BFight 210 FPV Racing Quadcopter

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Last month, my friends at Gearbest sent me a free KingKong FlyEgg 130 micro drone. I had a lot of trouble with it—a flaky DSMX receiver, a dead FPV camera, and I broke a motor in the first crash. I still want to write about the FlyEgg 130. It is a neat little drone, and I definitely want a 3” drone with an all-up weight of around 120 grams in my bag. Upgraded parts are on the way, so that blog post is probably a couple of weeks away.

BFight 210 FPV Racing Drone

Gearbest didn’t have identical, individual replacement parts in stock, and it seemed silly to replace the whole drone. They sent me a free BFight 210 racing quad to try out instead!

The BFight 210

This is a different style of machine than the quad I regularly fly—the Holybro Shuriken X1. Compared to the BFight 210, my Shuriken X1 is heavy and quite powerful. Its expensive T-Motor F40 motors are fantastic, and they have no trouble compensating for the extra weight.

The BFight 210 is about 75 grams lighter than my Shuriken X1. Its motors aren’t as big and powerful, but the BFight 210’s lower weight makes it feel great in the air.

In fact, I couldn’t stop talking about how different it felt while I was flying my first battery on the BFight 210. It feels lighter than the Shuriken X1. The X1 seems like a heavy Corvette with wide tires grabbing hard around the turns, and a huge motor forcing that massive car down the road.

The BFight 210 reminds me of my Miata—it doesn’t need much effort from the tires or the motor to throw its light frame through the corners. That said, the BFight 210 isn’t as far behind the Shuriken X1 as my old Miata was from a Corvette!

The BFight 210 has more modern hardware than my Shuriken X1. The ESCs support DSHOT, and the VTX can be controlled by your transmitter. I’m looking forward to finally being able to test out turtle mode in Betaflight 3.2!

The DSMX version of the BFight 210 is problematic

It was easy enough to follow the directions to pair my Spektrum DX6 to my DSMX BFight 210. The product descriptions clearly states that you can’t change VTX channels from your transmitter unless you’re using a FrSky transmitter. They don’t tell you that a DSMX transmitter will cause your VTX to continuously change channels as fast as it can!

I had to snip the white wire connecting the flight controller to the VTX. I am now able to control the VTX from its push button.

This isn’t the only problem with the DSMX version. The DSMX receiver module that BFight chose to include with the drone has a single antenna, and that short antenna is soldered right to the board. It isn’t even long enough to properly clear the frame. I lost signal for a short time during my first two batteries.

I’ve been running into minor annoyances with my Spektrum DX6 lately. The BFight 210 has given me enough reason to order a Taranis X9D and a handful of R-XSR receiver modules. In a couple of days, I’ll be Spektrum free!

You won’t have either of these problems with your BFight 210 if you’re running FrSky!

The BFight 210 is a budget racing quad

My Shuriken X1 was completely ready to go from the factory, and I expect the same is true of the X1’s replacement—the Holybro Kopis. Both of these drones cost $100 to $150 more than the BFight 210.

You get a lot of drone for your money with the BFight 210, but there are a few inexpensive things that I wish they included in the box.

The BFight 210 comes with a dipole whip antenna. These are quite durable and save you 5 grams of weight, but I was disappointed in my video feed with this antenna. The drone does come with an adapter to connect an RP-SMA antenna, and I installed it as soon as I got home from my first flight session with the BFight 210.

BFight 210 faux battery straps

In lieu of a proper battery strap, the BFight 210 ships with a couple of Velcro cable ties. I’m sure they’ll get the job done, but it wouldn’t have cost them much to include a proper battery strap.

Also, my BFight 210 didn’t ship with props. I didn’t plan on using the props that came in the box, but I would have liked to check them out!

I bolted on a set of Racekraft 5046 props. They seem like good propellers for the BFight 210. They feel good, and unlike on my Shuriken X1, they didn’t sag my battery into low voltage warnings until the battery was nearly drained.

The FPV camera

The BFight 210 ships with a generic-looking Sony HS1177 CCD camera. It looks comparable to the CCD camera that shipped with my Shuriken X1. It is a capable camera, but I’m spoiled by my Runcam Eagle 2.

I think the camera is interesting, because it includes a tiny joystick on the back for operating the OSD. I don’t know how easy it would be to use in the field, but at least you don’t have to remember to bring your joystick cable!

The camera is not protected in a crash, and the camera only mounts with two screws. I let my friend Alex have a shot at the controls, and he bumped into some twigs at the top of a small tree. It knocked the camera angle out of whack, and I wasn’t able to tighten it back up with the screws.

This was easy to fix when I got home. I put a small piece of 3M foam mounting tape on each of the carbon fiber camera mounts. It keeps the camera snug, and I don’t expect to have any problems now. At least until I hit a sturdy tree branch head-on!

The 2205 2300kv motors

I am impressed with the FLOVERFLY 2205 motors. Cheap motors are often capable of generating almost as much power as a high-quality motor, but they are often terribly inefficient.

We are using Racerstar 2306S motors on our budget FPV quadcopter kit at TheLab.ms makerspace. They are quite powerful, but they use a lot more power than the T-Motor 2306 motors on my Shuriken X1.

I pushed the BFight 210 a little harder on my second battery—mostly just doing a couple of short punch outs. I was rather tame on my first day of flying, because I was worried about losing signal with the terrible DSMX receiver, and the park was rather crowded. I did a few punch outs to see how much power the motors had.

However, most of my time in the air was spent flying in proximity to trees near the ground. I was also talking to my friends while I was flying, and that always leads to slower flying! I landed my second 1300 mAh battery when it got down to around 3.7v per cell, and it was in the air for over 7 minutes!

That’s about as long as my Shuriken X1 can manage on a gentle flight like that, and the X1’s motors cost more than half of the total price tag of the BFight 210!

The frame

The BFight 210’s frame reminds me of the FLOSS frame. It must be rather light, and it has narrow arms that are each held on by two screws. Everything is packed in near the center, and it sits quite low.

BFight 210 FPV Racing Drone

I’m worried about how narrow these arms are. They’re narrow, but at least they’re made from a thick piece of carbon fiber! It took me six months to break an arm on my Shuriken X1, but those arms are more than twice as wide.

I haven’t been able to find replacement frame parts for the BFight 210. This worries me a bit, but not a lot. If I do break an arm, there are plenty of inexpensive frames available from Gearbest or Banggood.

I’ll report back when I manage to break the frame!

I love and hate 4-in-1 ESCs

The BFight 210 ships with a 30 amp 4-in-1 ESC module that support bl_heli_s and DSHOT. It works great, and a 4-in-1 ESC is easier to work with and tidies up the build quite nicely.

There is a downside to using a 4-in-1 unit. If you blow out one ESC, you have to replace all four. Our group burns up ESCs on a regular basis. Sometimes they burn out in a crash when the propeller rips chips right off the top of the ESC. Thankfully, this won’t happen with a 4-in-1 ESC!

I burned out an ESC on my KingKong FlyEgg 130. The motor than I bent in my first crash fried the ESC a few batteries later, so now I’m waiting for a replacement 4-in-1 board.

At the rate things are going, it looks like everyone will be using 4-in-1 ESCs in the future. So I guess I can’t complain too much!

The OMNIBUS F3 flight controller

I am a fan of the OMNIBUS F3. I recently used an OMNIBUS F3 Pro in a 4” quad build, and that led to us using them in 10 FPV quadcopter kits at TheLab.ms makerspace. They’re inexpensive, they have plenty of UARTs, and they’re fairly easy to work with.

My only complaint in my own builds is wiring up the current sensor. When BFight builds the drone for me, I don’t have to worry about that!

The VTX

If you have a FrSky transmitter, you can control your VTX settings from your transmitter. This is quite handy. It would be better if it were one of the VTX modules that’s compatible with Betaflight, but the BFight 210 is a few months too old for that to have worked out.

I can’t use my transmitter to control the VTX, so I have to hit the little button hiding inside the frame. It will be tough to reach that button in the field, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to decipher the LEDs when they’re hiding inside the frame, either.

That said, it is a switchable 25/200/600mw video transmitter—I wish my Shuriken X1 could be set as low as 25mw! It seems to do its job quite well.

BFight 210 vs Holybro Kopis!

I’ve probably put more than a hundred of battery packs through my Shuriken X1, and it has served me well. I’ve been comparing the BFight 210 to my X1 all throughout this blog post. It is an easy comparison for me to make, but it probably isn’t all that useful for you. The Holybro Shuriken X1 is getting harder to find. Holybro seems to have replaced the X1 with the Kopis racing quad.

Everyone has been saying good things about the Kopis. It is lighter than the X1, has more modern electronics, but it has less powerful motors. The X1 has more power than I need anyway, and it sounds like the Kopis flies like a dream.

Unlike the BFight 210, the Kopis and the X1 both use top-of-the-line parts. Do you need those more costly parts? The Kopis is a better drone than the BFight 210 in every way except price. Is that premium hardware worth an extra $150?

The answer to those questions will be different for everyone. For me, my BFight 210 is probably going to be my backup quad. If I smoke an ESC or break an arm on my Shuriken X1, I’ll pack it up and fly the rest of my batteries on the BFight 210.

If my Shuriken X1 fell into a lake today, I think I would come home and order a Holybro Kopis. The Kopis is light like the BFight 210, but it is sturdier, more powerful, and more efficient. It also has a nicer VTX module that integrates with Betaflight.

If you’re on a limited budget, or you’re buying your first FPV racer, then the BFight 210 might be a good fit for you.

Standard components

The BFight 210 uses standard components in its 30.5mm stack. If you break your ESCs, flight controller, or VTX, you can find suitable replacements or upgrades without much trouble.

This has been my biggest complaint about my Shuriken X1. It uses a single, custom circuit board for the PDB, flight controller, and VTX. The X1’s frame doesn’t have standard 30.5 mm mounting points. If one component on that board goes, everything needs to be replaced.

I can’t sneak in a newer F4 flight controller into my Shuriken X1, because it just won’t fit. They’ve corrected this with the Kopis!

The verdict

If you made it to my blog, you’re probably already interested in buying a BFight 210, and you’re trying to decide whether or not you should pull the trigger. I think it is a fine drone. It has plenty of power, it flies smoothly, and it feels so light in the air. I don’t think you’ll regret buying one.

The BFight 210 feels like it has 80 percent of the performance of my Shuriken X1, but at a little more than half the price. It is a very good value, and in reality, the BFight 210 is more drone than I can handle. If you’re new to FPV flying, or you’re as much of a rookie as I am, the BFight 210 will be plenty of racing drone for you.

That said, I love the extra power of the Shuriken X1. The other day, I was ripping around the park with the BFight 210. Then I fired up the X1, and as soon as I took off, I did a big punch out. There were a few dozen kids nearby participating in soccer practice, and I heard a whole bunch of them hooting and hollering when they heard the X1 rip into the sky.

The Shuriken X1 always gets attention from a crowd. They barely noticed the BFight 210. Partly because it isn’t as fast, and partly because it isn’t as loud!

The BFight 210 has some interesting competition at the same price point. I keep hearing good things about the Furibee X215. There should be one on the way to my friend Brian, but they seem to be having trouble keeping them in stock. I’m sure he’ll let me try it out when it gets here. I’ll be sure to report back.

The BFight 210 has its problems, but they’re all minor. You can upgrade the VTX antenna and battery strap for less than ten dollars, so I wouldn’t let that hold you back.

Are you flying a BFight 210? What do you think of it? Would you recommend it to others? Let us know in the comments!

Fat Shark Dominator V3 FPV Goggles

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I’ve been using my extremely inexpensive Furibee VR01 FPV headset for three months while I waited for the Aomway Commander goggles to become readily available. I’d probably still be using the Furibee headset today, but I really missed having a DVR. I also wanted to tidy up my drone backpack, and I knew a smaller set of goggles would go a long way towards that goal.

Fat Shark Dominator V3 FPV Goggles

I bought a set of Fat Shark Dominator goggles and an Open Source RX5808 diversity module made by RJX Hobby. I added a compact patch antenna and a stubby pagoda antenna. The whole setup cost about $450. This is a big step up from my $50 headset!

Of course, the Aomway Commander goggles seemed to show up in stock everywhere about a week after my Fat Sharks arrived. Some friends have them already, and I have to say I’m more than a little jealous. They saved a lot of money, and they may have gotten the better headset!

