Windows 10 on the Acer Aspire X3990

I have a couple of older PCs that I use on my electronics workbench; an Acer Aspire X3990 and an Acer Aspire X3995 both running Windows 10 version 1607 (originally they ran Windows 7 Home Premium, upgraded in-place to Windows 10).

Any attempt to upgrade these systems to a newer Windows 10 fails; the screen just goes black and the system hangs. No diagnostics whatsoever. After many frustrating attempts I decided to do a “clean” install.

I extracted the Product Key from the running OS using the free ProduKey utility. Then, I downloaded the Windows 10 Home installation media and created a bootable USB stick.

This time, the installer threw an error before hanging: “clock watchdog timeout”. Google finally came up with a few relevant links (tenforums.com and hardforum.com) that pointed me to the WiFi add-on card.

I never used WiFi on these PCs, so I pulled the card out and lo and behold: Windows 10 installation finally succeeds without problems!

My experience with Ubiquiti UniFi wireless

In late 2016, I replaced my existing Apple / AVM Fritz!Box mix of wireless networking gear with a set of Ubiquiti UniFi AP-AC Pro access points.

Overall, I’m very happy with them. Things I like:

  • Handoff between access points Just Works [tm]
  • They can perform rolling firmware upgrades, one AP at a time.
  • The APs support Power over Ethernet (PoE). This cuts down on cabling. I use them with Netgear GS110TP PoE switches.
  • Ubiquiti gear offers “Single Pane of Glass” management through the (free) Controller software. As an alternative, you can purchase a “Cloud Key”; haven’t gone that route myself.

Things I don’t like as much:

  • Initially I had a lot of issues with some iPads dropping off the network. After a lot of Googling, I found a post that suggested disabling the “connectivity monitor and wireless uplink”. Since all my APs are wired to the network, I disabled the Uplink Connectivity Monitor under Settings > Services and the problem disappeared.
  • To detach the access point from the mounting ring, you need a small “key”. It’s cumbersome; it would have been nicer to have a slightly larger opening so I can use a small flat-blade screwdriver.

Ubiquiti UniFi controller settings

I’ll be adding a UniFi  Security Gateway (USG) soon, to get better insight into the traffic on my wireless networks.

Setting up email notifications on a Synology NAS using Google Apps

I recently purchased two DS413j Synology NAS devices, running Disk Station Manager 4.1.

They offer various notification options, including Email, SMS and Push. These notifications are really helpful, as they can warn you of impending doom (for example, a failing disk).

It’s a fairly straight-forward process:

  1. Set up a dedicated Google Apps user account for sending your notifications (do not forget to activate the account via the webmail interface)
  2. Configure email notifications on your Synology NAS
  3. (Optional) customize the list of events that send out notifications

Configure Google Apps

Log on to Google Apps as a domain administrator and go to the Organization & users tab. Click “Create a new user” and follow the instructions to create a dedicated user account for sending your notifications (for example, “notifications@your.domain”). Activate that account (log on using the web interface, fill the Captcha, accept the conditions, set a secure password) and try sending an email from the web interface to verify that the account works.

Configure email notifications

On the Synology, open the web interface and go to Control Panel – Notification. On the General tab, check “Enable e-mail notifications” and enter the Google Apps email server details:

SMTP server: smtp.gmail.com
SMTP port: 587

Check “Secure connection (SSL/TLS) is required” (see Google Support for up-to-date SMTP server names and port numbers)

Next up, click “SMTP Authentication” and fill in the username and password for the Google Apps account you just created.

Finally, we need to specify who should receive these notifications. Enter your email address here and click “Send a test email”. You should receive a test notification within minutes.

If all is well, click Apply to save these settings. Done!

Optional: Customize notifications

I recommend leaving these settings at default (all events will send out an email). If you want to customize anyway, go to Control Panel – Notification and switch to the Advanced tab. Here you can select what type of events should trigger a notification.

 

Initial impressions of FreeNAS 8.2.0-BETA3

Our recently installed FreeNAS on an HP ProLiant MicroServer N40L is currently being used for backing up VMs (CentOS 6.0 KVM).

The web-based GUI is quite easy to work with, and the filesystem (ZFS) is quite resilient as we found out after a couple of power failures caused by accidentally tripping our ground protection fault / RCD switch…

Still, I’ve ran into some issues that will hopefully be resolved in the next Beta-release:

  • Remote syslog does not work due to an error in the startup script (Ticket #1433)
  • Transmission PBI configuration does not work, always reset to defaults (Ticket #1477Ticket #1512)

The syslog configuration can be fixed manually in /etc/rc.conf. The Transmission PBI needs more fixing before it can becomes useful; at the moment it insists on saving downloads into the jail’s root directory, which has limited quota.

Overall verdict so far: FreeNAS is a great piece of software, ZFS snapshots are awesome, still a couple of rough edges but hey, it’s a BETA ;-)

FreeNAS on HP ProLiant MicroServer N40L

After the NLUUG presentation on FreeNAS, I bit the bullet and bought the HP MicroServer N40L for experimentation. A small and quiet server, with 4 HDD slots that make for a nice NAS setup. Of course, the system has limited CPU power but it should be enough for basic file serving.

Hardware

I decided to install a low-profile Intel NIC and upgrade the RAM memory to run ZFS comfortably.

HP have published some videos on (dis-)assembling the server, making the job a lot easier. There was only one issue: the mini-SAS connector is a pain to remove. Some Googling later, I found this post:

    To unplug a Mini-SAS x4 cable, squeeze the clip on the plug, then push the plug in before pulling it out. (Source: Oracle)

ZFS is very RAM-hungry, so I installed 2x 4GB Unregistered ECC DIMMs, giving me the maximum supported 8GB configuration:

    Crucial 4GB 240-pin DIMM 512Mx72 DDR3 PC3-10600 ECC (CT51272BA1339)

The Crucial DIMMs were detected without problems. It is possible to use standard non-ECC memory, but I wanted the extra reliability offered by having RAM with Error Correction.

Software

There are two ways to run FreeNAS: bare metal, or in a virtual machine. If you want to go the virtual route, HP has made a customized version of VMware ESXi 5 available for ProLiant servers. To minimize complexity, I run FreeNAS on bare metal. This avoids having to deal with raw device passthrough in VMware and ensures maximum performance.

FreeNAS installation

Installation was a breeze. I created a bootable USB stick (4GB, but 2GB should be fine) using VMware Fusion on my Mac; create a new VMware guest (FreeBSD 8, 64-bit) and set it to boot from the ISO image. Connect the USB stick to the VM; the FreeNAS installer will detect it and ask if you want to install to the USB drive. After installation, shut down the VM and plug the USB stick into the internal USB-port in the MicroServer. Done.

Next, you’ll want to add your harddisks and create a ZFS Volume. I enabled the “4k sectors” option for my 2TB Western Digital drives.

You can simply share this entire volume, or create ZFS Datasets within the ZFS Volume. This gives you more fine-grained control over permissions and sharing.

I mainly use NFS and SMB (CIFS) shares at the moment. They can be used from Mac OSX without problems. Having a central LDAP directory (or perhaps even NIS) helps when setting the correct ownership and permission.

Practical experience

So far, I’m quite happy with FreeNAS performance and ease of use.

FreeNAS 8.2.0-BETA3 appears quite stable; I haven’t found any major bugs yet.

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