, good luck with your build. Glad to hear you found the new power supply you wanted.
The prices on those z440's I found on Ebay and suggested to @mplayerMuPDF
were just too good to pass up. I negotiated with the seller of the "complete" ones to sell 2 of them at $100 each including shipping, and I'll build them up and sell them locally to fund an E-bike I am going to build with a brushless 1500W kit I got on the black friday amazon warehouse deals 20% off sale for $280 (not including the battery, which I am intending to build from scrap li-ion batteries and a charge controller).
It's been nice to be able to leverage my experience with these z440s to build them up (with good components) and completed with valid OEM windows 10 Pro x64 OS and a suite of free and open source software installed and ready-to-go. (On these workstations the OEM wiindows key/license is programmed into the workstation's NVRAM so Windows 10 pro automatically activates.) This has enabled me to pay for my tech upgrades from the profit I made selling them, (including my z440/z460 "Frankenstation"), and the folks who get them are delighted with their workstations.
I thought it might be interesting for some forum readers to know what I do to improve and add value to these machines, allowing me to sell them locally for more than what the basic machines with similar capabilities are selling for on Ebay.
A story of two workstation upgrades:
While these two workstations I bought are "complete" functioning machines, the hardware in them is really basic and not very useful as is, and they contain no os or software. The only things I am re-using are the case and fans, power supply, motherboard, cpu cooler, DVD RW drive and the the two 8Gb sticks of server Ram. But I got these machines for the price of a bare-bones machine so I'm not complaining....
Here's how I plan to upgrade the hardware in these :
1. The processors in these "complete" z440s are just 4 core e5-1603 2.8ghz processors with 8gb ram, so I'll upgrade them. I found a pair of 10 core e5-2660 v3 processors (2.6ghz, 3ghz turbo) on Ebay for $18 (best offer accepted).
2. I'll upgrade both to 16gb of ram. I found 2 matched 8gb sticks of ddr4-2400 server ram for $15 on Ebay (best offer accepted). I'll take the 8gb stick from one unit and put it in the other to give it 16gb, and then put the matched pair I bought in the other unit.
3. The 500gb sata drive in them is pretty much worthless. I'll add a new 256gb HP Nvme SSD for the OS and programs for $25 (including $5 for a pci-e Nvme adapter card) to each, and a refurbished hgst 4tb sata enterprise drive for a data drive for $39 each.
4. The video cards in these are also pretty minimal -- Nvidia nvs310 with only 512gb of ram. I found a set of three amd radeon r240 1tb video cards for $24 on Ebay, so I'll have a spare in case one of them turns out to be bad. These r240 video cards can't really handle 4K well (only at 30hz), but they do 1080P just fine, and they support UEFI secure boot. Anybody wanting a good 4k experience on a 4k monitor or TV will need to upgrade to something like a nvidia gtx 1060 to get a nice smooth 4k experience (I use an nvidia gtx 1060 3gb card and it works fine on the 4k tv I use as my HTPC monitor). If they want to do serious gaming they'll want to get something even better (and more expensive) than an nvidia gtx 1060. New Video cards are still outrageously expensive due to crypto-mining, IMO.
5. I also will supply an "active" 4k capable displayport-to-hdmi adapter cable. These sell for around $7 on Ebay. I like these short adapter cables over the hard adapters that plug into the displayport because they don't require as much space behind the machine (the short adapter cable bends). The fixed adapters don't flex or bend, requiring the back of the workstation be pulled away from a wall by not only the length of the fixed adapter, but also the HDMI plug that's plugged into it which adds up to almost 5 inches given an allowance to make sure the plugged in HDMI cable doesn't get a crimp in it. I've also broken one of these non-cable adapters by accidentally hitting it sideways while it was plugged in. The short cable adapters solve all of these issues.
If anyone here is interested in any of the parts I am replacing (cpus, graphics cards, sata drives), I'll be selling them cheap -- contact me via PM and make me an offer....
