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Jan 06 2011

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Dell PowerEdge T310

(Read this entire post, as there is a very weird problem described later)

It’s been quite a while since I upgraded the hardware that runs this (and others) web site.

The warranty on the systems either will be expiring soon or has already expired.

So I bit the bullet and ordered a new Dell PowerEdge T310 server.  The pertinent specs are:

  • Quad core Xeon 2.66ghz processor
  • 12gb RAM
  • RAID controller
  • 4 x 500gb hot swap drives (configured as 2 x 500gb RAID 1 sets)

The system arrived last week and I got it set up immediately.

I actually ordered the system with only one 250gb hard drive and 4gb of RAM … and upgraded it myself.

A few things annoyed me out of the gate …

     

  1. The system is a lot louder than I expected.  Oh well, the system lives in the basement all the time, so I’m not going to worry about that.
  2. Although the system has 4 hot swap bays, it only arrived with a single drive tray.  This probably because I ordered the system with a single drive.  I had to order additional drive trays on eBay.
  3. The system does not have PS/2 style keyboard & mouse connectors.  So I had to purchase a USB/PS2 adapter (my KVM only has PS2 connectors).  This is important.
  4. Even though I ordered a brand new system, the BIOS that shipped with the system was a few revisions back.  I would have expected a new system to have the most current BIOS.

A few things that I really like about the system …

  1. The RAID 1 on the storage controller is truly mirroring.  The individual drives are completely usable without the controller.  I was worried that the controller would use it’s own format that would make the drives useless without it.
  2. There is pretty good support for the machine with major Linux vendors.

OK, on to the weirdness I promised.

As I mentioned, the system has no PS/2 ports for keyboard or mouse.  The KVM that I use only has PS/2 adapters.  No big deal, I have used USB/PS2 converters for keyboard and mouse in the past with this KVM so I ran out to CompUSA and got another one.

I plugged it in to the system and it immediately started behaving odd … all 3 lights on the keyboard immediately light up and the mouse didn’t work.

Well, it was late in the day, so I decided to shut the machine down and take care of other stuff.

The next morning I turned the machine on … and I noticed that the system went through it’s POST (Power On Self Test) and BIOS registration (where the various add in devices load their own BIOS programming into memory) … and then it rebooted.

It repeated this 3 or 4 times before finally getting to a point where I could get to the OS.

I rebooted again and the process repeated with the same results.

I tried pulling out all the hardware that I added (memory & disk) but ended up with the same result … the system would reboot itself numerous times before booting to the OS.

Worried that I had a bad system, I called Dell and got routed into their enterprise support group.  I must say that the support I received was QUITE good … very comparable to IBM i support that I’m used to.

In short order I was talking to Michael and he had me run through various diagnostic procedures.  In the end he determined that I must have a bad motherboard, CPU, or power distribution board.  He placed the necessary orders to get replacement parts shipped out and a tech scheduled for the next day to install them.

The next day I moved the system up from the basement to the dining room, so the tech would have plenty of room to work on the machine.   I also brought up a USB keyboard and a monitor.

The tech came out and installed the replacement mother board & CPU … he didn’t install the power distribution board because my system didn’t have one (they are only needed when there is a redundant power supply).

We ran some tests to make sure the system was working correctly and everything looked fine.

So I took the system back downstairs and plugged it back into the KVM and powered it up … and it behaved like it did before … rebooting after POST and BIOS registration.

Since the only thing that had changed since it was upstairs is that I plugged it into the KVM, I tried removing the most problematical part of the KVM … the mouse.  I rebooted the system and it worked fine.

I then took the PS2/USB adapter I use for my main system (which is known to work correctly) and tried it on the new system and the keyboard & moused worked.

I swapped the new PS2/USB adapter and tried it on the main system and experienced similar problems with the mouse & keyboard lights.

So I returned the Cables To Go PS2/USB adapter and purchased a Belkin adapter (same model I was using on the main server) and the system boots up correctly every time.

I find it quite amazing that a server could be effected by a keyboard and/or mouse connected via USB.  I suggested to Michael that it would be worth reporting this issue to the BIOS developers for the T310 … I would expect the system should be able to handle bad signals from the USB port a little better. Reporting an error at least and not rebooting the system.

Now all I have to do is get the system setup and running.

4 comments

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  1. Roger Vicker

    The reboot could be from a BIOS setting that is triggered by not having a valid keyboard/mouse. I know. As a server it should be able to run headless, but I haven’t had a chance while a T310 was down to dig around that part of the BIOS.

    Would be curious to see if you can boot the system without any keyboard/mouse and THEN plug in the problematic adapter. Oh, you can’t because you have already stuffed it back in the store.

    On KVMs, my new Fedora 13s have a nasty habit if I switch systems while logged in and then return it thinks that the monitor has been changed twice and prompts for changing the settings. On a fresh F13 install it would seem to think the resolution was now 1×1. Really hard to work with but after a bunch of updates it now prompts instead and I can ignore and everything is fine.

    1. david

      The reboot could be from a BIOS setting that is triggered by not having a valid keyboard/mouse.

      No, I am positive I set the BIOS to ignore keyboard errors … and, when it did get past the POST & BIOS registration, the keyboard worked fine.

      Would be curious to see if you can boot the system without any keyboard/mouse and THEN plug in the problematic adapter.

      I did plug in the problematic to another system and it worked (sort of) … the keyboard worked adequately, but the mouse just zoomed to the top of the screen (using gpm, I don’t currently run X on my current servers).

  2. david

    Roger wrote:

    I

  3. Roger Vicker

    I’ve seen a wide variety of responses to various PS2 to USB adapters. Some flat out won’t be recognized. I don’t think it is the signal level so much as the exact data flow.

    I’ve actually swapped out my KVM for an all USB as PS2 is a vanishing technology. Some PC models are reappearing with PS2 connectors but I don’t see that lasting long again.

    I’ve installed a couple of T310’s and have a couple more customers looking at quotes for them. Nice systems. Only catch I found was that I installed a removable hard drive cartridge system for backups in the top front bay. The receiver was a quarter inch too long for the latch on the system’s side door. If Dell had made that latch farther back or thinner it would have been a perfect fit.

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