Seagate Early Success, Ultimate Fail

Hard Drive Graphic Seagate’s been in the news for even more hard drive problems but I was finally able to download the BIOS update from Seagate and apply it to the drives. With all their problems Seagate finally made the BIOS downloads available publicly, rather than having to get a link from their tech support. Even better, the download was an image of a bootable CD that could be used for the BIOS upgrade.

The BIOS upgrade itself went fairly well after some false starts. I interpreted the “model expected” error message to mean it was finding the wrong drive, rather than no drive. So I swapped out the SATA DVD reader for an IDE one and retried. Same error. Finally I went into the BIOS and switched the SATA controller to IDE mode and was then able to apply to BIOS update. All seemed to go well.

I put the drive in the new Windows Home Server I’m building. The drive seemed to be running just fine but I was yet to actually use it for files. Once the file copy moved onto that drive it almost immediately error’d out and the WHS software said it went missing. Reseat the drive and it returns but when I repeat the copy the error repeats. Now, everything in this rig is new so I’m figuring it’s a cable or the new hardware, probably a bad connector. But nothing changed after checking cables and connections. I eventually freed up a Western Digital 1TB drive and slapped it in the same drive bay. No problems since and the drive now has 808GB successfully copied to it.

I realize Seagate is a top hard drive maker and any drive maker can have a problem. But based on my problems with this Seagate drive, combined with the problems Seagate is having in general and the lack of problems with my 13 Western Digital 1TB drives I’ll be avoiding Seagate drives for awhile. As it happens I just ordered a Hitachi 1TB to try since they were ten bucks cheaper than the Western Digitals. I should also point out that another Seagate 1.5 TB drive is running fine in my old WHS. In this case it was factory flashed with a recent, unaffected BIOS. In any event, no Seagate drives are in my immediate future.

So I guess next up will be do download Seagate’s diag utility and hope it finds an error with the hard drive so I can return it under warranty for a replacement. It’s not one of my higher priorities as the effort is quickly outweighing the benefit of the extra space.

Windows 7

I hadn’t considered Windows 7 for my PC build. I started planning in December and had pretty much ignored the stories about when the beta would be available. I didn’t want to be running beta software on a PC I had just built and I didn’t want to have to worry about software compatibility and whether the problem was hardware or software.

I just made a u-turn and did a fresh install of Windows 7 on my newly built PC. It was abrupt because I wanted to flatten the Vista installation before activation kicked in and I burned up the activation key. While definitely beta, the stories indicate it’s a pretty solid beta and not like the first Vista beta which was a nightmare. Still, I was expecting to regret my decision. I’m pleasantly surprised that I have no regrets (at least so far).

The download was quick despite the file sizes. The 64-bit version is 3.15GB while the 32-bit version is 2.44GB. I’ll be using the 64-bit version although I did download the 32-bit version and get a license key in case I need it. Microsoft is using Akamai to do the download so that probably helps with the speed. I’m not entirely convinced the initial download problems weren’t a PR stunt so Microsoft could say Windows 7 was more popular than expected. You do have to install a download manager active-x control to handle the download. Probably not a bad idea with such large files but the desktop icon it added annoys me. The help screen mentions java and active-x so it’s likely Firefox users aren’t excluded and would get the java based download manager.

The file names include the word “ultimate”, I hope that doesn’t mean Microsoft is planning to use the same product segmentation as they did for Vista.

Be sure to read the release notes if you’re installing Windows 7 and be sure to get the MP3 patch to avoid destroying your MP3 library. Read about it here. (This patch was installed by Windows Update for me although it sounds like it wasn’t always in Windows Update.)

Windows 7 Device Manager I selected custom install so I could do a fresh install. I never do an OS upgrade, either Windows or OS X, and always take the opportunity to do a clean install. Even though my Vista install was less than 3 days old I decided on the same approach. The install was smooth and the only two “bangs” (unidentified hardware flagged by a yellow exclamation mark in device manager) were “Coprocessor” and “SM Bus Controller”. Despite those, everything seemed to be running fine. I installed the Vista 64 drivers for my motherboard, ignoring the video and network drivers as both those seemed to be working fine and I don’t want to mess with those critical components. This cleared the bangs and I now have a clean install. Windows Update does tell me that there’s a video driver update from NVidia available but I’ve held off installing it. (This was there for Vista too.)

I’ve yet to come across a software compatibility problem while installing the software although admittedly I haven’t done a lot with the installed software. Most of the software is running as 32-bit and when it matters they see the OS as Vista. So far I’ve got:

Windows Home Server – Vista 64 connector used. The console runs fine and backups are occurring on schedule.

