Why not to use Dell Connection Point Manager, or any Dell 3G wireless software

| 01/05/2009 | Tags: ,

I have to support about 20 laptops with 3G connections in them, they're all Dell and range from D800s with PCMCIA 3G data cards, D830s with internal Dell Wireless 5520 Modems and some newer E4200s with internal Dell Wireless 5530 Modems. Both the D830s and the E4200s are shipped with Dell software to manage the connections. The D800s use Vodafone Mobile Connect, and have never, ever, caused me a problem.

The Dell software on the other hand, is a nightmare. The most common issue is the classic "Sim Card Not Found", which occurs most of the time. I have spent literally hours on the phone to Dell support and our telecoms provider trying to get someone to help. I have flashed firmware on the cards, upgraded BIOS, installed countless versions of the drivers and generally wasted a LOT of my time. We even got as far as replacing all the SIM cards with various different versions just to try and get a connection.

The final insult was when we ordered the new E4200s and they just would not connect to 3G. They'd connect to 56k WAP ok, intermittantly not recognise the SIM, but never actually manage 3G. After yet more hours of support calls and useless flashing of firmware, I struck gold.

The solution? Vodafone Mobile Connect. Bin the Dell connection manager software, it's unstable, buggy and does not work. Even on laptops we COULD get a connection, it crashed frequently. Not only that, but VMC has features far beyond the Dell solution. I don't know if other providers have their own software, or whether it's any good, but I can hazard a guess it will be better than Dell's.

Dell Latitude E6500 blue screen of death on XP install/downgrade/reinstall

| 07/01/2009 | Tags: , ,

I've just had a frustrating few days trying to downgrade 4 Dell Latitude E6500 laptops to XP. The problem was, whenever you booted to the XP cd you would get to the point just before you agree to the license and then hit a blue screen with a SATA error code. It seems that the bundled driver for the SATA storage controller incorrectly identifies it and causes a fatal error as it's loaded.

 The solution is fairly specific and needs to be done exactly in the order prescribed below. You will need a USB floppy drive, and a blank floppy disk.

  •  Firstly, go to Dell's support website and select the downloads for your E6500 laptop (if you enter your service tag, you might find that there are no XP downloads available -use the product select instead).
  • Download the LATEST BIOS – at the point of writing that's A11.
  • Also download the Intel Matrix Storage Manager Driver.
  • Plug in your USB floppy, insert the disk and format it. Extract the storage manager driver, and then copy the extracted files onto the floppy. Unplug the floppy
  • Now run the BIOS update, follow the on-screen instructions, let it reboot and flash your BIOS.
  • Reboot, and on the BIOS screen, hit F2 to enter into the BIOS setup.
  • Move down to System Configuration, then SATA operation. Make sure it's set to IRRT.
  • Move through the BIOS and disable Parallel, Serial, and any other devices that aren't needed. Switch the NIC to Disabled. Also go down to Miscellaneous Devices and ensure USB and the Modular bay (i.e. CD/DVD) are enabled. Disable everything else.
  • Plug in your USB floppy, and insert the floppy containing the drivers from earlier. Also put your Windows XP install CD in the CD/DVD drive. Save your BIOS changes and then reboot.
  • On the BIOS screen, hit F12 to bring up the one time boot menu. Select your CD/DVD ROM device.
  • *IMPORTANT* The blue windows installer screen will come up and you have a few seconds to hit F6 to specify that you want to use a 3rd party driver for storage.
  • Once you've hit it, wait for the next screen, which will be asking for your driver. Hit S and specify the Intel SATA driver needed. There were 4 drivers in the list for my laptops, trial and error will find the right one. It should say that Windows already has a driver for that device – do you want to use the new one? Well of course you do, the old one blue screens. Hit S to accept it and at the next screen, hit ENTER to continue.
  • After that, it's plain sailing – just don't forget to enable all of your devices once you've installed XP!!!

Cisco ASA – ASDM “cannot load configuration”

| 24/11/2008 | Tags: ,

I was configuring our new Cisco ASA 5510 firewall today, as part of a major infrastructure upgrade. I'm pretty comfortable with the Cisco IOS, but I still prefer the GUI for the basic set up, using command line to tweak the finer or more complex configurations. However, straight out of the box, I had a very hard time getting the ASDM to load. Being familiar with the PDM from the PIX range of firewalls, I should have guessed the problem straight away. Essentially, whatever problem you're having with the ASDM, whether it's not loading, not reading the configuration or whatever, the answer is likely to be "uninstall your current version of Java, google java 1.4.2, install it, try again". It was the same with the PDM, and guess what? It's the same with the ASDM.