Upgrading the HP EX485/487 MediaSmart Server: Removing the smoke and mirrors Part 2

by Alex Kuretz on April 25, 2011 · 11 comments

in Guides

The following is a guest article written by forum member Dan “Nomad” Muzenjak and is a supplement to his original article on upgrading the HP MediaSmart Server.

Upgrading the HP EX485/487 MediaSmart Server: Removing the smoke and mirrors Part 2 – More Performance and a New Operating System

You have seen the announcements by HP that the Media Smart Server is going the way of the dodo. No doubt you share my feelings of sorrow and abandonment once again by a major corporation. My guess would be because of the fiasco with Vail and the DE issue. I guess HP wants you to buy a new DROBO. Oh well, life goes on in the world of computing. No more digressing, time to focus on the subject at hand.

So, you performed the Celeron to the Pentium Dual core upgrade to squeeze a little more life out of your MSS and you want to know what else can be done extend the life of that neat little black box. Maybe you are considering a software upgrade to Windows Home Server 2011 or something else more powerful.

Are you asking:
Can I squeeze out a little more performance out of my 485 /7 dual core platform?
Is it possible to efficiently run a new operating system on my MSS.?
Can I expand the memory for s new operating system?

All of the above questions can be answered with a yes with good results, read on!

First, some background
Software
The EX485/7 MSS came provisioned from HP with a Celeron single core processor with 2 gb of memory and the Microsoft Window Home Server operating system. HP released number of point issues including a 3.0 version upgrade. WHS runs well on a standard 485/7 system with an interface that looks and feels like XP. HP did a good job combining the operating system with comparable hardware to produce a stable and useful platform. The new WHS2011 is a major OS upgrade with a new interface (that looks and feel like Windows 7 ) with new features. So far the only down side of WHS2011 is the loss of Drive Extender but that’s a whole other story we won’t go into here.

Hardware
Even though the 485/7 platform was a great improvement over the 470 series the Celeron processor was underpowered for intensive applications. Multitasking the platform while video or audio streaming really caused it to bog down. Many complained about dropping video frames, audio skips and application hangs. HP fixed most of these issues when they released the 495 by dropping the Celeron for the more powerful dual core E5200 processor. My prior article explains how you can bring your 480 series up to par with the 495 platform. Ok, history lesson completed, onward to what you came here for.

What are the options?
Obviously if you are reading this you are a MSS user that wants the most from your platform. I assume you have upgraded your processor to a dual core and are looking for more speed and a newer operating system. First let me emphasize if you are considering Windows Home Server 2011 on a 4gb Celeron based 485/7 forget it. The platform will be a total pig. It will work but the performance will not be anything close to WHS v1 and you are sure to be disappointed.

Now the good stuff
Well, what’s next? When I wrote my original article I did some testing with expanding the system memory from the standard 2 gb to 4gb on pre-WHS v1 The results were less that spectacular. First, the cost for a single 4gb DDR2 PC6400 CAS 6 memory was anything but cheap. Second, the CPU overhead the platform required to manage the extra single channel memory actually created a decrease in actual performance. Third, WHS v1 did not require or effectively use the extra memory. Finally, WHS is a server OS, it does not require memory for console users processes because for the most part there are no direct users, just remote ones. Based on these facts a memory upgrade was not worthwhile at that time.

What has changed since we looked at this before?
DDR2 memory has gotten cheaper and faster resulting in a performance increase (more on this later). WHS v1 was then and WHS2011 is now. WHS v1 ran just fine on 2gb and did not need more. WHS2011 needs more memory to run efficiently and perform correctly. The Microsoft engineers have optimized the memory mapping to take advantage memory over 2gb. WHS2011 is now OS of choice for the newer NAS systems. Other operating systems such as Small Business server 2011 won’t run with a memory size less than 4gb. Its amazing how time changes the game.

A Performance increase!
Basically, SDRAM Memory requires refresh cycles to keep information stored within it. The less CPU clock cycles required to keep the memory refreshed results in a performance increase. Faster memory translates to faster performance if the system can take advantage of it and the ability of the processor to detect it. This is done via the system BIOS and speed parameters contained within the memory modules for the system to use to set memory access speeds.

Lucky for us is that when HP wrote the BIOS for the 485 they took advantage of the profile stored on today’s memory chips. When faster memory is installed into a MSS server the BIOS reads the speed of the memory and changes the operating parameters (i.e. clock cycles) of the system to take advantages of it. As a result we can squeeze a little more performance out of the 485 by using faster memory.