AVG Free Anti-virus – I’m not using the toolbar or the e-mail scanner (by choice) but the basic anti-virus installed fine.

Evernote – The Windows client installed and seems to run fine. I haven’t used the browser integration yet.

Dropbox – No issues, syncs fine

Microsoft Live Mesh – Still in the tech preview stage itself but installed and syncs fine. I don’t have remote access enabled.

Wakoopa – I don’t track web apps but has worked fine so far.

Core Temp – Seems to run fine.

AnyDVD and Clone DVD – DVD ripping and copying software works fine. (I don’t use these to burn physical DVDs.)

Firefox – works fine as do the Evernote Web Clipper, Delicious Bookmarks, Foxmarks, Google Gears, Greasemonkey, NoScript and Stop Autoplay add-ons. I want to force myself to use IE 8, at least for awhile, so I don’t have Firefox set as my default browser. (I don’t expect this to last long.)

Windows Live Essentials – I installed Mail, Photo Gallery, Toolbar (despite my toolbar disdain), Writer, Silverlight and the Movie Maker Beta although I’ve yet to dig into any of them.

The Windows Experience score is slightly better than it was under Vista:

Windows 7 Experience ScoreI’ve started up a new section dedicated to Windows 7.

 

Vista PC Build – The Results

NSK2480 case Well, I put all the parts together and have Vista running on the PC. There’s plenty of info about putting a PC together already on the net so I’m not going to get into the details.

The case had plenty of room so getting the motherboard and drives in wasn’t a problem. The cover is held on by one thumbscrew but it fits securely and is easy to remove. The only hitch I had was the lack of an available SATA power connector for the DVD reader so I had to order a molex to sata power cable.

I used the Intel supplied cooler and sure enough, as others have described it seems pretty cheap. I’ll monitor the temperature to see how it does. So far heat isn’t an issue. The PC has been running for over 24 hours (although not doing much more than idling) and the cpu temperature is 13°C which is well under the 73.2°C maximum for the E2180 cpu. In fact, my biggest complaint so far is that with the computer sitting to the left of my desk the fans are blowing cold air towards me. If things stay cool I may pull the power on the fans or replace them with the panels supplied with the case.

The PC is quiet as promised. Because the PC sits at desk level and the fans blow towards me I do hear the sound of them running a bit. It’s more the sound of the air moving than hearing a motor run.

Even though I’d read that Windows Vista couldn’t be installed from a SATA drive (in some cases) I had to give it a try. Out of the box it wouldn’t boot the DVD. Rather than fiddle with the BIOS I just hooked up a spare IDE drive. Eventually I’ll return to the problem and tinker with the BIOS.

The actual Vista install went off without a hitch. I didn’t time it since I went away for the bulk of the install where it was extracting a copying files. But when I returned expecting it to be done it was. It was less than 30 minutes. Whether it was 10 or 20 minutes less I couldn’t say.

The Vista install didn’t have drivers for the on-board video so it used the standard VGA drivers until I installed the drivers from Zotac once the installation was finished.

The Acer monitor that I have has three video in ports, a HDMI, VGA and a DVI port. The DVI port is connected to my iMac as a second monitor. I decided to try connecting the new PC up via an HDMI port since the motherboard had an onboard HDMI port. This is where I had the first real problem. The video quality stinks and is distorted. It’s bad even when the BIOS screens are displayed so it’s unlikely that Vista is the problem. Even so, I played around with BIOS and driver settings for awhile without success. Unfortunately I don’t have a second HDMI cable or output device to narrow down the problem.

The HDMI port problem isn’t a huge issue, although it would be nice to know if it’s a hardware problem while the hardware is still under warranty. I don’t plan on having a monitor attached to the Vista machine on a regular basis and if I do need one I can use the VGA cable.

I’m using Microsoft’s Remote Desktop for Mac to connect into the Vista machine. Since they’re on the same switch performance should be good. No complaints yet but I haven’t stressed the system at all.

I had a second Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB hard drive so I decided to install it and try out the RAID on the motherboard. Using the “Windows Experience” number after a fresh Vista install there wasn’t a performance difference between the motherboard raid and a single hard drive. Both returned a score of 5.9. When configured for RAID I had to load the RAID drivers (from the motherboard driver CD) in order for Vista to see the drives and install. The driver auto detect didn’t work and I had to browse to the Vista 64 drivers but once they were loaded everything was fine. Since I want the hard drive for my Windows Home Server I ended up removing the second drive.

