Intel NUC makes a fantastic Zwift computer (and Samsung DeX is pretty cool for homework)

This content is 4 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

With my tech background, my family is more fortunate than many when it comes to finding suitable equipment for the kids to use whilst school is closed. Even so, we’ve struggled with both my teenagers sharing one laptop – they really do both need to use it at the same time.

We thought that one of them would be using a tablet would be OK, but that wasn’t really working out either. Then, a few weeks ago, we thought I’d found a great solution to the problem. My youngest has a Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphone, which supports Samsung DeX. We tried it out with the Apple USB-C to HDMI/USB-A power adapter and it worked a treat:

The only problem was the keyboard. I tried some Bluetooth keyboards for Android but they all had small keys. And we tried a normal PC keyboard, which worked well but lacked a trackpad and didn’t have a USB port for a mouse. Using the phone as a trackpad was awkward, so I was going to have to buy another keyboard and either a trackpad or a mouse – or find a way of splitting the USB-A socket to run two devices. It was all a bit Heath Robinson so I started looking for another approach…

I had been using an old laptop for Zwifting but, after seeing Brian Jones (@brianjonesdj) tweet about an Intel NUC, I realised that I could get one for not too much money, hook it up to the TV in the Man Cave and release the laptop for general family use.

It took a while to decide which model to go for but, in the end, I settled for the Intel Dual Core 8th Gen i3 Short NUC Barebone Mini PC Kit, with 120GB SSD and 8GB RAM (all from Scan Computers) – and it is a fantastic little thing:

I did spend far too much time downloading the latest version of Windows 10 because I thought it was corrupted when I didn’t read the error message properly. Actually it was a problem with the USB thumb drive I was using, fixed with a full format (instead of a quick one).

Anyway, here’s Microsoft’s instructions for creating Windows 10 boot media. F10 is the magic key to make the NUC boot from an alternative device but I found USB boot only worked at the rear of the machine – not using the ports on the front. Finally, here’s a location for downloading Windows 10 ISOs (it doesn’t really matter where you get the media, as long as it’s an official source, so if you download from a Volume Licence or Visual Studio subscription, that should be fine too).

With the NUC in the cave, the laptop has been released for general family computing. My Microsoft 365 Family subscription (formerly Office 365 Home) gives access to 6 copies of the Office apps so that more than covers us the Windows and macOS PCs used by myself, my wife and the boys. (The Microsoft 365 subscription also includes Office mobile apps for iOS/Android and 1TB cloud storage in OneDrive as well as other benefits).

Microsoft’s message to UK partners for FY13 (#PBBBirm #MSPartnersUK)

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I spent most of yesterday at Microsoft’s Partner business briefing in Birmingham. The afternoon workshops were especially good value (I was in the Public Cloud session, learning more about Office 365) but the morning keynote (delivered by Janet Gibbons, Microsoft’s UK Director for Partner Strategy and Programmes) had some interesting messages that are worth sharing further:

  • 95% of Microsoft’s global revenues are generated through it’s channel partners.
  • 2012 is the biggest launch year in Microsoft’s history with almost every product having a major refresh or a new iteration (from Windows 8 to Halo 4).
    • Microsoft is spending significant volumes on product advertising.
  • Microsoft is still a software company, but increasingly a devices and services company.
    • Many of those services relate to software subscriptions.
    • Interestingly, there is a 26% piracy rate for software in the UK (20% of Office users are illegal/mis-licensed) – and no piracy with online services.
    • There are new partner opportunities for selling Office 365 and managing the customer relationship (billing, etc.) to expand the revenue opportunity with value-added services.
  • Microsoft’s FY13 priorities are:
    • Excite customers, businesses and advertisers with Windows 8 devices and applications.
    • Win against Google every time with Office 365 and launch Office [2013].
    • Build application ecosystem for Windows 8, Windows Phone and Windows Azure.
    • Win the datacentre with private, public and hybrid cloud.
    • Grow SQL Server through BI, big data and mission critical [deployments].
    • Drive deployment for Windows, Office, Internet Explorer, Active Directory.
    • Win with business solutions.
    • Grow Windows Phone market share.
    • Drive Xbox profit and grow Kinect and Live Attach.
    • Grow reach, search and monetisation of our consumer online  services.

