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Lab update – Shuttle XH61V

Mrs Chris’s blog has been spending a bit more time at home during the day lately (long story), while I have had my VMware lab cranked up.  I have been running on a couple of HP ML110’s for some time and although they are not loud, if you are sat in the same room trying to watch netflix (ahem) the noise can be a little off putting.  The ML110’s also max out at 8GB RAM and this was starting to restrict me on what products I could try out on them.

So after a bit of a search around I came across a great article from Erik Bussink describing his recent acquisition of a couple of Shuttle XH61V PCs and decided to give them a go.  I ordered one a couple of months ago and I could not be happier.

The XH61V is a PC built around laptop components (memory, disk, DVD drive) except for the processor which takes a full blown desktop 3rd Gen (Ivy Bridge) I3/I5/I7 processor.  The PC has two gigabit Ethernet ports (no jumbo frames), space for two 2.5″ SATA drives plus an additional mSATA port and can take a maximum of 16GB of 204-pin SODIMM.

For my config I went for an I5 processor (more than enough for my needs) and a shopping list is below (for UK readers)…

  • Shuttle XH61V PC (around £160 from Amazon UK).
  • Intel Core I5-3570 3.4 GHz Processor (around £160 from Amazon UK).
  • 16GB (2x8GB) 204-pin SODIMM RAM (around £80 from Crucial).
  • Existing SSD Drive.

The machine runs extremely quiet (helped by just two near silent case fans and a laptop style external power brick).I started with off with a single SSD drive inside and the noise was barely noticeable in a quiet room sitting a few feet away.  Adding a hybrid SSD drive into it changed the noise level hardly at all (and nether did the later mSATA addition though I wouldn’t expect this to!).

As mentioned, I started with an existing SSD drive (OCZ Vertex 3 120GB) and then added the following:

  • Intel mSATA 120GB SSD (around £115 from Ebuyer).
  • Seagate 750GB Momentus XT Hybrid (around £75 from Amazon).

Both disk recommendations are direct from Erik’s page and both are spot on.  Don’t be tempted by either the larger capacity 1TB Seagate drive (it is much slower) or the Crucial mSATA which seems to be the only alternative to the Intel drive right now (poor reviews).

In summary, I am extremely pleased with the box.  Though for some lab scenarios 16GB of RAM can still be a little tight, I think two of these boxes will give me a good upgraded lab.  Two is a good number not only for the additional RAM but also some lab scenarios call for a completely separate ESXi host to install onto.

I hope to add box number two in the very near future, and will run it with just a couple of regular SSD drives I have (to make things a little easier on the pocket).

In the long term I see a pair of these boxes acting as a management cluster to either a single or pair of higher power machines such as a Baby Dragon II, possibly with some high end Synology NAS storage (like a DS1813+) as shared storage.  I need to save a few pennies first for that though!

A pic of “man cave corner” is below….see how small that XH61V is!

Erik, of you are reading this, thanks for the recommendation!




RIP Technet

So sad to see the demise of Technet today.  It was an excellent collection of software (and licences) and has certainly been a big help to my IT career.

To most people Technet was about having the ability to run the systems you run at work, at home in your test lab.  This gave you a great resource for learning and also testing out upgrades and evaluating software not only from Microsoft but other vendors as well.

Now sure, we will all be able to download 60 day evals of software.  But what if you want to install a Hyper-V lab with some Systems Centre and check out what it can do against SQL, Exchange and SharePoint?  Your going to have to work quickly to get all of that in during 60 days.

A Technet subscription gave you the ability to take your time with your learning.  To build your lab up over time and build on the skills you learnt gradually.  If something happened in your life where study/learning wasn’t a priority you could just switch off your lab and then pick it all up later on when you wanted to.

Now all we have are 60 day evals and the sound of a ticking clock.  Don’t we get enough pressure in our day job already?  We don’t need more pressure at home.  Our labs have always been a safe haven from the pressures of the outside world.

Oh and when something has gone wrong with some Microsoft software and we have cancelled an evening with our spouse, or upset our child because we didn’t get home to read a bedtime story we have taken it on the chin.  At least we have our lab, we thought, there is some consolation there.

And now it is gone.  The big machine that is Microsoft will continue to hum and will remain deaf to our objections.  They will loose money of course from pulling the subscription, and will gain some money from reduced piracy.  And some time in the future some bean counter in Microsoft will put a slide in a PowerPoint presentation stating how the decision was the right thing to do though nobody will ever be able to prove it either way.

And we all lost the convenience of our home labs.  We lost our little empires of tech.  We lost our toys.  I guess we will get over it but it will never be quite the same.

