The Alldocube iPlay 50 Mini Is Your Nexus 7 For 2024

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I shop for a new Android tablet a couple of times each year. I don’t want a giant iPad-sized tablet. I want a tablet that is much bigger than my phone while still being small enough to palm like a basketball. I want a Nexus 7 with no bezels.

My Nexus 7 from 2013 is slow. That isn’t a big deal if I am reading a book, because I just pick it up, turn it on, and continue reading. The trouble is that Librera Reader takes one or two dozen seconds to open a book. Every time I start a new book or have to reboot the Nexus 7 I wind up thinking about ordering a modern tablet, but I never find anything that makes me want to pull the trigger.

Alldocube iPlay Mini 50 playing Into the Breach

I think I lucked out this time. I got annoyed with the Nexus 7, searched Amazon, and happened to see the right combination of price and features in the Alldocube iPlay 50 Mini. I have been using it for about a week, and there isn’t much to complain about, considering the iPlay 50 Mini’s $80 price point.

If you miss your Nexus 7 and you want a faster, newer, updated replacement with the same form factor at a low price, this is probably the tablet for you.

What does Pat do with his tablet?

I was going to start listing off all the things that this Alldocube tablet can do well, but I think it might be better to first explain what I use my tablet for and what I expected from it.

I prefer reading ebooks on a tablet. I almost always read in a dim or dark room, and I like to set my reading app’s colors to match the Solarized Dark theme. This works exactly as well as I expected.

I like to consume social media and news on my tablet. Until this week, I was flipping through Reddit, Hacker News, and Mastodon on my phone. It is nice to be doing this on a larger screen again.

Anything that the Alldocube manages to do well beyond these tasks is a bonus for me.

Having reasonable expectations

This isn’t a $469 iPad Mini from Apple. This is an $80 tablet from a company nobody has ever heard of in China. It won’t be the nicest tablet. It won’t be the fastest. It won’t be the sturdiest.

My hope was that it would work, have a nice display, and at least be zippy enough to not feel like I am always waiting for the tablet. I feel like the Alldocube tablet I received has surpassed my expectations.

Amazon marks the Alldocube tablet as one that is frequently returned. Is that because people have unrealistic expectations? Or is it because Alldocube has terrible quality control, and they wind up shipping out more than a few tablets that should have never made it out of the factory?

My tablet is a sample size of only one. I don’t know enough to answer these questions.

Why was Pat shopping for a cheap tablet instead of a premium tablet?

There just aren’t a lot of nice tablets from any of the big manufacturers in the 7” and 8” range.

Amazon’s 7” and 8” tablets have 1024x600 or 1280x800 displays. We have one of their 7” tablets knocking around the house. It was only $30 one year on Prime Day, and it is a handy screen to keep near my Shapeoko CNC machine, but the ridiculously low pixels per inch makes these horrible for reading books. I tried it. I hated it.

Just about the only other name-brand tablet I came across was the Lenovo M8, but it is another 1280x800 tablet, so I didn’t even consider it. Same problem with the Samsung Galaxy Tab A.

The Alldocube quickly bubbled to the top of my list because of its 1920x1200 screen, the reasonably nice things I was reading about it on the Internet, its form factor, and its $80 price tag.

Would I spend $300 or more on an 8” Pixel Tablet if Google offered me one? I think that is a good question, and I may have said yes before I unboxed the Alldocube tablet.

Let’s talk about the good stuff first!

The Alldocube iPlay 50 Mini is so close to the size of my old Nexus 7. Their weights are within a gram of each other, and the new 8.4” tablet is only a couple of millimeters taller and maybe five millimeters wider than the 7” Nexus 7.

The 1920x1200 works out to around 270 pixels per inch. I feel that is more than sufficient for use as an ebook reader. The viewing angles on the IPS screen are good, I haven’t had to turn the brightness past half-way to the max around the house, and the colors are vibrant and clean.

Alldocube iPlay Mini 50 at my desk

The tablet has enough battery for somewhere around nine hours of screen time, and it seems to charge in a couple of hours. I ought to verify the charge one of these days!

The Alldocube tablet is most definitely not as fast as my Pixel 6A, especially with regards to the GPU, but I wouldn’t call the iPlay Mini 50 slow. The best way I can quantify this is probably with my first impression.

When hopping between apps and scrolling around in a web browser, I actually wondered if this tablet is almost as fast as my Pixel 6A. I picked up my phone and noticed immediately that the Pixel feels a good bit more responsive. An $80 tablet should be slower than a $300 phone, but I think the fact that it had me wondering says that the tablet isn’t slow.

Widevine L1 DRM support seems to be a lie

I am not well versed on which levels of Widevine DRM are required for different resolutions on each streaming service, and I didn’t buy my tablet for watching movies. I still figured I should test it.

A random DRM-checking app I found in the Play store claims my tablet has Widevine L1, but Netflix says I only have Widevine L3 support. Netflix playback is very low bitrate, so there are a lot of blocking artifacts. YouTube is limited to 720p, but it looks fine. Hulu seems low resolution, but Disney+ looks fantastic.

If the problem was that Netflix would only play at standard definition, I wouldn’t have any complaints. Watching a good stream at 480p on an 8” screen wouldn’t look bad. The trouble here is that Netflix is sending a pretty crummy 480p my way.

My understanding is that there is a new version of the iPlay Mini 50 that may have proper Widevine L1 support, and that the faster, nicer, more expensive iPlay Mini 50 Pro supposedly has correct support for Widevine L1.

If perfect video streaming is important to you, you may want to spend a bit more cash!

The GPU might be slow, but the Steam Link app works great!

I was sitting here with my PlayStation 4 DualShock4 controller, wondering how well the Steam Link app would work on my new tablet. I don’t know when I would ever need to use it, but I had to try!

I made the mistake of trying to play Dead Cells. The game looked great, but the latency felt absolutely awful. Dead Cells is an extremely twitchy game with extremely low latency. The extra couple of dozen milliseconds added by the WiFi was bad.

Then I tried Red Dead Redemption 2. The game looked great, and it felt great. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a slower, more deliberate game. It hides the extra latency quite well.

Then I tried connecting my tablet to my phone’s WiFi hotspot to stream the game over T-Mobile and my gigabit FiOS connection! The game looked great, and the latency was higher at around 70 milliseconds. I could feel the latency in RDR2 now, but it would definitely be playable if I were stuck in an airport.

This success encouraged me to install Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, since it was free with Netflix. It ran like garbage. Even if you turn all the sliders to the minimum. The CPU in the Alldocube iPlay Mini 50 is reasonably capable. This GPU is definitely less than stellar.

UPDATE: I noticed when cropping a screenshot that the photo editor chugs quite a bit. I wouldn’t say that it is unresponsive, but the position of the cropped area sure lags behind my finger.

Not all games run poorly!

I have played a bit of my favorite game, Into The Breach, and it runs great. Vampire Survivors runs smoothly and plays well with the controller. It should also be a surprise to no one that Gubbins is as smooth as butter.

I am looking at which games I have installed, and most of them are quite simple. Dead Cells seems to play well enough locally, but it felt like the frame rate was dipping sometimes. Dead Cells can’t maintain 60 frames per second on the Nintendo Switch either, but my recollection is that it only gets really bad on the Switch when there are a lot of fire effects on the screen.

I think the bottom line here is that if you are planning to play strategy games like Into the Breach or Wordfued, then the $80 Alldocube tablet will work out just fine. If your goal is to emulate a Nintendo Switch, you’d better shop for something else.

Any other bad things to say about the Alldocube iPlay Mini 50?!

Nothing serious. The single speaker sounds pretty hollow, but it does have a headphone jack!

Speaking of the headphone jack, I noticed at least one Amazon review complaining about Alldocube putting the USB-C charging port on top of the tablet. The headphone jack is hiding in the corner, and it is pointing in the same direction.

I don’t think this is a bug. If you ever need to charge the tablet or use your headphones, neither cable is going to get in your way in either portrait or landscape mode. That seems pretty smart.

The thin screen protector film that ships preinstalled is awful. Your finger won’t glide as smooth, it picks up fingerprints like crazy, and it makes the screen look a bit hazy. It took about three seconds to peel that thing off, and I am glad I did. The glass isn’t as fingerprint resistant as all my Google Pixel phones have been. This tablet stays about as clean as the basic glass on my Nexus 7.

Don’t expect much from Alldocube’s cameras. They would have been mediocre on an Android phone almost ten years ago. There are two cameras. They function. They will get you through a video call.

Is the Pro model worth twice as much?

It looks like a good upgrade. Double the RAM can’t hurt, but I haven’t felt like RAM was an issue on any of my Android phones since my first phone with 2 gigabytes of RAM. The 4 gigabytes in the $80 model is enough to keep quite a lot of apps in RAM, so you won’t be waiting much of anything to fire up from scratch when switching between apps.

The Helio G99 in the Pro model is a newer, faster chip than the T606 chip in my cheaper tablet. How much faster? I have no idea. I didn’t find a reliable source for a benchmark of either one, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pro model would play Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas just fine.

When I started writing this blog post, I would have said no. There was no way I would pay $160 for the iPlay Mini 50 Pro. Every day that has gone by, I have used my phone less and my tablet more. Maybe I should have spent more and got something a little faster?

Firmware updates

I don’t expect we will ever see any firmware updates for any random tablets from manufacturers in China, and that includes our Alldocube iPlay Mini 50.

Alldocube iPlay Mini 50 Security Updates

I could probably write another 2,000 words about which ways this is both a huge problem but also might not be that big of a deal at all.

This is probably the best reason to buy the $80 tablet instead of the $160 Pro model. If you spend less, you can upgrade your hardware sooner, and you’ll get a free software upgrade at the same time.

Conclusion

I am sure I could find more to tell you about the Alldocube iPlay 50 Mini, but you shouldn’t have to read more than 2,000 words about an $80 tablet, so this seems like a good place to stop and summarize things. It is a fast enough tablet with a nice, high-resolution screen that has exactly the right form factor for me, and it is inexpensive. It felt like a no-brainer before I ordered mine, and that feels even more true now that I have been using it.

It is nice having a small tablet again. It fills the void between my pocket-sized phone and my 14” 2-in-1 laptop really well. I have already had days where my phone hasn’t even left the charger, so it is looking like the Alldocube tablet will be my new loafing-on-the-couch companion device!

My First Week With Proxmox on My Celeron N100 Homelab Server

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I have had Proxmox running on my Intel N100 mini PC for at least a week so far. It hadn’t been doing any real work until I migrated my first virtual machine over from my old homelab server last night. It is officially doing some important work, so it feels like a good time to write more words about how things are going. I wouldn’t be surprised if I have everything migrated over besides my NAS virtual machine before I write the last few paragraphs.

CWWK N100 Mini PC Running Proxmox

I managed to get through migrating all but one virtual machine before I got half-way through writing this. I am procrastinating on that last one, because it will involve plugging my NAS virtual machine’s big storage drive into my mini PC server. There is a little extra work involved in moving the drive and mapping the disk to the correct machine, and I can’t just boot the old machine back up if things go wrong. I figure I should finish my latte before attempting this!

Using the Proxmox installation ISO was probably the wrong choice for me

It is probably the correct choice for you, but I had to work hard to get things situated the way I wanted. I have a lot of unique requirements for my build:

I have been deleting, recreating, and juggling partitions like a madman. Tearing things down to put a RAID and encryption underneath the Thin LVM pool was easy, and I left behind around 200 GB for setting up lvmcache down the road while I was doing it.

I was slightly bummed out that the Proxmox installed set aside 96 GB for itself. That is 10% of my little Teamgroup NVMe, but storage is cheap. I got more bummed out when I learned that this is where it was going to store my LXC containers and any qcow2 files I might still want to use.

Stable Diffusion juggling hard drives

This was a bummer because I can’t resize the root filesystem live. I wound up biting the bullet, booting a Debian live image, and resizing the root volume. That left me room for some encrypted space for containers and qcow2 files.

This would have been easier if I just installed Debian myself, set up my file systems, RAID, and encryption, then installed Proxmox. If I did that, I would have for sure also mirrored the Proxmox root partition to the USB hard disk as well!

I almost thought I painted myself into a corner that would be difficult to weasel out of on at least two occasions while playing musical chairs with these volumes.

The important thing is that I got things set up how I wanted.

Importing my old qcow2 virtual machines into Proxmox

I have always had the option of using LVM volumes for my virtual machine disk images. I am not sure if we had thin volumes when I set up my KVM host with my AMD 5350 build in 2015, but I could have used LVM. I chose not to.

LVM has less overhead than qcow2 files, but qcow2 files are extremely convenient. You can copy them around the network with scp, you can duplicate them locally, and virt-manager could only snapshot your machines live with qcow2 images and not with LVM-backed disks in 2015. The first two are handy. The last one was important to me!

Pulling those qcow2 files into Proxmox was easy. I would set up a fresh virtual machine with no ISO image mounted and a tiny virtual SCSI disk, and I would immediately delete the disk. I mounted my qcow2 storage on the Proxmox server using sshfs, and I just had to run commands like this to import a disk:

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qm importdisk 100 nas2022.qcow2 pve_crypt1

The sshfs connection had me bottlenecked at around 30 megabytes per second, but I wasn’t in a rush, and I only had 100 gigabytes of disk images to move this way. Mounting a directory using sshfs took a fraction of the time it would have taken me to set up NFS or Samba on both ends, and I only had 100 gigabytes in disk images to move around.

I just shut down one machine at a time, imported their disks, and fired them up on the Promox host.

A few of my machines have very old versions of Debian installed, and they were renaming the network devices to ens18 instead of ens3, so they needed their /etc/network/interfaces files updates. No big deal.

