Tau-Volantis Storage Server – Upgrades Part 2

Tau-Volantis Server
Tau-Volantis Server

So, it’s time to finish off the upgrades to the core storage server on my network. Now a new motherboard, CPU & RAM have been obtained (MSI GA-X58-USB3), Core i7 950, 12GB), along with new SAS/SATA HBAs for the disk rack I can get everything fitted into place.

Dell H200 SAS RAID Card
Dell H200 SAS RAID Card

Proper branded LSI HBA cards are expensive so I went with the cheaper option & obtained a pair of Dell H200 RAID cards. These have custom firmware flashed to them, but luckily can be crossflashed to a standard LSI firmware to become an LSI9211-8i card – providing 8 lanes of either SAS or SATA connectivity on a pair of SFF-8087 ports. Flashing these cards was very simple, once I managed to work my way into the EFI shell on my main machine, which I was using to do the flashing. Find all the firmware files & required software here:

One thing I left out from the flashing was a BIOS – this means that the boot process is speeded up, but also means the system BIOS cannot see the disks connected to the cards, so they’re not bootable. This isn’t a problem however, as I never plan on booting from the data storage disk array.

Active Cooling
Active Cooling

The SAS2008 RoC (RAID on Chip) on these cards runs at around 8.5W thermal power, so some active cooling is required to keep temperatures within check. I have attached a 40mm fan to each card’s factory heatsink, using M3x25mm screws. Getting the screws to grab the heatsink was the tricky bit – I needed to crimp the outer corners of the fins together slightly, so when the screws are driven in, the gap is forced to expand, which grabs the threads. The fans will be connected to spare headers on the motherboard for speed monitoring.

GA-X58-USB3
GA-X58-USB3

It was a struggle finding a motherboard with the required number of high-lane-count PCIe slots. Even on modern motherboards, there aren’t many about within a reasonable price range that have more than a single x16 slot, and since I’m going with the new HBAs, a single slot is no longer enough. The motherboard I managed to obtain has a pair of x16 slots, and a x4 slot (x16 physical), along with a 3 x1 slots. The only downside is there’s no onboard graphics on this motherboard, so an external card will be required. Another cheapie from eBay sorted this issue out.

ATI Radeon HD3450
ATI Radeon HD3450

Since I need to use the x16 ports for the disk controllers, this card will have to go into the x4 slot.

Motherboard Installed
Motherboard Installed

Here the board has been installed into the new chassis, along with it’s IO shield. Both HBA cards are jacked into the x16 slots, with the SAS/SATA loom cables attached. I did have to grab longer cables – the originals I had were only 500mm, definitely not long enough to reach the ports on these cards, so 1m cables are used. The fans are plugged in with extensions to a pair of the headers on the motherboard, but the MB doesn’t seem to want to read RPM from those fans. Nevermind. While the fans are a little close to the adjacent cards, the heatsinks run just about warm to the touch, so there’s definitely enough airflow – not forgetting the trio of 120mm fans in the bulkhead just out of shot, creating a breeze right through the chassis.

Boot SSD
Boot SSD

Since the onboard SATA ports are in a better position, I was able to attach the boot SSD to the caddy properly, which helps tidy things up a bit. These slot into the 5-¾” bays on the front of the chassis, above the disk cage.

Loom Closeup
Loom Closeup

To take up the excess cable length, and tidy things up, the data loom to the disk cage is cable-tied to self-adhesive saddles on the side of the chassis. This arrangement also helps cooling air flow.

Server Overview
Server Overview

With the new components, and the cabling tied up, things inside the chassis look much cleaner. I’ve rationalised the power cabling to the disk backplanes down to a a pair of SATA power looms.

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