Speaking of the Windows Experience score, here’s the score once the install was finished and the latest drivers were in place. It’s not surprising that the on-board video is the limiting component.

ExperienceScore

The results from CPU-Z are shown in the following screenshots. Click the thumbnail to see them full size.

CPU-Z cpu  CPU-Z cache  CPU-Z mainboard CPU-Z memory  CPU-Z spd slot 1 CPU-Z spd slot3

So, it’s been running for about two days without incident (such as bursting into flames). Time to start installing some software.

Vista PC Build – Parts and Planning

ANTEC_NSK2480_q We won’t talk about how long it’s been since I built a computer, but let’s just say that the ATX form factor probably wasn’t even a twinkle in some engineer’s eye at the time. I’ve been eager to get back into it and also get a relatively low cost Windows computer that I could tinker with. Another thing I remember from those old days is value is more important than rock-bottom cost, cheaply made parts extract payment way beyond their price. So here are my requirements for this computer:

  • Quite – it will be located near my desk in my office so it must be quiet.
  • Power efficient – I’m not looking to build a low power PC, but keeping power usage (and therefore the electric bill) in line are important.
  • Easy to reconfigure – this is something I’m likely to revisit to try different hardware configurations or use for testing hardware. For example, flashing the BIOS in my Seagate drive requires a computer that only has the drive hooked up to it. This should easily accommodate that.
  • Run Vista 64-bit

So without further delay, here are the parts I picked. See the commentary below the parts list.

Qty Part Cost
1 Antec New Solution NSK2480 MicroATX Computer Case w/380W Power Supply $120
1 ZOTAC N73PV-Supreme LGA 775 NVIDIA GeForce 7100 HDMI Micro ATX Intel Motherboard $45
(now $50)
(before $10 rebate)
1 Intel Pentium E2180 Allendale 2.0GHz 1MB L2 Cache LGA 775 65W Dual-Core Processor $70
1 Crucial 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory $32
(now $40)
1 Western Digital Caviar Black WD1001FALS 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive $120
1 ASUS Black 18X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM SATA DVD-ROM $20
1 Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 64-bit for System Builders – OEM $170
(now $180)
1 SATA Serial ATA Power Cable – 6inch $0.85
Total Cost (Before Rebates) $578

 

There are some additional parts that will be needed for the build itself although they won’t be used on this computer once the build is done. Some, like a monitor, may be needed in your case.

 

Qty

Part

Cost

1 Monitor, I used a Acer H213H bmid Black 21.5″ 5ms HDMI Widescreen 16:9 Full HD 1080P LCD Monitor $190
1 IDE DVD Drive. Windows won’t install over a SATA DVD drive. I used a Sony Optiarc Black 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM IDE DVD-ROM $18
1 Keyboard – LITE-ON SK-1688U/B Black 104 Normal Keys USB Wired Standard Keyboard $7
1 Mouse – Microsoft N71-00007S Black 3 Buttons 1 x Wheel USB Wired Optical Wheel Mouse $10
1 25” Cat 6 Network Cable $3.59

 

Here’s the reasons I got the parts that I did…

Case – I wanted a well-built case that was easy to work with and was quiet. I didn’t want a tower. I was avoiding case/power supply combo at first because I didn’t want a potentially cheap power supply. In this case the power supply was a well regarded Antec Earthwatts EA380 380W power supply so I didn’t mind. The case is designed to be quiet and although pricey it’s not so bad considering that the power supply is included.

Motherboard – I wanted to go with an Intel chip. I simply sorted by price and went with the lowest priced motherboard that fit my needs. The motherboard comes with two SATA data cables, you’ll need to buy additional cables if you want to use the four SATA ports.

CPU – Again, I wanted Intel. I started with the lowest price dual-core CPUs and worked my way up until I got a CPU that I thought would give me snappy performance for my limited needs. The reviews I read regarded this CPU as having a good performance to price value. I’m going with the stock cooler even though Intel stock coolers are much derided. I will probably have to replace it but I want to use it awhile to see how it performs.

Hard Drive – I’m a fan of Western Digital drives, especially their green drives. I took it up a notch and went with a Caviar black for the performance.

RAM – I wanted 4GB of RAM and I’m a fan of the Crucial brand, never having had a problem with it. It’s also competitively priced without a significant premium for the brand.

Video – I’m going with on-board video for now even though I’m not a fan of it. I did buy a low cost video card but I’ll be needing it for the Windows Home Server build as that motherboard doesn’t have on-board video. Once the WHS build is done I’ll pop the card in to see if there’s a difference in performance.

