Is there a known-safe motherboard for a ROCK machine, if a NUC isn't quite working out?


(Jeffrey Moore) #1

I migrated my Roon install from Roon being just another service running on a general-purpose Linux server at home to a ROCK install which owns a NUC.

For the most part, I’m glad I did. The interface is mostly snappy, playback is mostly reliable, I like the idea of having our core audio server Roon in an environment where it isn’t contending with other stuff for resources and has system buffer pools optimized for it.

But… there are a few niggling infelicities which I assume could be fixed with beefier hardware.

For one thing… while using the earlier install, I put all the RAAT zone playback devices in their own dedicated VLAN, accessible via a dedicated Ethernet port on the server, while also allowing access on the main LAN via another Ethernet pot. I was pleased to find that RoonServer would indeed listen on both ports, and that way one of the server’s interfaces is used just for Roon audio traffic, nothing else contending with it.

I was pleased to find that ROCK will support multiple Ethernet interfaces as well, so I used the Roon NUC’s hardware copper Ethernet interface for the audio VLAN and plugged in a USB NIC recommended here to use for the Roon user interfaces to connect over. That worked fine… but the USB network connection would stop working every week or two until it was unplugged and plugged back in. Lesson highlighted: USB networking isn’t infrastructure-quality.

So… I figure, there’s WiFi hardware BUILT INto the NUC. I fired up the WiFi interface and used it as the control/UI point of contact for RoonServer on the NUC. Good news: that connection doesn’t go to sleep once a week or so. Bad news: desktop or tablet Roon user interface programs lose contact with the Core while I’m doing the periodic file sync from my master repository storage of the audio files to the ROCK-advertised share of ROCK’s attached audio-storage disk. The WiFi (a pretty good setup, with an access point close to the NUC with a clear line of sight) just gets swamped, in a way I don’t believe copper gigabit would. Lesson highlighted: WiFi networking isn’t infrastructure-quality.

As for the available CPU grunt on my little 7th generation i7 NUC? It’s coping admirably well (I think ROCK is a really nice lean efficient platform), but I keep bumping up against its limits – whether transcoding some high-rate DSD material I’ve accumulated to PCM for DACs which can’t eat DSD, or trying to experiment with upsampling stuff to DSD (the latter not strictly required for perfectly happy daily use), sometimes the system runs out of steam. And I plan to get busy measuring and setting up room correction for several rooms; I suspect that running that DSP for several different rooms being played to simultaneously is probably expensive.

And I recall reading somewhere that Roon likes to assign the pipelines for distinct zones to distinct CPUs if possible. I wouldn’t mind having enough full CPU cores to allow that for all the zones in our home (currently six, could possibly increase).

Oh, and I’m not completely sold on the idea of storing the music for ROCK on an external drive. I don’t think of those as… yes, infrastructure-quality.

So it’d be great to be able to stick an SATA disk (or two?) inside an enclosure and have ROCK recognize and use it / them.

So, what I’d love to know about is:

A motherboard which:

  • will take a current-generation high-end Intel desktop CPU
  • has at least two onboard copper gigabit interfaces supported by ROCK drivers
  • has at least two onboard internal SATA interfaces supported by ROCK drivers, for audio files
  • supports at least one M.2 NVMe SSD, for the OS and Roon database

…and whose ROCK driver support isn’t likely to be jettisoned in later versions.

Is there a known-good motherboard like this? Because if so, I’ll jump right onto building a machine around it.

(Oh, and is there some other requirement in addition to my little bullet list above which I’m brainfarting on ans should have included?)


(Andrew Cox) #2

Hi Jeffrey,

Roon itself doesn’t offer advice about non-recommended hardware running ROCK. The Community, however, has some experience with such things (called MOCK). I’ve shifted your post to Tinkering where the MOCK users hang out.


#3

What size motherboard form factor are you willing to go to? Stuck on m-itx or NUC size boards, or are you willing to upsize to m-atx or even ATX? Everything will be a risk when it comes to ROCK future compatibility.


(Mr Fix It ) #4

Plenty of tried and tested options in here. try to stick with intel based support chipsets perhaps as a preference.

I haven’t personally tried the 8th series processors and 7th series ones seem to be in short supply.

If size is not an issue then Fanless cooling options are much better.

I’m not sure if ROCK supports more than 2 internal drives.


(Jeffrey Moore) #5

I have no constraints I wish to apply to motherboard size. I certainly have no especial need or desire for anything especially tiny or quiet. This machine would live, as does the current ROCK NUC I hope to replace, in a back room among other servers and some network equipment, out of earshot of any of the music playback zones.

I do assume this would go in an at least moderately voluminous case, so I could use desktop-class CPUs with their TDP higher than what goes in a NUC, and fit a proper CPU heatsink with those honking large Austrian fans into the case.

