(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 …
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 …
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).