Category Archives: Hardware

Netgear Stora upgrade v3: 2-disk-JBOD to 1-disk-JBOD

So, we’re butting heads up against the storage capacity of our Netgear Stora again (93% full). The NAS currently has 2 x 2TB drives and no more free bays to drop drives into, so whatever the next arrangement is it has to involve getting rid of at least one of the current drives. The Stora is currently backed up to an external drive enclosure with a 4TB drive mounted in it. Other things are also backed up on that external drive, so it’s more pressed for space than the Stora.

So here’s the plan:

  • collect underpants
    This was a flippant comment, but it’s upgrade season and we recently acquired a computer second hand, which had an i5-3470S CPU, the most powerful thing in the house by a significant margin. I wanted the dual Display Port outputs, but unfortunately it could only be upgraded to 8GB of RAM, so instead the CPU got swapped into our primary desktop (and a graphics card acquired to run dual digital displays). Dropping in a replacement CPU required replacing the thermal grease, and that meant a rag to wipe off the old grease, thus the underpants.
  • backup the Stora to the 4TB drive
  • acquire a cheap 8TB disk because this is for backing up, not primary storage
  • clone the 4TB drive onto it using Clonezilla
  • expand the cloned 4TB partition to the full 8TB of drive space
    Well, that didn’t work.  Clonezilla didn’t seem to copy the data reliably, but admittedly I was running a stupidly old version.  Several hours of mucking around with SATA connectors and Ubuntu NTFS drivers later, I gave up and copied the disk using Windows.  It took several days, even using USB3 HDD enclosures, which is why I spent so much time mucking around trying to avoid it.
  • backup the Stora to the 8TB drive
  • remove the 2 x 2TB drives from the Stora
  • insert the 4TB drive into the Stora
  • allow the Stora to format the 4TB drive
  • pull the 4TB drive
  • mount the 4TB and 2 x 2TB drives in a not-otherwise-busy machine
  • copy the data from the 2 x 2TB drives onto the 4TB drive
  • reinsert the 4TB drive into the Stora
  • profit!

And, by profit, I mean cascade the 2TB drives into desktop machines that have 90% full 1TB drives… further rounds of disk duplication ensue. 1TB drives then cascade to other desktop machines, further rounds of disk duplication ensue.

At the end of this process, the entire fleet will have been upgraded. But the original problem of butting heads against the Stora will not have been addressed; this will hopefully a simple matter of dropping another drive in.

The last time we did this, we paid $49.50/TB for storage.  This time around, it was $44.35; a 10% drop in storage prices isn’t anything to write home about in a four-and-a-half year window.

Logitech Harmony 650 universal remote

Logitech Harmony 650 universal remoteI bought myself a Logitech Harmony 650 universal remote, $59 at Officeworks (RRP $89.95).

The packaging and some of the promotional material says it replaces 5 remotes, but it’s had a firmware upgrade and now replaces 8, so I think it’s pretty good value.

Although Logitech sells a range of remotes, I decided $59 was a sweet spot for what I wanted to do. This model can’t control Bluetooth devices such as the Wii U, or those controlled via WiFi/LAN such as Sonos — you’ll need to spend up on a more complex model for that, but personally I couldn’t justify the $240+ investment.

To set it up you plug it into a PC/Mac and install a setup program which guides you through it. All pretty easy, and even works with my obscure no-name PVR.

Curiously it didn’t recognise my Panasonic Blu-ray player, but it made an educated guess as to what IR sequences would match, and that worked well.

It lets you set up Devices, then group them into Actions (eg Watch a Blu-ray: turn on the Blu-ray player, turn on the TV, switch it to AV, turn on the Receiver, switch it to HDMI1/Blu-ray).

The defaults for some of the actions are a bit odd, for instance the menu navigation for Watch a Blu-ray turned out to default to navigating the TV menus. This can be overridden to a more logical setting.

One issue I’ve noted: the TV takes a really long time to start up… easily 10-15 seconds to be ready for viewing. It looks like the remote doesn’t allow enough time before changing to the appropriate input/channel, and the TV misses this step. You can insert delays in some parts of Activity sequences, but it appears not here.

Clone to a bigger drive, and convert MBR to GPT

I wanted to partly upgrade Windows to a new drive.

Currently, Windows itself and Program Files are on C: drive, which is an SSD (which I meant to blog about in detail, but never got around to) and documents are on D: drive (which was the tricky bit of the SSD upgrade — to do it properly involves using SysPrep with an Unattend.xml configuration file that tells Windows that documents will live on D: not C:. This article describes it in detail.

