The OS Quest Trail Log #55: Scary Edition

Halloween PictureOctober comes to a close here in the States (and a few other countries) things have been moving along on the quest. There was a new OS, but after installing Ubuntu 10.10 to VirtualBox I haven’t used it very much. Instead I’ve spent most of my time working on my system builds.

Windows Hone Server Vail

I’ve done a little testing with Vail (Windows Home Server Version 2 beta), more like kicking the tires rather than full blown test drive. I’ve had a few minor issues but it seems pretty solid even though it’s beta.

I also put together most of the new Windows Home Server build this past week. As I wrote about a couple days ago, I’m struggling to find the right way to populate the drives in the 5.25” drive bays.

I got the SNT hard removable hard drive kit. Considering the low cost it actually seems pretty good. It’s mostly plastic and while I wouldn’t want to subject it to abuse, it seems able to handle normal wear and tear.  But I’ve decided not to go with these.

Instead I’ll stick with the Cooler Master 4 in 3 cage. It won’t allow me to remove the drives from outside the case, but my real issue was with the hassle of getting the drives out when they needed to be replaced. There’s plenty of room in the HAF 32 full size case so this is less of an issue. Yea, I’ll still have to pop out the entire cage in order to swap one drive but that’s an incentive to use quality drives. I like the way the fan blows across all the drives but even that has a negative by requiring the entire cage to be removed to clean the filter. The biggest plus is that this is a $20 item compared to at least $50 for other solutions.

I still need to get a SATA controller to handle the 4 drives that the on-board SATA ports can’t handle. It hasn’t been a big priority since the drives aren’t in the server yet. But now that I’ve got that sorted out it’s time to buy a controller.

I wrote about my case selection, cpu/motherboard RAM choice and power supply in earlier articles.

PC Upgrades

Working on the Windows Home Server build got me in the system building spirit so I went ahead and started the upgrades to my primary Windows 7 PC. My plan was to do it in stages, a little at a time.

I started by upgrading the hard drive to a SSD drive. I wanted to get a drive capable of a SATA III (6Gb/s) connection. Since I couldn’t handle that yet it also needed to be SATA II compatible. That left just the Crucial SSDs to chose from. My existing system drive was a 150GB that was less than 1/2 full without doing anything to conserve space. Despite that, I ended up getting the C300 256 GB as several reviews had it performing better than it’s smaller siblings. This put a significant dent it my upgrade budget but I decided to go with it. Only time will tell if it was a good decision. No doubt prices will drop but as long as it can serve as my primary drive for a couple years I’ll be happy.

Since I was going to be doing the work on the hard drive I decided to make future upgrades easier by replacing the case. I liked it so much for the WHS build that I bought another Cooler Master HAF 932 case. The one I got is at the bottom of the HAF 932 line. It has the main features of the higher models but lacks some of the refinements such as a painted interior. I found the case easy to work with so decided to stick with it.

I’m more hesitant to move a mother board from one case to another than I am to build a new system. No good reason really, just seems like tempting fate to pull apart a working system. But the move when well and the SSD drive was easy to install. Setting the SATA controller to AHCI is pretty much mandatory for SSD drives in order to get TRIM support. I already had AHCI enable so I probably could have done a backup & restore but I chose to do a complete re-install of Windows 7. It seemed like a good opportunity to get rid of all the accumulated crude.

I keep all my data on my Windows Home Server or in DropBox so there wasn’t any real data to restore. Configuring the apps was tedious but went without a hitch. As expected Windows and application startup is fast but I haven’t used the PC enough to get a feel for any improvement. I did run benchmarks before the drive swap, but I’ve yet to run them after the swap.

I probably should have avoided upgrading the case since that caused my system build addiction kicked in. My micro-ATX motherboard looked so small and lonely in the full size case. My next upgrade was to be to the video card, but in looking at my motherboard my options were limited. Not because of the slots, but because most full length video card were too big, wanting the real estate already used by the SATA ports. I didn’t want to limit my video options do to the space.

Being the impatient type, I’m poised to order the motherboard/cpu/ram upgrades for the PC along with the video card. So except for the Blu-Ray/DVD drive that won’t be replaced, it will be a new PC. Well, I’m re-using two hard drives but only as secondary storage. I’m looking to switch to AMD to get more bang for the buck. I’ll probably order them early this week so I’ll have them for next weekend.

Media Changes?

I’ve been looking for alternative methods to manage and use my video library. I currently use iTunes from both Music and Video. I’m not a big fan of the bloatware that is iTunes. In general I like that Apple makes things easy to use but I’m afraid they’ll move iTunes in directions I don’t like (Ping). I’ll keep my music in iTunes. I like iPods and my iPad which pretty much means I need to stay in iTunes to use them. Playlists are easy to use and work well with the way I listen to music so I’m happy on the music side of things.

The video side of things is a different story. While I have bought some video from the iTunes store it’s a rare occurrence. Most of the video is from my own DVD collection. I like that iTunes keeps track of what I watch and when, but that’s about all I like. I’d call the rest of it fair to annoying.

