Dell PowerEdge 13th Gen Fan Noise

I recently came across the opportunity to assist a client with installing their new Dell PowerEdge R730XD. Quite the beefy server config, 2x10core CPUs, 128GB of RAM, 12x4TB NL-SAS, you know, all the goodies. This machine is slated to replace an aging T610 that has seen better days performance-wise.

I went ahead and put an Intel 10GbE card in the server since all other hosts in the server room including both backup boxes are 10GbE enabled and are connected to our new Netgear 10GbE switch. Keep in mind this was an industry standard PCIe 10GbE card, a particularly good one, the Intel TX540-2. After installing VMware ESXi, and later, Windows Server 2012 R2, users were complaining about the loud “jet sounding” noise coming from the server room. After logging into the Dell iDRAC Enterprise card I immediately noticed that the fans were running around 92% which was roughly 15K RPM or thereabouts. This was regardless of operating system mind you, so I couldn’t even blame Windows OR VMware this time.

After looking around online at various forums I realized that the system was running the fans near max speed/volume due to the presence of a non-certified PCIe card installed into the system. For all intents and purposes, non-certified means you didn’t pay through the nose to acquire the identical hardware from Dell. Essentially, since the Intel card doesn’t carry the Dell specific code/firmware to report back that “all is well over here in PCIe/temperature land”, the system defaults to running the fans in jet engine mode. For posterity’s sake and to clarify, this will happen on pretty much any non-Dell card that is inserted. In researching the issue I found numerous folks that put actively cooled GPUs, old school 4x1Gbps network cards, you name it, high speed fan noise.

Well no big deal, all you have to do is go into the Dell BIOS and modify a setting or two so that the system doesn’t run the fans at full steam when a card inserted right? Wrong! That would be the logical assumption and design choice to make so you know they didn’t make it that easy. Read on below to understand how I finally got this system to quiet down. The info below is compiled from many sources and some of my own figuring out, just though it would be helpful to have it all in one place.

Step 1: Enable IPMI
For this step enter your Dell servers setup/config screen and get to the remote access configuration/iDRAC setup. In the iDRAC setup you need to do all of the standard stuff like assigning an IP and setting user credentials etc, but you MUST also turn set “Enable IPMI over LAN” to yes. This setting is crucial to completing the steps below successfully.

Step 2: Get IPMI tools
Linux users can use their preferred package/distribution method to obtain ipmitool while Windows users will need to grab the Dell OpenManage BMC Utility and get it installed.

Next, open up and command prompt and navigate to the directory the BMC utility installed to, on my system this was: C:\Program Files (x86)\Dell\SysMgt\bmc\

From there go you will see several files, the program that we are using here is ipmitool.exe. Go ahead and run ipmitools.exe without any switches/arguments just to make sure its installed and working.

Step 3:
The third and final step is essentially ‘the fix’. This is where you can check the status, and then disable or enable the systems cooling response to third party cards that are installed on the PCIe bus. This part was a little frustrating at first because I was working in the right direction and was just about there but the commands weren’t being sent or interpreted the way the should have been.

You must use the lanplus option instead of lan but it is important to note that lanplus does NOT work unless you’ve enabled the “Enable IPMI over LAN” setting that I mentioned back in step 1. The non-intuitive part about that was that although I was running the right command aside from lan vs lanplus, I really didn’t get any clear feedback as to why the command wouldn’t “take”.

Anyhow, here is the base command which you need to acquaint yourself with:

ipmitool -I lanplus -H ipaddress -U root -P password raw

Obviously you will need to substitute your own iDRAC ip, user, and password. After that, just tack on one of the three commands below.

Disable Third-Party PCIe Card Default Cooling Response:
ipmitool -I lanplus -H ipaddress -U root -P password raw 0x30 0xce 0x00 0x16 0x05 0x00 0x00 0x00 0x05 0x00 0x01 0x00 0x00

Enable Third-Party PCIe Card Default Cooling Response:
ipmitool -I lanplus -H ipaddress -U root -P password raw 0x30 0xce 0x00 0x16 0x05 0x00 0x00 0x00 0x05 0x00 0x00 0x00 0x00

To check the current third party PCIe card default cooling setting:
ipmitool -I lanplus -H ipaddress -U root -P password raw 0x30 0xce 0x01 0x16 0x05 0x00 0x00 0x00

This response means disabed:
16 05 00 00 00 05 00 01 00 00

This response means enabled:
16 05 00 00 00 05 00 00 00 00

After disabling the third party cooling response my system went from the previously mentioned 15K RPM mark down to a user verified sane noise level/speed of around 6K RPM.

