Hardwares Windows 8 Pro x64 and Media Center Pack on Acer Idea 510 - failed

I have decided to upgrade my Acer iDea 510 with Windows 8 x64 and the MCE feature pack... As often I like trying to improve things which works quite well especially if there is a risk that it does not work as well after :D

And indeed, the result is great - the HD video does not play well anymore, Standby is not working. I have to find an alternative or go back to Windows 7 with MCE :(

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First, I did install Windows 8 pro x64. Most probably a double mistake as I guess I won't find all required drivers for this Acer iDea under Windows 8 and even less for a x64 platform...

Notice that during the installation, I did check the option to automatically activate Windows.

Next, for the Software part: I did install the Media Center feature Pack:

  • On this page, request a free licence for this pack (Offer limited until 31 jan 2013).
  • On the Start Screen, type "add features" to select "Add Features to Windows 8".
  • In the "Add Features to Windows 8" window, select "I already have a product key" and enter the free key got previously for the MCE pack.
  • Notice that once MCE installed, the "Add Features" is not available anymore in Windows...
  • Configure MCE

After that, the first issue arrived: Windows 8 started to pretend its licence was not valid for an activation. I did try to retype my key without success (That was yesterday). However, today, after a reboot, it appeared that Windows 8 was again activated ?!

  • Start a Windows Update and install Microsoft .Net 3.5 (required for the next step)
  • Install and configure the latest version of Media Browser (which is the best free add-in I found to manage a video library (.Net 3.5 is a prerequisite)
At that time, I noticed that MCE was reacting very slowly and not displaying smoothly movies... Maybe because the Media Browser service was indexing my content?
  • Install Win8Codecs for x64. (Usually, I don't use a pack but will give a try to this one today).
  • Disable UAC (and reboot)
  • Disable Firewall for private network
  • Enable Remote Desktop:
    • On the Start Screen type "system", click on "Settings" and select "System" in the results.
    • Click on "Remote Settings"
    • Enable "Allow remote connections to this computer"

One day later,  MCE is still  very slowly and not fluent at all... :( I may only presume that the problem is with the display drivers... When I try to navigate to play a movie, I can clearly ear the fan speed going crazy ?! The PC appears not capable of playing HD movies... it's tooooo slow within MCE. The sound is ok but the display not at all... Also Media Player Home Cinema is not succeeding the play correctly HD movies... I think I will have to look for codecs with support for hardware acceleration and adhoc display drivers...

Finally, from the hardware point of view:

