Computers & Networks

A blog about computers, networks, and peripherals used in a small business or development lab environment to support the development of nano devices and systems.

Mastodon Instance Selection and Account Setup

morreale Sunday 06 of November, 2022

I joined Twitter in 2010 and use it pretty regularly. The people I follow, my network, has taught me so much over the last 12 years. I've very sad to see go and want to thank all the people I follow for the great work they do and sharing it with the world. It's been a real benefit to me and to the world.

There isn't an exact alternative to Twitter. Mastodon is said to be the closet alternative. It architecture is different in that it's an open source platform federated microblogging platform [1]

Anyone can setup a Mastodon server or instance, and these servers communicate with each other using open standard communication protocols [2]. These interconnected servers are known as a fediverse.

Each server has its own theme, moderation policies, code of conduct, and terms of service. It's important to read the terms of service and server rules to make sure your intended use of the server is within their rules. Each server I investigated had different server rules and terms of service. So, some servers have very strict policies, and others had very open content policies.

The List of Mastodon instances and Mastodon Instances were useful for learning about the various themes of the Mastodon servers. The Fediverse Observer website was a handy tool to locate Mastodon servers using selection criteria. I was looking for technology themed server using English as the primary language located in the US and was accepting new users. The table below shows some of the Mastodon servers that I investigated.

Server Description
Mastodon.social Not accepting new members
Mastodon.cloud Sujitech LLC maintains the server and posts the Terms and condition Japanese.
Mastodon.technology Not accepting new members
ioc.exchange Infocsec theme with strong user rights terms and conditions
Mastodon.sdf.org Run by SDF.org that provide a web based Unix portals, and hosts artist, DJs, and amateur radio Nets.
Qoto.org STEM based site with LaTeX and Markdown features. Reports/complaints of being banded by other servers for federating site that carry misinformation.
Mastodon.green A climate change server for EU, Norway, and Switzerland.
Fosstodon.org Technology and Free Open Source Software (FOSS).
makerdon.org Not accepting new members


I referred to Mastodon in the Fediverse: the missing manual(first draft), Everything I know about Mastodon, and Looking for Twitter alternatives? Here’s how to use Mastodon to help setup my account. I ended up creating a new mastodon account on mastodon.sdf.org due to their long history of supporting Unix/Linux education and has an amateur radio programs. According Wikipedia, the SDF.org servers are located in Seattle Washington [3]. The links to my account and account name are shown below.

  • https://mastodon.sdf.org/@0brane
  • @0brane@mastodon.sdf.org

Each server has a local feed that is driven by the interested of the users on the server, and a federated feed driven my the users on fediverse servers.

I used the Find fediverse accounts of your Twitter followings tool to find the people I follow on the fediverse. The tool generates a CSV file that you can import to you Mastodon profile to follow them. So far out of around the 1000+ people I follow, only about 14 people have posted their Mastodon IDs. I'll keep my Twitter account active and periodically run the tool to find more of the people I'm following.

I downloaded my Twitter account information. The Following and Followers files use internal twitter ID numbers so these files don't appear to be useful yet for locating people on Mastodon. I've tried to save my following list on Twitter from my browser using Save Page as and Print to pdf using Firefox, but his does not save something that is viewable. Zotero Save snapshot saves about half my following list. I'll need to research this further.

I'm fascinated by the Mastodon distributed architecture and the option to have accounts on multiple Mastodon servers (instances) and is a likely topic for a future blog.


[1] Mastodon (software)

[2] Fediverse

[3] SDF Public Access Unix System

Grace Hopper Celebration 2017

morreale Friday 06 of October, 2017
The 2017 Grace Hopper Celebration keynote speeches were streamed live and are now available on archive. Speakers include:
  • Dr. Fei-Fei Li, Professor and Director, Stanford University AI Lab; Chief Scientist, Google Cloud AI/ML
  • Diane Greene, CEO VMware
  • Megan Smith, Former U.S. Chief Technology Officer
  • Dr. Sue Black OBE, Founder of Techmums
  • Melinda Gates, Co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Mehul Raje, ABIE Award Winner
  • Mary Spio, Founder and CEO, CEEK VR
  • Marie Claire Murkatete, ABIE Award Winner
  • Mercedes Soria, ABIE Award Winner
  • Debbie Sterling, Founder and CEO, GoldieBlox
  • Dr. Laura Mather, ABIE Award Winner
  • Dr. Ayanna Howard, Professor and Linda J. and Mark C. Smith Endowed Chair, Bioengineering, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Aysegul Gunduz, ABIE Award Winner
  • Dr. Deborah Berebichez, Chief Data Scientist, Metis; Co-host, “Outrageous Acts of Science”
  • Dr. Marie desJardins, ABIE Award Winner
  • Maureen Fan, CEO and Co-founder, Baobab Studios


Blackblaze harddisk failure data

morreale Tuesday 17 of May, 2016
Backblaze has released some new data on hard disk drive failures. Data is shown for drives from four manufacturers, 61,523 drives, and something around 1 billion hours of operation as stated in the article but I can't verify this from the table. Data from Backblase, again, does not seem to be all that useful because a careful description of the data is missing.


X99 HPC installation 20: ASUS AI Suite

morreale Thursday 17 of September, 2015
Figure 1 shows the video of the ASUS AI Suite running the 5-way optimization tool which configures the following:
  • Turbo Processing Unit (TPU): Sets CPU frequency, cache, core frequencies, DRAM frequency, and related voltages for performance and stability.
  • FAN Xpert 3: configures the fans using PWM or DC operation to create the best cooling profile.
  • DIGI+ Power Control: Configures the processor digital Voltage Regulator Module (VRM) and DRAM power supplies for performance and stability.
  • Turbo App: Configures a Turbo App List that assigns network priority, audio settings, and CPU frequencies for specific apps.
  • Energy Processing Unit (EPU): Provides system wide energy management and optimization to reduce fan noise, lower power dissipation, and extend component life time.

Figure 1 ASUS AI Suite 5-Way Optimization Video

Figure 2 shows the ASUS AI Suite after the 5-way optimization completes. Notice that the Digi+ active frequency and Turbo App settings have not been turned on yet. This status shown was taken during a LINPACK benchmarking test.

Figure 1 5-Way Optimization Status


X99 HPC installation 19: BIOS Update and Configuration

morreale Wednesday 16 of September, 2015
Figure 1 shows a video of the BIOS being updated to version 1401 and then being configured. The EZ tuning wizard was run. The tuning wizard selected the XMP DDR4-2667 DRAM profile, a 102.0 MHz bus clock, and a 40X multiplier running the i7-5930K cores at 4.080 GHz. At the time I made the video, I incorrectly pointed to the EZ tuning wizard target values as the actual clock speeds.

Figure 1 BIOS Update and Configuration Video

After the BIOS was configured, the ROG CPU-Z provides system information and reports the status of the CPU, caches, motherboard, memory, SPD (XMP memory settings), and graphics card. The CPU and memory status are shown in Figures 2 and 3, respectively. The CPU frequency is dynamic to save power so it needs to be running a benchmark to see the maximum core speed of 4079.2 MHz in this case. The memory frequency is 2447.5 MHz.

Figure 2 CPU-Z CPU Status

Figure 3 CPU-Z Memory Status

The Intel Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) benchmark tool was run. The XTU status panel shows that the maximum processor frequency is 4.08 GHz and the maximum CPU temperature peaked at 64 C (see Figure 4).

Figure 4 Intel Extreme Tuning Utility Benchmark Status


X99 HPC installation 18: Boot and OC Panel Operation

morreale Wednesday 16 of September, 2015
Once everything was connected and all the connections were double checked, Blackbird15 was booted into BIOS. The BIOS was configured to enable the Intel Virtualization Technology to support Android app development. The OC tuning wizard was run to improve the system performance. The Windows 8.1 install from a Blu-ray disk was easy, quick as I recall, and problem free. After the install, Windows 8.1 booted and the ASUS drives were installed for all the device hardware. The Windows 8.1 install did not load hardware specific drivers. Blackbird15 was rebooted. The machine was tested and applications were installed.