So my total cost for each upgraded machine will be:
$100 for the z440 + $9 (better cpu) + $7.50 (8gb ram added to make 16gb) + $25 (256Gb Nvme SSD and pci-e adapter for the OS drive) + $38 (4tb HGST refurbished enterprise grade Sata drive with 5yr warranty for the data drive), + $8 (1tb AMD Radeon R240 display card), + $7.50 (displayport to HDMI adapter cable) = $195 total hardware cost.
The open source and free software suite I install includes:
1. Libre Office (a complete full-featured replacement for Microsoft Office, that can read and write to it's own native file types as well as MS office file types.)
2. Bullzip PDF printer and Bullzip PDF reader (a much lighter and more capable set of PDF utilities than Adobe Acrobat Reader. Among things it can do that Adobe reader won't is to concatenate a pdf to an existing pdf.
3. Greenshot screen shot utility. This is a very powerful complete screenshot utility that can output to multiple file types, can do full or cropped screen shots and more.
4. VLC media player (can play just about any format of media file (sound or video) you throw at it, and with just a few extra additions can even play blu-ray disks.
5. 7zip file compression/archive tool that can compress/decompress/add-to just about any compressed format from RAR to zip.
6. HWINFO64 a free Hardware information tool that shows you just about every part and real-time sensor status in the system.
7. Macrium Reflect (a drive image backup/restore tool, that also allows you to "mount" an image and access individual files on it.)
8. Firefox (an open source web browser that doesn't track your activities and monetize them like Chrome does). I pre-install the following add-ons for Firefox:
. Ublock Origin (in my opinion, the best current open source browser add-blocker and anti-tracker).
. AdBlocker for YouTube™ (aka Clean YouTube™) This add-on not only seems to block most ads in in the browser version of Youtube, but it also seems to work in browser version of Hulu.
9. Ocean reader (a reader/browser/search engine/text extractor/audio reader of the sacred religious texts of most all of the major world faiths).
10. Zoom meeting software (the pandemic isn't completely done, and lots of meetings are still happening on Zoom).
Some Windows 10 settings I changed from defaults to make it easier to use:
1. I enabled the windows 7 quick-start toolbar, and place shortcuts for commonly used programs and utilities there.
2. I installed a copy of the "old" windows 7 style calculator, which many people prefer over the "modern" version shipping with windows 10. Both are available on the workstation.
3. I removed of most of the bloatware that comes pre-installed with windows 10.
4. I cleaned up the desktop to only include icons for frequently used programs, and added shortcuts for the command prompt and control panel, and turned off the option to have wallpapers move desktop items around.
5. I turned off the intrusive "suggestions" that windows has baked into it to suggest unwanted upgrades, as well as unnecessary voluntary data submissions to Microsoft and others, and turned off Microsoft's windows update "sharing" feature with other computers.
6. I turned on local private trusted network sharing and discovery, and enable the "public" data stores (which allows easy, but secured data sharing across the local trusted private network. Others on the local network can't see into any directories on the workstation except the shared public folders, and these "public" folders are not accessible from non-private untrusted networks.
7. I set the windows explorer view options to default to "details", "show known file type extensions", "show hidden files", and had this applied to all directories.
My method for loading the OS and software is this:
1. I'll install all of the hardware upgrades in the workstation.
2. I'll do a fresh install of windows from the HP windows 10 image onto one of the 500gb sata drives they supplied with the machines.
3. I'll install the free "magical jelly bean" cd key decrypter/reader and use it to get the automatically generated OEM CD key from that installation, and save it to the hard drive.
4. I'll install the free disk imaging utility Macrium Reflect so I can do full image restores of drive images backups taken from the last z440 I built and sold. I find this utility to be more reliable and easier to use than most other freeware utilities, and much better than the free versions of Acronis True Image that Western Digital and Seagate provide to do disk cloning -- those are restricted to only work if you have their drives in the system, and also don't have full functionality.
