Fixing Display Issues with VGA Adaptors & Dell Servers | TechMikeNY

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TechMike’s Simple Solution to a Complicated Problem: Display Issues with VGA Adapters and Dell Servers

 

At TechMikeNY, we love offering simple solutions to seemingly complicated problems.  It’s easier for us, and certainly easier for our customers!

We’ve noticed more and more customers reporting an issue where everything seems to be running fine with the server when booting: fans spinning, lights blinking, etc.  But alas, nothing is displaying on the monitor. 

Before you remove your server’s access panel and start fiddling with cables, reseating processors and RAM, it’s essential to confirm that the issue is not caused by the monitor – or the video connection to the monitor – which may be incompatible with your Dell server. 

The Background

Rack servers are optimized to work in a data center environment.  As such, the video output on all Dell enterprise servers is ONLY VGA.  With the advent of larger monitors and displays into the marketplace, which often have digital inputs such as HDMI and DisplayPort exclusively, finding compatibility between the rack server and monitor can create challenges.  Furthermore, as many of our customers have experienced, a VGA-to-HDMI cable or adapter is not a reliable solution.  This incompatibility is due to the difference between VGA’s analog signal and HDMI’s digital (DisplayPort and DVI – an older interface – are also digital signals.  As such, VGA-to-DisplayPort and VGA-to-DVI may also cause the same issues). 

TechMike’s Simple Solution

If this scenario sounds familiar, here are two troubleshooting steps you can take:

  • Connect the server to a VGA native LCD monitor that is less than 24inches. Fortunately, many of these smaller VGA monitors are inexpensive on the secondary market.  As many of our customers have already discovered, the display shows the system booting and everything is functioning.  Problem solved!
  • If you don’t have a native VGA monitor readily available, you can connect to the server remotely and utilize iDRAC to configure the server. Note that only the iDRAC Enterprise license has the Java/HTML5 KVM interface.  If you intend to configure it remotely due to a lack of a VGA monitor, you may want to ensure your server has Enterprise iDRAC.  At a minimum, this can help confirm that the server is functioning correctly and the video connection is the culprit.  However, note: it is still possible that you may need to have the VGA monitor to properly configure the iDRAC settings if the default settings are not compatible with your network!
 A NOTE ON HP SERVERS: HP’s 10th Gen servers have introduced a DisplayPort output.  The 8th and 9th Gen models only have a VGA output.  While we haven’t experienced as many HP VGA output problems due to the smaller volume of HP servers we sell, the issue could be replicated, and the same troubleshooting steps for Dell servers could be applied. 

 

Have you experienced a similar issue?  Let us know at info@techmikeny.com.  We love hearing from you and like to collect these case studies to better support our customers!

4 comments

  • Goran, thanks for this great info. That’s a really clever workaround with keeping the VGA as the primary output and then accessing the GPU through the VM. P.S., we also have played around with certain 3rd party graphics cards in Dell servers with mixed results. Thanks for sharing your solution!

    TechMike
  • I definitely recommend iDRAC Enterprise and HTML5, since that gives you easy access to the machine at all times from anywhere, and no messing around with monitor cables, keyboards, and mouse. I connect to my iDRAC via VPN and can start, maintain, upgrade, install OS, etc…

    Fun fact is that my 4 PowerEdge servers all have separate graphics cards, and that works like a charm even if some officially doesn’t support it. That does however switch off the iDRAC virtual console, after POST, since the video output is now generated outside of the Dell hardware. A way around this is to keep the server VGA as your primary display, run a hypervisor (I use Proxmox) and then pass the GPU into a virtual machine, and finally remote desktop into that VM which now render and hardware encode the image.

    These are the machines and GPU combinations, in case anyone wants to try it out:
    R820 with AMD Radeon Pro WX 5100 (less than 75W and is powered by a 16x PCIe slot)
    R720 with Nvidia RTX 2070 Super, takes a “special” cable to power from the riser power connector
    R730 with Nvidia GT 1030 (less than 75W and is powered by a 16x PCIe slot)
    R630 with Nvidia Quadro P2200 (less than 75W and is powered by a 16x PCIe slot)

    Goran Marnfeldt
  • Thanks for the comment below, Nicholas, and the background on bidirectional flow. We suspect it also has quite a bit to do with VGA’s analog signal converting to HDMI’s digital signal. Really, VGA is the last holdout of the analog video outputs.

    TechMike
  • I found the issue to be with my VGA/HDMI adapter.

    Turns out, these adapters arent always (if ever) bidirectional.

    I had bought an adapter that was HDMI to VGA, which doesn’t work when connecting to a VGA output port.

    Be sure you’re buying an adapter that has the right flow of data.

    Nicholas Browning

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