Every once in a while Blackbird15 would crash randomly. This was traced to LAN drive bug in Windows 8.1 which was finally fixed with the KB3055343 windows update. Blackbird15 doesn’t crash randomly any longer but it still has trouble waking up from sleep properly even with the hybrid boot option disabled. I’m still looking for a fix for this problem. If I leave the media player running playing music, the system doesn’t sleep so the issue isn’t encountered but it’s not a very energy efficient solution. I need to turn off the sleep function so the screen save actives at some point.

The OC Panel has been very useful in monitoring the operation of the processor and motherboard. Most of OC Panel control buttons are on the body of the panel and aren’t accessible so many functions can’t be accessed. I wish there were a few more buttons on the front of the OC panel so that the function could be accessed all the time. Figure 1 shows the OC Panel in operation during a MemTest86+ test without overclocking.

Figure 1 OC Panel

Figure 2 shows a video of Blackbird15 booting and the OC Panel in operation. The fans are very quiet and it is the quietest computer I’ve built. The large 140 mm fans and the fan controllers are really good at minimizing fan noise even when the processor is running at ~200 W.

Figure 2 Blackbird15 Boot and OC Panel Operation Video

Figure 3 shows Blackbird15 hybrid booting again to so show how fast the system boots. I put the camera down to enter the windows password and the picked it back up after entering the password to follow the boot sequence LEDs on the motherboard. It boots in under a minute if there are no USB devices to slow it down. Some of my USB devices are very old.

Figure 3 Blackbird15 Hybrid Boot Speed Video


X99 HPC installation 17: OC Panel and Blu-ray drive

morreale Tuesday 15 of September, 2015
The ASUS Overclocking (OC) Panel was inserted into the OC Panel case housing and held in place with two screws. The OC Panel cable and a SATA power cable were attached to the OC Panel rear connectors. The cables were installed first because it was easier to access the cables before installing the OC Panel into the case. The OC Panel and cables were installed into the top 5.25 inch bay. The cables were routed through the right side compartment of the case behind the motherboard down to the bottom case opening near the power supply. The OC Power cable was attached to the power supply and the OC Panel cable was attached to the socket on the bottom right side of the mother board. The OC Panel case housing is half size so the case latches don’t quite latch and hold in place so two screws were used to keep it in place.

Next, the Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray drive was installed. A SATA data cable was attached to the drive. The drive was installed in the second 5.25 inch bay and the cables were routed through the right side compartment behind the motherboard to SATA port 9 on the motherboard. The SATA power cable connected to the OC Panel was also used to power the Blu-ray drive. Figure 1 shows a how the various components were connected to the power supply and how the data connection were made to the ASUS Rampage V Extreme motherboard.

Figure 1 Power and Data Connection Diagram

Figure 2 shows the rear view of the Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD Writer mounted in a 5.25 inch case slot.

Figure 2 Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD Writer Rear View

Figure 3 shows the front view of the Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD Writer mounted in the second from the top 5.25 inch case slot. The OC Panel can also be seen in the top slot as well.

Figure 3 Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD Writer Front View

Figure 4 shows the OC Panel display indicating the CPU temperature (36.0 ºC), CPU fan speed (597 RPMs), memory clock speed (100.0 MHz), and the CPU multiplier (37). The photo was talked during the MemTest86+ tests with default BIOS setting (no overclocking).

Figure 4 OC Panel Display

Next three thermistor cables were installed and attached to the motherboard sensor connectors. The temperature sensor ports were connected as follows:
  • Sensor 1: Graphics card at the rear of the case
  • Sensor 2: Graphics card at the middle of the case
  • Sensor 3: WD RE at the top of the hard drive
The fans were connected as follows:
  • CPU FAN: Both Phanteks PH-TC14PE fans via Y-cable
  • CHA FAN1A: Top front case fan
  • CHA FAN2A: Bottom front case fan
  • CHA FAN3A: Rear case fan
Figure 5 shows the installation video of the OC Panel and Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD Writer. The video also describes the installation of the thermistors to the sensor connectors.

Figure 5 OC Panel and Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD Writer Installation Video


X99 HPC installation 16: SSD & HD

morreale Monday 14 of September, 2015
The Samsung 850 Pro SSD was installed in one of the right side 2.5 inch bays located behind the motherboard using a plastic drive carrier. The carrier has a springy latch that you press on to make room for the SSD to slide in to the carrier. It turns out that it does not need to be pressed very much. I snapped the first one off straight away. So, I grabbed another one and it fit perfectly. The carrier clad SSD then just clips into three mounting points in the case.

I then routed a power cable with an SATA power connector to the drive through the right side compartment (rear of the motherboard, and plug it into place on the mounted SSD. The polarization of the connector takes a bit of fiddling with to get oriented correctly as the connector looks almost symmetric at first glance. All the power cables were held in place using the Velcro ties provided with the case. The SATA data cable was routed behind the drive bay stack to the SSD drive. Figure 1 shows the 512 GB Samsung 850 PRO SSD installed in one of the rear 2.5 bays in the 750D case.

Figure 1 512 GB Samsung 850 PRO SSD Mounted in the Case

The WD RE drive was clipped into a tool free hard disk drive carrier and slide into the top 3.5 inch bay. A power cable with a SATA power connector was routed through the right side compartment behind the motherboard and connected to the WD RE drive. The SATA data cable was routed to the drive by snaking the data cable behind the 3.5 inch bay stack. Figure 2 shows the 512 GB Samsung 850 PRO SSD installed in one of the rear 2.5 bays in the 750D case viewed from the front of the case. The WD RE drive is also visible.

Figure 2 WD RE Hard Disk and 512 GB Samsung 850 PRO SSD mounted in the Case

Figure 3 shows the installation video of the Samsung 850 PRO SSD and WD RE hard disk drive.

Figure 3 512 GB Samsung 850 PRO SSD and 1TB WD RE Hard Disk Drive Installation Video


X99 HPC installation 15: Power Supply Unit

morreale Wednesday 02 of September, 2015
The EVGA SuperNOVA P2 1000 W Power Supply Unit (PSU) has a standard ATX form factor and fits nicely in the Corsair 750 case. The PSU fan was installed facing the bottom cabinet air filter so that when the fan runs, cool air from outside the case would be blown through the power supply. Four screws supplied with the power supply were used to hold it in place. A metal ledge inside the cabinet also keeps the power supply in place. The hardest part about installing the power supply is figuring how to route cables between respective connectors between the supply and the motherboard. Figure 1 shows the EVGA SuperNOVA P2 1000 W PSU modular connectors.

Figure 1 Installed EVGA SuperNOVA P2 1000 W PSU

Figure 2 shows the pinout of the 24 pin connector. EVGA provides a header with pins 15 and 16 jumpered together so that the power supply can be turned on and tested without a motherboard. The manual refers to this as an EVGA PSU Tester (24-pin). I used the header to power up the supply before connecting it to anything. All the supply voltages checked out fine without a load so I installed the supply.

Figure 2 ATX 24 Pin Connector Pinout (Image source Wikipedia)

Figure 3 shows the cables kit. For this build, I’ve installed the following cables: 1 ATX 24, 2 EPS12V, 2 VGAs, 3 SATAs, and 1 Molex (peripheral cable) so far.

Figure 3 Installed EVGA SuperNOVA P2 1000 W PSU

Figure 4 shows an illustration of how the various components were connected to the power supply.

Figure 4 Blackbird15 Power Connection Diagram

Figure 5 shows the power supply cable routing in the rear of the case.

Figure 5 Power Supply Routing in Rear Case

Figure 6 shows a close up view the EVGA SuperNOVA P2 1000 W PSU installed in the case and some of the cable routing.

Figure 6 Installed EVGA SuperNOVA P2 1000 W PSU

Figure 7 shows the installation video of the EVGA SuperNOVA P2 1000 W PSU.

Figure 7 EVGA SuperNOVA P2 1000 W PSU Installation Video

After connecting the power supply cables, the case audio, USB, LEDs, and switches were installed.



