1. A Review of the HP Elitedesk 705 G4 Mini Pc (Raspberry Pi Killer With a Caveat)

    Fri 31 May 2024

    The HP Elitedesk G4 705 is mini PC is part of the tinyminimicro home lab 'revolution' started by servethehome.com about five years ago.

    This revolution consists of Lenovo (tiny), HP (mini) and Dell (micro) computers and is based on the realisation that these small computers are often a much better value-for-money1 than a Raspberry Pi.

    Elitedesk 705 G4

    Click on the image for detailed specifications

    This particular computer, the Elitedesk G4 705 has an AMD Ryzen 3 PRO 2200GE quad-core processor, with a single-core performance almost double the performance of a Raspberry Pi 52.

    I got my unit3 with 16 GB RAM for €115 ($124) including taxes and shipping. The Raspberry Pi 5 with (max) 8 GB of RAM costs 91 Euro, almost exactly the same price as this computer without the 8 GB RAM upgrade. Yet, with the Pi, you still need:

    1. power supply (€13)
    2. case (€11)
    3. SD card or NVME SSD (€10-€45)
    4. NVME hat (€15) (optional but would be more comparable)

    Meanwhile my particular Elitedesk came with a Samsung-based 256GB NVME drive that's €40+ new and comparing it with an SD card doesn't make any sense, the included Samsung SSD is multiple orders of magnitude faster in every conceivable metric4.

    Why this CPU?

    The Intel Core i5-6500T is a populair processor for these mini PCs, it's an affordable quad-core CPU that's slightly faster than the AMD Ryzen PRO 3 2200GE in my unit (also quad-core). I noticed that the Intel i5-6500T-based mini PCs with similar storage and RAM capacity sold for around €160. Thats around 40% more expensive. This is why I think the configuration with this AMD processor is a better value-for-money over i5-6500T-based systems.

    There is a reason to spend the extra money on the i5-6500T: it supports Quick Sync which accelerates video transcoding. This is ideal for media player and streaming applications and it's well-supported. Although hardware-accelerated transcoding may work fine with the AMD 2200GE, I've no experience with it.

    The Caveat

    The CPU fan is noisy.

    The particular unit I got has a fan that is audible at idle. It doesn't seem like a defective fan to me, although it could be a bit worn-down as it's second-hand. I'm unlucky as the fan noise resonates with the top half of the case, which can only be alleviated by putting a bit of weight on top. I'm very sensitive to fan noise and I would never tollerate this machine on my desk next to me.

    Under heavy load, the fan is very, very loud.

    However, when you do home lab work, it's often not about sustained CPU usage. It's more about executing some commands of workflows that result in brief bursts of CPU usage and in that case, the fan won't spin up that much.

    Power consumption (down the rabbit hole)

    I measured around 11 Watts idle power consumption running a preinstalled Windows 11. After installing Debian 12 the system used 18 Watts at idle and so began a journey of many hours trying to solve this problem.

    The culprit is the integrated Radeon Vega GPU. To solve the problem you have to:

    1. Configure the 'bios' to only use UEFI
    2. Reinstall Debian 12 using UEFI
    3. install the appropriate firmware with apt install firmware-amd-graphics

    If you boot the computer using legacy 'bios' mode, the AMD Radeon firmware won't load no matter what you try. You can see this by issuing the commands:

    rmmod amdgpu
    modprobe amdgpu
    

    You may notice errors on the physical console or in the logs that the GPU driver isn't loaded because it's missing firmware (a lie).

    This whole process got me to around 12 Watt at idle. To get to ~10 Watts idle you need to do two things:

    1. run powertop --auto-tune (saves 1 Watt)
    2. Unplug the monitor (run headless) (saves 1 Watt)

    You have to put the powertop --auto-tune command in /etc/rc.local:

    #!/usr/bin/env bash
    powertop --auto-tune
    exit 0
    

    Don't forget to apply chmod +x /etc/rc.local

    Given the whole picture, 10-11 Watt at idle is perfectly okay. A Raspberry Pi 4 or 5 does around 3-4 Watts at idle so it feels proportional.

    KVM Virtualisation

    I'm running vanilla KVM (Debian 12) on the Elitedesk G4 and it works totally fine. I've created multiple virtual machines without issue and performance seemed perfectly adequate.

    Evaluation and conclusion

    If the CPU fan noise is something you can deal with, this machine is a good homelab server at a great price. The small formfactor feels like a good fit and if you don't need GPIO pins for tinkering with hardware projects - just a good home server - this Mini PC seems to be a good option.

    From a 'new computer' perspective, the Raspberry Pi 5 is still a cheap option. However, large organisations replace their computer hardware on a three to five year cycle and that gear hits the second-hand marked at a price point the Raspberry Pi 5 can't compete against. Especially because the Pi is limited to just 8 GB of memory, which doesn't cover some home-lab use cases.

    I love the idea of the Raspberry Pi and I still have a ton of Pi 4s. This solar-powered blog is hosted on a Pi 4 because of the low power consumption.

    Yet, I think any mini PC variant that is priced at or below €200 is almost always a better choice over the Pi 5.


