Saturday, December 10, 2011

LAN-Party Optimized House

I live in a LAN-party-optimized house. That is, my house is specifically designed to be ideal for PC gaming parties. It's also designed for living, of course, but all houses have that.

Here, let me illustrate:

The house has twelve of these fold-out computer stations, six in each of two rooms (ideal for team vs. team games). The actual computers are not next to the monitors, but are all in a rack in a back room. The stations were built by a cabinet maker based on specs I created. The rest of the house was designed by my dad, Richard Varda, who happens to be an architect.

I also have two big TVs, one 59-inch and one 55-inch, each of which has a selection of game consoles attached. In practice we usually end up streaming pro starcraft matches to these instead of playing games on them.

For the 0.001% of you who read my blog before this post: Sorry for the long lack of posts. In March I moved into a new house. I have been working on a number of projects since then, but they have all been related to the house, and I wasn't prepared to talk publicly about it until certain security measures were in place. That is now done, so let's get started!

More details in later posts

I've written more blog posts about this with tons more details. Check out the backstory and the technical design and FAQ.

Hardware

The twelve game stations all contain identical hardware:

  • CPU: Intel Core i5-2500
  • GPU: MSI N560GTX (nVidia GeForce 560)
  • Motherboard: MSI P67A-C43 (Intel P67 chipset)
  • RAM: 8GB (2x4GB DDR3-1333)
  • Monitor: ASUS VE278Q (27" 1080p)

At the time I bought the hardware (March 2011), I felt this selection provided the best trade-off between price and performance for gaming machines that need to last at least a few years.

Although I own the machines, I do not own twelve copies of every game. Instead, I ask guests to log into their own Steam / Battle.net / whatever accounts, to play their own licensed copies.

Of course, maintaining 12 PCs would be an enormous pain in the ass. Before each LAN party, I would have to go to each machine one by one, update the operating system, update the games, etc. Everything would have to be downloaded 12 times. I do not do that.

Instead, the machines boot off the network. A server machine hosts a master disk which is shared by all the game machines. Machines can boot up in two modes:

  • Master mode: The machine reads from and writes to the master image directly.
  • Replica mode: The machine uses its local storage (60GB SSD) as a copy-on-write overlay. So, initially, the machine sees the disk image as being exactly the same as the master, but when changes are written, they go to the local drive instead. Thus, twelve machines can operate simultaneously without interfering with each other. The local overlay can be wiped trivially at any time, returning the machine to the master image's state.

So, before each LAN party, I boot one machine in master mode and update it. Then, I boot all the machines in replica mode, wiping their local COW overlays (because they are now out-of-sync with the master).

I'll talk more about this, and the software configuration of the game stations in general, in a future post.

Security

I have several security cameras around the house. When I'm not home and motion is detected, pictures are immediately sent to my e-mail and phone. I can also log in and view a real-time video feed remotely. I wrote some custom software for this which I'll talk about in a future post.

That said, despite all the electronics, my house is probably not a very attractive target for burglary. Much of the electronics are bolted down, the custom-built computers are funny-looking and poorly-configured for most users, and there is really nothing else of value in the house (no jewelry, no artwork, etc.).

Future Projects

There are all kinds of things I hope to do in the future!

  • Remote-controlled door lock. I have a magnetic lock installed on one of my doors, just need to wire it up to my server and some sort of Android app.
  • Whole-house audio. I have speakers in the ceiling and walls all over the place, wired to the server room. Need to hook them up to something.
  • DDR on Google TV. As you can see in one of the photos, I have some Cobalt Flux DDR pads. I'd like to see if I can port Stepmania to Google TV so that I don't have to hook up my laptop to the TV all the time.
  • Solar panels. My roof is ideal for them. It's a big flat rectangle that leans south-west.

More details in later posts!

If you want to know more, check out these later posts about my house:

81 comments:

  1. "I'll talk more about this, and the software configuration of the game stations in general, in a future post."

    I look forward to that!

    Great work on your ubergamer house! Could host a Starcraft 2 clan all by yourself ;P

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  2. This is absolutely fantastic. What software handles the network boot?

    Also, I'd love to see a photo of the rack.

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  3. I did this circa 2000. My LAN room looks like a cave (it is dug into the hillside).

    Haven't upgraded the computers in a few years, but since we mostly play Starcraft on it, it's all good.

    Your setup looks a lot nicer than mine, that much said!

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  4. First of all, amazing.
    I was just wondering how the keyboard/mouse/desktop items work with the folding stations...? Or is it simply BYO? I would typically prefer my own input devices, but it is hard to tell from the photos if there are generic ones included and if so, how they fold into the station.

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  5. The only questions left are: where do you live ? and when can we gather to test it out ?

    Enjoy it ! Your friends are lucky !