X99 HPC installation 14: Graphics card

morreale Tuesday 01 of September, 2015
Installing the ASUS STRIX GTX 980 was easy but I forgot to plug the rear case fan cable into the motherboard. I could not hold the fan cable and plug the connector in because of the heatsink and video card blocked up too much area for my hand to fit. I removed the video card and plugged in the fan. The case fan is a three wire fan. The ASUS Rampage V Extreme (RVE) motherboard supports a total of eight four wire fans. The rear case fan is connected to CHA-FAN3A because the motherboard fan connector is located near the bottom left corner of the fan. Once the fan was connected, a plastic film was removed from the back of the graphics card and it was re-installed. Figure 1 shows the front side view of the ASUS STRIX GTX 980 graphics card with the CPU cooler behind it.

Figure 1 Installed ASUS STRIX GTX 980 Graphics Card Front Side View

Figure 2 shows the top view of the ASUS STRIX GTX 980 graphics card and the CPU cooler. At this angle, the graphics card and CPU cooler look like they touch but they don’t.

Figure 2 Installed ASUS STRIX GTX 980 Graphics Card Top View

Figure 3 shows the edge view of the ASUS STRIX GTX 980 graphics card and the CPU cooler.

Figure 3 Installed ASUS STRIX GTX 980 Graphics Card Edge View

Figure 4 shows the clearance between the ASUS STRIX GTX 980 graphics card and the Phanteks CPU cooler. It a close but they don’t touch.

Figure 4 Clearance between the ASUS STRIX GTX 980 Graphics Card and CPU Cooler

Figure 5 shows the installation video of the ASUS STRIX GTX 980 graphics card.

Figure 5 ASUS STRIX GTX 980 Graphics Card Installation Video


X99 HPC installation 13: CPU Cooler

morreale Friday 28 of August, 2015
Installing the Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU cooler for the first time was straight forward but a little fiddlely as the instructions were vague is spots. Fortunately, the mounting hardware on the back of the Rampage V Extreme (RVE) motherboard was a direct match with the CPU cooler hardware so the mounting bracket on the back of the motherboard did not need to be changed. The four socket screws fit perfectly and were screwed in by hand. A strip plate was installed between two socket screws with one above the processor and one below the processor. Screw nuts hold the strip plates in place. Installing the hardware was easy, it took a few tries to get the hardware mounted in the correct direction and using the correct mounting holes spacing between the strip plates so that the heatsink would attach correctly. The two strip plates should be mounted so that the center threaded studs are as close together as possible. The strip plates and screw nuts can be seen in Figure 1.

A mounting plate must be attached to the base of the heatsink with a mounting plate screw. Balancing the mounting plate and screw in place, and getting the screw tightened requires a long Philips head screw driver and a lot of force. The center of the mounting screw is in the center between the two cooling towers making it awkward to get it installed correctly. During this assembly process, I forgot to take photographs so see the installation video below for more details. With the mounting hardware installed, it was time to apply the thermal compound. Figure 1 also shows the thermal compound applied to the processor.

Figure 1 RVE Motherboard, Strip Plates, and Core i7-5930K CPU with Thermal Compound

It was easy to clean the processor with alcohol wipes and lens paper. The base of the CPU cooler had adhesive stuck to it so it required extra cleaning to remove it. The base of the CPU cool had some ridges in it. I expected it to be smoother. I used a plastic spatula to apply the thermal compound to the processor and base of the CPU cooler. I don’t recommend using a plastic spatula. The one I used wasn’t ESD safe and the thermal compound stuck to the plastic better than the metal of the processor and cooler base. I used a glove finger to apply the thermal compound to the base by rubbing it in really well. The thermal compound also liked the glove more than the metal surfaces too. Figure 2 shows the base of the Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU cooler with thermal compound coating the surface.

Figure 2 Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU Cooler Base

I spread the thermal compound out instead of applying one big drop as described in the instruction sheet to ensure complete coverage of the thermal compound. In the past, I had done work with designing a power supply with high power MOSFETs. I found that a uniform application of thermal compound or Thermal Interface Material (TIM) is critical for running in the safe operating area of the MOSFET. A good application of the TIM can minimize the thermal resistance between the MOSFET or processor and the heatsink. While measuring the floating point performance of the processor, the temperature increased by 50 ºC while dissipating 200 W. This indicates that the processor and heatsink have a thermal resistance of about 0.25 ºC/W. This is consistent with thermal resistance values reported in some of the CPU cooler reviews, and indicates a good application of the thermal compound and attachment of the heatsink.

The heatsink is attached to the strip plates by two screws that a part of the mounting plate. The heatsink must be placed on the processor and aligned precisely before the screws will engage. Again, this was an awkward installation as a long screw driver is needed and it’s hard to see the alignment down in the case. The center fan must be removed for this installation. A Y-cable adapter connects the two fans together so that they can be connected to the CPU controller fan port on the motherboard and controlled in parallel. Figure 3 shows Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU cooler installed on the CPU. The fans have been adjusted slightly for a better fit and alignment above the DDR4 DIMMs.

Figure 3 Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU Cooler Installed on the CPU

The heat pipes and fans clear the DDR4 DIMMs. Figure 4 shows a somewhat blury close up of the Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU cooler and Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 DIMMS.

Figure 4 Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU Cooler and DDR4 DIMMs

Figure 5 shows the fan side the Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU cooler.

Figure 5 Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU Cooler Fan View

Figure 6 shows the installation video of the Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU cooler.

Figure 6 Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU Cooler Installation Video


X99 HPC installation 12: Motherboard, Memory & Processor

morreale Wednesday 26 of August, 2015
The ASUS Rampage V Extreme (RVE) motherboard includes a rear I/O panel called a Q-shield. This I/O panel was installed in the case I/O opening. It fits well but needed a strong force to make it seat correctly. Next, I checked that all the standoffs were tight. Reaching over the camera with an ESD strap without bumping it made installing the motherboard awkward. Getting the motherboard to seat against the I/O panel took a lot of force. This was a concern as there are a lot of very small components on the board. The standoff in the center of the motherboard is different than the rest as it has screw threads sticking out of it. Angling the motherboard and pressing firmly seem to be the trick to get the center hole aligned with the thread standoff. The threaded standoff kept the motherboard in place while I installed the mounting screws. Next, I checked the connector alignment to ensure that the I/O shield and motherboard were both mounted correctly. Figure 1 shows the RVE motherboard and GTX 980 graphics placed in the 750D case to verify that the motherboard was aligned with the case and that the graphics card was located at the card slot opening correctly.

Figure 1 RVE Motherboard, GTX 980 Graphics Card, and Case Fit Check

While installing the mounting screws, and check that the graphics card would fit correctly, I notice that the case mounting panel and the motherboard flexed a lot more than expected. The flex can be seen when the memory DIMMS are installed. Figure 2 shows the RVE motherboard mounted in the case.

Figure 2 RVE Motherboard Case Mounting

Figure 3 shows four DIMM memory kit installed in the memory locations A1, B1, D1, and C1 (red memory sockets. The DDR4 DIMMs are easy to install. You place one end of the DIMM in opposite the latch first and press the other end until the latch clicks (locks). The single latch memory socket is a nice feature for this long DIMM.

Figure 3 Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR DIMM Kit Installation

Figure 4 shows the 2011-3 CPU socket. To open the socket, the left lever opens first and then the right lever can be released. The left lever can then be lifted fully open and that moves the bracket out of the way. The bracket has a plastic cover that must be removed before the processor is installed. It just pops out but takes a little fiddling with it get it to release gently.

Figure 4 RVE Motherboard 2011-3 Socket

The Intel Core i7-5930K processor has alignment notches with two notches the top on edge and two on the bottom edge. There is a little triangle on the top right corner too. These all notches match the 2011-3 socket so that process can’t be installed backwards or upside down. Once the processor is placed in the socket, then the left side lever is partially closed to lower the bracket over the processor. Then the right side lever is closed and latched. The left side lever is the closed completely and latched. The levers require a pretty good amount of force to engage and lock. Figure 4 shows the processor and memory installed in place on the motherboard.