One of the disk images I pulled in has 2 terabytes allocated, was using 400 gigabytes of actual storage on the host, but the file system in the virtual machine was now empty. It took almost no time at all to import that disk, and it is taking up nearly zero space on the thin LVM volume, so I would say that the tooling did a good job!

Proxmox does a good job of staying out of the way when it can’t do the job for you

Proxmox and my old homelab box running virt-manager are running the same stuff deep under the hood. They are both running my virtual machines using QEMU and KVM on the Linux kernel. So far, I have only encountered two things that I wanted to do that couldn’t be done inside the Proxmox GUI.

The one that surprised me is that Proxmox doesn’t have a simple host-only NAT network interface configured for you by default. This is the sort of thing I have had easily available to me since using VMware Workstation 1.1 more than two decades ago, and everything I have used since has supported this as a simple-to-configure option.

Little Trudy Judy

I understand why someone would be much less likely to need this on a server. You’re not going to bring a short stack of interconnected machines to a sales demo on a Proxmox server. You’re going to do that on your laptop.

I have been hiding any server that doesn’t need to be on my LAN behind virt-manager’s firewalled NAT because I only need to access them via Tailscale. Why expose something to the network when you don’t have to?

I quickly learned that Proxmox’s user interface is reading the actual state of things as configured by Debian. This is different than something like TrueNAS Scale, where the settings in the GUI are usually pushed to the real configuration. I am not a TrueNAS Scale expert. I am just aware that when you manually make changes to a virtual machine outside of Scale’s GUI, those changes can be wiped out later.

This is awesome. I can set up my own NAT-only bridge device, and it will be available and at least partially reflected in the web UI. I haven’t done this yet. I wasn’t patient enough to wait to start migrating!

There was also no way to add a plain block device as a disk for a virtual machine inside the Proxmox GUI. It was easy enough to do with this command:

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qm set 100 -scsi1 /dev/mapper/fourteen_crypt 

The qm tool has been fantastic so far, and much friendlier than anything I ever had to do with virsh. Once the disk was added by qm, it immediately showed up as a disk in the Proxmox GUI.

Can you tell that I got impatient and migrated the last of my virtual machines to the new box before I got done writing this?!

Proxmox’s automated backup system seems fantastic!

I never set up any sort of backup automation for my virt-manager homelab server. I would just be sure to save an extra copy of my qcow2 disks or take a snapshot right before doing anything major like an apt-get dist-upgrade.

The server had already been running for seven or eight years before I had any big disks off-site to push any sort of backups to, and the idea never even occurred to me! If any of the virtual machines had important data, it was already being pushed to a location where it would be backed up. The risk of losing a virtual server was never that high. Having to spend an evening loading Debian and Octoprint or something similar on a new server isn’t exactly the end of the world, and would probably even be an excuse for an upgrade.

Proxmox Backups

When I noticed the backup tab in Proxmox, I figured I should give it a try. I fired up ssh, connected to my off-site Seafile Raspberry Pi at Brian Moses’s house, and I spent a few minutes installing and configuring nfs-kernel-server. I put the details of the new NFS server into Proxmox, set it up as a location that could accept backups, and immediately hit the backup button on a couple of virtual machines. It only took a few minutes, and I had backed up two of my servers off site.

Then I hit the backup scheduler tab, clicked a very small number of buttons to schedule a monthly backup of all my virtual machines, then hit the button to run the job immediately.

I should mention here that before I hit that button, I put in some effort to make sure that the big storage volume on my NAS virtual machine wouldn’t be a part of the backup. Files are synced from my laptop or desktop up to my Seafile Pi, then my NAS virtual machine syncs a copy down. It would be silly to push that data in a less-usable form BACK to the same disk on the Seafile Pi, and even more importantly, there wouldn’t be enough room!

In the settings for each disk attached to a virtual machine in Proxmox, there is a checkbox labeled backup. If you uncheck this, that disk will not be included in backup jobs. I was paranoid. I watched my backups like a hawk until I verified that the job wasn’t filling up my remote storage.

I am not sure how long it took, but my 65 gigabytes of in-use virtual disk space compressed down to 35 gigabytes and are currently sitting on an encrypted hard disk at Brian’s house.

My CWWK N100 mini PC 2.5 gigabit router

I replaced my very old AMD FX-8350 homelab server with a CWWK mini PC with a Celeron N100 processor. The CWWK is an interesting little box. I already wrote a lot of words about why I chose this over several other mini PCs, so I won’t walk about the other choices here.

The neat things for me are the FIVE NVMe slots, the four 2.5 gigabit Ethernet ports, and that power-sipping but quite speedy Celeron N100 CPU. I did some power testing with a smart outlet, and the entire CWWK box with a single NVMe uses 9 watts at idle and never more than 26 watts when running hard. That worked out to 0.21 kWh per day on the low end and a maximum of 0.57 kWh on the high end.

CWWK Topton N100 Proxmox Mini PC

I need to take readings that include the 14 TB USB hard disk, but it is obvious that this is such a huge power savings for me. The FX-8350 server idles at just over 70 watts, uses 1.9 kWh of electricity every single day, and can pull over 250 watts from the wall when the CPU really gets cranking.

It is looking like the new hardware will pay for itself in electricity savings in a little over five years. I would be pretty excited if I knew how to account for the removal of that constant 70 watts of heat the FX-8350 was putting out. We run the air conditioning nine months of the year here, so I imagine the slight reduction in AC use must be reducing that payback time by at least two years, right?

So far, I am only using one of the five m.2 NVMe slots, but I feel like I am prepared for the day when NVMe drives get large enough and inexpensive enough that I can replace my 14 TB mechanical disk with solid-state storage. Flash prices have been increasing a bit lately, though, so it is entirely possible that I have gotten optimistic a little too soon!

I am disappointed that 16 GB of RAM is going to be enough!

My old homelab box had 32 GB of RAM, and my virtual machines were configured to use a little over 17 GB of that. I am usually a little conservative when I assign RAM to a virtual machine, but I was sure I could steal a bit of memory here and there to bring the total under 16 GB so I could get everything migrated over.

Promox

After dialing things back, I am only asking for 7.5 GB of RAM, and I am clawing back over 1 GB of extra RAM via kernel same-page merging (KSM). I managed to wind up having more than half the memory free on my new tiny homelab server.

I was bummed out that my CWWK Intel N100 server only has a single DDR5 SO-DIMM slot, and the biggest SO-DIMMs you can buy are 48 GB. I was always expecting to double the available RAM when I upgraded my homelab server. Now I am learning that I may as well save a bit of cash and upgrade using a much cheaper 32 GB SO-DIMM, assuming I even upgrade the memory at all!

Don’t trust Proxmox’s memory-usage meter!

It is nice that the meter is there, and it is a handy readout for at least half of the virtual machines on my homelab. It is a terrible meter on my NAS virtual machine, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this would wind up causing a novice to buy more RAM that they don’t need.

My NAS virtual machine isn’t REALLY a proper NAS any longer. It is just a virtual machine with a big disk running a Seafile client. It is the third pillar of my backup strategy. Its workload mostly involves writes now, and it doesn’t need much cache. I only allocated 2 GB of RAM to this machine, and that is more than double what it actually needs.

The Proxmox summary screen is giving my NAS a red bar graph, and says it is at 91.68% memory usage. This makes the red bar graph seem a little scary!

If you ssh into the NAS, you will see that it is using 327 megabytes of RAM for processes and 1.5 gigabytes for cache. No matter how much RAM I allocate to this VM, it will always fill that RAM up with cache.

If I didn’t know better, I would be doubling the RAM allocation over and over again, hoping to see the red or yellow bar graph turn green.

It is a bummer that the QEMU agent doesn’t report buffers and cache up to the host. If these memory readings on the summary page indicated how much cache was in use, or even subtracted the buffers and cache from the total, this summary would be more useful.

This isn’t a huge problem.

Set your virtual machine processor type to host

As long as you can get away with it, this can be either a substantial or massive boost to your AES performance compared to the default of x86-64-v2-AES. If you are going to be live migrating virtual machines between processors with different feature sets, this won’t be a good plan for you. If you are migrating and can get away with shutting down the virtual machine before the move, then you can set the processor type to whatever you like.

The first thing I ran was cryptsetup benchmark. With the processor type set to x86-64-v2-AES, AES-XTS was reaching about 2,000 megabytes per second. With processor type set to host, I was getting over 2,750 megabytes per second. That is nearly a 40% improvement!

My network relies very heavily on Tailscale. I don’t have a good way to test Tailscale’s raw encryption performance, but I hope and expect I am getting a similar boost there as well. I don’t need Tailscale to push data at two or three gigabytes per second, but I will be excited if Tailscale gets to spend 30% less CPU grunt on encryption.

I noticed a much bigger difference when I was running Geekbench. Single-core Geekbench AES encryption was stuck at 170 megabytes per second with the default processor type, but it opened all the way up to 3,400 megabytes per second when set to host. That made me wonder if any other software is as severely limited by the v2 instruction set!

I am collecting better power data!

It takes time to collect good data. I currently have the CWWK N100 and the Western Digital 14 terabyte drive plugging into a Tasmota smart plug. These two devices spend the whole day bouncing between 19 and 24 watts, and averaging out the relatively small number of samples that arrive in Home Assistant won’t be super accurate.

Tasmota measures way more often than it sends data to Home Assistant over WiFi, and it keeps a running kilowatt hour (kWh) total for every 24-hour period. That means I have to set things up a particular way for a test, wait 24 hours for the results, then set up the next test. That also means I will wind up only being able to test every other day if I want to get a full 24 hours with each setup.

I am testing the CWWK N100 and hard disk running under their usual light load now. I want to test both pieces of hardware under load for 24 hours, then I want to measure each device separately. It will take about a week to collect all the numbers, and that is assuming I don’t miss out on starting too many tests on time.

What’s next?

I think it is time to replace my extremely minimal off-site storage setup at Brian Moses’s house with a Proxmox node. I have had a Raspberry Pi with a 14 terabyte USB hard disk at Brian’s house doing Dropbox-style sync and storage duties for the last three years, and it is currently saving me around $500 every single year on my Dropbox bill.

This seems like a good time to upgrade to an Intel N100 mini PC. I can put a few off-site virtual machines on my Tailnet, take the Pi’s 150-megabit cap off my Tailscale file-transfer speeds, and maybe sell the Raspberry Pi 4 for a profit.

I am also shopping for 2.5 gigabit Ethernet switches for my network cupboard and my home office, but I am also more than a little tempted to attempt to run 10 gigabit Ethernet across the house. This is either a project for farther down the road, or I will just get excited one day and order some gear. We will see what happens.

Somewhere along the line there needs to be some cable management and tidying happening below my network cupboard. Now that all the servers are being replaced with mini PCs, I can eliminate that big rolling cart and replace it with a simple wall-mounted shelf. I may wind up going bananas and designing a shelf that gives me room inside to hide power outlets and cables.

What do you think? Have I made a good sideways upgrade to save myself $60 per year in electricity and maybe almost as much in air conditioning bills? Would an Intel N100 be a good fit for your homelab or other home server uses? Do you think I will manage to make use of all these 2.5 gigabit Ethernet ports and extra NVMe slots? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server and chat with me about it!

The Sovol SV06 - Is It Still Worth Buying in 2024?

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The $299 Bambu A1 Mini has been shipping for a few months now. It is fast. You get so much for your money. It seems reliable. Bambu has great quality control. Its release was a huge blow to Sovol and all the other budget-friendly 3D-printer manufacturers. They all responded by lowering their prices, but are these new prices low enough?

Anbernic RG35XX with 3D printed grips on the Bambu A1 Mini

Now there is a $400 Bambu A1. It has every single feature of the Bambu A1 Mini, except it is bigger. Bigger than the Sovol SV06, but not quite as big as the Sovol SV06 Plus. Bigger than a Prusa MK4. The big Bambu A1 is half the price of a Prusa MK4 kit that you will spend most of the weekend putting together. These new Bambu printers are priced extremely aggressively.

What does this mean for Sovol, Creality, and Prusa Research?

Here’s the tl;dr

You don’t have to read my essay here that is attempting to justify what I think, and you don’t have to read a story about some cold winter night on a farm. I don’t want to artificially keep you here longer to make Google think you were happy with clicking here.

Bambu A1 Mini 0.2mm nozzle Benchy

12-mm tall Benchy printed with stock settings on a Bambu A1 Mini with a 0.2-mm nozzle

I think almost every printer that Bambu makes is priced well, and I think the Bambu A1 and Bambu A1 Mini are worth the extra $100 or so compared to the budget options from Sovol or Creality. Bambu has features that can easily save you $100 in frustration. Bambu’s printers are significantly faster, higher quality, and more reliable than anything else in their price range. Their output is also much higher quality.

If you can justify paying for a Bambu A1 with an AMS Lite, it is time to stop reading. Go make your purchase. If you are considering skipping the AMS Lite, then maybe read on, especially toward the end.

If $299 for the Bambu A1 Mini is stretching your budget thin, then you should definitely read on. There are plenty of good reasons to spend a little more on the Bambu A1 Mini. Some of them will only save you time, but some of them might save you some money.

Buying a budget printer from Sovol or Creality involves rolling some dice. I don’t know the weight of those dice, but I do know some small percentage of people, not exactly an inconsequential number, wind up having a lot of problems with their cheap printers.

Bambu Lab makes the most advanced consumer 3D printers

If you are buying your first 3D printer, and you have enough wiggle room in your budget, you should buy a printer from Bambu. It doesn’t matter which one. They are all fantastic.