A key takeaway and disappointment for me is that in this day and age of widespread standards and simplicity, things are becoming increasingly proprietary and complex.


Proxmox Lab: Intel NUC

Thanks for reading this first post in a new series I am putting together titled “Proxmox Lab”. In this blog series I will be covering various things related to Proxmox and the various hardware I have tested things on.

In this installment we will discuss a small foot print low power build that you can carry in your pocket, well, if you wear cargo shorts with the big pockets on the side.

Around two years ago I had purchased one of the earlier all black Intel NUC systems and a 32GB Crucial mSATA disk to run Proxmox 3.1 or 3.2, I forget the version at the time. Anyhow, around the same time that I attempted to complete the build of the device a client called up and expressed an immediate need for a small PC that could hide behind a conference room wall mount TV. Just like that my Intel NUC disappeared…

Months later I was able to find enough free time to get a new NUC, this time it was the more modern, current as of the time of this post, silver and black version. I went with the Core i3 variant as I didn’t want to go Celeron and the i5 was out of stock. Armed with 8GB of low voltage RAM (1.35V s required), I installed Proxmox to a 32GB Crucial mSATA drive and off I went. I strictly used the local storage for ISOs and the Proxmox system itself. This system ran excellently and never gave me so much as a hiccup. The combination of super fast BIOS and the SSD boot volume meant that this thing would boot or reboot so fast that I had to double check that I actually shut it down, quite a nice problem to have.

As so often happens here at the home office lab, I change hardware pretty frequently. Often times it is due to client needs or desires, other times it’s simply that I see something new and shiny. Regardless of the reasons, I rarely regret the money spent as the investment always comes back many times over in the form of education and experience gained.

This i3 system was eventually replaced about a year later when someone I knew really wanted the i3 NUC so I sent it packing to a new and better home. Since I had grown accustom to the silence, low power/heat, and wonderfully small size of the NUC, I had to find something like it to replace the one I had just gotten rid of. Well, after little debate, I ordered a new Intel NUC again, this time armed with a higher clock speed and the wondrous Core i5 badge. System memory was boosted to the full 16GB allowed by the board and off I went. Just like its Core i3 counterpart, this NUC performed flawlessly in all regards. Stable, fast, and truly affordable.

If you are looking for low power (as in electricity consumption), high performance, and physically small and beautiful package for your home lab test machine/hypervisor, be sure to take a serious look at the Intel NUC. Just imagine a shoe box full of Intel NUCs acting as a full on Proxmox cluster! Aside from the physical memory constraints inherent to this platform, I have seriously considered putting a handful of these into client networks as small foot print Proxmox clusters.

Pros: Tiny system, low energy usage, high performance.
Cons: Usually a tad more expensive than a comparable i3/i5 SFF desktop PC with the same specs. Requires mSATA and low voltage memory, both of which you probably do not have laying around.

A final note, unless you are doing CPU intensive tasks, which you probably are not, then skip the i5 variant. While it works great, I noticed zero performance increase over my Core i3 NUC. Obviously, this varies from workload to workload so be sure you know what you need.

I hope this helps any perspective home lab enthusiasts out there and be sure to stay tuned for my next build which I just finished ordering…


FreeNAS on the Lenovo TS440

With a recent build fresh on the brain I figured I’d share some thoughts on the hardware used as I hope it helps others. I googled and tried to find information ahead of time and found sparse info.

Recently, I set out to replace my current small office FreeNAS box. From a performance standpoint the box looked great on paper: AMD 8core @ 3.4Ghz, 32GB of “good” memory, an expensive Seasonic power supply, and 16 drives attached to a pair of Dell PERC H200 controllers packed into a high end Lian Li full tower. The tower had a SAS backplane and the 5.25″ bays had two 4 disk SATA enclosures installed. The towering behemoth worked like a champ for quite sometime. Day in and day out, the trusty homebrew served up NFS exports to ESXi, Proxmox, and numerous other LAN hosts ranging from RaspberryPi’s to FOG imaging VMs and things of that nature.


Once or twice while physically away from the box, meaning out of town, I received alerts from an external monitoring service that some of my VMs were down. Of course this only happens when you are away, and only to systems that DON’T have a hardware level remote access solution like IPMI, Intel vPro, HP iLO, or Dell DRAC. But I digress for surely it is OK for your entire FreeNAS box to just mysteriously power off. Not a UPS failure, just an old fashioned “who knows”. Take all that plus the frustration of not being able to power the box on remotely and you begin to see why the homebrew had to go.

