Credit Cards – Why You Should Use Them and How

If you think that credit cards are bad or should be used when you need to borrow money, you have probably not been properly educated on the uses and benefits of a credit card.

You should be using a credit card for every purchase you possibly can!

Misconceptions About Credit Cards

Lets start by covering some common misconceptions around credit cards.

Using my debit card as a credit card is the same as using a credit card

NO. Using your debit card as a credit card is just as bad as using cash or debit. You receive almost none of the benefits of a credit card or any cash back when using your debit card as a credit card.

You have to pay interest on credit card purchases

In short, NO. Each month you get a statement with your all the unpaid charges from the previous month. You must pay the amount listed on the current statement before the due date or you will incur interest on any unpaid portion. If you are not paying your statement balance in full every month you are using your credit cards inefficiently.

Credit cards are for borrowing money and financing purchases

In short, NO. You don’t use a credit card because you need money or to finance a large purchase except under extreme or special circumstances (emergencies and no interest offers). Credit cards have a high interest rate if you don’t pay your balance in full each month.

Credit cards don’t boost your credit very much

In short, NO. Credit cards are extremely important for your credit score and history. Mortgages and installments are eventually paid off, closed and removed from your credit report.  Credit cards can last forever and count towards your available credit.

I am financially sound and have no need for credit or credit cards

You are the best candidate for a credit card. You can enjoy all the benefits credit cards have to offer and are in perfect shape to start using them today. You can also start building your credit for the future in case you change your mind on buying that house.

When Not to use Credit Cards

Before I tell you why to use a credit card, make sure you know when not to use a credit card. As mentioned above, credit cards are not for financing purchases or spending money you do not have. Also if you are not a responsible individual, credit may not be for you, yet (don’t ruin it for future you, bad remarks lasts 7 years).

If you are already behind on bills and missing payments you should not be using a credit card. The late payments and interest charges will not outweigh the benefits. If you are in need of additional funds a personal loan will almost always give a better interest rate.

When to use Credit Cards

If you do not fall into the above category, then you should be using a credit card for every purchase possible. There are a few exceptions however:

What can you not pay with a credit card?

Other lines of credit such as credit cards, loans, mortgages, etc. Also cash only operations; however, these are becoming less and less frequent with digital coverage and devices expanding including the supporting services.

What if there is a fee for using a credit card?

That depends on the transaction amount, cash back rate, and total fee. Example, if you have the option to pay your $1,000 rent for a flat $5 fee on an unlimited 1.5% cash back card; you would get $15 cash back minus the $5 fee for a profit of $10 dollars. Even when the fee is more than the cash back it may be worth the convenience of using your credit card or be worth the benefits provided by your credit card to pay a little more.

How to use Credit Cards

You insert the side with the side with the chip… Just kidding. But seriously, make sure you know how to use your credit card with out paying interest or fees otherwise it will cost you money and hurt your credit.

Pay your statement in full every month

Every month you get a statement which has two numbers. The full statement amount and minimum payment due. Before the due date you must make payments totaling the amount on the statement or else you will be charged interest on the difference.

Pay at least the minimum every month

You must pay the minimum amount due every month to avoid late fees, additional interest and a bad mark on your credit report.

I strongly recommend setting up automatic payments for at least the minimum payment amount. This way if you forget or become physically unable to pay you at least avoid a bad mark on you credit with the smallest impact on your bank account.

Benefits of Using Credit Cards

Now for the good stuff.

Security

Using your credit card provides a 100% safeguard against fraud in ways using your debit card or debit card as credit does not. If your credit card is compromised for $5,000 you will get a notification or bill in the mail for the that amount, dispute the charge, and eventually the charge will be removed. However, if you made the same transaction with your debit card, the $5,000 would be deducted from your available balance in your checking account and you would be with out the $5,000 until the fraud investigation is complete and the account has been credited.

Additionally most credit cards provide a guarantee of the purchase as part of their benefits which allows them to place a chargeback against the illegitimate merchant should it be deemed appropriate.

