionally had odd issues involving a noise emanating from my Mini.  Usually, this happens just a few times (sometimes, just once) then it goes away.

UH OH!  It’s getting worse!

Fast forward to the last month.  This problem started happening, and overstayed its welcome.  I’m talking for 20+ minutes of odd beeps coming from my mac.  I’ve tried powering it down and letting it cool off, among other things.  None of that worked.  Finally, I loaded SMART Utility to see if there were any errors, but there were none.  This problem continued, every few minutes (or more often), even after reboots.  Leaving it powered off for an hour or so didn’t seem to help.

Then I discovered something strange.  In the SMART Utility, I kicked off a “Long” test on the hard drive, and the noise seemed to go away.  This test takes a few hours to complete, but after the test was over, the noises stayed gone for the rest of the day.  Perhaps it was several days.  I thought it was a coincidence, and didn’t think too much of it.  Some days or weeks later, the problem returned.  Again, I tried powering it down, letting it cool off, etc. but the issue kept coming back.  Then, I tried the SMART test again and again it disappeared.

Aside from the beeping, this past weekend I started to hear a clicking noise.  This was at its worst on boot-up a few days ago, when my machine wouldn’t successfully boot at all.  I powered it off, gave it a little rest, then powered it back up.  It started up, and soon started with the clicking noise again for about 10 seconds or so, then that stopped and the machine booted normally.  This REALLY makes me think the problem is the hard drive.  Side Note: I’m doing VERY regular backups at this point.

Anyhow, when I first started using the SMART Utility, I noticed something odd.  The “Power On Hours” was in the 300 range for the SSD, but over 18000 for the hard drive.  18K hours works out to just over 2 years.  I’ve had this machine for a little shy of 2 1/2 years, having bought it right after it was released (a mid-2011 Mac Mini).  So, the SSD is sleeping when not needed, but it doesn’t appear that the hard drive was, even though the power management settings on my Mac instruct it to put the drives to sleep when possible, though I have to admit that I’ve only been running a Fusion drive for just over a year.  I’m guessing I didn’t always have this sleep setting at this value, but I don’t know when I enabled it.  If it were recent, I’d probably remember doing it though.

In doing more checks, I found that Trim Enabler is showing that Trim isn’t enabled now.  This was probably broken when I updated to some newer version of Mac OS X.  This makes me wonder if Trim Enabler with a Fusion drive causes problems with Mac OS putting the fused hard drive to sleep.  Or perhaps that is just a problem of a DIY Fusion drive.

While I don’t have concrete answered on this, my bottom line is this:  Fusion drives are prone to failure, more so than either a SSD or a HDD.  If either the SSD or the HDD flakes out, your data is toast!  While it does offer performance over and above a lone HDD, and it is so inexpensive to add it yourself, it doesn’t seem to be well supported with aftermarket SSD’s.

UNCLE!

I’m giving up on Fusion drives.  Having good performance for a low price sounded great, but dealing with an issue that sometimes LITERALLY keeps me up at night (or wakes me up), well, it’s just too much.  Yes, SSDs are expensive, but my time is more valuable than to be troubleshooting these sorts of issues at all hours of the night.

I’ve ordered a Samsung 840 EVO drive of sufficient enough of a size that I’ll no longer need the HDD.  I expect it to arrive soon and plan to post about my results.

October 28, 2013 at 10:25 pm Leave a comment

My DIY Fusion drive under 10.8.3

I finally installed 10.8.3 tonight after ensuring that my SuperDuper clone was up-to-date.  I’ve been avoiding it a little, just in case there are issues with my DIY Fusion drive.

The upgrade went smoothly, and soon I was sitting back at my normal login screen.

After the install, I checked things out, relative to my DIY Fusion drive.  To refresh everyone’s memory, I have the 500 GB Toshiba HD that came with my 2011 Mac mini, “fused” with a 128 GB Crucial M4 SSD.

The Storage tab under “About This Mac” recognizes it as a 628 GB “Fusion Drive”.  That’s a good start…

Disk Utility shows my Fusion drive as a Logical Volume Group.  It shows the capacity as 626.94 GB, with 621.51 GB used and 5.43 GB free.  Below that in the Disk Utility window is the actual partition that my files reside on, which shows a capacity of 614.48 GB, with 352.78 GB used.  These numbers are in agreement with the “About This Mac” numbers.  This looks pretty good too.

