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Zotac AD02 As A Home Server

 |  reviews

I wanted to update my home server — what I really wanted was something that could stream or play video whilst also doing all the other various and sundry tasks. My requirements were being able to play video without problems and either USB 3.0 or eSata connectors.

I noticed that Fry’s had a sale on the Zotac AD02, so I picked one up fairly cheaply, and have set it up. The AD02 is a small little thing, with tons of connectors on the back (USB 2.0 + USB 3.0, eSata, HDMI, DVI). It’s fairly quiet — it does have a fan but the fan is very hard to hear over standard ambient noise — although it has to be said that they have a circular green LED on the top of the box that is bright enough for passing UFOs to notice and use as a landing spot.

One thing to note is that the Zotac AD02 eSata interface does have a port multiplier (PMP). With Ubuntu 11.10 I was able to connect to a Mediastation ProBox with multiple drives and access all of them without any problems.

BIOS Settings

I found it almost impossible to get into the BIOS. You’d think this would be easy. The trick is this: the Zotac AD02 defaults to a) a one-second window for going into BIOS setup, and b) numlock on. So, as soon as the box beeps, you need to hit Numlock and then delete. The Numlock is key, because if you don’t hit that then the delete key won’t register. When you’re in setup for the first time, set the boot delay to a bit higher and turn off Numlock.

Why? When you’re selecting a boot drive, Numlock submits the current selection. So, you see the list of drives that you want to boot, decide you want to move down 2, so you hit Numlock and… the machine starts booting.

Ubuntu 11.10

Either Zotac or Ubuntu doesn’t appear to boot from the USB 3.0 adapters — so, if you have a USB drive and you want to boot from it, you have to use one of the other 3 USB slots.

Ubuntu 11.10 32-bit installed without problems, but I noticed after installing that the drive was constantly flashing. Using iotop and echo 1 > /proc/sys/vm/block_dump to see what was going on; it revealed that that the jbd2 process (used by the ext4 journals) was constantly writing, which I eventually traced back to the lightdm greeter, which was spewing debugging messages into /var/log/x-0-greeter.log, of the form:

[+35196.63s] DEBUG: user-list.vala:1204: Drew 1 frames in 0.1 seconds
(9.932854 fps)

There’s a bug in Launchpad for this already, and it’s apparently been fixed recently. My incredibly hacky fix was to link that file to /dev/null, which was good enough for now.

sudo ln -s -f /dev/null /var/log/lightdm/x-0-greeter.log

For good measure I ended up putting a bunch of directories in tmpfs anyway. Ubuntu 11.10 has /var/run and /var/lock in tmpfs already, and I added a few others:

tmpfs /tmp tmpfs defaults,noatime,mode=1777 0 0
tmpfs /var/log tmpfs defaults,noatime,mode=0755 0 0 
tmpfs /var/log/apt tmpfs defaults,noatime 0 0

Note that putting /var/log into tmpfs is not generally recommended.

VNC

I usually log into the box via SSH but occasionally it is handy to be able to get to the GUI. I used the example described in this article to set up Upstart to automatically kick off X11VNC. The advantage of this method is that it’s started early enough that even the login screen is controllable through VLC.

XBMC

Putting in XBMC was straightforward, but you want it to use the graphics hardware on the E-350 chipset. I just used the instructions here and it went off without a hitch.

Well, the video was straightforward. I went to audio settings, set up everything for HDMI sound, and… no sound. And then I spent three days of little five minute sessions trying to get the sound to work.

I did not get it to work perfectly — but eventually ended up putting the following into /etc/asound.conf:

pcm.!default {
  type plug
  slave {
    pcm "hw:0,3"
    rate 48000
  }
}

… and then setting audio in XBMC to plughw:0,3, I was able to get videos and music working (but no menu sounds). For something that’s only occasionally a XBMC server, this seemed good enough.

Anyway, I can play a video and the CPU is only running at about 20%, so there are pretty of cycles left to run a torrent or index my mail or whatever else.

Air Video

I also set up an Air Video server according to the instructions here, as there’s a PPA available that makes it incredibly easy to install. Unfortunately, both CPUs are almost completely pegged when streaming with Air Video, but it is good enough to stream the occasional show.

Discussion

Comments are moderated whenever I remember that I have a blog.

Pedram | 2013-08-20 22:16:43
I have a AD02 and I can't get port multiplication to work in Win7. I was told that it wasn't supported at all. Could it be an OS specific thing? I have a MediaSonic multi-drive enclosure and I can only see one drive when connecting.
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tim | 2013-08-29 01:22:13
It may be a driver issue, or they did a silent revision and changed chipsets? You might try booting up with Live Ubuntu or something and seeing if it works from there. I definitely have PMP working on my current setup.
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