Budget Linux utility server

I often run out of hard drive space and was looking for a storage server that could also function as a spare CPU compute machine and virtualization test environment.

Servers that fit this bill are Dell and HP rack and tower servers. Ideally I would like to get a modern Dell tower server due to their lower noise output than rack-servers and Dells flexibility with using any brand drives (HP servers can be fussy).

However I also wanted something cheap, $500 maximum. At this price spot the LGA2011 platform servers are best value for money at the moment.

I bought a used Dell R720 with 192GB RAM and 2xE5–2620 CPUs (and two dual port SFF fiber cards) for $400 used. I had a couple of spare E5–2650V2 CPUs and this is where my journey into the word of Dell BIOS and Firmware updates started.

The machine was running BIOS version 1.4.8, from 2012, a version which only supported E5–26xxV0 CPU’s.

The little I had read, one could not just update straight from 1.4.8 to the latest 2.8.0 in one shot, BIOS updates needed to be done in stages. And in addition to BIOS updates the iDRAC controller needed to be updated in stages as well.

Update stages

To update BIOS, go to Dell support and find the driver you are after eg here

There are .exe files and .efi files — you want the efi file. Download all the BIOS .efi files you will need to a USB drive (not a bootable one, just a storage USB).

Plugin the USB to the front of the server and fire it up.

At black Dell screen select F11.

Then select system utilities

Then BIOS update file explorer.

Select the USB drive (mine was at top of the list) and the .efi files on it should be shown:

Select the relevant version, then follow the prompts to update.

Once I had updated the BIOS to v2.0.19 I then replaced the CPUs with E5-2650V2’s and the server recognised these OK.

Repeat as needed.

iDRAC can be accesses on your local network. Fire up the server, press F2 and check or set what network address you want to use for iDRAC. Make sure you plug in a LAN cable to the dedicated iDRAC port at the back of the machine. Browse to the address from another machine on the network. You may need to enable TLS 1.0 to access

iDRAC6 example, iDRAC7 looks very similar

I found iDRAC updating a bit more confusing. The file types for the iDRAC drivers were either .bin files for installed Red Hat Linux or .exe files. Some of the .exe files were for Windows servers. However I am running Ubuntu server.

Watching several videos and reading blogs I found that to install iDRAC you need to download the .exe file that does not mention windows (eg below its format is called ‘An application’) then unzip the .exe file (run ‘unzip whatever-file-is-called.exe’ in linux shell).

Then the cool bit — from the iDRAC7 page browse to ‘iDRAC settings->Update and Rollback’.

Then upload the ‘firmimg.d7’ file that was unzipped

Follow the prompts and your done.

Next steps are to flash my h710P mini into IT mode so that I can use disks without RAID.

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