Figure 4 RVE Motherboard with Socketed Core i7-5930K CPU, and Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 DIMMS installed

Figure 5 shows installation of the RVE motherboard Corsair DDR4 memory kit, and Intel Hex core processor into a Corsair 750D case.

Figure 5 RVE Motherboard, Core i7-5930K CPU, and Memory in the Case

Figure 6 shows the RVE motherboard, memory, and CPU installation video.

Figure 6 RVE Motherboard, Memory, and Processor Installation Video


X99 HPC unboxing 11: Windows 8.1 64 bit Operating System

morreale Monday 24 of August, 2015
Before reading this blog it should be known that I’m not a fan of Microsoft. It’s a gut level dislike. It did not start out that way. Windows 95 and 98 were fabulous and provided control and a vast selection of applications for the time. When the PC came into the office, we were freed from the overloaded and limits of the centralized computer system infrastructure at work. Then something happened and it all that went away due to changes in business practices, PC admin control, and options for available applications. Control shifted to the system administrators, and all applications pointed to Microsoft. Today users might describe the situation with hashtags like #HatesUsers, #Trader, and #Betrayal.

At home at least, Windows XP Pro provided good stable functionality. I did not upgrade to Windows ME or Windows Vista due to all the negative reviews by users. I wanted upgrade to Windows 7 but my system was too old (Pentium 4 2.53 GHz) to support the resources that I estimated that are really needed to run effectively. For some reason, Microsoft would not let Windows XP users upgraded directly to Windows 7. You had to upgrade to Vista and then from Vista to Windows 7. I did not want to spend the time to do a clean OS install and re-install all my apps on such an old machine especially when I thought that upgrading to new hardware would occur relatively soon.

I’m mystified about the decision making around Windows 8. It has two major problems. First, the lack of compatibility with older programs is really significant and costly. I can’t use thousands of dollars of programs and hardware with Windows 8.1. This programs work just fine so upgrading isn’t necessary. This could explain why so many people and companies refused to move from Windows XP. It’s a huge waste of resources. Second, a new interface could make task more efficient in theory, but forcing user into use a new interface that’s not supported by older hardware used by most users is just nuts.

I thought long and hard about running Linux and Ubuntu in particular. Then, I could use Virtualbox for compatibility with my windows XP software and peripherals. Unfortunately, most of all my applications are windows based, and drivers and overclocking tools for the motherboard and associated hardware appear to be written only for Windows. I, reluctantly, opted to run Windows 8.1 Pro 64 bit instead. After using some of the overclocking tools, I think I could run Linux without them by manually setting up the BIOS for the fan and overclocking settings assuming all the drivers are available. I’m not so confident about running MS Office and Adobe CS5, for example, in VirtualBox yet. At some point, I’d like to try a dual book running Ubuntu Linux to explore this in more detail.

After selecting Windows 8.1, I thought I would use Windows 8.1 Hyper-v to run a Windows XP in a Virtual Machine (VM) for compatibility with older windows programs and peripherals. It turns out that the Hyper-v is incompatible with Android Studio Virtual Machine (VM). Virtualbox running Windows XP in a VM and Android Studio will both run at the same time without interfering with each other. Again, I can see why people and companies have been so slow to move from Windows XP, because of the cost of throwing away so much good software and hardware is so high and wasteful. Having to upgrade to newer software did not seem to be necessary and does not offer much in value.

Figure 1 shows the front of the Windows 8.1 Pro Box,
Figure 1 Windows 8.1 64 bit Operating System Box Font

Figure 2 shows the unboxing video of the Windows 8.1 Pro Operating System.

Figure 2 Windows 8.1 Pro Operating System Unboxing Video

Installing Windows 8.1 Pro 64 Bit was straight forward and went smoothly. Windows 8.1 booted and ran, but surprisingly did not have drivers to support all the hardware devices on the motherboard. Next, all the drivers provided by ASUS for the Rampage V Extreme (RVE) motherboard, and the NVIDIA graphics card drivers were installed. After a reboot, the hardware manager recognized all devices. it boots were really fast with the Fast Startup (hybrid boot) features turned on too. Installing my Windows 8.1 compatible applications also was straight forward.

Window 8.1 Pro is based on the NT version 6.3. At first, I expected that Windows 8.1 would be vastly different than Windows XP (NT 5.2) based on all the uproar generated by the Windows 8 reviews and user reception, but it isn’t if you avoid the Metro interface. I had no trouble using it once I learned where all the familiar functions were located. Since I missed the Windows 8 release and Windows 8.1 is similar enough to Windows XP, I’ve been pleasantly pleased with the Windows 8.1 Pro 64 bit. I treat the Metro interface more like an attic storage room and only use it when I need to pin an application to the taskbar. It’s a slight announce but very manageable. It seems to be a theme for Microsoft products as they can be full of a lot of little annoyances if you don’t adopt their prescribed work flow.

The system and my attempts to overclock it were going fine except that the system would crash randomly for no apparent reason. It really crashed hard too without stopping at the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) either. Windows 8.1 would report a critical error with event ID 139: 0x139 KERNEL_SECURITY_CHECK_FAILURE. The system would also crash whenever it went into sleep mode as well.

I did not know if this was a hardware problem, a hardware problem due to overclocking, or a driver problem. To sort out the random crash, I first I tried running the DDR4 memory at the stock rate of 2133 MHz but the random crashes persisted. I returned to the XMP-2400 memory setting in BIOS and ran MemTest86+ 6.0.0 (version 6.1.0 now available). It took almost 16 hours to run 4 passes through memory. No errors were detected. Next I ran the Prime95 torture test and this ran for about 17 hours without errors. The CPU, RVE motherboard, and memory seem to be fine.

Based on recommendation in various forums on this error, I used sfc /scannow from an admin command prompt. The resulting CBS.log file showed that the utc.app.json and another file were corrupted. I removed update KB3022345 to correct the problem. The sfc could not repair Amd64\CNBJ2530.DPB so I used

Dism /Online /Cleanup-Image /ScanHealth
Dism /Online /Cleanup-Image /RestoreHealth

to correct the error. This did not resolve the random crashes, however. After installing WinDbg and debugging dump files, it seems that the ndis.sys driver fails because it receives the wrong symbols. NDIS is a system driver for the network interface controller. I updated all my networking drivers, but this did not solve the problem. I found a work around for this problem by all ways leaving my media player on playing music from a local hard drive. The media player keeps the screen saver and sleep mode from activating. It’s not energy efficient at the moment, but the system does not crash. I could have turned off sleep mode perhaps, but did not think of that until recently. Microsoft released an update just recently that fixes the bug that can cause inconsistent network interface data on the system (see KB3055343).

Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit was installed on a 512 GB Samsung 850 Pro Solid State Drive (SSD). I planned to place my user files on the 2 TB Western Digital RE hard drive and use a 1 TB Seagate Constellation hard Drive from another computer for photographs. Since big SSD drives are so costly, it’s a good tradeoff just to run the OS and applications from a smallish SSD drive for speed, and user data from large low cost hard drives. Redirecting the entire C:\User directory to another partition or drive Windows 8.1 gives is not allowed (generates warning message). Websites have reported that doing so will block future windows upgrades (old article may not be accurate). I restored my C:\User directory to its default location and setup the library links to my file on the large hard drives to get my files quickly instead. It’s a bit cumbersome but lets you locate files to hard disk without redirecting the main C\User directory or the active user directories like My Document, for example. Alternately, default active user directories within the User profile can be moved without issue and it’s easy to redirect active user directories for a single user. For systems with a large number of users, the process is tedious because each of the directories must be redirected individually.