  • The remote control is working fine
  • WiFi and Ethernet connection are working fine
  • Ethernet NIC is configure to allow WOL
  • The front Digital Display is  recognized by Windows 8 but not displaying anything else that "Welcome To Aspire IDEA).
  • Drivers are missing for 3 devices (PCI devices database available here - how to here - and Microsoft catalog to search drivers is available here).
    • 2 Multimedia Video Controllers with Device Instance Path "PCI VEN_14F1 DEV_5B7A SUBSYS_5B7914F1 REV_00\4 197A8245 0 08F0" and "PCI VEN_14F1 DEV_5B7A SUBSYS_071812AB REV_00\4 197A8245 0 00F0". Those are the "TV Tuner Yuan MPC718 Hybrid HW encoder with FM"
      • I don't care about those for now as they are most probably for TV input and I may not used them anyway. The signal is encoded by my TV provider which does not provide any decoding software)
    • Another one not identified but related to ACPI with a device path "ACPI\AWY0001\2 DABA3FF 1" and a hardware ID "ACPI\AWY0001", I found it was used for the "Away Mode System" and required "Intel QRT Driver" (Quick Resume Technology).
      • the Intel QRT Driver 1.6 for Vista to be found on Acer Support site works fine. Once unzip in a folder of the PC, go to the Start Screen, type "Device Manager" and start this manager. Select the "Unknow Device" and update the driver selecting the folder above.
      • Wierd, on some sites, it's said that this is an "NVidia Away mode" ? The setup for nForce should then deploy the required drivers... (To be validated)
      • Note for later purpose: Intel Driver Update Wizard available here.
  • The graphic card chipset Nvidia GeForce Go 7600 is recognize but the drivers installed are from Microsoft (Basic Display Adapter) and not specific ones... ?! The auto-detection wizard from NVIdia is here. It doesn't find anything specific more appropriate than the MS Basic Display Driver... I did select myself GeForce, GeForce Go Serie 7 (notebook), GeForce 7600, Windows 8 64 bits; no result.
    • I did download manually the latest Vista drivers (03/09/2012) for GeForce Go 7600 from the Microsoft catalog, did unpack the cab, and did try to update the drivers with the option "Browse my computer" > "Let me pick from a list of device drivers on my computer" > "Have Disk" > pick the .inf from the cab. I found the drivers in the list but the setup failed because it was not for my OS :(. I tried with other drivers for Win7x64 (179.48). Bad luck too. I did try next to add the Hardware Device id of my card in the nvac.inf file (found in C:\NVIdiaWinVista64\179.48\IS\Display) and to pick this one... Or to use it via the Device Manager > Action > Add Legacy hardward > Add the hardware that I manually select > Display Adapter > Have Disk... Hopeless :(
    • I found a guy who forced drivers for Win7x64 on Win8x64 with signing disabled. I will possibly also try later his method for disabling driver signing at boot (to be tested... but the issue does not seem to be the signature):
      1. Windows Key + R
      2. Enter shutdown.exe /r /o /f /t 00
      3. Click the "OK" button
      4. System will restart to a "Choose an option" screen
      5. Select "Troubleshoot" from "Choose an option" screen
      6. Select "Advanced options" from "Troubleshoot" screen
      7. Select "Windows Startup Settings" from "Advanced options" screen
      8. Click "Restart" button
      9. System will restart to "Advanced Boot Options" screen
      10. Select "Disable Driver Signature Enforcement"
  • Sleep state was not enabled.
    • The command "Powercfg /a" reported that the Graphic card (drivers) where disabling the stand by state. I was expecting this as the drivers are not specific to the card and do not know how to manage its power state...
    • The command "Powercfg /a" also reported that "Hybrid Sleep" was not enabled because S3 was not available (to be checked in the BIOS).
    • To enable sleep state:
      • Restart and enter the Bios setup
        • Press Del at boot to enter the Bios setup
        • Go to the "Power Management Setup" tab
        • "ACPI Function" must be enabled
        • ACPI Suspend Type must be S1&S3
        • "Resume by PCI PME" must be enabled (wake up with remote control)
        • "Wake Up On Lan" must be enabled (for my purpose)
      • Back to Windows,
        • On the Start Screen, type "Power Plan", click on "Settings" and select "Edit Power Plan" in the results.
        • Click "Change Advanced Power Settings"
        • Click "Change settings that are currently unavailable"
        • I don't use WiFi, so I set "Power Saving Mode" = "Low Power Saving" under "Wireless Adapter Settings"
        • Under Sleep, I only see "Hibernate After". I set 60 minutes
          • I should find how to configure the PC to see "Sleep after" and even possible "Allow Hybrid Sleep". I will here after try to investigate this issue in details.
    • The command "Powercfg /energy" does an audit of the PC and reports all issues (like details on what prevent the sleep mode but also about what is consuming CPU, etc...):
      • Notice: the report is stored in C:\Windows\System32\enery-report.html. This file may not be opened within any browser as long as it's in System32 (although I did disable UAC already). It must be first moved to, e.g., %USERPROFILE%\Desktop\
      • S1, S2, S3 are not supported although S1&S3 are now enabled in the Bios.
      • S4 is supported.
      • The USB devices do not enter the Selective Suspend state (this would not be blocking the PC for entering the sleep mode)
      • The drivers \FileSysem\srvnet is preventing the system to enter sleep.
        • It's reported that this can be due to the network drivers not being up-to-date
        • But this does the trick if you don't want to share the content (media) of the PC
          1. On the Start Screen, type "Advanced Sharing", Click "Settings" and Select the "Manage Advanced Sharing Settings"
          2. Collapse the "Private" section and Expand the "All networks" section
          3. Click on "Choose media streaming options" under "All Networks\Media Sharing"
          4. Click on "Block All"
          5. Run again the energy audit (possibly reboot if the problem persist, especially if you tried the next tip!)
        • This is NOT doing the trick: edit the current Power Plan to "Allow the computer to sleep" under the node "Multimedia settings" > "When sharing media".
      • Its finally clearly stated that the PC may not enter the sleep mode due to the Microsoft Basic Display Driver which has disabled S1 and S2 sleep states.
    • Powercfg -energy -output %USERPROFILE%\Desktop\Energy_Report.html could be used to automatically store the file in the right location
    • To see if there is still anything preventing the PC to enter the sleep mode, type the command "Powercfg /requests". You should see "None" for every category.
    • If after a reboot, your still have the same issue with \FileSystem\srvnet, try to override it with the command "Powercfg -requestsoverride driver \filesystem\srvnet system"
      • To undo this command, type "Powercfg -requestsoverride driver \filesystem\srvnet"
    • Now, the remaining issue to enter the S3 sleep state is the Microsoft Basic Display Driver, which is for sure also responsible for the performance issue in MCE. Based on tries done previously to force Win7x64 drivers for the NVidia GeForce Go 7600, I think I won't succeed is using Windows 8 on this Acer iDea 510 :(
References:
  • http://www.windowsitpro.com/article/windows8/sleep-disabled-graphics-card-144468
  • http://mingersoft.com/blog/2011/12/why-wont-windows-automatically-sleep/
  • http://iboyd.net/index.php/2010/05/16/windows-7-power-management-fixing-pc-insomnia/
  • http://www.eightforums.com/tutorials/9695-driver-install-device-manager-windows-8-a.html
Selective Suspend State: this one can be enable or disable on the USB node while editing the Power Plan (in the Power Options).
A USB device driver can send a message to windows telling it to idle the device.  This puts the device in a low-power state (the suspend state).  When a USB device is suspended, windows does not wait for it to respond before entering a sleep or hibernate mode.  If you disable this feature, the system will simply return a failure to the driver when the driver attempts to enter suspend state.  If the driver complies with Microsoft guidelines, it will simply retry the idle request at every expiration of its idle timer.
  • S1: All processor caches are flushed, and the CPU(s) stops executing instructions. Power to the CPU(s) and RAM is maintained; devices that do not indicate they must remain on may be powered down.
  • S2: CPU powered off. Dirty cache is flushed to RAM.
  • S3: Commonly referred to as Standby, Sleep, or Suspend to RAM. RAM remains powered
  • S4: Hibernation or Suspend to Disk. All content of main memory is saved to non-volatile memory such as a hard drive, and is powered down.
  • To be continued...

