Saturday, September 20, 2008

Death of The Floppy Drive

Or not!

Update [Mar 7 2009]: Advanced timings corrected
Update [Feb 14 2009]: I finally got the machine to stabilize. The shop had given me 2 kits of different voltages and Corsair's support helped me tweak the box to stability. Muchos Gracias Corsair!

I got a new machine, with one of the extreme motherboards: EVGA nVidia 790i Ultra SLI MCP. It supports many features, including a built-in RAID controller, which is the focus of this post.

I assembled the box, and configured the BIOS to enable the RAID controller on two SATA ports. I reboot, configure a RAID 0 array, reboot again and insert the Windows XP Pro 64-bit with SP2 CD, and it couldn't detect the RAID array that I had just created.

Reading about this problem a few months back, I remember that I need a floppy drive (which I didn't buy for this new box) and a floppy diskette. And another computer, with Windows on it, to use the RAID floppy maker tool from the motherboard's CD.
I managed to salvage a floppy drive from another machine, which also happens to have a Windows partition (luckily). I copy the tool to it and use an old driver diskette. The tool formats the diskette and puts the drivers on it. Great, I'm good to go now.

Well, not quite. Windows Setup didn't see the drivers on the floppy, for some reason. So I take the floppy to the other machine, format it from Windows, and then copy the drivers to it manually (there was a directory of the drivers extracted). Windows happily saw the new drivers.

After installing Windows, I installed the drivers on the box from the mobo's CD. Then I install the driver updates which I had downloaded from the Internet earlier during assembly. The update tool detected that there were previous drivers, and the new ones will be installed on the next boot, and it rebooted, but never booted!
The "smart" update tool deleted the old drivers, which included the RAID drivers, rendering my array inaccessible. The only way to fix this is by booting to Windows Setup and run a repair on the existing partition, which I did. The Setup froze during file copying. I boot again to Setup and this time run a new installation.

There are two parties to blame here: EVGA, the motherboard manufacturer, and Microsoft, the Operating System maker.
1) Microsoft: Seriously, I'm using the latest ORIGINAL Windows CD, why the hell won't you update the Setup program to allow mass storage devices like USB Memory sticks? THIS IS 2008! 1995 Says hi!!!

2) EVGA: You soar losers! You could've included a floppy with the WORKING drivers on them! AND put a warning (even if tiny) on the cover that a floppy drive is required if RAID is to be used!
What if this was my first machine to be built? How the hell am I supposed to make the RAID floppy?!

And in case you're wondering, no, I didn't get to install Windows successfully yet (with drivers). Whenever I install the drivers from the CD, it reboots & the array doesn't boot anymore. 3 failed installations, 1 failed repair due to freeze & another failed repair due to driver installation.
I'm attempting a different approach: Create a striped array of ONE disk, install OS, then migrate using the software tool from the CD (read that it's possible from the nVidia RAID Guide).
I'll update on the result.

P.S.: The floppy drive is not dead, yet. You can thank Microsoft for that.

It finally worked!
1) Create bootable stripe array of one disk ONLY
2) Install OS to disk, using drivers from floppy -- reboot
3) Install drivers & programs from CD -- reboot
4) Install downloaded updated drivers and programs -- reboot
5) Use MediaShield program to migrate your array to a 2nd stripe disk (will take time -- DO NOT REBOOT!)

I had lockup issues where Windows would freeze randomly. After doing some search, I ended up updating the BIOS (from EVGA website) to P07, but the RAMs caused some lockups too, so I had to keep the clock settings to "auto", while manually setting the memory FSB to 1333MHz (it was detected as 1066) -- after consulting with Corsair, I've manually set the memory frequency, voltage, timing and SPP voltage.

Using 2 different kits of Corsair CM3X2048-1333C9DHX. The printed timings are: 9-9-9-24, but the voltage on the version 3.2 kit is 1.7v while the 1.2 version had its voltage rate set as 1.6v.

Stable settings: Confirmed on Feb 14 2009
Stable timings at 1066MHz are: 9-9-9-24 (2T)
Advanced memory settings (auto):
tRRD = 4
tRC = 27
tWR = 10
tWTR = 14
tFAW = 17
tREF = 7.7us
tRFC = 59

Voltage rate for SPP & Memory:
SPP = 1.40v
Memory = 1.80v

According to Corsair's support: Both memory kits are warranted up to 2.0 volts, so no need to worry. Also, Corsair support asked me to set the SPP voltage to +0.2 the default value, which is 1.5v but I tried 1.4 first and it was working fine, so I didn't try 1.5v.

BIOS flashing utility info:
For 132-CK-NF79-6A61MB02C-00     Date: 26/6/2008
Flash type: Winbond W39V080A Binary file name: nf79_p07.bin

After flashing new BIOS, when powering on, BIOS info:
Pheonix - AwardBIOS v6.00PG
6A61MB02 Release number 811N2P07
nVidia BIOS Version: 2.053.E8

MediaShield ROM info:
MediaShield ROM BIOS 9.85

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