The tiny field of view

Compared to any box-style headset, the Fat Shark goggles have the field-of-view of a postage stamp. My Dominator V3 goggles have a 32 degree field of view. The most expensive Fat Shark goggles top out at 45 degrees, but the reviews say those 45-degree Fat Shark goggles get blurry near the edges.

I can’t find the specs on my Furibee headset, but the Internet says my old Eachine EV800 goggles have an 82-degree field of view. I know the Furibee VR01 isn’t quite as wide, but it shouldn’t be far off.

Many people prefer a larger display, and I wasn’t certain I would enjoy making this transition. It is a different experience to say the least!

FuriBee VR01 FPV Goggles

I tend to fly in closer to the ground when I’m coming in for a landing. In fact, I was bouncing off the ground during most landings at first. I was used to the ground being a lot farther away from the center of the screen!

I noticed right away that it is much easier to execute front or back flip. The ground seems to come into view sooner. When using the bigger goggles, the edges of the screen are at the boundaries of your peripheral vision—you have to move your eyes downward to focus on the ground.

With the 32 degree Fat Shark goggles, your primary vision can take in almost the entire display. You can see the ground coming back into view towards the end of a flip without looking down.

I’m seeing this as an advantage, and I believe the Fat Shark Dominator goggles have made me appear to be a better pilot!

Fat Shark goggles are awesome!

If you can handle the tiny field of view, the Fat Shark goggles offer an amazing flying experience. The picture is clear. The RealACC diversity receiver is amazing, and its range fantastic.

The goggles are sturdy and well made, and supposedly the warranty and post-warranty support from Fat Shark is top notch.

The Dominator V3 goggles are comfortable enough. It is also nice to not have a giant box sticking out of my forehead when I lift the goggles up. They’re not terribly comfortable when you raise the goggles above your eyes to see the real world. Something in the center pushed right into my forehead. If I raise them a little higher this isn’t a problem, but then they feel like they’re going to pop off my head.

Fat Shark goggles are also terrible!

Flying in the Fat Sharks is fantastic, but the user experience is far from ideal. Aomway addressed most of my complaints about my Fat Shark goggles.

You have to plug in one cable to power the goggles and a separate cable to power the fan. It is my understanding that the goggles can handle more voltage than the fan. Why couldn’t Fat Shark include a ten cent voltage regulator? Aomway did a good job here—they only need one power cable for their goggles.

Using a separate module for the receiver is a great idea, but the receivers aren’t user friendly. All the nice receivers have a display, but it is on the outside of the goggles. You can’t see what channel you’re on, which antenna you’re using, or how much signal you have unless you take the goggles off and check the display.

Aomway has improved some of this. Their goggles show your current channel and battery voltage on the display. Aomway also has an on-screen indicator for the DVR instead of that stupid, tiny red light that the Fat Sharks have.

Unfortunately, the Aomway Commander goggles don’t show your signal strength on the display. This is something that the Eachine VR D2 Pro goggles do well.

Aomway Commander V1

If I waited a few more weeks, I probably would have bought the Aomway Commander goggles. I would have saved myself almost $150, and many of my complaints about the Fat Shark Dominator V3 goggles aren’t present in the Aomway goggles.

The Aomway Commander goggles have diversity receivers built in, so there is no need to buy a seprate module! I’ve been burned by crummy diversity modules in the past, so this worried me. Then I checked out Joshua Bardwell’s diversity module shootout video, and I decided to stop worrying. The Aomway goggles perform more than adequately against the La Forge and RealACC diversity modules.

I only have one real complaint about the Aomway Commander goggles. They have no indication of the signal strength of each receiver, and they don’t tell you which antenna is active. The readout on my RX5808 diversity module is far superior. I just wish that readout was on my screen!

What if my vision isn’t perfect?

I am near sighted, but not terribly so. This hasn’t been a problem in any of the box-type headsets that I’ve used.

Fat Shark goggles are different. They use fancy optics to make a tiny LCD panel look like a large display sitting out in the distance. The farther away things are, the more blurry they appear to me. I have a lot of trouble reading my on-screen display in Fat Shark goggles.

You can order a set of custom diopters that match your prescription. I’d like to do that in the future, but I’m overdue for an eye exam. I opted to order the inserts made by Fat Shark. You get a pair of -2, -4, and -6 diopters for around $15.

I’m certain that my existing prescription is a little stronger than -2. I tried the -4 inserts, and they’re too blurry. The -2 are quite close, and they work well enough for now.

Which receiver module should I buy?

The less costly diversity modules don’t cost much more than a basic receiver. Buying a diversity module is a no-brainer, but which diversity module should you buy?

The La Forge diversity module is the top-of-the-line receiver module for your Fat Shark goggles. My friend Brian uses one, and it looks like a fantastic piece of hardware.

I opted to go with the Open Source RX5808 diversity module made by RJX Hobby. The RX5850 diversity module is half the price of the La Forge V2 module, but cost wasn’t the primary influence behind my choice. I wanted to upgrade my goggles, and I wanted my upgrade as soon as possible. The La Forge wasn’t available with Prime shipping from Amazon, and the RXJ Hobby diversity module was. That was more than enough to tip the scales in favor of the cheaper module!

The La Forge diversity module is a fork of an Open Source RX5808-based receiver. The RJX Hobby module is built to the specs of the Open Source project, while the La Forge fork is heavily modified.

The firmware for the Open Source receiver has been lagging behind the La Forge until recently. The Achilles firmware for the RX5808 receivers seems to have closed that gap. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to flash the new Achilles firmware.

I tried a few times and gave up. I’m running the stock firmware on my RX5808 module for now. It is more than adequate for my needs. I figure I’ll attempt upgrading the firmware on a rainy day!

The La Forge takes up both module bays on your Fat Shark goggles. In theory, separating the antennas like this should be an advantage. In practice, I’m not sure that it is noticeable. I prefer having both antennas on the same side of the goggles. It seems more clean and compact.

I’ve written a lot, but I haven’t answered the question. Which receiver module should I buy?

The only two modules I considered were the La Forge v2 and the RX5808 module from RJX Hobby. I wouldn’t be unhappy if I spent a few more bucks on the La Forge module, and I am extremely pleased with my RX5808 module.

I don’t think you can go wrong with either of these modules!

But the Aomway Commanders and Fat Shark Dominators are wide screen!

People that have been flying a few years seem to prefer 4:3 cameras and displays. I am not one of those people.

Most of the inexpensive, starter FPV headsets are widescreen. All my headsets have been widescreen, and I’ve done my best to buy widescreen cameras. My first, cheap FPV camera had a widescreen sensor, but I believe every ready-to-fly drone I have has shipped with a 4:3 camera.

I don’t find it disorienting flying with a 4:3 camera on a 16:9 screen—these wide-angle lenses are already distorting the image quite a bit! That said, things look much better when you pair a nice 16:9 camera with your 16:9 display.

I’m using a 16:9 Runcam Eagle 2, and I’m extremely pleased with the results. It is a huge upgrade over the Sony HS1177. I like flying towards the sun at the end of the day and still being able to see the ground, trees, and gates!

Carrying your goggles

I wasn’t just shopping for a goggle upgrade. I want to save space in my drone backpack. There’s plenty of room in there for a set of Fat Sharks. I can’t just throw the goggles into a soft backpack with the antennas attached, and I don’t want to have to spend time attaching and detaching antennas every time I fly.

My Fat Sharks and Spektrum DX6 In Their Home

I bought the Turnigy transmitter carrying case. The case is just barely big enough to hold my Spektrum DX6 and my Fat Shark goggles. I have to wiggle the goggles into place just right in order to fit them in place with the antennas still attached, and I have to rotate my Pagoda antenna out of the way.

The Turnigy case has been an excellent upgrade. It fits perfectly in the large pocket of my off-brand tactical backpack, and there’s still enough room at the top of that pocket for two 6-packs of LiPo batteries.

Fat Shark Case With Transmitter and KingKong FlyEgg 130 Micro Drone

I can also strap one of my micro drones to the Turnigy case and leave my backpack at home. There’s plenty of room in the case to hold all my micro-drone batteries, so I can pack light when I’m flying light!

Conclusion

This was a good upgrade. I’m confident that I would be just as pleased with the Aomway Commander V1 goggles as I am with my Fat Shark Dominator V3 goggles. If I bought the Commanders, I bet that this blog post would be pointing out all the weird deficiencies I found in their design!

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Starting my FPV journey with an $80 box headset was definitely the right choice. The money would have been better spent eight months ago on a spare drone than a pair of Fat Shark goggles. At the time, I had no idea I would enjoy the hobby as much as I do!

If you’re just starting out, I highly recommend trying an inexpensive box-style headset like the Furibee VR01. You won’t regret having a spare headset later on.

Upgrading to Fat Shark style goggles was most definitely the right choice for me. My drone bag is lighter and more streamlined, and my unpacking and repacking experience in the field has improved quite a bit. It is also nice having a smaller case to take with me when I’m only flying micro drones!

I’m having a great time using my Fat Shark goggles, and I’m not turning back.

Craft Coffee - Three Years Later

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I’ve been drinking coffee from Craft Coffee for more than three years now. My friend Brian got me a six-month subscription to their coffee discovery service. My first shipment of coffee from Craft Coffee is extremely memorable, and it was easily the best coffee I had ever tasted.

Craft Coffee Latte

Even so, I didn’t expect to maintain my subscription past that initial six-month period. I took notes about all the coffees I was drinking, and I even wrote blog posts about each shipment. After drinking eighteen different coffees, I thought I would discover which coffees and roasters were my favorite, so I could start buying all my coffee directly.

The first six months went by quickly, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed the coffee-delivery service. The beans from Craft Coffee didn’t cost more than buying direct from the roasters—in fact, Craft Coffee’s prices were often lower. I was hooked and ready to continue my subscription!

I’ve been drinking free coffee for a long time

Craft Coffee has a refer-a-friend program. When you refer one of your friends, they get a 15% discount and you get a delivery of coffee. When I wrote blog posts talking about my Craft Coffee experiences each month, I included my refer-a-friend code.

To my surprise, people were using that code. It didn’t take long before they were using that code often enough that I couldn’t drink the coffee fast enough!

I believe this disclosure is important. If you use my referral code (“pat1245”), you will get a 15% discount at Craft Coffee, and I will get some free coffee.

Why did I stop writing reviews of each delivery?

It was fun attempting to review coffee for a while, but it quickly got repetitive. There are a lot of topics where I have confidence in my writing abilities, but reviewing food and drink isn’t one of those topics.

Most of the time I felt as though I was constantly saying “This coffee is great!” and “I like it!” These aren’t terribly informative statements.

Then why are you writing about Craft Coffee again?!

Craft Coffee has changed direction since I became a customer. The change happened without me noticing, and it happened a long time ago—two years ago! I didn’t witness the change because they continued to offer their coffee-discovery service to their existing customers.

I still love Craft Coffee, but people making decisions based on my old reviews are using outdated information. I figured it was time to try some of the coffees available through their new service.

A fresh replacement for your daily coffee

Craft Coffee wants to be “a fresh replacement for your daily coffee.” This makes a lot of sense to me—it is exactly how I was using their original coffee discovery service. They have offerings that start as low as $8.99 per 12-oz bag and single-origin beans at $16.99 per 12-oz bag.

A Bag Of Craft Coffee

Their low-end prices are quite competitive with many of the coffees in my local grocery store—right around the price of a 12-oz bag of Peet’s or Dunkin Donuts—so I knew I had to try them out. I placed an order for their lightest roast option in their lowest tier. They call this coffee “Day In The Life.”

I have to admit that I was more than a little worried. I’ve never had much luck making a decent latte with coffee beans from the grocery store in this price range. Would this “Day In The Life” blend even be worth drinking?

I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t something you could compare to my very first cup of Craft Coffee, but it was pretty good! I made triple-shot lattes with nearly half of the bag with the help of my friend Miss Silvia, and I don’t think I pulled a single bad shot. I like to think I’m getting pretty good at making lattes, and these were better than any I’ve had from my local Starbucks.

My wife probably put a quarter of the bag through her Aeropress, and I gave the remainder of the bag to a coffee enthusiast friend. Even he had nice things to say about the “Day In The Life” coffee.

I can’t say it’s comparable to a good single-origin coffee, but it is quite pleasant. If you told me this was the only coffee I could drink for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t even be upset!

Single-origin beans

Since I was pleased with Craft Coffee’s lowest tier, I thought it would be safe to skip the middle tier—if I enjoyed the lowest price offering, I don’t see why I wouldn’t enjoy the rest!