Anyway that’s really irrelevant to the problem at hand, which is that D: drive had run out of space. Here’s a brief description of what I did:

  • The new drive is a 4 Tb drive, replacing a 1 Tb drive.
  • Plug the new drive in, use Clonezilla to clone the old D: onto the new drive. Following the detailed instructions, this all went pretty smoothly.
  • But… the catch is the old drive was formatted in MBR, which has a limitation of 2 Tb. For beyond that, you need GPT.
  • I looked around for tools to convert the drive. It’s easy if you’re prepared to wipe it, but I wanted to preserve the data I’d just moved across. Finding ways to do it without wiping everything was tricky, but I settled on the free version of Minitools Partition Wizard — this has an easy-to-understand interface, and did the job
  • Once that MBR is converted to GPT, you can enlarge the partition to make the whole drive available.
  • Unplug the old drive, move the new one into the same slot as the old (this is on a Mac Pro booting in Windows Bootcamp) and it works. Done!

PS. Similar exercise afterwards shuffling the OS X partition from a 320 Gb drive to the old 1 Tb. That required GParted, as it seems the GPT partition couldn’t be expanded due to a formatting issue (which GParted helpfully offered to fix as it started up) and another small 600 Mb partition being in the way — not sure what it is, but it seems to be essential for booting OS X — GParted was able to move it to the end of the disk.

Viali VCCG90SS and VCCG60SS rangehood installation instuctions

As the current home reno project is a kitchen rebuild (walls added and removed, nothing left behind – it’s dramatically more than a remodel) the first step followed was to acquire all the appliances (constructing the kitchen and then finding the oven that you’ve got a very specific sized hole made for is “no longer available” would be… disappointing).

One of the acquisitions was two Viali VCCG90SS rangehood extractor units, one for each cooktop. Noise during operation, rated capacity and acquisition cost all seem acceptable. The instruction manual seems, at first glance, fabulous: large, clear font, line drawings giving unit dimensions, step-by-step installation images and all in a matte A4-sized, easy-to-read format.

When you actually read the instruction manual with the intent of following the instructions for installation, that’s when you run into some difficulties. Let’s be clear: I’ve installed a couple of ducted extractor fans in the past, so rangehoods are not some unknown quantity for me. This is not my first rodeo. I consider myself handy, I’ve installed kitchens from the ground up. I’ve spent quite some time puzzling over this booklet, I’ve searched the Interwebs, I’ve really battled with this.

I will now try to explain how the heck you’re meant to install this Viali rangehood, because the shipped instructions sure don’t. Perhaps I’ll do it via annotation. Continue reading

LG TV insists on turning itself off

We’ve got an LG TV being used in the office for displaying system information from a Raspberry Pi plugged into the back. The Pi is powered via USB from the TV.

We’ve used the timer to get it to switch on at 6am on weekdays, off at 5:45pm, reflecting the hours people are in the office.

It was consistently switching itself off at the wrong time, exactly two hours after it came on.

Turns out it’s a long-running bug in LG televisions.

In the forum, some found if they could get into the service menu, they could remove the 2 hour sleep setting.

Others found setting it to “hotel mode” would disable all timers – in our case this would waste a lot of power though.

Panasonic DMR-PWT520 disc tray won’t open/eject

This model seems to have an issue whereby the disc tray won’t open, even if the front panel flap is correctly open. You press the Open button and nothing happens, though on the screen it’ll say Open.

Some recommend putting it into Standby mode (off) then holding down Stop and Channel Up. That didn’t work for me.

Putting it in Standby and holding down Open did work… it first started up, then after about 10 seconds, the disc tray opened.

(Possibly it needs a firmware upgrade… I’ll check that out eventually, though it’s not my unit.)

Nature strip computer For The Win!

I found a computer on the nature strip; it was enormous, but had a couple of DVD-RWs, dual DVI connectors and USB3, so I figured it was reasonably modern.

When I got it home and inspected it closely, I realised it wasn’t USB3 but eSATA instead, and my hopes deflated. Booting it up showed a BIOS from 2006 and I figured I just bought myself another trip to the council’s transfer station. However, checking out the CPU (Intel i7 920), full-height full-length graphics card (MSI R4870X2) and RAM (6Gb of DDR3) I realised I had found something special. Dropping in a SATA drive that I salvaged from a machine we decided was past it’s use-by date, I built it into a Linux Mint box.

