Showing posts with label DIY: PC (EX475). Show all posts
Showing posts with label DIY: PC (EX475). Show all posts

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

EX475 Update

Its early into 2023, so why am I posting about 15 year old technology? Well its bittersweet, in that I am finally saying good-bye to my HP Mediasmart Servers. They have served (no pun intended) me well, but I have obtained some newer hardware, which I will write about in the future. So before completely powering down these servers for the last time, I want to discuss the final, non documented upgrade I did to them.

Just so as to bring everyone up to speed... In 2008 Hewlett Packard released the "HP Mediasmart Server" line of home computer servers. A collaboration with Microsoft and it's Windows Home Server software to make servers available for the home consumer market, a somewhat failed venture that I believe was years ahead of the market. Regardless of my beliefs, over the years I managed to acquire 3 HP Mediasmart EX475 units, 2 of which are still working, and 1 that I keep around for spare parts. In addition to these I also have a non functioning HP Mediasmart EX485 which I have never gotten around to fixing. Along the same theme I also have a now retired Acer H340.
The problems with these servers, besides the obsolete software and 15 year old hardware, is that the power supply in these units is non standard, and replacement units are hard to come by and expensive (not really worth the investment).
I have already documented all the hardware upgrades I've made to my HP Medismart Servers in previous posts (which can be found following these links. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 ).
As I mentioned earlier, Microsoft developed the Windows Home Server operating system based off their Windows Server 2008 business platform to exist in the home consumer market. Windows Home Server was a great introduction for PC enthusiasts and general consumers to store large amounts of personal data, but it just didn't seem to catch on. In 2011 the second and final installment of Windows Home Server was released. By 2013 Windows Home Server was dead.

While there are many operating systems which will install on the HP Mediasmart Servers (Linux, FreeBSD), for my recent install I decided to try Windows 11 on my HP Mediasmart Servers.  Please be aware if you're going to try this please obtain a VGA adapter, as it makes the installation process so much easier and possible. Also take into account that my servers have been upgraded so your mileage may vary, for those interested in trying this out. One last item to mention, when upgrading the operating system, installing anything other than Microsoft Home Server will cause all notification lights to stop reporting, a function you can no longer use.
I came across a project called PhoenixLiteOS that has a Windows 11 distribution that was stripped down so as to enhance performance, something the EX475 was going to need help with. I was surprised to see that it did in fact install, and it was quite responsive, considering it was running a modern operating system on such old hardware.
In addition to the PhoenixLite Windows installation I also installed Stablebit Drivepool, which is hard drive pooling software with data duplication that I have been using for years. For me it works much better than Microsoft's Storage Spaces. 
The last crucial bit of software I installed was TightVNC, a program which allows you remotely log in and control you server. Seeing as the EX475 runs as a headless unit, this software is a must to setup and maintain your server.
I have been running this setup for a number of months now, and everything works as it should. For those with HP Mediasmart servers still in operation, this might be a way to keep them going for a few more years. 

Also for those wondering, I also attempted this software upgrade on the much more underpowered Acer H340, with success, however while possible...I honestly wouldn't recommend this as a daily driver. While similar in hardware to HP's mediasmart server, Acer's 2GB ram maximum cripples this machine, which becomes abundantly clear when running a more modern operating system.

If you enjoyed this little update, let me know, and I will document my more modern equipment.

Monday, April 20, 2015

HP EX475 Home Server Upgrade Part 3

As you can see my progress to this point has been quite the learning experience, and I stubbornly wanted to use the proprietary software created for this machine. 
There are all sorts of methods to circumvent the blown LAN port, but the method I found to be easiest is to format a USB drive in FAT, then copy the HP SMI Files (this is where I found them online) to the root directory of the USB flash drive. Now you will need either a USB LAN or USB Wifi device with 32bit drivers !!!!! Copy the 32bit device drivers to the drivers folder of the SMI USB flash drive. Insert the SMI USB flash drive in the back bottom USB port and your LAN or Wifi device to another USB port. I was now able to boot my device and connect to it from a remote system and install the proprietary 'HP MediaSmart Server Recovery CD' Version 3. Remember to delete all partitions off the main hard drive before booting, or you will end up booting from the hard drive.
The best alternative option is to install a more modern operating system directly from USB boot (as I mentioned earlier), an option I just might try in the future.