Cash Back

If you weren’t sold on the security benefits (I was) then you should be sold on the cash back, literally. As you probably know, credit companies charge merchants a percentage of the sale to use your credit card. To entice consumers to use their credit card more, they share a percentage of that transaction fee back with you.

Currently you can get up to an unlimited 2.5% cash back on every transaction with a $59 annual fee and up to 2% cash back with no annual fee. For more information about cash back credit cards read this article:

https://shane.pw/2018/04/21/cash-back-credit-cards-2018/

Keep in mind you can use your credit card for almost everything including your bills such as electricity, insurance, cell phone, internet, etc.

Additional Benefits

This part is not so straight forward as all cards come with different benefits, but, most have the same basic benefits. Some standard benefits provided by most credit cards include:

  • Rental Car Protection
  • Fraud Protection
  • Mobile Phone Protection
  • Road Side Assistance
  • Other Travel and Emergency Services

For a full list of standard Visa benefits see:

https://usa.visa.com/support/consumer/card-benefits.html

For a comprehensive guide on credit card benefits see:

https://www.creditcardinsider.com/learn/guide-credit-card-benefits/

How to get a Credit Card

So your ready to get a credit card. Don’t start applying before you know which credit card you want, and if you will be approved or not.

First, If you have not already, you should look at your credit and make sure its in good shape. Check out this article for information on how to monitor your credit:

https://shane.pw/2018/04/27/credit-score-information-monitoring-and-its-importance/

Second, unless your credit is immaculate you may want to see if you per-qualify before applying. This will give you a soft yes or no with out effecting your credit score. This can be done at any time with no effect:

https://www.nerdwallet.com/prequalify/credit-cards

What to Look for in a Credit Card

There are so many cards, benefits, fees, etc. Which ones are the most important to look for?

Cash Back

Obviously the more cash back the better; however, the cards with the best benefits and cash back rates usually have an annual fee. So make sure you will use them enough to outweigh the annual fee. See this article for more information:

https://shane.pw/2018/04/21/cash-back-credit-cards-2018/

Foreign Transaction Fee

If you plan to travel outside the country make sure your card has a 0% foreign transaction fee. This will allow you to use your card abroad at the current transaction rate for your currency at no additional fee. Additionally, you usually get to enjoy the cash back from these purchases as well.

Annual Fee

If this is your first credit card, make sure it has no annual fee. You should keep your first credit card forever. This will serve as the oldest account on your credit report. Never close this card (or any cards with no annual fee unless you have a very good reason). If your card does have an annual fee, make sure the benefits are outweighing the fees; otherwise, it might be worth closing that card.

Card Type

Not all credit cards are accepted everywhere. The most accepted card is Visa followed very closely by MasterCard. Next in line is Discover followed by American Express. Credit card acceptance is becoming less and less of an issue as time goes by; however, if you only have 1 card, I recommend a Visa or at minimum a MasterCard.

Credit Score Information, Monitoring and It’s Importance

Unless you are independently wealthy, your credit score is more important than you think. Even if you don’t need or use credit, you should at least be using Credit Cards for security and cash back. Additionally you can receive bigger discounts on home and auto insurance with good credit.

Why is Credit Important?

As mentioned with good credit you can enjoy the following benefits:

  • Credit Cards – Everyone should have one as these provide cash back on every purchase, security from fraud and additional cardholder benefits.
  • Home and Auto Insurance – Some factors on your credit reflect your Insurance Score which is used to determine your insurance premium.
  • Renting – Many commercial and individual realtors rely on your credit check when choosing tenants and a good score can increase your odds.
  • Low Interest Borrowing – When you do need to borrow for a car or house, you will get the most competitive rates with good credit.

What are Credit Scores?

A credit score is an overall rating of your entire credit report and is a single indicator of your creditworthiness. The score is not a decide-all factor and a lender may approve a loan for someone with a lower score after a full review depending on their credit report.

There are 2 scores you will hear about and 3 major reporting agencies. These score can change daily and vary based on the agency used. Lenders may use one or more of the scores or agencies. There is also a major difference in the 2 scores (more below).