I feel like a broken record when I say this, but it is absolutely worth repeating. The strain-sensor bed leveling used on the Prusa MK4, Prusa XL, and every single Bambu printer is a game changer.

Lil Trudy Judy

You don’t have to learn how to dial in your printer’s first layer. It does it for you. This is by far the most common problem that you will see posted on /r/FixMyPrint. Bambu printers do this for you. This feature alone is likely to save you a ton of time and frustration.

The Bambu A1 can detect tangled filament, and it will give you the opportunity to untie those knots and resume the print. It can also detect when you run out of filament, and if you are using the AMS, it can continue printing from another spool of filament with zero intervention.

This is all nifty stuff that helps a beginner tremendously. It is also enough to make a veteran rarely turn on his old printers.

The Sovol SV06 made a ton of sense 12 months ago

When I bought my Sovol SV06, it was such an amazing value! It ticks all the same boxes as the venerable Prusa MK3, but instead of paying $1,111 for a Prusa MK3 or paying $750 for a Prusa MK3 kit and spending a weekend putting it together, you could buy a Sovol SV06 for $260 and be ready to go in 20 minutes.

When you can buy three or four printers for the price of one, it makes it easy to ignore the potential problems with a Sovol SV06. Sovol’s quality control doesn’t seem to be the best, so there was a chance you’d get a dud from the factory, and you would have to wait for Sovol to ship you replacement parts. Not a big deal when you save $500 or more.

Big gridfinity bin on the Sovol SV06

Pushing the limits of the Sovol SV06 extruder a few cubic mm/s too hard resulted in a slightly imperfect but very usable Gridfinity bin

Sovol’s printers are made using the lowest quality parts they can get away with. I don’t mean for this to be a condemnation of Sovol. This was just the reality if you wanted to save $500.

If you got a Sovol SV06 that worked out of the box, you were golden. Once you replaced a bad part or two, you would also be doing well, and you’d probably be printing for years without significant trouble.

You were trading some of your effort to avoid paying Prusa Research an extra $500 for a somewhat comparable printer.

Let’s talk about my Sovol SV06 and my Bambu A1 Mini

So much of what I am writing in this blog is attempting to figure out just what sort of value you are getting for your money. Let’s ignore money for now. Let’s just talk about the two printers I am currently using. For what it is worth, my Prusa MK3S isn’t even plugged in anymore; it is just too slow to bother using!

My Sovol SV06 is bigger and, after a TON of effort, somewhat faster than my Bambu A1 Mini. That effort is definitely a cost. Not technically money, but time is money, so we aren’t going to go into that yet.

My Bambu A1 Mini and Sovol SV06 Being The Best Of Friends

UPDATE: I have since acquired the Bambu A1 nozzle assortment, and I am able to push the Bambu A1 Mini’s extruder to 24 or 25 cubic mm/s, while the Sovol SV06 peters out somewhere around 20 cubic mm/s. My Sovol SV06 is no longer my fastest printer!

My Bambu A1 Mini is obviously smaller, and it is marginally slower, but it is also more reliable, more accurate, and prints cleaner. It also has a handy automatic filament changer that we haven’t even mentioned yet.

I have turned on my Sovol SV06 twice since buying the Bambu A1 Mini. The Sovol has become my ABS printer, and I don’t print ABS all that often.

The price gap has gotten smaller

Paying one quarter the price of one of the best 3D printers on the market was awesome, but Bambu changed the rules. Now you can get an amazing, reliable little 3D printer for $299, and you can super-size it for an extra $100.

Bambu isn’t competing with Sovol. Their pricing makes it obvious that they are competing with Prusa Research. The Bambu A1 Mini with the AMS Lite costs as much as a Prusa Mini+, and the Bambu A1 is a bigger printer than the Prusa MK4 at about half the price of Prusa’s kit. The point here is that Bambu matches or beats the specs of Prusa’s printers.

Thick layer gridfinity

Left: 0.48-mm layers, 0.6-mm nozzle, 22 cubic mm/s Sovol SV06; Center: 0.56-mm layers, 0.8-mm nozzle, 24 cubic mm/s Bambu A1 Mini; Right: Default 0.4-mm nozzle settings Bambu A1 Mini

The Bambu printers don’t line up with anything in Sovol’s or Creality’s lineups. This makes the comparisons more complicated.

The Bambu A1 Mini costs 50% more than a Sovol SV06. That sounds like a lot, but the difference is only $100. For a lot of people, it was worth putting up with a slower, less polished printing experience when the Sovol SV06’s better competition was the $750 Prusa MK3S or the $700 Bambu P1S.

Everything feels different when you only have to pay an extra $100 for a premium experience.

The Bambu AMS Lite is amazing

I am so pleased that I bought the Bambu A1 Mini Combo that included the AMS Lite. It almost seems like a gimmick. The AMS lets you spend five or ten times longer printing the same trinkets, except those trinkets can be printed with four different colors.

I didn’t think I would use it that often, but I figured it would be neat to play with once in a while, and I definitely didn’t think I would really get $170’s worth of value out of it. I am beginning to think it will be worth every penny.

I tend to either be lazy, or I am in a hurry. Most of the time, I will just print using whatever filament happens to be loaded. If I have red PLA loaded, but a part would look better in black, I would probably just use red. It takes five or ten minutes of standing around by the printer to change filament on the Prusa MK3S or Sovol SV06. That is a lot of loafing around, for something that is often of such little consequence.

I always have a handful of colors loaded in the AMS Lite. When I send a job to the printer, I can choose which color I want to use. I don’t have to stand around waiting for the printer to heat up to unload filament. I just pick a color, and it loads it for me.

Not only that, but I can swap any of the other three spools while the Bambu A1 Mini is printing. I can just pull the lever, wind up the filament, and take it off the AMS Lite. Zero waiting.

If I save five minutes every time I need to swap filament, and I would have swapped filament once a week, then that adds up to four hours a year that I am not loafing around waiting for the printer. That alone is awesome!

I have yet to use the AMS Lite for a truly fancy multicolor print, but I have already used it a handful of times to add labels to Gridfinity bins. Changing filament for a handful of layers like that doesn’t add much time to the print, and it really spiffs things up.

I have also used the AMS Lite to print PETG support-interface layers, and that seems to work extremely well. Those have only been test prints so far, so they haven’t added any real value to my workflow. It will be surprising if I don’t run into a print this year where those stupidly easy-to-remove PETG supports won’t save me a ton of time and frustration.

So when in the heck is it worth saving money by buying something like a Sovol SV06 or SV06 Plus?!

This is the question that I have been struggling with. If you are in a position where you just can’t spend the extra $100 to buy a Bambu A1 Mini instead of a Sovol SV06, then there is a very good chance that you are in exactly the position where you can’t afford to roll the dice on a printer from Sovol or Creality.

You are maxing out your budget. You are spending every dollar you feel comfortable spending. You absolutely need your printer to work, and it needs to work well.

Stable Diffusion 3D Printer dude

I replied to a post in r/Sovol this week to try to help someone out with a problem printing silk PLA on their Sovol SV07. They were frustrated. They have been frustrated. They are still frustrated. We were asking for any sort of information that might help us help them out, but they just wouldn’t offer us any useful information. All they would do is gripe, swear, and complain.

I understand. They are at their wit’s end. They spent $300 on what was, at the time, one of the cheapest printers that could print a 20-minute Benchy out of the box.

If the Bambu A1 Mini had been available at the time, they could be printing 18-minute Benchies on a reliable printer.

For everyone fighting their Sovol, there are dozens or maybe hundreds of people just enjoying their Sovol printers. Maybe you will save $100 and be happily printing. Maybe you won’t.

There’s no replacement for displacement

I have disagreed with that statement for a long time. I used to very much enjoy driving a little car with way too much turbocharger, so I know there are replacements for displacement, but I couldn’t help myself. I had to use that heading.

If Bambu’s 256x256x256 build volume isn’t big enough for you, it just doesn’t matter how much it costs. When you need a bigger printer, you just need a bigger printer. The Sovol SV06 Plus has a build volume of 300x300x300, and it costs $150 less than a Bambu A1.

You know the caveats of the Sovol SV06 Plus by now, but if you just can’t print a helmet that fits your big ol’ noggin with a Bambu, then maybe you just need to print that helmet more slowly and more carefully on a Sovol.

Size, if you absolutely can’t live without it, is a good reason to buy a Sovol SV06 Plus.

Conclusion

This is a challenging conclusion to write because I don’t feel like I have come to an exciting conclusion. In fact, it is sort of disappointing. I don’t think anyone should buy a Sovol SV06, SV06 Plus, or SV07 in 2024. Bambu is bringing way too much to the table at a really nice price point now. Why buy a printer based on seven-year-old technology when you can spend just a little more and get a reliable, cutting-edge printer?

I hope Sovol and Creality find a way to compete. They need good, working strain-sensor bed leveling with perfect first layers. They need built-in WiFi connectivity. They need to ship a well-tuned slicer that lets you hit the “upload and print” button and not worry about anything. The bummer is that they also need to do it at a low enough price to choose them instead of Bambu, and that is going to be a tall order.

I believe they can do it. I am confident that it is possible to cut just the right corners to keep the prices low, but it will be tough. I wish Sovol the best of luck! I expect 2024 will be an interesting year for 3D printing!

Choosing an Intel N100 Server to Upgrade My Homelab

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I expected to write this blog AFTER all my virtual machines were migrated to the new hardware, but I am impatient, and I am recording enough interesting data that one big blog post would likely be really, really long.

My current homelab server is using the old AMD FX-8350 hardware from my old workstation. It is power hungry, averaging 70 watts of power consumption, or about 2 kWh per day. When it runs full tilt, it can pull well over 250 watts from the wall. I don’t need more horsepower, but I would like my new homelab server to take up less space and hopefully have more than 32 gigabytes of RAM.

My new Homelab server

This server runs an Octoprint server for my Sovol SV06, a Home Assistant server, a NAS that syncs an extra copy of my data from my off-site Seafile server, the staging and publishing server for our blogs, and a handful of less critical virtual machines.

What kind of mini-pc hardware have I been looking at to replace this old behemoth?

Why are we shopping for a Celeron N100?!

Maybe even more importantly, why do I have a Ryzen 5500U and a Celeron N5095 on my list?!

I feel like the Celeron N100 is right near the sweet spot. On paper, it has that awesome 6-watt TDP. It is noticeably faster than its predecessor, the N5095, and it beats the N5095’s TDP by 4 watts.

The Intel N100 won’t be winning any serious performance competitions, but it packs a ton of performance into an inexpensive and low-power package. I rely quite heavily on Tailscale for connectivity between my servers at different sites, and my N100 box here can very nearly saturate my gigabit Ethernet ports via Tailscale while using around 40% of its CPU capacity, so I expect I will be able to utilize a significant percentage of those 2.5 gigabit Ethernet ports if I ever have to!

The Topton 2-bay R1 Pro NAS

This is an extremely interesting piece of hardware. It has extremely direct overlap with two other mini servers on this list with its Intel N100 CPU and pair of 2.5 gigabit Ethernet ports. Where this machine steers in a different direction is the pair of bays for 3.5” SATA hard drives.

Topton R1 Pro Mini NAS

If your mini server needs to store a lot of data, that is a compelling feature. You could install a cheap pair of 12-terabyte hard disks and put them in a mirror, or you could skip the redundancy and install a pair of 22-terabyte hard disks to have yourself a dense little 44-terabyte monster.

I got to hold one of these in my hands, and it is really nifty! If you want to build a NAS to back up your important data at a friend’s house, this would be a fantastic option. Especially if your friend lives far enough away that rebuilding after a drive failure would be a challenge.

I have been using a 14-TB USB hard disk attached to a Raspberry Pi for my off-site backup at Brian Moses’s house for around three years now, and the bulk data storage on my home NAS virtual machine has been [a 14-TB USB hard disk][en] for the last year.

I have had enough success with external USB hard disks that I am confident about continuing to do it in the future. Being able to install a pair of beefy hard disks is a neat feature, but it is one that I don’t need at this time.

The Beelink SER5 with a Ryzen 5500U

This particular Beelink mini PC has been at the top of my list the entire time I have been contemplating this. It would be a fantastic choice, and at this point in time, it would have been a better choice for my own homelab.

These go on sale for not much more than $200. They have double the single-core performance and nearly twice as much multi-core performance as my FX-8350, and best of all, you can upgrade them to 64 GB of RAM for around $100.

The only bummer to me is that they are a little older now, so they only ship with gigabit Ethernet, while many newer mini PCs ship with 2.5 gigabit ports. This is also one of their advantages, though, because the DDR4 SO-DIMMs are still a good bit cheaper than newer RAM.

The Beelink with the Ryzen 5500U has been at the top of my list just because it can be upgraded to 64 GB of RAM, and it can be upgraded quite inexpensively. I don’t need to double the RAM in my homelab server, but I would like to, even though I am only running at about 50% capacity today.

The Beelink with an Intel Celeron N5095

The Beelink with the Intel N5095 is delightful. It goes on sale all the time, and it was discounted to $125 while I was writing this, and it ships with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB m.2 SSD.

This tiny CPU with a 10-watt TDP still packs a pretty good punch. It has the same single-core performance and 2/3 as much multi-core performance as my old AMD FX-8350, but being such a modern processor, the N5095 can manage to push AES encryption almost twice as fast. For reference here, my 12-year-old FX-8350 build pulls over 200-watts from the wall when it maxes out Tailscale speeds.