Hardwares Zeus is dead. Long life Zeus!

As mentioned in a previous post, I was planning to build a new home server (for File Storage and Virtual Machines) to replace my previous one named Zeus. Reason: this one was experiencing more and more sudden reboots/crashes and I was afraid that the motherboard could be end-of-life.

Zeus

Zeus

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Why Zeus was experiencing crashes was not as important as the possible consequences of a definitive hardware failure. I used to stores on it thousands of personal photos and videos, as well as all ripped CD/DVD, softwares, PC backups, many VMware VM, etc.. And I was using a RAID 5 based on onboard controller.

  1. In case of hardware failure, I would have been unable to access my data and had to find a new motherboard with exact same controller to be able to rebuild the RAID 5.
  2. In addition, although an (not true) onboard "hardware" RAID 5 was offering good access performances in normal conditions, it was deadly slow after a crash as it has to check all the data.
  3. Finally, I was not able to put more than 12 disks in Zeus' case.

So, I decided to build a new home server,

  1. with a software RAID to not depend on any hardware. The idea is that I could replace dead pieces, if any, with any other one (possibly not identical chipset, ...) and still be able to access the data
  2. with a very large case where I could add new disks whenever required without relying on special internal multi-bays (like the Icy dock's ones..) or external drives.

From the hardware point of view (For my needs; home server = not true server = desktop hardware):

  • For the case, I bought a case like the Norco Case RPC 4224 with 24 hot-swappable Sata/Sas III drive bays sold by X-Case. They sell that case in two versions, one for home server (RM424s) and one for servers (RM424). I took the server version as the home one was not available immediately (My brother bought one too... Both cases did a very long delivery trip :) ).
    • 4U rackmount design
    • Support EEB (12"x13"), CEB(12"x10.5"), ATX (12"x9.6"), Micro ATX (9.6" x 9.6"), Mini-ITX (6.7" x 6.7") motherboards
    • 24x hot-swappable Sata 6Gb/s (compatible Sata 3Gb/s, 1.5Gb/s) / SAS drive bays
    • Six internal SFF-8087 Mini SAS connectors support up to twenty-four 3.5" or 2.5" Sata 6Gb/s or SAS hard drives, mounted on horizontal backplanes for better ventilation.
    • Hot-swappable HDD tray with special designed power-off and lock mechanism + LED indicators for power and activity on each HDD tray.
    • 3 Ball-bearing cooling fans for better ventilation in the case and 2 cooling fans
    • Two front USB ports
    • Redundant 4pin molex PSU connectors support redundant power supply
    • Screwless top cover
    • Smooth border prevent lacerating your skin

I decided next to reuse the motherboard, RAM and CPU of my current PC (Chaos) -- a good opportunity to buy a new motherboard supporting new processors/RAM/devices to update Chaos

