Mushkin Atlas FLUX USB SSD Enclosure

Mushkin Enhanced Atlas FLUX USB 3.0 mSATA III SSD Enclosure Kit (AT-ENCKIT)For this review, I will discuss my experience with a different type of external SSD drive. The Mushkin Enhanced Atlas FLUX USB 3.0 mSATA III SSD Enclosure Kit (AT-ENCKIT) is about the size of Zippo lighter and weighs 2.4 ounces (not including the mSATA drive that you need to purchase separately). Most people would probably prefer a regular USB Flash type drive than this type of solution. The Atlas costs about $20 and then the needed mSATA drive that fits inside can vary from $35 and up. The primary reason I purchased the Atlas, is due to the fact that I had an mSATA drive that I could not utilize for my latest laptop project. The Intel 310 Series 80GB mSATA Solid State Drive SSDMAEMC080G2C1 is an older drive that I purchased on Amazon and which I installed in the Atlas Flux enclosure.

Specifications

Mushkin Enhanced Atlas FLUX USB 3.0 mSATA III SSD Enclosure Kit (AT-ENCKIT)

  • Controller: AS Media 1053E USB 3.0 Controller
  • Attachment: USB Attached SCSI Protocol support
  • Casing: Durable aluminum casing
  • Supported Drives: Supports 50mm and 25mm mSATA drives
  • USB Compatible: USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 Compatible
  • Transfer Speeds: Supports SATA 1.5 Gb/s
  • Plug and Play (PnP) with 3Gb/s and 6Gb/s SSDs
  • Hot-swappable

Intel 310 Series 80GB mSATA Solid State Drive (SSDMAEMC080G2C1)

  • Capacity 80GB
  • Sequential Read – Up to 200 MB/s
  • Sequential Write – Up to 70 MB/s
  • SATA 3.0 3Gb/S
  • Intel Product Page

Installation

The installation is quite simple. Mushkin includes a tiny screwdriver, however I recommend using a higher quality Philips #00 screwdriver. I have big hands and it is easier to use a regular full size screwdriver when removing tiny screws as this. Once you remove the panel, the board inside should slide out, and you should now be able to carefully install your mSATA drive. You slide the mSATA drive at a slight angle and then push it down. A snap on clip then holds the drive in place, similar to memory DIMM slots in a laptop. Finally screw back on the panel and you are done.

On Windows 7

I tested the Atlas Flux with my Dell Latitude e5430 laptop. This laptop has three kinds of ports that this drive can connect to. There is a USB 2 port, a USB 3 port, and an eSATAp port (also referred to as an eSATA/USB combo port). The operating system is Windows 7 64-bit. The main issue I had with the drive is that it is not really hot-swappable. Plugging it in the first time, the drive will appear and you are able to format it. But if you unplug the drive and then plug it back in, it will not appear in Windows again. You can restart Windows and then the drive will appear again. The problem was worse on the eSATAp port. The drive would remount over and over on this port. To fix this issue, with the drive visible in Windows, Go to the Start Menu and type DEVICE MANAGER and click on Device Manager in the results. Under Device Manager, under Disk Drives, find the drive and double-click on it. Now click on Policies and select Better Performance and click OK. The Atlas Flux cannot utilize the Quick Removal feature. This means that you must Eject the drive via the systray USB icon or by right-clicking on it and choosing Eject. The drive will now be stable and you may use it without restarting Windows. (more…)

Setup for Dell Latitude E5430 – Part 2

Dell Latitude e5430In the previous Setup for Dell Latitude E5430 post, we did most of the legwork to create a boot ready flash drive with all the needed add-on software needed to create a clean image of Windows 7 Pro 64-bit. We now shutdown our machine and insert the flash drive into one of the USB ports on the laptop. If you are using the RecoveryTools 4, the Windows installation will be mostly automated. If you are not using Recovery Tools 4, then you will need to install Windows normally. I will cover both methods.