Memory speed in part is rated with a “CAS” or “CL” rating. Changing the memory from CAS 6 (HP OEM) to CAS 5 will produce an approx. performance increase of about 2 percent under WHS v1. A much greater increase is noted under WHS2011. (Quick note: I know what your thinking, how about using CAS 4, well forget it, first it would cost a small fortune and second I have no clue where you could get it)

CAS Latency further defined (for those who want to know the details)
SDRAM comes with latency ratings or “CAS (Column Address Strobe) latency” ratings The lower latency of CAS 5 memory will give you more performance if your system is able to take advantage of it. It also costs a bit more, but it’s worth it. CL or “CAS latency,” which is the number of clock cycles it takes before data starts to flow once a command is received. Want more, do a search on “Memory Latency”.

Cost, performance and suggested memory
The cost of upgrading system memory from 2 to 4gb and from CAS 6 to CAS 5 is approx. $85.00. If you don’t care about this 2% performance increase and are upgrading memory size for WHS2011 you can save some a few bucks by using the 4gb of PC6400 CAS 6 memory instead.

The following SDRAM’s are 4GB CAS 5 parts that I have personally tested and bench marked. They are major brands, and will provide excellent service. They both feature lifetime warranties. If you have no brand loyalty the Mushkin brand is slightly less expensive. Both have high quality heat spreaders and work well with the 485/7:

MUSHKIN ENHANCED SILVERLINE 4GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)
Desktop Memory Model 991762,
Timing 5-5-5-18 Cas Latency 5 Cas Latency: 5 Voltage: 1.8V
Newegg part no. N82E16820226089

G.SKILL 4GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)
Desktop Memory Model F2-6400CL5S-4GBPQ
Timing 5-5-5-15 Cas Latency 5 Cas Latency: 5 Voltage: 1.8v – 1.9v (BIOS will set tRAS to 18)
Newegg part no. N82E16820231300

Either SDRAM will provide the same results, The G.SKILL tRAS is rated at 15 but the BIOS will set it to 18 just like the Mushkin so don’t be concerned with that specific difference.

Where to buy
I personally like to use Newegg, they stand behind what they sell and their customer service is 2nd to none but obviously that’s up to you. As of last check both were available from Newegg, Amazon and a number of other sources. Be forewarned, CALL to make sure that you are getting a single 4gb part. G.SKILL uses the same part number for 2 parts of 2GB and 1 part of 4GB.

Since DDR3 has been accepted as the industry standard these 4gb DDR2 parts are starting to become harder to find. If you want new buy it soon, otherwise you might be stuck picking up a used part off of fleebay. NOTE: you must use DDR2! DDR3 cannot be interchanged with DDR2. They are different technology and are keyed differently.

Installation
The installation process for the memory is very easy, strictly plug and play. No BIOS settings need to be changed, the memory will automatically be detected on power up and changes applied by the system.

Please verify your 485 is working properly before you start, check the system logs for errors. Perform a system reboot and shutdown before you start. Make sure that all your disks are healthy and working correctly. A sick server will not miraculously heal itself because you upgraded your memory.

Prepare for minor surgery. Remember to observe anti static protocol when handling all computer hardware. Have a clear and well illuminated work area. Here is a link to Alex’s article on disassembling the MSS:

http://www.mediasmartserver.net/2009/09/16/a-closer-look-at-the-ex490-and-ex495-hardware/

You can also review my first article for additional disassemble tips. The key here is to take your time. A digital camera is great for recording connector locations. Once you have the system board removed from the server the memory is located on the left side of the motherboard as viewed from the front. Depress the retainer clips located at the front and rear of the original SDRAM memory and remove it. When installing the new memory notice the key on both the motherboard socket and the SDRAM. It only fits one way and will snap into place. Usually the retainer clips will pop into locked position when the SDRAM is placed into the socket. Verify these clips are correctly engaged into the SDRAM before re-assembly. This is also a great time to blow out all the dust from the power supply and fans. This can be accomplished using a can of compressed air.

Power Up and Verification
As mentioned earlier, no BIOS changes are required for this mod. Plug and Play all the way! Once you have re-assembled your server and reconnected the network/power cables you should be good to go. I know you fully tested your 485/7 before you started so this should be a stroll in the park. Power up the unit, the health indicator should progress from blinking red to blue and within a few minutes the server will spring to life and appear on your network.

Log into the console and right click on the console icon selecting properties.
The General tab will show the following:

Conclusions
Your done! Congratulations, your server is now ready for the next great server operating system. You might say Whoopee doo, a whole 2% improvement for $85.00, no bargain here. The important thing is that you have opened the door to the use of newer operating systems and given your system new lease on life and extend its usefulness for a number of years. You can effectively run Windows Home Server 2011 and have the memory required to implement Windows Small Business Server 2011 and others.

I won’t go into OS upgrades, this subject is well covered and can be found here and on other sites.

My thanks to those who take the time to share their work making these upgrades possible for all.