  • an old Asus Striker II Formula with
    • CPU: Intel Socket 775 (for Core 2 Quad/Core 2 Extreme/...)
    • Chipset: NVIDIA nForce 780i SLI
    • Bios: version 2042
    • Front Side Bus: 1333/1066/800MHz
    • RAM: 4 x DIMM DDR2 (Max 8 GB) - Dual Channel Architecture.
    • Storage: 1 x UltraDMA 133/100/66/33, 6 x Sata 3Gb/s ports NVIDIA MediaShield RAID with Raid 0/1/5/10/JBOD.
    • Slots: 2 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (mode dual x16), 1 x PCIe x16 (mode x8), 2 x PCIe x1, 2 x PCI 2.2
    • LAN: 2 x Gigabit LAN
    • Audio: 8 channels HD (SupremeFX II Audio Card ADI 1988B 8 plugged in one of the PCIe x1 slot).
    • IEEE 1394: 2 x 1394a ports (one at back panel, 1 onboard)
    • USB: 10 x USB 2.0 ports (6 at back panel, 1 onboard), 12 x USB 2.0 (6 at back panel, 6 on MB).
  • 1 old CPU Intel Core 2 Quad Q6700 8MB Cache (LGA 775) - 2.66Ghz.
  • 1 old Zalman CNPS9500 LED CPU Cooler
  • 4 old x 1GB Ram DDR2-800 CL5 (5-5-5-15 at 333MHz) Kingston HyperX Blue in Dual Channel mode.
  • 4 new x 2GB Ram DDR2 1066 CL5 (5-5-5-15-2N) G.Skill F2-8500CL5D-4GBPI-B in Dual Channel mode.
  • 2 old x 150 GB HDD Western Digital VelociRaptor (WD1500AHFD) Sata 1.5Gb/s 10.000RPM 16MB Cache (Read 128MB/s, Write 142MB/s) in Raid 0 for the OS (Windows Server 2012 Essentials)
    • They are controlled by 2 onboard Sata controllers
    • They are mounted inside the case, next to the motherboard, but not in one of the 24 bays.
  • 1 old ATI Radeon 9600 256MB 128-bit DDR AGP
  • Disk (named Unit-of-Risk: UoR) will be formatted with NTFS and FlexRAID is going to be used  to create a smart RAID system protecting data with a snapshot model.
    • Disks with data (named Data-Risk-Unit - DRU), once removed, will be readable from any other PC using any other kind of Sata controller.
    • Parity (stored on disks named Parity-Protection-Unit - PPU) will be computed only once a day (Snapshot model), not slowing down the data access (Notice: Real Time model is also supported). Notice: PPU must be as large as the biggest DRU.
    • New DRU can be added at any time: data won't be erased.
    • Support for multiple parity levels (E.g.: with parity level 3, no data will be lost if maximum 3 disks fails at the same time).
    • So:
      • Failure of one UoR does not affect any other UoR in the array.
      • If you lose more UoR than supported by the parity level, you only lose those "extra" devices. All your remaining devices will be healthy, and the data on them will be fully readable.
  • Disk (named Unit-of-Risk: UoR) will be formatted with NTFS and tRAID is going to be used  to create a smart RAID system protecting data in real time.
    • Disks with data (named Data-Risk-Unit - DRU), once removed, will be readable from any other PC using any other kind of Sata controller.
    • Parity (stored on disks named Parity-Protection-Unit - PPU) will be computed in real time with some impact on the performances but with a high protection level. Notice: PPU must be as large as the biggest DRU.
    • New DRU can be added at any time: data won't be erased.
    • Support for up to 2 PPU, so data are not lost if maximum 2 disks fails at the same time.
    • Data can still be accessed in real time although up to 2 disks have failed thanks to a live reconstruction feature.
    • So:
      • Failure of one UoR does not affect any other UoR in the array.
      • If you lose more UoR than supported by the parity level, you only lose those "extra" devices. All your remaining devices will be healthy, and the data on them will be fully readable.

Here above “old” only means “re-used from the previous lifes” of Zeus or Chaos…

Hardwares nVidia nForce 780i SLI - Asus Striker 2 Formula - one Ethernet port disappeared

I have detected a new issue this evening - with the new machine I am building on top of my Asus Striker II Formula - while trying to configure NIC Teaming in Windows Server 2012: one NIC appeared to be completely "off".

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One NIC (Network Interface Card - there are two on this motherboard) disappeared from the Windows' devices list and was therefore not available anymore to be used for NIC Teaming... Looking at the back of the network card, it appeared to be "off" (None of the LED lights did light up).

NIC Status: There are two indicator LEDs on a typical NIC. A single lit green LED indicates the computer is connected to the network. This is called the "link" light. The second LED is amber in color. A flashing amber LED indicates message packet collisions are occurring. Occasional collisions are normal on a busy network, but a frequently lit amber LED is an indication of problems. A quickly flashing link LED (green) is a network activity indicator, meaning that communication is occurring. If the green link light is off, and the amber LED is blinking, then the NIC is in "power save" mode.

While I am not really sure about the change I made that is responsible for this issue, I suspect that it is a side effect of playing around to enable WOL and Hibernation on the machine. At least, similar issues have been reported on the web for this motherboard/NVidia Chipset when using the Sleep mode...

There was nothing to do in Windows to retrieve that NIC (I did uninstall and re-install the drivers, more recent drivers, ... did reboot several times... and the NIC was not simply disabled in Windows).

While restarting once more the machine, I noticed that lights of the disabled NIC kept off during the reboot. Si, I did reboot the machine after a complete power off (> 1 minute). Then, the LED started to blink... But once Windows loaded, they went back off.

I finally succeeded to recover the NIC pressing the "Clear MOS" button on the back of the motherboard.  This is resetting the BIOS to its default settings (In my case, I have to re-enable the RAID support on the onboard Sata Controller as well as "Power On By PCI/PCIE Devices" to support WOL).

Re-enabling WOL in the bios didn't raise back the issue. Regarding Hibernation, I won't test/re-enable it as I don't plan to use it anymore. It's indeed not recommended when using FlexRaid (I plan to use FlexRaid instead of Windows' Storage Spaces. And anyway, to support that mode, I should replace my Graphic card by a more recent one.