I’m looking at a HTPC or Mac Mini to connect to my TV to play video from my library. With Vail and the new server build I’ll have more disk space available, giving me more flexibility. I’m one of the few still using an old style tube TV so there’s no rush to upgrade, but I’ll want better quality videos when the TV is updated to a flat panel. So I’ve begun looking for alternatives to iTunes.

The Month Ahead

I’ll be looking to finish my PC upgrade in early November. I’m looking at hardware that’s overclocking friendly as that’s something I haven’t done a lot of, and nothing within the last few years. So I’m looking forward to doing some experimenting.

I should also get the Windows Home Server build sorted out. But then there’s the question of what to do with that new, shiny hardware. I haven’t seen any Vail related announcements. Since Windows Home Server is something Microsoft wants to sell through OEMs as an appliance I suspect it will be after CES (which is in January) before I see a final product. I was hoping (wishing) November but it’s too late for the OEMs to hype them before Christmas.

I don’t want to put my 5+ GB of data on a server running beta software. There won’t be an in place upgrade for WHS from version 1 to version 2. Version 1 is 32-bit and version 2 is 64-bit and Microsoft has never done a 32-bit to 64-bit upgrade. Windows Home Server is primarily a OEM appliance so I doubt Microsoft sees much reason to create an in place upgrade. Right now the “upgrade” for me is easy, do an over the network file copy from the old server to the new one. Everything is data so there aren’t any settings to lose. If I put Windows Home Server version 1 on my new hardware to take advantage of it I’ll have to restore from backups or first copy to another server and then copy it back after the upgrade. I expect my impatience and desire to run the new hardware will have me risk running beta software in a production environment, or install version 1 and expect a more time consuming upgrade to version 2.

That’s it for this edition of the Trail Log.

WHS System Build: Drive Cage Tribulations

Antec EasySATA dockI have most of the parts in house for my WHS System build and I started putting things together and testing Windows Home Server V2 (Vail). I talked about the the case I picked and plans to try out the EasySATA docks. The good news is I ordered the docks from Amazon and as I said in article about my case choice:

Amazon also has a better return policy (and no restocking fee) so if I open the first one and it doesn’t meet my needs I should be able to return them without a problem.

The Antec EasySata isn’t a bad dock. I liked it, but it wouldn’t work for me. Even though it’s a fairly open design I was still concerned about heat once 5 of these were stacked in the case. Now, I knew that when I ordered them but I didn’t go far enough to know how well they handled heat.

The bigger problem I had with them is that the drive stuck out quit a bit. To far for me to cover them with a face plate or door. And if I did rig something it might keep in the heat. So I did keep the one I opened for use in my test PC where I’ll want to swap drives. But the rest went back.

So I hit the web again to do some research. I still wanted something where the drive could be removed externally. I don’t specifically need hot-swapping for my Windows Home Server, but the reality is anything I get will at least claim to support hot swapping. So I decided to include some X in Y type cages. For example, a cage that stuff four 3.5” hard drives into three 5.25” bays (or 3 in 2 or 5 in 4).

XClio SS035Here’s where I made a stupid mistake. It was stupid because I knew of the problem but didn’t check for it this time. I ordered a XClio SS035 5 x 3.5″ HDD in 3 x 5.25″ Cage from Newegg. It crams five 3.5” drives into three 5.25” bays by putting the drives on their side. I arrived yesterday. It’s well made and seems solid. It’s got a fan to cool the drives (in theory). But I won’t be installing it.

The problem? My case, like many (most?) cases includes little metal brackets that stick out to support what’s in the 5.25” bay. The cage has completely smooth sides that can’t handle the bracket. I’m not willing to molest the case by removing or bending the brackets. So this isn’t suitable for my Windows Home Server. It’s clear from the pictures that it won’t fit.

So after some more searching I ordered one SNT SNT-125B Black 3.5″ SATA Hard drive to 5.25″ Bay SATA Mobile Rack Removable Hard drive kit from Newegg. It’s cheap and if it doesn’t work for me I’ll still find a use for it. If it works I’ll order 4 more. It’s got a fan which should help in cooling. Reviews are good, considering the low price. It’s currently winging it’s way from the other coast and isn’t due to arrive until next week so the jury is still out.

Cooler Master 4 in 3 drive cageI’m also reconsidering the whole hot swap/externally accessible requirement. The case is big so there’s lots of room inside. I use the Cooler Master 4 in 3 cage in my current WHS so I may move it over to this new server and use it. It holds 4 drives with a fan that ventilates from the outside, unlike other units with a fan that would be inside the case. Also, it’s one fan will probably be quieter than 5 fans if I go with the xxx. While there are certainly other multi-drive hot swap bays out there this has the benefit of not costing me any more money.

Looking inside my Cooler Master HAF 932 there appear to be plenty of room to remove drives from the internal cage without anything on the motherboard getting in the way. This eliminates my main concern with drives that can only be accessed internally. After all, I already accepted 5 internal drives since they are easy to access.

So the Xclio SS035 will go back to Newegg and I’ll have to pay the restocking fee.  Early on I had excluded some cages because of this very reason, but I got stupid at the last moment. I can’t see using this in the near future so I might as well get some of my money back.