Operating System – I debated between Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium and Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate. In Microsoft’s infinite idiocy they decided that remote access was a business feature and don’t include it in Home Premium. I decided to go with Vista Ultimate because I wanted the remote access (without having to go to a third party). Also, this gives me all the Vista features so if I want to try something I don’t have to worry about whether or not it’s included in my version.

SATA Power Cable – the case has two SATA power connectors, both on the same cable and designed to connect to the hard drives. I needed this connecter to modify a molex plug so that I could power the DVD reader.

DVD Reader – I went with a SATA connected DVD player because I wanted one in the house. As expected (based on my web reading) Vista wouldn’t install via SATA (the DVD wouldn’t boot). Playing with the BIOS might have resulted in the DVD becoming bootable but it was much easier to just hook up the spare IDE drive. It’s much easier to run the SATA data connector to the drive than it would have been to run the IDE ribbon cable so I like that and was worth the extra couple of bucks for the drive and power adapter.

Whenever possible I used OEM parts rather than retail. This means no packaging and in some cases no manuals or software although they are usually available on a website. It the case of Microsoft Vista it means Microsoft won’t provide phone support for the OS

That’s it for the parts. In the next installment I’ll let you know how the build went and how the PC integrates into the OSQuest data center.

New Website: Building a WordPress Website

[Update: the website mentioned here no longer exists]

Just a quick note that I’ve launched a new website – WPBlaze. The site will chronicle the building of a WordPress website from the ground up and will serve as its own example. Since the purpose is to cover it’s creation from the beginning you’ll find things a little rough if you visit it today since things are still mostly at their default value.

New HP MediaSmart Home Servers on the Horizon

HP will be shipping updated models of its Windows Home Server products starting February 1st. The EX485 will be the 750GB (1 drive) model and the EX487 will be the 1.5TB (2 drive model). Like it’s predecessor, the single drive model is the one to buy since 750GB hard drives are as low as $55 and easy to install.

Most of the buzz has been about the new feature that allows the HP MediaSmart Windows Home Server to be used as a backup destination for Time Machine. HP also includes software to allow the Windows Home Server to be backed up to Amazon’s S3 service. The server hardware gets bumped to 2GB of memory and an Intel 2.0GHz processor.

Some of the enhancements, such as the Time Machine and S3 features will be available as a software update to existing owners, probably around Feb 1st when the new servers start shipping. This means it’s probably not worth buying the new servers if, like me, you have one of the initial home servers. But you may want to consider upgrading memory to handle the new software.

HP has a brochure (pdf link) that details the technical abilities of the new servers and includes a table on which features work with Macs. (via MSWHS blog)

The servers won’t start shipping until February, but Amazon and NewEgg will notify you when the server is available.

Hands-on reviews have already started appearing, here’s a few:

HomeServerHacks.com – Hewlett Packard announces two new MediaSmart servers.

MediaSmartHome.com – Bringing Your Blended Mac & PC Household Together and Unboxed and Reviewed

WeGotServer.co.uk – Hands On

Belkin Powerline AV (200 Mbps)

Belkin Powerline AV picture I use my Mac Mini as a media center but it has a 802.11g wireless connection which has been a problem. Since I live in a pretty dense apartment complex and every couple of months I have to find a new channel that has less interference. I finally got fed up enough that I decided to spend the money and try a Powerline AV adapter. I went with the Belkin Powerline AV Adapter. I never had much confidence in the Powerline technology but I was hoping it had matured by now. While the Belkins are pricey ($149 at Amazon) I went with them because they are the newest and therefore I figured most mature and likely to work.

Setup

Setting up the Belkin Powerline AVs is simplicity itself. Plug them into power and then plug in the network cable. But the gory details are…

The Belkin Powerline AV starter kit came with two Powerline AV adapters. They can plug in flush with the wall using the pre-installed wall plug, or you can swap out the wall plug with a supplied extension cord if you don’t have the space for the adapter. You also get two network patch cables in the box. One adapter needs to plug into your network modem, router or switch while the other attaches to the device you want to add to the network. Additional Powerline AV adapters can be added although the adapters will all share the same bandwidth.

In my case I attached one to an ethernet port on my router and the other to my Mac Mini.

The Powerline AVs use 128-bit DES encryption for security. The encryption key can be changed from their factory default to a random value. This is the only part that’s a bit difficult. Each adapter has a “One Touch Security Button” that need to be pressed in the proper order for the proper length of time to set and sync the keys. Since it’s only a button there’s no feedback other than the devices connecting when your done.

Belkin says they should be plugged directly into the wall and not to use a power strip or ups.