That’s what I was hoping to avoid. I hoped a ROCK packager would step in and say something like, “This is not our officially supported target hardware, but this motherboard is what I use at home, and it’s very very unlikely that I’d remove any of its essential drivers from future releases”.

But no luck like that. I’ll peruse that “…tell me what strange gear…” topic pointed out by @wizardofoz


(Mr Fix It ) #6

Not really strange gear…just not a supported platform :slight_smile:


(Chris) #7

As Wizardofoz says, it’s just not supported.

However, it seems (from my own experience and from what has been reported in the MOCK thread/s) that any half-modern X86-based system with typical desktop components will be able to run the ROCK image just fine. (The two points being storage - anything SATA would be expected to be fine - and network - some extra cheap NIC might not have drivers in the kernel - but probably any normal desktop ATX, mATX, ITX mobo could be expected to work).

More CPU power, more memory, more storage is not a detriment, it’s just not efficient that’s all. The ROCK image is very restricted, it doesn’t even support extensions, so having an over-sized MOCK is just watts spent heating the room. Conversely having an under-sized system is indeed a problem and you’ll not be happy.


#8

If you are comfortable with Linux, just ditch ROCK and install a distribution of your choice and then the Roon Core on top of that. Then you can have pretty much any motherboard/CPU/devices you want. Since it sounds like this will be a dedicated Core, and not have an audio endpoint connected directly to it via USB, any of the “OS optimizations” made for ROCK are pretty much moot. The Core doesn’t care. It does the heavy lifting, and pre-buffers ~5 seconds of raw PCM audio to your endpoints. So if you do have any processing hickups on the Core, they won’t affect the audio at all.

(FWIW, I run my Roon Core on a dedicated CentOS 7 based system feeding multiple zones and it has worked a treat.)


#9

fwiw, just built a fanless MOCK with an asus h370-i mini-ITX mobo plus an i7-8700. so far, works flawlessly with the exception that the wi-fi is not supported. the mobo has all your specs plus it has two m.2 NVMe slots… i am using one for ROCK and the other for music storage. (remember, ROCK only recognizes one additional internal drive.)

i have no expectation of roon support beyond the community here and if it ever become incompatible i will just install linux with roon core.

caveats here are: i have only been using it for about 10 days, and outputting to one zone with upsampling to dsd128 so far.

also, for a good discussion of processors for a MOCK, see this thread:


#10

Any current motherboard, Gigabyte, ASUS, MSI, ASRock, with an addin Ethernet card will address your needs. AT form factor boards have more addin slots and usually dual M.2 slots. All have at least 6 SATA ports and 6 USB ports.

If you want more grunt, wait for the new Ryzen 3000s, due Q2 2019.


(Henry) #11

I have a build based on an 8th gen m-ITX build which wasn’t fully ROCK compatible when I first put it together. Since then there were updates to make ROCK compatible with the latest 8th gen NUCs (as opposed to the earlier ones which I suspect were 8th gen processors grafted on to 7th gen architecture). This makes me reasonably confident my MOCK build won’t stop working any time soon. Mine is based on the i7 8700 so has good thermal characteristics and was able to comfortably upsample to DSD512 without having to go to multi core working.


#12

Which mobo you using?


(Henry) #13

As listed on the MOCK thread.


(Jeffrey Moore) #14

Thanks, everybody – some great helpful leads.

Apologies for not having read up on Tinkering / MOCK threads before posting. I failed to come up with the right search incantation beforehand, and initially posted in the ROCK thread. Clearly the action’s over here!


(Mikael Ollars) #15

Unsure if it’s been mentioned explicitly, but make sure the mobo you go for has got legacy boot support. Otherwise it’s a nogo with ROCK. Unfortunately it seems difficult to know before buying and trying.
(I bought a Asus Prime J-4005C, a barebone low powered mobo but the had removed legacy boot… :frowning: I was forced back to the Prime J-3055C which lacks m.2 support)


(Daniel Beyer) #16

I’ve run Rock on various Asus and gigabyte motherboards with no issues, from Skylake to Haswell, and a couple of old Core 2 Duos thrown in for good measure. There might be things that don’t work since ROCK doesn’t have the drivers, like mobo Wifi, but core functionality has been perfectly stable.


(Chris) #17

(Meaning no UEFI support = Legacy BIOS)…


(Peter Lie) #18

I’ve been using Asus motherboards at home for nearly 30 years (!). At work we use both Asus and Gigabyte motherboards. Not that there have been no failures, but I guess those are statistically normal. Cannot comment on ROCK compatibility though.


(Daniel Beyer) #19

Oh, I have had a bad motherboard here and there, but, generally speaking they have been solid for me … since forever. Have many which are over a decade old and still kicking.