Uni-Trend UT61E

Couple of new toys came in today. A set of Uni-Trend UT61E Digital Multi-Meters. I ordered these to replace my now aging and underpowered TekPower DMM. I ordered two of these so that I can measure both current and voltage at once.

The UT61E is probably the best bang-for-the-buck multimeter one can find. It’s incredibly accurate for the price, very fast ranging and overall has a great feature set.
These meters go on eBay for about $60 which is incredibly cheap for what you get. I ordered mine from eBay and they took about 4 weeks to get here (from China).

The meter comes with a pretty nifty attachment that allows you to easily test various components like Resistors, Capacitors, Diodes and Transistors. Except, with the UT61E model, transistor checking is not available. Very odd considering this is one of the more feature-rich models.

The DMM came with a manual booklet. Except…

…it’s not in English. Fortunately I found a copy of the English manual online. Here‘s a locally hosted version.

A quick test of the multimeter. Connected my trusty TekPower and the new UT61E to my lab power supply, set the voltage at 5V and see how the new meter performs compared to the old meter. First impressions definitely positive. The auto-ranging is VERY quick, the added accuracy of the meter is also an added bonus. I’ll get into more testing in the future once I have an actual project to build. So far though, the impressions are mostly positive.

A really cool feature of this multimeter is the serial out function. Which by itself is not that unusual since even my 8 year old DMM has it. The really cool part is that the serial connection is electrically uncoupled from the meter. The meter uses IR transmitter to optically connect the serial cable to the UT61E. This is a great safety precaution since an accidental high voltage damage to the U61E will not travel up to the computer causing more damage.

Next step was to install the included software on the Lab computer. Standard install process here, nothing unusual.

The software itself is extremely simple. Does pretty much the same thing as the meter itself with the added ability to log the values and set min/max ranges, print and export the results, etc. This does bring up an interesting challenge though. Can I do better than this? As a developer, it would be relatively easy to write a very nice feature-rich UI for these meters.

I’ve decided that I’ll make this my next project. This is the perfect time to jump into Visual Studio 2012 and .net 4.5. I’ll also take this opportunity to dive deeper into WPF. While the future of WPF is currently unknown, it’s still worth digging into.

SR1680MV – Conclusion

The time has come to rack up the servers at the data center. The plan is to decomission the old Dell PowerEdge 1950’s and replace them with these Intel SR1680MV servers.

Out with the old. The PE1950’s have been real workhorses. Sure they top out at 32GB of RAM, but back in Windows 2003 days, this was sufficient to run a lot of instances of the OS, and countless instances of CentOS Linux. I was originally running 2 vSphere Nodes and 1 ProxMox node.
Psylocke is a purpose built firewall. It’s got off the shelf components Intel Motherboard, Intel Celeron 440 and 2GB of RAM. Connections are handled by an Intel Pro/1000 VT Quad NIC. The OS is pfSense 2.0.1. This combination has been shown to easily throughput 500Mbit of inter-zone traffic. pfSense is by far the most powerful free firewall solution I’ve come across.
I’m planning to convert a Firebox firewall to pfSense at some time in the future. But that’s another project.

New servers racked up and fired up. I had to reconfigure the servers on site due the fact that some VLANs had to be moved around as I had to rewire some of the switch connections. The file server is another Intel Server. It’s an Intel SR1550 running two E5160 3.0Ghz Xeons with external SAS controller and running NexentaStor 3.1. NexentaStor is Solaris based file server utilizing ZFS for the file system. ZFS provides on-the-fly block-level deduplication and on-the-fly compression. NexentaStor has been proven to be a rock-solid file server solution. With iSCSI MPIO support, balancing bandwidth across multiple NIC is trivial. ZFS also utilizes SSD’s for intermediate cache, causing random access performance to skyrocket due to block level caching.

Now I’ve got myself some spare PE1950’s. Two of them will end up for sale on Kijiji. I’ll keep one of them for the lab at home, at least until I can score another deal on a server like the SR1680MV.

I’ve wasted on time racking up the servers at home. They need a little bit of cleaning since they haven’t been cleaned for over 8 months. I’ll wipe the drives and post them on Kijiji. Hopefully I can still get a decent coin out of them. The 4GB modules that make up the 32GB of RAM are still pretty expensive nowadays.