NIC Teaming: There are 2 x 1GbE network interfaces available on my Asus Striker 2 Formula, but only one was actively used. The other one was not connected. A single 1GbE (which provides roughly 100Mbytes per second of throughput) is a common bottleneck for a file server, especially when reading data from cache or from many disk spindles (physical disk throughput is the other most common bottleneck). A simple solution for improving performances consist in enabling the multiple NICs and creating a NIC Teaming, also known as “Link Aggregation” or “Load Balancing and Failover (LBFO)”. It's even really stupid simple to enable it with Server 2012. Well, not that stupid... as the switch could have to be configured adequately.

Actually, there are two benefits in using a Team of NICs: Performance and Resiliency.

Resiliency means that if one of the network cards fails, the remaining NICs in the team will continue making sure that traffic is getting through (Personnaly, I don't car about this advantage).

Regarding the performance, the team is able to take advantage of the aggregate of all bandwidth available.  So in theory, 2 x 1Gb NICs should be able to give 2Gb of bandwidth.

So far, I am using the default NIC Teaming configuration: Switch-Independent and Active/Active. To measure the performance I need two clients with one GbE port each. I have unfortunately only one available for now... the other one is put in pieces and waiting for some maintenance :/

Later, I will see if I can use a Switch-Dependent configuration. As soon as I find time to learn what can be configured on my switch: a Netgear JGS524E - Gigabit ProSafe Plus 24 ports.

 

Hardwares Chaos is dead. Long life Chaos!

I am planning to build a new home server (for File Storage and Virtual Machines) in a Norco Case RPC 4224 with 24 hot-swappable Sata/Sas III drive bays. It is intended to replace my current one (limited to 12 HDD).

To build this new server, my main PC - named Chaos - will be cut to pieces...

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Indeed, instead of buying basic hardware for that new server, I have decided to reuse the motherboard/CPU/Ram of my current PC: an old Asus Striker II Formula with 6 Sata II controller. To control up to 24 HDD, I will reuse a Promise FastTrack TX4660 Sata/Sas II controller and buy a new LSI SAS 9201 with 16 Port Sata/Sas 6Gbs. (EDIT: I did remove the Promise and replaced that one with a LSI SAS 9211 with 8 Port Sata/Sas 6Gbs)

What's the rationale behind reusing the hardware of my PC for the Server ? Just the pleasure of buying new stuff to renovate Chaos... Stuff that would be overkill for a home server :)

I did shutdown Chaos on last Monday and started to remove all the parts needed to build the server. Chaos died... A few days later, it was fully up and running again, based on:

  • a new Asus P9X79 Pro MB
    • CPU: Intel Socket 2011 (for Core i7).
    • Chipset: Intel X79.
    • Front Side Bus: 1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz
    • RAM: 8 x DIMM DDR3 (max 64 GB) - Quad Channel Architecture.
    • Storage: 2 x Sata 6Gb/s ports Intel X79,  4 x Sata 3Gb/s ports Intel X79 with Raid 0/1/5/10, 2 x Sata 6Gb/s ports Marvel 88SE9128 with SSD caching, 2 x power eSata 6Gb/s ASMedia ASM1061.
    • Slots: 3 x PCIe 3.0 x16 (mode dual x16 or x16-x8-x8), 1 x PCIe 3.0 x16 (mode x8), 2 x PCIe 2.0 x1.
    • LAN: 1 x Gigabit LAN
    • Bluetooth
    • Audio: 8 channels HD (realtek ALC898).
    • USB: 6 x USB 3.0 ports (4 at back panel, 2 onboard), 12 x USB 2.0 (6 at back panel, 6 on MB).
  • a new CPU Intel Core i7-3820 10MB Cache (LGA2011) - Up to 3.8Ghz.
  • a new Liquid CPU Cooler Corsair H80 with 2 x 120mm fans.
  • 4 new x 4GB Ram DDR3-2133 (PC3-17000) CL9Q (9-9-9-24 at 800MHz) G.Skill Ripjaws Z in Quad Channel mode (F3-17000CL9-4GBZH).
  • 2 new x 120GB SSD Kingston HyperX Sata 6Gb/s (Read 555MB/s, Write 510MB/s) in a RAID 0 for the OS (Windows 8 Pro)
  • a new x 128GB Samsung 840 Pro Sata 6Gb/s (Read 390MB/s, Write 530MB/s) for the OS (Windows 8 Pro)
  • 2 old x 1TB Samsung SpinPoint F1 HD103UJ (Seagate) Sata II 7200rpm 32MB cache (Read 94 MB/s, Write 79 MB/s)  in a RAID 1 for the data
  • 4 old x 36.7GB Western Digital Raptor Sata I 10000 RPM (2 x WD360GD 8MB + 2 x WD360ADFB 16MB) in RAID 0 for a VM.
  • 4 old x 500GB Seagate Barracuda ST3500630AS Sata II 7200 RPM in Raid 0 for VM.
  • 2 old x nVidia GeForce 8800 GT Pci-e 16x  2.0
  • 1 old x nVidia GeForce 8800 GT Pci-e 16x  2.0 connected to:
  • 1 x new nVidia GeForce GTX 760 Pci-e 16x 3.0 connected to:
    • one Asus VG278HR 27” (aspect ratio 16:9) with embedded 3D IR emitter and 3D active glasses.
  • an old Asus U3S6 card adapter Pci-e 4x with
    • 2 x Sata 6Gb/s
    • 2 x USB 3.0
    • Hot Plug support
  • 1 old x IDE CD/DVD burner Samsung Samsung Super-WriteMaster™ DVD Writer (SH-S202N/BEBN) with LightScribe.
    • connected to a sata port of the U3S6 via a Bi-directional adapter IDE <=> SATA syba SD-ADA50016
  • 1 old x Tray-less single-bay (Mobile Rack) MB877SK-B of Icy-Dock
    • for 3.5" Sata 6Gb/s drives
    • also connected to as data port of the U3S6
  • 1 old FlexCage Icy-Dock MB973SP-B Tray-Less 3×3.5″ in 2×5.25″ SATA HDD Cage.
  • everything is in my old silent Antec Tower Case "Performance One" P182.

