Multi Seat Gaming PC for LANs Part 0


A couple of years ago I mucked around with something called PCI-E passthrough.
The idea is to let a Virtual Machine (VM) use an physical GPU.
This lets me, who almost exclusively run Linux, run some Windows only games in a Windows VM. I think I was first exposed to this idea through a reddit post on r/linux_gaming, possibly this one:

GPU Passthrough – Or How To Play Any Game At Near Native Performance In A Virtual Machine (xpost /r/pcmasterrace) from linux_gaming

Thing is, that guide was really only a jumping off point into an endless sea of configuration and testing, and eventual success. But it was really only a toy for me, to see if I could.

The secondary GPU was an AMD 4850HD, which was pretty elderly, and I wasn’t going to be able to use it for everything I wanted. After the initial success, I shelved the project.

And then…

A few months ago, Matt came to me with a suggestion that we attempt to follow this procedure:

We both attend the Skynet Wales LAN , and he thought it’d be cool to be able to do all our gaming from a single rig instead of both of us having to take our entire setups.


The unRAID solution, on paper, looked like the easiest way to do this, but two things made me disagree
1. I had already set up something similar a while back
2. Why do it the easy way when yo can do it the hard way.

Later on it turned out I made the correct call here for a couple of reasons. I’ll go into why later on.

The next few posts will go through the Hardware we used, the software / VM setup, the various tweaks we’ve applied, and some benchmarking results. Then finally how it performed in a real world event.



What data do I consider important?
I had a backup scare a while ago, thinking I’d lost several years’ worth of photographs. It looks like I did have some level of backup, but not all of them were retrieved.
So I suppose Photographs are one thing I feel I need to backup. What else?


What kind of files am I even thinking of, I wonder? I haven’t tried to write any short stories for years, and spreadsheets I created with Sarah to do things like plan chores don’t really seem backup worthy.
Personal projects, I suppose would count, so that would be the various little programming projects I’ve started and abandoned in the last decade.
My university work, and most importantly my 3rd year project. I worked hard on that, and even if it’s unlikely I’ll be ever doing anything with it again, it would be a shame to lose it.


I’ve got a lot of music files. A lot of these are ripped from CDs, and from my Parent’s CDs. Some of these are files I recorded from records, some are things I was given by friends, some of it is Sarah’s. Replacing the actual files would be a pain in the arse, re-ripping everything would take several days of solid work, and some of the CDs are in poor enough shape that I’m not sure they’d rip again anyway.


I’ve made a few videos, just short personal things mostly. Most of these are on Youtube anyway, since that was the primary mechanism I was sharing things with friends anyway. But if I should lose my Google account, or google went under or something (not that it’s likely to happen).


A long time ago, a member of family asked me if I still liked Google. This was just after Google had started to really take off with their suite of applications, and Google Mail had started to become such a mainstream player.
At the time, they were poking fun at my anti-Microsoft attitude and my dislike of massive IT companies. They were right to do so; I was probably the kind of person to spell Microsoft with a dollar sign.
But as the years have gone on, it’s difficult to ignore that Google (Alphabet) has become a deeply scary company.
Even if they weren’t, it’s probably pretty foolish to have so much of my identity tied to a single service, and it’s also amazingly foolish to keep any important information in a free online service. I know, since I’ve been that fool before: when Hotmail addresses were migrated to addresses, any “inactive” accounts were purged of all old emails if no-one log in via web browser happened within a number of days. I’d had that email address 10 years, and suddenly everything on it was gone. It’d be daft to assume that Google never ever EVER has that kind of thing happen.
So, I suppose I’m a tech version of a prepper. There might already be a word for that, not sure. Hopefully I won’t be suspected of being a new Unabomber or anything.
So, my data.

Backup solution.

