Last week, I took a day out of the office as annual leave to migrate my home setup from Windows Home Server 2011 to Windows Server 2012 Essentials, taking in all of the blog posts I have written over the previous months’ about how I intend to use some of it’s new features.
Suffice to say, it wasn’t a success, but I have completed the lessons learnt and I am now preparing for a second attempt.
The main protagonist in the failure was the recently acquired 3ware 9590SE-12ML multilane SAS/SATA RAID controller. After installing the card about a month ago to verify it’s functionality, I saw the message “3ware BIOS not initialized” and the 3ware site left me comforted in the fact that this was due to the fact that I had no drives connected to it. When I connected my two new Intel 520 Series SSD drives to it to create a RAID1 mirror for my new OS drive, I saw the same message still even though the drives we detected okay. I installed the 3DM2 software in Windows Home Server 2011 and I was able to manage the card via the web interface (which is really nice by the way), however after creating the volume unit, the controller began to initialize the disks and the system froze instantly. I left a it a minute or two just in case, but no joy. A hard power off and restart then left the controller completely missing from the POST and startup with even the BIOS not showing it as connected. After trying a few different things, I was able to intermittently get the card to be detected, but not without causing major stability issues and it still wouldn’t properly initialize the BIOS during POST. A colleague leant me an Adaptec card for a day to test and this card was detected okay, allowed me to create a volume and the volume was detected within Windows okay, so I had it down to a compatibility issue between the motherboard and the 3ware card.
I decided that the issue with the motherboard compatibility could be related to the fact that it is a Micro ATX motherboard with the AMD Brazos chipset and the AMD E-350 ultra-low power processor and that the card could perhaps not be able to draw sufficient power from the PCI Express 16x (4x Mode) slot so I began looking at some other options. The processor has actually been one of the things I wish I had done differently of late. When the server was first built and put online it was great, but as I began to utilize the Home Server for more backend centric tasks, I began to notice the 1.4GHz Dual Core processor struggling and some tasks would timeout if they happened their timing happened to collide with other simultaneous tasks.
With the Ivy Bridge 3rd Generation Intel Core family CPUs, Intel released a line of CPU appended with the letterT. This family of CPUs are low power compared to their letter-less or K processors with the Core i5-3470T being the most efficient, pipping even the Core i3 T variant to the peak TDP and performance titles. Compared to the 18W peak TDP of my AMD E-350 chip, the Intel Core i5-3470T consumes a peak TDP of 35W, however it gives in exchange 2.9GHz Dual Core processing with Hyper-Threading allowing Windows to see two additional virtual cores, however because it is an i5 chip and not the lower specification i3 chip, it features TurboBoost which allows the CPU to boost up to 3.6GHz under high load. Using data from cpubenchmark.net, the AMD E-350 produces a score of 774, whilst the Intel Core i5-3470T produces a score of 4,640.
Investing in Ivy Bridge is more expensive then investing in the 2nd Generation Sandy Bridge which also offers some T branded chips for energy efficiency, however the CPU benchmark for the Sandy Bridge vs. the Ivy Bridge speaks for itself not to mention the fact that the Ivy Bridge reduces the TDP by 7W, the extra few pounds between the chips is worth the money.
To support the Ivy Bridge Socket 1155 Core i5 processor, I was going to need a new motherboard. I like ASUS as their are the market leader in motherboards in my view, and I decided upon the ASUS P8Z77-V LX board for several reasons. It’s a step up from the Micro ATX board I have previously been using, up to a standard ATX board.
The benefits of this are it avails me 4 memory modules in a dual channel configuration whereas I only previously had two slots with a single channel. The slot count isn’t an issue as I upgraded about six months ago from my originally purchased Corsair Value Select 2x2GB DIMMs to 2x4GB Corsair XMS3 DIMMs. The new DIMMs allowed me to make use of the higher DDR3 PC3-12800 1600MHz speeds, doubled my memory ceiling as due to running SQL Express on the backend for the MyMovies database I was hitting very close to 4GB daily and gave me a theoretically more stable system as the XMS3 memory is designed for overclocking and high performance cooling with it’s head spreaders, so running them at a standard clock should make them super stable. The other benefit is the increased PCI Express slot count. The new board gives me 3x PCI, 2x PCIe x1 and 2x PCIe 16x, one of which is a true 16x PCIe 3.0 slot and the other a PCIe 2.0 slot with 4x bandwidth.
