Entries Tagged as 'Hardware'

Netbook

I purchased a MSI Wind U100 a couple weeks ago for an “on-the-go” computer.

At $299 plus $99 for a 2.5″ SATA2 500GB Seagate hard drive and $15 for an additional 1GB of DDR2 it’s a fairly economical solution to use to browse the web on the go, send/receive email, mapping, GPS, music and videos, contacts, date book, etc.

I looked at all the options, but I choose this one because I wanted 2GB of memory (most of them come with only 512MB built in so you can only have 1.5GB total and a couple only allow 1GB total).

The Atom N270 processor is by no means a top performer, but it does a fairly good job and mine is running Vista Home Premium with no issues at all (it ships with Windows XP Home).

The only thing I dislike about it is the fact that the keyboard is so small; but if you want a small notebook you’re going to have to live with a small keyboard!

No one computer is right for everyone, so you’ll have to decide what’s right for your particular needs, what your intended use is, and your budget.  There are actually models of netbooks you can purchase with an AT&T wireless modem installed for $99 (of course you have a two year contract your saddled with).

Bigger than a PDA, but far more flexible!

Originally posted 2008-12-27 12:00:21.

Online Capacity Expansion

Well…

  • Call me old fashion…
  • Call me conservative…
  • Call me a doubting “Thomas”…
  • Call me tickled pink…
  • Call me surprised…

I just finished adding four additional spindles to one of my virtual hosts; when I originally built it out I only had four spindles available, and didn’t want to buy more since I knew I would be freeing up smaller spindles for it soon.

The first task was to have the RAID software add the new spindles to the array, then to “expand” the array container… the first step took only a few moments, the second step took about 20 hours for the array controller to rebuild / expand the array.

The second task was to get Windows to actually use the added space by expanding the volume; to do that was a simple matter of using diskpart.exe (you can search Microsoft’s Knowledge Base) only took a few moments.

The incredible thing about this was that my virtual host and virtual machines was online for the entire 20 hours — with absolutely no service interruption.

This particular machine used a Dell / LSI controller; but the Promise controllers also support dynamic capacity expansion as do 3Ware controllers.  I believe the Intel Matrix pseudo RAID controller also support dynamic capacity expansion; but as with other RAID and pseudo-RAID controllers you should check the documentation specific to it and consult the manufacturer’s web site for errata and updates before proceeding.

The bottom line is Windows and RAID arrays have come a long way, and it’s quite possible that you will be able to expand the capacity of your array without taking your server down; however, if the data on the server is irreplaceable, I recommend you consider backing it up (at least the irreplaceable data).

Originally posted 2008-12-01 12:00:56.

Windows 7 on a NetBook

Tonight’s project was upgrading my MSI U120 NetBook from Windows Vista Home Premium to Windows 7 Home Premium.

I put the disc in the external USB DVD drive, booted into setup, prepared the 500GB Seagate hard drive (I upgraded the hard drive to 500GB and the memory to 2GB right after I got the NetBook) for a single partition installation using diskpart (I had Acronis TrueImage Home on the NetBook, but I decided I didn’t want to put that on my new installations), and let it go…

Setup did it’s thing; rebooted, started up and then I ran the updates… and to my surprise every single device was functioning perfectly — including the web cam which Windows Vista needed me to install a driver manually for.

The machine even seems to run a little faster — though honestly I had no complaints with Vista; but I just use this machine to browse the web, email, and GPS, often from a cellular data connection.

The Atom N270 processor is is a little light weight for many tasks, but for what I use my NetBook for I’m quite happy with it; and quite pleased with how easy it was to install Windows 7 on the machine.

I really wish I had a touch screen PC to try out Windows 7 on… but that will have to wait until those come down in price [a lot] more.

One word of advice if you’re in the market for a NetBook — make sure that you can put more memory in it, while you may not have the fastest processor around, more memory and a faster hard drive will definitely give you much more performance.  Also, many of the newer NetBooks use a new generation of Atom processor which actually has fairly beefy performance.  But remember, if you need to use your NetBook for long periods where you don’t have access to power — you’ll have to weigh performance against power consumption for longer battery life.  For me, my NetBook is primary used in my truck or temporary accommodations — so power is always near by.