Some cursory searches online and a quick check with the fine folk over in #freenas got me thinking about custom vs prebuilt boxes. After comparing prices of various boards and form factors I determined that the Lenovo TS series of towers servers might be a good fit. Several people on #freenas and the internet in general had info on the TS140 which is the smaller and cheaper of the two, but I wanted at least 8 drive bays. The TS140 looks nice if you only need 1-4 cabled drives, hot swap isn’t an option on the little guy.

Armed with what seemed like proper info at the time, I ordered the 4bay variant of the TS440 since it was on sale for a meager $299.99 with free shipping. My plan was to test the system as it came and then add the secondary drive cage and backplane for a grand total of 8 hard drives. As it turns out, my plan was ill-conceived as I could not locate any vendor selling the hardware I needed. I reached out to a well known IT and Lenovo vendor to get the info I needed. Much to my dismay, I was informed that Lenovo does not sell the parts needed to take the 4 bay all the way up to 8 drives. This detail is quite frustrating since the documentation I found stated that the system can be used with a 4 or 8 bay config. That is technically true, but only if you order the right SKU/Lenovo specific part number in the first place.

I am happy to report that the TS440 with XUX SKU is humming along happily now. The XUX model comes with the drive cage, backplane, and add-on controller necessary to run 8 drives. The RAID controller included in the system happily recognized my 4TB SATA disks and 3TB SAS disks. The controller supports RAID levels 0/1/10 out of the box but defaults to exporting disks as JBOD as long as you don’t manually set them up in a RAID array, perfect for ZFS. An option that I also decided to go with was the second power supply. The TS440 comes with a single hot swap supply and a spacer/blank slot for the second.

Hope this helps you with your small office NAS builds if you are condering a Lenovo TS440.


Dell Latitude ST and Windows 8 Wifi connectivity

Installing Windows 8 on this tablet went off without a hitch. For a severely under powered device it is actually running Windows 8 very well. After reading numerous comments around the net about how slow it was running Win8, I was curious to find out for myself.
So far I have only found 2 issues. The first being the Windows 7 N-Trig drivers were not compatible with Win8. Secondly the Dell Atheros Wifi drivers were also not compatible. The N-trig issue was an easy fix. N-Trig has drivers on their site at that are compatible with Win8. The wifi on the other hand took some more tinkering. After a couple hours of learning the new UI and figuring out where everything was I decided to take the time to get Wifi up and running. The Dell A06 driver install package as I mentioned above is not compatible with Win8. However it does have the required driver packaged up inside. Before unpacking the install application I tried to install it under Windows 7 compatibility mode which also did not work.

Here are the steps I took to get the wifi driver installed:
Execute the installer package and it will extract the files into your Temp folder and the Atheros Installer.msi will be located in one of the {insert random number and text here} folders. The installer itself will throw an error stating that you must be using Windows 7.
Before you hit OK, using windows explorer browse to your C:\Users\yourusername\AppData\Local\Temp\ folder and find the Atheros Installer.msi. Copy or move that file to wherever you want, just make sure you remember where you put it. It is now safe to hit OK on the Dell Installer.
The installer will most likely clean up the temp folder automatically and you would not be able to find the file after hitting OK.
Use msiexec to extract the contents of the installer.
Open up a command prompt with administrator privileges. Once there the following command will be used: msiexec /a filepath to MSI file /qb TARGETDIR=filepath to target folder.
Now look in your Device Manager you should have an exclamation point listed next to SDIO Device. Click on that and update driver. Choose the folder you extracted the msi to and Windows will take care of the rest.
If for some reason you already have a driver listed for your dell mini card you will have to uninstall the driver and reboot. Upon reboot follow the above instructions.

Product Review: EnGenius Access Point

Last week I ordered an EnGenius EAP300 access point from NewEgg (a vendor who deserves a review of it’s own) and it was waiting for me when I got home today. I have been having trouble with a NetGear WG103 and contact with support has been unsatisfactory.

The product design is very functional. It pretty much resembles a large smoke detector. I was looking for a small ceiling mountable device that supported PoE and this fits the bill. This device is advertised as a business-class, high power access point. Several standard security options are supported.

Configuration was fairly easy for anyone familiar with provisioning wireless devices. However, I do not like devices that come configured with a static IP. It is a minor hassle to reconfigure a laptop or other device to configure the access point. Once I got past that it was a simple matter of connecting to the device’s web GUI.

Initial tests included watching shows on NetFlix and Hulu Plus from an Apple TV. The streaming was flawless. The next test was streaming a .mkv movie to a PC. Again this worked flawlessly.