Windows 8.1 Pro includes Hyper-v which allows users to run a Virtual Machine (VM). I thought that I would run Windows XP in a Hyper-v so that I could run old programs. The i7-5930k processor support Intel’s virtualization technology (VT-x, VT-d, & EPR) in hardware. A Rampage V Extreme (RVE) motherboard BIOS setting enables hardware virtualization. I was able to create a VM for Windows XP using Hyper-v but found that Hyper-v and Android studio VM are not compatible. I disabled Hyper-v and setup Windows XP in VirtualBox VM. Window XP runs very well in virtual box, but you need to be careful about shutting it down correctly. I use the save state each time. I also setup a mapped drive in Windows XP VM that points to a directory on my hard disk. I make backup files and place user files on this mapped drive so that I can access the files without the XP VM running. It also ensures access to these files if the VM every crashes badly.

I also found that Adobe Creative Suite 5 update tool will not update CS5 applications when the files are sourced form a network drive. The update tool does not work when it downloads from its web source either. I’m still trouble shooting this problem. My work around is to download the updates manually and place them a local hard drive before installing them.

Windows 8.1 Pro 64 bit has been a fast and productive operating system general. Microsoft could do a better job with making the operating system and office applications easier to use for users that don’t follow the normal work flow. Letting users create their own profile for default settings would be a big help in minimizing death by 1000s of annoyances. I don’t work with html files or format much, and like to link objects between MS office applications but the default paste never selects what I want ever, for example. Windows 8.1 Pro event log tracks windows errors and it’s been time consuming to find and fix these. Most of the time there are no suitable solution can be found. Program compatibility between Microsoft and third party applications could be better too. It’s frustrating when MS office and Adobe CS applications don’t play well with each other, for example. I’d just focus on building the best operating system ever.



X99 HPC unboxing 10: Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU Cooler

morreale Wednesday 19 of August, 2015
Choosing a CPU cooler was the hardest part of the selection process. I probably spent couple of weeks trying to figure out what would fit, was compatible with the CPU, and how much noise the cooler would make. I started by looking at All In One (AIO) sealed water coolers because it would be easier to mount in the case and might be quieter than fans. The choice initially came down the Corsair H110i GT and the NZXT Kraken x61. Learning about noise levels was interesting. A quiet room has 30 to 40 dBa noise level and I looked for CPU coolers in this range.

Two factors lead me to drop water coolers from my list and consider air coolers only. First, the water coolers are controlled by a USB connection to the computer and the operating system. These coolers require a USB driver to function in order to control them. Many users in general complained about having trouble with getting USB drivers to load at boot and run properly. I felt that his was too complex for a critical cooling function. The second reason was that many users reported that their coolers leaked. This caused other components to short out (video card, motherboard). Reviews and users felt that the water cooler was quiet but the pump noise was annoying. The coolers have a water pump run at between 1000 and 3000 rpm, and apparently these run at a mostly constant rate that some people find objectionable. I have not heard them so I cannot say.

I then considered the twin tower heat pipe coolers form Phanteks PH-TC-14PE and Noctua NH-D14 SE2011. It was really hard to figure out if these would fit. The fans might interfere with the DDR4 DIMMs, or the graphics card or both. Motherboard, memory, graphics card, and cooler vendors don’t publish detailed measurements of their products. The compatibility lists from most vendors are seriously out of date. Sometimes it’s hard to know if the components are electrically compatible too. I selected and purchased the Phanteks cooler without knowing for sure if it would fit, but it seemed to be the most likely big air cooler to fit. It turned out to fit with just enough clearance between the memory and the heat pipes, and the tower fins and the graphics card. Four of the eight memory sockets are filled, and another set of four memory cards (DIMMS) will fit in the sockets right next to the processor. Low profile memory is required when using tower CPU air coolers. The cooler probably needs to come out first before the second batch of memory can be installed, however.

The PH-TC14PE is a twin tower CPU cooler that is supplied with two 140 mm fans but can support three fans if needed, and is designed for the LGA 2011-3 socketed processors. Figure 1 shows the front of the CPU cooler box.

Figure 1 Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU Cooler Box Front

Figure 2 shows the side of the box with all the technical specs for the cooler.

Figure 2 Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU Cooler Box Side

This heat sink is a work of art and it is surprising light for its size. Figure 3 shows the CPU cooler towers with the fans clipped into place. The fans fit nicely and are easy to clip on. There is room to place the fans so that they do not interfere with the memory DIMMS or anything else near the base of the cooler. Rubber strips are applied to the fan so that the fans clip in securely and don’t rattle, vibrate, or buzz even high rpm. The fans are quiet and typically run round 600 rpm after running the Fan Exper 3 tool as part ASUS AI Suite 3 utility.

Figure 3 Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU Cooler with Fans

Figure 4 shows the Phanteks base and heat pipes. The base is covered with Thermal Interface Material (TIM) or thermal compound. The surface of the base had some adhesive from the protective plastic cover that took a while to remove with alcohol. Also, the cooler base was not as smooth as I would have expected. It had visible ridges in the surface. This should have been polished smooth. The TIM was rubbed in with a piece of plastic and then with a gloved fingertip.

Figure 4 Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU Cooler Heat Pipes

In the past, I’ve been part of small team developing high power thermal management solutions for a power supply. This involved designing heat sink and selecting a TIM so that a FET could dissipate over 200 W. No thermal pad would permit operation in the safe thermal operation area of the FET. This was a very demanding design and we found that ceramic based TIMs worked the best. I also found coating the heat sink and the FET completely with TIM produced the lowest operating temperatures. The instructions with the PH-TC14PE direct you to clean the old heat sink compound off and place a 4-5 mm drop of the PH-NDC thermal paste on the center of the CPU before mounting the cooler. I’m concerned that the thermal may not spread uniformly when the cooler is mounted. I used a small piece of plastic to spread the TIM on the CPU and cooler base.

I don’t recommend using a plastic “spatula” because the PH-NDC thermal compound stuck to it better than the metal of the processor and the cooler base. The plastic was likely a polycarbonate and could generate an ElectroStatic Discharge (ESD) that could damage the process, motherboard, and memory. I also don’t recommend using a bare finger to spread the thermal compound either, because skin cells are about a micron in diameter and slough off creating large gaps with the 50-100 nm diameter ceramic nanoparticles in the thermal compound. The skin cells increase the thermal resistance between the processor and the heat sink and reduce the limits of overclocking rates. I would use an ESD gloved finger for the heat sink. Then I would use a metal “spatula” or a tool made of ESD safe material, or put the TIM down in array of small drops across the CPU and cooler base in the future (see Figure 5).

Figure 5 Thermal Interface Material Application Illustration

Figure 6 show the clearance between the Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU Cooler and the ASUS STRIX GTX 980 graphics card. A 140 mm CPU cooler is the largest cooler that will fit and clear a graphics card with no components on the back of the card. The color match with the motherboard is also pretty good.

Figure 6 Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU Cooler and ASUS STRIX GTX 980 graphics card Clearance

Figure 7 shows the unboxing video of the Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU cooler.

Figure 7 Phanteks PH-TC14PE CPU cooler Unboxing Video

During my LINPACK tests, I recorded the ambient temperature, temperature rise, and processor power dissipation reported by the ASUS AI Suite 3 utility. With this information, the thermal resistance of the heat sink can be computed as Rth=(Tj-Tc)/P where Tj is the junction temperature of the processor, Tc is the ambient temperature, and P is the power dissipated by the processor. This yields an estimate of the thermal resistance at Rth=(87 ºC-37 ºC)/200W=0.25 ºC/W which is in the range of 0.25 ºC/W to 0.39 ºC/W for air CPU cooler according to some reviews. This would indicate that my thermal compound application was done well, and the roughness in the surface of the base of the cooler still provides relatively low thermal resistance.

Phanteks does not provide a maximum recommended Thermal Design Power (TDP) for the PH-TC14PE, but it seems to handle the 200 W load well. Intel indicated that their processors run fastest with junction temperatures below 80 ºC. The thermal resistance of all CPU air coolers limits the maximum processor power dissipation to keep the processor junction temperature at the optimum point. Thus to overclock the processor even further, it would seem that an AIO liquid CPU cooler would be needed. AIO liquid cooler have a thermal resistance that ranges from 0.08 ºC/W to 0.12 ºC/W according to measurements in some reviews. Some reviews also show the i7-5930k dissipating 352 W when overclocked at 4.55 GHz which would produce a processor temperature rise of 35 ºC using a water cooler and would keep the processor junction temperature at 72 ºC even on my hot 37 ºC summer day. Clearly, this would be a good upgrade path once the water coolers become more reliable (no leaking allowed), and provide simpler controllers (no USB drivers needed on boot). Still, the PH-TC14PE was easy to install, runs very quietly, allows for a reasonable level of reliable overclocking, and provides a good value.



