Test-driving third party optics from StarTech in the RSTS11 labs

Disclosures at the end, as usual.

This fall John Obeto asked if I’d be willing to try out some third party optical modules in some of the varied and random switches I have around the rsts11 home lab. Always willing to help a friend and try some new gadgets, I accepted the challenge. Today I’ll give you an idea of why you might consider third party optics for your switching, why you might not, and how the compatible modules from StarTech.com impressed me.

2018-12-01 14.02.27WHAT ARE OPTICAL MODULES?

First, a word on optical modules. For decades, switch manufacturers have made two kinds of ports on their switches, a fixed port and a modular port. Fixed ports were long popular on line cards, where you wanted to get 24-48 (or more) optical ports for fiber cabling into a small amount of space, and you knew your customer was not going to change their optical requirements on the fly.

Modular (or “pluggable”) ports, however, made it possible to sell switches at a lower initial cost and allow the uplinks to be populated later. It also enabled customers to use different connection lengths and media with the commensurate power considerations.

In Gigabit Ethernet (and 1/2/4 gigabit Fibre Channel), the standard has been the Small Formfactor Pluggable, or SFP, module. About the size of a AA battery or a small USB flash drive, it connects to a small blade port inside the switch, and “translates” the connection to short (SR), long, (LR), or extended/extreme (XR) range optics, or even to 1000Base-T copper.

For 10 Gigabit Ethernet (and 8/16 gigabit Fibre Channel), the standard is an extension of the same module called SFP+. Many installations within a rack or in adjacent racks will use copper SFP+ cabling (with no fiber involved), sometimes called Direct Attach Copper or DAC cabling. Continue reading

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Warming up the HP Microserver Gen8 and PS1810-8G switch

gen8 front 2018-12-04 17.03.32

Microserver Gen8 with PS1810-8G switch, Hershey bar for scale.

[This post was started in April 2017 and, like the gear it describes, the post was shelved for a while. I recently took the Microserver and its matching switch out of the dark recesses of the home office closet and brought it up to date. The upgrade report will follow later this month.]

Quite a while back, I acquired a HP Microserver Gen8 – the Ivy Bridge-based successor to the very popular N40L and N56L models. is model has been replaced by the Gen 10 model, but is still quite serviceable in its own right, and can be found on eBay for $500 and up depending on configuration.

The Gen8 Microserver comes with one of four dual-core CPU options (pictured below from the spec sheet; see Intel ARK for comparison); if you care about PCIe 3.0 vs 2.0, you’ll want the configure-to-order Xeon option or a warranty-voiding aftermarket upgrade. Folks on various home server forums have validated the E3-1230v2 ($75 on eBay), 1260L (from $57), and 1265Lv2 (from $100) processor upgrades (Intel ARK comparison), although the latter may push the cooling envelope a bit. Continue reading

A (Dell) Precision replacement for our Intel NUC desktop

I didn’t really expect to be writing another build report so soon for my primary desktop. But in October of this year, it seemed to be time for a hardware revamping for my primary home desktop.

About five months ago, I built a 7th generation core i7 Intel NUC with Optane technology to replace an older 3rd generation desktop. That system ran a dual-core, quad-thread i7 processor, 32GB of DDR4 laptop memory, a 32GB Optane drive, and a 2TB solid state hybrid drive (SSHD).

Well, after three months I still felt the pain of a dual core system more than I’d expected. And in the meantime, my brother sent me a barebones Dell Precision Tower 7910 as an early birthday present. I was a bit concerned about it at first, since it uses Xeon v4 processors and DDR4 ECC registered memory, neither of which is inexpensive. The 1300 watt power supply had me concerned as well.

I decided it would be worth rebuilding the system anyway, since I could easily sell the system if I chose not to use it, and it’d be fun to run a more modern workstation for a while if I did decide to sell it. Spoiler: I am not planning to sell, but I’ll share the build report here so you can think about the options in case this meets your needs.

T7910 2018-12-04 16.07.19

Dell Precision 7910, pictured beneath the Intel NUC desktop we built out this summer. 1U power distribution unit and 1U security appliance below for scale. Sorry, no banana. 

Curious Caveat

I had written most of this post, but when I went to confirm pricing, I realized that I’m running non-registered, non-ECC RAM in this system. Despite the documentation saying UDIMMs are not supported, and Crucial’s compatibility list showing all ECC Registered RAM, the parts I’m using are unbuffered non-ECC non-registered DDR4.