FICO

This is the score used by the majority of lenders. This is not straightforward at all as there are countless different versions of FICO scores used based on the agency and company requesting the score. A comprehensive list of FICO scores and which agencies use them can be found here:

https://www.myfico.com/credit-education/credit-score-versions/

The current version is FICO 8 and FICO 9 the future version; however, many lenders are still not even using FICO 8 yet. Currently, the only version of FICO you can get for free is FICO 8.

VantageScore

This score is rarely used by lenders and heavily used by consumer credit (free credit report) providers such as CreditKarma, WalletHub and NerdWallet. There is only 4 versions of this score with version 3 being the current one and 4 the future version. This score is more generous than most FICO scores and is usually 50-100 points higher than the FICO used by your lenders.

How do I Monitor my Credit and Score?

Fraud and erroneous information can end up on your credit and you don’t want to find out about it when your applying for that new credit card or car. Today it is easier than ever to monitor your credit and you can do it right from an app on your phone.

VantageScores, while not used by many lenders, still reports about the same information which makes it good for monitoring credit changes; since your FICO can not be retrieved as frequently. Credit Karma provides scores from 2 agencies but only updates weekly, while WalletHub can provide daily updates on credit changes. Both Discover and Free Credit Score update monthly, or on your next login, so you should only check these before applying for credit for the most recent results.

Update: The best service for viewing your credit report is Experian.

Name Score Agency Frequency
Credit Karma VantageScore 3 TransUnion, Equifax Weekly
WalletHub VantageScore 3 TransUnion Daily
Discover FICO 8 Experian Monthly
Experian FICO 8 Experian Monthly

Note: none of the above will hurt your credit or show up on your credit report.

Keep in mind that the goal is not to monitor your credit score (since the one your lender will use is probably different) but to monitor your credit report and changes.

How do I Improve my Credit Score?

Basics

If you are not applying for a car, loan, house, etc. you do not need to anything special except make sure you have a credit card and keep it in good standing (this way you have a credit history and available credit).

  • Always pay all credit accounts on time no matter what the cost.
  • Never let a non-credit account or bill end up in collections/on your credit.

These and all negative marks will stay on your report for 7 years and cause major damage. Now lets move on to the good stuff.

  • Don’t close your old credit cards with no annual fees. Setup auto-pay for the minimum payment and attach a monthly charge under $15 to it.
  • Open new credit cards with no annual fees and leave them open. This will increase your total credit availability, decrease credit utilization and increase credit length.

Everyone should have and use a credit card whenever possible. For more information about credit cards, read this article:

https://shane.pw/2018/04/28/credit-cards-why-you-should-use-them-and-how/

Advanced

If you are planning on applying for new credit card, an auto or personal loan, you will want to understand all the factors that effect your credit and know how to prepare for the the application.

Payment History & Negative Remarks

As mentioned above, this weighs in very heavy and last 7 years. You may not be able to do much about these but if you have negative remarks that will be removed soon, you should wait til they are gone before applying for a large loan if possible.

The more late payments and the more recent the bigger they will hurt. It is highly recommended enabling auto-pay to avoid these from ever happening. If you can’t pay your bill, call your creditor before hand and try to work out a later payment date acceptable with them so your credit is not effected.

If you have Paid Collections or Medical Collections that you can’t get removed you can attempt to seek a creditor using FICO 9 (Wells Fargo) or VantageScore 4 (none known). Both of these newer models weigh paid collections and medical collections much lower.

Credit & Debt Utilization

Second to above, your credit utilization weighs in very heavy, about 35%. This is how much you owe across all your accounts vs how much credit you have available across all your credit cards. Pay off all your credit cards and pay down your loans as much as you can before applying.

This is looked at with both your Credit Card utilization and also with your total balances (excluding mortgages). Credit Card utilization is the most important and counts negatively if it is too much. Always keep your total Credit Card utilization below 30% (that means 29% or less). You should also try to keep all individual cards below 30%. For a premium score, individual and total balances should be below 10%.

Credit Age & New Accounts

This is not weighed as heavily, but the longer your report, the better. The age of your credit (average length of open accounts) can only be increased by letting time pass. However, you can avoid opening new accounts. Not only does this reduce your average credit age, but also shows up as a new account (1-2 years old).