Turn Down the Heat

iStarUSA-BPU-2535The iStarUSA BPU-2535V2 1 x 3.5″ to 2 x 2.5″ SATA I/II Hot-Swap Drive Cage I’m using to hold the two 2.5” drives seems to be working well. I’ve been testing the drives in a mirrored configuration which means that I’ve been unable to read the SMART data (at least with the software I have and the chipset combos I have on the mobo). That is until I got to a higher end controller that I wanted to test.

By the time I got the software installed and got around to checking I saw the temperature was at 61 degrees (Celsius). This was for drives with a 60 degree operating temperature ceiling. The drives had been running for a long time building the mirror so there was a reason to run warmer than idle, but not good. I closed up the case to improve airflow and the temp cam down about 7 degrees. Acceptable, but sill to warm.

I picked the Western Digital Scorpios because of their reputation of being quieter and cooler than typical laptop drives. After sitting at idle overnight with just minimal activity from the OS the temp was 40 degrees. A full 8 degrees warmer than the next warmest drive in the system but much more acceptable.

So I’m looking for a cage that includes a fan. At this point all I find are bays that allow 4 drives which would work for me. I’m still debating whether I want to go the mirrored laptop drive route for the OS, but if I do I’ll need to do something about the heat.

Lessons Learned

Ordering the Asus EasySATA wasn’t such a bad idea. It cost me a little time but no money. The Xclio was a different story. I’m out about $25 (with shipping & restocking) and nothing to show. The lesson learned here is research! research! research! and remember the caveats. I had earlier excluded cages for this very reason, yet never considered it for this one.

It’s always the simple things. All the high tech stuff was fine. The drives work, the motherboard, memory and CPU work well together. It’s the little pieces of sheet metal that got me.

WHS System Build: Power Supply

Corsair AX 850 Power SupplyI covered the case I chose along with the cpu/ram/motherboard combination I picked for my Windows Hone Server Vail build. Now it’s time to talk about my choice of power supply.

I started out by using a couple online power calculators in order to get an idea about the size power supply I needed.  My requirements are pretty basic, the biggest power user would be the 12 drive capacity I wanted. Beyond that it was a single CPU with 4 sticks of memory on a regular desktop motherboard. I figured a simple memory card and an additional SATA controller. The Thermaltake Power Supply Calculator is where I started and it estimated I needed 477 watts. The Newegg Power Supply Calculator is more conservative (but simpler to use) and even though it could only go to 8 drives it suggested 496 watts.  So I needed a minimum of a 500 watt power supply.

I’m conservative when it comes to estimates so I’d be overestimating and starting my search at 750W.  Since I’d probably have a lot more power available than I’d be using after the initial surge to power up all those hard drives I’d want something that extremely efficient. I’d also want a quality power supply that would last through any server expansions and into my next build(s).

I spent some time going through the reviews at JonnyGuru.com among other sites. I eventually decided on the Corsair AX850 Power Supply. It’s pricey, coming it at just under $200 from most locations (Amazon or Newegg) with Newegg currently having a $10 mail-in rebate.

The JonnyGuru review gave the power supply a glowing review. As the name implies it’s a 850 watt power supply. Other features includes:

  • Rated 80 Plus Gold efficiency (although the JohnnyGuru test brought it in just under that.
  • The fan only spins after the temperature reaches a certain level which reduces the noise
  • Fully modular which was a plus for me as I’m looking to keep the build as neat as possible and only need power to the motherboard and the drives. I won’t be needing cable power to any cards.
  • The power supply comes with 12 SATA power connectors which meets all my needs so I won’t be needing any splitters.

I won’t know until I start the build, but the 600mm cable length for the power supply seemed as if it would be a stretch in my case. The motherboard has the power plug about as far away from the bottom mounted power supply as it could be so I ordered a couple extension cables to be prepared. I’ll want to be able to route the cable behind the motherboard.

The only downside was the price although in this case I think I’m getting a quality product that will last many years and into my next build. I suspect I could have saved $30 or so and gone with the 750watt power supply. I’ll put a Kill A Watt monitor on it to see what the power draw is after my build. I won’t have to worry about a power shortage, put hopefully I haven’t over-provisioned to the point of wasting power and  money.

This almost completes my parts list. I still want to add a SATA controller to get my 12 drive capacity but I won’t need that to start the build. I’ve got a few  misc. pieces such as cables and a NIC card. I shouldn’t be too long before I start the build and will find out whether or not I made good choices.

Any comments or suggestions about my choice?

Western Digital 3TB Caviar Green Drive

Western Digital announced a 3TB external drive awhile back, this week they announce a internal 3TB Caviar Green Drive. While I have  no need for the drive at this time I have to admit I’m curios.

As the reviews I link to at the end mention, there’s a 2.9TB barrier with most systems these days. Western Digital provides a controller board with the disk in order to get around the issue.

The bottom line is, review the pitfalls before spending your money. Or better yet, wait for others to clarify the pitfalls. I have to admit I’m curious and I’m looking for a way to justify buying one.