Beelink vs. Old PC

Brian’s Beelink N5095 and its USB hard disk vs. my APC 800 and aging FX-8350 homelab server

This Beelink would have been a pretty lateral move, but it would probably save me $60 per year. It would wind up paying for itself in three years even after buying a RAM upgrade, but it wouldn’t be fun or exciting.

My friend Brian Moses has an N5095 Beelink in my server room. It is the NAS he pushes his off-site backups to.

The Beelink with an Intel N100

The Intel N100 family of processors is quite interesting. It can be wired up to use either DDR4 or DDR5 RAM, and you can get a Beelink box with an N100 in both flavors!

The DDR4 version costs less and is limited to gigabit Ethernet. The DDR5 model has two 2.5 gigabit Ethernet ports. DDR4 SO-DIMMs are still a good bit cheaper than DDR5, but DDR4 sticks are only available up to 32 GB, while 48 GB DDR5 SO-DIMMs are available. I don’t believe we have yet verified that any of these N100 mini PCs can actually use a 48 GB SO-DIMM, but finding out for sure is on my list of things to try!

The Celeron N100 is roughly 50% faster than the N5095. When the DDR4 N100 Beelink goes on sale, it is priced competitively in relation to the performance of the N5095 Beelink, and if you have a use for 2.5 gigabit Ethernet, paying a bit more for that is a good value.

The Beelink pricing ladder is quite fair

Especially when you compare the prices when they go on sale, and they go on sale all the time!

I put all of these into a horrible spreadsheet a while back. It is very wide, and you definitely don’t want to see it. The N5095, N100, and 5500U Beelink boxes, along with a few others, all work out to nearly the same value when doing the math. When you compare dollars for benchmark scores or dollars per gigabyte of RAM, they are all nearly identical when you upgrade the RAM to the maximum. The N100 with DDR5 and 2.5 gigabit Ethernet does cost a bit more than the others, but you do get something extra for the money, and I believe a stack of N5095 boxes with 32 GB of RAM becomes a somewhat better value.

Stable Diffusion guy with lots of hard disks

This is neat because you can decide just how simple or complicated you want your homelab to be. You could load all your virtual machines up on a single Ryzen 5500U box with 64 GB of RAM. You could build a little cluster of three Celeron N5095 boxes each with 32 GB of RAM.

You could even mix and match exactly the combination of machines you need and build an interesting homelab cluster than fits in a lunchbox.

Why so many Beelinks on the list?

There are a huge number of companies selling mini PCs. Many seem to be rebranded versions of the same hardware coming out of the same factory. Some have been found to ship sketchy malware along with their Windows installation.

Beelink is the brand we have mostly landed on over in the Butter, What?! community. Several of our friends own and operate Beelink mini PCs in their homelabs.

First-hand experience is my favorite kind of experience, and the experiences of people I trust come in at a close second. Everyone’s success and the reasonable prices of Beelink’s hardware on Amazon have made Beelink our go-to brand.

I want to build my own N100 server!

This has been an option for a little while already, but my friend Brian Moses added the Topton N100 mini-ITX motherboard to his eBay shop this week, so I figured I ought to throw a mention of it in here.

The N100 motherboard is very similar to the N5105/N6005 motherboard Brian used in his 2023 DIY NAS build. The N100 has a lower TDP and somewhere around 40% more performance, which are both nice features. The N100 uses DDR5, which is faster but costs more.

Brian’s Topton N100 motherboard costs more than my entire CWW N100 mini PC, and then you will still have to buy a case and power supply to put that motherboard in. If you need five or six 20-terabyte SATA hard disks, then that would almost definitely be money well spent.

I still prefer the N5105/N6005 motherboard. While it is slower, it is more than fast enough for my own needs, and I can buy a pair of 32-gigabyte DDR4 SO-DIMMs for less than a single 48-gigabyte DDR5 SO-DIMM, and all you can fit in any of the N100 boards is a single SO-DIMM. We don’t even know for sure that the Topton board will work with an SO-DIMM that large.

Disclaimer on my own CWWK N100 mini PC

This is a weird little box, and that is half the reason that I am excited to be trying it out. The other reason is that the box was chosen for me. I got my CWWK N100 mini PC for free.

I didn’t get it from a vendor, or from the manufacturer. I don’t know how much of the story I am allowed to tell in public, but I got it from a friend. There won’t be any loyalty to any company that paid me for my opinion here. The only thing that really happened, other than receiving a fun toy from a friend, is that I got knocked out of my analysis paralysis and had a choice made for me.

The CWWK N100 mini PC 2.5 gigabit router

Did I mention that this is a weird little box? It is bigger and heavier than any of the Beelink mini PCs. The CWWK doesn’t have a fan. Instead, almost the entire enclosure is a big hunk of aluminum heat sink that is bolted directly to the CPU.

The other weird thing about the CWWK mini PC is that it has FIVE NVMe slots! They are only 1x PCIe slots, but that means that each drive can still push around one entire gigabyte per second.

CWWK Topton N100 Router NAS

I don’t have the spare cash or need to fill those slots with NVMe drives, but the former owner of this box told me that his five drives were getting hot enough to throttle themselves down. That looks like an easy problem to solve, but I won’t be tackling it any time soon. This will be a problem for future Pat when NVMe drives get one or two notches bigger and less costly.

The CWWK N100 box doesn’t ship with any RAM or storage, and it is priced higher than an N100 Beelink box, even thought the Beelink ships with an NVMe and RAM. If you need more than a pair of 2.5 gigabit Ethernet ports, maybe the CWWK N100 is worth it for you. If you want a mini PC that runs without a fan, maybe that is worth a bit of extra cash.

I feel that the interesting feature here is the storage. You can squeeze 20 terabytes of NVMe in this sucker. You will have to figure out how to keep those drives cool, and you’ll have to spend at least $1,250 or so on drives, but you can do it.

Some thoughts about those 90C NVMe slots!

In my own box, I wouldn’t have five NVMe drives in there for the performance. I would have them because they are so much more reliable than mechanical disks.

You can use the nvme command on Linux to force most NVMe drives into one of usually several power-saving levels. I don’t have the hardware here to test this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the lower levels would keep temperatures well below the NVMe drive’s warning level.

If that isn’t enough, or if performance of the drives is important, it would be trivial to design a 3D-printed part to bolt on in place of the CWWK’s bottom plate. There is even a 4-pin fan header on the board, so the model could include mounting points for a fan and enough clearance for some airflow.

There is already a bottom extender for a different CWWK server with the same case up on Printables. This is different than what I would have designed, but it sure looks like it would make room to mount a fan to the bottom plate!

I have already been testing the CWWK N100 mini PC!

I loaded Proxmox 8.1 on my mini PC. I installed a test virtual machine. I did some power and thermal testing, though the thermal testing isn’t quite as thorough as it should have been.

My spare Tasmota smart plug tells me that my CWWK box sips between 8 and 9 watts at idle, and it maxes out between 25 and 27 watts with the CPU and NVMe running hard. If I could fill it with NVMe drives, it would definitely go a little higher. This works out to between 0.21 and 0.57 kWh per day.

Proxmox on my CWWK N100 server

I set up a loop to keep four openssl speed benchmarks running. On a desk in my office, the CPU stays up at 2.9 gHz nearly the entire time with a few dips to 2.7 gHz for a few seconds out of every minute. My infrared thermometer saw the top of the heatsink reach 138F. The case is aluminum, so you can still comfortably grab it and pick it up at that temperature.

Then I put it in my literal network cupboard, closed the door, and ran the same benchmark overnight. The heatsink didn’t get that much warmer at 142F, but it was throttling down to 2.5 gHz several times each minute.

This is a literal cupboard. Maybe three feet high, three feet wide, and a foot deep. It has zero air flow, and there are two switches, a router, and a UPS sharing the space. I think it did very well, and I am wouldn’t be surprised if the N100 would still have 90% of its performance at 2.5 gHz.

I didn’t think to log or test any of this. How much performance does that last 400 mHz actually provide? Wouldn’t it have been nice if I graphed the times, temperatures, CPU clock speeds, and openssl speed performance results the entire time? In my defense, I didn’t think it would be this interesting!

What’s next?

First of all, I should say again that I don’t feel the CWWK N100 box was the correct choice for me today. I don’t need 2.5 gigabit Ethernet at all, and I don’t need five NVMe drives. That said, I think it will be a neat box to grow into. It will be a good excuse to buy a pair of 2.5 gigabit switches and run 2.5 gigabit to my office, and I think those NVMe slots will start to be useful within the year, and really start to shine in two or three years.

I think my basic Proxmox install is burned in and working. Now I need to tear down some logical volumes and resize the physical volume so I can encrypt my virtual-machine storage. I also want to mirror that storage volume to my external USB drive with the write-mostly flag. I have never done that, so I want to see how it works out!

What do you think? Am I on the right track? Am I using the correct mini PC for my homelab server? Should I use a different box here at home and send this one away as my off-site Proxmox homelab server? Are you embracing mini PCs for your own home-server needs? Tell me about it in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

Bambu A1 - Can Your 3D Printer Pay For Itself In 2024?

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I promise. I am not trying to be a 3D-printing blog, but I got a new toy, so this is where my thoughts keep landing right now.

First of all, I do not think you should buy a Bambu A1 Mini as some sort of an investment. Any 3D printer is a fun toy and a useful tool. Sometimes I use mine to solve little problems. Sometimes I solve complicated problems. Sometimes I just print fun things.

Bambu A1 Mini using up leftover filament

This is my Bambu A1 Mini and AMS Lite using up some old filament samples and nearly depleted spools of filament to print randomly colored Gridfinity bins.

I have owned several 3D printers over the years, but I have only owned my Bambu A1 Mini for about a month. I thought it might be fun to look back over the things I printed in 2023 to see which things would fit on the A1 Mini’s smaller bed, and see how much value I am getting out of owning a 3D printer.

Maybe you are eyeballing the $299 A1 Mini. Maybe you’re wondering what you might be able to use it for. I am hoping that my last twelve months of 3D printing might help you figure out how much value you might get out of your $299.

I am focusing on the A1 Mini, because that is the model I bought. I feel that all of the printers from Bambu Lab are a good value. Each one brings along upgrades that might be valuable to you, but even the smallest and least costly model is a fantastic machine.

Most of these things weren’t even printed on my Bambu A1 Mini, because the printer wasn’t even available when I printed most of these things. Some of these things were printing on my aging Prusa MK3S, but the majority were printed on my souped-up $169 Sovol SV06.

Between things I have designed myself and things I have downloaded, I have a collection of around 150 models from the last year. Some I have printed many times. Some I didn’t use at all. Others I tried and threw away. I am just going to touch on the most useful or awesome things I printed over the last year.

The Umikot Spirograph Espresso WDT Tool

This print is amazing. There is a $475 espresso distribution tool called the MOONRAKER. It is made of brass and glass, and giving the tool around ten quick rotations will touch every millimeter of your portafilter. It is quite cool!

Umikot 3D printed espresso tool

The Umikot tool works the same way. The heart of the devices is a set of interlocking print-in-place planetary gears. You print the parts, add some accupuncture needles, and you have something that works just like the $475 tool!

I use mine twice every single day. It does a fantastic job, and it has definitely improved the consistency of my espresso shots.

It would be fun if I could tell you that this tool alone will pay for your Bambu A1 printer, but I can’t do that. The Umikot tool may do the job just as well as a MOONRAKER, but a printed part made from fifty cents in filament isn’t truly worth $475. It is worth more than fifty cents, for sure, but I have no idea what value to assign to it!

That said, it is a fantastic tool, and you aren’t getting anything quite like it for less than $100.

No-sew backpack clips, straps, and things

These were a new idea last year, but at the time, I was only 3D printing the test parts. All the real parts I was using were made from carbon fiber plates cut on my Shapeoko CNC. Late this year, though, I have had some ideas that didn’t fit in the limits of two dimensions, so I did some testing to make sure 3D-printed parts would hold a good bit of weight. The prints are stronger than I will ever need!

No-Sew Carabiner Hook on a backpack

No-sew carabiner hook on one of my old backpacks

These no-sew bits and bobs are my newly updates product in my Tindie store, and they are also available for free on Printables. I didn’t think these were going to go anywhere until I discovered 3-mm leather punches. Now I can send you a leather punch with a template, and it is extremely easy to poke holes exactly where you need them in your bookbag.

I have been attaching extra hooks and straps to all my bags just because it is fun, but there are a few places where these have come in extremely handy. I added a strap to my smallest laptop bag so I can carry a bottle of water when I ride my electric unicycle to the park with my laptop on a warm day. I would be carrying a much bigger and heavier backpack without this modification!

Custom speaker mounts for my desk

I put myself into a difficult situation when I rearranged the furniture in my home office. My desk wound up over on the wall with the TV, so it made sense for me to move my monitor a little bit off-center from the corner so that the big TV could be used sort of like a second monitor. This also let me move my podcasting camera a little farther to the right, which was also a nice win!

3D Printed Speaker Stands

Now I didn’t know what to do with my speakers. There is no longer anywhere symmetrical for me to sit them behind or under my monitor. The TV is low enough to be in the way on my right, and I really didn’t want to waste five inches of depth on my desk on the narrowest side of my corner desk. What on Earth could I do about this?

I wound up designing some screw-clamp brackets for the speakers. My first attempt had fancy compound angles, but I needed different angles for each speaker to keep both pointed at my head, and it wound up looking weird with the speakers not being parallel to the surface of the desk.

3D-printed speaker clamp

The speakers are positioned nearly equidistant from each other. The new bracket has a 20-degree angle pointing the speakers up towards my ears, but not so far up that the speaker will prevent the TV from pulling out on its articulated mount. The brackets are clamped to the desk with 3D-printed screws.

