Note: Multiple VLAN Operation on Realtek RTL8111D NIC (& Others)

A while ago, I wrote about the wonders of having multiple VLANs at home, operating in a mixed “hybrid” access model. While it was great, I made a comment that simultaneous VLAN operation might not be possible under Windows depending on the NIC involved. While I had a late-model Intel NIC on my main desktop which happily supports Intel Advanced Networking Services, allowing me to participate in multiple VLANs at the same time through a number of virtual adapters, I noticed some other NICs only had one VLAN ID entry within their advanced driver properties.

Owing to a new project, I suddenly had to re-commission my former desktop. The Gigabyte 890FXA-UD7 uses a dual GbE LAN solution based around the Realtek RTL8111D solution. The problem was that the driver property pages had no VLAN entry!

I checked the usual culprits – namely updating the driver to the latest version on Realtek’s website. Unfortunately, this didn’t change the situation at all.

According to Gigabyte’s website as well as Realtek’s product page, the solution supports VLAN tagging – so what gives?

Realtek Ethernet Diagnostic Utility

The answer to the VLAN problem lay in an unexpected place – the Realtek Ethernet Diagnostic Utility. The tool can be downloaded on the same page as the drivers for the NIC.

I’ve never bothered to download or install this, as a “diagnostic utility” is usually used to diagnose issues with the network adapter, drivers or cables – none of which I’ve ever really had any issues with.

As it turns out, the diagnostic utility is both a diagnostic utility and a tool for configuring virtual interfaces and VLANs.

This can be done through the VLAN page, which allows you to add a new VLAN to be member to (which automatically installs the appropriate driver and creates a new virtual interface). You can also change the MAC address of the virtual adapter in case it’s necessary to avoid conflicts. For the most part, it works as expected, but adding VLANs will normally unbind TCP/IP from the main adapter, resulting an inability to access the untagged network. The simple fix is just to open the properties for the adapter and rebind the protocol – that way you can access both tagged and untagged networks simultaneously. The functionality is equivalent to Intel ANS-based VLAN.

It’s also interesting to see that the adapter is capable of reporting cable length fairly accurately (actual length was 5m) – this can be accessed in the BIOS as well.

The Green Ethernet page also lets you see the power savings achieved from Energy Efficient Ethernet operation. It was rather disappointing to see that the maximum energy saving for this chipset is 16%, and in the case of my 5m cable, just 14% was being saved. I guess something is better than nothing though.

Conclusion

As a result, if you have a Realtek adapter, you might not need to miss out on the fun of multiple VLAN operation under Windows. The deception is in the fact that to configure this, you need to use the Diagnostic Utility, which isn’t an intuitive place to go looking for such a feature. Once configured, the untagged network is not accessible by default due to unbinding of TCP/IP from the host adapter – you can safely rebind it and thus achieve both tagged and untagged operation simultaneously on the same adapter.

So I guess in the case of the RTL8111D, it’s not bad news at all to have a Realtek.

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Teardown: A Sick Cooler Master SickleFlow X 120mm Green LED Fan

It hasn’t even been a year since I built my new workstation and already, something seems to be amiss. Lately, it seems I haven’t been sleeping so well, because there seems to be an angry beast in my room.

“Grrrrrrrrrr …. rrrrr … wrrr-wrrr-wrrr-wrrr ….”

Other times, it seems like it might be a horse galloping around … with its characteristic …

“Clock … cluck … clock … cluck …”

Whatever it may be … it’s driving me nuts and I’m going to get to the bottom of it.

Diagnosis

The first step was just to diagnose what was causing the noise. The computer has quite a few fans – one 120mm in the power supply, three 120mm exhaust at the top, a 200mm intake, a 140mm rear exhaust, two 80mm on the GPU and a 140mm in the CPU heatsink. I always tend to err on the side of more airflow as an overclocker with a staunch preference for air cooling – a little more airflow noise is no big deal in my book.

At first, I put my hand on the various grilles on the case to try and feel where the vibration is strongest, to localise the problem. It seemed the top exhaust fans were prime suspects. Deciding that I didn’t have the time to take down the system, I opted for live surgery on the machine. I started by unplugging fan leads and noting what the change in sound was, followed by plugging it back in to confirm I wasn’t hearing things.

As it turns out, the three CoolerMaster SickleFlow X 120mm 2000 RPM Green LED fans I chose for the top exhaust were probably a bad choice. Of the three fans, one was relatively fine, whereas one did the “galloping” and the final one made the “grinding”. While they were an affordable AU$8 a piece, according to my hard disk timers, they only lasted about 6,600 hours each. This is a far cry from the claimed life expectancy of 160,000 hours.