This may not be an optimal configuration, but if the cost and availability work better for you, it may be worth a try. Note that you will almost certainly be unable to mix registered and unregistered DIMMs, and you won’t be able to mix LRDIMMs and regular RDIMMS.

Continue reading

HSC Electronics will be halted early next year

About 8 months ago, I wrote about the closure of Weird Stuff Warehouse in Sunnyvale, California. Well, Halted Electronic Supply/Halted Specialties Company/HSC Electronic Supply will joining Weird Stuff in the history of Silicon Valley in just about 6 weeks.

Halted History

Halted has been in business for 54 years now. The Homebrew Computer Club often visited back in the day (including both Steves). I wasn’t around the Bay Area for most of that time, but got an introduction early in my time here, in the late 90s.

Around the turn of the century, Halted had three locations, with the main one being in Santa Clara on Ryder St, just off Central Expressway and Lawrence Expressway (near the Sunnyvale Frys, the pre-1996 Weird Stuff, St John’s Grill, and Ham Radio Outlet among others). Gradually the remote locations closed, and the Ryder store was left.

Halted was known for components of all sorts, books and magazines for people who made things from those components, antique radios, tools, legacy computer components, and all sorts of other things. It wouldn’t be unusual to find people in the store with ham radio transceivers on, students buying components for an electronics class, people reminiscing about the radios they used to listen to during the war, and random bargain hunters looking for computers and electronics to mess with at home.

They also had a well-known parking lot sale every September, where cases and crates and pallets would come out of the warehouse, hot dogs and donuts would be put out for sale, and you could get some incredible deals on things you’d forgotten you needed. And you could also find them at the Electronics Flea Market sometimes, with a truck full of carts from the store.

The New York Times had a feature on Halted in 2009, revealing and even foretelling the greatest strength and weakness of the business at that point. Continue reading

Experimenting with Intel Optane at home with the Intel NUC 7th Generation PC

Welcome back to rsts11 for the summer. We’ve got a lot to cover in the next few weeks.

I haven’t really done a build report in a while, so when I realized I was getting double-dinged for high power usage, I started looking around for ways to save power. One was my desktop PC, which while very nice (with 8 dimm slots and lots of features I don’t use), is using around 250-300W for a 3rd gen core i7 processor.

I decided, based on availability and curiosity, to build out a 7th gen Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing) PC, which conveniently supports Intel Optane memory. You can read a lot about the Optane technology, but in this application it’s a turbo-charged cache for internal storage. The newer NUCs support it in place of a more conventional m.2/NVMe SSD (used alongside a 2.5″ SSD or HDD), and of course you can use it as an overpriced SSD if you don’t want to use the Optane software.

See my earlier post about an Intel NUC for use with VMware. That NUC is currently running Ubuntu and Splunk for training in the home lab.

I’ll take you through the build manifest and process, and then we’ll look at benchmarks for five configuration permutations.

Build manifest and current prices (July 6, 2018)

  • Intel NUC (NUC7i7BNH) tall mini PC, $450 at Amazon
  • (Optional: NUC kit with preinstalled 16GB Optane module, $489 at Amazon)
  • Intel Optane Memory flash module (16GB $34 – $39 at Amazon, 32GB $58 for Prime members or $72 otherwise at Amazon)
  • Crucial CT2K16G4SFD824A 32GB DDR4 memory kit is currently $310 (it was $172 when I bought it a year and a half ago, ouch).
  • HGST Travelstar 7K1000 1TB 7200rpm SATA drive is $57.
  • Seagate FireCuda 2TB SSHD is $92, with the 1TB version available for $60.
  • Keyboard, mouse, USB flash drive for Windows install, and living room television with HDMI were already in house, but if you’ve read this far, you probably have them and/or know how to choose them. After installation you can use a Logitech Unifying device or a Bluetooth device, but for installation I’d suggest a USB cabled device.
  • Windows 10 Professional can be had for $150 give or take. The actual software can be downloaded from Microsoft but you will need a license key if building a new system without entitlement.

You’re looking at about $1,000 for the full system at today’s prices. If you don’t need 32GB of RAM, stepping down to 16GB should save you at least $100. Continue reading