Home Lab Xeon

The current home lab setup consists of an Intel Core i3-2100 with 16GB of DDR3, a USB drive for ESXi (on 6.5 right now) and a 3TB WD for the VMs. While the Intel i3 performs perfectly for my needs, I came across a Xeon E3-1220 (SR00F, Ivy Bridge), which should be even better!

For the specs, we have the following differences:

Model Intel Xeon E3-1220 Intel Core i3-2100
Released: Q2-2011 Q1-2011
Manufacturing process: 32nm 32nm
Price originally: 189-203 US dollars (more in euroland) 120 USD
Core count: 4 Cores 2 cores
Hyperthreading No Yes
Base Freq: 3.10 GHz 3.1 GHz
Turbo Freq: 3.40 GHz No
TDP: 80 W 65W
Max Memory: 32 GB ECC DDR3 32 GB Non-ECC DDR3
L1 Cache: 128 + 128 KB 64 + 64 KB
L2 Cache: 1 MB 512 KB
L3 Cache: 8 MB 3 MB

So we can see that the Xeon part is 4 core processor, without hyperthreading, so real cores as opposed to the i3’s threads. It’s more power hungry, which is to be expected, but can also Turbo at a higher frequency than the i3. Also, the Xeon has more cache, which is also to be expected with a server grade component.

A notable thing is that the Xeon, being a server part, does not include the GPU components, so I’ll have to add a GPU at least for the installation. I run the server headless anyway, but I want to see it POST at least. I think I’ll have to add a PCI card for this it has no PCI slots so, as I only have one PCIe slot (well there are some x1 slots but I have no such cards), and that’s used by the NIC. The motherboard is an Asrock H61M-DGS R2.0 which has one x16 slot and one x1 slot. Maybe I’ll do it all headless and hope it posts? Or take out the NIC for the installation?

Some yahoo also tried running an x16 card in an x1 slot here. Might try that but since I have to melt off one end of the x1 slot, probably not.

There are apparently some x1 graphics cards, but I don’t have one as I mentioned. An option could be the Zotac GeForce GT 710, which can be had for 60 euros as of this post.

Preparations

I went to the pharmacy to get some pure isopropyl alcohol. It wasn’t on the shelf, so I had to ask for it. I told the lady I need some isopropyl alcohol, as pure as possible. She looked at me funny and said they had some in stock. I told her I’m using it to clean electronics, so she wouldn’t suspect I’m some sort of cringey soon-to-be-blind  (not sure if you get blind from this stuff, but it can’t be good for you) wannabe alcoholic, to which she replied that she doesn’t know what i’ll do with it, or how it will work for that. She got the bottle, which is described as “100 ml Isopropyl Alcohol”. There is a mention of cleaning vinyl disks and tape recorder heads on the back, so I was vindicated. There’s no indication of purity on the bottle, but the manufacturer lists above 99.8% purity here. Doesn’t exactly match the bottle, but it’s close.

Why did I get isopropyl alcohol? Well, because people on the internet said it’s good for cleaning off residual thermal paste from processors and CPU coolers. With common sense 2.0, I can also deduce that anything with a high alcoholic content will evaporate, and not leave behind anything conductive to mess things up. Oh and it cost 6,30€ at the local pharmacy. It’s not listed on the website (or it says it’s no longer a part of their selection).

Let’s see how it performs. I’m using cotton swabs, but I suppose I could use a paper towel. If it leaves behind cotton pieces, I’ll switch to something else.

The Xeon originally had a passive CPU block and a bunch of loud, small case fans, but I will use the same cooler as for the i3.

Take out the i3 and the cooler. Clean the cooler off with the isopropyl:

Isopropyl worked wonders

Put in the E3, new thermal paste. I used some trusty Arctic Silver 5.

Termal paste added, note artistic pattern

Re-attach the cooler and we’re off to the races. I’ll note here that I hate the push through and turn type attachments of the stock Intel cooler. Oh well, it’ll work.

 

Powering on

Powering the thing on was the exciting part. Will there be blue smoke? Will it boot headless? Will it get stuck in some POST screen and require me to press a button to move on? Maybe even go into the BIOS to save settings for the new CPU?

Strangely enough, after a while, I started getting ping replies from ESXi meaning the box had booted.

