The OS Quest Trail Log #55: Scary Edition

October 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. This past month was mostly about Vail and a new Windows Home Server system build. At the end of the month I started work on my PC upgrade.

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.