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  6. This is absolutely sweet. I feel the urge to do this in my family room in the next 2 yrs. It is vacant and full of odds and ends hardware right now. I am also interested in the software loaded on the server.

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  7. Well done! The fold-up workstations look great and obviously save a lot of space when they're not in use. What do you do with all the chairs? Is there a closet to store them?

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  8. @JSlacks: There's enough room behind each of the fold-out tables to stash a keyboard and mouse. I bought the cheapest keyboards I could find, and the Logitech MX518 gaming mouse. There is a USB hub right there, though, so you can plug in whatever you want.

    @Douglas Cuthbertson: The chairs are stackable. I have to say, I am extremely happy with the chairs. When you're sitting on your ass in front of a computer for 12-24 hours straight you need some padding, and these things don't disappoint. I can't find the exact product I bought now but the brand is "Hercules".

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  9. I'm speechless!

    Also, is that Gabe Nevell or Dan Morill on the couch? ;)

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  10. @Rasmus: LOL, no, it's my friend Nick from Cryptic Studios. He's trying really hard to pretend that he cares about Starcraft for that picture, but in reality he hates it. :)

    But if Gabe or Dan wanted to come to a LAN party I'd certainly be down for that! (In fact Dan has already said he'd come to one.)

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  11. LOL Nah, us fat white guys all look alike.

    Kenton, if Gabe or Dan ever show up. . . let me know, we should get comparison shots.

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  12. If you need a hand on a weekend with any parts please let me know. I would love to help. (and if not that do you give tours?)

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  13. Very well done, I've spent the last several months remodeling my place to support a discrete cluster of 72 nodes. In the process I have noticed the man-cave aspect of things coming to the surface.

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  15. Did you design the fold out gaming stations, or did you have someone come up with the design for you?

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  16. @johndavismit: I designed them, yes. They're one of two parts of the house I designed personally, the other being my desk (not pictured). I basically just drew them up in Sketchup and passed the design off to a cabinet maker.

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  17. Where the hell did you get all the money for this?

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  18. @Blogger11: Honestly, the gaming hardware is a pretty small fraction of the cost of the house. Where does anyone get money for a house? They save up for the a down payment, and get a mortgage. In my case I worked for Google for about 5 years before starting on the house, and spent very little of the money I earned in that time.

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  19. I'm definitely looking forward to the other posts in this series, regardless of when they arrive... do you have an RSS feed? I couldn't find the link.

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  20. When can I come over to play games and eat pizza? :P

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  21. @wesg: Yes, there's a "Subscribe" link at the bottom of every page. (To subscribe to the blog you'll want the one one the front page.)

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  22. This is the best thing I have ever seen!
    Well done!

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  23. This is definitely one of the most amazing things I've seen in a while.

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  24. I want to party with you guys!

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  25. For real man, when can I come join the party??!?

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  26. I wish I had a friend like you so I could leech off of your success.

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  27. My first thought was the 1% bit that you mentioned in the update. After reading that edit, I totally agree with you, that it wouldn't necessarily mean you are rich. Giving it some thought you would have to do a lot of that yourself, there aren't really a lot of LANify-my-house professions out there.

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  28. Now this is a LAN done right! You sir Kenton, are my personal hero.

    And you're right btw, in not doing things like they're "supposed to", instead do what you want to do in life!

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  29. This is pretty cool I won't lie. I'm sitting here thinking of getting a bigger TV and nicer sound probably by Turtle Beach headsets and you got this. Just amazing, I'll say I wish I could experience the LAN parties you have.

    Seeing this takes me back to my days of Xbox LANs and Halo parties lol. Wires going through the house and people screaming between rooms. Oh I forgot pizza and bragging rights lol.

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  30. Google TV scares me and I'll never use it.

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  31. So, did you build the wallmounts, or bought a frame. Do you have the design patterns for them? I would really like to create 1 or 2 of them for my appartment so that when friends come over they can take one. Thank you

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  32. I'm VERY interested in how this network boot thing works, as I've sort of wanted to do the same.

    It seems like you are able to fit 12 people comfortably for a LAN party. To everyone that is so incredulous, don't you guys ever remember stuffing that many people into a 900 sq ft apartment? That was one of the best LANs I've been to, moreso because of the memories considering only about half of us played and the rest drank all the alcohol. In my parent's house, we just setup a few long tables in the basement and my friends would set up right there. Cheap and easy!

    This is definitely the hardcore way to go, and great for friends that want to play but maybe don't want to lug around their crap or don't even own a PC (but then, why would they want to LAN?). Furthermore, this totally sounds like what I'd love to do if I could when I buy a house since I prefer local gaming to over-the-net gaming with friends.

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  33. Use beats (beatsportable.com) for your rhythm game needs on your android (google TV is android rite?)

