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Things look quiet here. But I've been doing a lot of blogging at dan.langille.org because I prefer WordPress now. Not all my posts there are FreeBSD related. I am in the midst of migrating The FreeBSD Diary over to WordPress (and you can read about that here). Once the migration is completed, I'll move the FreeBSD posts into the new FreeBSD Diary website.

The XEON assembly story 9 November 2000
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This story is a bit out of order.  Two days ago, I posted the pictures and today I'm describing how it was assembled.
Fans, screws, nuts, and hot stuff
I spent some of Wednesday looking at how the box would fit together. I installed the CDRW into the only available slot which had external access. I also installed the floppy disk drive, provided by Terry Hughes. Then it took me a while to understand how the CPU retention device (CRD) attached to the motherboard and how the CPUs would fit into that. The manual didn't explain it very well and I think they were expecting the user to have previous XEON experience. They needed a diagram which showed both the CPUs and how they slotted into the retention device. Details on handle attachment would have gone a long way.

One of the case supports, onto which the motherboard is bolted, was poorly threaded. This made it difficult to attach the motherboard to the case. I was worried that the amount of torque I had to use might damage the board. I was able to obtain some replacement parts from Quay. Free of charge.

The fans

On Friday night, I drove out to Terry's place, in Waikanae, which is up the coast from Wellington. It's about 45 minutes from my place in good traffic. We managed to find four fans which were of the size required by the CRD. Terry also wired them up for me. Good man. I also walked away with a keyboard, monitor, and several spare fans of various sizes. Not to mention some plastic nuts which would attach the CRDs to the motherboard.

Screws and nuts
The next task was to find screws which would attach the fans to the CRD. This was a chore. It critical to have both the correct length and diameter. If the screws were too long, they would scratch the CPU cases as they slide into the CRD. Too short, and they would not secure the fans to the CRD. On Saturday, my quest for screws began. After trying the local hardware store and failing to find the correct size, I figured a specialist fastener shop might be better. That failed as well. But they did recommend another nearby shop. Which was closed. On my way home, I stopped at another hardware shop. They didn't have the size I wanted (4gx25), but they did have the next size up (6gx25). They were a slightly larger diameter, but the correct length. They worked.
Assembly
At home, I attached the fans to the CRD. Then it was time to put the motherboard into the case. It was then that I discovered that although the fans were the correct dimensions to attach to the CRD, they were too thick and would interfere with motherboard components. Luckily, I had one regular CPU fan which was quite thin. And I knew Quay computers had another. Between the two, I replaced the lower fan on each end of the CRD. So I now had two thick fans, with bearings, at the top of each CRD end, and two thin fans, with bushings, at the bottom of each CRD end. As it turned out, one of the thin fans was unbearably noisy, so I'll have to replace that at a later date. Quay is good in that they will exchange or replace, no hassles.

After attaching the motherboard to the case, I noticed that it would be impossible to install the SCSI drives from the inside. The CPUs blocked all access. The SCSIs would have to go in from the front of the case. Panels were removed and drives inserted. Note: I didn't have a SCSI card capable of handling Ultra160, so I resorted to using some old 1GB SCSI disks which were sitting around.

It took a while to figure out how to attach the various connectors such as reset button, power switch, and keyboard/power indicators. Which I finally powered the unit up, all the fans started running. But nothing else happened. There were no beeps. The BIOS messages failed to appear on the screen. The box was dead. I tried various things. Nothing. I asked on IRC. I tried their suggestions. We tried the memory in different banks, we tried a different video card, we did everything. Nothing. This board was dead. Time to return it. But first, I visited the Supermicro FAQ. I reset the CMOS defaults. That didn't work. So I disconnected everything, reconnected everything. And tried again.

It worked.

I was shocked. The BIOS messages went past, and it started waiting for the SCSI drives to settle. But then it stopped. After trying various things, I went back to IDE and used them instead. I still don't know why the SCSI 1G drives didn't work.

FreeBSD Install
I had trouble with the FreeBSD install on the IDE drives. The system would freeze after displaying:

F1 - FreeBSD

Pressing a key produced a beep. Nothing else happened. After about 5 failed attempts, DOS was installed on the drives to verify that that procedure worked. This also served to eliminate any possible hardware problems. Chuck Roulliard provided me with some the DR-DOS image which I used.

Now that we know DOS could install, we knew FreeBSD should be able to install. The drive geometry came under scruiteny (that's the number of cylinders, heads, etc). After seeing that it had 1049 cylinders, the drive geometry in the CMOS was changed to be 1023 cylinders. With that change made, FreeBSD installed. That's the magic 1024 number (2^10) beyond which you encounter BIOS problems. In short, this is a BIOS limitation. This issue has been resolved in 4.1-release. But I went for the safe option of 1023 cylinders and 4.1.1-release.

FreeBSD eventually installed. And I've done a cvsup, but I've run into disk space issues. The easy answer is to get more disk space by going to SCSI, either the several 1G drives I have, or, ideally, obtain a SCSI card capable of handling the 2x18GB drives I have.

Hot stuff
Initially, I ran the system without the CRD fans. I wanted to see how hot the heatsinks became before I decided whether or not to go with the fans. You couldn't touch the heatsink for more than 2 or 3 seconds before it became uncomfortable. That was reason enough for me to start using the CRD fans. They cooled off that rear CPU very quickly. But I had to do something with the front CPU. I used one of the fans Terry had given me. I just wired it up and directed it at the heatsink. It cooled off too. Now I need to devise some sort of a bracket or mount for that fan. I envisage a piece of aluminium running from one side of the case to the other. Add a few holes, some bolts, and you have a mid-air mounted fan. I should do that this weekend actually.

On Sunday morning, I noticed a slightly odd smell in the living room. At first I thought the cats had been up to no good. I tracked the smell down to the power supply in the new case. It was running hot. The fan was not turning. I checked with Quay, who gave me a replacement power supply. On Monday night, I replaced the hot PSU with the new one. It's now running smoothly and quietly.

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