trivial shennanigans

Upgrading Linux boxes

After returning to upgrading my main Linux box (due to playing with Docker and using some stuff (genome annotation pipelines) that needs more than the system max of 16GB RAM) I came across this blog post about a similar situation (albeit more time). The beautiful machine
I’ve generally always upgraded my own computers. My main Linux box has been upgraded in bits and pieces for some time. I think the oldest current part is the case that is at least 15 years old. It’s been heavily updated with sound insulation from the car audio scene, although TBH it is much quieter now than when the motherboard was an Asus PC-DL running a pair of power hungry overclocked Xeons.
However, for one reason or another (lack of time, stable hardware, iPadOS etc) I’ve not done this for some time. My box was last opened two years ago when the TV tuner card (PCIe TBS6980) died and I replaced it, with an almost exact model. The previous real upgrade was seven or more years ago.
So I got myself a 10 yr old server board with dual Xeons and Max 32gb ram. Intel S5500BC board with a pair of Xeon E6240s. The setup only cost £70 but each CPU is far faster than the previous single Xeon X3470. Plus max RAM is double.
However, when I could previously swap over a motherboard in less than an hour, now we got multiple beginner errors.
– First error was refusing to boot due to a grounding error. I’d assumed there would be the usual 9 standoffs in the ATX format. Nope. There is no motherboard hole for a middle bottom standoff. What compounded the gorging error was that the lower left standoff was too short. Whoops!
– Then I’d not inserted RAM correctly. Turns out a proper server board does not fail to POST, but just omits the DIMM slots and allows the rest to work. Luckily a red LED indicates the incorrect DIMM slots.
– Then all 32GB of RAM (8 x 4GB) was recognised, but once booted into Linux only 24 GB was seen. Turns out another beginner error and the DIMM was inserted enough to be recognised, but not enough to work properly.
As well as the beginner errors the board is a server one and CPU fans ran so fast that it was difficult to think with the noise. Turns out most Intel server boards are intended to be paired with an Intel chassis. If the board does not detect the chassis it just switches on the fans full speed instead of managing then due to CPU heat! Noisy!
I found a few blog posts on reflashing the BIOS to a more recent one AND also something called a Baseboard Management Controller. When did they come along? This adds a non-Intel chassis profile for fan speed and allows it to be managed in line with CPU heat.
Even though Intel have EOLed these boards, I still found the latest BIOS on their site. The current BIOS was so old though I needed to update to an intermediate build, BIOS 66. Then flash to BIOS 69 which is the latest. Flashing the BIOS on servers boards is easy! The board used EFI can can be booted to a console, which allows you to flash the BIOS from a USB stick. Even easier there’s a BAT script to do this from the USB. Funky!
BUT the BMC firmware was very difficult to find. I eventually found it on a niche You Tube video.
Anyway the lesson I should learn is hardware upgrades can only be easy if you spend a lot of money. If you want to save money then you need to do them regularly to keep your skills up!