FICO 8 and 9 looks at the last 12 months while VantageScore 3 looks at the last 24 months. Having too many new accounts is a sign of risk to lenders so the its best to plan out your credit applications and make sure you are only applying for what you need.

Hard Inquiries

When you apply for credit it shows up as a hard inquiry (that your credit was pulled in review for a credit application). This shows that you have recently applied for new credit and can be a sign of risk. These inquiries usually stick around for 2 years, so avoid applying for credit right before that big application.

This is basically an agreement with lenders so that other lenders know when you apply for new credit. Other things can cause hard pulls such as utility, phone and internet service providers. This usually shows up as a utility pull and not a bank; however, should still be avoided when possible.

Some lenders let you apply for multiple cards (usually up to 2) with a single hard pull; however, your credit profile must be strong enough to justify getting 2 new lines of credit at one time and usually results in an auto-decline on the second card requiring you to call in. Only do this if you know what you are doing.

Account Diversity & Total Accounts

The more accounts you have and wider variety of accounts will improve your credit. This shows that you have experience managing multiple accounts of different types. There is not much you can do to improve this with out taking on new debt, which is not something you should do before applying for a large loan.

Cash Back Credit Cards 2018

Cash back offers are stacking up and you may not be getting the most out of your credit cards.

Note: many of these cards come with sign-up bonuses and introductory offers not mentioned here. as this article is focused on cash back value year after year through daily spending and not sign-up bonuses. Follow the link for each credit card to see the latest offers.

No Category Restrictions

If you only want to use 1 card, one of these is your best bet. It’s also nice to have one for when you are outside of your categories as most category rewards cards cap out at 1% on purchases outside of the designated categories.

Many of these cards have bonus/introductory offers that are not listed here. The primary purpose of this article is Cash Back. Click on each card for more details about bonuses and other details.

Alliant Visa Signature

If you are set on only using one credit card, this baby will get you unlimited 3% cash back the first year and then unlimited 2.5% cash back thereafter. But be aware this card has an annual fee so you need to make sure its worth getting over the Citi Double with unlimited 2% cash back and no annual fee.

2.5% Unlimited Cash Back

  • $59 Annual Fee
  • 0% Foreign Transaction Fee

http://www.alliantcreditunion.org/bank/visa-signature-card

Citi Double Cash

This is a very good card to have as a backup for when you are not in a premium points category where most card just give 1%. There is no annual fee but it has a foreign transaction fee so cant be used for travel abroad.

2% Unlimited Cash Back

  • $0 Annual Fee
  • 3% Foreign Transaction Fee

https://www.citi.com/credit-cards/credit-card-details/citi.action?ID=citi-double-cash-credit-card

Capitol One Quicksilver

This is a pretty solid card with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee. Its also a Visa Signature so had decent benefits. I went with this card over the above two because of the no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee.

1.5% Unlimited Cash Back

  • $0 Annual Fee
  • 0% Foreign Transaction Fee

https://www.capitalone.com/credit-cards/quicksilver/

Different Rewards Categories

These are some of the top cards for cash back in specific categories.

All cards in this category also include 1% unlimited cash back on purchases outside of categories or after maximum unless otherwise noted.

American Express Blue Cash Preferred

This card is very popular due to the 6% cash on grocery and 3% on gas back but does have a $95 annual fee. If you spend $6,000 on groceries every year this card  profit $265/year after the annual fee. Otherwise, the Blue Cash Everyday has no annual fee but only provides 3% cash back on grocery and only 2% on gas. Both cards are only 1% after the cap so you will want to keep track of your spending if you spend  a lot more than $6,000.

6% at Grocery Stores (up to $6,000/year)
3% at Gas Stations

  • $95/year
  • 2.75% Foreign Transaction Fee

https://www.americanexpress.com/us/credit-cards/card/blue-cash-preferred/

Uber Visa

Full article on this card here: https://shane.pw/2018/07/12/uber-visa-has-4-at-restaurants-with-mobile-phone-protection/

4% at Restaurants, Bars, Takeout
3% at Hotels, Airfare, Vacation Home Rentals
$600 Mobile Phone Protection*

  • $0 Annual Fee
  • 0% Foreign Transaction Fee

https://cards.barclaycardus.com/cards/uber-visa-card.html

Note: Details on the phone protection and other benefits found here.