The coffee-delivery service that I’d been grandfathered into seems to ship me blends more often than single-origin beans. Most of my favorite coffees have been single origin, so I moved directly to the single-origin bags of coffee are $19.99.

A Latte and a Bag of Craft Coffee

They sent me a bag of excellent coffee from Columbia. It is difficult to pull a good shot of espresso when using light-roast beans. I’ve lowered the pressure a bit on my Rancilio Silvia, and that helps a lot, but single-origin beans are sometimes a bit tricky still.

The first three or four triple shots I pulled were quite good, but when I finally got it dialed in on the fifth or sixth shot, it was amazing. All sorts of flavors started showing up! This problem is entirely my own fault. Dialing in light-roast espresso shots is difficult, but I’m delighted with the results whenever I manage to pull a perfect shot!

Unbeknownst to me, I actually drank an entire bag of single-origin beans from this tier last month. My friend Brian uses Craft Coffee’s single-origin beans to make 5-gallon batches of nitro cold-brew coffee—it is amazing stuff! He gets his coffee five or six bags at a time, but he did a bad job managing his deliveries. He received a large coffee delivery while he still had more than three gallons of coffee left.

His mistake was good luck for me, because I left his house one day with a couple of bags of [Craft Coffee][cc] from Kenya. By the time I got it, it wasn’t terribly fresh, but it was still delicious!

Should I keep my coffee-discovery plan?

This has been a conundrum for me, and I’ve changed my mind at least twice. In my opinion, a latte made using good, light-roast, single-origin beans is simply amazing. If you’re using an espresso machine, this may be something to think about. If you’re using any other brew method, you can ignore this entire section. Just get the single origin—it is delicious!

Pulling shots with light-roast beans can be tricky. Single-origin beans tend to be even less forgiving. I have adjusted the pressure on my Rancilio Silvia to be one or two bar lower than the usual pressure. This helps a ton, but I still often end up with lots of gushers—especially with single origin!

Top Down Latte

I went through two or three bags of the delicious Columbian single origin. When I pulled a good shot, it was delicious. Unfortunately, the pressure was blasting through the puck more often than I cared for. Every bad pull made me want to switch back to blends.

Then a bag of single origin from Peru showed up at my door. It has the most complicated tasting notes I have ever seen. The first few words describe the coffee as a shape-shifter, and I agree wholeheartedly with that assessment. I don’t think I’ve gotten two lattes that taste the same out of this bag yet, but every shot I’ve pulled has been delicious!

Craft Coffee tells me that the single-origin beans will change roughly every four weeks. I had no trouble pulling shots with the beans from Kenya or Peru. If I have to be careful pulling shots a couple of months every year so I can enjoy these delicious single-origin beans, I’m fine with that. It isn’t much of a price to pay to drink such delicious coffee.

Craft Coffee isn’t the only coffee-subscription service

Craft Coffee was the first service I tried, but I have tasted others. I’ve had some absolutely delicious beans from Angels’ Cup. Their prices are good, their beans are always fantastic, and I highly recommend their service.

I’d be willing to subscribe to Angels’ Cup only for their delicious coffee, but their appeal doesn’t end there. They have an intriguing blind-tasting app for Android and IOS.

Rascal The Cat

Every bag of Craft Coffee comes with a detailed description of the beans. Angels’ Cup leaves all that off and only prints a number on each bag. You drink the coffee and punch the number into the app.

The Angels’ Cup app will ask you questions about the roasting of the beans, how the coffee tastes, and about the aroma. It will let you know how close you got to what the roaster thought about the coffee. Isn’t that neat?

I’m still sticking with Craft Coffee

I am aware that I may have a bias. I haven’t paid for Craft Coffee in years. A surprising number of people find their way to my older Craft Coffee reviews each month, and enough of you fine folks use my coupon code to keep me drinking free coffee. Only just enough to keep me drinking, though. I’m not swimming in coffee beans like some sort of Scrooge McDuck!

I’m excited about this because I enjoy drinking coffee, and it is nice to get something back from this blog. In all these years, no one has left a comment to tell me that I’m an idiot for recommending Craft Coffee. I haven’t gotten any angry emails from people telling me that I wasted their money.

If I’ve steered you wrong, please don’t hesitate to let me know! Leave a comment or send me an email.

Angels’ Cup is cool because it keeps you surprised. Surprise is fun, but I don’t need to be surprised. I need a good cup of coffee every day, and that’s exactly what Craft Coffee gives me. They’re giving me exactly what I want—a fresh cup of coffee every day.

I absolutely do appreciate it if you use my coupon code at Craft Coffee (“pat1245”). As I said earlier, it will save you 15% and earn me a free bag of coffee. If you don’t want to use the coupon, that’s fine. I still think Craft Coffee is worth trying!

My Favorite 2S LiPo Batteries For Micro Drones

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As soon as I finished ordering my KingKong 90GT, I was immediately on the hunt for batteries. The 90GT comes with a single 350 mAh 7.4v Lithium-Polymer battery. I knew that wouldn’t be enough. I like to have half a dozen batteries in my bag for each of my drones.

There are a lot of good deals on batteries in China, but I didn’t want to wait that long, so I was only shopping for batteries at Amazon with Prime shipping.

I ordered three different batteries.

These batteries showed up a few days before the KingKong 90GT, so I had plenty of time to charge them up.

Infinity 550 mAh and Friends

The Gens Ace 1,000 mAh was the best value per mAh at Amazon. I figured it would be too heavy, and it is. The 90GT can barely lift that big, honking battery off the ground. After modding my 90GT to accept 2.4” props in place of the stock 2” props, it can almost fly with the 1,000 mAh battery.

The [350 mAh batteries][hs were my favorite battery from Amazon. They’re cheap, light, and they work well enough. Especially for the price. I have five of them in my drone bag, and I’ve been using them quite a lot. They kept my stock 90GT in the air for 3.5 to 4 minutes. They keep my modded 90GT with its bigger props in the air for 4.5 minutes or so. I’m extremely pleased with the free KingKong 90GT modification that allows for 30 percent larger propellers!

The Gens Ace 450 mAh batteries are superior in almost every way to the generic 350 mAh batteries. They keep the 90GT airborne for an extra minute or so, and the drone feels a bit more acrobatic the entire time it is in the air. Unfortunately, you can nearly buy two 350 mAh for the price of a single 450 mAh. I’d rather spend my money on twice as many batteries than have an extra minute of flight time.

Infinity graphene LiPo batteries

I have quite a few Infinity graphene 1300 mAh and 1500 mAh 4S batteries. They’re awesome batteries, and the prices are great. The only problem is waiting two or three weeks to receive them from Banggood.

So far, I’ve crashed and busted two Infinity graphene batteries. Almost six months ago, I busted a cell in one of my 1300 mAh batteries with my Shuriken 180 Pro. Then just last week, I crashed one of my friend Brian’s brand-new 1500 mAh Infinity graphene batteries.

I’ve learned how to remove a dead cell from a 4S LiPo battery. It isn’t that difficult, especially if the broken cell is on the outside. This got me wondering if I could convert a 4S graphene battery into a pair of 2S graphene batteries for the KingKong 90GT.

There is an Infinity 550 mAh 4S graphene battery, and I almost bought one.

Infinity 550 mAh 2S 7.4v batteries

Then I noticed that Infinity makes a 550 mAh 2S LiPo! It isn’t graphene, but I figured it was worth a try anyway. They’re only about $8 each, so I ordered four of them.

They’re fantastic batteries! My KingKong 90GT with upgraded props has never felt so fast and responsive, and it felt that way right up until the battery went dead.

That’s when I noticed the biggest difference between the awesome Infinity 550 mAh 2S and every other battery I’ve run through the KingKong 90GT. I had accidentally discharged that first battery all the way down to 2.8v per cell!

You might be wondering why I’m so excited about this. With every other battery I’ve tried, the KingKong 90GT falls out of the sky right around 3.7v per cell. It’ll just be flying along, and the flight controller will reboot.

Why can the 90GT drain the Infinity batteries so far?

I’m guessing it is the wiring. The generic batteries and Gens Ace LiPos have smaller gauge wire for the balance leads and the JST connectors. The Infinity batteries have big, fat wires for both. Smaller wires offer greater resistance, and greater resistance leads to a voltage drop.

I am surmising that the thicker wires allow the flight controller to draw enough voltage to stay alive longer.

How much longer do they last on a charge?

I’m not sure yet. On my first day out with the four new batteries, I think I was getting a little over five minutes of flight time on each battery. That’s only about 30 seconds longer than I usually get out of my 350 mAh batteries.

It isn’t a great comparison, though. If I push the 350 mAh batteries hard, they don’t even make it to four minutes. I was definitely flying fast on all the 550 mAh batteries, and they don’t slow down until they’re dead.

When I ran out of 550 mAh batteries, I strapped in the Gens Ace 450 mAh. It was noticeably weaker than the Infinity batteries. I decided to try a few power loops. The first one went great, but nobody saw me do it. That meant I had to do it again!

I was doing these pretty high up. The 90GT doesn’t have nearly as much thrust as my Shuriken X1, and I’m used to the extreme power of the X1. When you’re headed towards the ground in the X1, you just blip the throttle and it recovers from the fall and launches into space.

The KingKong 90GT is a great little micro drone, but it takes a while to recover from a dive compared to the X1. I hit the concrete pretty hard last week when full throttle just wasn’t enough. I figured I’d be safer higher up.

Bent Motor On My KingKong 90GT

I wasn’t. On my second attempt at a power loop, my flight controller rebooted due to low voltage right near the top of the loop. I feel like I was able to count to 5 before the 90GT hit the pavement.

I bent and destroyed one of the front motors. It’ll be a week or so before I can fix it, so I won’t be collecting much more data until then.

I popped the 450 mAh on my ISDT battery tester when I got home. It was just under 3.8v per cell. I’m guessing that it dipped under 3.7v per cell while I was accelerating into my power loop. The Infinity battery would most definitely have completed that maneuver without any trouble!

Is the 550 mAh too heavy for the stock KingKong 90GT?

I haven’t been able to test this. The biggest battery I’ve successfully flown on the stock 90GT is the Gens Ace 450 mAh. The Infinity 550 does weigh more.

I’m confident that the 550 mAh will fly just with the stock 90GT’s 2” propellers. It will definitely be pushing things to the limit, though.

In fact, these batteries are on the heavy side even with 2.4” or 2.5” propellers on my KingKong 90GT. Blackbox data says my maximum thrust on the Z axis falls around 0.5 g. That’s quite significant on a drone that tops out at about 3.6g under ideal conditions.

I’m definitely trading some performance and efficiency for increased flight time, but I don’t think the punch-out tests tell the whole story. Increasing my all-up weight from 72 grams to 90 grams isn’t idea, but the Infinity 550 mAh sure seems to make up for that in its ability to supply higher voltage for an extended period of time.

Banggood or bust

You almost have to buy the Infinity 550 mAh batteries from Banggood. There are none available with Prime shipping, and they cost three times as much at Amazon. They’re a great battery, and an amazing value at about $8 each. I don’t think I’d pay $24 or more!

Repaired KingKong 90GT

If you’re in a hurry like I was when I first ordered my KingKong 90GT, I’d recommend you get some generic 7.4v LiPo batteries from Amazon. They all seem to work well enough, and they’ll definitely keep you in the air.

If you can plan ahead, though, I highly recommend that you do. The two to three-week shipping time on the Infinity 550 mAh 2S is a bummer, but the results are probably worth the wait!

Building a Low-Power, High-Performance Ryzen Homelab Server to Host Virtual Machines

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Two years ago, I decided to build a power-sipping homelab server to host a handful of Linux KVM virtual machines. I am in Texas, and my home office faces south. It is on the second floor, and it sure seems like this room gets less ventilation than all the other rooms—when the rest of the house is cool and comfortable in July and August, I’m often a few degrees warmer than I’d prefer.

Virt-manager

My hope was to add as few watts of heating to my office as possible while still providing more than enough compute power to meet my needs. I have been extremely pleased with the AMD 5350 CPU I used in that build. My Kill-A-Watt meter says that little server uses 34 watts with four or five virtual machines idling away—9 watts of that is used by the hard drives! It can barely reach 50 watts under full load.

That little AMD 5350 server is only high-performance when measured against the tasks I require of it. It more than meets my needs, but the components I used to build it are no longer being manufactured. I’ve also been looking for an excuse to use an AMD Ryzen processor. Upgrading my KVM homelab machine seemed like a good excuse to make use of a Ryzen CPU, and testing out a Ryzen CPU seemed like a good excuse for an upgrade!

