3D Printer – Prusa i3 MK2, first impressions

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I wasn’t really looking for a new 3D printer, the Afinia H800 in the garage has been doing duty for the past year, and it’s been fine.  I have generally liked the Up! printers over the past few years, primarily for their ease of use as it relates to support material removal.  I recently took a look at a couple of reviews of this latest Prusa i3 MK2.  Prusa is a well known name in the RepRap community, and I built an earlier version of a Prusa machine, before he actually created a company for them.  That earliest experience (circa 2011) was very raw, and typical of the machines of that day, it wasn’t that great compared to the Up! of that day.

This new one caught my eye for a few reasons.  Number one is the auto bed leveling.  It has this probe thing checks 9 spots on the bed for distance and whatnot.  It does this check before every print, so it stays accurate no matter what.  Then there’s this ‘live z adjust’, which essentially is a micro adjustment that tells the distance from the probe tip to the tip of the hot end.  This allows you to really find tune the first layer of filament as it’s being deposited on the bed.  That’s really great.  It makes height adjustment really easy, as compared to trying to slide a piece of paper under the nozzle, and doing mechanical height adjustments while you do it.

There are two things about the bed that make it especially nice.  First is that the bed itself is the heated element.  There’s not a separate heating element and then the bed.  The bed is the heater.  The bed is covered with this PEI material, which seems to be better than build tak, which I use in the Afinia machine.  So far, I guess it works.  If you really need to get super sticky, you can use a glue stick, for printing PETG or Nylon I guess.  Haven’t done that yet.  After Z height adjustment, I have found that PLA sticks just fine.  I did notice curling at the edges on a few prints though.  I’ll micro adjust some more, and it should be fine.

I purchased the pre-assembled machine.  I noticed right out of the box there was a slight problem.

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Those 4 zip ties are meant to be holding the linear bearings in tight to the orange carriage.  In my case, all six of them (4 on the top bearings, 2 on the bottom) were broken.  At first I thought “oh, exercise for the reader, I’m supposed to put this final bit together”, but no, they were just broken, and needed to be replaced.  The box comes from the Czech republic, so somewhere along the line, this carriage must have really been tweeked to put enough pressure on these ties to cause them to break.  No matter though.  I had some zip ties left over from the PC build, so I was able to repair and replace.  I did not notice anything else out of whack, so I went ahead and started printing.

One of the other reasons I went with this printer is the supposed support in Windows 10s 3D Builder application.  I haven’t actually gotten that to work yet, but I should be able to print directly from whithin Windows without requiring any additional software.  That will be nice, as then I can stay within the sweetness of that Windows app.

Other than the broken ties, this machine is a good basis for playing around with a lot of stuff.  Filament loading and ejection is nice and easy, and Prusa now has a multi-color option they’re experimenting with.

At roughly $900 shipped, this printer might make for a good solid inexpensive and reliable option to build a print farm of perhaps 6 printers.  At this price, I could put together 6 printers for roughly the price of a single Type-A machines printer ($5,000).  That would give tremendous print capacity, and a solid high quality no-nonsense printer to boot.

We’ll see.


Building a Tower PC – Final assembly

Well, it’s finally done

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I began this journey with creating the excuses for doing the build in the first place, and then purchasing the various parts.


Building a tower PC – 2016


Building a Tower PC – 2016, part 1

Now here is the fully assembled thing.  Some final thoughts.  The scariest part was doing the water cooling piping.  I practiced tube bending on a waste piece before embarking on the final pieces.  Like a plumber, it’s helpful to plan out where the pipes are going, do some measurements, then do bending on cutting.  Really I was afraid that once it got assembled, it would be springing leaks all over the place ruining the fairly expensive electronics.  When I first put the tubing together, I tested by running some distilled water through the system to flush things out.

In the end, there were no leaks, and everything runs beautifully, and cool.  Having done this once now, I can see redoing the tubing at some point to make it more fancy, but for now, it works just fine, and looks cool.

One thing of note, this thing is really quiet.  You literally need to almost stick your ear into the various fans to hear them at all.  The power supply fan is dead quiet.  This is dramatically different than the power supply on my shuttle PC, which I thought was fairly quiet.  Now the Shuttle PC sounds like a jet engine in comparison.

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The fans on the cooling radiator are whisper quiet as well, and provide those cool lighting effects to boot.  Really this thing shows off best in a fairly dark room where the various glowing light effects can be seen.

The noisiest part of the entire build is actually the disk drive.  You wouldn’t normally think of that, but when things are absolutely silent, to the point where the AC fan in a room is way louder, in a quiet room, the steady rumble of the disk drive is the most notable sound.

I’m loving it so far.  I feel a sense of accomplishment in putting it together.  I got to use it as a visual aid for the latest cohort of the LEAP class.  Having a transparent case makes it easy to point at stuff, and the liquid cooling just adds a nice wow factor.