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  34. How do you handle cooling in the room with all of the computers? How warm do the computer parts get while playing games?

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  35. kenton, would it be possible to get an email address (or other contact information) for you? i'm the CEO of a prominent professional gaming team, and i'd really like to pick your brain.

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  36. Hi,

    I'm a journalist for the AOL-Huffington Post Media Group in New York City. I'd love to profile you for a real estate story. Is there an email I can reach you at? Alternatively, you may email me at krisanne.alcantara@huffingtonpost.com

    We'd love to hear from you.

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  37. @Alexander Garfield - Kenton and I (Kenton's girlfriend) are fans of your SC2 team. Tell SirScoots, Machine, and LZ that I say hello if you get a chance :).

    - Christina aka Peanut

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  38. I may need your dad :-) I am working on a concept around the same idea as well, would love to get what you are using as a boot image per station, master station, and the game of choice loaded per selection.

    well done too..

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  39. What cable / repeater technology do you use to remote the displays and USB for keyboard/mouse, keeping the qualities needed for gaming?

    I haven't been able to get DVI over about 5 meters, and running USB 4 meters to a hub to the keyboard/mouse get occasional drop-outs which a Starcraft player couldn't tolerate. Looks like you're running 10+ meters. How? (Well done, and thank you for sharing.)

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  40. @James Dupuis Howard - The wall mount and track came from ErgoMart. Otherwise, the stations are basically what you see in the picture; there's not much to them but a bunch of wood panels and hinges. Rather than exactly copy my dimensions, I recommend thinking about what your ideal desk height and width would be, make a mock out of cardboard to see if it's right for you, and then use that.

    @Espen - I have a simple portable air conditioner in the server room which seems to keep up just fine.

    @Alexander Garfield, @Krisanne - I've added my e-mail address to my blogger profile.

    @JJ - I'll post a number of follow-ups soon. (Too overwhelmed with messages to work on them at the moment!)

    @stevec - I just use 35' HDMI cables and 32' USB cables from monoprice.com. They work perfectly. I prefer HDMI over DVI because it includes audio, but they have long DVI cables as well that I have had success with in the past.

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  41. this is insanely amazing. my boyfriend is an architect and it is our dream to one day build a home together from the ground up. i am archiving this for our future home wishlist!

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  42. I can't wait to see how your doing your system distribution(master and slave whatnot). What all games do you play? All free?

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  43. Hey, can we see a floor plan of the lan room? I want to see how it integrates with the rest of the rooms?

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  44. What about dividers? At a LAN party, people should not be able to see what others are doing. They could cheat!

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  45. @Roman Revell: Most serious games are team games, so we put a team in each room.

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  46. Did you consider hiding the monitors running along the wall too, so that the room could be AV free as well?

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  47. @typhoonandrew - Nope, never considered that. But then, I'm quite comfortable having tons of monitors on the wall even when not in use. :)

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  48. Absolutely love the look of this place. I want to know how you setup the whole master and replica mode thing. Are you using a image program like Acronis at boot to either copy the master image to the internal SSD or run from the SSD and update as necessary. Totally confusing but pure genius IMO :D

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  49. Nice work ! My question is how do you manage the master replica thing? with what kind of hard/software? I only have 4 PCs but keeping them all updated an running is a pain in the a..

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  50. Please, don't forget the pictures of your server rack in your next article! I'm dying to see them! And also to know exactly what soft do you use for all the NetBoot stuff! Thanks for sharing this amazing proyect! It really inspires people to do cool things!

    Best regards!

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  51. Awesome work, Kenton.

    I dream about doing something like this when I have the money. Seriously, I've imagined it for a very long time.

    The server/client data setup you have going on sounds nearly perfect; here I thought the easiest way would be HDD images, and just a week ago I had this idea but knew I'd need to do some research and digging just to figure out what it would be called.

    If you can cover the software setup in more detail later on, I'd really enjoy a better understanding of it.

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  52. Stepmania on GoogleTV would get my vote for your future project, but that's just me.
    My Afterburners are tired of my PS2.

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  53. Ditto on the software you used to boot full systems off the network. I work in a school, and honestly this would be sweet for some of my labs. Not to mention at home, I could keep all my media center PCs up to date simply by using this method as well. Thanks for sharing! :)

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  54. question: wht is the huge acrylic vag in picture 2 background?

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  55. @d6bcfc84...: I'm not sure what you're talking about. My best guess is you mean the big black thing. It's called a refrigerator. We ultra-rich people use them to store food at low temperatures so that it lasts longer. :P

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  56. It's a highly reflective refrigerator with a convex curve to it, so it looks a little funny in the picture!