Yet again, the most powerful machine in the house was found in hard rubbish.  It’s twice as powerful as the last computer we bought, and nearly twice as powerful as the most recent desktop machine.  The RAM is a bit light-on, but DDR3 is still widely available.  The TPD (power consumed by the CPU) is 130 watts, which is… a lot.  Not a machine to run in a small room on a hot day.  Add in the graphics card that consumes between 120 and 220 watts depending on load, and a meaty power supply is needed; the one in the case has 1000W written on it, whatever that really means.

At the end of last year I found my local primary school had unceremoniously tossed about a dozen PCs into a dumpster filled with detritus such as broken plastic tubs, desks without legs and out-of-favour books (like a perfectly good Macquarie dictionary). Figuring I could cannibalize multiple machines into a single working machine, I pulled a half dozen monitors and three computers out and loaded them into the car. When tested at home, everything worked just fine. Everything. Confronting the authorities the next day, I was told that the PCs were “broken”, but after some haranguing I got a concession that next time the machines would be donated to a computing charity. As a result of this find I have a three-computer cluster of dedicated Minecraft machines, which now provide adequate performance after extensive tweaking.

Have you found anything good, or would you never take home strange hardware?

Medion MD 86162 Media Player remote codes

I’ve got a Medion MD 86162 Media Player (AKA e85015, or MD86162) and I couldn’t find the remote codes anywhere on the Internet. I cobbled up some hardware and discovered that it uses the NEC protocol when I coaxed these codes out of my dying infrared remote control, and I got the following IR codes for it:

Continue reading

Low spec notebooks can’t handle large amounts of RAM

Cathy and I are seeing increasing contention for the grunty computer in the house not dedicated to playing computer games. It’s used for a combination of recreational programming, web surfing and media encoding tasks. We decided to acquire a second, and after comparing the costs decided that the premium for laptop portability wasn’t too great (about $100; in fact that seems to be about the price of the OS we were forced to buy with the hardware). In out usage profile, “grunty” isn’t defined by CPU, but responsiveness which really comes down to how often an arm has to venture out across a spinning sheet of rust. Unfortunately, bottom-end systems (i3 class CPUs) can’t handle our base-level RAM requirement of 16Gb, so yet again a portable computer is the most powerful thing in the house – the new system’s specs are:

Processor: AMD Quad-Core Processor A6-5200 (2.0GHz, 2MB L2 Cache)

25W of power consumption right there. Existing grunty computer pegs its CPU for about ten hours a year, in sustained encoding runs. We weren’t CPU bound, and yet the only way to get that RAM in an i3 lappy was to spend an extra $100 on a Toshiba with worse specs – so we got a quad core.

Memory: 4GB DDR3 1600MHz (max support 16GB)

That 4GB came straight out and was replaced by the most RAM that could be stuffed in there. Existing grunty machine had 8Gb and was paging a lot. Why are web browsers so memory hungry? This upgrade cost $160.

Storage: 500GB (5400RPM) Hard Drive

This came straight out before the machine was even powered up once. It was replaced by a Plextor M5-Pro 128GB SSD; this unit was selected for its fast random write speed, and the common-for-all-SSDs 0.1ms seek time. Back in the day (about ten years ago) I advocated that when building a machine, you should get drives with the fastest seek times and screw everything else, plus all the RAM you could afford – to use as disk cache. How little things change. This upgrade cost $129.

After Linux Mint 12.04 Maya (LTS) was installed (consuming 6Gb) there was 110Gb free on the replacement device. Paging has been disabled due to the SSD write limitations, and tmpfs is used for various directories to further minimise our impact on the longevity of the drive.

Graphics Card: Onboard (Integrated)

The contention for the memory bus is troubling, but at least there’s no extra juice being sucked down to power a fancy-pants GPU. This is not a gaming machine, 2D acceleration is useful, 3D not.

Operating System: Windows 8 64 Bit

That went with the rotating media. We’re going to see if we can boot a desktop machine off of it and still have the OS believe everything is okay. The laptop didn’t like the new OS, saying “Selected boot image did not Authenticate. Press Enter to Continue”, but the solution was to disable Secure Boot.

Screen: 15.6-inch diagonal HD BrightView LED-backlit Display (1366×768)

It took some fiddling for Cathy to figure out how to dim the damn thing under Mint. Turned out the answer was to install the proprietary AMD drivers.

