Archive for the 'Hardware' category

nVidia nForce 430 (MCP51 / RTL8201CL) and SME Server 8.0: working!

September 1, 2013 8:04 pm

Lately, my home network started showing more and more signs of aging. Accessing websites was erratic, whether via wired computers or wireless devices. WiFi clients (which for some reason have almost exploded in number over time) couldn’t reliably connect, causing shouts of “Daddy, the Internet is down!” with regular occurrence, coming from various bedrooms. Something had to be done. And what better time for that than Labor Day weekend!

The last time I had undertaken a similar venture was at the end of November 2006. Shortly thereafter I started preparing for the next time this would need to happen. Well, here we are… I had set aside a pretty neat “mini” system and found the necessary half-height network card for it (SME Server systems need two network cards to act as server/gateway on a network). I had even installed SME Server 7.5.1 in preparation for the eventual migration (the newest version at the time). Unfortunately I never found a way to make the on-board network card work, so the machine just sat on the shelf for a few years, until now.


Transferring data from the old system's drive

The trick to making the on-board NIC work was to grab the RHEL 5 driver from nVidia’s site. Extensive searches (based on the “Onboard LAN” information on the motherboard information page) led me to this thread, pointing me to an older version of the driver. From there it was just a small hop to the most up-to-date driver package. The trickiest part was getting it onto the new system’s hard drive before hooking it up to the network. I found a USB flash drive, FAT formatted it, copied the driver to it, and then got it mounted on the SME system. Quite a refresher on working with Linux command-line programs!

Once I had the driver installed (rpm –ivh nvlan-rhel5-0.62-1.25.i686.rpm) and the system restarted, I was able to run through the SME configuration with dual NICs to make the system a “dedicated server gateway”. I was a little worried that it might not pick up an IP address from my cable provider, but I just needed to restart the cable modem as well, and after one more reboot (I think), everything was back up and running. Luckily I had given the new system a non-colliding internal IP address way back when I set it up the first time. It was a snap to set the range of DHCP addresses to a non-overlapping set.

To complete setup, I had to re-create user accounts, ibays, domains served, VPN access, etc. I also needed to install the latest updates to SME Server 8.0 and the two “contribs” I consider essential to SME Server: AWStats and Sme8admin.

All that was left now was moving the data off the old system. I started out doing that over the network, but it became clear that the old system was truly on its last breath. So I decided to shut it down and hook the old drive up to the new system via the USB bridge you see in the picture above. There were about 20 GB to copy, so it took a while. Once it was done (including historical web server statistics data for AWStats), there was still some work with setting the right permissions on files and directories.

But now it’s all done, and the new machine is humming (quietly) in the spot where the old system used to live!

To round out this tale, here are the traditional “nostalgia” shots of the decommissioned hardware:

Note the power supply off to the side    A look inside the old system    Under the power supply    NICs in the back

One thing I had completely forgotten about is that I had put quite a bit of work into trying to make the old system as silent as possible. As you can see from the first picture, I had taken the power supply out of the system and put it on some pieces of vibration-dampening synthetic foam strips. In addition I had mounted the hard drive using various pieces of professional grade foam strips:

Green and yellow foam    Yellow foam and mounting pads

Luckily the new system was designed for quiet operation, so it didn’t need any extra work. It’s amazing how much quieter it is – I can hardly tell it’s on right now!

Listen to your hard drive’s S.M.A.R.T. status – part 3

February 13, 2011 12:17 pm

I’ve written about this topic a couple of times before. But it seems like another post is in order since my main box is now running Windows 7 and I’d like to share how Windows 7 has changed in the area of SMART monitoring.

I keep all my “data” on a separate physical hard drive so that in theory it’s easy to swap out the OS drive or upgrade it without too much fear of losing information. This also makes it easy to migrate the data to a bigger drive when I inevitably run out of space. Some time ago I did just that, switching to a 1 TB drive from a 500 GB model.

It had been running well for about a year (I think), when I looked at the SMART data and saw that the reallocated sector count was dangerously close to the limit value. I didn’t think I needed to worry about it quite yet, so I left it alone.

But a few days ago I got a call while at work: “The computer is saying something about a hard drive going bad, and I don’t know what to do.” Oh boy. So I dropped everything after finishing up a meeting and bought a replacement drive (1.5 TB this time), ready to deal with the worst.