The saying goes “3 copies, 2 mediums, 1 off site backup”. Currently, as of writing, I have one “master” copy on my NAS, but that’s only got a single hard drive in it. This means it barely qualifies as a NAS at this point. Sure, it’s storage attached to the network, but only a fool would actually host data on it (Yeah I’m a fool).
A 2nd hard drive has been ordered and dispatched from some enormous warehouse, so soon that single hard drive will be mirrored, making me a bit less foolish.
Still, that’s only 1 medium. I’ll need to think a bit about what might constitute a 2nd medium.
The off-site backup is going to be handled in 2 ways. First of all, I’ve subscribed to Crash Plan. I’ve not actually uploaded any data to it yet, since it’s been a bit tricky to set up on FreeNAS. This will be my cloud backup for now, although I’m open to switching cloud backup providers at any point.
The 2nd off site back up will be a similar NAS box running at my parents’ house. I’ll dedicate some time to getting that set up when I visit them at Christmas. It can store their data, and I’ll rsync my data to it, and their data to mine.

The Paranoid bit

Well, I don’t think it’s really paranoia. But I’m not going to be entrusting anything more to Google from now on, and I need to apply that retroactively to their services. This means I will need to get down from their servers everything I’ve ever uploaded, and also take a copy of every email I’ve ever sent or received through their services. This will all go into my backups as well.
I will also need to remove any DRM from any ebooks or films or music I’ve ever bought from them too. This might be a bit tricky.
Of course, this won’t happen overnight. I’ve already begun migrating my emails away from Google, but I still use them as my primary contact for a lot of online services. Amazon for example, uses my Gmail login. I suppose I want to get things that are actually irreplaceable away from them, so that would mean family and friends can have my non-gmail related account, and all of the faceless companies that want my email address for spurious reasons can have the gmail one. In this fashion, I will fill my gmail inbox with SPAM.

Half-Life 2: Point Insertion Part I


Recently, Valve released Half-Life 2 and it’s episodes for Linux. For me, this is more or less a dream come true, something I’ve been waiting and wanting and wishing for since I started using Linux in 2006.

I’ve tried Wine, multiple times, and it’s always been a bit too quirky, with too many peculiar bugs and foibles. This is not to say that I don’t find Wine impressive. Wine is probably one of the more audacious projects I’ve ever seen – an attempt to reverse engineer one of the most obtuse black boxes ever, the Windows API.

So now that Half-Life 2 has been natively released for Linux, I decided it was time to do a complete replay of the game. I’ve played the game a lot, but I don’t think I’ve actually sat down and gone end to end for a long time. I always skip bits, replay certain sections and then stop.

This time I’m going to share my experiences, via pretentious blog posts, probably on THE INTERNET (but not necessarily  I’ll accept requests to have pages posted to you, if you first of all send me a written request via the royal mail).

I’m doing this not because I think I’ve got anything interesting to say, or anything new. Everything has been more or less said about the game at this point, and if I ejaculate all over it I don’t think it will make much difference to the world at large.

No, I’m doing this because I want to and because I’m a mouthy git, and because this is the internet I can do what I like.

Technical Specifications

I’m playing this on a Samsung Series 7 Chronos, which is an ultrabook type thing. It’s got:

Xubuntu 13.04 x64

Intel Core i5


nVidia geforce 630M

Although the nVidia bit is actually Optimus, and I get way better performance out of the Intel bit than I do with the discrete nVidia chip. Still working on that.

And away we go!
Continue reading

On Linux Adoption

Today something very exciting happened. Half-Life 2 and its episodes are now available for Linux.

This year has been great for Linux gaming, and I’m managing to move further and further away from Windows as my primary OS.

My laptop dual boots Windows 8 and Xubuntu 13.04, and my desktop dual boots Windows 7 and Arch Linux.

On my laptop, I never boot Windows at all any more. I bought it as a lightweight gaming machine that I could use when I travel for work, and I’ve found that most of the games I’m playing at the moment have Linux releases (Kerbal Space Program is currently my most played).

My desktop I’m currently playing Far Cry 3 on, so obviously that needs Windows, but now that I’ve got Left 4 Dead 2 and Counter-Strike Source, and with Garry’s Mod on the way too, my reasons for staying in Windows are shrinking.

I announced my pleasure to a “community” of people I hang out with on Skype quite often, and there I faced the usual amount of disdain and apathy.

But I also encountered an arguement against Linux that I’ve not actually come across before, and while it is indeed born of stupidity (and demonstrably wrong in some cases), it nonetheless intrigued me.

It went like this:

There is no killer app for linux

That’s not what they said, but that’s what they meant. They argued that there was no incentive for them to actually use Linux because every tool they might use on Linux already had a windows version.