Windows 8 :(

Sad to say, but I deleted Windows 8 and re-installed Windows 7 today. Windows 8 Preview is just incomplete enough that I can’t get stuff done in timely fashion. When RTM version hits MSDN I’ll download and try it in a VM to see if Microsoft resolved any of the issues that I ran into during normal use. Otherwise, I will probably wait till next year to complete the transition.

SR1680MV – More Testing

I picked up a whole bunch of Western Digital Velociraptors. These are 10,000 RPM SATA “Prosumer” versions of enterprise drives. They’re basically high performance, RAID ready drives priced for the computer enthusiast. I’ll be using these to provide boot and local storage to the SR1680MV nodes running ProxMox since the servers do not support SAS drives which is rather odd for server hardware.

Since the SR1680MV’s take in 2.5″ drives, I had to remove the drives from the “Ice Pack”. But oh, what’s this? Western Digital uses “tamper-proof” screws to secure the drives to the Ice Pack.

It’s only tamper-proof if nobody can actually tamper with it.

Couple of minutes later and I have some nice 2.5″ 10K drives ready for installation into the servers. Additionally, the Ice Packs can be reused to mount 2.5″ SAS or SSD drives into 3.5″ how-swap bays!

Windows 8 – The first week

So, after a solid week of seriously using Windows 8 Preview on my primary workstation, I can finally give an educated opinion on the product.

Epic. Fail. What was Microsoft thinking? What was wrong with the previous VPN dialog? Due to the way the new dialog is implemented, it is impossible to copy/paste credentials into the dialog because the dialog cancels out as soon as it loses focus. PPTP VPN is also broken in Win 8 Preview since I can no longer log into one of my VPN networks, Windows reports invalid credentials even though I have no problem logging into the VPN server from Windows 7. This is definitely a HUGE problem for me in the long run, I hope they fixed it in the RTM. For now using a VM to VPN into a client site.

Start Button
Ok, I got used to not having the start button pretty quickly. However, the implementation of the UI on multiple screens is completely broken. When I click on an icon on my right screen, why does it slide out on the center screen? The “start” menu is so full of crap that it’s impossible to find the software i’m looking for, fortunately i’m used to type-search the program I’m looking for so I don’t often have to hunt through that mess. Also, when running a windows VM in full screen, attempting to click the Start button in the VM causes the host to popup the Start menu, because it decides that it wants to popup on hover. It does this even on screens that have no taskbar!

vSphere Client
Works for the most part. Can’t connect to VM console. Can’t really blame Microsoft entirely on it, but it helps. I hope VMware steps up and releases an update to the vSphere client. This is kinda important, not critical since VMware Workstation 8 supports connecting the vSphere hosts and opening console through it works fine.

Here again most devices worked without a problem. The only problem I had was with Creative X-Fi Titanium card. I installed Windows 7 driver which was fine, until next reboot where all traces of the install disappeared. Attempting to re-install the driver was met with “You already installed the driver, must reboot before installing again”. Countless reboots later, registry tweaks, could not get rid of the error. Even after finding Windows 8 beta drivers for it. Same message. Gave up and installed Asus Xonar card with the hacked Unified drivers, since no Official/Beta drivers are available either.

There’s no doubt without addressing some of the UI quirks, Windows 8 is going to be the new Vista. I’m hoping Windows 9 is right around the corner.

SR1680MV – Continued

SR1680MV’s will be receiving some eBay low profile nics that arrived today. Intel Pro/1000 Dual Port PCI-e x4 cards.

I originally mounted them in the second server ‘s backplane. This SR1680MV was originally supposed to run ProxMox but it occurred to me that it would be a better solution to have one node from each server run ProxMox and the other node vSphere. This is because these servers do not have redundant power supplies. So that if one server’s power supply fails, my entire infrastructure won’t come crashing down.At worst, one node from each cluster will be affected, not the entire cluster.

I’ve added the new power LED’s to the second set of nodes too. All racked up and ready for testing. I’m hoping to have these servers racked up in the datacenter by next weekend.