As far as the OS is concerned, I installed Windows 10 Pro.  I figure even if I want to run Linux, I can simply use Hyper-V to create Linux VMs and go that way.  Given that the graphics card can run 4 monitors at a time (I think), that’s more than enough to give me the illusion of a common desktop, with two Windows screens, and a third with Linux on a VM.  So, it’s a sweet combo.

As for the excuse to be able to run the Vulkan API on a modern graphics board, that’s coming along.  I had to install Visual Studio, build a LuaJIT, and dust off the cobwebs of my Vulkan ffi binding.  All in due time.  For now, the screaming machine is being used to type this blog post, and otherwise sitting beside my desk looking cool.  I’ll have to design a desk specifically for it just to add to the DIY nature of the thing.


Building a Tower PC – 2016, part 1

Last time around, I outlined what would go into my build.  This time, I’ve actually placed the order for the parts.  I was originally going to place with newegg, but the motherboard was out of stock.  This forced me to consider amazon instead.  Amazon had everything, and at fairly decent prices.  That plus prime shipping, and good return policy, made it a relative no brainer (sorry newegg).

I did a hand wave on some of the parts in the last post, so I’ll round out the inventory in detail here.

RAM 

this item used to require a ton of thought in the past, but today, you can spit in generally the right direction and things will likely work out.  I wanted to outfit my rig with 64GB total ram.  I wanted RAM that was reliable and looked good.  I probably should have gone for some red colored stuff, but I went with the black G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series DDR4 PC4-25600 3200MHz parts (model F4-3200C16D-32GVK).

Image result for g.skill 32gb (2 x 16gb) ripjaws v series ddr4 pc4-25600

They come in sets of two (32GB per set), so I ordered two sets.  Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll be red.

SSD Storage

I know from my laptop, and my current Shuttle PC that having a SSD as your primary OS drive is an absolute must these days.  Please, no 5400 RPM spinning rust!  On this item, I chose the Samsung V-NAND SSD 950 Pro M.2 NVM Express 256 GB.

Image result for samsung 950 pro series - 256gb pcie nvme
What’s this NVMe thing anyway?  Well, turns out that flash disks are way faster than spinning rust (go figure), and yet we’ve been constrained to the spinning rust interfaces and data transfers of old for quite some time.  NVME represents a different interface to the flash memory, going way beyond what Sata can provide.  Luckily, the chosen motherboard supports this interface, so I should be able to boot up from this super fast thing.  I probably should have gone for the 512GB version, but things being the way they are, I can probably install a much larger 1TB version in 3 year’s time for the same price.  This will be more than good enough for now, and for the forseeable future.
Mass Storage
I did get some spinning rust to go in the box as well.  Western Digital Black 2TB – WD2003FZEX (7200 RPM SATA 6 Gb/s).
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I have a pair of these spinning away in my Synology NAS, and they haven’t failed in the past 4 years, so I think I’m good with this.  I could have gone with a bigger size, like 6TB, but I’m thinking why put so much storage on a single disk.  Better to spread the load across several disks.  As long as I’m spreading the load across several disks, why not just use a giant NAS with an optical link, or 10Gbit ethernet or something.  As this machine is going to find multiple uses with multiple OSes, I didn’t feel the need to make it a storage monster.  Rather, it is a show piece, workstation with decent performance.  More specialization can come through additional equipment outside the box.
I have yet to consider my cooling options.  When the boxes arrive, I’ll assemble once just to make sure all the parts work.  I’ve been eyeing some cool looking Thermaltake liquid cooling gear.  I’m considering the whole reservoir/pump/tubing thing.  It looks cool, and there are ready made kits that look fairly easy to assemble.  The open case I’ve chosen just begs to be mod’d with the liquid cooling stuff.
At any rate, boxes should arrive in a week.  I took advantage of the Amazon offer to get $5.99 gift certificates towards using their pantry service instead of getting next day delivery.  How crazy is that!  I figure I won’t be able to assemble until next week anyway, so why not get some free stuff from Amazon in payment for my patience.
Having this kit arrive will be an incentive to further clean up my office (man cave) so that I’ll have enough desk and floor space to spread things out, take pictures, and assemble without losing any of the pieces.

Building a tower PC – 2016

Well, since I’m no longer interested in building the ultimate  streaming PC, I’ve turned my attention to building a more traditional tower PC.  What?  Those are so 1980!  It’s like this.  What I’m really after is using the now not so new Vulkan API for graphics programming. My current challenge is, my nice tighty Shuttle PC doesn’t have the ability to run a substantial enough graphics card to try the thing out! I do in fact have a tower PC downstairs, but it’s circa 2009 or something like that, and I find this a rather convenient excuse to ‘upgrade’.

I used to build a new PC every two years, back in the day, but tech has moved along so fast, that it hardly makes sense to build so often, you’d be building every couple of months to keep pace. The machines you build today will last longer than an old hardware hacker cares to admit, but sometimes you’ve just go to bite the bullet.