The parts list

I lucked out. All of the boring components from my previous build are still available at Amazon. I had to buy a new processor, motherboard, and memory. The case, power supply, hard drives, and solid-state drives are all still available, so I reused them.

This is one of the easiest upgrades I’ve done in a long time. I swapped out the old motherboard, dropped the new one in place, and it booted right up. No fuss, no muss!

New Parts For My Homelab Upgrade

The last time I built a KVM homelab server, I included two parts lists. The parts I actually used, and a more budget-friendly list. I’m going to do the same thing again this year, but I’m going to add a third parts list that maximized performance!

My parts list

Total Cost: $1025

Budget-friendly alternative parts list

Less memory, no solid-state drives.

Total Cost: $717

My parts list

More cores, more memory, more storage. The 1800X does not come with a heat sink and fan.

Total Cost: $1932

Note: My build used the Corsair CX 430 power supply, but its price has gone way up and it seems to be in short supply now. I’ve listed the Corsair CX 450 in my parts list instead. I don’t expect this to be problematic!

Build it your way!

I’m excited about this build. You can drop the SSDs and scale the CPU back to a Ryzen 1200, and you’ll still end up with a fast virtual machine host that won’t break the bank. If that’s not what you need, you can fill up all the SATA ports and quadruple the RAM. It will cost you nearly $2,000—more if you spec out larger disks. You’ll have one hell of a machine!

In all honesty, the Ryzen 1200 parts list would have suited me just fine. The big Ryzen 1800X parts list is complete overkill for my use case. Settling somewhere in the middle was the best fit for me.

Random Photo of Rascal The Cat

Do you need to keep a whole mess of virtual machines running most of the time? You probably want to upgrade the RAM. Even if you’re running a lot of virtual machines, they may be spending most of their time idling, so the Ryzen 3 1200 processor might work just fine—spend your money on RAM instead of CPU!

Maybe you only run a handful of virtual machines like me, but maybe yours work a lot harder. You can upgrade the CPU instead!

Build it your way. If you want to copy my exact build, that’s just fine, but I intend for this to be more of a baseline. It should be easy to scale the parts up or down to fit your workload.

tl;dr: Performance and power consumption

As always, I am going to write at length about my goals, my decision process, and the results. I also know that you probably don’t want to read any of that. These are the important statistics.

  • Geekbench 3 Scores: 4,309 single-core, 23,651 multicore
  • Idle power consumption: 56 watts (50 watts with no VMs)
  • Max power consumption: 120 watts (mostly under 100 watts)
  • SSD mirror performance: 588 MB/s read, 298 MB/s write, 14,500 IOPS
  • HDD mirror performance: 398 MB/s read, 143 MB/s write, 550 IOPS (old test, sorry!)
  • lvmcache performance: 300 MB/s read, 130 MB/s write, 878 IOPS

  • P3 Kill-A-Watt at Amazon

Why only 16 GB of RAM?!

This server is designed to fit my needs, and my needs are rather humble. The last time I built a low-power KVM host, I bought as much RAM as I could, and I advocated that everyone should do the same—you can never have too much RAM! That little mini-ITX motherboard would only support 16 GB of RAM. That was more than I needed, and it wasn’t possible to go overboard.

This new machine’s motherboard supports up to 64 GB of RAM, and I’m not even making good use of my old server’s 16 GB of RAM. My KVM host server has only three important jobs. Each of those tasks has a dedicated virtual machine. I have a simple NAS VM, an Octoprint VM to manage my 3D printer’s jobs, and an OpenHAB VM that manages my home automation. All of these tasks could be handled by a single Raspberry Pi, and even allocating 1 GB of RAM to each of these virtual machines is overkill. That leaves me plenty of RAM for other tasks.

I also included a pair of solid-state drives in my build. If you’re on a tight budget and you need more RAM to run more virtual machines, I would skip the SSDs. I wanted to experiment with dm-cache and lvmcache, and I needed solid-state drives for that experiment.

RAM is inexpensive, but it is also extremely easy to upgrade. I have two empty DIMM slots, so it will be easy to add another 32 GB of RAM at some point in the future.

Why did you choose the Ryzen 5 1600?

I’ve been patient. I’ve been waiting for the Ryzen 3 processors to be released. I’m confident that even the Ryzen 3 1200 would meet my needs, but I was hoping they’d be more power-efficient than their faster siblings.

The Ryzen 3 1200 has the same 65-watt TDP as all the Ryzen CPUs up to and including the Ryzen 7 1700. I know that TDP is just an upper thermal limit, but my research says that the Ryzen 3 1200 is only a few watts more frugal at idle than most of his bigger brothers.

Cool Ryzen Motherboard Photo

As soon as I learned that, I found myself on the slippery slope aiming directly towards the Ryzen 5 1600. None of the Ryzen 3 processors have hyperthreading. The Ryzen 5 1400 is the first CPU with hyperthreading, and it was my biggest jump in cost—$55 more!

Like the 1200, the Ryzen 1400 only has 8 MB of L3 cache. You can spend $25 more to double that cache and increase the clock speed by another 10% with the Ryzen 5 1500X. That seemed like a good deal. More cache almost always gives a good bump in performance.

I couldn’t stop there. Another $20 would get me two more cores. This is a virtual machine host, so more cores are what I want.

You can definitely keep going, but I decided to stop there. Michael Lynch used an 8-core Ryzen 7 1700 in his homelab server build. That’s an inexpensive and tempting upgrade over my Ryzen 5 1600, but going past the 1600 moves the TDP from 65 watts to 95 watts. One of my hopes is to keep my power consumption and heat generation down, so I didn’t want to push it that far. I didn’t want to pay the additional cost just to generate more heat—the 1600 is already overkill for my own purposes!

Why the Antec One case?

When I built the previous server, I looked at a handful of small cases for mini-ITX motherboards. I decided not to go that route, because I like having a roomy case. You never know when you might want to fill up those six hard drive bays! All the extra room makes cable management easy, too.

I ended up using the Antec One ATX case. It looked so empty at the time with the AMD 5350’s mini-ITX motherboard only occupying a small fraction of the space. Even so, I was pleased with my choice at the time. Now that I’m stuffing a full-size ATX motherboard in there, I’ve realized that I saved myself even more trouble by using a full-size ATX case!

The Antec One is currently my favorite ATX case. It is inexpensive and well made. The tool-less 3.5” drive bays are mounted transversely, so you don’t have to worry about bumping into other components when removing or inserting drives. If you’ve ever tried to wiggle a hard drive past a video card or RAID controller, you’ll really appreciate this!

Power supplies are boring!

Generally speaking, larger power supplies tend to be less efficient when operating at a small percentage of their maximum capacity. There are also different levels of “80 Plus” certification that define how efficient a power supply is while operating at different percentages of its maximum load.

The difference in power consumption between the lowest and highest “80 Plus” certifications is between 10 and 14 percent depending on load. I’m reusing the power supply from my previous build, and the components in that build didn’t consume much power, so I didn’t think it was worth investing in a more efficient power supply. That extra 10 percent efficiency will only save about three watts. That would have been only one kWh every two weeks.

I ended up buying the Corsair CX430 power supply. It is a good value, reasonably quiet, and it still provides more than enough power for my new, fast Ryzen 5 1600X. I could fill my Antec One case full of hard drives, and I still wouldn’t use half of the Corsair CX430’s maximum capacity.

Socket AM4 motherboards are also boring

In my opinion, socket AM4 motherboards are quite boring. For my purposes, though, most of them are comparable and rather inexpensive!

The most common motherboards for Ryzen CPUs have four DIMM slots and six SATA ports. There are some with eight or even ten SATA ports, but I’m not building a NAS, so six will be more than enough.

Repeat of the Cool Motherboard Photo

Some Ryzen boards have only two DIMM slots, but all the four-slot motherboards I was considering were less then $100. In fact, I would have paid more for a motherboard that could hold more RAM. Four slots is the limit, though.

I chose the Asus Prime B350-Plus motherboard. It supports up to 64 GB of RAM, has six SATA ports, and has more PCIe and PCI slots than I will ever need. Asus rarely lets me down, and this motherboard has all the features I need at a good price.

The extra SATA ports will come in handy. The AMD 5350 motherboard only had four SATA ports. I had planned on adding an inexpensive PCIe SATA card when I eventually run out of storage. Last year, I filled my only available PCIe slot with an Infiniband card. Having a 20-gigabit network connection is awesome, but that blocked my storage upgrade path!

Wait a minute! Why do I need a video card?!

Almost every Ryzen motherboard I looked at has HDMI, DVI, and VGA ports—including my Asus B350. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any with on-board video. Those video ports are for the upcoming AMD APU chips. I’m excited that AMD is using the same socket for both their processors with integrated graphics and also for their high-end models. I’m disappointed that I had to buy a discrete video card.

I have some old, low-end video cards somewhere in my closet. I almost used one of those instead, but I wanted to make sure my build could be easily replicated.

I used an Nvidia GT 710 PCIe card. They only cost around $30, and they have a TDP of only 15 watts. I don’t imagine mine is consuming anywhere near 15 watts—I’m not even booting into a GUI! I’m certain it is contributing at least a few watts to my total power consumption, but I have no good way to measure it.

What about power consumption?

The Ryzen 1600 has more performance in a single core than all four of my old AMD 5350’s cores combined, and with all six cores, active the 1600 is well over five times faster! I knew going into this that the Ryzen wouldn’t be as power-friendly as the 5350, but just how much worse is it?

When I boot my KVM host, the virtual machines do not spin up automatically. The disks that hold the virtual machine disk images are encrypted, so I have to ssh in to unlock those disks on the rare occasions when the server reboots. If you’re not building a server to host virtual machines, I imagine this is the idle power consumption number you’re most interested in.

Ryzen Machine Idling At 56 Watts

At this point, the idle Ryzen machine sits at almost exactly 50 watts. Be sure to upgrade to a recent kernel! My 4.11 kernel uses nearly 10 more watts than my 4.12 kernel! With any luck, this will continue to improve.

Once my virtual machines are all booted, my Ryzen 1600 homelab server bounces between 56 and 59 watts on the Kill-A-Watt meter.

That’s more than a 20-watt increase over my old AMD 5350 server. In fact, the old AMD 5350 server couldn’t even use this much electricity no matter how hard I pushed it.

It sounds like a huge increase in power consumption when I say it has increased by 64%, but it is only as much power as a couple of 100-watt LED bulbs, so it really isn’t too bad.

Power consumption under load has gone up quite a bit, too. If I run some benchmarks to keep all the cores active on the Ryzen 1600, power consumption usually bounces around somewhere in the 90-watt range with spikes up to 120 watts.

As far as homelab virtual machine hosts go, I’m quite pleased. My friend Brian built an awesome homelab server using a pair of used 8-core Xeon processors from eBay. His server is about 20 percent faster than mine, but it also has a pair of processors each with a 115w TDP—his server idles at 85 watts!

What’s this about a 16-core Xeon server?!

My friend Brian built a rather beefy homelab server last year. I am pretty sure I was the one that convinced him to build it. It is a really mean machine. For some reason, a lot of servers used to ship with a single Intel e5-2670 Xeon processor, and it was common to immediately remove that single CPU and replace it with a pair of faster processors.

That means the e5-2670 is easy to find on eBay, and they usually cost around $100 each. You just pop a pair of those chips into a $200 to $300 server-grade motherboard, and you’re all set. This was a tremendous value 12 months ago. It is still a good value if you need more than 64 GB of RAM or you’re one of those folks that feels like you need to have ECC RAM at home.

When I’m getting paid for my work, my servers are always equipped with ECC RAM. It is an easy decision to make when you’re spending someone else’s money, and you don’t want some sort of hardware problem waking you up in the middle of the night. I have yet to have a stick of RAM fail after successfully passing a few runs of memtest86, so plain old RAM will do just fine at home.

Benchmarks

I already had a pretty good idea of how the benchmarks would go long before I ordered any of the new hardware. The solid-state drives and hard disks have been chugging along for more than two years, and I tested those quite thoroughly when they arrived. My disks are encrypted, so there was a small chance that the faster CPU would be better at keeping up with that, but it isn’t the case.

I always scour through Geekbench CPU benchmarks before choosing a CPU, and my own tests landed right where I expected them. I’m including Geekbench 3 instead of Geekbench 4 results in this blog post, because that’s what I used to test the original server three years ago.

