Thursday, January 31, 2013

Added secondary AD & DNS

I just installed a second Active Directory server into my test domain. Dead easy – just install the role on Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 and follow the prompts. I chose to install DNS at the same time (the AD setup wizard defaults to ticking this so don’t need to change anything).

At the end it synched my AD domain from the original server. It brought over all my DNS zones automatically, including: both the AD forward lookup zone and a manual forward lookup zone; my reverse lookup zone and DNS settings such as my forwarder IP addresses (which the server uses to resolve external DNS names on behalf of clients).

More details here.

Now I have two DNS servers I can point my clients (including the DNS servers themselves) at both of them and should have basic networking (AD logons & DNS) even if one server goes down.

I also added the new DNS server to the DHCP Server Options so the new DNS server should get offered to DHCP clients automatically. My Windows 7 client picked this up without needing a DHCP release/renew which makes me suspect it got the new DNS server IP from somewhere else. I removed the new DNS server IP from the DHCP Server Options again and will check to see if clients are finding it on their own somehow.

Monday, January 28, 2013

AMD FirePro V7900 & RemoteFX

I’ve been playing with my Dell Precision T7600 for a few months now. I’ve got it running Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 with Hyper-V enabled. The whole box is a dedicated VM host for my development environment. I’ve been trying to use RemoteFX to get advanced graphics running in Windows 7 & Windows 8, but not having much luck.

My first problem is that the Dell website doesn’t list Windows Server 2008 drivers at all. I’ve been using the Windows 7 drivers. They *seem* to work, but when problems start it’s always a worry.

My graphics card is an AMD FirePro V7900 and it’s not clear whether this supports RemoteFX or not. The AMD FirePro range appears to, but this specific card is not actually listed, although the unified driver does list it. Once I found these I swapped over to using them as they at least offer a Windows Server 2008 R2 version.

However, performance in a Windows 7 Ultimate guest seems poor. There’s a noticeable lag when scrolling in IE 9 or when switching between applications, and sometimes the screen doesn’t repaint at all. Occasionally the guest graphics driver fails completely, the screen freezes then refreshes and a little pop-up tells me that Windows recovered (presumably by just starting another copy of the driver). It’s so bad I gave up after a couple of days and removed the RemoteFX driver from the VM.

Windows 8 Enterprise won’t accept it at all. The driver (Microsoft RemoteFX Graphics Driver – WDDM) has “stopped working because it reported problems (code43)”.

An email to AMD customer support has not been especially useful. They claim that “the AMD GPU is not virtualized within the RemoteFX desktop. It is used to assist with compression and accelerating 3D calls”. This appears to be the opposite of what the AMD FirePro blurb says: “AMD FirePro professional graphics combined with Microsoft RemoteFX enables full GPU virtualisation”.

AMD also implied that things might be better under Windows Server 2012, but that they don’t have any supported drivers (that is, WHQL tested) as yet. So not really very useful there either. I asked them when they expected the drivers to be available and was told “our next driver release will most likely support Server 2012”. So no date then.

I must admit, I’m not really sure whether Windows 8 is supported by RemoteFX on Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 – maybe Windows Server 2012 is required for Windows 8 RemoteFX?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Secure Cloud Storage

SkyDrive is great for synchronising my documents between my home and work PCs, but I don’t trust it (or anything else) enough to hold my passwords, bank account details, etc without some additional encryption.

I first tried using the Encrypting File System (EFS) that is built in to Windows 7, for example, but it encrypts at the volume level – the data are decrypted when Windows applications access them. The SkyDrive client is a Windows application, so it sees the decrypted files and pushes them to the cloud. Not what I wanted.

TrueCrypt is an open source encryption system. It can, amongst other things, create an encrypted container (such as a file) and present this to Windows as another volume. I created one of these and put it into my SkyDrive folder so it synchronises the encrypted file up to the cloud.

First I needed to unset Settings > Preferences > “Preserve modification timestamp of file contents”, which is on by default. The SkyDrive client uses these timestamps to tell if things have changed so if TrueCrypt doesn’t change the timestamp SkyDrive won’t sync it.

Also, SkyDrive isn’t yet clever enough to only detect partial file changes, so any change to my encrypted files causes the entire container file to resync once it is dismounted. I initially tried a 1 GB container, but this takes ages to sync. I abandoned that and used a smaller one (10 MB) instead. I’m told that DropBox only syncs changes, so would be a better choice here. Hopefully SkyDrive will catch up soon.

The obvious down-side to this is that you need TrueCrypt installed to decrypt the data before accessing it, which means you can’t access the files from Surface, Windows Phone 7.5 or

At the time of writing I was using SkyDrive 2012 (build 17.0.2003.112) and TrueCrypt 7.1a (7 Feb 2012).

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Samsung TV

Some friends recently bought themselves a nice new TV, a Samsung 46ES6800:

They previously had a Sky decoder and satellite dish, but had stopped subscribing to Sky. They had connected the satellite to the TV, which has its own built-in decoders, so no longer using the Sky decoder, and were getting 300+ channels, but almost all of them were scrambled. Channel 5 was missing entirely and the channel numbers were all over the place – they wanted BBC1 on channel 1, BBC2 on 2, etc.

The TV has an auto-tune feature with 4 input settings:

  • Air is for old-style aerials, which can still pick-up old analogue channels as well as the new digital Freeview ones (depending on where you live in the UK), but they don’t have one of these.
  • Satellite is for the satellite dish and is what they were using which gave the results described above. Freesat (below) turns out to be the better choice.
  • Cable would be for a cable service such as Virgin Media, but this isn’t widely available in the UK and was not relevant.
  • Freesat turns out to be the one they wanted. After selecting this and letting it auto-tune they now have 50+ free channels, including Channel 5, all nicely ordered.

The TV remote has some recording buttons near the bottom. Pressing these brought up some warnings about USB devices being missing. The printed user manual doesn’t mention this feature, but the TV has a built-in user manual. A bit of digging implies that the TV can record to hard disk (HDD) via USB to provide video recording (PVR) functionality and recommends a minimum of a 5,400 RPM drive. These are quite common now and can be had from Amazon. Here’s an example:

Not tried it yet though.