Wells Fargo Propel Amex

Full article on this card here: https://shane.pw/2018/08/06/wells-fargo-propel-american-express-card/

3% at Restaurants, Flights, Hotels, Gas, Car Rental, Transit
$600 Mobile Phone Protection*

  • $0 Annual Fee
  • 0% Foreign Transaction Fee

https://www.wellsfargo.com/credit-cards/propel/

Note: Details on the phone protection found here.

Amazon Rewards Visa

If you are an Amazon Prime member, this card is a no brainier. You will get unlimited 5% cash back at Amazon with no annual fee. If you spend $1,980 a year at amazon, this card will pay for your Prime membership fee.

5% at Amazon.com, Whole Foods
2% at Gas Stations, Restaurants

  • $0 Annual Fee
  • 0% Foreign Transaction Fee

https://www.amazon.com/gp/cobrandcard

Chase Link: https://www.chase.com/personal/credit-cards/amazon

Secured Credit Card

If you are building credit and want cash back, there is only one option.

Discover it Secured Credit Card

Even if you have bad credit you can still earn cash back. You will get 2% unlimited cash back the first year with Discover Match then unlimited 1% cash back thereafter, everywhere you go. This is a secured card so you will need to secure your credit line with a deposit. If you want a $1,000 credit limit, you need to make a $1,000 deposit to Discover ($200 to $2,500). Once they upgrade you to an unsecured card or you close out the account you will get the deposit back.

2% at Gas Stations, Restaurants (up to $1,000/quarter)
1% Unlimited Cash Back

  • $0 Annual Fee
  • 0% Foreign Transaction Fee

https://www.discover.com/credit-cards/secured/

Travel Rewards Cards

Saving the best for the last. This category gets complicated and benefits very based on your travel preferences. I don’t travel much which makes the Uber Visa or Wells Fargo Propel more viable with no fees and many daily uses.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

My pick for a travel card is the Sapphire Reserve. After the $300 annual travel credit this card only cost $150/year; and with the $500 signup bonus its free for the first 3 years. I also chose this over the Platinum Card because it is a Visa Infinite which has some of the best travel benefits.

50,000 Point Signup Bonus ($500 cash $750 Chase Rewards*)
3x on Travel, Hotels, Cars, Restaurants (50% more at Chase Rewards*)
$300 Annual Travel Credit

  • $450 Annual Fee ($75 each additional authorized user)
  • 0% Foreign Transaction Fee

*Points are worth 50% more when you redeem them through Chase Ultimate Rewards meaning 10,000 points with a cash value of $100 would be worth $150 when used at Chase Ultimate Rewards.

https://creditcards.chase.com/rewards-credit-cards/chase-sapphire-reserve

Benefits: https://www.chase.com/card-benefits/sapphirereserve/travel

American Express Platinum Card

My second choice to the Sapphire Reserve is the Platinum Card from American Express. This card is superior for airport lounge access and has a wider variety annual credits. Technically this card’s $550 annual fee would only cost only $50/year if you could use all the annual credits; $200 travel, $200 Uber (split up monthly) and $100 Saks Fifth Avenue.

60,000 Point Signup Bonus
5x Points on Flights
$200 Annual Travel Credit
$200 Annual Uber Credit (split up monthly)
$100 Annual Saks Fifth Avenue Credit

  • $550 Annual Fee ($175 each additional authorized user up to 3)
  • 0% Foreign Transaction Fee

https://www.americanexpress.com/us/credit-cards/card/platinum/

Benefits: https://www.americanexpress.com/us/credit-cards/features-benefits/platinum/

How To Use Cash Back or Points

Statement credit is effectively cash back and usually how you should be redeeming your cash back or points. Almost never use them for things you could otherwise purchase with your credit card and earn more cash back on.

