Slow WDS PXE Clients and Bad Memory

Following on from my post last week about UK Regional Settings for MDT 2013, I have been this week testing the deployment of a Lite Touch MDT image using WDS PXE over Multicast. Unlike what you will read online about Multicast, I haven’t personally had any issues with it and Multicast has worked off the bat but the problems I have been encountering are actually with Unicast, with the initial phase of PXE boot, downloading the Boot SDI and the WinPE LiteTouch WIM files.

In this case, I’ve been given eight client machines to test the deployment and we were finding that only about half of them were properly initiating the WinPE environment in a sensible timeframe with the other clients taking over 30mins just to download the Lite Touch WinPE image which obviously isn’t cricket as you should be able to lay down the entire Windows OS image is not much more time than that.

All of the machines are HP 8000 desktops with a matching hardware specification and matching firmware revisions so we were left wondering if the problem was the network, routing or such like however earlier on this afternoon, we found the issue and I have to say, it’s one of the craziest reasons I’ve seen something not working in a long time, especially considering how software defined our worlds have become.

Hynix Memory 2GB PC3-10600U-9-10

Yes, that is correct, the above is an image of a Hynix 2GB PC3-1006U-9-10 DIMM and this was the cause of our problems.

The machines in question were all configured with 6144MB of RAM in the form of three 2GB DIMMs. What we didn’t notice at an early stage and why would you really, was that some of the machines exclusively had three DIMMs of HP certified Micron memory in them and our faulting machines had a combination of HP certified Micron memory and Hynix HP certified memory.

All the DIMMs were of the same unregistered type, all of the same PC3-10600 speed and all have the same 9-10 CAS latency so it’s just crazy to think that a mismatched batch of Micron and Hynix memory could ruin things for us given that all of the other factors like registration, speed, latency and ranking were matched.

Simply by removing the Hynix DIMMs from the machines and leaving them with 4096MB made up of two 2GB DIMMs of Micron memory allowed these machines to load the Boot SDI and Lite Touch WinPE WIM files at the speed we expected to see and were already seeing on the other clients.

When we look at this logically, you can see why our issue was a memory problem because the download of the Lite Touch WinPE WIM is done into memory and the hard disk is not touched at this point but I cannot remember the last time I saw a simple DIMM cause so much of a problem. These days we automatically assume that hardware works and that our problems exist in software due to the configurable nature of everything but this was certainly a lesson to never forget the simple things in computing: the basic hardware like processors, memory, motherboards and the like.

Exciting Weeks to Come for Me and the Lab

I haven’t done an off-topic post in a while, but I’m going to keep this one short.

Over the next couple of weeks, there’s going to be some exciting things happening that I’m looking forward to. I’ve got some great ideas about website deployments on Microsoft Azure which I’m trying to compile together into another one of my TechNet Guides to publish and the hardware for my home lab project is finally coming together after much waiting for a couple of critical pieces so I will be able to finish my series of the project. Once the environment is put together, I will be hoping to post a tonne about the things I get deployed in there: System Center, Windows Azure Pack, MDOP and more.

I’ve also got some personal news that I’ll be letting out in a few weeks too.

In the mean time, if there is anything you’ll especially like to see be build or document in my home lab relating to the Microsoft stack, drop me a line and I’ll see if I can fit it into my plans.

UK Regional Settings for Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2013

As we all know and hate, everything in Microsoft products and operating systems defaults to English United States and a time zone of -8hrs Pacific Time.

This week, I’ve been working with Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) for a customer to image client machines in their environment. In MDT, we want to use the Deployment Share Rules configuration to hide the wizard selection panes for setting the time zone, region and locale settings and automatically set them to the UK settings and as such, prompt the user for one less piece of information, making our Lite Touch Installation (LTI) as Zero Touch Installation (ZTI) as possible. The MDT documentation tells us that we need to use the SkipLocaleSelection and SkipTimeZone properties to hide the panels in the wizard but it doesn’t give us the values for overriding the default values.

Luckily for us, a helpful blog post from Andrew Barnes at http://scriptimus.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/mdt-2010-regional-settings/ gives us the values without us having to dig through the full code and value listings on MSDN. If you are in a country other than the UK, sorry, I don’t have those codes to had, but Andrew does provide the links to the MSDN pages which have the full listing of codes.