Monday, April 13, 2015

HP EX475 Home Server Upgrade Part 2

The next step, while waiting for parts to arrive, was to dismantle and thoroughly clean out the EX475. Physically cleaning out all the dust is easily achieved with the use of an air compressor and blower nozzle, which is my tool of choice.  

Having spent a considerable amount of time on various HP Home Server forums, I've learned from many owners that these units tend to run extremely hot, especially the Northbridge chipset (under the aluminium heatsink shown above in the center). A simple solution to cooling the Northbridge chipset is to remove the aluminium heatsink, clean off all the stock thermal transfer paste, and reapply the heatsink using a good quality thermal transfer paste.
(heatsink removed picture from Tom's Hardware)
I was originally going to do just that, but a visual inspection of my Northbridge heatsink revealed it was quite crudely machined, and had ridges (as you may be able to make out below).
(not my Northbridge heatsink, stock photo from internet)
When a heatsink isn't completely flat or smooth it allows air to get trapped between the processor and heatsink resulting in poor heat transfer. Generally a good thermal transfer paste will remedy this but an even better solution is lapping. Lapping is a process of sanding down a CPU or heatsink to achieve a flat, smooth, mirror like finish. 
(excellent example of heatsink lapping, by Par)
While I never did manage to get a mirror quality finish from the Northbridge chipset heatsink, I did remove the ridges to the point of having a somewhat fairly reflective finish (really wished I had taken pictures during this build).
All my parts finally arrived, and I immediately installed the 4GB RAM module, which was quite easy once you have the EX475 disassembled. Next I installed the VGA-Adapter, which was also quite easy, it plugs in and only goes in one way. Before reassembling, I attached the power cable, monitor, and a USB keyboard, turned the EX475 on and booted into BIOS. So far, so good as BIOS revealed that the 4GB RAM module had been accepted and was working properly. After powering down I attach the SATA HD riser and dropped in a freshly formatted 2TB hard drive.
The Bios Hack
In order to upgrade the CPU I needed to modify the BIOS, but before I could do that I needed to install an operating system (in hindsight I probably could have gotten away by booting off a live distro USB). I already had WHS 2011 available, on a USB (if you need information on creating a bootable USB drive check out this link), so I used that as a base operating system. Even with 4GB of RAM, the EX475 has little business running WHS 2011, as this installation process took forever. I then followed the steps outlined here to hack my EX475’s BIOS (** Please be careful if you're attempting this). I was now ready to swap CPU's. I powered down the system, removed the stock heatsink and CPU, lapped the CPU heatsink to a mirror shine. I proceeded to install the new AMD X2 3250e with new thermal transfer paste (I used Arctic Silver MX-2 thermal paste throughout this build, as it’s what I had on hand). I reattached the heatsink, partially reassembled the EX475 and powered it up.
Nothing, it would no longer boot no matter how many times I flipped the power switch or how many power cables I replaced.
I was filled with an uneasy anxiety, I had spent so much time getting to this point, and all seemed lost.
In desperation I reverted back to the original CPU and I was once again greeted by a friendly, but slightly different BIOS screen.
I was confused, the BIOS hack seemed to work, the system seemed to be responding as it should with the stock CPU, could the CPU I bought from Ebay be bad? Before lashing out at the world with a flurry of emails, I tried installing the new CPU one more time... and IT'S ALIVE! I don't really know why, but the system started up and BIOS revealed the new Dual Core CPU.
The Operating System Install