The speakers are ever so slightly above the surface of the desk, but more importantly, the backs of the speakers are hanging a little over three inches behind the desk. This is saving me a nice amount of space, especially where the desk isn’t as deep on my right!

These simple speaker mounts have a lot of value to me, and I am extremely pleased with how they worked out. I couldn’t just order something from Amazon that could solve this problem so perfectly for me, but I easily put a dollar figure on these mounts.

I feel like these brackets are the prelude to some custom CNC waveguide speakers, but I am in no rush to start working on that project. These aren’t even the speakers I meant to use on my desk. I had them lying around, and I wondered if they would sound right if I wired them in place of my ancient Altec Lansing speakers. I figured they might be a reasonable set of drivers to transplant into an eventual waveguide speaker set, but who knows what I will really wind up using!

PGYTECH-compatible quick-release plates and adapters

These are some parts that I designed for myself, and they aren’t quite fully baked, so I haven’t uploaded them to Printables. My parts are just functional enough to get the job done. There are similar enough things available, though, so you might be able to find something similar to fit your needs.

I have an awesome PGYTECH MantisPod with its fanstasic quick-release ballhead and quick-release plate. I have real, authentic PGYTECH plates on all my cameras, and real, authentic PGYTECH quick-release adapters on my important tripods and my cameras.

The plates are about $15, and the combos with a plate and an adapter are $40. I don’t need a super secure and extremely sturdy adapter to hold my small lights or a GoPro to a tripod. I figured I could either spend $200 to $300 on real adapters, or I could design something compatible to stick on all my small gizmos. I think you already know what I did.

My adapters are sturdier and more effective than I expected. I don’t think I would want to trust a Sony A7S3 with a big lens hanging upside-down from a tripod on one with dozens of people walking around who might bang into it, but I am using the 3D-printed adapters in my vlogging and top-down recording setups, and they are doing a fantastic job.

The real PGYTECH plates and my own plates are also compatible with fake Arca-Swiss style clamp on two of my older tripods, too, which is nice.

VESA camera mounts

This is probably the single most important 3D-printed doodad I am using around the house, and I think it is genius, even if it isn’t something that most people would need. I have my 34” ultrawide monitor attached to a dual monitor mount, and I have some custom 3D-printed parts that let me mount my Sony ZV-1 in place of the second monitor.

Sony ZV-1 mounted to my VESA monitor arm

The Sony ZV-1 is hooked up like a webcam, so I can use it when recording podcast interviews. I also record on the camera during those interviews so that I have a high-quality copy of the footage.

My monitor mount’s arms are articulated on only one axis, but I can also muscle the VESA bracket to tilt on two axes. This means I can push the camera out of the way to hide it behind my monitor, but when I swing it out to record, I don’t have to worry about getting the camera at the correct height, pitch, or roll angles. I only have to worry about aiming it left and right. Everything else is ready to go.

This takes so much work out of podcasting, and it means I can show up at least 15 minutes later for every interview!

Organizing my small parts with the Gridfinity storage system

Zack Freedman’s open-source Gridfinity system is fantastic. The concept is great, it is open source, and there is a huge community making all sorts of custom bins to fit pretty much anything you can imagine.

I have a few drawers organized with Gridfinity, and I am constantly improving the organization of my electronics workbench.

One of my favorite features of Gridfinity is how it lets me make use of the third dimension. I have a bin in my camera drawer that holds my Sony ZV-1 and its Ulanzi wide-angle lens. That bin sits on top of another bit that holds spare ZV-1 batteries and memory cards. I like that I can keep important things quickly accessible while still keeping their other accessories hiding underneath.

Whenever I need to test a new printer, a new slicer profile, or a fresh spool of filament I will print off a small Gridfinity bin. More bins will eventually come in handy, and I won’t wind up throwing them away like I would a calibration cube or a Benchy.

This is the only project where I printed things that wouldn’t fit on the Bambu A1 Mini, but the parts I really wanted to print also didn’t fit on my Prusa MK3S. I printed several 4x5 Gridfinity base plates that I had to glue together to fill up my workbench. If I didn’t have the Prusa MK3S, I would have just had to print lots of 4x4 Gridfinity base plates and glue those together instead! Not exactly a huge problem.

A GPU anti-sag screw jack, and a CPU cooler adapter

There’s no shortage of fun, cool, and useful parts you can 3D print for your computer. There are adapters to that let you slot 4 3.5” hard disks in three 5.25” drive bays, or fit two 2.5” SSDs in a single 3.5” drive bay.

I used a 3D printed Wraite Spire adapter to upgrade to a 120-mm fan to quiet my CPU cooler a bit. It didn’t get me where I wanted to go after upgrading from a Ryzen 1600 to a Ryzen 5700X, but it did get a little quieter, and the CPU did benchmark higher!

I also printed a screw-jack for my slightly sagging GPU. I can’t even find the one I printed on Printables, but there are a ton of them! Mine is two simple pieces that thread together allowing you to adjust the length, but there are all sorts of whimsical prints to help prevent a sagging GPU. My little Radeon 6700 XT wasn’t sagging all that much, but I own a 3D printer, so it seemed like a problem I should solve.

You shouldn’t buy a 3D printer to solve either of these problems. You can get a screw jack on Amazon for $9.99, and I bought a pretty awesome CPU cooler with a pair of rather quiet 120-mm fans for $20. Even so, those two purchases would be nearly enough to buy three kilograms of filament.

Magnetic curtain holders

I have to say that I am bummed out, because the excellent clips I am using are no longer available on Printables or anywhere else. The ones I am using are sort of like this set of curtain clips, except that the ones I chose are staggered so that the curtains overlap by half an inch to make sure no light peeks through.

Almost the entire length of the wall behind our couch is either window or a glass door. This is trouble, because if the curtains aren’t just right, then there is a sliver of light cast on the TV during the day.

Magnetic curtain doodads

These little clips are fantastic. We just have to pull the curtains close to the correct position, and the magnets pull them right into place. There were three models available for different size magnets, and I stupidly chose the biggest magnets. You really want just enough magnet to hold the curtains shut. I have strong enough magnets that the friction holding the clips on the curtains just isn’t strong enough!

There are 4-packs of similar doodads on Amazon for $12. I am using nine clips. I bet we could have gotten away with six, so it seems safe to say that I saved $24. I did wind up spending half that savings buying a 100-pack of 10-mm magnets, but I have used up more than half of those magnets on another project. There is always a use for more magnets!

Mic adapter for my IKEA Tertial lamp

This isn’t quite a new 3D-printing project, but I did revise my setup this year, so I feel like that counts! I originally uploaded my IKEA Tertial arm lamp C920 webcam mount to Thingiverse in 2015. It has evolved a lot since then, but I am still using parts that I designed in 2015 today.

Deity D4 Mini shotgun mic in a 3D Printed Stand

At some point after 2015, I upgraded the mount to use ball joints. Last year, I added a clip to hold my Deity D4 Mini shotgun mic under the webcam. Not long after, I popped the webcam out, but I still had the mount up there. I also upgraded the ball joints with a couple of CNC-cut carbon-fiber plates, because they can be thinner, and I think they look cooler!

I eventually need to get around to deleting the webcam mount that I no longer use! That would make it look even cooler, right?!

Parametric Shock mount in OpenSCAD

This shock mount was the first thing I designed using the BOSL2 OpenSCAD library

Now that I am down to just a microphone, this is something one could just go out and buy. You can get an Amazon Basics mic arm for $22. You can also get something much nicer like the Elgato Wave Mic Arm for $80.

I was at IKEA one day back in 2015, and I snagged a handful of Tertial lamps for $9.50 each. They are handy lights, they are inexpensive, and I have used two or three as mic or webcam arms.

A small coffee grinder upgrade

I upgraded my espresso setup to a Turin DF64P coffee grinder during the summer. This was a huge upgrade, and I absolutely love this grinder. It has one minor problem that was bugging me: the dial doesn’t give you a good indication of which number it is actually pointing at!

3D printed dial indicator on my Turin DF64P espresso grinder

I need to re-print this on the Bambu A1 Mini. The tiny bump at the tip printed a little fuzzy with the 0.6-mm nozzle on my Sovol SV06, and it is collecting brown coffee bits that won’t brush away!

This isn’t a huge inconvenience. I don’t actually count tick marks when dialing in a shot of espresso. It is a bit of a nuisance when I roast another batch of the same beans a month later and want to start tuning from where I left off. If I write 23 on the bag, it would be nice to be able to get back to 23 next time, right?

Some on Printables designed a tiny indicator arrow that hangs onto the adjustment doohickey. Mine wobbled around a little, so I cut myself a tiny piece of double-sided tape to keep it in place.

This is another model that doesn’t seem to be available on Printables or anywhere else any longer!

Hidden tube lights behind my office TV

This solved another problem I caused by my rearranging of my home office. I used to have a floor lamp a few feet from me, and it was reflecting 2,000 lumens down onto my desk from the ceiling. There isn’t anywhere near my desk now for that lamp, so it is on the opposite side of the room having most of its light absorbed by the dark curtain, and I can’t run my video lights. They are quite bright, but they are also pointed almost directly at my face! I have been in sitting here in the dark for a couple of months.

3D printed mount for three light tubes on a VESA mount

I was shopping around for lighting ideas when I discovered these 3’ 1800-lumen tube lights. I was able to get an 8-pack for $55. That length is just short enough to hide behind my TV, and they come with all sorts of cables and adapters to string lights together in series. You can get them in lengths from 2’ up to 8’. Different brands and models come with different quantities of connectors and switched plugs, so you may have to shop around to be able to meet your needs.

Every one of these style of work light on Amazon claims to be high CRI, but that is definitely not the case. People in my office look a little ill now, because the lights lean towards green and definitely don’t have enough red. The difference is so obvious when I fire up my video lights, but that is fine. I have a bright light from a source that you’ll never see on my video camera, so I am quite pleased.

I designed a simple triangular brackets that bolts onto my TV’s VESA mounts. The brackets each have screw holes to attach the supplied clips for three of the tube lights.

Conclusion

I had an even more exciting year of 3D-printed solutions to problems around the house than I expected, and if you are new to 3D printing I hope you have as much success this year as I had last year. Not every print needs to solve a problem. Not every print needs to provide monetary value.

Even so, it is nice when they do! Being able to repair a broken appliance without waiting a week for parts is nice. Being able to repair something when no one sells replacement parts is even better. My 3D printers have definitely saved the day on more than one occasion.

The Bambu A1 - Do I Regret Buying an A1 Mini a Month Ago?

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No! I do not regret ordering my Bambu A1 Mini combo in November! I have been printing with it almost every day for the last two weeks, and it has been fantastic. I hardly ever print anything that wouldn’t fit on my A1 Mini, and that will continue to be the case.

Using the Bambu AMS Lite to use up three spools of old filament

Using the Bambu A1 Mini AMS Lite to use the remains of three old spools of filament

Is the A1 Mini’s bigger brother worth an extra $100? Of course it is! The bed on the A1 can heat up 20C hotter, and I would love that for small ABS prints. It has twice as much surface area. Even better, you can save some space by mounting the AMS Lite on top of the printer. Any of that is worth an extra $100.

I may not regret my purchase, but I would definitely spend the extra $100 if I were placing my order for a Bambu A1 today.

The A1 Mini only makes sense to me without the AMS Lite

Why am I saying this?!

The full-size A1 is a better printer than the A1 Mini in every way except for its size. If you want a little printer to tuck into the corner of your home office, the A1 Mini is amazing, but once you sit an AMS Lite next to it, the footprint becomes quite large.

If you are willing to mount your AMS Lite on top of your full-size A1, then it takes up less space on the workbench than the A1 Mini with an AMS. It’ll get pretty tall, but most people seem to have empty space above their printers anyway.

Stock textured Bambu A1 Mini PEI sheet vs Cheap PEI surface

The full-size A1 has a smaller footprint, double the print surface, triple the print volume, and a more rigid construction than the A1 Mini. If you’re already willing to spend an extra $160 on the AMS Lite, then stretching your budget another $100 for all these upgrades isn’t a bad idea.

Just about the only reason I can think of to buy the A1 Mini today is to save money. It is an amazing printer for $299, and I think you should buy one. You will get a ton of mileage out of the A1 Mini. It is fast. The prints are high quality. It does a great job holding your hand. It is an amazing first 3D printer.

This isn’t what I was expecting to say today!

I have been watching all the A1 leaks, rumors, and spoilers. I expected that I would want to buy an A1 without the AMS Lite to sit next to my A1 Mini, and I expected I would want to keep the AMS Lite on the smaller printer.

Most things I want to print in multiple colors will be small, and any print that changes filament every layer takes all day. Something that takes 40 minutes to print in a single color can easily take 12 hours if you use all four colors. Why tie up the big printer all day with jobs like that?

Bambu AMS Lite

Tweaking Arachne settings for cleaner small text

But look at how much space it would save putting the AMS Lite on top of the printer! And it has been ABSOLUTELY DELIGHTFUL having the AMS switch filament for me for single-color prints. Want to print in blue so I don’t mix up my black PLA prototypes with black ABS production parts for my Tindie store? No problem! Want to print some PETG? No problem! It is already loaded in slot 4. Want to put some white text on a blue print? Fantastic! Both colors are already loaded.

I am new to having a Bambu AMS. I just learned a few days ago that as soon as the red light shows up on the AMS Lite indicating that it has run out of filament, I can wander over there and load a fresh spool. Once the extruder detects that it is out of filament, it will automatically advance the fresh spool and prime the nozzle. I didn’t even have to wait for it to holler at me!

