Saturday
Nov262011

Certification: Validating One's Skills

As an Information Technology consultant I value certification for one reason above all others, to prove that you can do the job. Certification is designed to level the playing field for potential job candidates and customers. I'm often asked if I'm certified and I have many Microsoft MCP wallet cards to prove it! After earning my latest certification MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator on Exchange 2010 I realized that I have passed 27 Microsoft exams! I feel that this is quite an achievement because passing these exams is not easy. I have been owrking with Exchange since the release candidate of Exchange 4 so I've decided to step up my game and start my path to the Exchange 2010 Master (MCM), I will post my progress here.

Obtaining the Exchange 2010 Master Certification is not easy and consists of several written and one qualifying LAB exam. Traditionally Microsoft offered this certification with an intensive 3 week training program with the certification exams built-in. As of October, 2011 Exchange 2010 MCM testing is now available through selected Prometric testing sites. Look for detailed information on the program in my experiences in the coming months, I plan to post my progress regularly. 

Thursday
Oct202011

My New Alienware M17x R3 w/ NVidia 580M

I sold my last rig and just bought a new one! Here are the specs:

Intel Core i7 (2860QM) 2.5 Ghz

16GB of RAM

NVidia 580M (2 GB RAM)

2 - 500GB SSD Hybrid HDs (RAID 0)

Blu-Ray Player

1920x1080 screen

I decided to go with 2 Seagate Momentus XT hard drives because of cost and space reasons. My previous SSD was constantly running out of space! The biggest thing I've noticed is boot time, the system boots in a respectable 28 seconds, however, the SSD configuration booted in 16 seconds. The video card in this machine ROCKS the house! I get at least 65 FPS with an intense battle in SC2 with all settings cranked up! I average about 80 to 85 most of the time. So far the only game that does not run as well is RAGE. I get 30 to 45 FPS on highest settings when I should be getting 60! I blame the NVidia drivers that Dell publishes. At the time of this writing version 269.03 is the latest driver on thier support site. Of course I tried installing the beta (285.27) drivers to no avail!I The Battlefield 3 beta refused to install. WoW looks awesome on the highest settings with the DX11 advanced settings enabled. Other games such as Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas all perform well with 70 to 80 FPS with highest settings. Arkham Asylum looks and performs fantastic as well.

I also use this laptop for a work LAB and I can usually get at least 10 VMs running with VMware Workstation 7! I plan to upgrade to version 8 soon to try it. Other applications such as Photoshop run well on this system as you might expect. I have not tried any video editing yet but I usually use a Mac for that serious work.

The build quality on this beast is excellent, one of the best in 10+ laptops that I've owned in the past 5 years! I'm very impressed with everything. The laptop travels well with the right case. I have a Briggs and Riley case and it works well. This product is almost a perfect 10! I give it a score of 9 because of the driver issue. Still this is a must buy product for any serious gamer or power user!

Friday
Sep092011

Technology to have in a power outage

On Thursday September 9th, 2011 a large portion of Southern California, Arizona and Mexico were affected by a massive blackout that lasted more than 12 hours. Since the outage happened later in the day many people's cell phone batteries (including my work iPhone) were at a low point. Since cell phone towers were also affected all data communications were out and I had spotty coverage on both my iPhone and Windows Phone. I had two fully charged laptops and backup batteries for my cell phones so I was set just in case.

My VoIP phone line is protected via battery backup (18 hours) so I could make calls on my corded phone. However, I mainly use a cordless phone downstairs so that phone was rendered useless. Before dark I gathered several candles and my emergency radio. I don't remember where I got this radio but I've had it for years, it has a hand crank, is solar powered and runs on two AA batteries just in case I don't feel like messing with the crank or don't have sun. I was able to listen to local radio news broadcasts and my favorite AM/FM stations the entire evening. After hearing reports of all the traffic accidents we decided to use up the remaining perishable food in the refrigerator.  We made sandwiches and and ate over candlelight while listening to the radio. It reminded me of how people used to be entertained 70 or 80 years ago (before TV became popular). Many of my neighbors had noisy generators running but I thought it was kind of cool to just listen to the radio and enjoy my family's company without the beeps and burps of modern technology.

Interesting side note: I found out later that my Mother-In-Law had been trying to call our cell (iPhone 4, Windows Phone and iPhone 3Gs) to no avail, she does not have a smart phone and lives in the same area and her old flip phone worked just fine.

Monday
Jul252011

Alienware M17x R3 Reinstallation procedure

I have been getting a lot of questions related to this so I've crafted this post to share my experiences with everyone!

 When I was having issues with my SSD RAID problem I ended up with a 240GB SSD boot and a 500GB Seagate Momentus XT drive for data, games and VMs! So far this approach has worked well with no more hang ups or BSODs. This is how I installed everything.

SSD in HDD Slot 0, HD in slot 1 (there are many blog and forum posts that state you should install the SSD in slot 1, I did not find that it made any difference)

Changed boot mode to AHCI

Installed Windows 7 Ultimate (x64)

Made sure my data HD was drive D:

Manually changed Blu-Ray drive to E:

Disabled hibernation by running the following command from a Administrator Command Prompt: Powercfg -h off

Changed the location of the page file from C to D (no sense wasting HD space on the SSD)

Instead of incepting my AW resource disk to install the drivers I chose to download from the Dell website manually.

Installed drivers in the following order:

  • Intel Chipset (R289402)
  • Intel Management Engine (R290940)
  • Gigabit Network NIC (289538)
  • Wireless Network Card (R286897)
  • USB 3.0 (R289408)
  • Realtek PCIE (R289405)
  • Audio Adapter (R303928)
  • Synaptics (R289406)
  • Bluetooth 3.0 (R289410)
  • AW OSD Application (R299487)
  • Freefall Sensor (R289409)
  • WiMax Mobile Broadband (R286896)
  • Video Card - Intel (R303343)
  • Video Card - NVidia (R300038)
  • AW Command Center (R290173) - Install latest from Website do NOT use the Command Center on the resource disc
  • Installed Blu-Ray Software (had to get latest from Dell)
  • After installing all drivers and utilities I started the process of getting Microsoft Windows updates (careful to deselect any drivers. NOTE: always install drivers from DELL and avoid using drivers from Microsoft. I have had problems using drivers installed via Windows Update
  • Installed and updated anti-virus software
  • Install VMware Workstation 7.x
  • Restored my data
  • Installed Steam and restored my games and I was ready to go!

 

This configuration has been in place for weeks now with absolutely no problems! Hope it helps, let me know if you have questions. Feel free to comment and share your expereinces as well. 

Tuesday
Jun282011

Alienware M17x SSD (SATA III) RAID

After the past several days troubleshooting blue screens in Windows 7on my brand new Alienware M17x R3 machine. I've determined that there is a bug when trying to configure two SATA III SSD drives (OWC Mercury Extreme Pro) or two OCZ Vertex 3 SATA III SSD drives in a RAID configuration. However, I can successfully configure these drives in a non-RAID AHCI format. I can also configured two Seagate Momentus XT (SSD Hybrid) successfully drives in a RAID configuration so I know that RAID works with non-SSD drives. There are a number of forum posts on sites such as Notebook Review with people having similar problems with the Alienware M17x R3 so this is not unique to my computer! Also to set the record straight there was a problem with one of my OWC 6G drives, I tried reconfiguring the RAID when I received the replacement drive. Out of 6 drives only two (non-SSD) drives worked.

Currently I have an SSD boot with a 500GB drive used for data, there was a specific method of installing the drivers from Dell. I will post the procedure here very soon!