Upgrading the hardware of the EX490

This is a continuation from my previous post, found here.

I finally received the debug board for the EX490 and the much anticipated four Western Digital 3TB Red disk drives. I had a bit of an episode with customs here in Denmark and ended up paying a massive premium for the debug board, so I was really hoping it would be worth the added cost.

Vovtec cable close vovtec cable closerI opted for the VGA/PS2 assembly, as the VGA only was not available at the time I was building this project. From what I know a USB keyboard should work equally well. The serial port I had no use for, so I decided on the 80$ unit.

I hope it shows on the pictures, but if you’re in doubt, the assembly kit is an excellent value and has great build quality. I set to work disassembling the server to install the debug cable, you can find a complete guide to the disassembly itself here. You may also want to read this regarding where to place the jumper to unlock the BIOS.

Once I had finished the disassembly I carefully removed the CPU heatsink, used a cleaning solution to remove the excess thermal paste from the heatsink and installed my new CPU with fresh thermal paste. I chose an E6400 for this project, as it’s much faster than the Celeron processor the unit shipped with, and shouldn’t cause any thermal issues. I decided against upgrading the memory, two gigabytes should be sufficient for the needs I have, and if not – it’s an easy upgrade.

I played around with various mounting options for the debug cable, but ended up running it up next to the S-ATA backplane and having it on the top of the server.

Remember to exercise extreme caution when re-assembling the server. You’re at risk of damaging the cable from the assembly when sliding the motherboard/PSU tray back in to the case. I got around it by pulling slightly and very carefully on the cable as I slid the assembly back in place.

debug cable installed

Clearly this wasn’t done with aesthetics in mind. I’ve seen options where users have drilled holes in the case and mounted the assembly on the side with velcro, or modified the back to install it there – even using the top drive bay for the assembly kit. Since I’m using all four drive bays I don’t have the latter option and the others do not appeal to me terribly.

I took a closer look at the assembly kit and realized that the cable itself would easily detach from the connector on the PCB itself. This allows me to leave the cable in place within the server and simply remove the assembly. I considered stuffing it down the back of the server, but there seemed to be ample room on the top of the unit, so I decided to test it out.

VGA assembly cablePlacing the cable on top, like this, allowed me to slide the case top back on without a hitch. Now I have the connector cable readily available whenever I require it – without having to disassemble the entire unit. This way, when I have to troubleshoot, I merely need to remove the top cover by sliding out a few drives and pressing the plastic clip holding it in place, re-attach the assembly and away we go.

I installed the four hard-drives I’d purchased for this project in to their drive bays, attached a monitor and a PS/2 keyboard to the assembly kit and powered on the server. It worked without a hitch.

If you’re reading this because you’re considering purchasing the debug board yourself, please do not hesitate. It’s completely worth it. Being able to change boot devices, change fan settings and connect a monitor if something goes wrong – it’s just absolutely essential. Build one yourself or get one from Vovtec, it matters not, if you plan to fiddle around you absolutely must have this capability.

So, with the servers top cover open, keyboard and monitor connected, I set about installing Ubuntu Server 12.10.