Geekbench 3 Results for the Ryzen 5 1600

The old AMD 5350 was a snail compared to the Ryzen 1600. The laptop-grade AMD 5350 managed 1,249 for the single-core score and 4,037 for the multi-core. The Ryzen 1600 just blows those numbers out of the water with a score of 4,309 for single core and 23,651 multi-core.

A single Ryzen 5 1600 core is faster than all four 5350 cores combined, and the Ryzen is nearly six times faster overall. I’d say this is a solid improvement and well worth the extra 20 watts of power consumption!

Most of the disk benchmarks ran a little more slowly this time. I’m not testing fresh disks this time, and the server is running and doing its job. My virtual machines don’t push the I/O subsystem hard, but you’d be surprised how much a small amount of disk activity can throw off a benchmark.

I was able to test the solid-state drives, but I don’t have easy, direct access to the spinning hard disks anymore. They’re sitting behind an SSD cache now!

The write performance of the Samsung 850 EVO SSDs dropped from 298 MB/s to 209 MB/s, while read speeds held steady at 606 MB/s—that’s just about 15 MB/s faster read speeds than three years ago. This makes perfect sense to me. A blank SSD usually has better write performance than a full SSD, and lvmcache has filled up the SSDs now.

The overall write speeds are down, but raw disk throughput isn’t the only reason to use a solid-state drive. Going from the hundreds of IOPS you get out of a spinning disk to the tens of thousands of IOPS you get out of a solid-state drive is a drastic improvement!

I did benchmark my lvmcache setup. The results of the benchmarks are disappointing. The results are worse than my old benchmarks of the hard disks with no SSD cache at all.

How did you configure your disks? What is lvmcache?

Lvmcache is built on top of dm-cache. It allows you to use solid-state drives as a persistent read/write cache on top of your slower hard drives. It is akin to ZFS’s ZIL and L2ARC, except that lvmcache uses a single cache for both read and write caching.

My KVM server is set up with a pair of 4 TB 7200 RPM disks in a RAID 10. I know from the comments on the previous homelab server blog post that you’re quite likely to be wondering how you can have two disks in a RAID 10. Linux’s MD layer allows you to put any number of disks into a RAID 10 configuration—even odd numbers of disks!

In practice, my two-disk RAID 10 is just a mirror. The only significant difference is that the RAID device’s header claims that it is a RAID 10 array and not a RAID 1.

The advantage of using RAID 10 comes with future growth. I can add disks to the RAID 10 one at a time, and no matter how many disks I add, I will always have exactly two copies of each block. Adding disks to a Linux MD RAID 1 array will only increase your redundancy.

My RAID 10 array is encrypted, and this is where all my virtual machine disk images are stored.

Samsung 850 EVO

I also have a mirrored pair of 250 GB Samsung 850 EVO solid-state drives. I have a 32 GB partition on each SSD. These two partitions are combined into a RAID 1 array—it is easier to boot off RAID 1! This 32 GB volume is where my base operating system lives, and it is not encrypted.

The remainder of each solid-state disk is mirrored as well, and that space is dedicated to use as the caching layer for my lvmcache.

My adventures with lvmcache probably deserve their own follow-up blog post. Lvmcache doesn’t benchmark well, but that isn’t surprising. Lvmcache is meant to be a long-lived cache. It doesn’t speed up short-term operations—that’s what the disk cache in RAM is for. It speeds up disk access that happens on a regular basis over time.

The conclusion

I’m extremely pleased with this upgrade. The new Ryzen processors are an excellent value, and their power consumption is quite reasonable. I’m excited about the wide range of performance options that will fit into this build, too. You can spend $100 less than I did and get yourself a Ryzen 1200—that would have been more than enough horsepower for my purposes, but faster is more fun, right?

There’s also room to grow in the other direction—the Ryzen 1800X is 50% faster than my Ryzen 1600, and there will be even more processors available for this socket in the future. I’m hoping the chips with integrated graphics will be a good upgrade.

The Assembled Ryzen 1600 Server

Benchmarking this build has gotten me even more interested in upgrading my aging desktop. This Ryzen 1600 is significantly faster than the overclocked FX-8350 in my workstation. I built it in 2013, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m planning on using the same motherboard in my desktop, but I expect to use either a Ryzen 1600X or 1800X instead.

I am going to miss the old AMD 5350 server. It did its job well, and I’m certain it could have served me well for another couple of years. I’m glad I upgraded, though, because the old machine was out of SATA ports. I’d hate to be forced into a major upgrade just because I ran out of disk space, and my new photography hobby has me accumulating RAW files at an alarming rate. Adding another disk to my server is inevitable, and it will be a piece of cake now!

Do you have a server at home dedicated to hosting virtual machines? Are you using Linux and KVM? Leave a comment and let me know what you’re doing. I’d love to hear about it!

Three Months Flying The Holybro Shuriken X1 FPV Racing Drone

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Earlier today, I was walking out into the middle of a big, empty field with my friend Brian. We were on our way to collect my Shuriken X1. I had to disarm in the middle of my flight. Our friend Alex was flying his DJI Spark drone, and the Spark signal always interferes with our 5.8 GHz FPV equipment. The static wasn’t too bad right up until that sudden moment when I could barely see where I was flying—the safest thing to do was disarm.

Holybro Shuriken X1

We got to the X1, and there wasn’t any damage at all, and that’s precisely what we expected. The only surprise was that the props were all still straight! I’m a huge fan of the Racekraft 5040 props—they fly great, and they’re tough to break!

On the walk back to our seats, Brian and I were talking about how often we crash our Shuriken X1 drones. I’ve run into trees, dropped into the grass from 200 feet in the air, and I’ve crashed hard into pavement on more than one occasion. Just a few days ago, I punched the throttle at the wrong point in an attempted power loop and ended up accelerating straight into the ground.

I was telling Brian that I needed to write about how durable this drone is, because I’m always so confident that it will survive a crash.

We must have jinxed it!

I plugged my battery back in, sat down, and proceeded to fly the remainder of that battery. Shortly into the flight, I attempted to pull an s-turn over a rather small tree. I did a terrible job.

I made it over the tree, but I didn’t manage to fit well under the tree. I smashed into the concrete next to the tree quite hard. The only damage I saw was the deformed battery.

Shuriken X1 Broken Arm

I took the drone back to my seat, and I was spinning the props to check if they were bent. One of the props felt loose. Then I thought the motor was loose.

Nope. The arm was broken! This is the first time I’ve broken anything more than a propeller on my Shuriken X1!

Arms for the Shuriken X1 are cheap!

I ordered a pair of arms from Gearbest for $16. That’s a lot less than I expected to have to pay, and the arms are really easy to replace. I was able to borrow an arm from a friend and replace it in the field. Three screws hold the arm to the frame and four screws keep the motor in place. It was easily a ten-minute repair.

The Shuriken X1 has been amazing

The Shuriken X1 is fast, and it handles great. It has always been there when I needed it, even though I’ve been so tough on it.

It has so much more power than I need. Often-times there are other people at the field already flying. I can put my goggles on, do a quick punch out, and I’ll hear voices saying things like, “Did you see how fast that is?!”

There are a lot of fast racing drones on the market now, but I never run into someone flying a drone that makes my Shuriken X1 look slow.

That YouTube video is pretty tame. I’ve been running goggles that don’t have a DVR lately, so I haven’t been capturing much footage. That was recorded using Brian’s Fat Shark goggles and I was using my Runcam Eagle 2. It was getting quite dark out, and the sun was already below the horizon.

I was practicing power loops. I never get them right. I usually end up in outer space or I don’t end up hardly going backwards all. I do crash at the end of the video. I accidentally punched the throttle while the Shuriken X1 was still upside down, and I hit the ground hard. I bent two of the Racekraft 5051 props I was testing, but I was able to fix them!

Some newer drones are tempting

My friend David recently started flying an Armattan Chameleon. It is a beautiful piece of hardware, and it looks and sounds so smooth when it is flying. If I didn’t already have a Shuriken X1 strapped to my bag, I’d already be shopping for a drone like the Chameleon.

I regularly check out Gearbest to see if any new drones have landed in their store. There are two that I find interesting.

The BFight 210 looks like an awesome 5” racing drone if you’re on a limited budget. I don’t recognize the manufacturer of its 2205 motors, and I doubt they produce as much power as the 2305 Tmotor F40 motors on my X1, but that might not matter. According to the specs, the BFight 210 weighs about 100 grams less than my X1—it is probably a screamer!

UPDATE: Gearbest sent me a BFight 210 racing quad to test out. I have to say that I’m quite pleased with it. It feels much lighter in the air than the Shuriken X1—very floaty! The first few times I attempted an s-turn over a tree with the BFight 210, I was surprised by just how long it took to fall far enough to fit under the tree. It is a lot of fun to fly and well worth the price.

You should check out my review of BFight 210 FPV racing drone.

The ASUAV F200 looks even more impressive than the BFight 210. It costs $60 or $70 more and doesn’t come with a receiver, but it uses the same motors as my Shuriken X1. The ASUAV F200 also manages to weigh in at about 100 grams less than my X1. This thing has to feel ridiculously fast!

I am not a racer

We set up drone gates on occasion, but I am certainly not flying to become a drone racer. I’ve been practicing stunts and proximity flying, so I’m probably more of a freestyle pilot.

It seems that most freestyle pilots prefer drones with a little more weight. Heavier quads tend to be smoother, and they’re more likely to survive a crash. I know I crash a lot.

I’m certain it would be fun to fly the ASUAV F200 or the BFight 210, but I bet they don’t feel as nice in the air as my Shuriken X1, and I’m certain that the Armattan Chameleon feels even better.

Would I still buy the Shuriken X1?

Absolutely. If my Shuriken X1 fell out of the sky and landed in a lake, I’d head straight home and order another one.

The Holybro Shuriken X1 Attached To My Bag

It has served me amazingly well so far. It is fast. Really fast. Probably too fast. It is also extremely durable. It took a lot of crashes into trees, asphalt, and concrete to finally crack on me.

What’s next?

I’ve been working on an upgrade for my PH145. The PH145 is a little heavy for 3” propellers, but it was a fantastic machine to aid me in my quest to learn how to fly FPV. My plan was to buy an inexpensive carbon fiber frame with enough room for 4” propellers. I thought it would be nice if I could rebuild the first quadcopter I designed using almost all the original parts.

The PH145++ or the PH150. I can't decide!

It didn’t work out that way. The pin headers on the old NAZE32 were long and in the way, so I replaced the flight controller. I thought I burned out an ESC, so I replaced the 30 amp 4-in-1 ESC board with a set of 20 amp ESCs. That’s when I learned that I didn’t burn out an ESC—I smoked a motor!

So I upgraded to 1806 motors. The only parts left from the PH145 are six aluminum screws, the camera, VTX, and the battery strap. It did inherit the DSMX receiver from my Shuriken 180 Pro, though.

I wanted to keep as much of my first FPV drone in the air as I could, and I did a bad job of it. It is finally assembled, and it is ready for tuning and testing. I’ll let you know how it works out!

Do you have a Shuriken X1 or a similar racing drone? Do you have a Chameleon, BFight 210, or ASUAV F200? Leave a comment and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear about your drone!

Acer Aspire VX15 Gaming Laptop and Linux

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I usually put a lot of thought into my choice of laptop. This was especially important when I traveled a lot and didn’t own a desktop computer. This time, though, I was in need of a gaming laptop and I was in a rush to get it ordered and delivered. My requirements were simple: a quad core i7 CPU, an Nvidia GPU, a solid-state drive, a 1080p display, and plenty of RAM. I didn’t pay attention to much else.

In my haste, I chose the Acer Aspire VX15—aka the Acer Aspire VX5-591G-75RM. I imagine you can find a better value for your money, but not by a whole lot. These are the important specifications.

  • Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor
  • Nvidia 1050 Ti GPU with 4 GB VRAM
  • 16 GB DDR4 RAM
  • 256 GB NVMe SSD
  • 15.6” 1920x1080 IPS display
  • HDMI port
  • Combo mic/headphone jack
  • SD Card slot
  • 1 USB-C, 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0 ports
  • Gigabit Ethernet port
  • 802.11ac (Qualcomm Atheros QXA6174)

There’s also room inside for a 2.5” hard drive. I picked up this adapter on eBay, and I installed one of my spare 1 TB laptop hard drives.