WINDOWS 7 Begins…

The computer will come up to a text only screen asking you to start from the Windows EMS option. Then a Windows screen will appear asking you to choose a language. The next dialog will ask you to choose which version of Windows 7 you want to install. The choice is Windows 7 Professional. At this point if you are using Recovery Tools 4, the process is automated and you will need to wait for Windows to install itself. If you are not using Recovery Tools, then this is a normal Windows 7 installation and you should install Windows normally and skip to the next section.

The machine will reboot and come up in Windows Audit Mode. The Sysprep dialog box will appear on the screen. Always close this box by using the X in the upper right corner of the dialog. You will need to do this every time you restart the machine. Do not click any options in the Sysprep dialog.

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Setup for Dell Latitude E5430

Dell Latitude e5430My recent project was the setup for a refurbished Dell Latitude laptop that I purchased online. Latitudes are business oriented laptops that Dell sells and leases to a variety of business customers. Many large enterprise level companies lease their machines and return them to Dell periodically as they upgrade to newer hardware. This means that a few times throughout the year Dell amasses a stock pile of old machines that they then rebuild and sell at significant discount prices. Even better, if you browse discount sites such as DealNews and TechBargains they will detail how to get a discount on top the already low refurbished price. Dell has these discounted sales periodically, at the beginning of the year in January or in the middle of the Summer, such as July. If you are going to buy a refurbished laptop, there are some risks. These laptops are not brand new, they have seen some usage, and so if you want a perfect looking laptop you are not going to find one. Your best bet is a Grade A model, which will be priced a little higher. The other factor is that these machines only come with a very short warranty. Three months or one hundred days type warranty will apply. You can purchase an extended warranty from the Dell Refurbish site at the time of purchase, but note that you will be adding to the total price of the machine. You will want to consider this extended warranty price and what it is worth to you personally. In my case, this was a secondary machine that I am not going to worry too much about, so no extended warranty for me. These are older model machines as well and not the latest and greatest technology. Business laptops are not gaming machines either, so if your main emphasis is gaming, consider looking for an Alienware type models instead of Latitudes. Overall my best advice is to wait for the discount from the DealNews.com and then shop for something that you will like and that will cost you about forty-five percent of a new laptop. Once you get higher than fifty percent, I usually think you might as well save up for a new machine that you really want. Given all this, lets get started on setting up the laptop.

Out Of the Box

Dell took about three to four business days to ship the laptop. The machine is serviced by a third party company named Genco. The machine was packaged well and was very clean. The only accessories were the Dell power adaptor and a printed explanation of the standard warranty for a refurbished machine. Below are the specs for the laptop:

Dell Latitude E5430 Laptop (non-Vpro model)

  • 2.7GHz CPU
  • 4GB RAM
  • 1600×900 HD display
  • 320GB Western Digital Hard Drive

There were two types of e5430 models, there is an Intel-Vpro model and then there is the non-Vpro model. This one is the latter. The hard drive inside the laptop was a Western Digital mechanical hard drive and it was dated July 19th, 2013. The laptop like the hard drive is from the the same year as well, in other words I bought a three year old laptop.

The installed operating system is Windows 7 Professional (32-bit). There were no installation disks for Windows included, as the hard drive includes a recovery image.

HARDWARE Upgades

There is nothing wrong with the laptop at this point and it is perfectly usable out of the box. However, I love hardware upgrades and so I couldn’t help myself from adding some things. The best possible upgrade is an SSD hard drive. SSD drives are now much more affordable, and so you can take your pick from a variety of SSD drives out on the market right now. My personal preference is Crucial/Micron and Samsung, but I have purchased other brands such as PNY if they were at a good price. For this project I did purchase the Crucial MX300 750GB – CT750MX300SSD1. I did consider the 525GB model as well, but unfortunately it was out of stock at the time. This SSD drive is a 7mm height drive and a spacer is included so that it fits as a 9.5mm drive. I did utilize the spacer when I switched out the drives.