I kind of want the AMS Lite on the printer I use the most. In fact, I kind of want an AMS on every printer I own.

Is it still worth buying a Sovol SV06 or other budget printer now?

I don’t think I have quite decided how I feel about this just yet. I expect that I will want to write an entire blog post dedicated to these sorts of thoughts, but here’s what I think so far.

The smaller Sovol SV06 is a solid printer for $195, assuming Sovol’s quality control manages to get you a good printer. It seems that they do way more often than not. It is a little bigger at 220x220 mm than the $299 Bambu A1 Mini, but those are the only two measurements where the Sovol comes out ahead. Bambu has excellent quality control, their printers are three or four times faster than the Sovol SV06, and Bambu has all sorts of advanced features that mean you are more likely to succeed.

Bambu A1 Mini AMS Lite Multicolor K2 Filament Clips

K2 Filament Clips

Half of the posts on r/FixMyPrint are from people who can’t figure out how to calibrate their printer’s z-offset. This is something you will have to do with every Sovol printer, but Bambu does it for you. This provides a ton of value, and if you happen to be one of those people that would have been struggling, this is a huge deal.

The exact same logic applies when comparing the Sovol SV06 Plus and the new Bambu A1.

There are only two reasons I can think of to buy a Sovol SV06 or SV06 Plus today: either the Bambu printers just aren’t big enough for the things you need to print, or you can’t afford to pay more for one of the better printers.

The last one makes me nervous. A big part of how companies like Sovol save money is by using less premium components. Their printers sometimes fail early or don’t work. I don’t know how often this is, but I will feel bed if you are pinching pennies to buy your first 3D printer and it doesn’t work at all. This applies to a similar degree to Elegoo, Creality, and everyone else that isn’t Bambu Lab or Prusa Research.

Conclusion

Both the Bambu A1 and A1 Mini are fantastic printers that are priced quite aggressively. At $399, you can buy two Bambu A1 printers that are bigger, faster, and more advanced for the price of a Prusa MK4 kit, and you will have to spend a weekend putting that kit from Prusa Research together yourself. That is an amazing value.

Any of Bambu’s printers would be an amazing first 3D printer or a printer for someone with lots of experience. I love not having to worry about my z-offset or dialing in flow rates for new spools of filament anymore, and those same features would be amazing for someone who has never used a 3D printer before.

Do you agree that both the Bambu A1 and A1 Mini are amazing printers at their price points? Would you want to save $100 if everything you wanted to print would fit on the A1, or would you be tempted to splurge on the bigger Bambu A1? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

Adding Hooks or Straps to Your Backpack Just Got a Whole Lot Easier!

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Last year, I had two problems to solve. I needed to carry one more thing in my smallest laptop bag. I also wind up having two long and narrow strips of carbon fiber plate left over after cutting batches of a product I sell on Tindie, and I am always trying to come up with a good use for that extra material.

I feel like I found a good solution for both problems. I cut two small pieces out of carbon fiber, poked some tiny holes in my laptop bag with a razor, and bolted those pieces of carbon fiber to the laptop bag. Now I can use a Velcro strap to tie my PlayStation 4 controller and a water bottle to my laptop bag!

No-Sew Carabine Hook

I think this is a cool little product, but I have two serious problems with it. I have no idea how to market it. What would you type into Google if you needed to attach something to your bookbag? Even more importantly, how would you even know that this is an option?

The other major problem is that poking the holes in the bag was a fiddly process. People won’t have the right tools, and the tools I was using myself weren’t even the right tools. This is the problem I solved this week!

Before I forget!

This will all be open-source. The STL files no-sew doodads are on Printables. The OpenSCAD source will be on GitLab and Printables. I will also stock the non-printable pieces separately in my Tindie store just in case you want to print your own, but you don’t want to source bits and pieces of hardware from all over Amazon or Aliexpress.

The OpenSCAD source has gotten ugly. My intention is always to make a clean, parametric design. Then I start using magic numbers. Then I copy and paste modules so I can work on two different ideas at the same time. Then stuff gets left over, and stuff gets ugly.

The source will get out there, but cleaning it up is pretty low on my list. I need to get this listed on Tindie. I need to get the STL files exported and uploaded to Printables. I really, really need a video to embed in this blog to show you exactly how well this all works.

All of these things should be happening at the same time, but I can’t do everything at once. I will get there soon.

I designed an alignment tool for a leather punch!

I figured there must be some sort of punch tool that would work on thick fabric. Where I wound up here is definitely not quite where I expected to be.

I was betting there would be a tiny punch that I could embed in a 3D-printed part. I hoped I could embed two of them at the correct spacing. I was picturing a tool that you could insert the fabric into and squeeze like a red Swingline stapler.

No-Sew Punch Tool

What I found were three-inch leather punches. I couldn’t put those inside a small tool. They are also rather dull. I don’t think you can punch through fabric unless you tap the punch pretty solidly with a hammer. Even if you could, my original idea was terrible, because you might want to poke your holes miles away from the edge of the bag.

What I settled on is a two-piece alignment tool with two holes spaced to match all the accessories. You put one half of the tool inside your bookbag, then connect the other half of the tool outside the bag. They stick together, because they have a pair of strong magnets!

Then you just put the leather punch in each hole and give it a little tap with a hammer. You have to use a bit of authority when hammering, but not nearly as hard as you would when driving in a nail. It only takes a few seconds to punch two holes in exactly the right spots to bolt on one of my hooks or straps.

NOTE: I had one bag that really didn’t want to punch! I had to give it quite a hit with the hammer! My testing sample size is still pretty small here.

No more carbon-fiber parts

At least for now. I did some testing with a chain of various 3D-printed parts. I tied my 42-pound electric unicycle to a 3D-printed camera plate, and that camera plate was bolted to an old backpack using a 3D-printed piece with heat-set inserts. I was able to lift the 42 pounds without anything showing any signs of wear, though I was really worried that my terrifying set of zip ties and carabiners would slip off the tripod screw!

No-Sew Camera Mount

I am not saying that you should hang 42 pounds off your backpack, but I do feel very confident in the strength of the 3D-printed parts.

More importantly, the 3D-printed parts do a good job keeping any steel screws from scratching anything inside your bookbag. The old carbon-fiber pieces left exposed nuts and bolts, while the 3D prints cover those up for you.

I used to joke and say that the carbon fiber could probably hold my weight, and that the bookbag fabric would break first. I suspect I was more correct than I thought. It might be fun to rig up a real test someday!

3D-printing opens up so many possibilities

The carbon-fiber parts could only take advantage of two dimensions. I couldn’t do much besides letting you strap a water bottle, a game controller, or a baseball bat to your bag. That’s pretty handy, and it is cool having it made out of such a sturdy and exotic material, but that was nearly as far as the idea would ever go.

I almost immediately printed some hooks to match the carbon-fiber plates. I use an old headphone case to hold all the parts of my Raspberry Pi KVM kit. Adding the hook to that case meant that I could clip the kit to my small laptop bag with a carabiner. I don’t need to take it with me often, but it is nice to know that I don’t need to pack a bigger bag when I do need it.

No-Sew Carabiner Hook

This week, I have been contemplating ways to quickly stow a DJI Pocket 3 while riding my electric unicycle. I am not allowed to buy a Pocket 3 unless I can find some good uses for my Osmo Pocket 1, so I figured I better put some thought into this.

My favorite solution so far involves printing a PGYTECH-compatible quick-release plate for my Osmo Pocket 1. I have 3D-printed receivers that are compatible with these plates, but they don’t lock nearly well enough for me to trust them in motion, so I designed a no-sew camera adapter.

I can bolt the no-sew adapter to my backpack strap. Then I can attach a real PGYTECH quick-release doodad to my backpack, and I can quickly and easily clip my Osmo Pocket to my backpack. How cool is that?

I figure that if the no-sew camera adapter can lift my 42-pound unicycle, then it should be safe to attach any of my cameras to it.

There are so many possibilities

I am doing my best not to go too bananas. I just want to get some simple parts into the collection that work well together. I accidentally went down the wrong, more complicated path when first attempting to design the camera bracket.

I knew that having the tripod screw between the bracket and your bookbag would be problematic because you would never be able to tighten the camera in place without removing the bracket from your bag. I wound up designing and abandoning a fairly convoluted dovetail system to get around this problem before realizing that fabric is flexible, so I just had to make sure the camera bracket was wide enough to allow you to fold it out of the way to get to the screw. This simple solution is so much better.

No-Sew Carabiner Strap on my Electric Unicycle Bag

The dovetail that I designed was convoluted because it needed extra screw holes to make sure it never accidentally let go of your $2,000 camera. It was thick, and the need for the extra screw made it cumbersome to install or remove.

I think I could simplify things for situations where you aren’t carrying something expensive. Maybe we can design some sort of quick-release mechanism using magnets for quickly stowing an inexpensive water bottle or something as light as a PlayStation controller.

What exactly is in the Tindie store?

I have been running off most of the test parts in PLA on my Bambu A1 Mini because I am lazy, and I always have PLA loaded up and ready to go. The parts on Tindie are all ABS plastic printed on [my Sovol SV06][sv06is2].

Why ABS? PLA is definitely strong enough, and if you print your own, I wouldn’t be afraid to use it. The trouble is that PLA can get soft if you leave it in direct sunlight in your car here in Texas. I don’t want parts breaking on anyone just because they left their bookbag in the car, and ABS doesn’t have this problem.

If you want to 3D-print your own, I have a bundle with the punch tool, magnets, and rubber bumpers. If you can’t or don’t wish to print your own, that is fine. I am stocking all the various parts.

I don’t want to give you my money, Pat! It is MY money! I want to print my own doohickeys!

This is fine! It is better than fine! I don’t want to take your money. I will be just as excited if you print your own no-sew accessories. I think I have made a neat thing. I find it useful. I think a lot of people could get some use out of them. I will be excited to see other people using them!

You can even source your own magnets and punch tools. You don’t have to buy them from me. In fact, you can even skip these things. They aren’t necessary to make the system work, but they do make things much easier and cleaner!

What’s next?

I have some other ideas since installing the first no-sew carbon-fiber doodad last summer. I haven’t fleshed those ideas out, and I haven’t put any design work into them. I felt like this idea was pretty much dead because cutting the holes was a pain in the butt. The template and punch tool have corrected that problem! I wouldn’t be surprised if I could install a hook on a backpack in the same amount of time it takes you to thread a needle.

I have some half-baked parts that attach to the bag using dovetails. I almost used them for the camera mount, but I realized that it wasn’t necessary. Even so, I think the dovetails are a neat idea, and I have some other uses where they might work well. I hope!

What do you think? Do you need to add a heavy-duty attachment to your backpack, but you don’t know how to sew? Maybe you just don’t know how to sew well enough to hold 42 pounds securely. Do you just need to hang one more water bottle on your bag? Is this a good idea? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

My Bambu A1 Mini - My First Six Hours of 3D Printing

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Earlier this month, I wrote about ordering myself a Bambu A1 Mini 3D Printer. I could rehash all the reasons why I chose to add an A1 Mini to my collections instead of a Bambu P1S, or why I think the A1 Mini is a good size, but I feel like we will indirectly cover that sort of stuff while we talk about how fantastic the printer has been so far. Let’s summarize some of what I have already learned.

My Bambu A1 Mini with Little Trudy Judy

The Bambu A1 Mini is a little slower than my souped-up Sovol SV06; sometimes by a big margin, but usually only by a little. The Bambu dials in a perfect first layer and flow rate every time, so the prints all come out cleaner than my Sovol.

I can’t decide whether I am disappointed or relieved that the A1 Mini didn’t immediately make my Sovol SV06 obsolete. Maybe we will figure that out together!

The A1 Mini is tiny. I wasn’t sure if the A1 Mini sitting next to the AMS Lite seemed to take up more space or less space than I expected, so I got out the tape measure. The combo is about 23” wide and 17” deep. I think that is interesting, because that is precisely the footprint my Sovol SV06 requires, except the Sovol is 17” wide and 23” deep!

My first Benchy

The A1 Mini ships with a sliced SpeedBoatRace Benchy already on the printer. I didn’t print that. That file is specially tweaked to print super fast. I wanted a realistic test, so I sliced my own Benchy with the 0.16-mm profile. It took a little over 40 minutes to print, so my Sovol SV06’s 21-minute Benchy printed in half the time. I even used the same filament just to be fair.

My first Benchy on the Bambu A1 Mini

These Benchy’s are apples and oranges. My Sovol SV06’s Benchy breaks the SpeedBoatRace rules by using 0.24-mm layers, and those thick layers are noticeable in the final product. Bambu definitely dials in the first layer better than I ever did on the Sovol, and almost every fine detail of the Benchy came out better on the A1 Mini.

The hull came out cleaner on the Sovol, but to be completely fair here, the clean Benchy on my Sovol had a huge external fan blowing across the printer.

Testing PETG support interface with the AMS Lite

I expect having the option to print in four colors will be fun, but that isn’t the reason why I was excited about buying the A1 Mini Combo. I keep hearing and seeing that PETG supports don’t stick well to PLA, so you can pop the supports right off! And you only have to print the interface layers in PETG, so the printer doesn’t have to change filament for every single layer of the support structure. Isn’t that neat?!

I didn’t have a handy part to test. I wound up printing one of the camera adapter plates for my no-sew backpack hooks. The part is designed to print without supports, so I just flipped it so the wrong side was up, and I made some tweaks to the slicer settings to use PETG for the supports.

Testing PETG supports on a PLA print with the Bambu A1 Mini

NOTE: Believe it or not, that is the smoothest surface of the print as far as my finger can tell! If I used black PLA with black PETG, I don’t think we’d ever know there was support material in that hole!

