Entries Tagged as 'Hardware'

Computer Cables

Whether you have a Windows PC, a Mac, or a *nix box, the one thing you’ll have a headache with is all the cables.

And for those of you who try to say you don’t — all I’ve got to say in The Nile ain’t just a river in Egypt!

There are all kind of products sold on the market to manage the cables on your computer, and many of them will make it look better, but most of them just make it that much harder to do anything with them — so if you’ve got an Architectural Digest shoot coming up you might want to run out and buy one of those, but for those of you who just want to get a handle on the cables I’ve found something that might help.

What I’ve started doing is taking a couple (sometimes three) Velcro ties and bundling all the cables that come out of the back of the computer for about a foot to a foot and a half… what that does is it keeps them together and out of the way for sliding the computer back and forth, but doesn’t create a nightmare every time you need to do something.

You want to make sure that you allow all the cables to gently bend into the bundle (not sharp kinks — it’s just not good for the cables of the connectors), and make sure that there’s reasonable clearance behind the computer (if not, you can bend the bundle to one side).

The Velcro ties are fairly inexpensive, and you can get them at office stores, dollar stores, etc.

Originally posted 2008-12-22 12:00:42.

Upgrading Drive Firmware

First, if you’re not having problems with your drive (unless it’s brand new, has no data on it, and you don’t have an issue returning it to the place of purchase or manufacturer) DO NOT DO IT.

Second, make sure you give yourself plenty of time, don’t try and do it quickly, or in between other commitments.  Do it when it’s quiet.  Make sure you have a UPS on your computer and that the weather is clear (so that there’s no likelihood of power outages).

Third, run the drive diagnostics from the manufacturer first.  If the drive shows it’s having problems — return it to the manufacturer for replacement (most manufacturers will do advance replacement at no charge with a credit card; that gives you a drive to migrate your data onto, and a shipping container to return the failing drive in).

Fourth, many manufacturers support upgrading firmware directly from Windows (a few from other operating systems).  I high recommend you choose the bootable CD approach — that way there’s no question whether or not you have something installed on your computer that might interfere.  And if you’re using SATA I recommend you set your computer to SATA IDE/Legacy mode to insure that the upgrade (and diagnostics) don’t have any issues with your SATA controller (IDE/Legacy as opposed to SATA/Native, SATA/RAID, SATA/AHCI — different BIOS manufacturers will call it by a different term, but it’s the lowest setting for the controller, likely it’s what the default was).

Fifth, make sure you obtain the firmware update only from the manufacturer’s web site; and make sure that it is for your drive; and that it’s recommended as a general installation or specifically addresses an issue you’re having.

Sixth, make sure you read and follow the manufacturer’s procedure for updating firmware.

Seventh, power off your drive before you attempt to use it after updating the firmware.  Most drives will not use the newer firmware until they are power-cycled; some drives just flat out won’t work until they’ve been “hard reset”.

Hopefully all goes well, but many drives become a brick if your firmware upgrade fails; a few can revert to the previous firmware and keep on running.  If you have problems, contact the manufacturer, most drives under warranty can be replaced — but data recovery is not included.


Upgrading drive firmware may also change the first several sectors of the drive; I highly recommend that you backup the drive before upgrading the firmware.

Originally posted 2010-02-09 01:00:56.

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.

SFF-8484 to 4 x SATA Cables

I just purchased a Dell PERC 5/i (basically an LSI 8404) RAID card off eBay and I needed to purchase two SFF-8484 cables to connect it to my SATA hot swap bays.

There seems to be a great deal of confusion on eBay from vendors that have these cables — many of the vendors just don’t know what they have; and it’s important to know, since there are two different cables fitting the general description — and they are not interchangeable.

The cable I needed could be identified by a Trip Lite part number S502-01M or an Adaptec part number 2167000-R (discontinued) or a StarTech part number SAS84S450.

The description should contain the key phrase that the cable is used to attach a SAS (or SATA) HBA (Host Bus Adapter) to individual SATA drives.  The description should not mention anything about hooking up a SATA controller to a SATA/SAS back plane.

What’s the difference in the cables???

Well, the SAS controller to SATA device cable is straight through; the SATA controller to SAS back plane has the RX and TX swapped… and generally speaking there’s not a lot of call for the SATA controller to SAS back plane so those will be the least expensive, and the most prevalent on eBay.