The hardware is rather good. The specs compare quite favorably to the new MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro is thinner, lighter, and has a nicer display. My Acer Aspire VX15 has a faster GPU with twice the VRAM, standard USB ports, and can be upgraded past 16 GB of RAM—most of the important specs are identical, but at less than half the price of the MacBook Pro!

Can you run Linux on this thing?!

Yes, you can. You just have to disable secure boot in the BIOS, boot up your favorite Linux distro’s installer, and you should be good to go. I installed Xubuntu 17.04 on mine. I managed to accidentally installed the legacy boot loader instead of UEFI. I briefly considered reinstalling, but it was quicker and easier to just enable legacy boot in the BIOS.

Everything worked out of the box. I shouldn’t be surprised about this, except that the last time I installed Linux on a laptop, it was my Chuwi Hi12 tablet with its weird Intel Atom Z8350 system-on-chip. I’ve always had good luck with laptops that use the mainstream Intel chipsets.

The Atheros 802.11ac Wi-Fi device works perfectly. The on-board Realtek Gigabit Ethernet device works just fine. Suspend to RAM works every time. I haven’t tried to hibernate—I don’t usually set up a swap partition on SSDs.

I’m running the latest version of the proprietary Nvidia driver from the PPA. All the games I expected to play run great.

What about Nvidia Optimus?

As soon as I got my environment configured the way I like it, I installed Intel’s powertop. Powertop is a fantastic utility that keeps track of how much power your laptop is using, and it helps you figure out where all that power is going.

With the display set to a reasonable brightness level, my Acer laptop hovers right around 12 watts of power consumption while idling when using the Nvidia GPU. I used the nvidia-settings program to switch from the Nvidia GPU to the integrated Intel GPU, and I ran the same test. When using the Intel GPU, the idle power consumption drops a little below 9 watts.

There’s a program called Bumblebee that allows you to use the Nvidia GPU for games while using the Intel GPU for everything else. That sounds like it allows you to experience the best of both worlds, but it looked like a real pain in the neck to get configured properly. I didn’t think it would be worth the effort just to save 3 watts at idle.

Then I realized that 12 watts is 30% more than 9 watts—that’s the difference between 4 hours and 5 hours of battery life! I thought about using nvidia-settings to switch to the Nvidia GPU whenever I wanted to play a game, but logging out and back in just to play a game sounded like a terrible idea.

Fortunately, getting Bumblebee working was easier than I expected. I just had to switch my default to the Intel GPU, install the package, and reboot. All I have to do now is preface a command with the optirun wrapper, and the program will make use of the Nvidia GPU. This lets me pick and choose which games in my Steam library use the Nvidia GPU—most of them don’t even need it!

There’s definitely a performance impact, but I haven’t measured it. Programs running on the Nvidia GPU will be limited to 60 frames per second as well. It is a reasonable compromise, and it lets me play Team Fortress 2 without going through the tedious process of logging out of my computer.

Suspend and resume works fine for me whether using the Intel GPU, the Nvidia GPU, or both GPUs at the same time!

The Acer Aspire VX15 isn’t all that great

This is a fantastic laptop wrapped up in a mediocre shell. It is thick enough to have room for an optical drive, but that isn’t an option—not that I’d have use for such a thing these days!

The laptop has a 15.6” screen with the biggest bezel you’ve ever seen. It certainly has enough room for a 17” screen, and they should have squeezed one in. The laptop probably wouldn’t be any larger, and I would have paid a few bucks extra.

That said, I’m perfectly happy with the screen being 1080p. I do want to be able to play games on this, and it takes quite a bit more GPU to play games on a screen with the resolution of a MacBook Pro. The 15.6” screen on the Aspire VX15 has DPI of 141. That’s high enough unless you want to hunch over and get really close to the screen—like I do when I abuse the high-density screen on my tiny 12” Chuwi tablet!

I’ve had the bottom cover off my Aspire to install the extra hard drive, and I can tell you that there’s a lot of air in there. Acer could have made this a thinner laptop. I don’t really mind the laptop being so much thicker than something like a MacBook Pro. Even if it was thinner, I would still need a large bag to carry it.

It would have been nice to save some weight, but I don’t carry the laptop all that far. I’d rather have an extra $1,300 in my pocket than upgrade to a MacBook Pro.

Having a USB-C port is nice. Having DisplayPort or Thunderbolt ports would have been better. The Aspirve VX15 only has a single video output, and it is an HDMI port. These definitely aren’t deal-breakers for me, but it precludes using the Acer Aspire VX15 as a desktop replacement—I can’t work without two big monitors!

It is a big upgrade for me!

The 7th-generation Core i7 processor is nearly three times faster than the 1st-generation Core i7 in my aging laptop. It is nearly as fast overall as the CPU in my five-year-old desktop computer, and the i7-7700HQ’s single-core performance makes it a better gaming CPU!

The Aspire VX15’s Nvidia 1050 Ti is light years ahead of the Nvidia 230M GPU in my ancient HP DV8T laptop. In fact, the 1050 Ti is has nearly half the power of the Nvidia GTX 970 in my desktop computer.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a Kaby Lake Core i7 laptop with a dedicated GPU that’s well supported by Linux, the Acer VX15 should be a good fit for you. If you’re willing to pay more, I’m sure you can find a Linux-friendly laptop that’s lighter or more well made. However, it won’t be easy to find a faster gaming laptop for a much better price.

My Favorite Budget FPV Headset

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I’d love to be able to point you to the best budget-conscious FPV goggles instead of my favorite set, but I just can’t. There are just too many options available, and there’s no way I could try them all.

Even if I could try every set of goggles, there’s no way I could use each pair often enough to be aware of their hidden pitfalls. There are plenty of YouTube channels that review goggles, and those reviews almost always miss the long-term details. I utterly destroyed a drone because the diversity system in the original version of the Eachine VR D2 can get confused and freeze up. It only happened to me once every few weeks—that might be 30 or 40 batteries. If you fly with these goggles for a few days, you probably won’t experience the issue.

Should I really buy cheap goggles?

Almost everyone in the hobby will tell you to invest in a good set of goggles. They’re not wrong, but you won’t know what style you like if you’re just starting out. The FPV racers seem to love their Fat Shark goggles, but I worry that I’ll be disappointed with their extremely limited field of view—usually 30 to 40 degrees.

FuriBee VR01 FPV Headset

One of my friends loves the huge screen in his giant headset. I don’t know which headset he uses, but I believe it has a 7” screen much like these Skyzone goggles at Amazon. They probably have a field of view up around 120 degrees. When I use his goggles, I tend to fly much slower, and I have a lot of trouble seeing the ground when I land. The field of view is so large than I can barely seem to angle my eyes low enough to see the ground!

I started with the cheapest goggles I could find on Amazon—the Eachine EV800 headset. They’re a fine set of goggles. I was pleased with the 82-degree field of view, but I wanted to try something with better reception. I quickly learned that you can buy goggles with a diversity setup. Those goggles have two video receivers and two antennas. In addition to the standard omnidirectional antenna, these goggles also have a directional antenna. In my experience, the directional antenna has no trouble getting a clear signal at over 1,000’.

Which budget FPV goggles should I buy?

I’m trying to buy a set of AOMWAY Commander FPV goggles, but they’ve been out of stock everywhere for weeks. They’re Fat-Shark-style goggles with a good diversity setup for a very reasonable price. The $350 price tag may be reasonable for what you get, but they’re certainly not entry-level goggles.

I had been flying with these scary Eachine VR D2 (sans pro!) goggles, and I didn’t want to wait for the AOMWAY Commander goggles to become available. I found a cheap, interesting FPV headset at Gearbest—the FuriBee VR01 headset.

The FuriBee VR01 headset has both an omnidirectional cloverleaf antenna and a directional patch antenna, but the documentation says it doesn’t use a true diversity setup. If it isn’t using diversity, how does it work? Does it work as well as the true but flaky diversity in my Eachine VR D2 headset?

An FPV headset with two antennas for $55 sounded too good to be true. I told my friends at Gearbest that I was interested in trying out their FuriBee VR01 headset, and they were nice enough to send them to me free of charge.

I’m going to tell you about my favorite headset, but I don’t want to leave you with just one option. I’m also going to tell you about the other budget-friendly headsets I’ve tried

FuriBee VR01 FPV Headset

If you ignore the major flaw in my original Eachine VR D2 headset, the FuriBee VR01 headset might be the worst headset I’ve used. I noticed quite a few problems before even flying with them for the first time. There’s nowhere to stow your battery, the screen isn’t great, and the face padding is quite awful and it leaks light on the sides.

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? In practice, none of these problems are all that bad. I’ve been flying with the FuriBee headset for two or three weeks, and I like them quite a lot. The screen is definitely a downgrade compared to my Eachine VR D2 headset—the resolution is obviously lower, but I stopped noticing after the first week.

The light leaking in on the sides isn’t bad, and it could probably be fixed with some extra padding. The light only hits the periphery of the display, and it is barely noticeable unless the sun is directly behind me.

I used a battery strap to stow a 3S LiPo behind my head, and I used some zip ties to route the power cable. One of my favorite features of the FuriBee VR01 headset is how many options I have for powering the thing.

The documentation recommends 2S or 3S LiPo batteries, but it also claims it can handle the voltage of a 4S battery. Gearbest claims it can run for 8 hours on a 2200 mAh 3S battery. I have some 1300 mAh 3S batteries that are old enough that they can’t nearly reach their max capacity, and the headset can run for at least three hours without a battery swap. I’m sure it can go longer, but I’d rather not run out of charge while flying!

FuriBee VR01 Headset Battery Mod

The FuriBee VR01 headset power cable connects to a 2-pin JST connector commonly found on 2S LiPo batteries. The only batteries I have with that connector are tiny 350 mAh packs for my KingKong 90GT micro drone, and I know they won’t power the headset for long.

I had some spare female XT60 adapters that came with each of my Venom 4S LiPo batteries. Using that, a couple of Dupont jumper wires, and a few minutes with the soldering iron, I was able to create an adapter that allows me to plug any of my 3S or 4S LiPo batteries into the VR01 headset.

This should be safe, because the headset can take up to a 23-volt input. It would be nice if something like this could be included in the box with the FuriBee VR01 headset!

Does the fake diversity work?

The fake diversity definitely works. I went to my favorite wide-open field, and I flew my Shuriken X1 roughly 1,000 feet away with its VTX transmitter set to 200 mw. I’m certain I could fly farther, but that’s where the trees start, and I don’t want to hunt for my drone if something goes wrong out there.

At 1,000 feet, the video feed is quite clear. When I turn my head to the side, the picture degrades quite a bit as the signal gets picked up by the directional antenna. I’ve tested a few other scenarios, but this was all the proof I needed to determine that both antennas were doing something.

Unfortunately, the FuriBee VR01 headset doesn’t have a built-in DVR, so I can’t show you what it looks like.

Wouldn’t it be better to have true diversity?

I’m excited that you can get two antennas onto a headset at this price point. I enjoy having the long range of the directional antenna, even if that extra range only extends in one direction. Also, if you have obstacles in a particular direction that usually interfere with your video signal, you can point your directional antenna that way to help alleviate the problem.

I’m even more excited that you can get an inexpensive headset with two antennas, and you don’t have to worry about a poorly designed diversity system ruining your day.

Eachine VR D2 Pro FPV Headset

I’ve had two sets of the original version of the Eachine VR D2 headsets—not the pro! These were about $125 from Amazon. The first set burned out. I plugged the battery in to start flying, the screen was dark, and I soon began to smell the magic smoke. I sent those back to Amazon and ordered another set.

The second set didn’t fail, but it did freeze up on me at an inopportune moment. Both sets have frozen up on me a few times, but that second set caused me to crash my Shuriken 180 Pro face first into the pavement from a fairly high altitude. I sent that set back to Amazon as well. A headset that locks up randomly during flight is definitely defective!

The new Eachine VR D2 Pro headset has supposedly eliminated this issue. The Pro version is a very nice-looking headset, and it can be ordered directly from China for around $75—assuming you’re willing to wait several weeks for your headset to arrive! It is comfortable to wear, has a nice display, and it includes a built-in DVR.

It also has a nice on-screen display that shows the signal strength of each antenna, your battery voltage, and your current channel. These goggles are a really good value for the price.

I’ve been burned, though, and I’m worried that the VR D2 Pro will still have those random lockups. A friend of mine has a set. I’ve tried them out, and I really like them. I’ll be sure to update this post to let everyone know whether or not he has any problems with his!