Trying to figure out what components to use in a current build can be quite a challenge. It used to be that I’d just go to AnandTech and look at this years different builds, pick a mid-range system, and build something like that. Well, AnandTech is no longer what it used to be, and TomsHardware seems to be the better place for the occasional consumer such as myself.

The first thing to figure out is the excuse for building the machine, then the budget, then the aesthetics.

Excuse:  I want to play with the Vulkan graphics API

Budget: Less than $2,000n (to start ;-))

Aesthetics: I want it to be interesting to look at, probably wall or furniture mounted.

Since the excuse is being able to run the Vulkan API, I started contemplating the build based on the graphics card.  I’m not the type of person to go out and buy any of the most current, most expensive graphics cards, because they come out so fast that if you simply wait 9 months, that $600 card will be $300.  The top choice in this category would be a NVidia GTX 1080.  Although a veritable beast of a consumer graphics card, at $650+, that’s quite a budget buster.  Since I’m not a big gamer, I don’t need super duper frame rates, but I do want the latest features, like support of Direct X12, Vulkan, OpenGL 4.5, etc.

A nice AMD alternative is the AMD Radeon Rx 480.  That seems to be the cat’s meow at the more reasonable $250 price range.  This will do the trick as far as being able to run Vulkan, but since it’s AMD and not NVidia, I would not be able to run Cuda.  Why limit myself, since NVidia will also run OpenCL.  So, I’ve opted for an NVidia based MSI GeForce GTX 1060.

The specialness of this particular card is the 6GB of GDDR5 RAM that comes on it.  From my past history with OpenGL, I learned that the more RAM on the board the better.  I also chose this particular one because it has some red plastic on it, which will be relevant when I get to the aesthetics.  Comparisons of graphics cards abound.  You can get stuck in a morass trying to find that “perfect” board.  This board is good enough for my excuse, and at a price that won’t break the build.

Next most important after the graphics card is the motherboard you’re going to stick it in.  The motherboard is important because it’s the skeleton upon which future additions will be placed, so a fairly decent board that will support your intended expansions for the next 5 years or so would be good.

I settled on the GIGABYTE G1 Gaming GA-Z170X-Gaming GT (rev. 1.0) board.

It’s relatively expensive at $199, but it’s not outrageous like the $500+ boards.   This board supports up to three graphics cards of the variety I’m looking at, which gives me expansion on that front if I every choose to use it.  Other than that, at least 64GB of DDR4 RAM.  It has a ton of peripherals, including USB 3.1 with a type-c connector.  That’s good since it’s emerging.  Other than all that, it has good aesthetics with white molding and red highlights (sensing a theme).

To round out the essentials, you need a power supply.  For this, I want ‘enough’, not overkill, and relatively silent.

The Seasonic Snow Silent 750 is my choice.  Besides getting relatively good reviews, it’s all white on the outside, which just makes it look more interesting.

And last, but not least, the CPU to match.  Since the GPU is what I’m actually interested in, the CPU doesn’t matter as much.  But, since I’m not likely to build another one of these for a few years, I might as well get something reasonable.

I chose the intel i7-6700K for the CPU.

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At $339, it’s not cheap, but again, it’s not $600.  I chose the ‘K’ version, to support overclocking.  I’ll probably never actually do that, but it’s a useful option nonetheless.  I could have gone with a less expensive i5 solution, but I think you lose out on hyper-threading or something, so might as well spend a $100 more and be slightly future proof.

Now, to hold all these guts together, you need a nice case.  I already have a very nice case housing the circa 2009 machine.  I can’t bring myself to take it apart, and besides, I tell myself, it doesn’t have the io access on the front panels required of a modern machine.  Since part of my aesthetic is to be able to show the guts of the machine (nicely themed colors), I went with something a bit more open.

The Thermaltake core P5 ATX Open Frame case is what I have chosen.

Image result for thermaltake core p5 atxNow, I’m more of a throw it together and start using it kind of builder, but putting a little bit of flash into the build could make it a tad more interesting.  Less heat dissipation problems, and if I ever do that cool liquid cooling piping stuff, I’ll be able to show it off.  This case also has options to mount it against the wall/furniture, and I’ll probably take advantage of that.  I can imagine having a home office desk with a couple of these mounted on the front just for kicks.  Thrown in a few monitors for surround, and… Oh, but I’m not a gamer.

The rest of the kit involves various memory, storage, etc.  The motherboard has M.2 as well as mSata.  So, I’ll probably put an SSD on one of those interfaces as the primary OS drive.  Throw in a few terabytes of spinning rust, and 64GB of RAM, and it’s all set.

The other nice thing about the motherboard is dual NICs.  One is for gaming, the other (intel) is for more pedestrian networking.  This can be nothing but goodness, and I’m sure I can do some nice experimenting with that.

Well, that’s what I’m after.  I added it all up on newegg.com, and it came out to about $1,500, which is nicely under budget, and will give me a machine I can be happy with for a few years to come.