There’s really nothing left to do. ESXi 6.5 recognizes the new CPU and VMs started booting shortly after.

Xeon E3 running on ESXi 6.5

Windows 10 Experiences

Prep work

Every single blog probably has a post like this, but I figured it’d be good to recount my Windows 10 experiences. For posterity reasons, if nothing else.

I was involved in the Windows Insider program for quite some time (since the 9000-series builds), and have run Windows 10 pretty happily in a number of physical and virtual machines. Among them, VMware Workstation 11, Virtualbox 4, and a Thinkpad T420s. All without major issues, even when it was still in the preview stage.

Updating my own workstation is another issue entirely, but I figured I would do it anyway, and fix any issues that might come up as they hit.

I started off performing a standalone full backup using Veeam Endpoint to an external USB drive, and moving the Veeam recovery media to that same external disk. This is a good practice in case everything blows up in your face. Using Veeam Endpoint, I could perform a bare metal recovery in the event of a total disaster, and return to my pre-upgrade state.

The plan was as follows: Update Windows 7 to Windows 10, wipe install and do a clean Windows 10 install. The reason behind this? During the upgrade phase, your Windows 7 (or I suppose 8/8.1) product key is converted to a Windows 10 key, and paired with some kind of hardware id, identifying your computer. One could try and install Windows 10 directly, and use the common key that seems to be the same on all machines that do the 7,8,8.1 -> 10  upgrade (for the Pro version, it’s: VK7JG-NPHTM-C97JM-9MPGT-3V66T), but they have reported that the install fails. This is probably because there is some backend magic that happens during the upgrade, which ties your computer to Windows 10.

So I started off getting the Windows 10 media using the Microsoft Windows Media Creation tool. I also saved the ISO to a USB drive where I could perform the full install later from. Some people have reported that starting the upgrade from the install media has been more successful than the “Windows Update” method. If you want to force your upgrade the Windows Update way, you can do the following:

  • Remove all files from the folder: ”WindowsSoftwareDistributionDownload”
  • Remove the folder ”$Windows.~BT” from the root of your system drive
  • Start an administrative command prompt and run ”wuauclt.exe /updatenow”
  • Open and run Windows Update from the control panel

The Upgrade

I however opted for the install media method which seemed to work fine. I mounted the ISO (using WinCDEmu if you want to know), and started setup.exe and followed the upgrade wizard. Everything proceeded basically without incident; except for a weird Razer Synapse install popup during the upgrade:

win10_razerKind of weird, and also tells me that explorer.exe is running somewhere in the background there (I thought it was basically in a “pre-windows” environment where it performs the upgrade before it starts any more advanced GUI elements). I was unable to install Razer Synapse (a program I had installed in Windows 7, which was therefore going over to the new Windows 10 world); it crashed with some error. I dismissed the window. It didn’t appear to bother the upgrade in any way. But funny none the less!

After the upgrade, I had a basically working Windows 10 environment with all of my Windows 7 software etc. Nvidia drivers were installed as part of the upgrade and they were of the correct version (which supports Windows 10). Nvidia’s own little control panel did offer me an upgrade to the same version, but was unable to install it. Somehow it didn’t detect that Windows had already installed the same version. I didn’t troubleshoot this further, as everything was working and I was going to do the clean install anyway. Razer Synapse also worked, but also didn’t detect that it was already installed and insistently popped up the same install wizard as in the picture above, but failed with an error. It’s already installed! Give up! 🙂

N.B. Do not proceed unless Windows tells you it is activated. You can also check your upgraded Windows 10 key using a tool like Magic Jelly Bean Keyfinder (or some other method you prefer)

The Clean Install

I wanted a completely clean environment, as I’ve had bad experiences with Windows upgrades since the 3.1 -> Windows 95 upgrade. Just trust me.

I had a bootable USB with the Windows 10 x64 Pro installation media on it. I was prepared to re-install all applications etc. And I had a backup of everything just in case. Boot the machine, perform a clean install from the USB drive. Enter the product key starting with VK7JG during installation, no issues here. Install went without incident. It might not even ask you for a key, apparently, since it was activated after the upgrade.

After install, I had one device with missing drivers (Asus Xonar DG soundcard); everything else worked “out-of-the-box”. Installed a bunch of my favorite programs, and so far, a week or so after upgrade, I still have not had any major issues.