The latter was immediately removed from the case and was found not to be as dusty as expected. On examination, the rotor was clearly unbalanced – this suggests maybe poor quality bearings and construction quality caused a premature failure. The galloping fan was left to continue, but might need replacement soon.

This one was replaced by an old Antec fan pulled from my old workstation which had already done 25,000+ hours which helped things quiet down somewhat. It definitely concerns me when I have significant case rattles – I suspect that vibration from bad fans could damage other fan bearings and reduce hard drive performance by causing vibrational difficulties in maintaining head alignment.

Torture

The fan bearings were probably irrepairably worn due to the rotor imbalance, so there was no point in repairing the unit. However, I felt there was probably some merit to seeing what happens when a 12V fan is overvolted. In my prior experience, they will make it to 17-18V before giving up – will this one behave similarly?

I set up the fan with the Keysight E36103A (20V/2A) lab power supply and ran my data-logging pyvisa-based program that stepped the supply millivolt by millivolt from 0 to 20V and recorded the current consumed. Rather surprisingly, the unit did not fail entirely even at 20V, so I called in a reinforcement by series-connecting my Manson HCS-3102 to give it an 18V boost.

Despite the label’s claim of 0.32A at 12V, the unit was measured drawing 286mA for an operating power of 3.4W. The unit was able to operate up to 24V when it failed suddenly. As the current limiter was set to 1A, this did not result in anything spectacular – the current jumped up to 1A for half a second and then the fan stopped spinning and consuming motor power – the LEDs continued to operate brightly though. However, exceeding about 20V was already resulting in rather toasty smells emanating from the unit – not surprising as it failed with a total power consumption of 14.1W – 4.14 times the power it normally consumes at 12V and in line with expectations for a device acting almost perfectly “ohmically”.

The slight blip near 2.7V symbolises the first point at which the fan starts running – a surprisingly low voltage as most older 12V fans will not do anything until they see about 5.5V.

Teardown

The unit was not difficult to take apart – removing the label showed the rubbery bearing end which was very much loose. The rotor almost fell out on its own accord, which seems a little strange.

The design appears standard for a brushless DC fan with a hall-effect sensor. The unit has four poles wired as two pairs of coils. The only difference is the wires to the four LEDs on the frame.

The wires appear to be super-glued to the frame and terminate in a 3mm LED.

A close-up of the PCB seems rather revealing – D1 is a reverse polarity protection diode. Each of the LEDs is run through a 510 resistor of its own (R3, R4, R5, R6). The hall effect driver IC is driven through a 47 ohm R0 which is probably the component that failed first due to exceeding its power rating and burning through. This may have resulted in a temporary short, causing the 1A current limiting event which then blew the internal coil drivers, stopping the fan dead in its tracks. Two positions for capacitors are not used at all, and an additional transistor and pair of resistors (R1, R2) may be related to the tachometer signal.

The brains of the fan is in the hall effect sensor, which is a Prolific PT3907 High output current Fan IC. This IC is specified to run between 2.7-18V for two-coil designs up to 800mA (provided a 658mW power dissipation limit and thermal limits are not violated).

Conclusion

I’m disappointed in the Cooler Master SickleFlow X fans. Three fans, two failed within a year – it’s not that they were expensive, but more the amount of hassle involved in changing the fans out. It’s a bit unfortunate they weren’t better made – maybe I should start having a more expensive Noctua habit instead.

Regardless, I decided to put mine out of its misery by pushing it to its limits which resulted in surprising results – the fan starts at a fairly low voltage of 2.7V and can survive 24V (for a very short period). It puts out the classic burning electronics smell prior to perishing.

I for one, was a fan of torturing the sick SickleFlow. Rest in pieces.

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Review: SanDisk Ultra Flair 128Gb USB 3.0 Flash Drive (SDCZ73-128G-G46B)

Once in a while, out of need or out of desperation to use a discount coupon, I end up buying something, often technology related. This time, it was the latter case, so I went and purchased something I knew would almost always be of use – a USB flash drive.

This time around, I decided that 128Gb capacity was the “sweet” spot. Eyeing the cheapest options available, along with the discounts, led to the Sandisk Ultra Flair which I could get delivered at AU$30 a piece. While not insanely cheap, it was still cheap enough to get me to purchase it.

The Product

As with most SanDisk products, it is packed on a retail card. The drive itself occupies a small space on the card and is available in a number of colours. This particular unit advertises “up to 15X faster” performance than USB 2.0 drives, but the fine print makes it clear that the assumption is that the USB 2.0 drive only writes at 4MB/s. In other words, they’re inferring that it writes at up to 64MB/s. It also claims a 5 year warranty and the inclusion of a RescuePRO Deluxe software 1-year download offer. The drive is Made in China.

Splitting open the card reveals the key for the software offer as well as a warranty information statement. Of interest is that the Australian limited warranty is provided by SanDisk International of Dublin, Ireland – which potentially seems to be a tax-evading strategy.