The sellers who do know what they have, and advertise it as such want a phenomenal price for the cables (they’re only $19.99 on Amazon, buy the two you’ll need and they ship free)…

Do your home work and ask your questions before you commit to buy on eBay — particularly if it’s from China or Hong Kong (it’ll take several weeks to get the item, and returning it will be half the price you paid).  While Amazon’s gone down hill a great deal recently; it’s still easy to return, and in the long run you might save both time and money.

Tripp Lite S502-01M

Originally posted 2010-11-13 01:00:28.

Promise NS4300N NAS

I’ve been a reasonably big fan of Promise in the past; their PCI IDE cards worked well, their PCI SATA cards worked well, their 16 Channel SATA2 RAID5 PCIe cards worked fine, and their NAS box seemed like a really good buy.

When I first got the box almost two years ago it worked fine; it had a few issues (like the lack of hard drive spin-down, even though there tech support insisted it had it)… but in general it was a reasonable buy.

A week ago I invested in some 1.5TB Seagate SATA2 drives to upgrade my Promise, their web site indicated that the new firmware that was just released supported the drives so I felt fairly confident in buying them.

Well, the answer is, you can four 1.5TB drives in the box, but you cannot use more than three of them in a RAID array… seems like maybe they never tested it with four drives (wow — a four drive NAS not being tested with four drives).

What happens i that you can build out all the drives, put content on them, but when you reboot — the box complains of file system errors and the only thing you can do is start over — losing the content of your RAID (I hope you haven’t depended on your RAID actually being fault tolerant… if you have you’re SOL).

I figured yeah, this is a bug, I’ll just file a trouble report with Promise and get an ETA on a fix.

I submitted the trouble report (after having to go through way too much of a hassle to setup an account there), got a confirmation email that indicated I’d get a response within one business day…

Let’s see, that’s been almost a week ago — and I don’t have an ETA on a fix, I don’t have any response from them (not even one that says that they’re looking into it — aware or it — or anything).

Let’s face it, if a vendor can’t meet the low-bar expectations they’ve set by actually providing a reply within one business day, what confidence should I have in them that they will ever be able to actually fix the problem and maintain reasonable quality.

All I have to say is that I’m glad my last two RAID controllers came from one of Promise’s competitors — and I guarantee you my next RAID controllers and NAS boxes will likely not come from Promise!

Originally posted 2008-11-20 12:00:04.

A signature Mac Book

But not from Steve Jobs, but rather Steve Balmer.

Last week Steve Ballmer, CEO Microsoft Corporation, participated in a meet and greet after speaking at Nashville Technology Council (held at Trevecca Nazarene University) and was ask to sign an individual’s aluminum Mac Book — and he did, right across the Apple logo!

Originally posted 2010-01-28 01:00:23.

Computer Tid Bits

I haven’t sent one of these tid bit emails out in a long long time — this is just a collection of little points that you might find comes in handy.

Server 2008 is indeed out and available. I think I’m going to wait a few months (and I’m just about out of funds for MSFT store purchase, so doubtful I can get a copy for anyone else — I’ll probably do the MSDN OS subscription again). Hyper-V has not shipped as of yet.

Service Pack 1 for Vista can be downloaded or you’ll get it from Windows Update. If you’re updating more than a single machine, download the whole thing (Windows Update will swamp your connection). There are separate packs for 32-bit and 64-bit (you may need both if you have both machines). Also, copy the update file to the local disk (it will need elevated privileges to install).

Virtual Server 2005 R2 can be installed on XP, XP-64, Vista-32, or Vista-64. The management interface requires IIS, so that’s a little different with PWS version on non-server platforms. If you have VS installed on a server, you should be able to manage _all_ of your installations from one management interface (though Vista doesn’t make that easy).

Google GMail allows you to host your domains for email there for free… you basically get GMail accounts in your own domain. I’ve moved my mail services over there for the time being (I still archive all my email on my own server at home, but the active send/receive is done via GMail).

Parallels is coming out with a new server (64 & 32 bit) to compete with Hyper-V; I looked at the beta (definitely a beta, but useable), they may be able to get some of the market share — but my guess is they’ll get the share from VMware (I didn’t care for the Mac-ish look of the product on Windows).

2.5″ SATA disk drives continue to fall in price; Seagate 250GB drives were $104 @ Fry’s, and they still had some on the shelf on Monday!!!