Next was the memory. In current terms 4GB is not nearly adequate, so I opted for maxing out the memory. Most people might consider upgrading to 8GB memory (2 x 4GB DDR3 modules), since this is a very cheap upgrade to make. The e5430 does in fact support 2 x 8GB modules, for a total of 16GB memory! The easy way to purchase memory for this machine is to visit Crucial and buy direct from them. They will guarantee that the memory will work and are only slightly more expensive than buying from online stores like Newegg.com.

Both the hard drive swap and the memory upgrades are very easy to do. You will need a philips #0 screwdriver and for the lower memory module, I found a plastic spudger handy for pushing down the memory SIMM into place.

Note before doing any hardware upgrades, consider downloading all the required software in the following Software Installation section first if you do not have another Windows machine that you can use to download stated software. Look through Device Manager in Windows and note the type of hardware you have, such as the Network Card, Wi-fi Card, etc. My particular laptop did not have a finger print sensor or Bluetooth. In the Software Installation part we will need to download multiple software, so it is best to use a second machine or read this entire post before doing any software steps.

SOFTWARE Installation

WARNING! I take no responsibility for any use of software or any losses of software or hardware functions. If you do not know how to use DISKPART or any other tool in this post, then perhaps this project is not for you.

Part 1: Win7_Pro_SP1_English_COEM_x64.iso

Now that we have our e5430 laptop upgraded, the big problem is Windows. The image on the original hard drive is Windows 7 Pro 32-bit and not 64-bit. Even if I took the original software image from the drive, it would not recognize my new memory. My goal is to setup this laptop with Windows 7 Pro, the 64-bit version. The machine fully supports 64-bit Windows, so the problem is just the media. The laptop has an OEM license for Windows 7, and so I do not need to purchase Windows 7 Pro 64-bit, I just need to get the installation media.

Here is where nothing is ever easy. Windows 7 ISO images are no longer easily attainable directly on the Internet. There is a long story about this, but I will skip that and simply state that from a Windows machine with IE 11, you can do the following:

First go to Heidoc.net and learn about what you will want to download. In this case a Windows 7 64-bit OEM ISO image. Next download and run his Microsoft Windows Download Tool. This will allow you to download a clean ISO image of Windows 7 64-bit, the exact file name being: Win7_Pro_SP1_English_COEM_x64.iso

Part 2: Flash Drive Setup

Once downloaded, you will need an 8GB or 16GB USB Flash Drive. This will be used as the installation source.

Insert the flash drive and note what drive letter it shows as.

Type CMD in the StartMenu Search and right-click and choose Run as administrator. Use DISKPART to setup the flash drive. Note that for the SELECT DISK command you will need to substitute # for the exact number that the flash drive comes up. Choose wisely, if you are not careful you may destroy your other disks on that computer!

DISKPART
LIST DISK
SELECT DISK # 
CLEAN
CREATE PARTITION PRIMARY
SELECT PARTION 1
ACTIVE
FORMAT QUICK FS=FAT32
ASSIGN
EXIT

With the flash drive setup, the next step is to copy the ISO onto the flash drive. There are multiple ways of doing this. For this step I placed the ISO file in its own folder and then used WinRAR to extract the contents. I then copy and paste into the flash drive root directory.

The Latitude e5430 supports UEFI, which is the replacement for the old BIOS system that most computers have used for multiple decades. We want to take advantage of EFI booting later, so we need to have the flash drive boot with EFI. This requires a different boot file to be in a specific location on the flash drive. The ISO does not have this as default for Windows 7.

From a Windows 64-bit machine that you are already using, there should already be the file file you need.

Look for bootmgfw.efi under C:\Windows\Boot\EFI and copy it to the flash drive here:
\EFI\BOOT\

The file then must be renamed from bootmgfw.efi to BOOTX64.EFI in order to work.

You now have a flash drive that you can boot from in EFI mode.

If you need further details on the flash drive steps see Creating Windows UEFI Boot-Stick in Windows.