Here above "old" only means "already used in the previous life" of Chaos...

I know that from Chaos came Gaia (the Earth) and Uranus (the Sky). But all my virtual machines have names of Titans and my physical machines have names of Olympians except my main PC which has always been named Chaos, from the very first one I built. So again: long life Chaos !

Some pictures:

Raid 0 with 2 SSD Kingston HyperX

Raid 0 with 2 x SSD Kingston HyperX.

Single SSD Samsung 840 Pro

Single SSD Samsung 840 Pro - BEATING the RAID 0 with 2 SSD Kingston HyperX.

Raid 0 with 4 WD Raptor 10.000rpm Sata I

Raid 0 with 4 x WD Raptor 10.000 RPM Sata I.

Raid 0 with 4 Seagate 7000rpm Sata I I

Raid 0 with 4 x Seagate 7000rpm Sata I I - BEATING the RAID 0 with 4 x 10000rpm Sata I.

Antec P182

Case Antec P182

HardwaresTips LSI SAS 9201-16i - Compatibility issues

Now that I did solve the "conflict" between the Promise FasTrack and the nVidia RAID, I experience another conflict... with the new LSI SAS 9201-16i that I just plugged in the motherboard (an Asus Striker II Formula).

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With the default settings of the SLI, I get the following message (with exactly this spelling ;) ) after the LSI initialization (which passes successfully),:

Warning: Have Option ROM can not be invoke (Vendor ID:105Ah, Deivce ID:3701h).

Here is the long story, full of twists and turns, and an Happy End :)

Looking after 105A in the PCI database of vendors, I found that this vendor is "Promise ". So, for sure, the LSI adapter had issues to coexist on my motherboard where the Promise FastTrak TX4660 :(

Fortunately, this was only a warning and the disks connected on the FastTrak were available within Windows. The actual issue was that the configuration menu of the FastTrak was not accessible anymore at boot time (And therefore, it was impossible to modify the disk array, ...) :(

A workaround would have been to disable the "Boot Support" in the LSI configuration (the problem only occurs with option "Boot Support" = "Bios Only" or "OS and Bios" in the LSI configuration utility). And this would have been a valid solution for me as I don't intend to boot ever on any disk connected to this controller. Another option would have been to temporary unplug the LSI to get access to the configuration menu of the Promise adapter at boot time.

However, to solve this annoying issue, I did try to update the bios of the LSI from its current version (7.5.0.0) to the latest version 7.29.0.0 (The firmware being already the last one: 15.0.0.0). To dos so, I did download the package "9201_16i_Package_P15_IT_Firmware_BIOS_for_MSDOS_Windows" from SLI's Find Support webpage.

I did next start a command prompt with the option "Run As Administrator" (If you don't Run it as Administrator, the bios updater won't find the adapter!) and did execute: sas2flash.exe -o -f 9201-16i_it.bin -b mptsas2.rom

The command (.exe) comes from the subfolder \sas2flash_win_x64_rel, the firmware (.bin) comes from the subfolder \Firmware\HBA_9201_16i_IT and the bios (.rom) comes from the subfolder \sas2flash_dos_rel. I did copy everything in a single folder.

The option -o is to run in advanced mode, which is actually not mandatory to update firmware and bios of native LSI adpaters.

But the situation went then really worst. The LSI bios was executing fine, i.e. without warning anymore. But next, nothing else was happening. I could see on my LCD Poster that the PC was trying to load the Boot menu (or enter the setup if I did press DEL), but it was never completing that step ?! I did try to disable the sata controllers on the motherboard and remove the FastTrak controller. Nothing helped (I had to remove the LSI adapter to be able to reach the setup menu).