5. Then I'll restore/load the data drive image from one of the previously sold z440s onto the 4tb data drive. That drive image contains copies of these drive images and also has directories of all the z440 manuals, drivers and utilities, has copies of all the open source installation software installers, and has the windows data folders and swap file already on it.
6. Once the data drive restore is done, I'll save the cd key from the utility in step 3 onto the documents folder of that data drive, for the owner's reference..
7. Then I'll restore/load the ssd os-drive image from one of the previously sold z440s onto the Nvme ssd, which will become the new boot drive. That image contains the Windows Pro x64 OEM OS, which has all the updates applied and all drivers installed, has a full suite of freeware and open source software installed, and is fully configured with all data folders and swap file pointing to the 4tb data drive. I have the data directories and swap file on the data drive to minimize the writes being written to the SSD which will lengthen it's operating life.
8. I'll shut down the machine, remove the 500gb drive, and reboot using the 256Gb Nvme SSD.
9. Then I'll use the windows activation tool to change the cd key to the one from step 3 so the machine has the unique OEM cd-key that belongs to it.
10. I'll do a quick check to make sure that all is functioning and the data directories and swap file are pointing to the 4Tb data drive.
11. I'll upgrade the Bios if necessary, and will upgrade the TPM module to 2.0 using HP's utility,
12. I'll run the windows update utility and make sure all updates are applied. I'll update any of the programs that have been updated since the last backup was done.
13. I'll use the Macrium Reflect utility to take an image of the new OS drive, putting that onto the 4tb data drive as a backup and copy that to my NAS for the next machine.
14. I'll use the Greenshot screen shot utility to capture the HWINFO64 summary screen for the upcoming Craigslist posting.
Once all of this is done, I'll post an ad for the upgraded machine on Craigslist, and repeat the process for the other machine.
It takes about 1-2 hours each time I do a batch of these machines to source and order the parts (often requires doing best offer negotiation) and about 1 to 1.5 hours of my time to do the upgrades (I can do other stuff while images are loading and updates are being applied), and about 15 minutes to post the craigslist ad (I re-use the text from my previous ads). I spend about 1/2 hour responding to CL ads, and another 1/2 hour doing the sale and demonstration/orientation to the purchaser. So that's a total time investment of around 4.25 hours spent on each machine. Of course, if I was doing all of this from scratch each time it would be many more hours, but leveraging off of previous work minimizes this, and the customers get a lot for their money.
When I started doing this a couple of years ago I was able to sell these machines for between $550-$600 (but the barebones systems and components cost more then too). I can't demand that much for them any more, but I sold the last two I had prior to this purchase about a month ago for $450 each -- so there is still demand for these workstations in this configuration, with everything loaded, legal and ready-to-go. I figure I probably save the purchasers at least 20 hours of research and labor that would be involved to get these machines built to this capability and ready-to-go. That's time I spent when I got my original machine getting it going and set up.
I enjoy meeting the buyers:
The people who buy these workstations are pretty interesting, and not your "average folks" -- some are engineers doing cad design, others are doing gaming, others lots of media editing, one guy is a professional pilot wanting to run good flight emulation software. Curiously, I've only sold one to a woman -- I'm not sure why that is.
No warranty, but do provide some support:
I don't provide a warranty as this is used equipment and I don't have any control over what they do to it after it leaves my hands. These are really robust machines, so I have not had any fail on me or on a buyer. However, I tell the buyers they can call me for "limited" support if they need it. I have helped some find more memory for a good price, recommended video card upgrades, and helped them with video power adapters (the guy didn't know that 6 pin to 8pin video power adapters existed -- he had thought he might have to replace the power supply), and one fellow had a situation where it wouldn't boot that I diagnosed over the phone to be a dead cmos battery -- he had left it idle and unplugged for a couple of months and his bios settings had gotten corrupted when the battery died.