Interestingly, if I go to the Partition tab when my Logical Volume Group is selected, it shows one partition of 499.25 GB…  Which looks to me like numbers related to the actual size of my Mini’s hard drive.  This doesn’t look like I would have expected.

Next, I took a closer look at System Information.  There I noticed that TRIM wasn’t enabled, so I ran Trim Enabler and turned it on.  After a reboot, Trim Enabler reports that it’s working, so I guess that’s one thing I’ll probably have to do every time there’s an OS update.

Overall, it looks like things are pretty safe in this release, but everything still doesn’t line up 100%.  I imagine that by the time I’m in the market for a replacement Mac (2014?  2015?), the mid-level Mini will probably come with SSDs standard, so I probably won’t need to “roll my own” Fusion drive again… But you never know!

April 5, 2013 at 9:38 pm Leave a comment

My DIY Fusion Drive Follow-up

Way back on 11/21/2012 I created my Fusion drive on my Mac mini, using a Crucial 128 GB SSD + the original 500 GB Toshiba 5400 RPM hard drive.  This wasn’t long after upgrading from 8 GB of Ram to 16 GB.

As of today, I have used this system with the Fusion drive for a little over 6 weeks.  I am still running off the original install described in my previous blog post.  I occasionally clone my system to a 750 GB external drive, along with my Time Machine backup (stored on my NAS).

I’m using just over 50% of the capacity of my Fusion drive (322 GB out of 614).  The system seems just as snappy today as when I first installed the Fusion drive.  Prior to my recent upgrade, I was used to my system running somewhat sluggishly when doing typical work with VMs.  Now, there’s a pretty brief pause while waiting for a VM to suspend or restore, but that’s about it.  Most everything that I do is almost instantaneous.

Six weeks in, and I’m very happy with the results.  For the price of the $50 upgrade kit plus the $79 SSD, I would have to say that this has been one of my most cost efficient upgrades yet.

January 7, 2013 at 8:46 pm Leave a comment

My DIY Fusion Drive

Fusion Drive!

Ever since reading about Apple’s new “Fusion Drive” announcement, I’ve been intrigued.  The idea of adding an SSD of substantial size to a hard drive, with the OS performing behind-the-scenes data shuffling so the things you need more often are on the SSD, is pretty attractive.  Add to that the fact that it works on the block level, not just the file level, and you have a serious advancement.

In performing additional research about it, I found some reports that agree with the initial DIY assessments, and one report that disputes the results, saying that they never saw files move back and forth.  They’re suggestion was to just buy a small SSD, install the OS on it, and link your Photos, Music, etc to your secondary hard drive.  While they brought up the need to do things like this (if, for example, you work on large video files, and want to edit them on the SSD to save time), I can’t say that is the best route.  If it were business critical, I’d just spend the money on a large SSD and be done with it.

Anyhow, as luck would have it, I’d been toying with the idea of buying one of the kits online to add a SSD to my 2011 Mac Mini.  So, I pulled the trigger on that order, and within a few days, Newegg.com had a sale on the Crucial m4 128 GB drive, down to just over $70, so I ordered that as well.

The Hard Work

Yesterday, I had both of the components in hand, so I performed the delicate operation.  I am not new to opening up my machines, having previously built numerous PCs, along with hard drive swaps in an original Mac mini and the first model of Intel iMac.  Aside from those, my only other mac internal experience has been upgrading RAM in some of the previous generation Mac minis (which wasn’t bad, but far more involved than the 2011 mac mini RAM upgrade process).

This operation took me probably a full hour to perform.  Maybe a bit longer.  Doing this is serious business.  If you are considering this yourself, watch the install video.  Then, watch it again.  Installing a second drive involves removing almost every single component of the Mac mini from the chassis.  The connectors and cables are very delicate.  I felt like I was dangerously close to breaking something at numerous points throughout the process.

The instructions from Other World Computing (included in my kit) were excellent, except for one minor point.  Step 1 on the Assembly process says to replace the two Torx T6 screws to attach the drive housing to the chassis.  Try as I might, the screw on the right side was too long.  After trying for several minutes, I sat back and reviewed the dis-assembly instructions.  It was then that I realized that you must reinstall the power supply before attaching the right side screw, since it should go through a tab that sticks out from the power supply.  The instructions I was following start the process of installing the power supply in step 2, finishing the power supply install in step 6.  OWC should really fix that.