X99 HPC unboxing 09: WD RE 2 TB Enterprise Hard Drive

morreale Friday 14 of August, 2015
The Western Digital WD 2 TB Hard Drive (WD2000FYYZ) is a technological marvel. Modern hard disks records data onto a disk coated with a magnet material spinning at 7200 rpms. A read-write head records data by changing the direction of magnetization on magnetic domains in the magnetic material on the disk platter. The magnetization is the North-South direction of the magnetic field recorded onto the disk. North-South pointing magnetic field (up) might represent a 1 and a South-North (Down) pointing magnetic field might represent a 0, for example. The bottom of Figure 1 shows this Perpendicular Magnetic Recording (PMR) technique. PMR increases the bit density to permit storage of 1-4 TB of data for the RE series of drives. Western digital has been using PMR since 2006 for 2.5 inch drive and then in 2009 for 2 TB drives for the first time.

Figure 1 Perpendicular Magnetic Recording (PMR) Illustration (image source Wikipedia)

The head flies very close to the platter on a cushion of air, and the height is controlled dynamically on the RE drive for better reliability. This flying height can be as small as 3 nm in modern hard drives. Figure 2 shows a photograph the read-write head actuated over the disk platter.

Figure 2 Hard Drive Platter with Read-Write Head (image source Wikipedia)

The head contains a coil to magnetize domains or bits during write operations, and a Giant MagnetoResistive (GMR) read head to detect the magnetization direction during read operations. Figure 3 shows an illustration of the head structure and the GMR read head and is also known as a spin valve sensor.

Figure 3 Read Sensor (image source NationalMagLab)

The GMR read head contains an antiferromagnetic layer (NiO, PtMn, or IrMn), a pinned ferromagnetic layer (Co), a non-magnetic layer (Cu), and a free magnetic layer (NiFe). The antiferromagnetic layer fixes or pins the magnetization direction in ferromagnetic layer (Co) next to it so that the pinned layer does not change in the presence of an external magnetic field from a magnetic bit on the platter. The magnetization direction of the free layer (NiFe) changes with the direction of the magnetization of the magnetic bit on the platter (magnetic bit). When the magnetization direction of the pinned layer and the free layer are pointing in the same direction, then the current flowing in the nonmagnetic copper layer encounters a low resistance (see Figure 4). When the magnetization direction of the pinned layer and free layer are pointing in opposite directions, then the current in the nonmagnetic copper layer encounters a high resistance.

Figure 4 GMR Read Sensor Illustration

This is a quantum mechanical affect. The current in the copper layer is a flow of electrons that have variety of magnetization directions. When the magnetization direction of the pinned and free layers are pointing in the same direction, then electrons with that same magnetization direction as the two layers are scattered less often and experience lower resistance. When the magnetization directions of the pinned and free layers are pointing in opposite direction, then more electrons are scattered and experience a high resistance.

Figure 5 shows the front of the box that the bare drive was shipped in.

Figure 5 WD RE 2 TB Enterprise Hard Drive Box Front

Figure 6 shows the front of the drive.

Figure 6 WD RE 2 TB Enterprise Hard Drive Front

Figure 7 shows the back of the drive.

Figure 7 WD RE 2 TB Enterprise Hard Drive Back

Figure 8 shows the unboxing video of the WD RE 2 TB Enterprise Hard Drive.

Figure 8 WD RE 2 TB Enterprise Hard Drive Unboxing Video

The WD RE is an enterprise drive designed for reliability and high levels of read-write access per year (550 TB/year). The reliability is achieved by design and by extended thermal burn-in tests. I selected this drive for its performance and reliability in the hope that it will last way more than three years. I’ve had a batch of enterprise grade disks from Seagate that failed in that period of time. The datasheet indicates that the hard disk has a maximum transfer rate of 164 MB/s. The Samsung Magician tool indicated a sequential read-write rate of between 66 to 194 MB/s which exceeds the maximum transfer rate spec of the drive. Perhaps, some buffering is occurring to give better throughput transfer rates. The system drive Magician benchmarks are shown in Table 1.

Table 1 Drive Benchmark
Samsung 850 Pro SSD 512 GB
Seagate Barracuda ES.2 1 TB
Sequential Read
Sequential Write
Random Read
Random Write

I use the 2 TB WD RE drive for user files and it has been performing well. I’ve been pleased with this drive and I’m looking forward to working with it for a long time. It contains some really neat technologies but the details of the technology are hard to determine. Western Digital does not post much about the technology in their drives for some reason. I wish they would post some white papers on their drive technology.



X99 HPC unboxing 08: Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD writer

morreale Tuesday 11 of August, 2015
I’m still scratching my head over the Blu-ray format and how it beat out the HD-DVD format to become the standard. At the time, there were not many Blu-ray players or drives to choose from, they were very expensive, and recordable media was slow and expensive. According to Wikipedia, the Twentieth Century Fox adopted the Blu-ray Disk because of the BD+ anti-copying system in 2007. Then, in 2008 Warner Bros said it would only release movies on Blu-ray. Retails said they would drop HD-DVD formatted movies. Toshiba ended production of HD-DVD shortly after. Seven or so years later, we have many internal drives to choose from made by ASUS, LG, Pioneer, Lite-On, and Sony, for example. The medial is still relatively expensive, however.

Since its introduction, read/write speeds have increase with the different versions of the Blu-ray Recordable (BD-R), and Blu-ray Recordable Erasable (BD-RE). Drive speeds include 1x, 2x, 4x, 6x, 8x, 10x, 12x, 14x, 15x, and 16x. The data rate begins at 36 Mb/s and reaches 576 Mb/s for a 16x drive. The data rate can be calculated as DR=n * 36 Mb/s where n is the drive speed. A 15x drive would have a 15 * 36 Mb/s or 540 Mb/s data rate, for example.

Blu-ray disks can be single, double, triple layer, or quad layers that support capacities of 25.0 GB, 50.1 GB, 100.1 GB, and 128.0 GB, respectively. The 25 GB and 50 GB BD-R media can be written at speeds of 2x, 4x, and 6x today. The 100 GB and 128 GB BD-R media can be written at 2x and 4x. Expect higher density disks in the future to add more layers.

Table 1 shows a summary of the BD-R media costs for 25 GB, 50 GB, and 100 GB capacity disks. The cost per disk and cost per GB is also shown. The cost of DVD-R disks, flash sticks, the 2TB WD RE hard drive, and 512 GB Samsung SSD are also shown for comparison. The cost of the 25 GB and 50 GB BD-R media per bit is cheaper than most anything except a large hard. The 100 GB media is still quite expensive. DVD-R disks are cheap but due to their limited capacity don’t compete well with 25 GB BD-R and some of the lower cost 50 GB BD-R disks. USB flash drives are still more expensive but rewritable and the SSD is the most expensive on a cost per bit basis. Having long a low cost durable storage media that can be stored off site and without transferring it to a third party is very useful.

Table 1 Media Cost Summary
25 GB
$0.42 to $0.60/disk
$0.017 to 0.024/GB
50 GB
$1.96 to $3.30/disk
$0.039 to 0.066/GB
100 GB
4.7 GB
$0.21 to $0.25/disk
$0.045 to 0.053/GB
2048 GB
64 GB
128 GB
512 GB

The Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD writer is a kit that contains a BDR-209UBK 16x drive, Media Suite 10, a blank disk, a power cable, and SATA III cable. The Media Suite 10 contains PowerDVD 10 for watching Blu-ray disk, Power2Go 7 for backing up your hard drive, and PowerDirector 10 for making HD Home movies. The read/write speed of the writer depends on the media being used. 25 GB BD-R disk can be written at 16x, 50 GB disks can be written at 14x, and 100 GB disks can be written at 8x assuming there are disks that can be written at these speeds. The drive read write speeds is way ahead of the available media. The fastest write speed I’ve found is 6x. Figure 1 shows the front of the box of Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD writer.