I was surprised how many clicks it took to set this up well in OrcaSlicer. I had to pick the material, change the number of interface layers, change the interface layer distance to zero, and increase the density of the interface layer. I kind of expected there to be a single button to hit to make all this happen!

I wanted to make sure it would be easy to see what was going on, so I used white PLA for the part and black PETG for the supports. This was probably the worse possible combination, because you can see lots of leftover bits of black PETG on my PLA part.

The supports didn’t completely pull away quite as cleanly as I was led to believe, but most of it did pop out easily and cleanly. I just had to clean up one extra layer of PETG.

Even though the layer looks behind rough due to the black bits, the bottom of the supported part of the print feels smoother than the top of the print. It is quite impressive!

I suspect that I could have gotten an easier separation here if I changed the pattern of the interface layer. I am sure I will be experimenting with this more in the future.

I had to try printing ABS

And it worked really well! OrcaSlicer was being a pain about letting me add an ABS filament profile, so I just copied a PETG profile and adjusted the temperature a bit.

I don’t print large parts using ABS. I print small structural parts, and they are usually parts that I need to survive in the sun here in Texas. Small parts print perfectly well on my Prusa MK3S and my Sovol SV06, but I was worried that the Bambu A1 Mini’s bed-temperature limit of 80C would be too low.

ABS test on the Bambu A1 Mini

Left to right: ABS on my A1 Mini, ABS on my Sovol SV06, PETG on my A1 Mini.

I printed a set of my no-sew backpack pieces. I kept an eye on things just in case something came loose from the bed during the print, but I learned afterwards that if anything, the ABS adhered too well to the textured PEI sheet.

I don’t expect to have any problems printing batches of these parts on the A1 Mini.

UPDATE: My test prints with ABS were with three or four small parts. My next print had about twice as may parts, and one of them had about three times the footprint of the others. The big part came loose on me during the print. Your mileage may vary if you try to print ABS, because so far, my own mileage is definitely varying!

Is that 180x180 bed too small?!

I had a slightly worrisome moment while unboxing the new printer. The textured PEI sheet is right on top of everything along with the quick-start guide. I was out in our cavernous living room when I was unpacking everything, and I have to say that the print surface looked absolutely minuscule out there!

Once I got it into my office, though, it looked like a much more reasonable size. Yes. It is much smaller than the Prusa MK3 or the Sovol SV06, but the Bambu A1 Mini has quite a reasonable print volume.

Bambu A1 Mini bed vs Prusa MK3S

If you want to be able to print a Scout Trooper helmet, then the A1 Mini isn’t the right printer for you. For that matter, neither are the Prusa MK3S, Prusa MK4, or the Sovol SV06. You need something at least as big as the Bambu P1S or the Sovol SV06 Plus!

This tiny printer will be fine for nearly everything I print. You can tell by the wear on the grid printed on my Sovol SV06 that I mostly only use a 2” square in the center of the bed.

I mostly send one or two small parts to the printer for testing, and they rarely take more than 20 minutes to print. Then I check that the parts will fit, make any necessary tweaks, and send another small 20-minute job to the printer. Then I repeat that until I get it right.

If you work like I do, you will be fine.

Should you buy a Sovol SV06 or Bambu A1 Mini?!

An answer to this question will need to be a whole blog post on its own, but I had some good thoughts long before the printer arrived, and most of them have already been confirmed in the first day of ownership. It seems worth writing a few paragraphs here.

These printers are not directly comparable. The small, fast, much more user-friendly machine costs $100 more, and Bambu has much better quality control than Sovol. The bigger, still capable machine costs $100 less, but Sovol has pretty poor customer service.

The Sovol SV06 is $195 now. The design and technology is very comparable to the Prusa MK3S, and that design is a proven workhorse. If you get a good machine from Sovol, it ought to be a tank, and you’ll have no trouble finding parts to repair it. The bummer is that this is outdated tech that was extremely exciting in 2016.

The Bambu A1 Mini is modern and friendly, but it costs $299. You don’t have to learn how to calibrate your own z-offset. You don’t have to learn to dial in your flow rate for your filament. These are the two most common problems over on /r/FixMyPrint, and Bambu does it for you. You also get a camera, WiFi printing, and remote print monitoring.

You are paying an extra $104 to save yourself hours of potential aggravation, to receive a more modern and higher quality product, and for a much faster printer that you can send prints to from your phone or computer. The Bambu may be smaller, but you get a lot for the extra money.

If you want to try 3D printing for the first time, I feel like the Bambu A1 Mini is one of the best options.

But you said your Sovol SV06 is faster than your Bambu A1 Mini!

So far, this does seem to be true. The trouble is that I put in a lot of work to get it to that point.

If I paid myself minimum wage, I don’t believe it would have cost me the entire $104 to get the Sovol to where it is today, but I’ve been upgrading and configuring Marlin on 3D printers for eight years. I suspect it will take you longer, and I hope both of us value our time more than that.

Benchy on my Bambu A1 Mini

If you think it will be fun, then by all means, grab a Sovol SV06 or SV06 Plus and have fun! Just remember, the performance isn’t the only difference.

What’s next?

I need to do a legit and ridiculous multicolor print. I poked through my filament collection, and I decided to paint agepbiz’s awesome print-in-place F14 to look like Skywarp from The Transformers. I have black for the body, purple silk for some highlights, gray for the scoops, and coextrusion gold and silver to use for the canopy. I think it’ll be fun, but it will be a 12-hour print and take 20 times more filament than just printing a single-color jet, so I am going to put that off for at least a few days!

Articulated F-14 painted like Skywarp from The Transformers

I want to see how well the A1 Mini switches to the next spool when a spool runs dry. I have quite a few nearly depleted spools. I figure I can drop a whole mess of Gridfinity bins on the plate to eat through those leftovers to see how well it does!

Other than that, it will mostly just be printing as usual. Except on a different printer!

What do you think? Is the Bambu A1 Mini at $299 cheap enough to be an impulse purchase? Is it worth paying the extra $100 and compromising on size for the modern conveniences and high speeds out of the box? Do you think I am correct when I say that everyone should have Bambu’s first-layer compensation and flow rate tuning on their first printer, or do you think new people should struggle to figure out how to set a z-offset? Let me know what you think in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

I Bought a Bambu A1 Mini Even Though I Know What I Am Doing

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Writing these sorts of blogs is starting to feel like a tradition, and it would feel weird not to do it. I buy a thing. I don’t know what I am getting myself into. I write about what I am expecting and hoping for. I did this when I bought my first wooden 3D printer. I did it again when I bought a Shapeoko CNC router. I did it when I bought an electric unicycle. I did it again when I bought a LumenPNP pick and place machine.

Stable Diffusion 3D printing guy

The Bambu A1 Mini is different. It isn’t my first, second, or third 3D printer. I also can’t decide if I chose the A1 Mini because I know what I am doing, or in spite of the fact that I know what I am doing. That is assuming I really do know what I am doing!

At this point, I have only placed my order for a Bambu A1 Mini. It says my printer is supposed to ship before December 8. That is just over a month from now.

The Bambu A1 Mini should be an amazing printer for beginners!

It wasn’t that many months ago where a beginner had to either pick a good printer than would do most of the calibration work for them, like a Bambu X1C for $1,200, or a decent but inexpensive printer with a bit of a learning curve, like the Sovol SV06 for $250.

It is true that Bambu won’t yet sell you the A1 Mini without the AMS filament changer unit, but Bambu says that when they do, the A1 Mini will be priced at $299. That gets you all of the awesome hand-holding of the Bambu X1C for only a little more cash out of your pocket compared to the Sovol SV06.

NOTE: I am aware that this is a Sovol SV06 Benchy video and not a Bambu A1 Mini. I don’t yet have an A1 Mini to record a video.

It may not be obvious to you if you have never owned a 3D printer, but r/fixmyprint and r/Sovol over on Reddit are both overflowing with new users who don’t know how to correctly dial in their first layer. A significant portion of those posts explain how frustrated they have been spending hours trying to figure things out without success.

In my opinion, almost the entire price of the Bambu A1 Mini is worth it for a new user not having to spend the time learning how to calibrate your z-offset.

I stand behind everything I have ever written about the printers from Sovol. They were an amazing deal, and if you need a larger printer, they are still a good value. Bambu has really shaken things up six months after I picked up my refurbished Sovol SV06 for $159.

Let’s move on to talking about me. I know how to calibrate my z-offset. I had my Sovol SV06 printing a nice first layer in less than 15 minutes. I have done this hundreds of times. Once you get that first layer dialed in, you may not have to touch it again for months.

Every now and then, though, my first layer on the Sovol SV06 or Prusa MK3S will be a little extra squished if I run two prints back-to-back. Things expand and contract as the temperatures change, and the longer the bed is heated, the more parts in the bed take on that additional temperature. The Bambu A1 Mini’s perfect first-layer calibration will mean this won’t happen to me ever again. Any small improvement in the reliability of print jobs will encourage me to waste less time keeping an eye on the printer, and I consider my time to be valuable. You should value your time as well!

Bender MINI 13 on the Sovol SV06

I bought the Sovol SV06 because friends were asking me which 3D printer to buy, and the Sovol SV06 seemed like the printer to recommend. I didn’t feel great having to explain that it looks like an amazing printer, but I haven’t used it myself, so I have to make the recommendation based on what I have heard from others.

The same is true of the Bambu A1 Mini. It is so obviously the 3D printer for people new to the hobby, but I haven’t used one, and I don’t own one. I feel like I need to correct that problem.

Why did I buy such a small printer?!

Some people buy a Bambu X1C, open the box, and immediately print a Mandalorian helmet to stick on their own head. If that is you, then maybe the A1 Mini is the wrong printer for you.

The vast majority of the parts I print are much smaller than my hand. I could count on one hand the number of things I couldn’t print because they wouldn’t fit on my Prusa MK3S. I am sure that number would be even larger with the 180-mm bed of the A1 Mini, but it still wouldn’t be all that large!

I am much more excited about iterating on my own designs quickly. So many things that I print on my Sovol SV06 are finished 10 to 20 minutes after hitting the upload and print button in PrusaSlicer. It helps that I have set up Marlin’s input shaper on the Sovol and upgraded to a 0.6-mm nozzle.

Bambu A1 Mini build plate with a Gridfinity Pliers holder bin

The Bambu A1 Mini is large enough to print the biggest Gridfinity bin I have ever printed. There is enough room for a 4x4 bin or grid.

My SV06 is about three times faster than my Prusa MK3S. That means I can print three or four iterations on my hot-rodded Sovol SV06 in an hour to test fit a part, whereas it would take all afternoon to do the same on the Prusa MK3S.

The Bambu A1 Mini may be up to twice as fast right out of the box as my Sovol SV06, and I have put a lot of hours and work into dialing up the speed on the Sovol. Being able to iterate on a part five or six times in a single hour is going to be fantastic!

NOTE: I imported my Sovol SV06 input-shaping profile into Orcaslicer. I figured it would be easier in the long run to use one slicer for both printers, and Orcaslicer supports the Bambu A1 Mini. My aggressively tuned SV06 with its 0.6-mm nozzle printed my Orcaslicer test part in 8:46. The fastest profile for the A1 Mini with its 0.4-mm nozzle estimated just over 13 minutes for the same part.

I am also excited about the multicolor AMS unit

The AMS module for the A1 Mini is interesting. It looks fairly small. I have been guessing that it looks to be about three spools of filament wide, and maybe about two spools deep. That’s pretty compact, especially compared to the huge AMS for the Bambu P1S and X1C.

The trouble is that the new AMS won’t just stack on top of your brick of a printer. My setup with the A1 Mini won’t be as tall as a Bambu X1C combo, and it will probably take up less depth on the shelf, but I expect my setup will be wider than a Bambu X1C. I will understand this better when I see it in person.

Printing multiple colors will be a neat trick. I am sure I will print some fun toys and trinkets in four colors, but that isn’t what I am excited about.

I am excited about printing support material interface layers for PLA prints using PETG. You can dial down the separation between supports and the print so that they are touching, and the PETG won’t stick well to the PLA, so you can just pop it right off. From what I have seen, the supported underside of those PLA prints is almost as clean as if they were printed right on the bed. How awesome is that?!

I am excited about trying ABS prints on the Bambu A1 Mini!

I don’t print all that much using ABS filament. ABS is one of the more durable filaments, doesn’t require extreme temperatures to print, and it doesn’t wreck brass nozzles. It is also one of the few filaments that will survive when sitting on the sunny dashboard of my car here in Texas.

Bookbag hooks on the Sovol SV06 in PETG

NOTE: I usually print these in ABS, but I bought my first spool of PETG, and I figured they would be a good test print. I just picked a PETG filament profile, made sure the flow rate limit was up around 20 cubic mm/s, and hit the yolo button at 28-minute Benchy speeds on the Sovol SV06. I thought they came out all right for zero tuning for PETG!

ABS filament isn’t supported on the A1 Mini, but I want to try it anyway. The A1 Mini’s bed can reach 80C, and I used to print ABS on my original printer at 90C, so maybe I can get away with that. Most of the parts that I print in ABS are rather small, so I am expecting it will work out all right.

The A1 Mini’s hot end can reach 300C. That is way more than you need for ABS. That is hot enough to print nylon.

Why not the Bambu P1S with an AMS?

The short answer is some combination of timing, cost, print volume, and the fact that I just can’t buy every 3D printer I would like to own. The P1S combo for $940 was released several months after I bought the Sovol SV06. I also have friends running Bambu P1P and Bambu X1C printers. I have watched them print. I have no worries about recommending these printers to people.

