The Pursuit of Homelabs, Part 5 – IT LIVES!

When attempting to run the necessary commands (all of which were supposed to “just work”) from a FreeDOS bootstick on my R710 , I’d find that they would “hang” without throwing any error messages. While this wasn’t entirely unexpected or undocumented, I gave it a try anyways.  “Maybe it’s the Dell BIOS not letting me run the commands” I thought. I threw the card into one of my desktop’s PCIE slots and… the computer wouldn’t post. Great.

I’ll leave the technical documentation and explanation to people more qualified (click here to go to the guide I ended up using). If you’re looking to flash your PERC H200, DO NOT try to do it from a motherboard that offers anything else other than BIOS. After working in circles for about a week, I was able to borrow a “vintage” motherboard from a coworker, which allowed me to run the commands I needed from a FreeDOS bootstick and flash the card in about 20 minutes (plus the time it took wrangling cables). At least I learned a bit about various RAID controllers’ firmware and how to change it, right?

Other Hardware Changes

Between the excitement of having new equipment and the poor lighting in the room I’m using as a temporary work area, I wasn’t able to grab many pictures. I was, however, able to write down most of what I did.

  • Installing two HDDs and four empty drive caddies – This was super easy. All that needed to be done was screwing the drives to their caddies using the provided screws and the “SAS” screw holes on the caddies. With minimal resistance (less inserting RAM), the caddies slid right into their respective bays and were secured by closing the latches. As a recommended but optional step if you’re doing this yourself, practice removing and replacing an empty drive caddy a few times. The click’s more satisfying than cassette tapes used to be!
  • Installing one SSD in the chassis’s optical drive bay with an ODD to HDD caddy – This steps up the challenge just a little bit if you’re as new to this kind of hardware as I was. My R710 came with a blank/punch for the optical drive, so I’m happy I picked up a GP703 SATA cable. Installing the SSD in the caddy was easy enough, despite some poorly written “English” instructions. Running the GP703 cable, however, wasn’t as easy. In the R710, the power connection for optical disk/SATA drive is located near the front of the server, behind of the backplane and underneath the fans. The SATA connection, however, is behind the processors, in front of the expansion bay area. When installing the GP703 cable, make sure you run cable and its slack to the right of the case along the wiring groove. If you don’t, you’ll have a hard time replacing the fans and processor shroud. Also, be sure to set the SATA port to “active”/”automatic” in the BIOS.
  • Removing the PERC 6I cables – This was pretty simple once I realized how the cables were run from the backplane to the integrated card. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to hold on to these cables, just in case.
  • Installing the PERC H200 card – Aside from flashing the firmware (see above), installation was pretty simple. The PCI-E slots and riser are in the rear of the case. When installing cards, be sure to remove the light-blue, plastic peg that secures the backplates of each added card (otherwise you won’t be able to fit the card in!). Running the M246M cables, however, was a little more challenging. The cables I purchased are long enough to run from the card to the backplane, if only just. The real concern here was fitting them in the cable groove along the right side of the case. Dell’s stock cables for the 6I were quite a bit thinner, so safely squeezing the rigid cables (complete with sheaths that only get stuck to things you don’t want them to) took some effort. As with the GP703 cable used for connecting the front optical drive/SATA drive, make sure you get the cables in the groove and provide a flush surface, otherwise you’ll have trouble replacing the fans.

That just about sums up the past week and a half or so, hardware wise. While waiting to borrow the motherboard so I could flash the H200 and start really getting to work, I was able to set up iDRAC6 Express for remote server management and familiarize myself with some of the R710’s settings, which I’ll talk about next time.