Performance

The Belkin Powerline AV’s claim to be 200Mbps (I suspect they mean 100 Mbps full-duplex). There’s an LED that glows blue when the link-rate is 80Mbps or greater and amber when the link rate is less than 80Mbps. The adapter that connects to my router glows amber indicating a rate less than 80Mbps.

I’m seeing actual speeds consistently above 24Mbps and usually about 28Mbps. This is far below the rated performance but above the speeds I’ve been getting with other wireless options. More importantly, the connection is reliable and consistent. Streaming video has worked fine so far.

Conclusion

They’re pricey and I’m only getting about 12% of their rated speed but it’s faster than my wireless options. Despite this it seems like a suitable option for my needs and I won’t be sending them back. Some things to keep in mind is that distance (over you electrical wires) affects performance and additional devices will share the same bandwidth.

The OS Quest Trail Log #37: 2009 Kick-Off Edition

Yea, I know, I just did a trail log and there hasn’t been much happening since then, so what else could there be? Well, not much actually. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions or stuff like that, but despite that I’ve spent some time recently thinking about where the Quest should go this year and have already begun some changes. I decided to put things on the record so I could compare my plans to reality at the end of the year.

Hopefully by the time the next Trail Log appears there will be a new picture in the top left as the Quest HQ expands. Most of the parts from my planned computer builds have arrived, but the keyword there is “most”. I have two planned, a Windows Home Server and Vista desktop. As Murphy planned I’m missing one critical component from each. In the case of the desktop it’s the OS and in the case of the WHS it’s, well, the case. So it’ll be next weekend before I can do the builds. So for now I’ve been doing some rearranging of my office, moving equipment around and upgrading the network.

While I’m still an Apple fan most of the new plans are Microsoft and Windows related. I’m actually looking forward to Windows 7 (unlike Vista) and will probably go so far as to install the beta once it’s released. I’m a big fan of their Windows Home Server and look forward to having a second one to play with. The Windows Live Essentials (which includes Live Writer which I’m using to write this) and Windows Live Wave 3 (web services) are also intriguing, although a bit confusing.

New, Improved and Frustrating Software

I used UltraISO for the first time this week when I had a bootable CD ISO image and needed to add some files to it. It worked great. I opened the ISO file in UltraISO, added the files to it, and saved the updated file which I then burned to CD. UtraISO is for Windows and costs $30. I was able to get what I needed using the demo copy but with it’s ability to extract files from a CD/DVD ISO image it’s something I’ll probably be buying and adding to my toolkit.

The improved software was WordPress 2.7. I finally got around to upgrading this site. The upgrade was smooth and went without a hitch.

The frustrating software was Windows Live Mesh on my Mac. I like the concept behind Microsoft’s Mesh but the latest version just won’t work right on my Mac. It starts to sync just fine but then loses the connection to the web and stops connecting. If I deleted configuration files I could set everything up again and it would work for awhile. Mesh is still in the “tech preview” phase so I can’t complain too much and it’s not worth the time to troubleshoot.

Predictions

I have absolutely no qualifications to make predictions but since that doesn’t stop others I won’t let it stop me. So here are my predictions for Macworld and the year that follows:

  • Steve Jobs will still be alive, healthy and running Apple at the end of 2009.
  • Apple won’t bring out any interesting new products in 2009, just evolutionary upgrades to current products. No iPhone Nano and no larger iPod Touch. I might be wrong on the larger iPod Touch although it’s probably my own hopes getting in the way.
  • Steve Jobs will deliver the keynote at the 2010 CES.
  • iWork will not move to the cloud. Although they may include greater iPhone and iPod Touch integration they will remain primarily desktop apps through 2009.
  • The ecosystem around Windows Home Server will continue to grow and it will continue to increase market share and fans. (Ok, this may be more wishful thinking.) Although sales numbers will pale compared to desktop windows, it will be public relations success for Microsoft.
  • Google Android based cell phones will outsell the Apple iPhone in the U.S. by the end of 2009. Although it will be due to the numerous models and their ability to run on non-AT&T networks.
  • Microsoft Windows Mobile will be on life support by the end of 2009. Naturally it won’t die, but between the iPhone and Android it will be an also-ran with few prospects. Android will hurt Windows Mobile much more than it hurts the iPhone.
  • Apple will ignore analysts calls to introduce bargain laptops and other low cost computers. It will also report record profits despite the recession.

Keep in mind, I when the first iPod was released I said people wouldn’t pay that much for a music player. Not only was I wrong, it wasn’t long before I bought my first Apple product – a 1st generation iPod.

Happy New Year.