Some Reviews:

AnandTech

Legit Reviews

Storage Review

WHS System Build: Motherboard/CPU/RAM

GIGABYTE GA-P55-USB3I wrote about the Cooler Master RAF32 case that I ordered for my next system build earlier this week. Now I’ll go into the motherboard I plan to use and why. I already have the motherboard in hand, purchased earlier so I could take advantage of a discount. I just placed the order for the CPU and memory.

I picked the GIGABYTE GA-P55-USB3 LGA motherboard. I forget exactly what drew my attention to the board. I came across a mention of it someplace and it seemed like a solid, if unspectacular, board. Anything with 8 SATA ports at a price under $150 gets my attention. Of the 28 mobos with 8 or more SATA ports listed at Newegg this is the least expensive.

The motherboard has decent specs:

  • ATX form factor
  • LGA 1156 CPU socket for i3/i5/i7 CPUs
  • 4 DIMM slots supporting up to 16GB of RAM
  • Intel P55 Chipset
  • No Onboard Video
  • One PCI Express x16 slot,
  • Another PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot but running at x4. With a caveat in that the PCIX1_2 slot has to be empty. If it’s used then the this slot runs at x1
  • Two PCI Express x1 slots. Although as the above bullet points mentions, using both will affect the PCI Express x4 slot. In addition the PCIX1_1 slot can only handle shorter cards. So using PCI Express x1 slots will be complicated
  • Three PCI slots
  • 8 SATA Ports
  • The P55 chipset support RAID 0/5/1/10 for 6 of those SATA ports while a Gigabyte  SATA2 chip supports RAID 0/1/JBOD on another two. The Gigabyte SATA 2 chip is reported by others as a rebadged JMicron chip.
  • There’s on onboard LAN thanks to Realtek but I like to use Intel NICs so don’t plan on using it. I’ll probably do some testing on it to see how it compares if only to satisfy my curiosity.
  • It’s got a whopping eight USB 2 ports and two USB 3 ports on the rear panel. I don’t need a lot of USB ports in my Windows Home Server. Just a couple available for when I need to hook up a keyboard an mouse. The enhanced backup features of Vail may may me actually use it to backup to an external drive so USB 3 may prove useful, although I have no USB 3 devices to test it with. It also has 4 onboard USB connectors for hooking up to my cases front panel.

There’s no SATA III connectors which are starting to appear on newer motherboards. But I don’t see a use for SATA III at this time. To be really useful I’d need it for all drives and that upgrade would cost me a fortune.

My concern was with the available expansion slots due to the inability to share the x4 and one of the x1 slots. So in mapping out the slot usage I came up with the following:

  • The PCI Express 2.0 x16 for the video card during the installation and if needed in the future. It’s convenient to leave the card in so I may buy a cheap card and do that.
  • The PC Express x16 slot running at x4 for a SATA controller to be named later. I’m still researching controllers but will need four more parts to get to my 12 drive requirement.
  • One PCI slot reserved for future expansion with my Norco 4-port external SATA controller. I use this on my current windows home server to connect four external drive in a Sans Digital enclosure. I don’t plan to move this anytime soon, but will keep it available for the future.
  • One PCI slot for an Intel Nic. If space or some other consideration crops up I can use a PCI Express x1 slot instead and still not step on the PCIX_2

So it looks like I’ll be fine with the expansion slots.

Before picking the motherboard I’d all but decided on a Intel Core i3-530 but the selection of this motherboard sealed the deal. I keep the server strictly for server type activity, serving files and video. I imagine I’ll use a few add-ins but my history is to be conservative on them. I won’t do DVD ripping on video encoding directly on the server. The i3 may actually be more than I need but it lets me use a motherboard that can handle some serious CPU upgrades if needed.

As for RAM I went with two sets of the G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600) Model F3-10600CL8D-4GBHK. The memory has slightly faster timings so I’ll need to manually set the configuration in the BIOS. I’m not sure it’s really going to matter in a home server (kind of doubt it will). But the price was good so I figured I’d give it a try. At 8GB I’ve maxed out what Vail can support and it’s probably about twice what I’ll ever need. But I wanted to make sure the memory was matched properly and figured I’d be safe and do it all now. This is the one item I have a bit of buyer’s remorse with and probably should have stuck with 4GB.

The tab for this part of the build was $377.46 – $103.49 for the motherboard, $113.99 for the CPU and $159.98 for the memory.

Any comments on my choices? Speed bumps or problems I missed? Alternatives for others to consider?

WHS System Build: The Case

The Cooler Master HAF932 CaseAfter starting my evaluation of Windows Home Server Vail on my test server I became more eager to get going on my next system build, a new home server that will run Vail (Windows Home Server v2) once it’s released. I’ve been researching the parts I think I’ll want for the server and decided it was time to start buying them. I made a decision on the case and placed the order this past weekend.