The EX475 I purchased came with the original 'HP MediaSmart Server Recovery CD' version 1.1. While my original plans were to install WHS 2011 or Windows 8, I was really curious as to how my upgraded EX475 would perform running the originally intended proprietary operating system. While gathering information for this hardware upgrade, I happened to discover that HP had rolled out a final version 3, of their proprietary MediaSmart Server Recovery software, which would probably make more sense in installing. Unfortunately tracking down this software through legitimate means was proving to be more urban myth than reality. I was eventually able to obtain a copy of the elusive Version 3 software from unconventional channels (for those also seeking a copy can look here).
Normally I would just create a bootable USB drive, as I had done earlier but with the HP MediaSmart Server Recovery and install off that. However I spent hours trying to get the HP WHS install disk to transfer over to a USB, and IT JUST WONT WORK! What I wasn't aware of at the time is that HP's proprietary version of WHS can only be installed remotely over a network from a client PC. Well I also spent hours trying to get this to work, and finally realized, after a good nights sleep, what the problem was. It seems the on-board network interface port on my EX475 had died, a problem that seems to plague a few of these machines. If you have a running EX47X with a blown LAN port there is a remedy found here. This solution will only work if you have a pre-existing operating system already installed. Seeing as my machine wasn't running an OS yet, this solution wouldn't work for me.
I suppose at this point I could have just installed WHS 2011 or Windows 8, as I had originally intended, but I was determined to put on HP's proprietary software.

Stay tuned as I describe this process in the next installment...

Monday, April 06, 2015

HP EX475 Home Server Upgrade Part 1

I initially fell in love with the whole "Home Server" idea way back, when my company Cybercircuits was invited to beta test Microsoft's Windows Home Server OEM (I think it was sometime in 2005). Being an OEM operating system meant this wasn't going to be released to the public, and only computer retailers and manufacturers would have access. Seeing as I was a beta tester afforded me access, and to this day, I've been running some version of WHS.

HP was one of the first companies to bring the WHS operating system to the public back in 2008, with their release of the HP EX470. I remember the first time I saw one of these units on display at a local Future Shop, I was so excited, that is until I saw the $1,000 (CDN) price tag, which wasn't in my foreseeable budget. I've always been meaning to acquire an HP Home Server ever since it's debut, however given their steep price and that HP halted production of its Home Server Line in 2010, I never imagined I'd get the opportunity to own one of these.

In January of this year I picked up an HP EX475 off craigslist for $60(CDN), and while physically it seemed to be in great shape, it's hard drives were missing and obviously wasn't running. My goal at this point was to upgrade and restore this unit and eventually assimilate it into my current home network.

The EX475 shipped with an AMD 1.8 GHZ Sempron CPU, and 512MB of RAM, which at the time was relatively state of the art, but almost useless by today's standards. If I wanted to make the EX475 useful I would need to replace both these parts. After doing a quick www search, I came across a fantastic article on Tom's Hardware, with complete documentation on how to modify and upgrade the EX470/EX475. Unfortunately some information was obsolete, and the parts suggested were no longer available, so back I went to do more research. I came across a forum on MediaSmartServer with extremely useful information on upgrading the EX475 CPU, and after cross referencing CPU information on CPU-World, I had made a decision.

My decisions had been made and I took to Ebay to make them final. While many had opted to go with 1 or 2 GB of RAM, I purchased a Samsung 4GB PC2-6400 DDR2-800MHZ 240pin DIMM RAM, a $19(CDN) gamble which ended up paying off.
For the CPU I knew I wanted the option of being able to run a more modern operating system like WHS 2011 or Windows 8, this meant I needed something that was Dual Core. I took another gamble, this time for $35(CDN), and selected the AMD Athlon X2 3250e 1.5 GHz Dual-Core AM2+ (ADJ3250IAA5DO) CPU. ** I sacrificed overall speed for low heat and power consumption as this CPU ran at 22watts, the lowest power consumption of any dual core CPU.
This build wouldn't be going anywhere without the purchase of a $45(CDN) VGA-Adapter (also from Ebay), as the EX475 has no video out or any available PCI slots.
The final purchase was a set of (2) 80mm Arctic Cooling PWM fans from  local retailer  NCIX, for a cost of $15(CDN). ** When replacing a CPU you should always consider replacing the CPU fan, in this case the EX475 does not have a CPU fan, but two PWM case fans that cool not only the CPU but also the internal drives. 
For an investment of about $130-$175 (CDN, including taxes and shipping costs) I would have myself a new addition to my home network. ** Technically while I did purchase the VGA-Adapter strictly for this build, it could also be considered as a tool, as it can be removed and used for other builds as well. Also I know I didn't mention anything about hard drives yet, and that's because I recently upgraded my main home server and had a stack of unused hard drives collecting dust. I will be re-purposing these drives for use in the EX475.

Stay Tuned for my next installment where I begin the EX475 rebuild process.