One thing I know we won’t do is pay Microsoft any more money than we have to.  Those 60 day evals will have to do.  MSDN subscription?  No way.  I wonder how many Technet subscribers there are in the world and how much money this brought in for MS.

It struck me as odd at the time, but the last time I renewed my subscription for Technet Microsoft called me a couple of times.  They actually sounded a little desperate to get my money.  Perhaps they knew then that it was going to be the last time we would ever have that conversation.

RIP Technet.


Microsoft shuts down Technet, my response

Hey Microsoft….screw you, you ass-holes.

Running Windows 7…install Windows 8…using VMware Workstation 9

See what I did there?  7..8..9…


So the deal is I have a Windows 7 laptop and wanted to install Windows 8 as a VM using VMware Workstation 9.

So on Sunday I used the “Easy Install” option, pointed it to a Windows 8 ISO from Technet and get a “5D” error within a few seconds.  A bit of Googling and I am none the wiser and decide to retire for the evening.

Fast forward to today (Tuesday) which is the next time I get to do anything “tech” (thanks to Chris’s Blog Jnr not wanting to go to sleep last night!) and I am looking to buy the Windows 8 upgrade before the £25 offer runs out in 48 hours (to install at a much later date).

As part of the purchase process Microsoft kindly run a pre upgrade check that makes sure your PC BIOS apps and drivers are all ok for the Windows 8 upgrade. To my surprise my laptop fails, and I am sent to the following page…

What is PAE, NX, and SSE2 and why does my PC need to support them to run Windows 8?

Although I am not bothered about this at the moment I decided to take a look anyway (I just don’t like failing tests). After making a BIOS change I re-ran the test and passed; so I decided to retry my install of Windows 8 within a VM.

It worked…

So in a roundabout kind of a way thanks Microsoft!

So time to give Windows 8 another try in a VM, we will see how that works.  I have read a few not so great things about the VM experience so if that doesn’t work I might go dual boot.  A couple of good titbits on this can be found below:

Booting Microsoft Windows 8 from a VHD in Windows 7

Native VHD Boot is available in all versions of Windows 7

48 hours to buy the upgrade to Windows 8, a couple of years or so to install…

At the moment you can buy the Windows 8 Pro upgrade for £24.99 (electronic download version) but the offer ends 31st January 2013.  You can install this any time up to 26th October 2015.

So if, like me, you don’t feel quite ready to commit to Windows 8 on an existing (non touch) laptop, but feel the O.S. might come good given a bit of time then now is the time to buy the upgrade!

Although I tried Windows 8 and rejected it some time ago as the main O.S. on my laptop, lately I have been contemplating a dual boot scenario.  If I get around to that I will post it up!

The “buy now, upgrade later” tip is straight from Paul Thurrott’s Supersite for Windows which you can find here.

Buy the upgrade here.

Also if you haven’t already, check out the “Netcast” Windows Weekly where Paul and Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet discuss weekly Windows news with anchor man Leo Laporte.  I listen to this every week on my commute to/from the office as well as some of the other TWIT Netcasts.

Tick-tock people!


Check your browser plugins are up to date…

This one was found by one of my colleagues but I thought I would pass it on.  On the back of Oracle Java security issues it is probably a good  time to check your browser plugins are up to date.

Check out this browserscan page for a free check.  It will quickly tell you if any of the following are out of date:

– Adobe Reader

– Adobe Flash

– Oracle Java

– Adobe Shockwave

– Microsoft Silverlight

It works in both IE and Chrome (sorry haven’t tried anything else) and even gives you a link to the installer to get the affected product up to date.

Surf safely now peeps!


A vSphere installation mistake you will only make once….

Lets imagine you have performed a fairly standard installation of an ESXi/vSphere environment.  Did you make any changes on this screen?

vcenter databse retention policy


If you answered “No” to this let me tell you what is going to happen….your vCenter database is going to store all information regarding tasks and events forever.  Your database will grow and grow until it reaches the limit on the database size for your version of SQL or until you run out of disk space.  Then the vCenter service will shut down and you won’t be able to start it up.

This happened to one of my clients, vCenter was installed using the SQL Express version and hit the 4GB limit on the database size.

Now what?

Go here and you will find a script you can run to clear out the database.  Now you can shrink the DB and finally start the vCenter service.

Now remember to go back and put a tick in your boxes!  The numbers you choose are down to you but for me 365 is plenty, the default is 180 days or 6 months.

Now remember to go back to every vCenter server you have ever installed and make the change!




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