Now, what I did do is disable all forms of tracking and “send information to microsoft”-type of settings. I’ll do another post on this. Basically, it seems to be really hard to get rid of everything tracking related, because some of the call home functions are hard coded and IP based, so a simple host-file block won’t work. You need to deal with it on a firewall level, but even then, some users are reporting funny issues with their computer when it can’t call home. Which is sad. But then again, the EULA probably states you don’t actually own Windows 10 or have any rights to it, and the upgrade is free, so whatever. Take my first born.

Sources:

Among others.. https://www.reddit.com/r/Windows10/comments/3f2rl2/windows_10_ultimate_upgrade_guide/
http://muropaketti.com/14-miljoonaa-paivitti-windows-10iin-vuorokaudessa-varattujen-paivitysten-jonon-purkuun-menee-viikkoja
http://muropaketti.com/windows-10-prohon-paivittaneet-jakavat-saman-geneerisen-tuoteavaimen

Build 10240: Did you get assigned a license/product key? from Windows10

 

Some of the privacy related stuff:

http://arstechnica.co.uk/information-technology/2015/08/even-when-told-not-to-windows-10-just-cant-stop-talking-to-microsoft/
http://localghost.org/posts/a-traffic-analysis-of-windows-10   <—- Note that this looks very shady, I would take it with a metric fuck-ton of salt

LSI Updates and Pi

There’s no possible way to make a Raspberry Pi-joke that hasn’t already been made.

LSI

So far so good. Things’ve been working fine, though I have to look into disabling the bios since I’m not booting from any drives that are behind the LSI card. Boot times are three times as long as without the card, even though the OS is loading from the Samsung 840 Pro SSD drive.

I used MegaRaid Storage Manager for Windows to install the latest BIOS for my card. I went to the LSI site, searched for Host Bus Adapters -> LSI SAS 9211-8i -> Firmware, and downloaded the only available package (at the time this was named “9211-8i_Package_P17_IR_IT_Firmware_BIOS_for_MSDOS_Windows”, released Aug 09, 2013, the same package as for the IR-firmware installed in the previous post). Inside the archive, you will find various folders. Look in the  folder “sasbios_rel” and check that you have mptsas2.rom in there. That’s the BIOS image.

The good news is, as I mentioned, once you have the Storage Manager software installed, and your card is recognized, you can flash the BIOS from Windows without issues. This should also work for Firmware, but I haven’t tried this yet, as I am already running the latest IR-firmware. Open up SM, and somewhere in the middle you will find Update Firmware. There, select BIOS (middle selection for me), and browse to the folder mentioned earlier. Inside, select the mptsas2.rom file. Hit OK, and it will ask you to check a box and confirm that you want to update the BIOS. After that, it’ll flash, and tell you when it is done. It will show you the old BIOS version until you reboot. My card was 7.29.0.0, and is now 7.33.0.0. Improvements are minimal, but there were some.

One note on the Write Cache, mentioned in the last post. I was unable to enable this from Storage Manager. Perhaps due to the fact that there is no battery backup unit. I’ll have to look more into this at a later date.

PI

Got me a Pi. The B model, from local RS reseller, Yleiselektroniikka. Cost me 47 bucks including taxes. It’s the revised Model B, with 512MB memory. I also got a transparent case, which was 10 bucks. I didn’t get a powersupply, because I have plenty of USB chargers for various devices (and a few generic ones) that provide 1A+ @5V. My HTC Desire Z charger powered the Pi just fine, even though there’ve been reports of “flaky” mobile phone chargers not working with the Pi.

I have an 8 GB Verbatim SD-card for this project, and I dropped the latest NOOBS image from the Raspberry Pi homepage on the card, after formating the card FAT. I then installed Raspbian from the NOOBS-installer, and proceeded to do an apt-get update && apt-get upgrade, which also upgraded the Pi bootloader to the latest version (as was recommended by the small booklet that came with the Pi.)

I haven’t done much with the device yet (joining the club of Pi owners everywhere! :)), except hook things up and tried it out a bit. It works great! Or just as advertised. Obviously the boot is a little bit slow, but nothing out of the ordinary, considering the specs. HDMI out works fine; I use an HDMI -> DVI cable for this.