Audio: Dual Speakers Stereo DTS Sound+

If you’re using a laptop for A/V reproduction, you’re doing it wrong.

Connectivity: Gigabit LAN (RJ-45 connector), 802.11b/g/n WLAN, Bluetooth

The Toshiba only had 100Mb, in this day and age! The Ralink wireless adapator wasn’t picked up automatically by the installer, so Cathy got down and followed the instructions off AskUbuntu

Built-In Devices: 1x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0, HDMI, RJ45 Ethernet, Headphone-out/microphone-in combo jack, SD/SDHC/SDxC Card reader

USB3 was important in picking the unit, as I’ve seem just how much faster it is. HDMI is necessary for twin-monitor development; MSY had a 21.5″ Full HD IPS on sale for $118.

Webcam: HP TrueVision HD Webcam with integrated dual array digital microphone

I’d just paint over it, but there’s a chance that we’ll have a use for videoconferencing. It stays, but it better mind it’s Ps and Qs or else it’s black electrical tape for it.

Optical Drive: DVD Burner

Yeah, like that’s ever getting used.

Weight: 2.33 Kg

I’m more used to computers that weigh 1Kg, not two and a half.

Dimensions: 56cm (L) x 13cm (W) x 34.5cm (D)

This thing has a widescreen display, it’s freaky big compared by my 10” netbook.

Other observations: the keyboard sucks balls, with the trackpad positioned such that you physically can’t touch-type on it because doing so places your palms on the trackpad, moving the mouse and screwing up your input (I think this is happening because gestures have been turned on; they might find themselves getting turned off again). For some messed up reason they’ve included a numeric keypad, so touch-typing is doubly hard – again with the palms. This thing’s going to find itself plugged into a USB hub with a real keyboard and mouse quite a lot I think.

Anyways, the HP Pavilion 15-E001AU was purchased from MLN for the low, low price of $500. Total system cost was $907, and at the end we had a 4GB lappy stick and a 500GB lappy drive laying around.

Replace a missing remote control with an Arduino and a laptop

I recently found myself without a remote for my WDTV Live media player, and limited resources to do anything about it – but I did have an Arduino, a breadboard and the local Jaycar had an IR LED.  Controlling IR devices is common practice with an Arduino. I would even be able to hack in functions that didn’t exist on the manufacturer’s remote – like creating a three minute skip by switching to 16x speed for 12 seconds.

The first port of call was to obtain Ken Shirriff’s Arduino IR remote control protocol library – as opposed to communications protocols, of which there are quite a number; did you know the first cut of WiFi included an infrared version? Without the remote, I wasn’t able to record and playback the IR signals sent to the WDTVLive, as you would with a learning remote. I had to find what to transmit from my custom remote. I little googling and I found the WD TV Live infrared remote control codes, which also helpfully reveals that the protocol is NEC.

I knocked up a quick proof of concept, installed it and watched it not work. Given I can’t see in infrared, I didn’t know if my circuit was working. I hooked a red LED up in parallel, and it didn’t light up; I thought I had cathode and anode swapped around, so flipped the red LED – and it didn’t light up. I pulled the IR LED, and then the red LED worked… I was shorting out the red LED. I couldn’t – with the bits I had lying around – confirm the device was transmitting anything. Rather than put the LEDs in series, I got a cheap camera-phone with video function, and it could see IR just fine. And it turns out the IR LED was transmitting something, but the WD TV Live media player wasn’t listening. Why?

The NEC infrared control protocol transmits 32 bits in one of two formats, one old (as in elderly) format encodes for 256 devices with 256 commands each, and the other encodes for ~64K devices with 256 commands each. The first 16 bits encode the device, and the second 16 bits encode the command. 16 bits for one of 256 commands, you ask? Well, one byte of the second 16 bits is the command, and the other is – for error checking purposes – the one’s complement of that. Further details of the pulse timing and protocol contents are available in various places, but they neglect to mention the extended addressing format. There are many IR control protocols. To use Ken’s IR library you need to know which protocol is used (which the google search revealed), and you can determine the protocol from the timing data found in the LIRC definition of a protocol, in this case the LIRC infrared control protocol for WDTV Live media player remote. The LIRC protocol defintion format is described by WinLIRC, so you can see what the timings are. In this case, the NEC protocol is revealed by the header, one and zero definitions, along with the fact that each code has 16 bits of ‘pre-data’ and 16 bits of data (a 32 bit package). Everything I could see was showing that the two, separately arrived at sets of command codes that were empirically sampled from the real world were compliant with the spec. One of the things the spec taught me was to transmit the NEC code twice, and to wait 70ms between re-transmissions.