Stable Diffusion 3D Printer Guy

I can’t find any actual timing numbers, but everyone seems to be saying that the new AMS Lite can change filament significantly faster than the original Bambu AMS. If you are printing with all four colors, this can be a HUGE deal. It takes the original AMS more than 30 seconds to swap filament.

If you run a print job that has to change colors four times for every layer, and that print is 200 layers tall, then the original AMS would spend more than 6 hours on just filament changes. Trimming just ten seconds off each filament change would shave two hours off the print time.

I like the idea of spending half as much for faster multicolor prints.

Conclusion

I could write so much more. I am way too excited about my Bambu A1 Mini order, and I can hardly wait for it to ship. I figure I should probably stop speculating on my future here, because I don’t have any data or photos to back myself up, right?!

This isn’t really a conclusion. I haven’t even started yet. My Bambu A1 Mini won’t even ship for another four weeks. This isn’t the blog about how awesome the A1 Mini 3D printer is or isn’t. This is the blog about why I made this choice, and what I expect to come of it.

What do you think? Will I keep using my Sovol SV06, since it might be 10% faster than the Bambu A1 Mini? Or will I only fire it up to print things that don’t fit on the A1 Mini, since the first layer of the Bambu ought to be more reliable? Are you upgrading from a Sovol SV06 or Prusa MK3 to a smaller Bambu A1 Mini like me, or have you already done so? Are you happy with your A1 Mini? Or should I have paid more for a P1S? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

Marlin Input Shaping on the Sovol SV06: Three Months Later

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NOTE: In my attempt to call attention to the problems, all photographs are lit and angled in a way that most highlight any printing imperfections. Just about everything pictured here looks better in person than zoomed in and lit so directly across the layer lines!

I have some complaints. I have run into some disappointments. Even so, I have gotten way more than my money’s worth of an upgrade out of this free firmware upgrade for my Sovol SV06. Let’s start with the good stuff.

If you already have practice flashing Marlin on a 3D printer, then setting up input shaping on your Sovol SV06 will be a piece of cake. The benefits of enabling input shaping are absolutely worth the effort. You can just turn on input shaping, skip the step where you tune the input shaping, dial up your speed and acceleration settings in PrusaSlicer, and you will have no trouble printing a Benchy in under 30 minutes.

Cable clips

NOTE: These parts were printed with no slowdowns for overhangs and no minimum layer time. The only difference is whether or not that 45-degree overhang was facing the coolest side of the part-cooling duct or the warmest. The part’s default orientation faces it in the worst direction.

At least, it was easy for me to print a Benchy that with a 0.6 mm nozzle. We will touch on that more later.

I can’t upgrade my Prusa MK3S, so I have almost completely stopped using it. My Prusa has printed exactly two parts for me since cranking up the speeds on my Sovol. One time it happened to have the correct color already loaded. The other time I had forgotten to load one part of a project onto the Sovol’s build plate, and it was already printing, so I ran off the missing part in parallel on the Prusa.

I want to stop tinkering, but I can’t!

I keep thinking that I have dialed in my speeds pretty well, but I am constantly finding edge cases where I run into my machine’s limits.

I can print a nice 21-minute Benchy from the SD card, but Octoprint can’t keep up with the curved hull at that speed, so I dial that back to around 24 minutes. This week I noticed that my cooling is significantly worse on the front, but especially to the left of the front, and I can’t print a clean 20-mm cube. I set the minimum layer time to 3 seconds, and I now have a nearly perfect cube, and that also cleaned up a lot of other small problems with other prints.

I don’t really want to have to think about this stuff. I am excited that I was able to hit a reasonably fast speed with my Sovol SV06, but I would like to be able to just hit print and not worry about it. Bambu has already run into the problem I had, and they have tuned their printer hardware and slicer profiles to avoid these sorts of issues. My free upgrade has cost me a lot of time.

It has mostly been fun, though, and being able to say that my $169 printer can crank out a Benchy in 21 minutes is neat!

Balancing cooling, the 0.6 mm nozzle, and Octoprint

I have been on the right track this entire time, but I didn’t quite make it to the destination I was expecting.

The faster you lay down plastic, the more cooling you need. To put down more plastic, you have to send more g-code to Marlin in a shorter amount of time. Octoprint can only send g-code to Marlin at 115,200 baud. I could try rebuilding the firmware to allow for 250,000 or 500,000 baud, but that is more effort than I want to invest. Especially knowing that it might not work well at all!

Moving up to a 0.6-mm CHT-style nozzle means you can extrude roughly twice as much plastic for every line of g-code. That helps avoid the communication speed issue with Marlin, and that is awesome.

Stable Diffusion 3D printer guy

What I didn’t realize is just how much more difficult it is to cool that thick line of filament. PrusaSlicer’s default 0.15-mm profile for a 0.4-mm nozzle has an extrusion width of about 0.45 mm, while my own 0.24-mm profile has an extrusion width of 0.7 mm.

I am extruding nearly three times more plastic. This is like spaghetti compared to linguine. How much harder is it to cool the center of that 220-degree linguine? It is a lot harder!

I was correct up to a point. I don’t have to push the speeds an acceleration nearly as high with a 0.6-mm nozzle to print as fast as the hot end can melt the plastic, and sending half as much g-code does indeed help Octoprint keep up. What I didn’t anticipate was just how much more difficult it is to cool the parts!

I paid $4 for a better part-cooling duct

I think it was a good deal! At first, I was on a mission to quiet some of the ridiculously loud fans on my Sovol SV06. Bigger fans are quieter, so I upgraded the part-cooling fan from a 4010 to a 5015, and I printed one of the popular ducts from Printables.

Minimum Layer Time

NOTE: The $4 fan duct doesn’t cool nearly as well towards the front left for me, but it definitely feels like it moves a lot more air than the free ducts on Printables. I had to add a 2-second minimum layer time to clean up that corner on my test cubes.

That was fine. I was able to run the part-cooling fan at about 30% instead of 100%, and it was a lot quieter. Then I started printing fast, and running the 5015 fan at 100% wasn’t cutting it. I almost printed one of the dual-5015 fan ducts, but Reddit suggested that the $4 from Cults3D was much better, since it was designed using air flow analysis software.

I assume they are correct, because this sucker feels like it moves a lot of air.

I stopped optimizing for the Benchy, and so should you!

Printing a single small object is challenging. You need quite a bit of cooling to quickly print that narrow little smoke stack on top of the Benchy. Most prints aren’t as demanding.

In the olden times when most of us were still using wood-framed 3D printers, we had a pretty standard piece of advice that we would give out when a small part was printing poorly; print two of them instead! If you smoke stack doesn’t have enough time to solidify between layers, giving it more time to cool by printing a neighboring smoke stack will probably help a lot.

We aren’t always speed-boat racing. We are trying to print the parts that we need to print. You don’t literally need to print two identical parts, either. You can always add another thing that you need to the build plate. My go-to objects are Gridfinity bins.

What have I done to balance these forces? Should I clean up my PrusaSlicer config so I can share it?

While breaking the rules of the speed-boat race, I think I have managed to dial in a reasonably clean Benchy in around 28 minutes. I don’t need an external part-cooling fan for this like I would to get under 20 minutes. Most of the overhangs print well. This Benchy is definitely not pristine, but I feel that the quality is better than just acceptable.

There is one part of the Benchy that prints poorly because Octoprint can’t feed gcode fast enough at 115,200 baud. Everywhere that the hull extends high in the front of the boat has weird artifacts. These artifacts vanish when printing from the SD card.

Benchy with Marlin Input Shaping on the Sovol SV06

NOTE: You can see the difference in the hull between my 24-minute and 28-minute Benchy via Octoprint. The rough back corner is facing the problematic corner of my cooling setup!

The lower parts of the hull print well, because those long straight lines that wrap the hull around the back of the ship only take a few lines of gcode to print several inches of filament. That leaves room in the serial port’s buffer for the more complicated shape up front.

I improved this issue by lowering the G-code resolution from 0.0125 mm to 0.05 mm. That decreased the size of my gcode file for the Benchy from 3.2 megabytes to 2.3 megabytes. This didn’t completely eliminate the problem, but it helped tremendously!

What about speed, acceleration, and flow rate limits?

I should start by saying that I kept the first layer speed extremely conservative. I don’t need high speeds keeping a part from sticking to the textured PEI sheet. I did widen the extrusion width for the first layer from the default of 0.65 mm to 0.9 mm. That speeds things up by nearly 50%, and the wider extrusion helps with adhesion if the z-offset is a hair to high.

I am currently running 5,000 mm/s2 acceleration for pretty much everything. I have infill set to 190 mm/s, perimeters set to 170 mm/s, and external perimeters set to 140 mm/s. Nothing seems to go past 160 mm/s with my usual 0.24 mm layer height, because I have flow rate restricted to 21 cubic mm/s.

How did I settle on 21 cubic mm/s? Thin walls had crummy layer adhesion with a 0.48 mm layer height at anything over 22 cubic mm/2 with my knock-off 0.6 mm CHT nozzle, so I scaled it back by one extra just to be safe.

Larger parts spend most of the time printing up at 160 mm/s. Parts like a Benchy vary from 15 mm/s to keep the smoke stack cool, 60 to 90 mm/s around the overhangs of the hull, to 140 mm/s or so just above the hull.

Who cares about Marlin’s input shaper now that we can buy a Bambu A1 Mini for $299?!

Bambu is really smacking us over the head with the amazing specs and price on that Bambu A1 Mini. It can crank out a nicer Benchy than mine using a 0.4 mm nozzle in 14 minutes right out of the box. The new printer from Bambu is a fast, advanced, and priced super competitively.

I think that makes Marlin’s input shaper more important than ever before. I already know what happens when you own a slow printer and buy a fast printer. I can’t easily add input shaping to my Prusa MK3S, so I stopped using it.

I know there are cheaper ways to add Klipper to a printer, but most people are buying $120 Klipper screens. Is it worth spending $120 to upgrade a printer to make it about half as fast as a Bambu A1 Mini? Dialing in Klipper for fast speeds is definitely time consuming. I would feel better putting that $120 towards the faster printer.

Marlin’s input shaper doesn’t cost any money, but is it worth the time and effort getting those speeds dialed in? I don’t know, but spending a couple of hours speeding up an old printer might keep it out of a landfill, and that seems like a win to me!

Why aren’t you sharing your PrusaSlicer settings and printer settings?

First of all, I am extremely uncertain that I have tuned my input shaping correctly. That said, it does seem to be working pretty well! I left the damping alone on both axes, and I am only right now wondering if that is something I should be tuning. I set the frequency on the X-axis to 45.8, and the Y-axis is at 36.7. That may very well be the most useful piece of information I have.

Marlin Input Shaping Settings for the Sovol SV06

What about the slicer profiles? My profiles are a mess. Copies of copies of profiles with awful names. If I am going to export this for public consumption, I would need to clean it up. If I am going to clean it up, it really had better be of use to someone!

I am using a 0.6-mm nozzles with a 0.24-mm layer height. My suspicion is that none of you lovely people interested in Marlin’s input shaper on a Sovol SV06 are interested in using a bigger nozzle. Maybe I am wrong. If I am wrong, let me know in the comments. That would encourage me to get to work clicking on things in PrusaSlicer.

Bambu sure does give you a lot for your money

I am reorganizing my office. To tidy up my workbench, I printed a large Gridfinity organizer for my pliers. It took up most of the length and more than half the width of my Sovol SV06, and it is the biggest simple part that I have printed using my input-shaping PrusaSlicer profile.

Not enough heat input shaping

Why does that matter? Long, straight lines let your printer really get up to speed, and they keep your extruder pumping out filament the entire time. I had one side come out quite clean, two sides come out a little icky, and one side of the box had so much underextrusion and poor layer adhesion. Printing 24 inch lines without a retraction, z-hop, or non-printing move just wasn’t giving the heater any breathing room to catch up!

Most of this part printed at the 22 cubic mm/s that I specified for my max flow rate in PrusaSlicer. I backed that off by one cubic mm/s, I bumped my print temperature up from 200 degrees to 210 degrees, and I bumped my retraction from 0.2 mm to 0.4 mm to compensate for the extra temperature.

Bambu has already done tests like this. They ship you an extremely fast slicer profile that doesn’t push beyond the limits. I didn’t find my Sovol’s limits with smaller prints, but my first big print like this found some flaws.

It would be nice to buy a Bambu A1 Mini or Bambu P1S and not have to think about this at all, but I am not grumpy about it. My large Gridfinity bin is most definitely a usable part. I won’t be wasting 200 grams of filament in an attempt to print a perfect bin. I just made some mental notes, some minor slicer tweaks, and I will see how it goes when I print something similar in a month.

That is another reason why I am not maintaining a slicer profile for the public. I am not excited about immediately printing a test part to see if I found a solution. Maybe I fixed it, maybe I didn’t. I will find out eventually!

Conclusion

This is getting longer than I anticipated. Maybe we should wrap things up!

It is a weird and exciting time to be shopping for a 3D printer. Bambu is really shaking up the market. I got an email yesterday saying that the Sovol SV06 is on sale for $199, and the Sovol SV06 Plus is on sale for $289. The latter seems to be strategically priced $10 less than the Bambu A1 Mini. Is that a low enough price for this particular set of compromises?

Has Bambu’s latest release managed to make them your first choice for your new 3D printer? And do you want to print with four colors? Or do you need a big, honkin’ printer like the Sovol SV06 Plus? If you are moving up to a Bambu A1 Mini or Bambu P1S, will you be trying out Marlin’s input shaper on your old printer to extend its useful lifespan? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!