The other reason for selecting it was the Z77 chipset. The Z77 set affords me the widest range of slots, interfaces and is also the best bang for buck having the best power consumption for the chipset out of all of the full feature chipsets (ignoring the Q77 chipset as although this adds Intel vPro, you lose a lot of slots through it).
All told, with the pair of new SSD drives for the OS mirror, the new Core i5 processor and the new ASUS motherboard, my overall power consumption will increase by what equates to £10-15 a year. When you consider the performance uplift I am going to see from this (the hint is worlds’ apart), it’s £10-15 a year very well spent.
The T variant of the Ivy Bridge supports passive cooling which aligns with my previous mantra of keeping it quiet, but I have come to the conclusion over the last year that this is unnecessary when I have a Cisco 2950T switch and a Cisco PIX Firewall making way more noise than a server would and the fact that it is all racked in my garage, out of earshot of the rest of the house for the one to two hours a month I many spend in the garage, it’s just not worth the thermal though process trying to engineer it quiet and cool. I have also been getting concerned lately of the drive temperatures on the Western Digital Green drives, stacked up inside the 4U case, so I’m switching to active. I selected he Akasa AK-CCE-7101CP. It supports all nature of Intel chipsets including the Socket 1155 for Ivy Bridge and has variable fan speed and decibel output. It’s rated up to 95W TDP for the quad core i5 and the i7 family chips, so running it on the 35W T variant of the i5, I’m hoping it will run at the quiet end of it’s spectrum, putting it at 11.7dB which is silent to the passing ear as it happens anyway.
To assist with my drive cooling problem and also an on-going concern about what I would do to deal with a drive failure or upgrade in a hurry (currently, it’s shutdown the server, drag and keyboard, mouse and monitor to the rack from my study to access the console session, open the case and connect the new drive cables etc) I decided to invest in the X-Case 3-to-5 Hot Swap caddy’s. These caddy’s replace the internal cold swap drive bays which require manual cabling and drive screwing with an exterior access, hot swap caddy system. All the drives in a block of 5 are powered via two Molex connectors, reducing the number of power connectors I need from my modular PSU, and the five SATA data ports on the rear of the cage are to be pre-connected inside the case allowing me to hot add and remove disk without powering down the server or even having to open the case. Each caddy also features a drive status and a drive access indicator so that I can readily tell if a drive fails which drive is the one in question, making fault resolution much easier. This is all the more important and useful with Windows Server 2012 Essentials. The cage also incorporates an 80mm fan which draws air out of the drive cage to keep the disk temperatures down.
To summarize then, I’m doing the following:
- Upgrading the ASUS AMD Brazos Motherboard to an ASUS P8Z77-V LX Motherboard
- Upgrading the AMD E-350 Dual Core 1.4GHz CPU (774 Score) to an Intel Core i5-3470T 2.9GHz Dual Core CPU (4,640 Score)
- Gaining an Extra Memory Channel for my Corsair XMS3 2x4GB DIMMs
- Adding X-Case Hot Swap Drive Caddies
- Gaining a Bit of Active Cooling
I’m still waiting for a few of the parts to arrive but once they do, it’s going to feel like the Home Server is going to be getting it’s 18 month birthday present in the form of several serious performance and ease of use and management upgrades. I’m really looking forward to it and in a sad kind of way, I’m glad that the upgrade didn’t work out the first time, otherwise I wouldn’t have invested in these parts which I know I’m not going to regret buying.
Once I’ve got everything installed, I’ll run another post to show the images of it and I will hotlink to my old pictures to do a little before and after for comparison, then it’ll be hot trot into Windows Server 2012 Essentials I hope.