    1. These computers are often second-hand enterprise gear that can be found all over the internet for decent prices 

    2. I'm looking at an average single-core Geekbench 6 score of ~600 for the Pi 5 and ~1100 for the 2200GE 

    3. The base price included the external power brick. 

    4. I measured multi-GB/s sequential read/write and 100MB+ random 4k read/write. 

    Tagged as : Hardware
  2. AI Is Critically Important but Not for You

    Tue 14 May 2024

    Before Chat-GPT caused a sensation, big tech companies like Facebook and Apple were betting their future growth on virtual reality. But I'm convinced that virtual reality will never be a mainstream thing. If you ever used VR you know why:

    1. A heavy thing on your head that messes up your hair
    2. Nausea

    The focus on virtual reality felt like desperation to me. The desperation of big tech companies trying to find new growth, ideally a monopoly they control1, to satisfy the demands of shareholders.

    And then OpenAI dropped ChatGPT and all the big tech companies started to pivot so fast because in contrary to VR, AI doesn't involve making people nauseated and look silly.

    It's probably obvious that I feel it's not about AI itself. It is really about huge tech companies that have found a new way to sustain growth a bit longer, now that all other markets have been saturated. Flush with cash, they went nuts and bought up all the AI accelerator hardware2, which in turn uses unspeakable amounts of energy to train new large language models.

    Despite all the hype, current AI technology is at it's core a very sophisticated statistical model. It's all about probabilities, it can't actually reason. As I see it, work done by AI can't thus be trusted. Depending on the specific application, that may be less of an issue, but that is a fundamental limitation of current technology. And this gives me pause as it limits the application where it is most wanted: to control labour. To reduce the cost of headcount and to suppress wages.

    As AI tools become capable enough, it would be irresponsible towards shareholders not to pursue this direction.

    All this just to illustrate that the real value of AI is not for the average person in the street. The true value is for those bigger companies who can keep on growing, and the rest is just collateral damage.

    But I wonder: when the AI hype is over, what new hype will take it's place? I can't see it. I can't think of it. But I recognise that the internet created efficiencies that are convenient, yet social media weaponised this convenience to exploit our fundamental human weaknesses. As shareholder value rose, social media slowly chips away at the fabric of our society:

    trust.


    1. I've sold my Oculus Rift CV1 long ago, I lost hundreds of dollars of content but I refuse to create a Facebook/Meta account. 

    2. climate change accelerators 

    Tagged as : Uncategorized
  3. How to Run Victron Veconfigure on a Mac

    Mon 04 March 2024

    Introduction

    Victron Multiplus-II inverter/charges are configured with the veconfigure1 tool. Unforntunately this is a Windows-only tool, but there is still a way for Apple users to run this tool without any problems.

    Tip: if you've never worked with the Terminal app on MacOS, it might not be an easy process, but I've done my best to make it as simple as I can.

    A tool called 'Wine' makes it possible to run Windows applications on MacOS. There are some caveats, but none of those apply to veconfigure, this tool runs great!

    I won't cover in this tutorial how to make the MK-3 USB cable work. This tutorial is only meant for people who have a Cerbo GX or similar device, or run VenusOS, which can be used to remotely configure the Multipluss device(s).

    Step 1: install brew on macos

    Brew is a tool that can install additional software

    1. Visit https://brew.sh and copy the install command
    2. open the Terminal app on your mac and paste the command
    3. now press 'Enter' or return

    It can take a few minutes for 'brew' to install.

    Step 2: install wine

    Enter the following two commands in the terminal:

    brew tap homebrew/cask-versions
    brew install --cask --no-quarantine wine-stable
    

    Download Victron veconfigure

    1. Visit this page
    2. Scroll to the section "VE Configuration tools for VE.Bus Products"
    3. Click on the link "Ve Configuration Tools"
    4. You'll be asked if it's OK to download this file (VECSetup_B.exe) which is ok

    Start the veconfigure installer with wine

    1. Open a terminal window
    2. Run cd
    3. Enter the command wine Downloads\VECSetup_B.exe
    4. Observe that the veconfigure Windows setup installer starts
    5. Click on next, next, install and Finish
    6. veconfigure will run for the first time

    Click on the top left button on the video to enlarge

    These are the actual install steps:

    How to start veconfigure after you close the app

    1. Open a terminal window
    2. Run cd
    3. Run cd .wine/drive_c/Program\ Files\ \(x86\)/VE\ Configure\ tools/
    4. Run wine VEConfig.exe

    Observe that veconfigure starts

    Allow veconfigure access to files in your Mac Download folder

    1. Open a terminal window
    2. Run cd
    3. run cd .wine/drive_c/
    4. run ls -n ~/Downloads

    We just made the Downloads directory on your Mac accessible for the vedirect software. If you put the .RSVC files in the Downloads folder, you can edit them.

    Please follow the instructions for remote configuration of the Multiplus II.


    1. Click on the "Ve Configuration Tools" link in the "VE Configuration tools for VE.Bus Products" section. 

    Tagged as : Uncategorized

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