Originally posted 2009-11-27 01:00:38.

Affordable RAID5 NAS

What a difference a year makes in the storage market… 1TB drives cost under $150 each and Network Attached Storage devices are almost consumer grade.

For about $300 you can purchase a Promise Technology SmartStore NS4300N; put up to four SATA-II hard drives in it and have yourself a fault tolerate storage device that your Windows, Mac, and *nix computers can access via their native file sharing protocols, and manage it via your browser.

The device is derived from an Intel reference design, obviously using Intel technology.  It’s got relatively good performance, very easy to use, and provides anyone with any computer ability a simple fault tolerate storage device of up to 1.5TB (assuming you buy four 1TB drives, and configure it for RAID5).

The technology of this device is very similar to the 16-channel SATA-II RAID5/6 controllers I use in my servers, and the device is somewhat like the Infrant ReadyNAS 600s that I was quite fond of (Infrant was acquired by NetGear, and since then they have been slow to innovate, and maintained what I would say is an outdated pricing model).

There’s a host of reasons beyond just having a fault tolerant storage device that makes something like this a potential buy.  You don’t need to keep computer’s your using on to access data (that can be important if you have multiple computers), you don’t need to worry about backing up your data if you need to re-install your operating system, you don’t need to worry about how to share data between Windows and Mac.

The only downside I’ve found to the Promise verses the Infrant devices is that Promise botched the implementation of spin-down; so the devices keep the drives spinning all the time.  Yeah, it would say a little power to spin down the drives when they weren’t being access (at the cost of taking longer to access data once they’ve spun down), but with today’s drives we’re not talking about that much power — and you have options when purchasing drives of ones that have “green” / high-efficiency ratings.

For both small business, and personal use for those who depend on storage I highly recommend you consider a device like this.

 Promise SmartStore NS4300N

Originally posted 2008-05-15 22:11:53.

Building A Virtualization Host

So what kind of hardware makes a good virtualization host?

Well, I would say the things you should consider are:

  • Processor, the more cores the better
  • Memory, the more the better
  • Storage, the more spindles the better

There are a couple more things you want to consider; for your CPU you really want a multi-core process that supports hardware virtualization.  I generally consider the Q6600, Q9300, and Q9400 to be good choices.  At $160, $170, $180 each you should probably consider the highest end processor your motherboard can support (some older Intel based motherboards may not accept the Q9300/Q9400 processors, so go with the Q6600, it’s about the same performance as the Q9300, just draws more power and produces more heat).  Of course, pricing varies — so figure out where the “sweet spot” is in the price curve for your favorite vendors.

With memory on a Intel processor you always want to populate all the banks; the interleaving will greatly increase the performance of your memory.  And with quality (Corsair DHX) memory costing only about $100 for 8GB (4x2GB) there’s really no excuse to scrimp.

Before I cover storage I’m going to throw in motherboards; yeah you need one of those two (as well as a case and power supply).  For motherboards I generally will pick something like the Intel DG33TL or DG45ID (the newer motherboard actually will cost less).  The built in video reduces the required component count, and you don’t really care about the video on your virtual host — it’s a server.  Also, that frees the x16 PCIe slot for a x8 RAID adapter if you choose to go that route (though there are now many motherboards that have multiple x16 PCIe slots that only cost a little more — but generally require a video card).  One other thing you might want in a motherboard is multiple ethernet controllers (and those should be Gig-E).  It’s not really required, for the most part your virtual infrastructure will be limited by your storage subsystem or your internet connection (depending on your application), but it is “nice to have”.

Now to storage.

The first thing is your system drive on a virtual host really isn’t that important.  Any reasonable SATA-II drive running in AHCI mode will be fine.  And you don’t really need to mirror it, since you can take a snapshot of it and restore it to another drive if it fails.  The decision of whether or not to mirror your OS drive will depend on other factors.  Also, since you definitely do not want your operating system swapping (no paging file) the performance of the drive isn’t a huge concern.  And if you want the ultimate, choose an SSD — that will let you boot very quickly, and there shouldn’t be any delay in writing a log file (32GB  is plenty, 16GB might be a little tight, but you could do it).

