Putting Old Hardware to Good Use

Around a month ago I received some old de-commissioned hardware from a company a friend of mine works for. Some of it was known to work, other components were anyone’s guess. Initially this hardware was intended to replace my desktop which had failed. However this ended up not being the case as miraculously my desktop came back to life. Having only taken it apart and reassembled it a million times, giving up on it for a week, and then doing it all again. Suddenly it began working. Perhaps it just needed a rest?

Not wanting this old hardware to sit around I fast-forwarded some plans I’d had for the future. I wanted to build a home lab where I could play around without having to worry what I broke and how often. This meant testing all the hardware to figure out what was dead, what was intermittent, and what worked. And then further figuring out what caused the Intermittent problems and if they were resolvable.

Over the course of a couple weeks I isolated bad sticks of RAM, dead CMOS batteries, dead motherboards, dead power supplies, and dead hard drives. It’s a surprising amount of work isolating problems when all you have is suspect hardware with which to test it all. No single test can determine anything.

Eventually I managed to salvage two full machines out of the donated hardware and hardware I had lying around, only needing to purchase one power supply.

The first machine is overkill for the task I’ve decided to assign it. It’s become my pfSense server, sporting dual Intel 82573V Gigabit Ethernet controllers it seemed most suited to the task. Perhaps in the future I’ll setup ESXi on it and load pfSense and another role or two to make better use of the hardware. But for now it’s just pfSense running a VPN or two, and some simple rules for my home network.

Here’s it’s specifications:

Processor:	Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 2.83 GHz (4-cores)
Motherboard: 	Supermicro X7SBL-LN2
RAM:		2x1 GB 1x2 GB (4 GB) DDR2-667
Harddrive1:	Western Digital Scorpio Blue 5400rpm 8 MB cache 320 GB (WD3200BEVT)
Harddrive2: 	Toshiba 5400rpm 8 MB cache 250 GB (MK2552GSX)
Enclosure:	Antec Mid-Tower (Model unknown)

I have more RAM I can throw in it for when I add ESXi which will bring it to 8 GB of RAM. The two laptop drives are mirrored because I wasn’t sure how reliable they would be and figured that should at least give me some opportunity to repair it before the machine would fail outright. pfSense monitors the hard drive health and displays it on the status page. So far it’s been 28 days of uptime and the machine has been rock solid. Hopefully the nearly 9 year old hardware can continue on for another couple years!

The second machine was capable of using much more RAM and a variety of RAM I had in much more abundance, DDR3. This machine I decided to use as my VM playground, for spinning up and destroying as many VMs as I want without having to worry. Unfortunately as the motherboard came with a Realtek network controller I was hesitant to put VMware ESXi on it. I’m sure I could have gotten it to work, but after weeks of hardware issues I didn’t want to bother myself further with driver issues. So I put Windows Server 2016 (w/o GUI) on it using a free license I had and loaded the Hyper-V role. Which ended up having it’s own set of issues, none of which were related to Hyper-V, Hyper-V has worked great so far.

It’s specifications are as follows:

Processor:	Intel i7-950 3.06 GHz (4-cores w/ Hyperthreading)
Motherboard:	MSI X58M
RAM:		6x4 GB (24 GB) DDR3-1600
Harddrive1:	Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 7200rpm 16 MB cache 500 GB (ST3500641AS)
Harddrive2:	Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 7200rpm 16 MB cache 500 GB (ST3500641AS)
Harddrive3: 	Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 7200rpm 8 MB cache 250 GB (ST3250823AS)
Harddrive4: 	Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 7200rpm 8 MB cache 250 GB (ST3250823AS)
Harddrive5: 	Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 7200rpm 8 MB cache 250 GB (ST3250823AS)
Harddrive6: 	Samsung SpinPoint P 7200rpm 8 MB cache 250 GB (SP2504C)
Enclosure:	Yeong-Yang YY-0221 (Original model prior to the fan addition to the side panel)
PSU:		CoolerMaster Elite 550 Ver.2

Notice the three identical drives? That was the bane of my existence when trying to get Storage Pools configured, but more on that in another post.

Having set this machine up without a GUI some of the tasks I’ve needed to accomplish have been less than obvious. Like, how do I remotely perform a Windows Update? So far my solution is to RDP into the machine, run sconfig and do updates from there. And while that works, I could have just installed a GUI at that point if I’m going to RDP in. I guess I’m still getting the benefits of the reduced memory footprint, but I’m going to have to figure out how to do it with PowerShell soon. Maybe set it up as a script I can run that’ll update all my Windows Servers one after the other. Which might also be useful when I start to experiment with Windows Server Nano.

I’m really happy to have gotten this all setup sooner than I’d hoped, the donated hardware really helped speed that process up.

-Spencer