With those values and settings added to the Deployment Share Rules, our users invoking a LTI via the Boot Media or via PXE will have to answer a few less questions helping them to get the process moving faster and also means that we don’t have to worry about our mixed up ” and @ symbols on UK and US keyboards. It’s also very important for troubleshooting early on in MDT deployments as if we want to review a setup log on the client, we want to have our time codes in the correct time zone so that we can figure out when certain events are taking place.

The Forgotten Cost of Microsoft Azure Networks

We all know cloud services cost money, that’s a no brainer because we are consuming resources in somebody else’s environments, but what happens when you forget about it?

I was looking at my Microsoft Azure subscription today to see how I was doing for billing this month and the bill was higher than I expected. When I looked through the consumption charts in the Account Portal, I was shocked to see £20 of consumption against the Azure Network Gateway. Sometime ago, I had configured the Azure Network Site-to-Site VPN to test the feature against my ASA firewall at home. Once I had played with it for a while and verified I had a good configuration, I disabled the IPsec tunnel at my end as there was no point in keeping the connection up for the sake of it.

Problem was, I forgot about the Azure VPN Gateway which is a required item to enable the Site-to-Site VPN to function. I had accidentally left it running, consuming resources as it pleased without me actually reaping the service it offered.

Azure Gateway Hours

Sure, the cost is not significant, but it’s still a cost I’d rather avoid as I’m sure anyone out there paying up for cloud services would avoid. Money for nothing as Dire Straits famously said.

Needless to say, the VPN Gateway is now deleted and when the time comes that I want to use the Site-to-Site VPN, I’ll need to redeploy it and re-configure the Pre-Shared Key and IP Address for the tunnel endpoint on my ASA but that’s worth doing for a £20 a month saving on my Azure bill. Let this be a lesson to us all. Remember what you deploy and remember to clean-up after yourself when you’re finished with it.

Favicon Check and Generation

Favicons are all an all important but often overlooked part of a website design and with the plethora of different devices and browsers about these days, getting it right on every device can be tricky.

I realised that the Favicon for my blog here wasn’t quite up to scratch so I went looking online a few days back and I came across a great resource in Real Favicon Generator at http://realfavicongenerator.net.

This site allows you to pump in your site URL and it will check your current Favicon and show you a visual preview of how it looks on the various device and browser platforms, offer recommendations on how to correct potential problems and it also has a tool for generating the icon and associated HTML code to put on your pages if you want to start over.

I ran the checker tool against some of the big name sites online such as Microsoft, Google and Apple and it’s funny how even some of these sites fail to target common device platforms. Take a look for yourself or see how your own site stacks up.

FitBit App for Windows Phone 8.1

It seems that great things always happens to the Windows Phone platform when I’m on holiday so I miss the early adopter crew which is perhaps a sign I need to take more holidays.

I’ve been using FitBit for nearly a year now and I’ve been happy but today I got happier. I today learnt that the official Windows Phone app for FitBit was released last week for Windows Phone 8.1 and when used on a Nokia Lumia device running the Lumia Cyan firmware update allows you to sync the FitBit Flex device. This is obviously not new as it’s something that Android and iOS users have been doing since the inception of FitBit but for us fellow Windows Phone users, we have been tied and limited to using the FitBit Connect service for Windows PC. It was only for the work of a fellow Windows Phone community user that we’ve had any application at all which has been great to have but it just sadly lacked the ability to sync with the phone.

FitBit App Dashboard  FitBit App Steps
FitBit App Friends  FitBit App Flex Settings

The new official FitBit app for Windows Phone has everything you need to use FitBit Flex or Force devices without being tied to a PC for the ability to access your data, sync or manage your device. The dashboard home screen as shown above includes all of your steps, distance travelled, active minutes and calories. We had this available to us previously in the community app but what is new is that we can now click the steps or distance bars and we get graphs to show the activity history.

I use FitBit Aria wireless scales to weigh myself so my weight is shown and tracked also on the dashboard but I’m not going to give you anything to laugh at by sharing that graph. Swipe right and the friends list shows you the steps ranking for you and your friends which we had before in the community app too. What is totally new for us is the management of the Flex or Force FitBit devices. As you can see in the last screenshot, I can configure my Flex Silent Alarms, my goals, which wrist I wear the Flex on and I can sync it too to get the new alarms and goals down to the device.