In the Wings: Supercharging and water cooling the EX480/490 with an Intel Quad Core!

Dan

References and additional resources
Exploring the BIOS using the KVM/CN9 access:
http://www.mediasmartserver.net/2009/01/09/how-to-unlock-the-ex487-bios/

OCCT Power, Temperature Monitoring software, excellent for testing CPU stats.
http://www.ocbase.com/perestroika_en/

The original HP EX485 CPU Upgrade thread, the original process and a good read
http://www.mediasmarthome.com/forum/thread/11977/HP-EX-485-CPU-upgrade-sucessful/

Adding a Printer to the MediaSmart Server
http://www.myhomeserver.com/?page_id=30

HP EX485 Media Vault Software Update
http://h10025.www1.hp.com/ewfrf/wc/softwareCategory?product=3855978&lc=en&cc=us&dlc=en&lang=en&cc=us

Microsoft Window Home Server TechNet
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd347480%28WS.10%29.aspx

Inside new HP Data Vault
http://www.homeserverhacks.com/





Article by

I'm Alex Kuretz, and I'm the founder of MediaSmartServer.net. I was the Lead Test and Integration Engineer at HP for the MediaSmart Server until April 2008 when I moved on to other opportunities outside HP. I've kept active in the Windows Home Server community, creating several add-ins and helping users make the most of their Home Servers.


{ 11 comments }

Tim April 25, 2011 at 10:53 pm

“Memory speed in part is rated with a “CAS” or “CL” rating. Changing the memory from CAS 6 (HP OEM) to CAS 5 will produce an approx. performance increase of about 2 percent under WHS v1. A much greater increase is noted under WHS2011.”

I would like to know what % increase we will get if we are running WHS2011 and upgrade it to a CAS 5 4GB of RAM, please! I have already upgraded my EX485 to WHS2011, and it seems to run great already on CAS 6 2GB RAM, but if the performance increase is substantial, then I am all in!

Tim

Dan (Nomad) April 26, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Tim,
In order to give you direct numbers I would need to re-install the 2gb CAS 6 part to do some benchmarks. What I can tell you is I noted a noticable difference when multitasking with the 4gb vs 2gb memory. I think you would notice this speed increase even with a slower CAS 6 part. I honestly believe Microsoft underated the memory requirements of WHS2011 in order to sell more upgrades. Personally, I would not consider running WHS2011 with anything under 4gb. IMHO

Dan

Tim April 26, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Thanks, Dan. Earlier today I ordered the 4GB Mushkin chip mentioned above. I even got a $12.30 discount on it with the code mentioned by Alex. Can’t wait for it to get here!

Tim

dagamer34 April 25, 2011 at 11:02 pm

While WHS v1 itself may not require 4gb ram, one can always install apps that would run better with it that without it. Though I’d say that WHS 2011 itself really should have 4th of RAM to use, especially if you’ll be doing multiple tasks (transcoding + streaming + other stuff)

Al West April 26, 2011 at 5:26 am

The intel ed’s can headless the 65W quad cores without water cooling. See my post on going quad core with 4GB :
http://www.mswhs.com/2010/10/turning-your-hp-mss-ex49x-into-a-virtual-server-part-1/

Tim April 26, 2011 at 6:35 am

Hi Al,

Would you mind re-posting this link, as the current one goes to a “page not found”.

Thanks!

Tim

Al West April 26, 2011 at 7:22 am

The link works for me but the destination URL is:
http://www.mswhs.com/2010/10/turning-your-hp-mss-ex49x-into-a-virtual-server-part-1/

or if you are going to cut and paste in Biological Memory:
http://tiny.cc/qcex (Quad Core E X)

In that article I detail stripping down an EX490 and replacing the stock CPU and Memory with a Q8400S and a 4GB DIMM From Crucial. At the time of my article Crucial only did PC2-5300 at CL 5.

Alex Kuretz April 26, 2011 at 8:35 am

Good timing, Newegg has 15% off desktop memory through 4/27 with coupon code: DM15AP11US
http://www.newegg.com/Store/SubCategory.aspx?SubCategory=147&name=Desktop-Memory

James April 28, 2011 at 11:59 am

Will this RAM be ok?

http://www.newegg.ca/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820220409

I have two servers, hence the 2x4GB.

Chuck Coleman April 29, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Just to let everyone know, NewEgg was out of both memory sticks mentioned in the article. I went direct to Mushkin and ordered a stick. NewEgg just notified me that the Mushkin sticks were back in stock. I don’t know how many they received. Therefore, at least for now, there are two sources for the memory.

Chuck

James July 12, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Can anyone confirm if this would be ok (i have two servers)?

NewEgg
Item: N82E16820220409

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820220409&Tpk=N82E16820220409

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