As it turned out, things weren’t in too bad of a shape. Windows 7 itself seems to be doing a much better job at monitoring SMART status than Windows XP did:


Just for kicks, I started eventvwr.msc and looked at the System events. Sure enough, there were a couple of entries mentioning disk issues:



For more detail, I looked at SpeedFan’s output:


Yup, the reallocated sector count had reached its limit.

Since Windows 7 ships with the excellent Robocopy command line tool, I decided to use this to copy everything from the failing drive to the new one. I thought I could use a USB-to-SATA adapter I had lying around the house, but after some time I concluded the adapter must be flaky. From time to time the drive connected to it would act funny when looked at with Windows Explorer. Folders wouldn’t refresh when asked to and sometimes folders that were supposed to be on the drive didn’t show up in Windows Explorer. Also, the copy process seemed fishy when looked at with Process Explorer:


Looking at I/O Bytes History, I saw big initial spikes of traffic, then a weird drop-off, followed by a long period of inactivity between each file copy operation. Too bad I don’t remember when I bought that USB-to-SATA device, because it definitely needs to go back for a full refund or replacement.

Anyway, I ended up hooking the new drive up to a free internal SATA port inside the computer, and from then on the copy went quite smoothly. The I/O traffic pattern looked much more evenly distributed.

After finishing the copy, I checked the drive manufacturer’s website to see if the drive was still in warranty. Their online systems couldn’t tell me for some strange reason, even though I typed in the model and serial number correctly, and even the failure code that their test tool spits out. A quick call to their warranty department confirmed that it was still within warranty, and so I initiated the exchange for a fresh drive.

The final step in this was to erase the content of the old drive, just to be sure nobody could get to it, should the manufacturer’s promises of destroying the drive not come to pass. For that I used Eraser, a free tool that has many, many options for overwriting the entire drive with random data patterns, making it pretty much impossible to recover anything.

It’s always a bother when hard drives go bad, but sometimes it is possible to avert complete disaster. Windows 7 is much more proactive than its predecessor XP in terms of early detection of problems. This gives you time to move important data in time.

Of course, should a head crash happen, this would be useless, so I also have an alternate backup. No longer at Mozy, though. With my amount of data and their recent pricing changes, I decided to go with CrashPlan, partly because of their option to ship me a drive for the initial backup so I don’t have to wait for months to upload everything. The other part is that they still offer unlimited storage. And I need that.

TouchSmart 610 launch mentions around the web

February 7, 2011 2:59 pm

Same software (TouchSmart 4.0), totally new hardware…

touchsmart2.jpgPotential placements for the sliding HP TouchSmart screen



Seattle Times:










EWeek slideshow:

Yeah, vanity post.

A roundup of news about the new HP TouchSmart 310 and the HP TouchSmart 4.0 software

September 20, 2010 10:16 pm

[Update 2010-09-22: A few more unique mentions have come in; see links and quotes below marked [Update] ]

Only a little vanity post; a collection of links to stories and other potentially interesting tidbits.HP's new TouchSmart 310 all-in-one features a new design and updated TouchSmart software.

These were some of the first mentions of the HP TouchSmart 310 with HP TouchSmart 4.0 software, unveiled on September 20, 2010.

Most of these have no real reviews yet, they just “wordsmith” the press release or other people’s “wordsmithing”. But that won’t stop me from highlighting “good stuff”.


The new case is graceful enough, and the $699 starting price for its low-end AMD CPU and 20-inch display is fair, but the biggest news for this new all-in-one may lie in its software. [My emphasis]

First, HP has tweaked the main TouchSmart software interface to streamline the way you access and organize media and applications using touch. In addition to organizing applications in a carousel layout, now you can also "pin" apps and individual media files to a more dynamic background featuring various parallax-animated environments. HP says this design lets you organize your touch software in a more natural manner, akin to how you might organize a desk.

In addition to the new background, HP has also updated the specific touch applications to the TouchSmart suite, most impressively with a new Marvel Comics streaming service, from which you can buy touch versions of more than 8,000 titles from the Marvel library. That number dwarfs the 500 Marvel titles available from Apple’s iPad application. The Marvel app and the entire TouchSmart suite, dubbed TouchSmart 4.0, will also be available for download by owners of current TouchSmart all-in-ones.