My choice was the COOLER MASTER HAF 932 RC-932-KKN1-GP which is a nice big ATX Full Tower. This will be my first full tower build and I’m looking forward to having the space inside. The case is made of steel which makes it heavy, the specs say it’s a tad over 29 pounds. Just because it’s steel doesn’t guarantee quality, but the Cooler Master rep and the reviews I’ve read does lead me to believe it’s a quality case which will last many years and several builds.

I had been looking to set up all the drives to be hot swappable and I’ve been hoping to have a rig with at least 12 drives in the case. The Cooler Master doesn’t meet that requirement but the cases that did had other issues I was concerned with. With so many drives with external from openings there wouldn’t be a fan blowing outside air over the drive. For example, the Antec 1200 could handle the drives but I’d lose two fans.

Then another big concern was expense, the LIAN LI PC-P80 case has 12 external 5.25” bays with good airflow over them. This was a serious contender as my case but at over double the price of the Cooler Master I was turned off. Lian Li is a quality case maker so I doubt I would have been disappointed. If the Cooler Master ends up being a bad choice for my Home Server it will certainly be suitable for my Windows PC upgrade and I can get the Lian Li for the home server.

As for the disk arrangement, the Cooler Master HAF 932 has:

  • 5 external 5.25” bays. There’s a sixth that’s convertible between 5.25” and 3.5”.
  • 1 external 3.5” bay. This is convertible to a 5.25” bay
  • 5 internal 3.5” bays. I like the arrangement of these bays as they face sideways. While I do have to open the case to access the drives I won’t need to slide the drives into or across any other parts to add or remove them. This was the clincher to get me to ease off the externally accessible drive requirement.
  • There’s also a bracket for attaching a 2.5″ SSD drive internally, although I don’t be using it.

To handle the 12 drives I’ll be adding the following to the case:

  • The iStarUSA BPU-2535V2 1 x 3.5″ to 2 x 2.5″ SATA I/II Hot-Swap Drive Cage takes one external 3.5” slot and can hold two 2.5” hard drives. My plan is to put two hard drives in this puppy and then set then mirror them to handle the Windows Home Server operating system. So this will go into the 3.5”/5.25” convertible bay.
  • My plan is to put a Antec EasySATA dock in each of the external 5.25” bays. These take a 3.5” drive and allow it to be hot swapped. There’s also a eSata port but I won’t be using that. If you do want to use the eSata port you’ll need an additional SATA connection for it. The two drives in here is what gives me the 12 drives in 11 bays.

So the case parts are on order and should arrive later this week. Everything except the EasySATA docks came from Newegg. The EasySATA docks were ordered from Amazon because they had them in stock for the exact same price but with free shipping due to Amazon Prime. Amazon also has a better return policy (and no restocking fee) so if I open the first one and it doesn’t meet my needs I should be able to return them without a problem.

The tab for this part of the build was $281.66 – $139.98 for the case (from Newegg), $36.68 for the iStarUSA drive cage and the EasySata’s were $21 each (I need 5).

Once the case arrives I’ll be hard-pressed to resist ordering the remaining components, so I may have more updates this week if I order more parts for the Windows Home Server build.

Feel free to comment about my selection (good or bad) or offer alternatives. Once I get the case and start using it I’ll update this article to reflect anything new that I learned.

First Glance: Windows Home Server Vail

Windows Home Server LogoWindows Home Server “Code Name Vail” (WHS Version 2) has been in public beta for awhile, in fact it was refreshed over a month ago. I finally got around to installing it last weekend and I really, really like. Of course, I haven’t really dug into it so there may be some ugliness under the covers.

It’s beta software so bugs are to be expected. I ran into a couple minor or annoying things that already had a bug report opened for them. But for the most part I like what I see and I’m even more eager for the final release.

Some random comments and observations.

Data Protection – The amount of disk space allocated to “Data Protection” seems high. I did find information that there’s approximately 12% of overhead for data protection.

To protect against silent storage errors (bit flips, misdirected writes, torn writes), additional information is appended to each 512-byte sector stored on drive. In particular, each sector is protected by a CRC checksum, which enables Drive Extender to detect data read errors, perform realtime error correction and self-healing (up to 2 bit errors per sector if duplication is disabled, and any number of bit errors if duplication is enabled) and report the errors back to the user and application. The overhead for this additional data is roughly 12% of drive space.

To turn that into real numbers, I turned off all duplication and shadow copies and it still said 891.2GB was allocated to data protection which was 11.9% of the space in my storage pool. This was for a 7452.1GB storage pool with 341.8GB of data and 6GB worth of computer backups. When I turned on duplication for the data and backups the amount used by data protection skyrocketed to 1273.1GB, an increase of 382MB for 365MB worth of data.

Exclude the system drive from the storage pool – I like that the system drive can be explicitly excluded from the storage pool. When Vail installed it created a 60GB system partition for the OS, and the rest was a data partition that could be used by the storage pool. This excludes the data partition from being used for data storage. In theory, this should improve performance by not having the system related i/o mixed with data i/o. It does mean that the data partition is “wasted” space. Since I’ll be going this route (excluding it from the storage pool) I can go with a small system drive.