Next step will be to mount this device in its final spot and test out the PoE adapter. Stayed tuned for further info.

– habanero_joe


Desktop, Laptop, Tablet, Smartphone

In my household there are three MS Windows 7 desktop PCs, one MS Windows XP laptop, one Debian Squeeze laptop, one MS Windows 8 pen tablet, one MS Windows 8 slate, one Android smartphone, two iPhones and two iPads. Work provides another MS Windows XP (soon to be MS Windows 7) laptop. Strictly for media access, I have an AppleTV and a TiVo Premiere. Finally cancelled the DirecTv service this week. I am also in the process of rebuilding a FreeNAS box for media storage. Nowhere near the ridiculousness of some households, but enough to be annoying at times. One of the iPhones and most likely the pen table are on the way out.

All of this begs the question – what is this crap used for?

The real answer is that there are a lot of unused cycles on this equipment. Two of the desktop PCs, the AppleTV and the TiVo are strictly for media playback (Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, iTunes) and this averages less than four hours per day. I have been looking in to open source media players but have yet to use one.

I like using my Debian laptop but the battery doesn’t last very long. The iPad has the battery life but not the functionality of the laptop or the slate. I read and send the majority of my personal email on the Android phone. I maintain four non-work email addresses and do not use a mail client other than mobile. The slate device is very functional, but if you go the MS route, there is licensing to consider. I mostly use open source products to meet my personal needs.

What is your primary device? Discuss.

– habanero_joe

HP ProLiant MicroServer Flexibility

I’ve been meaning to put some of my thoughts on the HP MicroServer N40L for quite some time and just haven’t made the time to do it, so here goes.

Long ago I was searching for a reason to purchase and play with HP’s MicroServers and got my chance when a client asked for an affordable backup device. I jumped at the chance and ordered one of the N40L’s. These units are listed as part of the ProLiant family of servers which sounded promising, but being the skeptic that I am, I didn’t expect much for the seemingly measly $350 price tag.

The unit comes with an AMD dual core CPU, 2GB of RAM, 250GB HDD, and a 1Gbps NIC. The system has a mini-PCIe slot for a remote access/iLO/DRAC type card, and a second standard PCIe slot. Although the system ships with only a single drive, all four bays have “hot swap” trays/carriers, making adding additional disks no problem. I say “hot swap” because I am pretty sure that the backplane/controller do not allow actual hot swapping in its true sense, YMMV. Another note on the hardware; the motherboard can be easily removed from the system by disconnecting a few cables and backing out two thumb screws. The board is on a simple and quite brilliant tray assembly which makes removal, upgrade, and insertion simple. Do yourself a favor when you purchase the system by maxing out the RAM at 8GB(DDR3/ECC) and adding the optional iLO/remote access card. For basic NAS and low end Linux server duties the 2GB will work fine and you will have no regrets, but going to 8GB really opens the doors, more on that next.

Before I jump into exactly what it can do, it is worth mentioning what YOU should not do with it. For instance, don’t try and be a hero to your clients by touting this as an ultra affordable server solution. I have read of several people putting SBS on this box and then using it as the primary file and mail server for 20+ users. Don’t be a dummy, if you’re trying to service your clients properly get them a truly redundant system with hardware RAID, dual PSU’s and things of that nature. You are providing a disservice to your clients if you use this in a place it should not be used. Responsibility rant over…

With the remote access card, 8GB of RAM, and a couple of SATA drives, you are ready to play. This is the little server that could and it shows. The thing runs VMware ESXi5, Linux, Windows, FreeBSD(FreeNAS) and many other things. An important thing to remember is that the included disk controller uses fake RAID/driver assisted RAID so don’t expect RAID support outside of Windows. With that limitation in mind, this makes the ideal small business backup device, home virtualization lab, or any other number of roles you can through at it.

Fast forward to today and the device has served me and many others quite nicely. Although not a comprehensive list of installs, I can confirm successful installation on the following operating systems:

  • Debian Lenny (i386/AMD64)
  • Debian Squeeze (i386/AMD64) Currently Debian stable release
  • Debian Wheezy (i386/AMD64) Currently Debian testing release
  • Ubuntu 10.04 (i386/AMD64)
  • FreeNAS 0.7 (i386)
  • FreeNAS 8 (i386/AMD64)
  • VMware ESXi 4.1
  • VMware ESXi 5.0
  • Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Windows Small Business Server 2011
  • Whew! What a list and that just touches the surface of what you can run. Those just happen to be the configurations that I have tested with success. My current configuration consists of the base system running 8GB of RAM, iLO card, 1x64GB SSD and 4x1TB RAID edition drives. I’ve got Debian stable AMD64 running on / and have 4x1TB RE drives using Linux md RAID in level 5 mounted on /home. This acts as my internal NFS server and virtualization lab. The system runs vm guests well through KVM although you will have to watch the CPU. Being a dual core 1.5GHz, the system will usually run out of CPU before you hit any other bottlenecks.