Most credit card providers make it very hard to redeem your points for cash (statement credit) and very easy to spend your points on things you could earn more points on. So unless you are able to redeem your points for more than the cash value, it is never worth it to redeem your points for anything but cash back.

Example, if you have $100 dollars in cash back (10,000 points) balance and you are using the Amazon Visa to make a $100 dollar purchase at amazon. If you use points to purchase the item you will end up with a $0 cash back balance. If you use the Amazon Visa to make the purchase, you will have a $100 balance and $105 cash back balance; so after you redeem $100 for statement credit to cover the cost of the item, you will have an additional 5%

This is however different for cards like the Sapphire Reserve which let you redeem your points for 50% more through Chase Rewards making $100 of statement credit worth $150 of purchases through the rewards portal. You will have to investigate your card to find out if such an option is available for you or not.

Free Stock Trading with Robinhood

Free Stock

Robinhood is a  new stock trading platform that offers commission free trading of stocks with an extremely affordable margin option. The app cost nothing to use, and stocks cost nothing to buy or sell. You even get 1 free stock just for signing up here to test drive the platform.

Overview

Currently Robinhood is only available on mobile phones for common stock trading. Current features include:

Current Features

  • Never pay a penny to buy or sell any stocks, 100% commission free trading always.
  • Instant deposits after your initial deposit (instant deposit amount varies based on account size).
  • Margin trading with Robinhood Gold.
  • Extended hours trading with Robinhood Gold.
  • Free Stock Transfer (Robinhood will cover previous broker stock to transfer shares).

Upcoming Features

  • Robinhood Web: The website has been in beta testing for a while and will be released first half of 2018.
  • Options Trading: Options are coming to Robinhood, is already being beta tested and will be available in 2018.
  • Cryptocurrency Trading: The commission free model is coming to cryptocurrency. This is the newest feature and beta testing will begin in California this month.

Robinhood Gold

You can try Robinhood Gold out for free for the first 30 days and cancel at any time.

After Hours Trading

You can trade for 2 and 1/2 extra hours with Robinhood Gold. You get 30 minutes extra in the morning from 9:00 to 9:30 and 2 extra hours in the afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00.

Margin Trading

Starting at $2k you can get $2k in margin for $10/month. This goes scales all the way up to $50k for $200 a month. You can view the full Gold tier chart here:

Robin Hood Gold Tier List (.pdf)

Personal Experience

First Impressions

I was excited to get a free stock so I could easily play around with the app. I got my free stock right away, it was a share of Sirius XM worth about $6 dollars. The free stock also must be held for 3 days before selling. It took about 4 days to get my bank approved and my initial deposit in Robinhood. After that I could deposit up to $1k instantly. Once I had $2k I was able to get the first tier of Robinhood gold, and increase my instant deposit limit to $2k, plus receive an additional $2k in margin trading and after hours trading.

At first I thought I would never do stock trading on my phone; however, after using the app I was very pleased with the interface. I was able to quickly and efficiently place all my buy and sell orders. Setting limit and stop orders is just as easy. The app tracks enough stats about the holdings and overall to see your account value increase/decrease. The Android app seems to have a few more features than iOS but this will probably change as the platform is improved. I am also looking forward to Robinhood in early 2018.

Post Conclusion

Overall I am very happy with Robinhood and look forward to the upcoming features. I am very happy with being able to buy/sell stocks at any time at no cost. I have recommended Robinhood to all my friends who trade and they have been very pleased. One friend has already transferred their holdings to Robinhood and others are looking forward to doing so when Robinhood web and options tradings are available.

So far I am very pleased with my decision to get Robinhood and will continue to use the product for the foreseeable future.

Get 1 Free Stock

New PC Build 2017

Overview

I have not yet purchased this computer, but plan to do so for the holidays.

The inspiration for the new PC is the huge performance boost provided by the Intel X-Series processors.

Full Parts List

Newegg: https://secure.newegg.com/Wishlist/PublicWishlistDetail?WishListNumber=3245895

Amazon: http://a.co/gKGHp1n

Parts Details

Processor

With the arrival of the X-Series processors from Intel, its very clear the best bang for your buck is the i7-7820X. This provides ample performance and can be squeezed into a sub $2K PC.

