Matrix Mixer On The Cheap

I wanted a way to mix my audio signals coming from my computer, XBox, and TV into the same audio stream. The device you use to do this is called a matrix mixer. Generally they’re 1000+ USD. But I found a product that’s designed for home recording studios that will do it on the cheap.

Enter the Behringer MINI MON MON800 Ultra-Compact Stereo Monitor Matrix Mixer

Here’s what it looks like:

At around 60 bucks, this is quite the steal. It’ll mix up to four stereo analog inputs into 1 stereo stream that can be outputted on 4 stereo outputs. Two of those outputs (B+C) are controlled by one volume knob, while the other two (Headphone Out and A) have individual volume controls.

So why do you want this? Well now I can listen to some music on my home theater while I play xbox through the same speakers. I also never loose audio signal when my computer turns off the TV. I’ve also mixed my home recording onto one of the channels so I can jam out over the home theater speakers without having to click any buttons on my remote.

Granted, this will only handle stereo setups. I use it on a 2.1 setup. Sounds great over my Boston Acoustics floor standings and a Mirage sub. I can’t hear any degrade in signal from when I was running optical to the Denon Receiver.

Examining Performance: Windows 8 Storage Spaces

Update 8/12/2012

I picked up another RE4 500GB so now the test is using two Western Digital RE4 WD5003ABYX 500GB 7200 RPM 64MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s drives.

The first WD RE4 500GB on SATA2

The second WD RE4 500GB on SATA2

Now inside of a RAID1 created on the SATA2 ports for the ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboard. Using the two WD RE4 500GB drives from above.

And now inside a mirroring Storage Space on Windows 8 Release Preview.

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I”ll be using two drives in this test:

  1. Western Digital RE4 WD5003ABYX 500GB 7200 RPM 64MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s
  2. Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3320620AS 320GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s

Here is the WD RE4 connected on SATA2.

And the Seagate:

Now inside of a RAID1 created on the SATA2 ports for the ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboard

And finally within Windows 8’s new Storage Spaces. Doing Mirroring.

Xen Hypervisor and VT-d VGA Passthrough

I just recently bought a new computer with the purpose of

  1. Replacing my dying HTPC
  2. Setting up a VM Server for all my little projects

I wanted to be able to kill two birds with one stone on this purchase. So I turned to VT-d (also known as IOMMU, Directed I/O, and AMD-V). This allows a hypervisor to provide direct I/O access to a piece of hardware. You can get really excellent performance out of it as in this youtube video:

Yes, that’s one computer running two (really 3 if you count dom0) operating systems playing two games at once. Essentially it’s one computer acting as two computers. Notice the smooth (i.e. lag free) graphics.

Here’s the parts I picked up (~<$1000):

  • Intel Core i7 3770 (don’t get a K, as these don’t have VT-d)
  • ASRock Z77 Extreme4 (this mobo was shown to support VT-d here)
  • Crucial Ballistix Sport DDR3-1600 CL9 2x8GB
  • NZXT Classic Series Source 210 Case
  • SeaSonic X-Series 660W Power Supply
  • Crucial M4 128GB SATA SSD
  • Western Digital RE4 WD5003ABYX 500GB 7200rpm
  • Vantec 2 Channel 4-Port SATA 6Gb/s PCIe Host Card
  • SAPPHIRE AMD Radeon HD 6450 1GB PCIe Video Card

I threw Fedora 17 x86_64 on the WD RE4 as my dom0. Then I followed Dizzy’s Create a Gaming Virtual Machine Guide @ overclock.net. Mad props to Dizzy for a great guide.

Here it is working. This is a screen shot of a Windows 7 VM running as domU on xen.

I passed through the HD 6450 video and audio (HDMI) pci devices to the Windows 7 VM. I also passed a usb controller so I could use a mouse and keyboard.

The result is that I have a VM that has pretty much no performance loss. I ran Furmark on this system, while native and while inside the VM on HDMI to my TV. There was no frame loss (granted Furmark only runs at 5 fps @ 1024×768 on this card).

You’ll notice that this card has a really low Aero performance. Not sure why, but I found that while running Windows natively as well. A quick check online shows it’s happening with others as well. I don’t really notice it so oh well.

There are a few issues with this setup. First off I couldn’t get my pci-passthrough’s to persist over restarts of the host dom0. So I wrote a script that detaches the pci devices from dom0 and then starts the VM.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get this to work when I placed it int /etc/rc.d/rc.local as xend hadn’t started yet when rc.local was run. So I can only start my Win7 VM manually.

Another way I tried to fix the above issue is by using xen-pciback.hide feature on the dom0 kernel so it doesn’t take over these pci devices. I placed the following line in /etc/sysconfig/grub

That didn’t work either. As far as I can tell it has something to do with my kernel lacking modprobe modules.

The second issue is that the HDMI Audio crashes after the system has been up for a while. I plan on leaving this machine on all the time (running Rosetta@Home when I’m gone). This is supposedly a known issue, at least to Dizzy (not sure about Xen).

I got a little confused about the hard drive setup. My initial plan was to passthrough the SATA PCIe card I bought. This should have worked. In fact, the VM was able to detect the card and the SSD on it, but I couldn’t get it to boot my Win7 image instead of the empty SSD on the SATA Card. I also tried booting to a DVD Drive that I placed on the SATA Card. It recognized the dvd drive but kept on trying to boot the empty SSD and didn’t give me an option to boot the DVD.

Finally I figured out that Dizzy was just passing through the /dev/sda1, which was the SSD connected to dom0. This worked great. I initially had performance issues as seen below.

Crucial M4 on SATA2 controller. IDE emulation passed via /dev/sda1 to VM

But then I put the M4 on a SATA3 controller and performance went up. Again passed through to domU from dom0 as /dev/sda1 in IDE emulation

Conclusion

This was a really fun project and I’m glad I did it. But unfortunately the audio crashing after a while, combined with the lack of persistant pci passthrough which makes this VM have to be manually started, are deal breakers for me. I’m going to try VMware’s ESXi implementation of VT-d next. If that doesn’t work, I’ll settle with Windows 8’s Hyper-V.

Maybe in a few years the Xen VT-d experience will have improved. For now, Onwards!