Interesting to see the Microsoft FY13 scorecard in public: great openness at #PBBBirm - to be applauded #MSPartnersUK
Mark Wilson

Of course, there was the obligatory Windows 8 marketing message (maybe I’ve been through too many new operating system release cycles and it all feels like another turn on the merry-go-round so I switched off a little in that part) but it was also interesting to hear Intel stand up and say (I paraphrase), “we’re still friends with Microsoft and even though Windows runs on another platform too x86 is better [does anyone remember when Windows NT supported DEC Alpha and ARC-MIPS alongside Intel x86?]. Don’t forget that Atom is power-optimised too [not just underpowered] and we have all this lovely built-in security stuff in our hardware platform”.

As for Office and Office 365 – probably too much for this post but some of the changes coming up in the next release look fantastic. I’m certainly glad I made the switch from Google Apps, although maybe a P1 plan wasn’t the best idea…

Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V crash turns out to be an Intel driver issue

This content is 14 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A few weeks ago, I rebuilt a recently decommissioned server to run as an infrastructure test and development rig at home.  I installed Windows Server 2008 R2, enabled the Hyper-V role and all was good until I started to configure my networks, during which I experienced a “blue screen of death” (BSOD) – never a good thing on your virtualisation host, especially when it does the same thing again on reboot:

“Oh dear, my freshly built Windows Server 2008 R2 machine has just thrown 3 BSODs in a row… after running normally for an hour or so :-(“

The server is a Dell PowerEdge 840 (a small, workgroup server that I bought a couple of years ago) with 8GB RAM and a quad core Xeon CPU.  The hardware is nothing special – but fine for my infrastructure testing – and it had been running with Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V since new (with no issues) but this was the first time I’d tried R2. 

I have 3 network adapters in the server: a built in Broadcom NetXtreme Gigabit card (which I’ve reserved for remote access); and 2 Intel PRO/100s (for VM workloads).  Ideally I’d use Gigabit Ethernet cards for the VM workload too, but this is only my home network and they were what I had available!

Trying to find out the cause of the problem, I ran WhoCrashed, which gave me the following information:

This was likely caused by the following module: efe5b32e.sys
Bugcheck code: 0xD1 (0x0, 0x2, 0x0, 0xFFFFF88002C4A3F1)
Dump file: C:\Windows\Minidump\020410-15397-01.dmp
file path: C:\Windows\system32\drivers\efe5b32e.sys
product: Intel(R) PRO/100 Adapter
company: Intel Corporation
description: Intel(R) PRO/100 Adapter NDIS 5.1 driver

That confirmed that the issue was with the Intel NIC driver, which sounded right as, after enabling the Hyper-V role, I connected an Ethernet cable to one of the Intel NICs and got a BSOD each time the server came up. If I disconnected the cable, no BSOD.  Back to the twitters:

“Does anyone know of any problems with Intel NICs and Hyper-V R2 (that might cause a BSOD)?”

I switched the in-box (Microsoft) drivers for some (older) Intel ones.  That didn’t fix things, so I switched back to the latest drivers.  Eventually I found that the issue was caused by the checkbox for “Allow management operating system to share this network adapter” and that,  if the NIC is live and I selected this, I could reproduce the error:

“Found the source of yesterday’s WS08R2 Hyper-V crash… any idea why enabling this option would trip a BSOD?”

Even though I could work around the issue (because I don’t want to share a NIC between the parent partition and the children anyway – I have the Broadcom NIC for remote access) it seemed strange that this behaviour should occur.  There was no NIC teaming involved and the server was still a straightforward UK installation (aside from enabling Hyper-V and setting up virtual networks). 

Based on suggestions from other Virtual Machine MVPs I also:

  • Flashed the NICs to the latest release of the Intel Boot Agent (these cards don’t have a BIOS).
  • Updated the Broadcom NIC to the latest drivers too.
  • Attempted to turn off Jumbo frames but the the option was not available in the properties so I could rule that out.

Thankfully, @stufox (from Microsoft in New Zealand) saw my tweets and was kind enough to step in to offer assistance.  It took us a few days, thanks to timezone differences and my work schedule, but we got there in the end.

First up, I sent Stu a minidump from the crash, which he worked on with one of the Windows Server kernel developers. They suggested running the driver verifier (verifier.exe) against the various physical network adapters (and against vmswitch.sys).  More details of this tool can be found in Microsoft knowledge base article 244617 but the response to the verifier /query command was as follows:

09/02/2010, 23:19:33
Level: 000009BB
RaiseIrqls: 0
AcquireSpinLocks: 44317
SynchronizeExecutions: 2
AllocationsAttempted: 152850
AllocationsSucceeded: 152850
AllocationsSucceededSpecialPool: 152850
AllocationsWithNoTag: 0
AllocationsFailed: 0
AllocationsFailedDeliberately: 0
Trims: 41047
UnTrackedPool: 141544
Verified drivers:
Name: efe5b32e.sys, loads: 1, unloads: 0
CurrentPagedPoolAllocations: 0
CurrentNonPagedPoolAllocations: 0
PeakPagedPoolAllocations: 0
PeakNonPagedPoolAllocations: 0
PagedPoolUsageInBytes: 0
NonPagedPoolUsageInBytes: 0
PeakPagedPoolUsageInBytes: 0
PeakNonPagedPoolUsageInBytes: 0
Name: ndis.sys, loads: 1, unloads: 0
CurrentPagedPoolAllocations: 6
CurrentNonPagedPoolAllocations: 1926
PeakPagedPoolAllocations: 8
PeakNonPagedPoolAllocations: 1928
PagedPoolUsageInBytes: 984
NonPagedPoolUsageInBytes: 1381456
PeakPagedPoolUsageInBytes: 1296
PeakNonPagedPoolUsageInBytes: 1381968
Name: b57nd60a.sys, loads: 1, unloads: 0
CurrentPagedPoolAllocations: 0
CurrentNonPagedPoolAllocations: 3
PeakPagedPoolAllocations: 0
PeakNonPagedPoolAllocations: 3
PagedPoolUsageInBytes: 0
NonPagedPoolUsageInBytes: 188448
PeakPagedPoolUsageInBytes: 0
PeakNonPagedPoolUsageInBytes: 188448
Name: vmswitch.sys, loads: 1, unloads: 0
CurrentPagedPoolAllocations: 1
CurrentNonPagedPoolAllocations: 18
PeakPagedPoolAllocations: 2
PeakNonPagedPoolAllocations: 24
PagedPoolUsageInBytes: 108
NonPagedPoolUsageInBytes: 50352
PeakPagedPoolUsageInBytes: 632
PeakNonPagedPoolUsageInBytes: 54464

To be honest, I haven’t a clue what half of that means but the guys at Microsoft did – and they also asked me for a kernel dump (Dirk A D Smith has written an article at Network World that gives a good description of the various types of memory dump: minidump; kernel; and full). Transmitting this file caused some issues (it was 256MB in size – too big for e-mail) but it compressed well, and 7-zip allowed me to split it into chunks to get under the 50GB file size limit on Windows Live SkyDrive.  Using this, Stu and his kernel developer colleagues were able to see that there is a bug in the Intel driver I’m using but it turns out there is another workaround too – turning off Large Send Offload in the network adapter properties.  Since I did this, the server has run without a hiccup (as I would have expected).

“Thanks to @stufox for helping me fix the BSOD on my Hyper-V R2 server. Turned out to be an Intel device driver issue – I will blog details”

It’s good to know that Hyper-V was not at fault here: sure, it shows that a rogue device driver can bring down a Windows system but that’s hardly breaking news – the good thing about the Hyper-V architecture is that I can easily update network device drivers.  And, let’s face it, I was running enterprise-class software on a workgroup server with some old, unsupported, hardware – you could say that I was asking for trouble…

Checking if a computer supports Intel vPro/Active Management Technology (AMT)

This content is 14 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

One of my many activities over the last few days has been taking a look at whether my work notebook PC supports the Intel vPro/Active Management Technology (AMT) functionality (it doesn’t seem to).

Intel vPro/AMT adds out of band management capabilities to PC hardware, integrated into the CPU, chipset and network card (this animation shows more details) and is also a pre-requisite for Citrix XenClient which, at least until Microsoft gets itself in order with a decent client-side virtualisation solution, I was hoping to use as a solution for running multiple desktops on a single PC.  Sadly I don’t seem to have the necessary hardware.

Anyway, thanks to a very useful forum post by Amit Kulkarni, I found that there is a tool to check for the presence of AMT – in the AMT software development kit (SDK) is a discovery tool (discovery.exe), which can be used to scan the network for AMT devices.

Unfortunately, vPro/AMT only seems to be in the high-spec models for most OEMs right now… until then I’m stuck with hosted virtualisation solutions.

Intel pairs its Atom with a more efficient chipset for low power PCs

This content is 15 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Last week I wrote about my attempts to build a low-power infrastructure server for my home network (part 1 and part 2).  After I’d put all the pieces together, I saw a tweet from Jeff Atwood, highlighting a review of a new Intel board that uses a mobile 945GSE chipset instead of the power-sapping 945GC – allowing a much lower power unit to be built (albeit just with an Atom N270 – not the dual-core 330 that I used) .  Something like this would make a great PC for home use – although it’s never going to be a screamer for games, it should be pretty good for web surfing, email, and other everyday uses.