I wasted time finding other codes for the remote, in other formats; I checked for byte ordering issues. Nothing worked.

The actual problem was the unsigned long for the command was previously an int; failing to notice this simple error led me to spend a long time trying to figure out why nothing was happening when I transmitted a command. One of the problems with the C language is the guarantees about data sizes aren’t worth much.  My entire life has been spent programming on architectures that have 32 bit data words; C compilers on these machines have all defined an int as 32 bits, but I’ve always been aware that the language spec says that an int is at least as wide as a short, which is at least as wide as a char with actual widths being up to the compiler implementation (although why you’d have different words for things of the same size is beyond me).  The AVR microcontroller in question has an 8 bit word; mathematical operands typically yield an 8 bit result (multiply is an exception) with compilers needing to implement more instructions to yield greater data widths. The defines express the codes as four byte values, which were then wrangled into a two byte int, and then again into unsigned four byte integer when passed to the IR library. Truncated bits in a protocol like this were the cause of inactivity.

Even with this fundamental problem solved, confusion was added by the fact that one of the memory cells in my Arduino is faulty. Once IR control code transmission was working, I noticed that sometimes it didn’t work. I decided to echo the command to the serial port, and the command being transmitted didn’t match that for the key pressed – the second byte was wrong. I added code to work around this memory corruption (not shown in the code below, because this is a pretty unusual). I’ve never come across this kind of problem before, recognising and then solving something like that is pretty old-school.

/*
Pin 3 is hard-wired into the IR library as the emitter
 */
#include <IRremote.h>
//#define DEBUG

IRsend irsend;

#define btn_enter  0x219E10EF
#define btn_right  0x219E906F
#define btn_left   0x219EE01F
#define btn_down   0x219E00FF
#define btn_up     0x219EA05F
#define btn_option 0x219E58A7
#define btn_back   0x219ED827
#define btn_stop   0x219E20DF
#define btn_rew    0x219EF807
#define btn_ff     0x219E7887
#define btn_play   0x219E50AF
#define btn_prev   0x219E40BF
#define btn_next   0x219E807F
#define btn_eject  0x219E08F7
#define btn_search 0x219EF00F
#define btn_home   0x219E609F
#define btn_power  0x219E48B7

// Pin 13 has an LED connected on most Arduino boards.
// give it a name:
const int onboard_led = 13;
const int retransmit=2;
unsigned long play_after=0;

void setup()
{
  pinMode(3, OUTPUT);     
  pinMode(onboard_led, OUTPUT);     
  Serial.begin(9600);
  Serial.println("WDTV Live serial controlled IR remote");
  Serial.println("~ Power    Eject ^ & Search   Rew - + FF");
  Serial.println("  w         Back q e Enter   Play  P");
  Serial.println("a s d (Arrows)     x Stop    Last < > Next");
  Serial.println("3 - FastForward three minutes");
}

void loop() {
  unsigned long cmd=0;
  if (Serial.available()) {
    switch (Serial.read()) {
      case 'E':
      case 'e':
      case ')':
      case '0':
      case 'O':
      case 'o': cmd=btn_enter; break;
      case 'q':
      case 'Q': cmd=btn_back; break;
      case 'P':
      case 'p':
      case ' ': cmd=btn_play; break;
      case 'S':
      case 's': cmd=btn_down; break;
      case 'W':
      case 'w': cmd=btn_up; break;
      case 'A':
      case 'a': cmd=btn_left; break;
      case 'D':
      case 'd': cmd=btn_right; break;
      case '-':
      case '_': cmd=btn_rew; break;
      case '=':
      case '+': cmd=btn_ff; break;
      case ',':
      case '< ': cmd=btn_prev; break;
      case '.':       
      case '>': cmd=btn_next; break;
      case '/':
      case '?': cmd=btn_option; break;
      case '~': cmd=btn_power; break;
      case '!':
      case '1': cmd=btn_home; break;
      case '^':
      case '6': cmd=btn_eject; break;
      case '*':
      case '8': cmd=btn_search; break;
      case 'x':
      case 'X': cmd=btn_stop; break;
      case '3': 
        if (!play_after) play_after=4; break;
    }
  }
  if (play_after > 0) {
    if (cmd) {
      play_after=0;
    }
    else if (play_after > 5) {
      if (play_after < millis()) {
        cmd=btn_play;
        play_after=0;
      }
    }
    else {
      cmd=btn_ff;
      if (--play_after == 0) {
        play_after=millis()+12000;
      }
    }
  }
  if (cmd) {
    digitalWrite(onboard_led, HIGH);   // turn the LED on to indicate activity
    for (int i = 0; i < retransmit; i++) {
      irsend.sendNEC(cmd, 32);
      delay(70);
    }
#ifdef DEBUG
    Serial.println(cmd, HEX);
#endif
    digitalWrite(onboard_led, LOW);    // turn the LED off - we're done transmitting
  }
}