Fortunately, I found that I could still boot correctly with the LSI adapter on my other PC, build on top of an Asus P9X79Pro (with UEFI support!). So, I did start to look how to downgrade the bios on that PC...

Unfortunately², impossible to find the old version 7.5.0.0 of the bios on SLI's website. I only found a version 7.21.0.0 of the bios on Lime-Tech, a great forum about among others "unRaid systems" (The bios can be found in the package "LSI SAS2116 chipset"). I did the downgrade but that didn't solve the problem. It was a bit different however as the LCD poster told me that the boot sequence was stick on "Bios Init" instead of "Boot Menu"... (which was worst IMO).

Notice that I was only able to downgrade the Bios. The firmware might not be downgraded. Trying to do so resulted in a message : ERROR: Cannot downgrade NVDATA version 0xf000003 to 0xa030001.

I though that the problem with the boot could be due to the update operation being not 100% correctly executed from within Windows, although it seemed to go well. So I did try to flash from a bootable usb key. But is Dos mode, on the Asus P9X79Pro, I get the error 'Failed to initialize PAL ....'. According to LSI, this meant that the update procedure won't work using that motherboard :(

So, I did next try to flash the SLI's bios using the UEFI Shell supported by my Asus P9X79Pro...

  1. First, I did download the package "UEFI_BSD_P15" from SLI web site
  2. Next, I did copy on my USB key the files x64sas2.efi and x64sas2.rom located in the package's subfolder \UEFI_BSD_P15\uefi_bsd_rel
  3. Then, I did found the UEFI Shell (2 versions) from here:
    1. x86_64 UEFI Shell 2.0
    2. x86_64 UEFI Shell 1.0
  4. I did rename the Shell 2.0 (to be tried first) into shellx64.efi and copied it into the root folder of my USB key.
  5. I did also print the EFI shell user guide.
  6. I did plug the SLI adapter and the USB key into my Asus P9X79Pro.
  7. During the boot, I entered the Bios Setup of the ASUS, in Advanced mode.
  8. In the "Exit" menu (In the top-right corner), I did select "Launch UEFI Shell from filesytem device.
  9. From the start screen of the shell, I took note of the name of the USB device which was displayed automatically (otherwise I would have had to type the command 'map'). The name was "FS0".
  10. I did move to that device (without the need to mount it! It appeared to already be mounted! Otherwise I would have had to type 'mount FS0:') and I tried execute the flash:
    1. FSO:
    2. x64sas2.efi -o -b x64sas2.rom

And.... I didn't succeed to execute the flash command :( I still need to dig how to use UEFI... E.g.: Instructions found in LSI's ReadMe to flash from UEFI shell tell however to execute:

    1. drivers
    2. Take not of the drive number <dh>
    3. unload <dh>
    4. sas2flash -c <n> -b x64sas2.rom   where <n> is the #of the controller (0 if only one). Notice that the command I found on SLI web site was named x64sas2.efi instead of sas2flash.efi

As the list of drivers is far too long, I had to capture it and enter the EFI editor to read it:

      1. drivers > list.txt
      2. edit list.txt
      3. To exit the EFI editor press the “F3” key (or type "Esc 3" depending on your system.

Unfortunatelly++, after several tries to flash from the UEFI shell, I decided to give up and try something else as I was clearly not able to execute the updater from the shell (But for sure, I will come back into that UEFI shell to learn how to use it correctly).

I read that many people did recommend to clean the firmware and the bios before upgrading. This can be done with the command: sas2flash -o -e 6. Unfortunately, this operation is not supported in Windows mode and must be executed in Dos mode, which is not possible for me on the Asus P9X79Pro as mentioned above (error 'Failed to initialize PAL). What a nightmare!

In the mean time, I had sent an email to LSI to get a copy of the bios 7.5.0.0. I had to wait more that 24h but then started a really good exchange with one of their technicians. The guy told me that this version was so old that it was not available anymore. The oldest version available was 7.15.0.0, but he suggested to investigate internally to see if someone would still have a copy. On my request, he did send me the version 7.15.0.0 for a try...

A miracle! That version solves both the boot issue when the LSI is plugged on my Asus Striker II Formula and the warning message when the Promise is plugged too.

And icing on the cake, 3TB disks are well supported and I can boot from disks connected on the LSI adapter (although that's not at all my purpose - reason why I will disable Boot Support on this adapter).

[EDIT]: In a next post, I report on re-using this experience to make another LSI, a SAS 9211-8i, compatible with my ASUS Striker II Formula too.

HardwaresTips Plug an old IDE device on a Sata Controller (and vise versa)

If for any reason you need to access an old IDE device from a PC with only Sata controllers or if you want to access a Sata device from an old PC with only IDE controllers, you need a SATA to IDE or an IDE to SATA Adapter.

Click to Read More

Actually, if you don't want to keep the device plugged for ever on the PC, the best option is to buy a device a little bit more expensive (~10€): a SATA to IDE, IDE to SATA Bi-Directional Adapter.

I did buy one from Syba which is great (and efficient): the "SD-ADA50016".