FitBit Flex Bluetooth Paired

When I first used the app, I noticed that it wasn’t pulling anything from my Flex. Reading the FAQs on the FitBit website, it says that you need to do nothing to manage the connection to the Flex other than having your Bluetooth turned on, on the device however it just wasn’t working. I decided to head into the Bluetooth Settings menu and pair the Flex anyway and it started working. Turns out for me that the reason for this was that my phone had seen my wife’s Flex first and paired with that, so I closed the app, deleted the pairing for her Flex and paired with my own then the app started to sync properly, happy days.

What I will be interested to see over the coming days and weeks is how the constant chatter between my phone and my FitBit Flex device will effect battery life for them both, whether I’m going to see the phone draining at a faster rate or whether the Bluetooth 4.0 LE connection really is as low energy as it claims to be.

Internal Speaker Stops Working on Nokia Lumia 925

So today I had a weird issue. The internal speaker on my Nokia Lumia 925 stopped working. When making calls, the third party could hear me but I could not hear them. If I set the phone to loudspeaker then I could hear them just fine though so the problem was clearly the internal speaker only. I knew that their shouldn’t have been anything wrong with the phone as such as I had used it the evening previously to make a call.

I looked on the Nokia Support site and the recommendation was to perform a soft reset on the phone, holding the Power and Volume Down button for ten seconds. This didn’t work and after the reset, the phone still wouldn’t give me any audio so the next step was to RMA the phone back to Nokia.

I tried a web search which I was expecting to be fruitless and it was largely, except for one article, a number of pages through the results, past some people complaining about other audio problems with the Lumia 925. A user suggested plugging and unplugging something from the 3.5mm headphone jack to make sure that the phone wasn’t confused about which audio device I was expecting to be using. I figured it was going to be a dead duck but I would give it a try and guess what, it worked.

It would seem that the phone got itself into a weird state where it thought a set of headphones was connected even though there was not, perhaps something as silly as dust blocking up the audio jack contacts. As such, it was trying to direct the audio for the call down the 3.5mm headphone jack to a set of connected headphones and not into the internal speaker. Popping a headphone connector in and out of the jack seems to have reset it and restored order to the force.

Hope this helps something else out there with a similar problem.

ENG and Comma Buttons on Windows Phone 8.1 Keyboard

After I did my Windows Phone 8.1 Official upgrade yesterday to rid me of Windows Phone 8.1 Development Preview and the temporarily blocked upgrade due to issues with BitLocker, I noticed that my keyboard for writing email and SMS text messages was missing the comma button and instead, I had a button labelled ENG.

I’d seen this issue before when I first got my handset from Vodafone and the issue is that the phone ships with both the English (United Kingdom) and English (United States). The ENG button is to allow you to switch between the two languages but it’s a real pain because it moves the comma button to the symbol and numbers sub-keyboard which breaks your flow when typing.

Luckily, it’s easy to fix by removing the English (United States) language from the device in the Settings menu.

Windows Phone 8.1 Keybaord ENG Button

As you can see in the screenshot above, where the comma button normally lives, we have an ENG button instead and this button is used to allow us to switch between the two variants of the English keyboard. We want our comma button back and to do this, we need to remove the English (United States) keyboard.

Windows Phone 8.1 Settings Menu

Firstly, open the Settings menu on the phone and then scroll down until you see Languages visible then go into the Languages menu.

Windows Phone 8.1 Languages Windows Phone 8.1 Remove US Language

In Languages, we can see we have two listed, English (United Kingdom) and English (United States). Tap and hold on the English (United States) entry until the action menu appears and select the Remove option. Once you have done this, head back into your Mail or Messaging app to see that the keyboard has now updated and the comma button is rightly restored to it’s original place.

Windows Phone 8.1 Keyboard Comma Button

It’s worth pointing out that the keyboard language installed on the phone also determines what domain suffixes are available on the domain button which helps speed up the typing of email addresses and web addresses. If you’re language is set to English (United Kingdom), you will have the option of .com, .co.uk, .org, .gov.uk and .net. A friend of mine who had a Nokia Lumia 820 a year or so ago found that his phone shipped from the UK mobile carrier with the English (United States) language installed so he wasn’t shown the .co.uk domain suffix option.

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