In other links, How-To: IR Remote Control your Computer

TV tuner for Mac Pro?

I’ve been delighted with the secondhand Mac Pro I got last year. It’s five years old, but probably the best Windows PC I’ve ever owned… we sometimes use OSX, and sometimes use Boot Camp to run Windows, and I did end up getting Parallels as well, which is able to boot the Boot Camp partition — this I think is nothing short of miraculous.

Anyway, our other Windows PC is due for replacement. I was thinking I’d wait and see what the next crop of Mac Minis were like, but it looks like I’ve again got the opportunity to pick up a used Mac Pro via the same workplace clearing more of them out. Same age, but (if my calculations are right) double the speed of the current Mac Mini. Given our usage patterns, this is a cheap easy upgrade… particularly if we put an SSD in it.

I’m now pondering: what’s the best TV tuner for it? That’s the main thing I miss about the HP desktop we had that died. (I did try and rip the tuner card out of that to try in the Mac under Windows. It didn’t work.)

So… Mac Pro TV tuners…

I’d prefer dual tuner. I’d want it to work with both OSX and Windows. In fact I’d go so far as to say that this second box will be mostly using Windows, and I’d want this to work with Windows Media Centre.

For a USB dual tuner, the Elgato EyeTV Diversity looks pretty good.

Asking around on Twitter, there was some good feedback:

(Why does Twitter’s embed tweet with “Include parent Tweet” not seem to work?)

It’d be used with a proper connection to a roof antenna, so not concerned about the mini antenna.

But I think I’d actually prefer an internal card, since I really don’t need it to be portable… and installed internally might be more out of the way/better for longevity.

Any good options?

PS. This ancient page talks about some options. Not sure how relevant it is anymore though.

Choosing a cheap DC motor controller

I have a desire to control some DC electric motors using a microcontroller.  Under the covers these are normally H-Bridges, so that the motor can run in both directions. I also require that the motors be able to undriven – to freewheel without electric braking.

The cheapest motor controllers will only deliver 800ma (per motor), which might be enough, but possibly isn’t. I think the L9110 datasheet (also known as the HG7881) hints at a peak of 2amp, but my Chinese is insufficient. There is no information on the switching frequency. These controllers drive the motors in either direction, or brake – but they will not disable the motors.

The next cheapest drivers are based on the L298 motor controller chip. The parts number variants indicate the packaging type; L298N is the vertical version, and a L298P is surface mount – which I can’t get my head around, how are you meant to dissipate the heat with a surface mount version? Anyways, the L298 can switch at up to 20KHz according to the L298 motor controller datasheet, and delivers a total of 4A, 2 amp to each channel, and a total of 25W maximum, presumably about 12.5 watts per channel. I’m looking at motors of around 6V, so the maximum wattage isn’t a consideration, but I’d have to start thinking about the power limits if they were 12V motors.  I’ll need to supply more than six volts because the L298 module sucks up 0.7V doing its business.  Even the cheapest modules using this chip expose the enable line for each motor, and they include a jumper to permanently enable (which I don’t want, but that’s just a matter of removing the jumper from the enable pin); more expensive modules expose the current sensing pins on the L298 (which I don’t think I have a use for). This unusual one is a l298 with a connector for stepper motor. Solabotics has an informative (if poorly spelled) L298 instruction sheet with examples hanging off their product page.

If I could switch at 30KHz, that’s beyond human hearing and thus “silent”, but beyond these two controllers there’s not a lot of commonly available choice, so I’m going with the ever-so-slightly more expensive and actually lets-me-do-what-I-want choice.

Higher frequencies seem to require MOSFET technology, which means dollars – and it seems higher voltages for the motors, which means more expensive motors, and more unusual power supplies (more cost).  I recall that higher switching frequencies lead higher efficiency. Oh well.