That’s a seriously weird thing to argue. Generally, you want to reach as wide an audience as possible with your software. Locking yourself to a particular platform, unless you are the platform vendor, is going to be suicide.

Unless you are a particularly niche product, or you are building bespoke software for a client that is running a particular OS, why would you want to lock yourself to a platform? Cross platform development has never been easier, and more and more software companies are starting to bring out versions of their software for more than just Windows.

Leaving linux out of it for a moment, I’d consider that most consumer software these days as being multi platform. Good grief, even Microsoft release Office for Mac.

Apple release iTunes for Windows! Why on earth would they do this? Wouldn’t releasing it for Mac only make more people use Macs?

No. Because while a lot of people can afford an overpriced undersexed mp3 player, they can’t also afford a brand new computer just to use the damn thing. And Apple know this, hence the release of iTunes for Windows.

So that aside, very few people are going to switch to linux because of a particular program they need that has been released for linux and no other platform. At least, most average computer users.

His next argument said “well, I don’t think linux is ready yet. No one distributes it on new computers”.


And the concept is not new. Dell have been doing this for a few years now.

The next arguement was “Well only computer geeks and nerds will use it”.

I think he seriously underestimated how many geeks & nerds exist on the planet. There are millions of us!
Do we not deserve to choose? If your average consumer can choose between Windows and Mac, can’t we choose something different?

If you go by the numbers in the Steam Hardware and Software survey, at the moment there at around 1.3% of Steam users on Linux.
Steam users peak at around 5.3 million a day.
That’s nearly 70’000 people using steam on linux (at the time of the last hardware survey). The actual numbers may differ.

Valve obviously thinks its worth releasing games for us. If you look at the average price breakdown by OS for the humble bundle, you can see that Linux users might be a minority, but they’re a minority that pays well for games:

Screenshot - 100513 - 18:13:02

The arguement that only nerds will use it….well. My girlfriend prefers Linux over Windows for a lot of things, and only really stays on Windows for some academic software and iTunes.

My sister used Ubuntu, but only until she immersed her laptop in tea. She got on with it.

My parents use it.

My brother uses it. He’s the first to admit he’s not technically minded.

A lightweight distro works extremely well for people who only use their laptop as a facebook machine.

Come to think of it, the guy was probably trolling me. He succeeded.

Anyway, this post gave me something to do while waiting for Half-Life 2 to download.

Screenshot - 100513 - 18:17:45

Grub EFI Dual boot errors

I recently decided to move install Xubuntu on my desktop, having gotten fed up of Arch Linux. Arch Linux will make it’s return, but I was having too much trouble with the AMD legacy drivers. When I’ve upgraded my graphics card (hint – for one that doesn’t have shit linux support), I’ll move back.

In the meantime, I had some problems with Grub.

To begin with, the install did not recognise my Windows partitions at all, but I could still boot from the EFI menu to Windows. I would rather have grub though, instead of having to hammer away at the F8 key on every cold boot.

According to the Ubuntu page about UEFI, you should use boot-repair.

I used boot repair, and the output from it can be found here.

This updated grub, found the Windows partition, and added Windows as an option (actually 2 options for Windows. Don’t know why, but there are multiple EFI files for Windows on the EFI partition).

I got this error:

error: no such file or device: 16E0-4903
error: no such file or device: 16E0-4903
error: file '/EFI/Microsoft/Boot/bootmgfw.efi' not found
Press any key to continue

The grub entry for Windows looked like this:

menuentry "Windows 7" {
search --fs-uuid --no-floppy --set=root 16E0-4903
chainloader (${root})/EFI/Microsoft/Boot/bkpbootmgfw.efi

I checked the EFI partition, and sure enough the file is there. I checked the UUID of sda1 (the EFI partition), and it was correct.

I tried to fix it myself, by using the hard drive name instead of the UUID, but that gave errors about partition type.

Turned out I needed to add this:

menuentry "Windows 7" {
insmod part_gpt
search --fs-uuid --no-floppy --set=root 16E0-4903
chainloader (${root})/EFI/Microsoft/Boot/bkpbootmgfw.efi

I found the information here.

I don’t know why that line wasn’t added, but there we are.