DP-900: Putting the Fun Back Into Data Fundamentals

My last Microsoft exam was back in 2017. Really.

Today I managed to pass DP-900: Azure Data Fundamentals with a passing score of 982/1000.

Should be noted that the contents of the exam changed on 5th May 2022. From the updated skills measured sheet it would occur to me that they made the new format more “fundamental”. That’s not to say it’s an outrageously easy exam. I had to learn a few new concepts but as someone with an interest in SQL Server I enjoyed the learning process.

Here’s the badge to say “I did it”.

The Study Plan

  1. I attended the free Azure Virtual Training Day: Data Fundamentals from Microsoft. Each session was just under 4 hours long and was a pre-recorded video. By attending across the two full days you receive a credit to take the exam for free so not only do you get an intro to the subject you also save £69 for the exam.
  2. Used the Azure Data Fundamentals Learning Path on Microsoft Learn. This was a good source of basic knowledge and a few free labs on Azure were available too. Made lts of notes here to revise with later on.
  3. Subscribed to the official practice test available on Measureup.com. Some questions in this practice test came up on the exam although it must be said that the practice test probably does not reflect the May 2022 changes just yet but keep an eye on the website for more info. I put the test in practice mode and set it to explain wrong answers to strengthen my knowledge and further improve my notes.

Overall not the hardest exam to pass. As long as you understand the subjects in the exam you’ll have no problem passing it. All the best!

Review: Star Labs StarBook Mk V

It’s finally here! I’ve long run a combination of a custom built ATX gaming PC and also a Dell XPS 9360 laptop. Both have served me well but both are overdue a replacement after a long lockdown. I had previously seen Star Labs’ StarBook MkV mentioned on OMG! Ubuntu! and I was very keen to give it a try.

I placed an order for the StarBook Mk V back in August 2021 and after a patient wait it was finally delivered early December. I’ve now had an opportunity to use the laptop for a decent amount of time so here’s the review!

Star Labs StarBook Mk V
Undressed on my coffee table. Candle for mood.

Specification as reviewed:

  • Screen: 14″ IPS, 1920 x 1080 (16:9 ratio) @ 157 ppi, 60Hz refresh rate
  • CPU: Intel “Tiger Lake” Core i7 1165G7 (4 core) with Intel Xe Graphics
  • Memory: 64GB (2 x 32GB) G.Skill Ripjaws DDR4-3200
  • Storage: StarDrive 1000GB PCIe Gen 4 SSD
  • Wireless & Bluetooth: Intel AX201
  • Webcam: 720p
  • Battery: 65Whr (quoted at up to 11 hours battery life)
  • Keyboard: UK
  • Warranty: 1 year limited

For the full details check out the Star Book specification page.

I also added in a StartPort adapter (£69) and USB Recovery Drive (£9) to bring the total cost including an early order discount to £1,511. Given Star Labs are a smaller scale manufacturer than the likes of Dell the price versus specification didn’t seem too bad to me. I considered another Dell XPS 13 on the shortlist and didn’t feel that the StarBook Mk V was poor value by any stretch.

There are quite the many choices of Linux distributions available. For selected distributions Star Labs will also contribute some of the sale price to the maintainers. If you really want it for some reason you can also have Windows but that would arguably break the spirit of the product. For my laptop I chose Ubuntu 20.04 LTS combined with coreboot firmware.

Packaging & First Looks

The StarBook Mk V arrives in some seriously sublime packaging that’s been custom designed for the job. The outer carton is even branded Star Labs. Inside the box I found the laptop securely packaged with foam bumpers with the accessories packaged in two separate boxes. Unfortunately I did not have a Cat available to thoroughly test the packaging but I am sure they’d be impressed too.

Packaging
All safe and secure.

The actual box for the laptop features schematics of the device at each respective elevation. It’s another great finish to the product and oozes that due care and attention to detail I’m craving.

Inner Packaging
Want it.

Plastics report: I hate unboxing but here it’s worth mentioning that the laptop comes in a blue Star Labs sleeve and a screen protector cloth in place of any plastic on the trackpad or screen. Whilst the sleeve isn’t suitable as a day-to-day carry case it is very useful to have. I keep the sleeve on the laptop then put it into a carry case to protect from scratches from other accessories.

There were plastic bags for the shipping document, USB recovery drive, charger, charging cable and the UK plug adapter. These along with the foam bumpers are the only plastic you’ll receive in the box. Considerably better than quite the many PCs I have unboxed.

Charger, UK Plug, USB to barrel connector, recovery drive.
Hello! I’m a 12-port USB-C hub.

Around The Chassis: Screen, Webcam, Keyboard & Trackpad

The Star Book Mk V features a matte black anodised aluminium chassis housing a 14″ IPS screen and your choice of keyboard (UK, US, German, Spanish, French and Nordic are available). The lid has the Star Labs logo embossed on there and it looks seriously classy. It’s a very fine looking laptop with a premium feel to it.

At last! We meet in person.

Connectivity wise you’ll find the following ports on the StarBook Mk V (from nearest to furthest from you):

Left

  • 2 x status LEDs
  • Thunderbolt 4 / USB 3.0 – Type C with Power Delivery
  • HDMI
  • USB 3.0 – Type A
  • DC Charging Jack

Right

  • 3.5mm Combination Jack
  • USB 2.0 – Type A
  • Micro SD Memory Card Reader
  • USB 3.0 – Type A

Should I have been let loose designing this laptop I would have definitely sacrificed a USB Type-A port or perhaps even the charging port for a Type-C port so I can keep a Yubikey connected with the docking station at the same time but each to their own on that regard.

One of the things I had a hard time deciding upon was the screen versus the Dell XPS 9360. Dell packed out the 2016 XPS 13 with a very good QHD+ IPS screen and that was something difficult to let go of. The Star Book Mk V screen next to the XPS 13 is not quite as impressive 1080p IPS screen but still it’s very good. It’s actually surprisingly bright and colours don’t seem washed out at all. Supposedly this screen works out at 400nits average brightness according to Star Labs. I have to acknowledge here that if you are looking at other laptops at a similar price point you’ll probably more screen choices such as higher resolutions, different ratios but unless you need a screen for high end graphic design the Star Book Mk V should surely fit your requirements. One thing I do not miss from the XPS 13 is a touchscreen; that’s got no place on a laptop as far as I’m concerned.

Desk hero. The StarPort USB-C hub is also plugged in here.

A non-descript 720p webcam is included. The positive change from the XPS 13 is the position! On the XPS 13 Dell placed the camera bottom left of the screen. People would often comment about the weird angle and being able to see my fingers as I typed on video calls. Returning to a top and centre webcam is definitely a welcome change although it’s not a very wide angle lens and doesn’t have a privacy shield if that’s your thing (you can disable it in coreboot configurator but more on that later). Like most laptop webcams it’s good-not-great but will more than suffice for day to day video calls.

Chuffin’ ‘eck I’m live on t’internet!

Next to the keyboard on both the left and right flanks you’ll find 4 x 4 Ohm speakers which are more than adequate as far as laptop speakers go. Certainly not studio quality but for any serious listening or gaming you’ll definitely want headphones. I found them very much acceptable for watching some tutorial videos and I’m sure they’ll be fine for TV and Films on the go as well.

Keyboard wise this laptop also delivers. The backlit keys are generously large, well spaced out and smoothly finished to the touch. Typing on the keyboard you’ll find firm but forgiving resistance. There is slight flex in some places on the chassis but you’ll have to look closely for it so nothing to worry about. Star Labs have added an Fn key with the usual stable of F key controls as well. One mild bit of entertainment for me is that there is no Windows key! On this keyboard it’s the “super” key and that’s not something I’ve ever seen before except with Macs.

At the bottom of the chassis the StarBook Mk V features a smooth glass trackpad with separate left and right clicks. There is a bit of a gap between left and right which does take a little bit of getting used to. Again I found the trackpad very responsive and easy to use. It also supports mouse gestures such as double finger scrolling which is a welcome feature. The glass does tend to pick up some oil as you use it so I’ll probably refrain from scoffing snacks whilst working with this laptop.

Performance, Battery Life & Storage

Inside the Star Book Mk V you’ll find an 11th generation Core i3-1110G4 dual-core with UHD graphics or i7-1165G7 quad-core processor with Xe graphics. The Core i3 variant wasn’t available at the time of ordering but that’s OK because I wanted speed not steadiness. With the configurable TDP (Thermal Design Power) profile set to Performance (28W) I returned the following Geekbench 5 result which compared quite well to other results I found such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 8:

1607 single-core, 5516 multi-core.

One interesting thing about this laptop is that you may opt for a standard American Megatrends firmware or use coreboot instead. Initially I thought coreboot was perhaps not the right choice for me but eventually decided to give it a go. Opt for coreboot and you can use the nifty coreboot configurator app from the StarLabs PPA to tweak the laptop. Everything can be tweaked here from disabling devices, configuring the processor TDP and adjusting the keyboard backlight timeout:

Coreboot
No more Intel Management Engine to bother you sir/madam.

Thanks to the supply crisis we find ourselves in a fortunate situation regarding the battery. The specification was upgraded for free to a 65WHr battery. That did incur a few weeks delay for certification but generously received non the less. Under Ubuntu 20.04 with the balanced power profile set in coreboot I have found battery life at 50% display brightness doing a variety of tasks I’m getting probably around 6-8 hours out of the laptop without TLP or Powertop in use. That’s a bit short on the up to 11 hours claim (who’s isn’t) but it’s comfortable figure for day to day work.

For whatever reason at the time I decided to opt for 64GB of DDR4 memory despite having no real use case for it. Configurations ranging from 8GB all the way up to 64GB are available and – unusually for many notebooks these days – you can replace the memory if you need an upgrade.

A small note on the memory configuration. A manufacturer using this and similar CPUs can configure it with DDR4 SO-DIMMS like the StarBook which maxes out at 3200Mhz or it can be configured with LPXDDR4 at 4277Mhz. Whilst the advantage of using SO-DIMMS is that they are replaceable it should be noted that the LPXDDR4 brings overall higher memory bandwidth. If you are buying a laptop with Intel Iris Xe then you should know that memory bandwidth is everything and that SO-DIMMS work out slower so watch out for that in any benchmarks you see out there.

The laptop comes with an Intel AX201 WiFi & Bluetooth module. Connected to my AMV Fritz!Box 7530 (WiFi 5) I have found it to maintain a solid signal with no drop-outs. Sadly with a 26 Mb/s internet connection I will be unable to fully stretch it however for any HD streaming from your NAS this will do the job. I have had some concerns raised to me privately about WiFi. I contacted the team at Star Labs who suggested some tests and we were unable to find any fault.

The Star Drive SSD is worth a mention independently. I did some digging on the specifications page and found that the SSD uses a Phison PS5018 controller with 96 layer Micron B27B memory. KDiskMark returned the following results with the default 5 passes of a 1GiB file:

KDiskMark Results
Faster than I can do spreadsheets at least.

Conclusion

It’s taken a while to get this notebook but it’s definitely been worth the wait. It’s been a very pleasurable experience using the StarBook Mk V with very little to disagree about. Overall the Star Labs StarBook Mk V is a solid contender for your shortlist and I’d recommend it for Linux users.

Price and availability: from £779 at https://starlabs.systems.

Pros

  • Excellent packaging and accessories.
  • Premium feel chassis with strong keyboard and trackpad.
  • Lots of customisation options available: CPUs, memory, OS and even the firmware.

Cons

  • Competent but arguably not so impressive screen specifications compared to other laptops.
  • One more USB-C port would be nice.

Letting Go…

Last week I was involved in a brutal massacre. A total of 10 innocuous work shirts were killed off (alright, taken to the local charity shop). In view of the fact that some of us in IT aren’t going back into the office anytime soon – if ever – it made absolutely no sense keeping the offending unoffenders only to take up the wardrobe space. Give everything a purpose right? They have therefore been retired. Forcibly.

Le Victims

What’s next for workplace fashion you ask? No idea to be honest. Polos, T-shirts, jeans, hoodies, everything I never thought I could get away with now all normal work attire. Just as long as you’re presentable on video calls you can do it. The dream has be realised. Irons and ironing boards everywhere quake in fear of what happens next.

Ubuntu 21.10 “Impish Indri” Released

This week’s big release has been Ubuntu 21.10 codenamed Impish Indri. This is an interim release with 9 months of support from Canonical.

Very impish, very indri.

There are lots of changes to talk about here. This release brings Linux Kernel 5.13, Firefox as a snap by default, GNOME 40 with horizontal workspaces as well as tweaks to the UI, touchpad gestures and zip password support in Nautilus as a few examples.

I’ve installed this to my Dell XPS 9360 this week. So far I’m really liking the horizontal workspace change. It’s admittedly a feature I’ve never got used to working with for Ubuntu and Windows alike but I’ve decided to give it another go.

The change to Firefox as a Snap app is a controversial choice given the reception of snaps. Personally I’m not noticing much of a difference and so long as security updates come in on time I don’t think I’ll be too bothered about it.

You can upgrade your existing Ubuntu distribution to 21.10 now but if you haven’t tried Ubuntu now’s a really good time to Download Ubuntu 21.10 and see it for yourself. As before if you get the torrents I’ll be pleased to serve you the bits.

Windows 11 Launch Next Week

Microsoft will be releasing Windows 11 on October 5th 2021. The anticipated OS will bring a fresh look and core improvements to the operating system.

I have not yet used Windows 11 myself however initial impressions are that the revised user interface looks smart and overall more cohesive than before. I also hope that the vision for the development of the OS is more complete. I felt that Windows 10 ended up more of an “us too!” project following trends set out by other OSes instead of focused goal to improve the OS that we all work and play on. Let’s not forget release 1803.

This will be the first Windows OS since Windows Vista that I’ve not upgraded to on release. This is regrettable however it’s down to the fact that I’ve not upgraded hardware due to Spectre & Meltdown and then the COVID-19 pandemic and thus have no hardware that can support it. For all the controversy over the TPM and processor requirements I think these are becoming overblown. TPM should be available as part of any recent PC or easily obtainable through an add-on module. The processor requirements increasingly look like it’s a performance question when virtualisation based security is active. Older devices have to emulate the CPU instructions that HVCI needs thus incurring a performance penalty. It is absolutely the wrong timing for Microsoft to push steeper requirements. It’s absolutely not the best time to be adding to e-waste issues by encouraging users to throw out hardware. Fortunately Windows 10 will still be available and supported.

I really do feel that we’re in a different world now. Mine and your primary computer are arguably no longer a Windows machine but the phone that you’ve got in your hand. For that reason I won’t be chasing the latest and greatest Windows release.

I’M STILL ALIVE!!!1!!ONE

I remembered this week that I’ve not posted here for a while so in the interest of (1) confirming I am alive, (2) making some fluff up to prevent the blog from looking “abandoned pending domain expiry” and (3) to get back in some kind of rhythm.

Honestly it’s been busy. Nobody wants to stand still and as we all work out what’s going to be the “new normal” there’s a lot of push for cloud, automation and remote connectivity. That means a lot of work to be done so less time to have a natter on the blog.

Hopefully I will have a new laptop to review pretty soon so watch out for that.

Ubuntu 21.04 Released

Canonical have today released Ubuntu 21.04 dubbed Hirsute Hippo (apparently that means “hairy”). This is a short-term support release with 9 months of updates to be had.

Ubuntu 21.04 Hirsute Hippo
Hairy Indeed

There are a number of changes including support for joining Microsoft Active Directory, support for the Wayland server by default and a visual refresh among other things. Of course you’ll also be getting a more recent version of the Linux Kernel specifically number 5.11.

I have yet to get my trusty XPS 13 out to commence an update but if you get the torrents you’ll be served by yours truly from my NAS whilst I go visit the pub for the first time in about 5 months.

Lick Of Paint

Speaking to a lot of people right now everyone’s at the stage where they’ve not much to talk about seen as they can’t leave their homes and…you know…do interesting things. I am looking forward to being back swimming and for a pint at the pub (not together though).

In the meantime I put a fresh lick of paint on the blog. Enjoy.

Patch Time

If you’re in the SQL Server world you should be aware of this by now however for those who’ve been busy getting stuff done this week Microsoft have released a security update for SQL Server described in full in KB4583459.

Data can be sent over a network to an affected Microsoft SQL Server instance that might cause code to run against the SQL Server process if a certain extended event is enabled. To learn more about the vulnerability, see CVE-2021-1636.

Patches are available for SQL Server 2012 and above with currently supported service packs. As it’s most people’s best interest to maintain a SQL Server that doesn’t allow this to happen it’s a great idea to get this patch installed now. If you are intending on ruining someone’s day with this exploit I wholeheartedly apologise for spoiling your fun.

I anticipate quite the majority of my clients will “accidentally” end up with this patch through Windows Update which is probably for the better (exceptions given if it somehow kills the SQL Server).

There’s Not Much To Say!

(Well there is but you know what I mean.)

In the UK we have gone into Lockdown 3: The Winter Crisis so there’s not much Round Tabling, swimming or pubbing to be done until the COVID-19 virus is brought under control. Fortunately consultancy is back in full swing so the bills are getting paid.

Priority number one and two for 2021 will be to stay safe and get the vaccine respectively. As a child my parents would always tell me to play outside and avoid any drugs especially needles. In 2021 they’re telling me to stop inside and get a jab as soon as my turn comes up. How times change.

Over Twixmas I did try my hand at building a PiHole on a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B that has been lurking in my drawer but I scrapped it after a week. I felt the omission of DNS over HTTP/TLS by default is too important to overlook. I plan to build a WiFi 6 core network at my house sometime in 2021.

Meanwhile I’ve been discussing PC builds with some good friends of mine as we’re enjoying Cyberpunk 2077. I’m currently drawing up a parts list for my next custom build I’ve provisionally called Build-V. Yes that is indeed because it’s the 5th custom build I’m intending to put together and yes that’s where all that petrol money I’ve saved is going.