Other installation issues:

  • Installing the SSD in the drive is easy, but be sure to screw the screws in far enough.  If your screws aren’t in pretty far, they will bump up against the inside of the chassis, keeping you from properly lining up the drive housing with the screw holes in the chassis.
  • Installing the hard drive is trickier than it looks in the videos.  That step alone took me 10-15 minutes, mostly because its very hard to ensure you have it in the right spot.  The manual suggests placing a screwdriver in one of the screw holes on the side of the drive that’s visible to help position the drive.  That didn’t seem to help me much.  I think I finally got it in on my second attempt to position it while the chassis was sitting upright (so gravity could help me position it, a little).

Prior to installation:

1. I used SuperDuper to make a clone of my boot drive.
2. Made sure my Time Machine backup was up-to-date.
3. I created a bootable Mountain Lion 10.8.2 USB drive.

After installation:

1. I booted normally (against the hard drive).
2. I downloaded the latest Crucial m4 firmware, burned it to a CD ROM, and booted to it to update the firmware using my external DVD drive.  (ALWAYS upgrade your SSD firmware!  There are some issues with older firmware and the most recent version is said to improve performance by as much as 25%.)
3. I installed TrimEnabler, turned Trim on and rebooted to enable Trim on the SSD.  (Run it after the reboot to ensure it’s supported with your SSD!)
4. Updated my Time Machine backup and my SuperDuper clone one last time.

OS Re-installation:

1. I followed the instructions on petrali.net to enable Fusion (steps 4 – 7).
2. I tried booting from my 10.8.2 USB stick and restoring a Time Machine backup to my Fusion drive twice, but it failed each time within just a few minutes of starting.
3. Finally, I did a clean install and restored my system from Time Machine after installing the OS.  Perhaps #2 is a bug related to Fusion drives.
4. Using Trim Enabler, I saw that TRIM wasn’t enabled, so I turned it back on again and rebooted.  After that, Trim was enabled!

Results:

I don’t have any real metrics to show.  The various tools to measure speed are mostly useless here anyhow, since anything written to the drive will go to the SSD first, and most tools would probably then read what they just wrote, meaning they’d be reading from the SSD as well.

My SSD is the 128 GB Crucial M4, and the hard drive is a 500 GB Toshiba (5400 RPM) – the original drive that came with my 2011 Mac mini (the mid-level model with discrete graphics).  My Fusion drive is 614.48 GB (I left about 10 GB free for the recovery partition).  I’m using 342.95 GB, so I’m far above the 128 GB of my SSD.

Caution:  Don’t use the Disk Utility that comes with 10.8.2 for anything to do with the Fusion drive.  When looking at it in Disk Utility, it sees the name of my LVM (Fusion) and the name of the partition, but it shows it as the 500 GB drive.  The next version of 10.8 will probably have a new version that sees Fusion drives appropriately.

Noticeable Changes:

My boot time is considerably faster now.  Like 1/3rd or 1/4th the previous boot time.

Resuming and Suspending my VMware Fusion VMs is substantially faster than before.  This is something that I hoped to see, but was skeptical.  According to initial reports about Fusion, this works on the block level, so it’s possible that just the portions of the VM disk files that are frequently accessed are on the SSD, with the portions that don’t get used often residing on the hard drive.

Applications seem to launch instantly.  Most apps have their window on screen before the dock icon completes the first “bounce”.  Apps like Civ V still seem to take their time on the “Loading” screen, but apps I use on a daily basis are very snappy.  Perhaps if I start playing Civ V again, it will speed up too?

Conclusion:

My results are completely subjective, but given the nature of the Fusion drive, it’s difficult to test.

With that in mind, so far I really like it.  My system seems snappier and more responsive with my DIY Fusion drive.

It looks like a good way for a relatively casual user to get most of the performance benefits of an SSD without the high cost of getting an SSD big enough to hold everything.  At least, if you don’t buy it from Apple.  They are currently charging $250 extra for a drive with a street price of about $110 (or even under $100 on sale).

Cons:

1. There is not currently a way to see how your files are laid out across the drives.  Not really a Con, unless you are a control freak.  It just would be really nice to have some evidence that the Fusion process is moving data around.
2. Since the Fusion drive is a combination of two physical drives, you are doubling the chance of catastrophic drive failure.  A single drive failing will cause you to lose all the data on your Fusion drive.  This just makes it all that more important to keep your data backed up.

November 21, 2012 at 11:31 pm 2 comments

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