Monday, June 15, 2009

Mindy 2.0 Part 1

So, about a two weeks ago now my server computer, named Mindy (named for the Animaniacs character), decided that it was too hot to work and died. Well, at least sort of died. When I got back from a trip, she was no longer responding to pings and when I tried to reboot her, she would power down after about 20-30 seconds. Best as I can tell, I have a temperature management failure on either the power supply or the motherboard, not sure which.

In thinking about how to approach fixing the problems, I was stuck with two basic paths: try and find the failing component or replace the core components and build a version 2.0 Mindy. If I had a good computer store handy, I would have tried replacing the individual components, but the closest real store I have access to is MicroCenter out in Fairfax or Rockville. (And no, BestBuy does not qualify as I need real parts, not the desktop/consumer parts they have). In addition, my hope was to get this back and running ASAP, so ordering a new power supply and then a new motherboard, etc, just seemed to be a slow process.

In the end, I decided to just replace her guts and upgrade the mainboard, power supply, CPU and memory. This was a good excuse for me to upgrade from the 18-month old Core2 CPU and desktop motherboard and move to a server-type board with a dedicated PCI-E slot for the RAID card I have and to target the new Intel Core i7 chip. So on the recommendation of a friend via Facebook/Twitter, I went with a SuperMicro C7x58 motherboard. In addition, I purchased 12Gb of RAM, a Corsair 630 watt modular power supply and 3 1TB hard disks.

The parts arrived from Newegg on Wednesday, but we had friends over for dinner that night, so I wasn't able to start working on the transplant until Thursday evening while watching Burn Notice and Royal Pains on USA (good shows, btw). I took my time and slowly moved the parts and completed the upgrade about 10:30, too late for me to want to try starting the system. But at least everything fit and looked like it was going to work well.

Friday morning came and I woke up a bit earlier than normal, so I thought I'd give it a quick run. When I went to hook the monitor up to try it, it was at that point I discovered that the motherboard I picked did not include on-board video.

Crap. I didn't even think to look at that. I assumed that it would include Intel integrated video, but alas I was wrong.

Friday came and went and I hadn't been able to get out to get a video card. I did take a few minutes to try and ID the right one both by online shopping and asking friends via Twitter/Facebook what they recommend. Saturday came and went and I had ID'd the card I wanted to buy from BestBuy, a PCI-E 16x passively-cooled video card. Seemed like a good choice as it didn't draw much power and didn't need a cooling fan to work.

Only, it didn't fit. Turns out the card had a HUGE heatsink that spanned both sides of the card. Crap again. The two PCI-E 16x slots I have available surround the PCI-E 8x slot that holds my AMCC/3ware RAID card. I had planned on using the one furthest away from the CPU as it was clear on the non-RAID card side. Unfortunately, the heretofor unknown back-side heatsink wanted to take the same space as the RAID card's jumper pins. And if I tried the CPU-adjacent slot, it hit the humongo CPU fan that came with the i7 processor I purchased.

Sigh, so that meant my first attempt at a video card failed, so back online I went. This time, I decided to purchase a PCI-based inexpensive video card, since the area round my PCI slot is completely clear. As I type, it's being delivered from NJ, so hopefully it'll arrive tomorrow so I can give this whole thing another shot. In the meantime, thank goodness for the Lenovo S10 and Google Apps for domains as they can temporarily replace some of what I relied on Mindy 1.0 (or maybe 1.5) to do.

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