Hardware Limits – Vail does have some hardware limits. Despite being based on Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard Microsoft made a “business decisions” to limit CPUs and RAM. It will only recognize one physical CPU and up to 8GB of RAM. That one CPU can have up to 4 cores although my test server has only two cores.

While this has brought some complaints on the forums it tends to make sense from Microsoft’s pov considering the market they see for this home server. The new business server (Aurora) will have greater support (and probably cost more).

While I would like the flexibility of multiple CPUs this isn’t something that would impact my current plans.

Improved Storage Pool & Backups – While I haven’t tested each of these bullet points, I’m excited about the benefits they promise.

  • Folder duplication happens in real time, not in regular hourly passes. This should provide better data protection. I also hope it improves performance as I sometimes see a performance hit in v1 when demigrator runs.
  • File Level Encryption is supported by drive extender. This could be a benefit to security although I;’m not sure I’ll use it.
  • Files in use are properly duplicated so the file conflicts they generate are gone. If I leave iTunes open for a long time (as I’m likely to do) I often get file conflict errors because the library file couldn’t be duplicated. Not a huge deal as shutting iTunes long enough to allow the duplication resolves the error.
  • Storage operations occur in the background. The server doesn’t go offline during drive removals (this is the one item in this list I have successfully tested)
  • Drives can be names in the console, making identification easy.
  • Storage operations are a low priority i/o to avoid impacting media streaming.
  • Data drives in storage pools can be migrated between servers. This provides some interesting possibilities for moving to a new server. But it also scares me. One thing that’s lost is the ability to read a data drive on another Windows PC. In version 1 the drives were formatted NTFS and could thus be read on another computer. In v2 the drives can only be read by Vail.
  • Computer backups are prioritized if there are multiple computers queued to backup. The computer with the least current backup gets priority. Frequently disconnected computers, such as laptops, will backup outside the scheduled backup window if they can reach the server.

I’ve still got a lot of testing to do. I’m impressed with Vail so far but I’m resisting the urge to move my stuff over to Vail for my day-to-day usage. It’s still beta and probably has bugs. Plus I want to do some more testing to come up with an optimum configuration. I want to break free of iTunes for my Video library (just so damn easy to use) so I want to dive deeper into the video streaming options that Vail will open up.

Now that I’ve got the test box up and have had some hands on I’m more comfortable ordering hardware that will be my new Vail server, the first system build on my system roadmap.

The Vail beta and information is available from Microsoft Connect (Connect registration required).

Future PC Builds

Random Access - System Builds category tileI’ve been thinking about the PC builds and upgrades I’ll want to be doing in the near future. Now’s as good as time as any to get some ideas and start looking for sales and buying opportunities.

Windows Home Server – Vail

This is the one PC build I’m planning to do by year end for sure. I’ve downloaded the Vail beta but have yet to install it on my test box. So the specs may change as I try it out, but there are some definite lessons learned from my current Windows Home Server build that I want to include.

There probably won’t be any in place upgrade or migration tools so I’ll probably be building a entirely new box, except for hard drives. For the hard drives, I’ll move the data over the wire and physically move the hard drives as space is freed up.

Requirements:

  • RAID system drive. I’ve become more reliant on the windows home server and while I have the backup covered, both local and offsite, I now want to minimize downtime. So I’ll be looking to mirror the system drive.
  • 7 External drive bays (minimum, more is better). While I don’t change drives a lot, I did have some hard drive problems and needed to replace a WHS drive or two. Having to shutdown and open up the case each time is a pain. Worse, I suspect my digging into the works one of those times loosened a SATA port and caused some problems. So I’ll bee looking for external access to the drives, probably hot swap bays.
  • Motherboard with 8 SATA II ports. SATA III would be nice but I don’t see it being worth the price bump on a Windows Home Server. I actually went ahead and ordered the GIGABYTE GA-P55-USB3 motherboard. The markdowns brought it down to $103 delivered so I decided to go ahead and order it. It’s got some nice specs LGA 1156 socket (i3/i5/i7), 8 SATA II ports, RAID support, 2 USB 3.o ports which may come in handy for moving files to external drives. There’s no onboard video, but that’s the case with my current home server too.  I can use my current spare for the build.
  • I’ll look into a SSD drive as the system drive, but I’m thinking it’s not worth the money, especially since I’ll want two of them to mirror. If I can get my hands on one to test with I’ll see if it makes a difference.
  • I’ll probably go with a Intel Core I3 processor. With the board I can always upgrade the processor later if I need more power.

Windows PC Upgrade

My Windows 7 PC build is still doing fine. While the PC has a quad core processor and is pretty peppy, in order to keep costs down I bought parts near the end of their production life. The biggest downside to that is that it’s not very upgradeable. For any real increase I’ll need to replace the motherboard, CPU and RAM all at once.

I’ll probably do an SSD upgrade as the system drive before then. I’m curious to see what an SSD does in a WHS. I don’t expect much but I can do some testing before upgrading the Windows 7 PC. I’ll need a SATA II & SATA III compatible drive.  SATA II for my current rig and SATA III for the eventual new rig.

