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Installing Windows Server 2008 R2 on a Dell Poweredge T605 December 8, 2010

Posted by Ken in Technology.
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Back in January I posted a note regarding the install of Windows Server 2008 R2 on a Dell Poweredge SC1425, so after going through an eventful install of Windows Server 2008 R2 on a new server, a Dell PowerEdge T605, I feel compelled to offer another write-up.

The server in question was bought by me for use as a VM host at home, it was configured with two quad-core Opterons and 16 Gig of RAM. I had done some test installs on the machine when I first got it, but then put it aside while life interfered with my plans. A few days ago I got back to the server, and I decided to do it up right – I replaced the dual 250 Gig SATA drives with four 1 TB WD Black SATA drives. The server has only four non-RAID SATA ports on the motherboard, so I had to install an add-in controller to drive all four drives AND the DVD-ROM drive. I selected the Highpoint Technologies RocketRaid 2640X4 controller – it is a four-port SAS/SATA RAID card, has some good looking specifications, and was reasonably priced (under $150, IIRC), it occupies one of the PCIe x8 slots (it is a PCIe x4 card). As shipped, the server had only two SATA power plugs in it’s hard drive cage, so I got one of these to power all four drives – it attached to an unused molex drive power connector, the original two SATA power plugs were moved to the (currently) unoccupied 5 1/4″ and 3 1/2″ bays. I needed to add SATA data cables to run from the RAID controller to the drives, so I picked-up four of these 20″ SATA cables, and while they worked, the runs were a bit tight – in hindsight, I should have selected 24″ SATA cables, but I’ll leave the 20″ cables in-place for now.

Now, since this machine will be hosting VMs, I’ll add some extra Ethernet ports to take some of the load off the one Gigabit Broadcom Ethernet port on the system itself. As you may have noticed, this server has a PCI-X slot on the motherboard – this allows me to use an older Intel dual-port Gigabit card (Pro/1000 MT) that I got a few years ago for $7 (currently about $15 on eBay, for instance)!

I considered adding more memory, taking the server to 32 Gig of RAM, but that would cost another $600 from either Crucial or Dell, and money is a bit tight right now, so I’ll put it off for now, but as soon as I get some extra money I’ll revisit this idea…

There is one last item I needed to add, a UPS, but the advice I’ve seen suggests disconnecting UPS control lines when installing the Windows Server 2008 R2 OS – the install may not handle the UPS properly during the install, potentially causing problems. Of course, connecting the dual power supplies to a UPS during the install is a good idea, just don’t connect the USB cable from the UPS to the server – yet. BTW, Windows Server 2008 R2 only supports USB-connected UPSs, not serial-connected ones. Obviously, it will also work with network-connected UPSs, but those are a bit out of my price range at the moment.

Anyway, now with the server hardware sorted out, it’s time to install the OS. I choose to install Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter Edition, to take advantage of the VM licensing included with that edition, which allows me to create/install any number of Windows Server installs for no additional cost. Of course, if I didn’t have this edition of the OS included in my Microsoft TechNet Professional subscription I would have gone with Enterprise edition, which allows for only four Windows Server VM activations on the system. So I burned an install DVD, noted the Product Activation Key I’ll need, then started the install.

Then things didn’t go well… Oh, it started out fine – the server came to life, I selected “F2” to enter the BIOS setup, and before I got to the BIOS I was presented with the option to configure the RAID controller. I pressed “Alt-H” and configured the four drives into a RAID 10 array, allowing me to speed-up access AND provide some protection/redundancy for my machine. Once I saved the RAID configuration, I was able to enter the BIOS setup and de-activate the two on-board SATA ports that were connected to the original drives (so I wouldn’t get warnings on power-up) and confirm that the BIOS saw the RAID controller. Everything looked right, so I saved my changes and let the system restart.

While the system restarted I inserted the install DVD and watched the install begin. After confirming the language, local (and some other setting I can’t recall) and then selecting to install a new install of the OS I was presented with a screen that said I needed to add a required driver. Cool, I thought, I’ve got the RocketRaid drivers on a USB key, this will be easy. I select the “browse” option and select the folder where the drivers is copied, and it asks me to select the proper compatible driver, and the RocketRaid driver is listed. I select it, and after scanning the system, it tells me that it couldn’t find any devices. Crud.

I’ll spare you the tale of me trying various things, including other RAID controllers, and cut right to the solution. It seems the Dell PowerEdge T605, being an Operton-based server, has an AMD chipset, and surprisingly, the Windows Server 2008 R2 install disc does not include a driver for the on-board SATA controller! I had to go to the Dell site, download this driver (R234305) and after expanding the archive, I copied the files to a USB flash drive and when I choose that driver, the install proceeded. After a few more screens, I was asked to select the location to install, but no drives were listed. It was here that I needed the RocketRaid drivers, and they worked fine.

The install went smoothly, the server is running now, and all is fine – but it took me hours to arrive at the solution to check the Dell Support site.

It just never occurred to me that the SATA controller on the motherboard would need a driver to function… Live and learn.

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