Figure 1 Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD writer Box Front

Figure 2 shows the back of the box and lists the software and computer requirements needed for the writer to function properly.

Figure 2 Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD writer Box Back

Figure 3 shows the front of the drive.

Figure 3 Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD writer Front

Figure 4 shows the back of the drive and the SATA III and power connectors.

Figure 4 Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD writer Rear

Figure 5 shows the contents of the box contains the drive, one 25 GB BD-R disk, and cables.

Figure 5 Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD writer Kit

Figure 6 shows the unboxing video of the Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD writer.

Figure 6 Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD writer Unboxing Video

Pioneer BDR-2209 Blu-ray/DVD/CD writer was easy to install and use. It has worked very well. It was used to install Windows 8.1 64 bit without any issues. It’s read all disks provided with the hardware in this system, and was quick and quiet accessing files. It’s also been easy to attach as a drive to Windows XP running as a virtual machine in VirturalBox. I have not tried to write a disk yet so can’t comment of the write feature.



X99 HPC unboxing 07: Intel core i7-5930k Haswell-E hex-core CPU

morreale Friday 07 of August, 2015
Presently, the only way to get more than four cores in an Intel processor was to select the Haswell-E processors and the Intel X99 chipset. The X99 chipset and the ASUS Rampage V Extreme (RVE) support the Core i7-5820k (6 cores), i7-5930k (6 cores), i7-5960k (8 cores), Xeon E5-16XX V3 series (4-6 cores), and Xeon E5-26XX V3 series (4-18 cores) processors. All these processors support hyperthreading too.

All the supported processors are based on the Haswell microarchitecture. The i7-5XXX series are part of the High End Desktop Platform (HEDP) extreme processors editions that allow overclocking whereas the Xeon processors are used in servers. All the processors use the LGA2011-3 socket and are built on Intel’s 22 nm process using Intel’s 3D Tri-gate (FinFET) transistor technology. The difference between a planar and tri-gate transistor is shown in Figure 1. Figure 2 shows an image of a 22 nm tri-gate transistor.

Figure 1 Intel Planar vs. Tri-Gate Transistor Illustration (image source Intel)

Figure 2 Intel 22 nm Tri-Gate Transistor Image (image source Intel)

The 22 nm tri-gate transistors operate a lower voltage reducing active power by more than 50%, and provide 37% better performance over 32 nm planar transistors. The Haswell-E processors are built with 2.6 billion transistors and are rated at 140 TDP (Total Design Power). The Haswell-E processors are clocked from 3.0 GHz to 3.5 GHz and can turbo from 3.5 to 3.7 GHz depending on the model. Figure 3 shows an image of the Core i7-5960K processor die.

Figure 3 Intel Core i7-5960x Processor Die Image (image source Intel)

Initially, I wanted the octal core i7-5960k processor but the cost was a budget breaker considering that the hex core i7-5930k processor performance is so good and so close to the octal core processor. Plus if I really need more power or want to upgrade later, I could upgrade to a Broadwell-E (or Skylake-E depending on Intel’s roadmap) processor available in 2016 or to one of the Haswell-EP Xeon process for even more cores depending on the cost. Anyway, the hex-core processor offers a great value. Figure 4 shows the i7-5930k box front.

Figure 4 Intel Core i7-5930k Haswell-E CPU Box Front

Figure 5 shows the top of the CPU in its plastic carrier.

Figure 5 Intel Core i7-5930k Haswell-E CPU Package Top

Figure 6 shows the bottom of the CPU with all of its 2011 pins. This package heavier than it looks and is really impressive to behold. The whole thing is a technological work of art from the architecture and 22 nm processing to the packaging.

Figure 6 Intel Core i7-5930k Haswell-E CPU Package Bottom

Figure 7 shows the unboxing video of the Intel core i7-5930k Haswell-E CPU.

Figure 7 Intel Core i7-5930k Haswell-E CPU Unboxing Video

There are a lot of good benchmarking tools out there but I like the LINPACK benchmark because it is widely used in scientific computing so it easier to compare performance generally. The LINPACK benchmark measures floating point performance by calculating the solution to a large system of linear equations using 64 bit floating point (FP64) calculations. Figure 8 shows the general trend of the growth of floating point performance from ~1960 to the present.

Figure 8 Peak Floating Point Performance Vs. Year (image source Wikipedia)

The Intel LINPACK Benchmark tool is available for both Windows and Linux operating systems, supports the latest processor instructions so it is easy to use. The system is able calculate at maximum rate of 338 billion Floating Point Operations Per Second (GFLOPS). This more than twice the double precision floating point of the STRIX GTX 980 graphics card. This floating point performance is a little shy of the 341 GFLOP performance of the Cray T3E900 Supercomputer built in 1998 located Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, for example. It was based on a 450 MHz Dec Alpha processor and had starting price of $600,000. It’s amazing what Moore’s law has done for us over 17 years. You can put a super computer on your desk for under $3300.

Surprisingly, I haven’t found much from Intel about the floating point performance of their Haswell-EX processors, but Puget System has do done some benchmarking and reports a stock a i7-5960k at 354 GFLOPS and the i7-5930k at 289 GFLOPs. My overclocked i7-5930k six core processor at 4.08 GHz provides 95% of the GFLOP performance of an i7-5960k eight core processor without overclocking. Figure 9 shows the CPU-Z stats on the CPU.

Figure 9 Blackbird15 CPU-Z Settings

Running the LINPACK benchmark takes about 15 minutes and it runs a series of calculations that take long to complete so you can see the power dissipation, CPU utilization, and CPU temperature rise and fall as the benchmark progress. Figure 10 shows the peak CPU power dissipation of 200 W during a long LINPACK calculation. The GPU utilization during the test is 1% and not involve in the benchmark. The total system power dissipation is about 300 W during the benchmark.

Figure 10 Blackbird15 ASUS AI Suite 3 LINPACK CPU Settings & Power Dissipation

I just learned about the Intel eXtreme Tuning Utility (XTU) and it has a benchmarking tool that can submit and share results with HWBOT.org. HWBOT shows how your system performance compares to systems around the world. It’s most definitely very exciting and a real motivated to learn how to make your system run faster. Blackbird15 ranks 876 out of 1000 for six core processor (6x XTU) globally, 287 out of 408 for an i7-5930k, and 194 out of 418 for a rookie. Thus there’s still a long way to go to ring out maximum performance out of this system.



X99 HPC unboxing 06: Samsung 850 Pro 512GB SSD

morreale Monday 03 of August, 2015
The ASUS Rampage V Extreme (RVE) supports one 4xPCIe 3.0 M.2 SSD interface. I can image Moss from The IT Crowd calling it flipping fast. The M.2 interface provides 32 GB/s transfer rates which is a little more than 5 times faster than the SATA III interface (6 GB/s).

I’m fascinated by the idea of a Solid State Drives (SSD). There are no moving parts, no head crashes, no vibrations to make the case buzz, they’re low power, and they are flipping fast. I really wanted the M.2 4xPCIx 3.0 SSD card for this build. Unfortunately, the M.2 3.0 version wasn’t available when I started buying components for the system. It was to be available in a few months but I could not wait plus the new M.2 v3.0 SSDs were predicted to be very expensive. Thus, it will have to be an upgrade sometime in the future.

I selected a 512 GB Samsung 850 PRO SSD instead. The 850 Pro is still fast and is so fast that the SATA III interface seems to limit its performance. The 512 GB 850 Pro was the fastest SSD when it was introduced. It contains a controller and 3D Vertical NAND Flash memory. The only SSD drives that are faster are the PCIe based SSD drives (see the link to the review at Toms Hardware for performance charts for comparisons to other drives). The 850 PRO SSD is well made, light weight, and has a 2.5 inch form factor. Figure 1 shows the front of the 850 PRO box.