Newegg has another motherboard currently on sale that looks interesting, the GIGABYTE GA-X58A-UD3R. I avoided the impulse purchase despite the 10% discount code. Budget wise I’m not ready to commit the money to upgrade a PC still doing basically OK. There will be new technology and more sales by the time I’m ready to upgrade.

I’ll want to switch from the Antec desktop style case I have to a tower case. A mid-tower would be enough but I’ll want enough room to be able to make upgrades and changes easily. The Antec case is well suited as an HTPC, if a little large.

Home Theater PC

I don’t have one of these yet, but eventually my Tivo will die and I’ll be looking for a replacement. I expect this will all be hand-me-down hardware if I go Windows. If I go Mac I’ll probably be able to repurpose my Mac Mini. I may need to buy a tuner and maybe a video card.

Wrapping Up

That sums up the next few computer enhancements I’m planning, The Windows Home Server is the only one that I want to get done this year. The rest will be as opportunities present themselves.

In the near future I’ll be on the lookout for some deals on a good SSD drive for my Windows 7 PC. I’ll also be on the lookout for a video card upgrade although I’ll need to do some research on that to be sure I get something that can be moved to the future i7 PC.

Since the WHS motherboard is already on it’s way to me I’ll probably be impatient to get the rest of the parts, even though I don’t really need to box until the official Vail release.

Ubuntu 10.10 (Maverick Meerkat) Installed to VirtualBox

Virtual OS - Ubuntu 10.10 tile

Virtual OS - Ubuntu 10.10 tileA lazy Sunday afternoon is a perfect time to install a new OS and today happened to be when Canonical officially Released Ubuntu 10.10. I started downloading all 4 ISOs (32 and 64bit each for Desktop & Server). The 64-bit desktop happened to be the first ISO download that finished to I decided to make that my first VirtualBox installation.

I’m running VirtualBox 3.2.8 r64453 (the most current version) on Windows 7 Professional with all the latest security patches to date. I’ll be installing Ubuntu 10.10 64-bit. Ubuntu is calling this version “The Perfect 10” for obvious, if man-made reasons. For those really into numerology I’m doing this on 10/10/10 and in binary 101010 is 42, the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life.

But enough of that numerical nonsense. I’ll be doing a walkthrough of the operating system and then a walkthrough of the VirtualBox Guest Additions.

Download the appropriate iso image from Ubuntu, no need to burn it to DVD or copy to USB, as long as your PC can access the file. In my case I save all my DVD images to a Windows Home Server share so access it over my local network. If you need VirtualBox you can get it from VirtualBox.org.

Ubuntu 10.10 Installation Walkthrough

The installation process of the 32-bit and 64-bit desktop versions is the same although the screenshots shown here will be from the 64-bit version. Almost every selection I make is the default option. The few changes I make don’t have anything to do with making the installation work, they just configure it the way I want (like putting the virtual machine on a different drive).

The new button in VirtualBoxStart VirtualBox and click the “New” button to start the new virtual machine wizard. The first screen is just an intro screen while the second is where you name the virtual machine and let VirtualBox know what the OS will be. You can name the machine anything you want. Usually once I type “Ubuntu” VirtualBox picks the correct OS type. For some reason it used “Debian” rather than Ubuntu so I picked Ubuntu 64-bit manually. Ubuntu is Debian based and maybe VirtualBox doesn’t recognize the shiny new version so played it safe. I also kept the default memory setting of 512KB, I can always increase it later.

New VM Wizard Screen 1 New VM Wizard screen 2 New VM Wizard screen 3

Then it’s time to create the virtual hard disk. I’ll be creating a new disk and letting this VM use the entire disk. Except for the name & location, I keep the default settings. The Dynamically expanding storage means it will grow to the size I specify, but won’t allocate space until it’s needed.

New vm wizard screen 4 New Virtual Disk Wizard intro screen Select storage type screen

It’s the next screen where I change the name, and then click the fold icon (Click this icon to change disk location)to change the default location.

Virtual disk location and size screen The virtual disl settings I used

Once the new virtual disk wizard ends VirtualBox has all the information it needs to a summary screen is displayed for final confirmation. Once “Finish” is clicked the virtual machine is added to the VM list. Make sure it’s selected and click the “Start” button to start the first run.

New virtual machine wizard summary and confirmation screen The virtual machine list with the new vm selected First run wizard intro screen

The Ubuntu 10.10 iso image isn’t yet listed as an available media source so I click the folder icon (VMfoldericon) to start the Virtual Media Manager. I click the “Add” button in media manager and browse to the Ubuntu iso image and select it. When I’m done it’s now the selection in the Installation Media list.