Eachine EV800 Headset

The Eachine EV800 was my first headset. I still have it—a friend of mine has been borrowing it for the last month or so. It works fine, and it has never caused me any problems. I used them for a few months, then I loaned them to my friend Tommy. He’s been using them ever since with no problems.

Eachine EV800 FPV Goggles

The EV800 is a solid headset. It is reasonably priced, and it is available from Amazon with Prime shipping—that’s a bonus. They cost as much as the Eachine VR D2 Pro headset, but the EV800 doesn’t have diversity or a DVR.

If you’re willing to tolerate a bit of static, the range on the EV800 goggles is quite good. I used to fly 700’ away or more, and I didn’t mind the static at the time. Having a directional antenna has spoiled me. I don’t want to see that static.

My conclusion

I highly recommend the FuriBee VR01 headset from Gearbest. It is a decent headset with a function, diversity-like setup, and you can get a pair for under $60. You probably won’t have to wait long, either, because they’re usually stocked in Gearbest’s US warehouse!

They’re a great way to dip your toe into the waters of FPV. I was very impatient before my VR01 goggles arrived, and I thought I would be racing to order a set of $350 AOMWAY Commander goggles—they’re still out of stock! After flying with the FuriBee VR01 headset for a week or two, I am in absolutely no hurry to upgrade. These are fine, and they will tide me over for quite a while!

Do you have an inexpensive FPV headset? Do you have a FuriBee VR01? Let me know what you think of it in the comments below!

KingKong 90GT Upgrades

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I’ve been flying my KingKong 90GT for more than two months. It is a fantastic little quadcopter—it truly is bananas to fly! I have crashed often enough that I’ve damaged my video transmitter antenna—if you follow the advice in my previous blog, you should be able to avoid this! I’m also running low on propellers. These issues seemed like a good excuse for some upgrades!

KingKong90GT with 2435 props

I made two minor upgrades, and I am thrilled with the results! Flight times are up 30%, thrust is up almost 50%, video transmission range is probably tripled, and my KingKong 90GT feels more stable than ever.

Removing the prop guards and increasing the thrust have made my KingKong 90GT much less safe for indoor use, but I don’t mind one bit. It is just too much fun outdoors now!

Upgrading the VTX

We broke the tip off my KingKong 90GT’s VTX antenna in the first week. If you read my previous blog post about the 90GT, you have probably already avoided this problem by strengthening the antenna with some simple heat shrink tubing.

My repairs were never ideal, and I’m pretty sure my solder work has come loose. I could have taken everything apart or soldered a new antenna on, but instead I shopped for higher power VTX units.

The stock video transmitter operates at 25mw. In all honesty, this is good enough most of the time. It doesn’t cost much more to upgrade to a 200mw transmitter, though, and I figured more range is better!

I also wanted to upgrade from the stock dipole antenna to a polarized cloverleaf antenna. It is my understanding that you lose 3 dbi when you have a dipole on one end and a polarized cloverleaf on the other. Cloverleaf antennas get better reception than dipole antennas, and I already have a cloverleaf on my goggles. I think it is a good idea to match both ends with the better antenna!

I was hoping to find a small, high-power VTX that I could wire in to the stock camera. I like the stock camera’s placement, and I wanted to keep the KingKong 90GT looking sleek. Unfortunately, all the VTX units I found that operate at anything over 50mw come with a camera built in. I supposed I could take out my soldering iron and remove the camera from one of these units, but it is much easier to just strap the new camera on top of the KingKong 90GT.

I settled on the Wolfwhoop 25mw/50mw/200mw switchable VTX unit. It weighs about 6 grams, it has a cloverleaf antenna, and I had no trouble fashioning a 3D printed mount to attach it to the roof of the KingKong 90GT.

The performance of the new VTX

I ran my first test flight at 50mw. Everything looked great. The camera is probably an upgrade over the stock 90GT camera, but it isn’t a huge upgrade. It has been a while since I flew the stock VTX with a good antenna, so it is tough to say if the 50mw is a proper upgrade. My gut says it is.

When I cranked it all the way to 200mw, I expected a noticeable drop in battery life. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to stay in the air just about as long as I expected. At 200mw, the KingKong 90GT had no trouble flying out about 950’ away in an open field.

I’m sure I could have gone farther, but that’s where the trees start. That’s also much farther than I want to walk to hunt for a lost drone. The KingKong 90GT is tiny, so it is difficult to spot even in freshly cut grass!

How did you mount the VTX?

I designed a 3D printed bracket to swap in place of the carbon fiber plate on top of the KingKong 90GT. I’m using my original prototype part for now. I designed it before the camera module arrived, and it doesn’t fit perfectly.

The VTX unit has a seven segment LED, and I didn’t account for how much thicker that makes the right side of the module. I corrected the issue with my prototype by cutting a big notch out of the corner.

I have some ideas to improve the mount, and it should be easier to implement those ideas now that the camera is in my hands! Just in case anyone needs it before I’ve completed my design, I uploaded my prototype camera mount to Thingiverse.

I’m disappointed that I had to move the camera to the top of the drone. The 90GT looks a lot more sleek with the camera in the factory location. The props are barely visible in the video feed now, so I can’t complain too much!

Ditching the prop guards

I took the prop guards off last week. That dropped the weight of the drone to 50 grams from 58 grams. That’s about a 15% savings in weight, and it seemed to make the 90GT feel more nimble and agile. I didn’t get to test this weight reduction as much as I’d have liked to, because my VTX antenna was quite broken. I only had a chance to fly two batteries without the prop guards, and I was disappointed that I didn’t see improved flight times.

However, this experiment did get me wondering if I could fit larger propellers on this frame.

Upgrading to larger propellers

I cheated. I moved the motors out past the frame, and I am now only able to use two screws to mount the motors. This gave me quite a bit of extra space between the props and the frame. How much more propeller could I fit?

I started searching, and I decided to try a set of 4-blade 2435 props. They’re about 25% longer than the 1935 props that come with the KingKong 90GT, and they have an extra blade. If they worked, I was expecting to see quite a bit more thrust!

I wasn’t disappointed. The larger props just barely fit, and they generate quite a bit more thrust than the stock props. According to my blackbox data, the stock props generate 2.3G of thrust in a punch out. The 2435 props hit a massive 3.6G in a punch out—almost a 50% increase in thrust!

This would be exciting news on its own, but I’m also seeing much longer flight times. With the stock props, I’ve been getting a little over three minutes of flight time out of my 350 mAh 2S batteries. With the weight reduction and larger props, I’m getting an extra 60 to 90 seconds in the air. I would switch to the bigger props just for the longer battery life!

I want to say that the bigger props make it as fast as my Holybro Shuriken X1, but that would be a lie. I will say that I’m confident that my KingKong 90GT could probably almost keep up with my Shuriken X1 through the tight trees at Breckinridge Park. If I go much faster than that with the X1, I have a lot of trouble maintaining control!

How do you fit bigger props on the KingKong 90GT?!

All you have to do is move the motors. The 90GT only comes with eight screws and washers that fit the prop guards—that’s only two screws per motor! I moved the motors slightly outside the frame. Only the outer two screw holes line up now. This is one of those instances where a picture is worth a thousand words.

KingKong 90GT Motors

This moves the motors out by about ¼”, and the upgraded props are about ½” larger. This makes for an almost perfect fit!

Conclusion

The other day, I handed the controls of my KingKong 90GT to my friend Brian. He flies his KingKong 90GT every time we go to the park, and he’s been listening to me talking about my upgrades all week. He’s not terribly articulate while he’s flying—not many of us are! He muttered things like, “This is awesome!” and, “It feels so smooth!”

This was the first time I had seen my upgraded KingKong 90GT flying fast without my head in the FPV goggles. I watch Brian fly his all the time, and it was obvious how much faster he was going with the upgraded drone!

I’d say the VTX upgrade is optional. It is worthwhile if you want to get a little more range, but I was happy enough with the 25mw VTX until I broke my antenna. That said, having 1,000’ of range is a nice bonus!

I’ve said before that I feel the KingKong 90GT already has the has just the right balance of cost, performance, and durability. The KingKong 90GT is already bananas from the factory. There are faster brushless micro drones out there, but they usually cost quite a bit more—enough that I’d prefer to buy another 5” racer!

Without the prop guards in place, you’ll lose the ability to comfortably fly indoors. That said, I still highly recommend the propeller upgrade. My KingKong 90GT feels like a brand new drone now. It is effectively a free upgrade—especially if you’re already running low on propellers! The prop upgrade makes the 90GT a more direct competitor to ARFUN 90 or the ridiculously powerful micro drones like the Airblade Creampuff.

Do you fly a KingKong 90GT? What do you think of it? Have you upgraded yours? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your opinion!

Holybro Shuriken X1 FPV Racing Drone

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The Holybro Shuriken X1 is the fastest drone I’ve ever seen. The first racing drone I saw flying was my friend Alex’s Blade Vortex 250. The Vortex is an amazing piece of hardware—fast, smooth, and extremely well made. The Vortex 250 is a much better drone than my old Shuriken 180 Pro—it better be with its $500 price tag!

Holybro Shuriken X1

At about the same time I bought my Shuriken 180 Pro, my friend Brian bought a Shuriken X1. I chose the 180 Pro because its price was close to that of my own PH145 quadcopter build, but it was still a big performance upgrade. I quickly learned that he made the better choice! At the time, Brian and I were lucky to be able to fly a drone in FPV without crashing.

We’ve come a long way in the few months since then, but our friend Alex has been flying drones for five years, so we let him try both of our drones shortly after they arrived. Alex ordered a Shuriken X1 less than a week after that test flight. I think that speaks volumes for the quality and performance of the X1, and that definitely encouraged me to buy one for myself!

I’ve heard him tell people that his Shuriken X1 feels a lot like his Vortex 250, but it is twice as fast. I’m sure there’s some hyperbole in his statement, but it isn’t far from the truth.

I’m still learning to fly. I’m much more proficient than I was even a month ago, but I’m not yet able to push the much slower Shuriken 180 Pro to its limits, so I haven’t been in a hurry to upgrade to a faster drone. My Shuriken 180 Pro was involved in a major crash—the crash probably deserves its own blog post. Having one less drone in my hangar was a problem, but since it was the fastest drone in my hangar made this an emergency! I ordered a Shuriken X1 from Gearbest as soon as I got home that night, and it arrived a few days later.

The hardware

Before I start telling you my opinions, let’s start with the specifications.

  • Heavy-duty carbon 200mm fiber frame
  • T-Motor F40 2305 2600kv motors
  • 30A ESCs
  • F3 Flight Controller
  • FPV camera with a Sony CCD sensor
  • 200/600 mW switchable VTX
  • MWOSD on-screen display
  • Available with a DSMX, FrSky, Futaba, or Flysky receiver

The T-Motor F40 motors are amazing. They’re big, fast, and relatively lightweight. They’re also expensive compared to other motors. If you shop around, you can get an entire set of generic four 2205 motors for $25. A set of T-Motor F40 2306 motors will set you back more than $100!

Are you ready for my first opinion? I believe this enough reason on its own to buy the Shuriken X1.

There are plenty of drones available today with an F4 flight controller, but I’m not disappointed to see the older F3 flight controller on the Shuriken X1. I’m not going to notice the difference in flight, and I doubt you will, either. I wouldn’t even notice if you swapped in the ancient F1 flight controller from my PH145. The difference between a 1 KHz, 2 KHz, or 4 KHz PID loop seems like the difference between a 2,000, 4,000, or 8,000 DPI mouse—it is nice to have more, but the returns quickly diminish.

My only real disappointment is the ESCs. The early Shuriken X1 drones shipped with modern BLHELI_S ESCs. With those ESCs, you can use the DSHOT protocol. If you can run DSHOT, you don’t have to calibrate your ESCs. That isn’t a huge win, but it is something I’d prefer not to have to do ever again!

In the above video of my maiden flight of my Shuriken X1, I attempted to use Multishot to communicate with the ESCs. It was terrible, and I was almost too embarrassed to post this video! You can hear all sorts of oscillations when I do a quick roll, and sometimes it was executing two or three rolls when it should have only done one. Don’t bother trying to run Multishot on these ESCs.

Those original ESCs were problematic. They resulted in a wobble when the Shuriken X1 would yaw. Holybro fixed this issue by using a different 30A ESC. The new ESCs are an older design, and they don’t support BLHELI_S or DSHOT. For fun, I tried flashing them with a newer firmware to support Multishot, but they weren’t happy about that at all! I flashed the ESCs back to stock and switched back to OneShot125.