More helpful links:

Part 3: Windows Setup With Factory Recovery Partition

What I do like about OEM computers is that they come setup with a hidden partition to reimage your machine in case you want to reset Windows back to a zero ground state. However what everyone does not like about this: is that the OEM image is usually filled with crapware that no one wants and it is not a clean setup of Windows. But how about if you could setup your own? In this section we will cover how to do this. If this is too complicated feel free to skip to the next section.

RecoveryTools 4 uses Microsoft tools to setup an OEM image and recovery tools for a new install of Windows. This software is free, but it is complicated process if you are not coherent with software setups.

  1. Download RecoveryTools 4.05
  2. Place the self extracting file into a separate folder and doule-click on it.
  3. Download the the Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK) for Windows 7
  4. Place the AIK ISO file in its own folder and then use WinRAR to extract the files to the same directory
  5. Next install the AIK Tools

With the AIK Tools installed, we follow the directions from RecoveryTools for Windows 7. From the Windows 7 AIK, you will need the following files:

  • IMAGEX.EXE (32 and 64 bits version)
  • OSCDIMG.EXE (32 bits version)

If you installed AIK, these files will be located here:

  • C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\amd64 (for 64-bit)
  • C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\x86 (for 32-bt)

Copy IMAGEX.EXE (32 bits version) to the RecoveryTools 4 folder path:

  • \Windows 7\Windows 7 Recovery Tools\ImageX\32bits

Copy IMAGEX.EXE (64 bits version) to the RecoveryTools 4 folder path:

  • \Windows 7\Windows 7 Recovery Tools\ImageX\64bits

Copy OSCDIMG.EXE (32 bits version) to the RecoveryTools 4 folder path:

  • \Windows 7\Windows 7 Recovery Tools\OscdImg

Next we want to copy the entire RecoveryTools 4 folder to the root of the flash drive we setup earlier. There are two more files we need.

Under RecoveryTools 4\Windows 7\AutoUnattend\GPT\ there is an AutoUnattend.xml file, copy this to the root of the Flash Drive.
Under RecoveryTools 4\Add-On\ there is an Ei.Cfg file. This file must replace the current file that is under the SOURCES folder on the root of the Flash Drive.

Part 4: Add-ons for Flash Drive

In order to save time, it is best to go ahead and create a DELL folder on the flash drive and add some more add-ons that you will need later on. I will cover these under the Updating Windows section. For now here is the list of recommended installers:

Microsoft:

Dell Specific Updates for a Latitude e5430 Laptop:

  • Intel Chipset Drivers: Chipset_Driver_CPNKY_WN32_9.3.0.1019_A00
  • Intel Management Engine 9: Chipset_Driver_GJVHD_WN_9.5.15.1730_A02
  • Intel USB 3: Chipset_Driver_THK45_WN_1.0.8.251_A05
  • Intel 4000 Graphics Driver: Video_Driver_DCG08_WN32_10.18.10.4425_A18
  • HD Audio: 3330_Audio_Driver_C6HVR_WN_1.0.6491.0_A08
  • Ethernet Network Card: Broadcom 57xx Network_Driver_PGHX7_WN32_17.0.2_A00 (maybe different depending on your machine)
  • Wireless Network Card: Dell 1530 Network_Driver_5RHDN_WN_6.30.223.215_A02 (maybe different depending on your machine)
  • Conexant D330 Modem: CONEXANT_D330-HDA-MDC_JF0K3_A01_SETUP_ZPE, CONEXANT_MULTI-DEVICE_A03_R207060
  • Memory Card Reader: Chipset_Driver_D7TG2_WN_3.0.07.44_A04
  • Freefall Sensor: Chipset_Driver_V6681_WN_4.10.0046_A06
  • Dell Multi-touch Touchpad: Input_Driver_YXX3D_WN32_10.1207.101.109_A03

One more installer will be needed. We are going to install a specific version of Intel Rapid Technology drivers. These are not on the Dell site. The reason for this is that this specific set of drivers work best for this laptop. These are the Intel Rapid Technology E Drivers version 12.9.4.1000. To read more about this topic you can read this Win-Raid.com post. You can download the drivers from Intel or from Win-Raid.com: Intel RSTe Drivers.

Part 5: F2 & BIOS Setup

Take note of what version of Dell BIOS your machine has. If it is not the latest, I recommend you download the latest BIOS (in my case the non-vPro version) and upgrade your BIOS first before continuing.

At this point we have gathered all our software on our flash drive and are ready to almost install Windows 7. We must however make some changes to the e5430’s Setup.

  1. Restart the laptop and press F2 to enter the BIOS Setup.
  2. Under General – Boot Sequence: change to UEFI
  3. Under System Configuration – SATA Operation: change to AHCI
  4. Apply Changes and Exit

Part 6: Hard Drive Setup

This step is optional and only needed if you want to wipe the hard drive. It is included here, in case you need to redo the setup of Windows. To manually wipe a hard drive and convert it to GPT:

Turn off the PC, and put in the Windows installation DVD or USB key.
Boot the PC to the DVD or USB key in UEFI mode. For more info, see Boot to UEFI Mode or Legacy BIOS mode.
From inside Windows Setup, press Shift+F10 to open a command prompt window.
Open the diskpart tool:
diskpart
Identify the drive to reformat:
list disk
Select the drive, and reformat it:
select disk #
clean
convert gpt
exit
Close the command prompt window.
Continue the Windows Setup installation.

We are now ready to start installing Windows! Continue reading Setup for Dell Latitude E5430 – Part 2.

Windows 2012 Registry Problem

Windows 2012 ServerHere is something that I came upon recently in regards to Windows Server 2012 and performance issues. My home server runs Windows 2012 Server Essentials and the operating system is installed onto a Samsung 830 SSD. Performance was becoming a problem of lately. There were noticeable lag in opening up drives in Windows Explorer and other slight delays that I thought were related to the SSD drive. SSD drives can become slower as they near capacity. Even if you delete a lot of large files to free up space, the trim feature still needs time to run and free up space. This means that if you have an SSD at 85% capacity and you delete files to bring it down to 50%, the SSD still has 85% allocated until the trim feature has a few hours of uninterrupted time to run.

After further investigation, I found that trying to open Control Panel – Hardware – Devices and Printers would not even display at all. Next I looked at Device Manager to see if there were any issues there. I did not see any problems with items listed in Device Manager. However after clicking on View – Show Hidden Devices, I found thousands of entries for Storage Volume Shadow Copies and the same for Storage Volumes. There were also a large number of USB devices that I had used in the past. The Windows registry stores all these previous entries and over time, never removes them. I uninstalled the old USB devices, but for the shadow copies and storage volumes, I found that this problem is most likely due to normal usage of Remote Desktop and other Windows services. To remove them manually would take a very long time.

Microsoft has a utility for this issue. Microsoft DevNodeClean can be run on Windows Server 2003 and newer operating systems. In fact, you will need to most likely run this utility weekly if the issue persists. To run the command, use an elevated CMD Prompt and type:

devnodeclean /n

After restarting the server, this resolved the performance issues and I could open up Devices and Printers again.

Backup Strategy For Project Managers

drive iconBackups are a necessary routine for computers. Over the years, there has been many trends in computing that promised to make backups easier, simpler, but as humans, we still tend not to do a good job when it comes to backing up our data. The best solution for home users is Time Machine in Mac OS X. Simply add a drive (usually an external drive), and setup Time Machine to backup your entire main drive. Time Machine is the most simple backup to setup, but it is not perfect. After multiple backups, Time Machine usually encounters problems and the easiest solution ends up having to wipe your Time Machine drive and start all over again. On Windows, there are third party apps that allow for Time Machine like backups. Their main benefit is that their user interfaces are easier to use than the built-in Microsoft Backup program. There are also cloud backups as well now, so you can use iCloud, Google, Microsoft, or Dropbox for your backups. For most of us though, the cloud backup should really be a secondary backup and not your primary. In general terms the advice is to have a backup plan and to automate it as much as possible. Eventually all hard drives and flash memory fail in some way, and so backups are always going to be needed.