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  57. I took a photo of the outside of Kenton's house from up the road:

    http://imgur.com/bbA8c.jpg

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  58. My life goal now is to get a job at Google and come to your place to party. SC2 AND DDR? That's sweet heaven.

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  59. wow,my eyes are full with tears now.This looks just like in my dreams :( im so sad im not involved in this but im extremmely happy for you and hope to see some footage from your house and why noy some Starcraft2 tournaments it will be awesome.

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  60. if you need an employee for something just PM me im a big big SC2 fan can do whatever you want im almost 18 im really passionate dont want salary just plane tickets and food.you will make my dream come true.

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  61. Thank you for sharing. Sorry to hear that you've received some flack from others. I'm tempted to borrow a line from Gran Torino.

    "I didn't buy all this stuff at once. I've lived here for fifty years. A man stays in one place long enough he tends to attract a decent set of tools." - Walt

    Please continue to share your projects with us.

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  62. That's sweet. With the windows above those stations, how did you run all the cable? Normally you'd drop wire through the top plate inside a wall to the wall jacks. It looks like there are doors/windows totally surrounding that set of stations.

    I'm also curious about cooling your rack system. Does it have independent cooling of some sort? Pics of it and the design concepts would rock when you do the software post.

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  63. @sircurmudgeon: There are cable tubes in the foundation. Benefit of building the house from scratch. :)

    Server room pictures here: http://goo.gl/BgFpT

    I have a portable 14000 BTU/hr air conditioner in the room which seems to keep up just fine.

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  64. This is really SWEET and interesting! I hope you dont mind I use your model as a prototype to setup mine sometime in the near future! Keep up the good work!

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  65. Just having a room lan party at home will be enough for me, I don't have that many friends to invite tho

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  66. Which software is working behind to provide the lan boot replica mode?

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  67. Sick dude! L4D2 would be so fun that setup.

    Id this what you spent your 20% personal time on from Google??? ;)

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  68. @DaDaniel: Answered in my latest post:
    http://kentonsprojects.blogspot.com/2011/12/lan-party-house-technical-design-and.html

    @SDGuero: Nope, this is strictly an outside-of-work project.

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  69. Well that's great :D
    But as for me, I'm really curious about the security cameras... which cameras are they? how do you detect motion? how do you get email notifications and how can you log in remotely??

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  70. Nice work Kenton! The best way to live is to take what you love and incorporate it into WHERE you live. FYI: I have a disco ball permanently attached to my ceiling. You know, different strokes....

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  71. Dear spammers who keep posting random links in my blog comments that have absolutely nothing to do with my blog,

    Blogger adds ref="nofollow" to all your links. That means YOU DON'T GET ANY PAGERANK from them. Idiots.

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    Replies
    1. Suggestions for you?!?!

      For locks and home automation, look to Z-wave devices. A micasaverde vera, or similar controller, can be had for under $400, and you can either get consumer level z-wave locks, or wire your fancy magnetic lock to a z-wave relay. Plus, there are all kinds of available sensors and controllers for z-wave networks (lighting, HVAC, security, access control, monitoring).


      Also, LinuxMCE is a good choice for multimedia, security & communications. However, it's a bit monolithic, and squeamish about hardware. And you'd likely need a second server for just LinuxMCE (or be VERY good at virtualization). However, it's a great start for grabbing a few ideas for Google TV future road map stuff, like home automation and communication plugins.

      Look at HDhomerun units for TV capture, Obi110 and/or Cisco/Linksys SPA3102 ATAs for VOIP to P.O.T.S. bridging for communications, Bluetooth signal strength detection (from your Android devices) for smart re-routing of multimedia, lighting and communication throughout the house (another LinuxMCE trick). I'd live to see Google support, z-wave, ATA devices, and the HDhomerun devices in Google TV... MY ultimate goal is a house that knows when I'm home, schedules my family's day for them, keeps track of where we all are (for scheduling and the kids' safety), sets the right lighting and temperature, forwards communication and directions to our portables for where we need to be, serves up our desired entertainment, and minds the store when we're away. I think your awesome setup could form a basis for that. You just have to get creative... And your employer is in a position to make it all accessible.

      Delete
  72. PHew!!
    That was a lovely read. Its finally nice to hear about people like you and things you do. Had done a similar setup 4 years ago but ran only doom 3 and modern warfare on ubuntu using only cheaper Amd hardware.

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  73. Oh My God!!
    That is proper crazy and unique and I love it. Never seen anything like this...you sir are inspirational!
    Well done!!
    P.S Having friends over to play games like that would be unreal, it brings a whole other meaning to friends hanging out playing games together!

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  74. Wow, your house is really, REALLY cool. I'm jealous. Built-in game stations is an awesome idea.

    Also, I love those windows.

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  75. (Disabling comments due to repeated spam.)

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