Intel hasn’t release the most of the 45nm processor family yet; the older Core2 dual and quad processor continue to be a great buy. Remember that really none of the current Intel chip sets take advantage of the higher transfers the newer processors are capable of (well the X38, but that’s supposed to have major issues) — so you might want to wait for the next generation of Intel chips and motherboards to hit the market. FYI: Intel delayed the release because AMD missed their ship dates… their new cores had some rather serious flaws

Notebook and desktop memory are nearly on par with each other. You can purchase 2 x 2GB for under $100 (easily — even the really fast memory). $60 is actually the low price and $80 get’s you high quality with heat spreaders (notebook memory doesn’t have heat spreaders — no room). 2 x 1GB can be purchased for $40!!!

Originally posted 2008-04-01 12:58:23.

Google Music – Release

Back on the 17th of November Google announced the generally availability of Google Music…

We’re excited to announce that Music Beta by Google is officially graduating from beta today! Google Music will remain a free service, and you can continue to store up to 20,000 songs in your personal music library.

As well as an updated terms of service, and a music store (that works via Android Market).

The terms of service clarifies that each individual uploads and maintains his individual copy of a music file (unlike Apple’s service which may well substitute your copy with one from the iTunes store).

And while I think Google Music is a great value (it’s free), I think it might still be a little buggy…

My music library has in excess of 30,000 MP3 files, and while I understand that Google will not upload all of them, and that I might not be able to control exactly which 20,000 songs they upload without creating a copy of the songs I have in a separate directory structure, I’m at a loss as to why I only have 19,088 from my collection uploaded — and the error I see in the load is “too many files in account”…

While I wouldn’t have been shocked if I got 19,999 songs uploaded, it seem to me that there’s definitely a deficiency in Google’s uploader and it’s logic for determining when you’ve reached 20,000 songs in your library.

Like I said, I think the Google Music service is a good value; but it does lack the ability to use it as a “backup” of your music library (there’s really no facility to retrieve the music you upload, other than the very painful, manual effort you’d have to put into retrieving files from the cache it builds as you play them and renaming them).

An alternative is the Amazon Music service; they only provide 5GB free, but for a modest yearly payment they do allow unlimited (Google hasn’t even set pricing for raising the limit on their service); and with both the song you purchase don’t count toward your limit.  The upside of the Amazon service is that it does work nicely as a backup; you can retrieve the music you upload.

For the time being, I’ll use the Google Service; but my guess is that I’ll just migrate to Amazon if Google doesn’t really focus on making the service work correctly, and provide for additional storage.

Originally posted 2011-11-25 02:00:48.

$35 Tablet PC

The government of India has unveiled a $35 tablet PC that they intend to use to replace text books in India.

The Laptop Per Child project (OLPC) developed a $200 durable notebook prototype in 2005 that’s designed use in schools in developing country and has plans for a $100 tablet.

India, though, has created a computing device that costs less than most text books, and the government will further subsidize the cost.

In a country where electricity is a scarce commodity in many regions (the tablets will have a solar power option for use in rural areas) they seem to have a much better grasp on the concept of leaving no child behind and creating a technologically empowered generation ready to perform the jobs of tomorrow.

The US leaves no child behind by simply holding everyone back to the level of the underachiever — easy to understand why we’re becoming a third world nation.

Originally posted 2010-08-01 02:00:31.

Disk Drive Temperature / Airflow

I upgraded both of my workstations (one Windows one Linux) to have a mirror pair as the secondary drive…  which added a third drive to each of the cases (the cases are setup so that you can have five 3.5″ internal drives and four 5.25″ external units)… the 400GB SATA-2 drive in the Windows machine keep producing SMART warnings that it was getting close to the recommended maximum temperature, and I decided it likely had to do with the fact that the power management of the motherboard slowed down the main case fan which reduced the airflow.

The case actually had two cutouts for fans in front of the disk drive array, so I wired up a couple fans for each one off a single power connector, put the fans in and now the drives are running cooler (the 3TB SATA-3 drives in the mirror in the Windows machine are much newer drives and run much cooler).

Keep in mind, that the cooler your drives run, the longer they’ll probably last and the fewer problems you’re going to have — plus when you run drives close to their maximum recommended temperature you’re going to see thermal re-calibrations which are going to make your computer look like it’s hanging or at least stuttering.

While I don’t think you should get crazy with fans, you should insure that any location in the case that has a heat producing component should have airflow — and many fans come with speed adjustments so you can run them at their lowest setting and provide enough airflow while minimizing the fan noise (which can be deafening if you have lots of fans).

One last thing — make sure when you buy fans you buy good quality ball-bearing fans — if you don’t, you’re just wasting money and asking for a fan failure (plus way too much noise).

Originally posted 2013-07-10 08:00:16.