Notice: I have no issue with it but it is based on the SunplusIT SPIF223A chip which is not reported of the best one. Users complains about very poor performances (as low as 4MB/s) and recommend other models. From my own experience, it's indeed very slow but it is actually close to Blue-Ray speed 1X (4.5MB/s) with my DVD burner.

Here bellow is the full spec. Notice that it works not only for HDD but also for CD/DVD burners and does not look like a basic piece of plastic that wouldn't support to be plugged and plugged often. It can really help you to

  • access data forgot on an old IDE backup drive, from you brand new PC,
  • connect Sata disk on an old machine (e.g. a server you don't want or may not renovate or extend with a Sata Controller) or
  • reuse an expensive DVD Burner in a new machine (although you have great portable ones for less than 30€).

Important: Don't forget to plug also the power cable (6pin LP4) on the controller or it won't work ;)

Full spec:

  • Unique Bi-directional SATA <–> IDE Converter
  • Chipset: Satalink Spif223a
  • Supports 3.5-inch SATA and IDE (ATA) Hard Drive
  • Supports 5.25-inch SATA and IDE (ATA) Optical Drives
  • LED Indicators: Power-On and HDD-Activity
  • Ultra Low Power Consumption
  • Connectors:
    • IDE (ATA)
    • SATA to Computer (Yellow)
    • SATA to Drive (Black)
    • 4-pin FDD Power Connector
  • Two Independent Ultra ATA Channels with 128/256 Bytes Buffer Per Channel
  • Driverless Installation
  • Serial ATA Interface:
    • Complies with SATA 1.0a Specification
    • Supports SATA Generation 1 with Transfer Rate up to 1.5Gbps (150MB/s)
    • Supports Spread Spectrum in Receiver
    • Supports SATA Power Saving Mode (Partial and Slumber)
  • IDE (ATA) Interface:
    • Complies with ATA Specification
    • Complies with Ultra ATA 133 with Transfer Rate Up To 133MB/s
    • Supports PIO Mode o, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
    • Supports MDMA Mode 0, 1, 2
    • Supports Ultra DMA Mode 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
    • Supports Master/Slave/Cable Select Mode by Configuration Switches
Pictures:

This adapter looks like this:

Syba SD-ADA50016 IDE/SATA Converter Bi-directional IDE to SATASyba SD-ADA50016 IDE/SATA Converter Bi-directional IDE to SATA

Alternatives:

For sure, you can get cheaper generic adapters, for half that price, E.g.:

IDE to SATA or SATA to IDE Adapter

HardwaresTips Promise FastTrak TX4660 issue when used with NVidia MediaShield Raid

Building a new machine, I have experienced the lack of compatibility between the Sata RAID Controllers from the FastTrak TX Series and some on-board Sata RAID controllers :(

Click to Read More

I have 6 Sata II controllers on my Motherboard "Asus Striker II Formula". They support RAID thanks to the NVidia MediaShield Storage Technology.

Yesterday, I plugged into a PCI-e 16x port of this motherboard a Promise FastTrak TX4660 controller card with RAID support.

Unfortunately, the initialization sequence of the FastTrak (during the boot sequence) kept  blocked forever on the message "Press <Ctrl-F> to enter FastBuild Utility". I was  unable to either enter this utility pressing Ctrl-F or continue the boot sequence (and start  the OS). And although the PC didn't look completely freezed, Ctrl-Alt-Delete was not responding either. Notice: I was using a PS2 keyboard, just to be sure... as some USB controllers are sometimes not initialized before the end of the boot sequence to make this one shorter.

I quickly discovered that the FastTrak was passing successfully if I was disabling the RAID Support on the motherboard. But then, my PC was not able to start the OS as this one was installed on a RAID 0 array managed by the motherboard's controllers.

To make it clear: if I was restoring the "default settings" in the Bios (which does not enable the RAID support), then the FastTrack was passing successfully (or I could enter the utility pressing Ctrl-F). But as soon as I was re-enabling the Raid Support on the Sata Controller of my motherboard (and nothing else), the boot sequence stopped after the message mentioned above...

This morning, I read that the Promise FastTrak is incompatible with some other Raid Controllers. I assumed I was in such a case. So, I started to hope that a Bios Update would possibly fix the incompatibility.

1) I did first update the Bios of my Asus Striker II Formula from v1305 to v2402 (the latest) using the tool of Asus, the "EZ Flash 2" available in the BIOS itself, and the new firmware copied on a USB key. The update was a piece of cake...

Unfortunately, it did not solve the problem :(

2) I did next downgrade the Bios of my Promise FastTrak Tx4660 from v2.9.0.0039 (the latest) to v2.9.0.0037 (the previous one) using a Bootable USB Key created with a tool from BootDisk and the flash utility found on Promise.com

And BINGO!!!

The boot sequence completes now successfully with RAID enabled on the motherboard. Only notice that I see a black screen for 15s to 25s while the FastTrak scans for the drives...