It flies nice and smooth with Oneshot125, so I’m quite happy!

Why did I buy the Holybro Shuriken X1?

I don’t like to be a follower. Two of my friends already own this drone, so I wanted to try something different. I’ve been quietly researching racing drones with 5” propellers ever since I started getting proficient with the Shuriken 180 Pro. I didn’t have a lot of luck finding anything better than the Shuriken X1.

I was planning on buying a Furibee Fuuton 200. It compares quite favorably to the Shuriken X1, but it costs almost $100 less. It wasn’t the price that piqued my interest, though—it was the weight. The Furibee Fuuton 200 weighs about 80 grams less than the Shuriken X1. The Fuuton’s smaller ESCs and motors won’t have the same punch as the Shuriken X1, but the lighter weight would make it quite maneuverable, and it should still be quite fast!

Holybro Shuriken X1 Box

If I still had a working Shuriken 180 Pro, I probably would have bought a Furibee Fuuton in a month or two. Demolishing the Shuriken 180 Pro meant that I needed a new drone as soon as possible, and I wanted something that I knew I would enjoy. The Shuriken X1 was a known quantity, and that made it a safe bet.

The Shuriken X1 is sturdy, flies smooth, is extremely nimble, and its acceleration is just unbelievable. It is a well-made and well-equipped quadcopter with a sensible design, and you can get it for less than $300.

The Shuriken X1 sounds nice, but it looks too fast for me!

In my opinion, nobody should own just one drone. Things go wrong all the time, and you will break your drone. While you’re learning to fly, you’ll break things even more often. The parts you are most likely to break cost less than $20 or $30. The cost isn’t a big deal. It really sucks when you’re out flying with your friends and burn out an ESC or bend a motor half-way through your first battery.

I started with a slower quadcopter—my PH145. I’m glad I had a less powerful yet extremely agile little quadcopter to start my journey. Things would have been even easier for me to learn how to fly in FPV if I had a KingKong 90GT like Brian when I started to learn to FPV.

Even though the PH145 is much more powerful than the tiny KingKong 90GT, I started to outgrow that after a month or two, then I started flying my Shuriken 180 Pro. I was just starting to outgrow the 180 Pro when I accidentally destroyed it—it wasn’t easy to destroy, either! When my 180 Pro was out of commission, and I was waiting for my Shuriken X1 to arrive, I flew my PH145 for a few days. It is slower than what I’ve become accustomed to, but it was way more fun than just standing around watching my friends fly!

Holybro Shuriken X1

Sometimes you’re flying somewhere that a fast, loud, scary drone like the Shuriken X1 would be inappropriate. In those times, I’m happy that I have my KingKong 90GT in my bag. The 90GT is quiet and very unobtrusive! The KingKong 90GT is also a fantastic way to safely learn how to fly in FPV.

I’ve chatted with people on Twitter and in the real world. Some people are happy to buy more drones. Others are trying to get as much drone as they can for their money, and they don’t want to invest in two or three different drones.

This is quite a conundrum, and it has gotten me thinking a lot. I can’t recommend a Shuriken X1 to someone that’s never flown a quadcopter before, but if I tell them to buy a weaker drone with 3” or 4” propellers, they might outgrow it in two or three months. Most of the better drones with 3” or 4” propellers are priced near $200, and the drones with the 3” propellers will require an investment in smaller batteries—batteries that won’t power a fast drone like the Shuriken X1. It doesn’t cost much more to close that gap to buy the Shuriken X1!

My old Shuriken 180 Pro has 2205 2750 KV motors and 4” propellers. The Shuriken X1 has bigger motors, but they have a KV rating that’s nearly as high, and the X1 weighs about 10 grams less than the 180 Pro. This made me wonder just how the Shuriken X1 would fly with a set of my 4” propellers.

The answer surprised me. The Shuriken X1 flies great with 4” props! It is still fast, but it is much harder to accidentally end up in outer space with a quick movement of the throttle. It felt like it needed a little PID tuning, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

So far, I have only tried my 4” 4-blade DAL props. I expect it to fly just fine with 2-blade DAL props, and I plan to try them soon. I’ll expand on this once I’ve gathered more data.

How does it fly?

It feels amazing to me! I’m still flying it gently. I keep expecting some weird gremlin to sneak out and mess with me, but that hasn’t been the case yet. I’m not surprised everything is going so smoothly, but the Shuriken X1 is so much more powerful that any other drone I’ve flown—this makes me worry even more!

I shouldn’t be worried. I’m pretty sure I giggle every time I do a punch out. Especially when I’m running the Lumenier Butter Cutter props and a 1300 mAh 90C graphene battery. Holy potatoes! This thing gains altitude at a frightening rate!

Flips and rolls with the X1 are quicker and sharper than in my old Shuriken 180 Pro. This makes sense—the 180 Pro weighs more than the X1, but it is significantly less powerful. I’m pretty good at rolls, but I’m unpracticed at front and back flips. I have yet to crash during a flip, even when I mess up spectacularly. The X1 has so much power that I have no trouble saving myself before impact.

I’ve been flying quadcopters for almost four months so far, and I’ve been practicing FPV for less time than that. It was only three weeks ago that I was having trouble clearing our 3’ drone gates with my Shuriken 180 Pro, and I was quite nervous on every approach.

The first time I took the X1 out, I was hitting our pool noodle gates like a pro. In fact, I was hitting them faster than I was with my old drone. The Shuriken X1 flies smooth and handles great.

How’s the FPV equipment?

I’m very pleased with the FPV setup on the Shuriken X1. It looks like it uses the same Sony CCD camera as my Shuriken 180 Pro. They’re the best camera I have on any of my drones. This camera was a bit too wide on the 180 Pro, so I swapped it for one of my other cameras—sometimes the propellers would bump into it! There’s plenty of room for this camera on the X1.

The video feed is always steady and clean, even after banging up the props. The VTX module can be switched between 200 mW or 600 mW, just like the VTX units on all my mini drones. I’ve flown at least 1,000 feet away so far with no sign of the video dropping out.

The video above shows a comparison between my low-cost action cam and the on-board VTX transmission. I recorded the broadcast with the DVR in my Eachine VR D2 FPV goggles with diversity. I believe we were all running at 200 mW.

The Shuriken X1 comes equipped with an MWOSD on-screen display. This is my first drone with an OSD, and I don’t understand how I managed before. Seeing how many amps I’m pulling during a punch out is fun. Being able to see how many mAh I’ve consumed is a must-have for me now!

The ability to tune my PID and rate settings without pulling out my laptop is super convenient! The stock PID settings that ship with the Shuriken X1 feel pretty good—better than I’d be capable of tuning in myself! Before my first flight, I matched up the rates with my other three drones. This was a little too responsive for me on the X1, but I was able to tweak the rates immediately. It was awesome!

Propellers

The stock propellers work just fine, but I am a fan of the indestructible DAL props. I stocked up on two-blade and three-blade DAL props. I usually run the two-blade props. They’re more efficient, so I get to stay in the air longer, and they generate more thrust than I need!

I can’t buy a powerful quadcopter without seeing just how hard I can push it. I also ordered a set of Lumenier Butter Cutter 5045. They don’t seem to be much less efficient than the two-blade DAL props—I hover at right around 9.5 to 10.5 amps with either prop. The Butter Cutters feel more responsive, and the Shuriken X1 just feels like a rocket when you punch the throttle!

The Butter Cutters are fun, but it really doesn’t matter what props you run. The Shuriken X1 is lightning fast no matter what!

Batteries

You’re going to want to stock up on some high-quality batteries for your Shuriken X1. I have a stack of GARTT 1500 mAh 4S batteries that I bought for my PH145 build. The PH145 flew fine with them, but they were on the heavy side for that drone. They also work great on my Shuriken 180 Pro.

Unfortunately for me, they’re only rated at 50C. I haven’t had any problem breaking 80 amps on the Shuriken X1. That’s right around 50C, but I’ve heard of people puffing fresh battery packs when pushing a Shuriken X1 to its limits. I’ve been expecting to upgrade to a Shuriken X1 for a while, so I’ve been slowly buying better battery packs for the last month or so.

I have a pair of 75C Venom 1300 mAh 4S LiPos. I’ve been using Venom’s 850 mAh 4S in my PH145 for a while, and I’m very pleased with their batteries. One of my 850 mAh packs was problematic from the start, and it ended up going bad on me. Venom’s warranty is great, and it was no trouble getting them to send me a replacement. That was reason enough alone to encourage me to buy more batteries from Venom.

I also have an Infinity 90C 1300 mAh racing graphene battery. I already own the 70C version of this battery, but I ruptured a cell in a crash, and I never got to test it on a fast drone. They say that graphene batteries can maintain a higher voltage when you max out your throttle, and I want to put that to the test. I haven’t collected enough data yet, but the Infinity 90C graphene battery feels great so far!

When I ordered the pair of Venom 1300 mAh from Amazon a couple weeks ago, I also ordered three Infinity 70C 1300 mAh packs from Banggood. I was able to get three of those batteries for the price of two Venom batteries, but they haven’t arrived yet. That slow shipping from China is a killer, but if these perform as well as the Venom, they will be a fantastic value!

I’ll update this section when I know more. Here’s the tl;dr: use good batteries with a high C-rating!

The DSMX receiver antenna is too short

It looks like the Shuriken X1 uses the same DSMX receiver module as my 180 Pro. It doesn’t have diversity antennas, and the antenna it ships with is rather short—short enough that it doesn’t extend as high as my knock-off GoPro action cam.

Shuriken X1 with an Action Camera

I had my cheap, inexpensive action cam mounted on my first flight. I stayed high on that test flight, and everything was fine. I left it on for my second flight, and I kept the drone close to the ground. I flew way out into the field, and then I circled around to come back. As soon as the camera got between my Spektrum transmitter and the drone’s antenna, I fell right out of the sky.

This isn’t a problem with the Taranis FrSky compatible Shuriken X1 drones. They have a pair of diversity antennas, and they’re tall enough to extend above a camera.

This is an easy problem to solve for just a few bucks, and I need to solve it, because action cam footage looks so much nicer than recording in the DVR!

Quality-control issues

Including my own, we’ve seen four Shuriken X1 drones so far. Other than my complaint about the antenna, mine has been fine. We’ve had problems with others, though.

  • Brian’s X1 burned an ESC on one of the first few batteries
  • Alex’s first X1 burned an ESC in a similar timeframe
  • Alex’s second X1 (he lost the first) arrived with a missing camera mount screw
  • Brian’s burned out a second ESC after a few months

I believe they were able to get replacement ESCs free of charge and relatively quickly. The drone with the missing screw arrived a few days ago, and we had parts on hand to replace it.

These are minor issues, and they’re easy to correct. In fact, they’re the sort of issues that you’ll eventually encounter anyway.

These kind of quality control issues seem to be common to all drones that are manufactured and sold by companies in China. I suppose we’re getting what we paid for. I’d be much more disappointed if I saw an ESC fail on the first flight of a $500 Blade Vortex 250.

In my opinion, the risk is quite minimal, and if you’re going to fly your drone and crash as often as I do, then you’re going to have to learn how to replace an ESC or motor anyway.

Is the Shuriken X1 really bind-n-fly?

I’m not sure. The experiences other people have had on the Internet leads me to believe that you can bind your controller and immediately take to the air. I didn’t attempt this at all.

As soon as mine arrived, I installed the latest version of Betaflight and wiped out all the stock settings. Then I proceeded to configure the X1 to match my other drones. I did copy the stock PID values, but I wanted the rate and expo settings to feel right. I also wanted my arm, horizon, and air mode switches to be set up the way I’m used to.

They say that Holybro’s racing drones are some of the quickest and easiest to get flying with, but I don’t buy drones that run Betaflight expecting them to be ready to go out of the box. I also don’t like the idea of buying drones that don’t run Betaflight!

Conclusion

If my budget were limited, and I could only own one drone, it would most definitely be the Shuriken X1. If it was too powerful for me to handle, I could always put 4” props on until I practiced enough to handle all the power.

Even with an unlimited budget, I can’t name a mini racing quad I would spend more money on—I would still want a Shuriken X1 in my collection. I tried my best to shop for something faster. Comparable drones exist, but nothing that I could get excited about.

The Holybro Shuriken X1 has massive acceleration, flies smooth, and has no trouble surviving a crash. With a price tag lower than $300, it is an amazing value!

Do you own a Shuriken X1? What do you think of it? Do you own something faster or better? Tell us about it in the comments below!