Select Installation Media screen The main Virtual Media Manager screen I select the Ubuntu 10.10 iso image from the file system

The first run wizard is ready and will boot the Ubuntu CD

Once the “Finish” button is selected the VM will start to boot from the Ubuntu 10.10 CD image. It will take some time and may seem to be frozen but be patient, eventually there will be a welcome screen. Since this is a VM and I’m not wiping anything out I go straight for “Install Ubuntu” and don’t bother trying. The virtual machine passes all the requirements. There are two installation options, both off by default. I leave “Download Updates while installing” unchecked. I can update when the install is done and I want to keep the install simple and it will be easier to troubleshoot any problems. I do check “Install this third-party software”. Some may want a pure open source installation but most people would want MP3 playback ability and this seems the best way to get it. I also keep the default disk allocation selections, giving the entire virtual disk over to Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is thinking about booting The welcome screen - select Install Ubuntu The default install options screens, no optional installs enabled

The install options screen with my choices Aloocate drive space screen 1 Aloocate drive space screen 2

Once the installation starts you’ll notice the messages allow the bottom indicate the install is progressing while you enter in some additional required information. Nice! Ubuntu did a good job picking my time zone and hardware.

Time zone selection screen Keyboard selection screen

Then there’s a prompt for user information. Once a name is answer the rest of the information is prefilled (except the password). I didn’t keep the default values, wanting to stick with my naming convention.

User info entry screen User info screen prepopulated User information screen with my info

That’s all the information Ubuntu needs. The installation continues along for several more minutes. You can view a slideshow with info about Ubuntu while that happens. Once the installation is done there’s a restart prompt. Since the virtual machine isn’t really shutting down I manually amount the installation CD so it doesn’t boot from that. VirtualBox may automatically un-mount the CD but I do it manually to be safe. I click the “Restart Now button and un-mount the CD when Ubuntu prompts for it’s removal. To un-mount the drive select Devices –> CD/DVD Devices from the VirtualBox menu and the select the mounted image (the one that’s checked) and it will be removed.

Ubuntu installation is finished Remove CD Prompt Unmount the selected=

Once the CD is un-mounted I hit <Enter> so Ubuntu reboots and then I login when the logon prompt appears.

Ubuntu right after the reboot Logon prompt The Ubuntu 10.10 default desktop

I then see if there are any updates – there are a couple even though the bits I installed were fresh. To get the updates I select System –> Administration –> Update Manager from the Ubuntu desktop menu. This lists the recommended updates which I go ahead and install. Like any good OS I’m required to enter my password before the updates are applied. The screenshots below show this process.

Update Manager menu selection Recommended Updates Authenticate Prompt

Apllying the updates Update completion message

I reboot one more time just to make sure all is well then I move on to installing the VirtualBox Guest Additions.

Installing VirtualBox Guest Additions for Ubuntu

Installing the guest additions isn’t quit as easy as doing so with a Windows guest OS, but it’s not all that difficult. The installation normally doesn’t require anything beyond what was installed with Ubuntu 10.10, but see the end of this section for the needed X Window fix. Hopefully this fix will not be needed after the next VirtualBox update.

At the time I did this it’s day one for Ubuntu 10.10 and the X Window System drivers in the guest additions don’t recognize the version so don’t install. Once the guest addition drivers are updated the process can be repeated to upgrade guest additions.

Select Devices –> Install Guest Additions… from the VirtualBox menu. This will attach the guest additions CD but not actually install anything. The easiest way (imo) to mount the CD is to select it from the Places menu. This will mount the drive and open it in a window. You can close the window and ignore the icon that was put on the desktop.

Guest Additions Menu Selection Select the Additions CD from the Places menu The desktop icon

Then to mount the drive open terminal from the Accessories menu and issue the following command to change to the drive:

cd /media/VBOXADDITIONS_3.2.8_64453

If you have a different virtual box addition you’ll need to change the command to match the CD name.

Then run the following command to install the additions:

sudo VBoxLinuxAdditions-amd64.run

if you install the 32-bit version of Ubuntu then run the following command:

sudo VBoxLinuxAdditions-x86.run

The guest additions will install which will take a couple of minutes. The status will be displayed, the screenshot below shows that the X Windows drivers did not install.

Guest additions install messages

The Unixmen’s site has a workaround to the X Window issue. Run the following commands:

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install build-essential linux-headers-$(uname -r)

sudo apt-get install virtualbox-ose-guest-x11

I was prompted whether or not I wanted to keep my current configuration file or replace it, I chose to keep it.

Once the last command finishes reboot the virtual machine. The display can then be resized.

Wrapping It Up

The installation of Ubuntu 10.10 Desktop under VirtualBox is straight-forward and no more difficult that installing it on bare metal. If anything it should be easier since the virtual hardware is consistent no matter what the actual metal is.

Having to use the X Windows work around is a bit of a pain but that’s the problem with new operating systems, it’s takes awhile to catch up.

If you want detailed reviews of Ubuntu 10.10 itself you can start with a review at ExtremeTech or at Expert Reviews.

Tip: Dump the Ping Button

Quick Bits OS X Tips category tile

Quick Bits OS X Tips category tileIt’s been said Steve Jobs hates buttons, which is why his devices have few, if any of them. If Ping annoys you as much as me you help reduce the button count by running the following command from terminal (on OS X). The tip comes via Macworld.

Quit iTunes and run the following from terminal:

defaults write com.apple.iTunes hide-ping-dropdown 1

The ping button will be gone when iTunes restarts. The Macworld article has other hacks to add the arrows back, but I decided to go both button and arrow free.