Motherboard

The ASUS ROG STRIX X299-E is a pretty solid FCLGA2066 socket motherboard with all the connections I need. There is a Deluxe version but its  a bit more pricey.

RAM

G.SKILL TridentZ Series is slightly taller than traditional G.SKILL dimms, but this is 3200 MHz RAM makes use of the extra large heat spreader. I chose the white/black to match the case.

SSD

This includes the latest M.2 SSD slot with the Samsung 960 EVO. While there is a Pro version available, the performance is only slightly better and not worth the extra dollar.

Case

I chose the proven Fractal Design Define R5 due to its quiet 140mm fans all around with plenty of room for a large cooler. There are many other case options available with fully customizable designs and support for things like RGB.

Cooling

It includes the air cooler due to providing better cooling performance and lower noise output compared to water coolers. Water cooling looks cool, but does not cool as well, and makes more noise.

Power

The Seasonic PRIME TITANIUM 750W PSU is more than enough to power what will be going in this PC.

Other Peripherals

GPU

I don’t plan on getting a new GPU with the computer. Get the best Nvidia GPU you can afford. Never go SLI until you have the most powerful single card available. For a good  balance between budget and performance, I recommend the EVGA GTX 1080 FTW:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01GAI64GO

Monitor

A Monitor is very important to gaming and these are the qualities you want to look for.

  • G-SYNC – This will keep games smooth when your FPS drops below your monitors refresh rate.
  • 144 Hz Refresh Rate – You need at least a 144Hz refresh rate, anything higher is only marginally better.
  • Low Response Time – Generally you want a TN panel for 1 ms response times. With an IPS panel, you can get 4ms response times.
  • 1080p Resolution – If you get a 1440p monitor your FPS will take a huge hit with over 60% more pixels to fill.

The monitor I plan on ordering is the ASUS ROG SWIFT PG248Q with a 1ms response time TN panel and 180Hz refresh rate:

24″ TN 180Hz: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M4II4M4

If you think you need a 240Hz refresh rate, there is a 240Hz version for about $100 more:

24.5″ TN 240Hz: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06WRP3F5S

Lastly, if you want the 1440p IPS experience this is probably the best monitor on the market:

27″ IPS 165Hz: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B017EVR2VM

Intel Announces 8th Gen Processors: Coffee Lake

If you cant afford the Intel X-Series, the next generation of Intel mainstream processors will be dropping this year. Coffee Lake looks quite impressive with 6 cores and 12 threads on the i7.

These puppies run on the Z370 chipset and will require a motherboard upgrade to use.

https://ark.intel.com/products/125903/Intel-Z370-Chipset

Not much to say until these actually drop and the benchmarks are in; however, I have a feeling they will be quite impressive compared to the previous generation. You can see the full specs of the flagship i7-8700K here:

https://ark.intel.com/products/126684/Intel-Core-i7-8700K-Processor-12M-Cache-up-to-4_70-GHz

You can read more about this lineup here:

https://www.anandtech.com/show/11869/intel-announces-8th-generation-coffee-lake-hex-core-desktop-processors

 

Vultr: Digital Ocean Cloud w/ 50% Savings

Vultr is now providing a “Digital Ocean” quality control panel and API with dozens of locations for half the price.

Compared to Digital Ocean the $5/mo offering has 2x the RAM (1GB vs 512MB), 25 GB of storage (compared to 30GB) and both have 1 vCore.

Notable features of Vultr include the ability to easily add and use startup scripts, uploading of custom ISO’s and – currently – free snapshots. All servers are billed hourly and can be created and destroyed on demand without  commitment.

Vultr uses KVM, Intel processors, SSD storage, and 1 Gbps network. All standard features are included such as automatic backups, local networking, ipv6, and – for an extra cost – fail over IP addresses.

It’s not disclosed, but the $2.50/mo offering is limited to a maximum of 2 instances. This is only a drawback when seeking a large number of micro nodes.