    In conclusion, if you need a flexible and affordable storage device for most small business or home needs, a cheap virtualization lab in a box, or similar configuration, you will not be disappointed by this device.


    Windows 8 First Look

    Most of the news from Microsoft these days surrounds Windows 8 desktop OS which is anticipated to be released to the general public as early as October this year.
    In support of the new OS, Microsoft has updated many of its development tools including Visual Studio. This new version of VS allows development of the metro-style apps that make Windows 8 so exciting. One caveat – you need to load Visual Studio on Windows 8 to develop the metro-style apps. The installer identifies the host OS and configures appropriately.
    With Windows 8, Microsoft has really embraced the touch-based functionality. This OS was clearly designed for the tablet space and to compete with the iPad.
    I loaded the Consumer Preview when it released at the end of February. I used an old Mobile Computing pen tablet, Virtual Box vm and a brand new Samsung Series 7 slate. Clearly the Samsung was the winner, but I was impressed that the pen tablet worked as well as it did. All components were detected and configured. The Virtual Box vm performed very well as would be expected.
    At the end of May, Microsoft released the Windows 8 Release Preview. There has clearly been a lot of work under the covers in this latest version. I did an in-place migration and it went very smoothly. The only option was to perform a reload and ‘keep nothing’. As with other Microsoft OS upgrades, the installer moved the previous version to Windows.old folder. I was easily able to retrieve downloads, etc. that had been saved. Initial thoughts are that the latest version is more stable and feels like a finished product. The App Store works well and there are quite a few games, news readers, etc. available. The included Mail app works well connected to Gmail or an Exchange server. Note: annoying feature – the preview of the Mail app does not allow the mail account password to be changed. You must remove the account and re-add. I am sure this will be fixed in the final release.
    As mentioned, Microsoft has updated Visual Studio in parallel with Windows 8. This has now been announced as Visual Studio 2012 and will be available in several favors as in the past. This includes Blend for Visual Studio which is an app design tool focused on creating the UI. Visual designers should find this more friendly than working directly in VS.

    Windows 8 vs. iOS
    To be fair, it is tough to compare all tablet/slate devices to an iPad. I will certainly try…
    First off, this release from Microsoft seems to be the first real touch-based desktop OS. While there is a ‘real’ traditional desktop behind the start screen the real magic is in the metro-style start screen. This has been referred to as NUI or natural user interface. It takes about 5 seconds to get used to the swipe-able start screen. The icons are either static or live tiles. The live tiles show app data, for lack of a better word in the tile before the app is opened. For example, new emails will cycle through on the tile. Kinda cool. Windows 8 is also designed to be more ‘connected’. You can choose the option to associate your Microsoft Live account to the OS login. Users of SkyDrive or OneNote, to name a few apps, will find this helpful.
    I believe where Windows 8 departs from the typical tablet OS is that it is still a fully functioning desktop OS. By selecting the appropriate tablet, corporate IT departments could offer this as a desktop/laptop replacement. While the original Samsung Series 7 Slate does not have 3/4G, other and future models will. There are USB slots available, front and rear cameras, SD card reader, HDMI output and other useful functions that are not available on the iPad (today). iOS 6 which is scheduled to be released this fall appears to offer a lot of new functionality, but the hardware is still what it is. The Samsung Series 7 is also a bit more expensive. A 64GB Samsung is about $950 and a 64GB iPad 3 is $849.

    Bottom line thoughts: for the mobile user that carries a laptop and an iOS device today, a Windows 8 tablet could be a suitable replacement.


    Monday (6/18/2012) Microsoft announced that the company will be releasing an in-house developed tablet designed for Windows 8. With this move, MS is officially targeting the iPad market.

    – habanero_joe

    UPDATE: 12/30/2012

    I have been using the Samsung Slate 7 with the general release on Windows 8 since it was released in October. I have MS Office 2013 installed as well. The application performance is very good. I am working to get my hands on tablet hardware designed specifically for Windows 8. I still would not rush out and load it on standard desktop (non-touch screen) hardware. It has been very interesting to be part of a team that is working to develop a mobile touch app.

    – habanero_joe