Your data drive, the one that will hold your virtual machine images, is very important.  For a small server you can start with just a mirrored (RAID1) or mirrored and stripped (RAID0+1) drive set of what ever size you need.  But understand that the number of spindles in your data set will greatly effect the performance of your virtual machines if they are disk bound (ie they read or write lots of data from the disk).  In fact, if any of the virtual machines are heavy disk users, they will impact all the virtual machines if you don’t have lots of spindles.

The rule of thumb I often use for virtual hosts that will have reasonable disk activity is the minimum number of spindles is the number of virtual machines plus one.  For economizing or for lightly loaded disk activity you can divid the number of virtual machines by two and add one… but you really always want at least a mirrored pair (single drives can get sluggish — they’re OK for a development workstation, but not a virtual server where you might depend on the machines running day in and day out).

To get more spindles you can use the pseudo RAID controllers build into the motherboard (the Intel Matrix controller isn’t bad, but it’s not a real hardware RAID controller); those controllers do fine for stripping and mirroring (and there’s no reason to buy anything more than that if that’s all you need).  If you get serious about virtualization and want to go with RAID5 (or RAID6) then you’ll want to invest in a real hardware RAID controller (and be careful when you buy, lots of entry level controllers actually aren’t any better than the Intel Matrix controller, except that they allow you to migrate to higher end RAID controllers seamlessly).

The absolute best name in RAID controllers is LSI, you can often save money buy purchasing an older series of controller, or a controller that uses the LSI chip set (but made by a systems vendor).  The most important thing is that the physical interface is SATA-II for the drives and PCIe for the system, and that the controller have enough channels for the number of spindles you’re likely to need (four, eight, twelve, sixteen, and twenty-four are the number you’ll see — LSI used to have a six channel, but they don’t offer that in the newer series).

You can buy a controller larger than you need, but you’re going to spend a great deal more money on the controller; and you’ll need a case and power supply that can handle that number of drives.

You will also want to consider hot-swap bays for more than four drives for sure; and those will add greatly to the cost of your machine (for 3.5″ drives you can get 1-in-1, 3-in-2, 4-in-3, and 5-in-3; for 2.5″ drives you can get 4-in-1… where this referes to the number of drives you can fit in a 5.25″ drive way).

What I do on my machines with sixteen channel RAID controllers is I have three 3.5″ 5-in-3 and one 2.5″ 4-in-1; the fifteen 3.5″ drives are attached to the first fifteen channels of the RAID controller (the sixteenth channel is unused), and four motherboard channels are attached to the 2.5″ drive bays.  My case actually has two power supplies, and all the 3.5″ drives are run off a 750W single rail power supply, and the 2.5″ and rest of the system are run off a 400W supply.  By using the combination of 2.5″ and 3.5″ everything fits nicely in the case, and the power supplies are more than adequate.  You’ll note that I use 2.5″ for system drives (I plan on going to SSDs eventually) — so obviously I’m not worried about the performance.  I have similar configuration for my eight channel RAID machines (except they don’t need dual power supplies). 

One final note, if you’re concerned about power consumption, you might want to consider building out a virtual host using only 2.5″ drives and stick with just using the motherboard controllers (real hardware RAID controllers consume a great deal of power).  With 500GB 2.5″ drives you could have 1TB mirrored and stripped, and that may be adequate for your needs.  Once you add a hardware RAID controller I’m not sure that you really need worry about the power consumption of the drives as much, but you’d need to do the math.

Originally posted 2009-02-11 01:00:16.

Micro Center 2GB SD Cards

I’ve found that the 2GB SD Cards that Micro Center gives away (with coupon) are worth what you pay for them…

They are SLOW, and my camera complains about them (it doesn’t complain about the PQI, Kingston, or Patriot card I have which are all FAST).

Just a word of caution, consider what you’re going to use the cards for before you buy the really cheap ones (of course if you get them free, by all means).  The good cards are only slightly more expensive than the crappy ones (yeah, we’re probably talking about 15% but that’s $1.00 for a 2GB card).

