Chromecast Ate My Internet Data Allowance!

In January I bought a Chromecast so that friends and family could cast videos onto the main living room TV. It’s a handy little device and when idle it displays lovely background images of nature, space and various other things. I don’t know why, but I never considered where it gets those lovely background screen saver images from…

As I previously have mentioned, I have a capped Internet data allowance of 64GB per month. This month (11th March to 11th April) we ran out of data two days early for the first time this year. It’s incredibly painful having to wait a couple of days until the Internet comes back on 🙁 Yes I know – I need to get out more!

I logged into my home router to see who’d gobbled the most data this month and give them a bit of a shouting at only to discover that the top user for the month was the Chromecast, beating even me to top data user!!

Chromecast was using 700MB+ per day IDLE!

Luckily I managed to find a web page explaining how to tame the Chromecast and restrict it’s data usage by giving it access to a Google photo album with 1px images.

I found that I needed more than two of these images and that each had to be a slightly different colour or Google photos was clever enough to not upload duplicates. The backgrounds can be seen in my shared album here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/GPf1UFMRN5Rw1Xaq2. I also found that you have to make sure that when you disable the other sources of pictures that you untick all the items within the category before marking the category as “off”.

The effect of using the new 1px album images was instant and hopefully I won’t end up running out of data two days early next month 🙂

(Chromecast limited at 9pm Thursday 12th April)

Replacement to HP microserver

I’ve had my HP microserver for four years this summer and it’s been a great little machine and very reliable, but the time has come to upgrade the machine as it doesn’t run very quitely and could be more power efficient. I’m currently using Ubuntu 12.04 and am a little bit nervous about upgrading to 16.04 – so a new machine allows me to transfer over in a more leisurely fashion.

The replacement is going to be using an ASRock low powered CPU motherboard machine to minimise power consumption and noise. I’ve used an ASRock motherboard in my router and it runs virtually silent as I didn’t need any fans running in the case.

My first choice was the ASRock J3710-ITX, but its currently retailing at £40 more than the ASRock N3700-ITX, so I’ve gone with the cheaper one. The main difference between the boards is the CPU (see 1 and 2 at the end), but since this is primarily a file server, I’m not concerned about the N3700 being lower frequency.

The rest of the parts are on a wishlist until the motherboard has been shipped, but the plan is:

  • 8GB Kingston RAM
  • OCZ Trion 100 120GB SSD
  • StarTech 5.25in Trayless Hot Swap Mobile Rack
  • WD Red 6TB NAS HDD
  • WD Purple 6TB Surveillance HDD
  • Antec P50 mATX Case
  • Antec Earth Watts 380W 80+ Bronze Power Supply

(the list can be seen here: http://www.ebuyer.com/lists/471177ACE13237EA7FE0CFEC53968C65)

The file server will be in a RAID 1 configuration using the Red and Purple WD drives, the SSD being the O/S drive.  I’ve deliberately not selected two reds or two purples so that the drives should be made at different times and shouldn’t both be from the same batch.  Most likely I’ll repurpose the existing 2TB drives to I have for the offsite backup to save money!

The 5.25in rack allows me to plug in one of the offsite HDDs without opening up the case. The case will be used to home my router machine, allowing me to put the file server into the Lian Li media center case.

 

1) http://www.cpu-world.com/CPUs/Pentium/Intel-Pentium%20N3700%20Mobile%20processor.html

2) http://www.cpu-world.com/CPUs/Pentium/Intel-Pentium%20J3710%20-%20FH8066501715931.html

Load Balancing WAN Connections

I’ve previously posted about how slow my ADSL connection is (5Mbps max!) and that I bought a 4G router just over a year ago (http://blog.v-s-f.co.uk/2014/10/fed-up-of-waiting-for-superfast-broadband/). Before I bought the 4G router, I decided to look at how to load balance the connections. There were two reasons for doing so. One was that I planned to buy another ADSL connection to get a stunning combined* max of 10Mbps!!! And the other reason is that the 4G connection has a few quirks that mean I prefer to send and receive certain traffic down the ADSL connection.

I did a lot of research and bought a Netgear FVS336G v2 off Ebay. At the time I bought it, I only had the ADSL connection, but the device only lasted a month. The device wouldn’t work on the newest firmware, would work for a few days and then grind to a halt and also my tablet couldn’t access the internet! Needless to say, it went back on Ebay…

After more research I then found pfSense. At the time I had a spare media centre pc lying around which had become redundant, but ran at 80 watts idle. I repurposed it for the task of determining if pfSense would be suitable.

pfSense is brilliant and free! As a router it does everything I could possibly want (Port forwarding, OpenVPN, Firewall and Load Balancing to name but a few). The administration portal never crashes or decides not to load a page – it simply works.

I started off again with just the ADSL connection and then bought the 4G router. Setting up the load balancing took a bit of time along with determining what firewalls to put in place.

I’ve recently upgraded the hardware to use a low power cpu on board motherboard and the entire system now runs at a max of 20 watts.

Even when the 4G conection was running at 50Mbps for over 10 minutes, the cpu never went above 5%.

pfsense-windows10-download

(Example of the firewall rules for sending traffic down ADSL for banking and email)

firewall-rules

* Load balancing WAN connections does not mean you will achieve A+B – you would need to bond the connections to get close to achieving A+B speeds. For example in the screen shot above where 50Mbps is being transfered, it’s all across the 4G connection as the connections are not bonded. Load balancing however in my situation is great as a family member can watch iPlayer and I can still browse the internet without affecting the video stream as the data will normally be distributed across the connections available according to load.