Hot Hardware:


ZDNet “The Toy Box”:


The latest software transforms a user’s boring Windows desktop into a “magic canvas,” which appears to be an overlay on top of the computer screen. You swipe your hand across the display to move the transparent overlay. You can drag applications, music, photos, videos and other web content directly onto the overlay. HP refers to these objects as “magnets” since they are just like the magnets you put on your refrigerator with notes attached to them. You can pick multilayered wallpapers to bring the illusion of 3D depth perception to a screen. You can also browse through material via the carousel at the bottom of the screen — all with the touch of a finger.

You can use existing TouchSmart apps such as Twitter, Hulu, Netflix, Recipe Box and the HP Music Store powered by Rhapsody. All of those apps can be started and used via finger taps on the touchscreen. You can use the webcam to film a personalized video message and post it directly to your friend’s Facebook wall.

The HP TouchSmart Apps Center has a small collection of apps available now. You can access them via a TouchSmart Carousel. Some of the apps contain a lot of content, such as the Marvel Comics app and the Cartoon Network app. The Marvel app gives you access to more than 8,000 comics. You can tap on them and read them page by page on a a beautiful high-definition display. The Cartoon Network app offers news updates on shows and characters.

PC Magazine:,2817,2369352,00.asp

The TouchSmart interface is much more advanced than the competition, including Sony, MSI, and Gateway.

TG Daily:

HP has rebuilt its TouchSmart software for the 310 model, making it easier to organize and play back media from the touchscreen, as well as adding enhanced everyday computer applications as well. When the first TouchSmart computer debuted, its touchscreen technology was more of a novelty than anything else. Since then, gadgets like the iPad have made touch more relevant and important than ever, and have shown everyone that it can be a powerful computing tool.

Also added with the new TouchSmart announcement is a deal between HP and Disney to offer digital Marvel comics. TouchSmart users will now be able to stream special versions of classic comics, and then literally thumb through them with on-screen controls. More than 8,000 Marvel titles are available, which HP says is the most extensive digital collection ever offered from any content partner.

HP is also launching a new "app store" interface for touchscreen programs and games, making it easier for developers and consumers to take advantage of the PC’s touch capabilities.

Existing TouchSmart users will also have access to this and the other enhancements being made for the 310, with the release of a sweeping software upgrade. TouchSmart 4.0 will be downloadable for anyone who owns a legacy TouchSmart computer from HP.



Geeky Gadgets:



Digital Trends:

IC Tech News:

Chip Chick:

Product Reviews:

Financial Times:

Engadget: [Love all the trolling and spewing of prejudices on this one…]




The Touchsmart’s UI is much more fluid and touch applications are no longer required to run in full screen, offering a little breathing room.The Touchsmart’s UI is much more fluid and touch applications are no longer required to run in full screen, offering a little breathing room.


The new revision of the software looks like a big improvement compared to what’s on my TouchSmart 600xt, which my wife and I use as our bedroom PC.

eWeek (with Slideshow):

Tom’s Hardware:,11332.html


HP has what appears to be an ingenious solution. After a program is launched, a couple of fingers swivelling across the screen automatically shrink the application into a cube and paste it onto the TouchSmart’s background. The background itself can then be scrolled through, just by touching it anywhere on the screen.

One really cool aspect of engineering the software like this is the parallax effect that HP added to the wallpaper. As you scroll through the desktop, items in the foreground move at a different rate relative to items in the background.

While we didn’t see it demonstrated, an HP rep also mentioned that the TouchSmart will ship with software to generate these movable backgrounds with pictures that customers take. The effect won’t be as strong as the ones included by HP, but being able to customize it even that much is a nice bonus.

Windows Experience Blog:

To couple the new hardware, HP is revving their TouchSmart software to offer a number of new capabilities.  They’re saying that with it, the desktop transforms into a “Magic Canvas” where users can easily drag apps, and content – even web content – directly onto the desktop.  There’s also a new multi-layer wallpaper that gives the machine a lot of depth.  I haven’t had a chance to work with these new features directly, but I have seen a demo and it looks really nice.


A little promo video of the new TouchSmart 4.0 software:


Product Marketing Manager Ken Bosley presenting the TouchSmart 4.0 software on YouTube:


The HP Video channel with tutorials:


For developers:

TouchSmart 4.0 SDK:

And I may have some details to add myself if and when I find the time…