The unit comes packaged in a moulded clear plastic tray with a thin plastic overlay which is sealed over it to “keep it fresh”. Opening this was rather difficult as the film didn’t want to peel, so instead, it was easier just to puncture it around the drive and extract it like a “pill”.

The drive’s USB port is non standard, instead being made of a sheet of folded brushed metal. Normal perforations in the shell are not present or show only as indents, as the drive is based around a system-in-package design residing inside just the USB connector shell area. The additional metal on the front, however, should serve as additional heatsinking which should allow the drive to maintain its performance over long read/write operations. The majority of the plastic portion of the drive serves no great functional purpose except to provide a lanyard attachment point and to avoid it being lost.

The design of the drive also has a subtle curve to it.

From the front, the USB 3.0 connector module can be seen, along with the system in package underneath which is soldered to the connector module.

Attaching it to a PC reveals the drive has a VID of 0781 and PID of 5591. The drive has a total capacity as provided of 122,980,499,456 bytes (114GiB), with 122,968,211,456 bytes free.

This is due to the inclusion of SanDisk Secure Access software and user manuals. The drive contains an MBR partitioning scheme, with the first partition starting at sector 32.

Performance Testing

Performance testing of the drive was conducted on my “new” workstation running Windows 10 with its on-board AMD USB 3.0 controller based on the X370 chipset. Testing was performed with the drive utilising its supplied format, which was restored after destructive tests through restoring an image of the partition table.

HDTune Pro

Like some other drives, in a fresh unwritten state, the drive does not reach its full sequential read performance and only provides an average of 59.9MB/s. Once fully written, the drive achieves an average of 156MB/s read.

Writes repeatedly achieve a peak of about 37-38MB/s peaks in the early part of the drive, falling to an average of about 15MB/s through the remainder of the drive. This suggests there could be about 3-4GiB of pSLC cache to accelerate writes, with transfer to slower TLC memory occurring during drive idle periods under normal circumstances. This would improve the perceived performance under low write-duty-cycle applications.

Unfortunately, this is a far cry from the expectation of up to 60MB/s based on the package information. We’ll see if this magical figure can be attained through other benchmarks.

Random access performance within HDTune seems to show that read performance at 4KB to reach 5.9MB/s and at 64KB to reach 59.8MB/s. Write performance is less impressive at 0.736MB/s and 9.4MB/s respectively. There were also cases of long delays during write, suggesting that the background activity of the controller may interfere with “real-time” writes as it manages the cache and wear levelling activities.

CrystalDiskMark

CrystalDiskMark reports similar figures with a test file of length 1GiB. Sequential read is reported as 164.8MB/s, write as 37.72MB/s. Small block 4kB accesses reached 8.3MB/s read and 0.63MB/s write.

ATTO

Testing the drive with ATTO was performed twice due to some inconsistencies which could be due to the behaviour of the internal cache. On large block accesses, the sequential write topped out at about 27MB/s and sequential read at about 166MB/s with spikes to 173MB/s. At accesses of 128KB and above, it seems the full performance can be attained. Unfortunately, there was no “magic” write-speed result here either.

H2testW

Testing with H2testW did not find any data integrity errors, with the measured write speeds slightly higher than that reported by HDTune Pro and the read speed slightly lower, but otherwise in accordance with expectations.

Conclusion

The SanDisk Ultra Flair 128Gb USB 3.0 Flash Drive is both cheaper and marginally faster in write speed than the SanDisk Ultra Dual Drive m3.0 I purchased around four months ago. It seems to have employed some of the same strategies as desktop SSDs using TLC memory, by employing a portion of the memory as a higher-speed (possibly pSLC) cache area so as to increase performance on some benchmarks which only make limited amounts of writes and to improve user experience in low-write duty environments.

Unfortunately, it is still only “marginally” faster, with a true write performance hovering about 15MiB/s which falls short of even saturating a USB 2.0 bus. Unfortunately, the read performance does seem marginally slower, at 156MiB/s. Compared to the package which claims “up to 15X faster” than a USB 2.0 drive (of 4MB/s), it doesn’t seem this drive is able to meet the claim on my equipment.

While it is cheap, it is disappointing that USB 3.0 class devices are still exhibiting such poor write speeds, especially as SSD prices are also falling and they offer much improved speeds. It seems there has not been much progress in this segment, at least amongst SanDisk products. This may be, in part, due to the obsession with small size “system in package” designs. This also does result in the plug being noticeably warm upon unplugging.

That being said, the drive did not exhibit any problems during testing and is a bit more stylish than most low-cost drive options on the market. It is, we can say, “adequate” but not in any way special.

Posted in Computing, Flash Memory | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments