Monday, August 30, 2010

Building a low-power FreeNAS Server: Part 1

I've been looking into having a small file server in my home, to store my photographs and iTunes library. The most important aspects of that file server are, in order:
  • Low power requirements: It is on 24/7 and I want don't want to consume too much power
  • RAID-1: I want my data to be protected in case the hard disk crashes
  • Low cost
  • Good performance
  • Expandability: Nice features such as a bittorrent client are a plus, I want to be able to experiment with DLNA in the future, so the "hackability" factor is important.
There were two contenders here that met most requirements: DLink's DNS-323 and Synology's DS-210j (Buffalo has some too but they are hard to find online). They each had a drawback: the DNS-323 is reported by many to be subpar in terms of performance, while the DS-210j is expensive.

So I decided to build my own NAS instead. It will most probably be based on FreeNAS, assuming it is hackable enough to my taste. The overall price is below the DS-210j, and I expect performance to be up to my expectations. Low power being paramount, I had to hand pick all the components and my next posts will detail what I've chosen, and how I'll be building it. I'll try to put some nice pictures.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

wuauclt.exe and svchost.exe taking memory on XP

Update 2010-08-21: The thread here indicates that Microsoft is investigating this as a priority 1 issue.

Normally I don't post PC and Windows-related stuff but there are not many recent posts on this August 2010 issue, so here it is.

I support my own PCs and those used by the extended family. For a few days a staggering issue has been happening. When configuring a Windows XP PC to use Microsoft Update (rather than the good old Windows update), svchost.exe and wuauclt.exe take so much memory that a low-memory PC (512Mb) will start swapping enough to freeze the whole system. I saw this happening on SP2 and SP3.

Yes, 512Mb is not a lot, but before calling me stupid, note that 512Mb used to be the standard configuration a few years ago for many low-end systems and it is officially supported by XP. That bug makes any low-memory PC unusable.

You should note that installing Microsoft Security Essentials switches any PC silently from WU to MU. That's how I introduced the problem and noticed it the first time on a laptop. I was about to reinstall it but found out that there have been some user reports here and here. Microsoft has not released a patch yet but I am sure many corporate users have stumbled on this problem and reported it officially.

The workaround in the mean time consists of connecting to Microsoft Update and choose to stop using Microsoft Update. The PC will revert to using Windows Update and everything will be working normally again.