Interesting custom build:
One of the more memorable customers was one I met this year that I did a custom build for with one of these workstations. I built it with redundant OS and data drives and a server raid controller to run a theater pipe-organ for a local non-profit that shows silent films in a restored 1920's era movie theater.
This was an interesting build with both the OS and data drives in raid-1 using an LSI server raid controller, and configured to automatically boot and run their pipe-organ software on power-up from a non-administrator account. Because it is a true production environment, they needed the redundancy to get the shows up and going regardless of a drive failure -- hence the two raid-1 mirrored arrays.
I had originally thought I would use one of the native Windows software raid methods to accomplish this, which I knew of, but had not personally used. In the process I learned a lot about how the native raid in windows works (or rather, doesn't work for NVMe boot drives). Windows has multiple ways to do their native software raid, but none of them worked well enough to be reliable, and the onboard motherboard Intel chipset raid capability is also not robust enough for a production environment. All of these solutions have no provision for write cache protection -- meaning that data could/would be lost if the system hung or there was a loss of power.
The solution was the use of an enterprise grade hardware raid controller with a capacitor backed up write cache, which a used LSI 9270-CV 8i server raid controller had. The card was reasonably priced on Ebay, and came with Dell OEM firmware on it, which I overwrote with the original LSI firmware so the card could be managed using the LSI Megaraid utilities. I was familiar with how these server raid cards work because I have an HP P812 server raid card in my media "Frankenstation" controlling a couple of external raid-5 arrays. I chose the LSI controller because it is a simpler card to manage, is less power hungry, and the customer didn't need external ports.
Down the "rabbit-hole":
So, what at first seemed a straight-forward addition of a couple of drives and the use of one of the software raid methods, turned into a bit of a "rabbit-hole" into which, like the proverbial Alice, I fell. After many hours of researching and trying varying options, I consulted with the buyer, and we agreed upon the robust server raid controller solution. Due to the issues with getting any raid to work with the Nvme boot drives, we swapped them for a pair of SATA SSDs, which work with the raid controller. I donated my hours getting all this figured out and working to their non-profit as an in-kind contribution -- they may give me some passes to see some of the movies, which will be fun.....
Interestingly, LSI doesn't have any raid controller that offer the mixed ports or the number of ports the HP P812 has -- I am not sure why that is. A guess is that maybe LSI's philosophy is that you should have separate raid controllers for internal and external uses, or maybe by limiting the number of ports, they reduce the stress on the hardware? I do know that my HP P812 is power hungry and generates a lot of heat probably because it has circuitry and processing power to handle the 2 internal and 4 external ports -- I use one of the z460 dual case fans to blow air across it to help keep it cooler.
About capacitor backed write cache raid controllers:
The way the capacitor backed write cache works on these raid controllers is that when the card sees a loss of power or a system hang, using the power in the capacitors it writes out the current write cache and destination address to the card's non-volatile memory and then shuts down. When using these controllers, you turn off the hardware write caching on the drives themselves so that the controller handles this, and thus prevent data loss. Also, because the write cache in the raid controller card isn't cleared until the drive signals a successful write has occurred, if the power fails when the drive is writing data, it isn't lost -- it is re-written out to the same logical address by the raid controller.
This is how the cache data recovery works:
When the computer reboots, the raid card first looks to see if there is something in its non-volatile memory, and then writes it out to the drives before completing it's boot processing. The benefit of this over the older battery protected raid controllers is that there is no time limit for this recovery. With the older battery protected controllers, if the computer/server wasn't rebooted quickly enough the battery would become exhausted and the data would be lost. This newer method prevents that. The capacitors also don't typically wear out and almost instantly recharge, unlike the batteries which take time to recharge, and wear out over time, so the newer method is more reliable and requires lower maintenance as well.
I hope the details of my z440 workstation hardware and software upgrade choices and reasons have been interesting to some of you.
Thanks for reading,