Figure 1 Samsung 850 PRO SSD Box Front

Figure 2 shows the top of the 850 PRO drive.

Figure 2 Samsung 850 PRO SSD

Figure 3 shows the unboxing video of the Samsung 850 PRO SSD.

Figure 3 Samsung 850 PRO SSD Unboxing Video

Samsung provides the Magician software used to setup and monitor their SSD drives. It has a benchmark tool and Table 1 shows the performance difference between the 850 PRO SSD, a WD RE 2TD hard disk, and a Seagate Barracuda ES.2 hard drive. Each drive is connected a SATA III ports on the RVE.

Table 1 Drive Benchmark
Samsung 850 Pro SSD 512 GB
Seagate Barracuda ES.2 1 TB
Sequential Read
Sequential Write
Random Read
Random Write

The 850 PRO is significantly faster than the hard drives on all measures. It is, however, significantly more expensive. The 512 GB 850 PRO was $289 as compared to the 2 TB WE RE drive which cost $150. The SSD is $0.56/GB whereas the hard drive is $0.07/GB. My budget would not support using SSDs to storing all my photographs and video files. So, I opted to use the SSD card to run the OS and application, and use the hard disk(s) for user files.

Windows 8.1 loads very quickly even with the fast boot option disabled as a result of the high speed data transfer rate from 850 PRO. Applications also load very quickly too. Separating the OS and user file between two different drives, however, creates a problem for Windows 8.1. If you redirect user files to another disk, Windows 8.1 objects and if you force it then you could be blocked from upgrading Windows 8.1 in the future. I restored the user files to the default directory and use a manual workaround to use the hard drive(s) for my user files by defining library links for quick access to my files. It works well but I wish that the library directories would stay open like C: drive directories to reduce the time it takes to locate files.

SSD is a great technology but the flash memory wears out after a certain number of writes. Flash memory uses floating gate transistors to store data and a planar floating gate transistor is illustrated in Figure 4.

Figure 4 Floating Gate Transistor Illustration

When the floating gate contains a charge, a channel forms between the source and drain, and the transistor turns on. When there is no charge on the floating gate, no channel forms and the transistor is off. To program the transistor, the drain is held at ground and a high voltage is placed in the control gate. Charge tunnels through the gate oxide between the drain and control gate so that the charge accumulates on the floating gate. To erase the charge, the control gate is held at ground and high voltage is applied to the drain. Charge on the floating gate tunnels through the gate oxide away through the drain. After repeated programming and erase cycles, the gate dielectric becomes leaky due to trapped charges that accumulate in the gate oxide.

The Samsung 3D V NAND had improved on the planar floating gate design significantly by using a 3D floating gate structure that stores three bits per cell. The flash controller writes data across the memory to distribute writes to keep the average number of cell writes as low as possible to reduce wear out. The 512 GB 850 PRO is rated at 300 TBW (TeraBytes Written). Samsung also states that the drive has a 2 million hour Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) which is 1.6 time more than the 1.2 million hour MTBF for the 2TB WE RE. In theory, this SSD drive should be more reliable than the hard drive. I’m hopeful but skeptical as I’ve had at least three enterprise grade Seagate drives fail in under 3 years. If all goes as stated in the datasheet, the drive should last 10 years. With a 300 TWB, I could write 82 GB/day for 10 years before the drive failed. Samsung Magician reports that 3.77 TB have been written as of today (133 days) which averages out to about less than 29 GB/day so this is a very good sign of long life reliable drive.



X99 HPC unboxing 05: Corsair Vengeance LPX 32GB memory kit

morreale Thursday 30 of July, 2015
The Rampage V Extreme (RVE) motherboard supports eight DIMMs of up to 64 GB of 64 bit wide fourth generation Double Data Rate (DDR4) memory with a quad channel architecture. But wait, there’s more. ASUS posted a new BIOS update (1502) at the end of June that supports 16GB DDR4 memory modules. That’s a 128 GB of RAM!

The new DDR4 DIMM has 288 pins and measures 133.35 mm long by 31.25 mm tall, and 3.9 mm thick without the heatsink. The standard speed for DDR4 memory is 2133 MHz but it is also available in higher speed grades for overclocking: 2400 MHz, 2666 MHz, 3000 MHz, 3200 MHz, and 3400 MHz. The motherboard also supports Intel’s eXtreme Memory Profile (XMP) so BIOS can determine the speed grade and set the memory timing automatically.

The XMP profile contains speed and timing settings for each power supply voltage setting. DDR4 memory can be powered at 1.2V, 1.35 V, and 1.5 V. This XMP profile information is stored in EEPROM on the DDR4 DIMM and programmed by the memory manufacture after testing. Memory running the XMP settings should therefore be very stable. The DDR4 DIMMs in this kit have two XMP profiles for 2400 MHz at 1.2 V and one for 2666 MHz at 1.35 V. This makes memory setup and overclocking so much easier. The table below shows a brief summary of the evolution of the DDR memory technology.


I opted for more memory at a lower speed for this build as a way to save on my budget. Plus, a DDR4 memory review at Anandtech showed that system performance did not increase very much using memory at speeds above 2400 MHz. Thus, the Corsair Vengeance LPX 32GB (4 x 8GB) DDR4 DRAM 2400MHz C14 memory kit for DDR4 Systems 32 DDR4 2400 MT/s (PC4-19200) (CMK32GX4M4A2400C14R) was selected for this build. The heatsinks are anodized red to match the motherboard color scheme, and are low profile to fit under the CPU air cooler heat pipes.

Figure 1 shows the front of the box for this 32 GB memory kit.


Figure 1 Corsair Vengeance LPX 32 GB Memory Kit Box Front

Figure 2 shows the four DIMMS. The build quality is excellent as is the fit. The motherboard sockets use a one-sided latch so you put one corner of the DIMM into the socked at one end and press it in at the other end. It’s very easy to install for such a large memory module.

Figure 2 Corsair Vengeance LPX 32 GB Memory Kit

Figure 3 shows the unboxing video of the DDR4 DRAM kit.

Figure 3 Corsair Vengeance LPX 32 GB Memory Kit Unboxing Video

Initially, the system would randomly crash without the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). It just died and then rebooted (yikes). I did not know if it was the power supply, motherboard, CPU, memory, or Windows 8.1. The RVE BIOS tuning utility initially set the memory timing using the XMP-2400 profile setting (2400 MHz). To sort out the random crash, I first I tried running the DDR4 memory at the stock rate or 2133 MHz but the random crashes persisted. I returned to the XMP-2400 memory setting in BIOS and ran MemTest86+ USB installer to create a USB bootable version on a USB drive. The installer created MemTest86+ version 5.0.1 on the USB drive. It took almost 16 hours to run 4 passes through memory. No errors were detected (see Figure 4).

Figure 4 MemTest86+ Test results

Next, I ran the Prime95 torture test and this ran for about 17 hours without errors. The CPU, RVE motherboard, and memory seem to be fine. After installing WinDbg and debugging dump files, it seems that I have a driver that does not behave well (more in a future blog).

After upgrading the RVE BIOS to 1502, the BIOS tuning utility selected the XMP-2667 profile instead of the XMP-2400 profile this time. The memory now runs at 2666 MHz with a bus clock of 102 MHz, CPU multiplier of 40, and a memory voltage of 1.35 V. The CPU still runs about 10 C above ambient, and the CPU fan speed hovers around 600 RPM. It all very quiet and is stable when Windows 8.1 configure in a certain way. It’s really nice to be able to tune and tweak addition performance out of the memory.

DDR4 Haswell-E Scaling Review: 2133 to 3200 with G.Skill, Corsair, ADATA and Crucial
X99/DDR4 Review
JESD79-4A DDR4 SDRAM Standard (Registration required)
Low Power Double Data Rate 4 (LPDDR4) Standard
Intel XMP DDR4 Overclocking Memory