Originally posted 2008-07-18 12:29:04.

The Super-Sized iPhone

The iPad is no longer a rumor — Apple’s put a stake in the tablet market.

The one thing Apple seems to be very good at is coming out with an extremely weak offering and making the world thing it’s technology they created and it’s technology you can’t do without…

The iPad isn’t available yet — it’ll be over a month before the WiFi only model ships and over two months before the WiFi + 3G model ships (unlocked, UMTS/HSDPA and GSM/EDGE — no cellular support).

When I read over the press announcements and the specifications on Apple’s site (and looked at the price) my reaction was — it’s slow, has no substantial storage, uses an Apple proprietary processor (derived from an ARM core), has no USB ports, and it’s way too big to fit in my pocket and doesn’t have a keyboard.

I’ll pass.

The press is saying how it’s an Amazon Kindle killer — well, if that’s the best thing that can be said about it maybe Apple has really missed the mark this time.

iPad

Apple iPad

Originally posted 2010-01-29 01:00:07.

Apple – Double or Nothing?

Yesterday Apple announced another record quarter in sales.  In fact, iPhone sales doubled in Q4 2009 (a good holiday present for Apple).

Tomorrow Apples announces a new tablet computer (at least that’s the rumor of what they will announce).

Google has a lot of ground to catch up with Apple in the phone market, and it certainly doesn’t appear that Apple is going to just stand by and wait for them.

I guess the one thing that Apples numbers show is that there is money to be made in economic hard times if you’ve got something people want.

Originally posted 2010-01-26 01:00:44.

Amazon Merchants

Once again I’ve been disappointed with the “service” and “products” provided by an Amazon merchant.

I’ve ask Amazon how to inhibit the display of any and all items except those sold by them; I don’t care to deal with the questionable merchants that use Amazon’s sites.  And obviously Amazon doesn’t stand behind them either (look over their A-Z Guarantee, and notice that a person who buys an item every day has the same lifetime limits as one who rarely buys — sounds to me like Amazon is afraid to offer a real guarantee — why should I have more confidence).

Anyway, rather than play the game with Amazon I’ve just opened a charge dispute with my credit card company (which in this case happens to be an Amazon credit card).

If Amazon doesn’t have a way to block the display non-Amazon merchandise I’ll close my account (and credit card).

Originally posted 2009-04-08 12:00:24.

ASUSTek Computer Inc (Asus)

This is from one of my friends, send to Teresa Perdue ( tsd@asus.com.tw ) of ASUSTek Computer Inc ( http://www.asus.com.tw/ or http://usa.asus.com/ ).

I’d considered buying an Aus Eee PC… but I think I might be happier with a sub-notebook from one of their competitors.

I’ve removed the personally information (except for Teresa’s).

__________

Teresa,

Thank you for informing my that my motherboard is out of warranty and that you will not replace then fan.

In my opinion, this is not a warranty issue.  Warranties generally protect one from a product that happens to be bad.  Most reputable companies replace any item that is poorly designed or has an unusually high failure rate regardless of the warranty period.

I would like for you to know that I am very disappointed with Asus.  On your website you even say that the original fan did not work properly.
Also, there are numerous forums on the Internet that talk about the problem s with the AN8SLI chipset fan.

I have already had one Asus motherboard fail because of a chipset fan that failed.

I have probably built about 100 computers in the last ten years almost all of which used Asus motherboards.  It now seems that you are having quality control issues and that I will have to use a different brand of motherboard in the future.

I have just ordered two fans from your eStore.

Please understand that it is not the cost of the fans that is an issue.  My total charge, including shipping, is $22.00 which is insignificant.  What is significant is that I have learned that I cannot rely on Asus to replace faulty products.  I am unwilling to risk purchasing products from a company that doesn’t stand behind the quality of their workmanship.

This email is being copied to all of the other system builders with whom I work and will be copied to all system builder forums to which I belong.

Sincerely,

XXXX XXXXX

Originally posted 2008-10-18 19:15:10.