As a project manager, one backup strategy that I have used for a number of years is to have a one folder backup strategy. For my business laptop, I create one folder under C:\Users\Username\My Documents\. This folder I name Projects and I then create a shortcut for it and place the shortcut on my Desktop. For every project I work on I create a folder underneath the Projects folder. As I complete projects, I then move these folders to \Projects\Archive. Anything related to a project has to be save somewhere under the Projects folder. This takes discipline, but is very easy to do once you keep to this routine of saving files to one folder.

OS X Disk Error

Although every Operating System now provides a directory structure for users, most people have made the Downloads folder their main working folder! How many times has someone asked you to help them find a file, and you have opened their Downloads folder to discover thousands of files? This happens way to often. The Downloads folder was never meant to be a work folder. It was mean to help users find their downloaded files, but over time, people have treated the Downloads folder as their main repository for everything. It is important to remember that the Downloads folder is really a temporary folder for files. Nothing important should ever exist in the Downloads folder. Anything in the Downloads folder can and should be deleted. Move all your important files and working files to your main Projects folder and never work on any files outside of the Projects folder.

Now that you have all your files in one location, you need to copy your Projects folder and anything underneath to a secondary drive, backup location, cloud service. Although at the end of the day, you could simply copy and paste, drag and drop, it is best to automate this. In a business environment, there usually is a network drive or NAS that you can backup important files to. There are multiple apps or commands that you can script to accomplish this. The easiest way I have found is to use SyncBackSE. Using this application, I automate the backup of the Projects folder to run Monday through Friday, while I am at lunch. This backup strategy works well and is uncomplicated to use.

Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks SMB2 and Windows 2012 Essentials Server

Apple LogoApple has a long history with computer networking, from AppleTalk to today’s Internet connected world. However, it is Windows networking that still causes all kinds of headaches for Mac OS X users. It seems that with every release of Mac OS X, Apple seems to have recurring issues with Windows shares. Some of Apple’s defenders will state that Apple adopts industry standards as is, and it is Microsoft and others who publish specs, but don’t actually follow them, so when Apple does follow the specs, it seems to just end up breaking things. SMB is the networking protocol that Microsoft uses for Windows networking. It is what allows Windows network file shares to work across the network. With the latest versions of Mac OS X, Apple abandoned the open source SAMBA package that most Linux distros use to connect to Windows, and wrote their own SMB2 software. This makes Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks connect faster and better to Windows servers. Well that is when it works!

SMB Connections Fail

There is one Windows 2012 Essentials server with multiple shares. There are two Macs on the local network. One iMac is connected over Wireless N and one MacBook Pro is using a wired ethernet 1Gb connection. When using the Connect to Server… option the iMac connects fine and has no issues. The MacBook Pro opens the share and then never displays any files, it just spins in the lower left hand corner of the window that opens. Both computers are running Mac OS X 10.9.3 Mavericks.

Mac OS X SMB Connect to Server

Connecting via CIFS instead of SMB seems to work for the MacBook, but it is slower.

The Solution

The solution ended up modifying the Windows 2012 Essentials server. There are two registry keys that need to be added in order to fix the problem for the MacBook.

Under this Registry Key:

  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\LanmanServer\Parameters

Add these DWORD values:

  • Smb2CreditsMin – make this 768
  • Smb2CreditsMax – make this 16384

Once you made the changes restart the Windows Server and then the Macintosh clients. It should now fix the problem.

Microsoft provides the following information on these registry keys:

The defaults are 512 and 8192, respectively. These parameters allow the server to throttle client operation concurrency dynamically within the specified boundaries. Some clients might achieve increased throughput with higher concurrency limits, for example, copying files over high-bandwidth, high-latency links.