I have been using Vultr for over a year and very pleased with their service. I am even more excited with the new price range providing me with 50% savings. Vultr is a great choice for both new-comers to the cloud as well as veteran cloud automagitions.

GitLab Restore of git.cssnr.com

Late Saturday night, early Sunday morning, I was completing routine maintenance/upgrades which regularly included GitLab. Previously I had made some changes to the GitLab server, cutting back worker threads in an attempt to reduce memory usage. The changes included cutting the server down to 2.5 GB of memory from 3.5 GB and adding 1 GB of swap space. Things had been running fine, but I could tell by the graphs that it was still struggling.

Before the upgrade, I noticed GitLab was using 100% of swap space, and all of its memory with very little in cache/buffers. Therefore, I decided to shut it down to increase the memory to 3 GB. Randomly before shutdown I decided take a manual GitLab backup; something usually only done before performing the upgrade. After increasing the memory and attempting to boot the server, the server instantly failed to boot.  The error messages made the problem plain as day to me.

Unable to locate image /qcow2_sda/git01.1702052226.qcow2

Images with this naming convention are created by backup automation I have in place. In order to back up a VM, you must take an external snapshot creating a new delta image that all new changes are written to, locking the original base image as a read-only to be referred to by the delta(s). While new changes are being written to the delta image, you can safely back up the read-only base image. Once backup operations are complete, you must block-commit the delta image back to the base image and pivot back to that disk. If this process fails, you are left with the VM still writing new changes to the delta image, and no change being written to the read-only base image.

After much confusion, I eventually determining the delta image GitLab was running on did not exist and was cleaned up weeks ago. Therefore, I proceeded to restore GitLab from the backup taken earlier. The base image restored GitLab to 8.16.3 and the backup was from 8.16.4 which poses an issue because the versions must match. Installation of GitLab 8.16.4 failed; therefore, a system wide upgrade was performed on the GitLab host which bumped the GitLab version to 8.16.6. GitLab was then rolled back to 8.16.4 and the backup successfully restored. GitLab was then rolled forward to 8.16.6, re-added to salt and smoke checked.

It was never determined how GitLab was running for 14 days on a non-existent delta image while maintaining data integrity. On February 2nd the delta image was removed with an “rm -rf” command after a failed block commit during manual maintenance. There is clearly a design feature of KVM and external snapshots that I do not fully understand.

GitLab was successfully restored after 30 minutes of downtime. No data was lost as a result of the incident.

Action Items

Backups – GitLab automated backup frequency has been increased from 1x a day to 3x.

Process – A GitLab maintenance process has been instated to assure a backup is always available.

Cold Spare – A GitLab cold spare, git02, was created, salted, shutdown and ready to boot.

Timeline

On February 19th, 2017 PST…

01:54 – Manual GitLab backup taken.
01:55 – Nagios downtime set.
01:56 – GitLab rebooted.
01:57 – GitLab not coming back online…
01:59 – Determined GitLab was running from non existent delta image.
02:00 – Edited XML to boot from base image and booted GitLab.
02:01 – GitLab online from base image dating 2017-02-05 at 22:26.
02:05 – GitLab taken back offline due to 2-week-old data.
02:06 – Investigated root cause in attempt to restore machine image.
02:17 – Determined machine image restore was not possible.
02:18 – GitLab Restore failed due to GitLab version mismatch.
02:19 – GitLab 8.16.4 install failed for unknown reasons.
02:20 – GitLab system upgraded and GitLab upgraded to 8.16.6.
02:22 – Rolled GitLab installation back to version 8.16.4.
02:26 – Restored GitLab from backup on version 8.16.4.
02:28 – Upgraded GitLab to latest version 8.16.6 and verified integrity.
02:35 – Re-salted git01 since it was restored from a non-salted image.

Surrendering to WordPress

The moment when you need a blog, look through all the options, get overwhelmed by the lack of development and install a WordPress blog. They say it powers over 27% of the internet, I guess this is why… I am already disappointed with some of the new features and not shocked to see most of it still works the same.

Enough said, time stop typing and start blogging…