Certified Mail

Certified Mail: July 2004

Whether you get what you pay for in dirt-cheap servers. Plus, who's eagerly awaiting the next Windows servers? Not these readers.

Send mail to: MCP Magazine, c/o Editors, 16261 Laguna Canyon Road, Suite 130, Irvine, Calif. 92618, or e-mail editor@mcpmag.com.

Dirt-Cheap Workgroup Servers
An implied observation made in the June feature, “4 Dirt-Cheap Workgroup Servers Put to the Test” about the RAM capacities (i.e., to add more RAM you’ll need to toss some of the RAM modules because there are only four sockets to upgrade to 4GB) is valid, but is due to the structure of the DDRAM system.

To allow the front bus speeds being seen now on your “under $1,000” class of servers, and in all of the desktops currently sold, the RAM controller uses 400- to 800-speed RAM in a paged mode so that both RAM modules are accessed simultaneously—odd words (32-bit) coming from one module and even words from the other. This speeds up the RAM access time by halving the amount of time necessary to latch the address bus and read the data bus. The north bridge controller chips used for memory typically can work with two pairs of sockets. Each pair is usually called a Channel. The sockets are typically color-coded. Stick your two DDRAMs in the same color sockets to take advantage of the paging functionality. Some controller chips might require populating one color socket first. Some will require the same size DDRAM modules in all four sockets. Matched pairs at a minimum are a necessity.

The speed of the bus dictates that the RAM must be very close to the CPU socket. At 400 MHz, a quarter wavelength in free space is 75 centimeters. A quarter wavelength is a ballpark figure to limit the characteristics of the signal to something less than a transmission line or an antenna. The physical characteristics of the printed circuit board will make the useable path lengths much shorter. On narrow copper traces and glass-phenolic printed circuit board material, the quarter wavelength figure is much shorter. The electrical wavelength is often half of the free space length, and the maximum allowable physical length between the CPU and the RAM becomes a lot tighter. That’s why you’ll most likely only find four RAM slots on most motherboards. It becomes very difficult to keep the electrical trace lengths to every pin on each of the RAM module sockets within allowable limits and of the same length.
—Miles Wade, MCP
Houston, Texas

You can get a stripped-down Dell 400SC for around $300 by following the “Hot Deals” sites. Then upgrade the HD and RAM yourself.
—Dave, via online
Kansas City

The real question is whether a five- to 10-person office can be well served by a single CPU, 512MB, single-drive server running SBS 2003, or whether dual processors, 1GB RAM and RAID 5 are worth the extra money in this type of environment.
—Anonymous, via online

Mike Gunderloy replies: I think a dual processor box is definitely overkill; same for going up to 1GB of RAM. RAID 5 is nice, but if you can get people to make backups of their own critical files, it’s not necessary. For the small office, going with a reasonable server can make the difference between being able to afford to network at all or having to put it off for another year.

The Nose Knows
I just had to write regarding Auntie Em's “The Pinocchio Factor” in June. Although I’m an MCSD, I have to agree that Microsoft promises things that it might not always deliver. Whether that’s a production date or a new server OS, I‘d rather be told the truth than be misled. Regardless, Microsoft does have spectacular integration tools (VS .NET, Office, and so on), so what it lacks in industry creditability it makes up in spades with software.
—Bryan Group, MCSD
Long Island, New York

Who cares when the next version of Windows comes out? The longer, the better. We’re finally a 100-percent Windows XP shop, and we’re about 50-50 between Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003. Only two more DCs to upgrade and we can go to a Windows 2003 functional Active Directory level. I’m ready to start working on utilizing all the great features in Windows 2003 and XP so the business (remember the reason for all these machines?) can make more money. I don’t have time to start planning for, paying for and then implementing another OS upgrade. 2007 for Longhorn sounds fine to me.
—Ron, via online
Kansas

DNS Errors That Kill
Bill Boswell's “10 DNS Errors That Will Kill Your Network” (May 2004) is true quality. We pick up more new business each year because consulting companies improperly configure DNS. I’m sure that I’ll lose $20,000 in new business if my competitors read this article.
—G.G., via online
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

One question: If the DNS server points to itself, won’t it suffer from the “Island effect”?
—Fernando Campos, via online
Rochester Hills, Michigan

Bill Boswell replies: Thanks, Fernando. I should have clarified myself in the column. The “Island Effect” occurs when domain controllers in the root domain of a Windows 2000 forest point at themselves for DNS lookups. This can cause sporadic replication failures due to the inability to resolve the CNAME record that points at the domain controller host record. To prevent the problem, make sure the domain controllers in the root domain of a Win2K forest point at some other server for DNS lookups. The problem doesn’t occur in child domains and doesn’t occur in Windows Server 2003 forest root domains. Windows 2003 uses a different algorithm for finding replication partners in the forest root domain.

Send mail to: MCP Magazine, c/o Editors, 16261 Laguna Canyon Road, Suite 130, Irvine, Calif. 92618, or e-mail editor@mcpmag.com.

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