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I Hate Microsoft

I have two computers at home.  Or, at least I did.  One of the machines is an older Athlon 64, 2.2GHz with 2GB of ram.  For most things, the machine could handle it’s own, and the 8800GT gave it a pretty healthy boost.  For select applications, the computer runs Windows XP but for most things, Ubuntu 9.04.  A couple weeks ago, I began having problems with BSOD’s, system halted messages within a few minutes of logging into windows.  I continued to have no issues at all in Ubuntu, so I concluded that it must be a Windows issue, probably a driver of some sort.  I went through the process of removing all hardware drivers from the system and all unnecessary applications from Add/Remove Programs and reinstalled the drivers.  Hello to Windows Genuine Advantage and the activation process.  The system worked fine for a few days, then suddenly, the mouse started misbehaving.  Even before logging into the system, when moved, the mouse would jump from place to place on screen.  This happened even if using a Diagnostic Startup, which theoretically should disable just about everything.  Worked fine in Safe Mode.  The problem seemed to only affect the mouse.  If I got to a point where I could type and see responses, it was still quick, but the mouse was horrible.  I looked at running services and looked up the ones I didn’t recognize, but in the end, didn’t find anything unusual.  At this point, I decided just to kill it.  I used Ubuntu to copy off all of my data and put the videocard in my other computer.

My second system was originally put together as an HTPC, but was found to be kind of a hassle, so it was brought back into my room as a secondary XP “clean” box.  It is an XFX 630i/7150 with a Pentium D 930 and 4GB of DDR2-800.  I took all of the extra hard drives out, leaving just the boot volume and the DVD.  For every day use, I found the hard drive to be way too chattery and sluggish.  I decided to switch out the drive with either two or three 500GB Western Digital drives.  These drives make a slight hum, but they never chatter like the Seagate 160 does.  On Wednesday, I swapped out the Pentium D for a Core2Quad Q9400.  The processor runs on a 1333MHz bus and has 4MB of L3 but because the memory is limited by 800MHz and only single channel, and the hard drive taking so long to come up into Windows, I haven’t noticed a big difference.

Switching out the drive:  The motherboard has four SATA-II ports and I have the Seagate 160GB drive and a Lite-on SATA burner.  I plan to put in either two or possibly three drives to replace the Seagate.  Obviously, 5 items cannot plug into four ports, so I begin to think about how it can be done.  I put two drives in and enabled RAID in the bios.  The SATA ports are labeled as 1-4 on the logic board with 1 in the upper-left, 2 in the lower-left, 3 in the upper-right and 4 in the lower-right.  I had my Seagate plugged into 1, and the DVD plugged into 2 with the two Western Digital drives plugged into 3 and 4.  When RAID is turned off, the Phoenix bios detects all four devices.  If RAID is turned on, you must also select which controllers will be used for RAID.  Since I plan for the Western Digital drives to be the boot drives, I shut everything down, and plugged them into 1 and 2, with the Seagate in 3 and the DVD in 4.  In the BIOS, 1 and 2 are designated for RAID with 3 and 4 as disabled (as far as RAID is concerned).  When the system completes POST, it shows a hard drive on 2 and the DVD drive on 4.  That’s the first oddity.  Even though they’re labeled one way on the board itself, the system detects them as different numbers.  Using the Mediashield BIOS, I set up the striped array, which detected the drives as being in positions 1 and 3, which also matches what the Phoenix BIOS reads, so the labeling on the logic board is wrong.  In any case, hardware is working up to this point, so I don’t care.

The fun part:  I boot to the XP CD and as it’s loading drivers, I specifically see it loading NVIDIA RAID and another NVIDIA driver that went by too quickly to read.  After it finishes loading drivers, I see the message Starting Windows Setup, then a Blue Screen Of Death as the system halts.  I took the XP disk out and tried booting to the Seagate 160GB drive and got the same system halted error.  I went back into the BIOS and set the SATA mode back to IDE and booted into windows just fine.  So I started looking around and found that I’m not the first person to experience this issue.  XFX doesn’t really have much of anything for troubleshooting on their website.  They list PDF articles about how the process should work, but they don’t address what to do when things go bad.  Since it’s an nForce motherboard, I started looking around on NVIDIA’s website and forums.  In regards to Mediashield, they state that when in IDE mode, Windows has the drivers necessary to recognize the drives and complete the installation, but when setting it to RAID mode, even if the drive in use is not included within the RAID, it requires external drivers to get it to work.  And they gave directions.  The problem is that I don’t have a floppy drive or disks.  In times past, I’ve made bootable thumb drives to perform bios updates and such, so I tried the same thing here.  I borrowed a USB floppy drive and copied the raid drivers to the disk.  I adjusted settings in the bios to get the system to recognize and even seek the USB floppy drive on boot, but XP claims I don’t have a floppy drive, so won’t read from it.  I tried the same thing with a thumb drive, getting the same results.  Next, I dug up an old 34-pin floppy drive and tried it that way.  It recognized that the drive was there, found the drivers and installed them and continued on to “Starting Windows Setup”.  I get to the screen where it says to press Enter to set up windows or R to repair.  But even though it was working just fine when I had to press F6 to load drivers, select the drivers and install them, the Windows installer is now not recognizing input from my USB keyboard.  And, the keyboard had been working just fine earlier when the BIOS was in IDE mode, detecting, partitioning and formatting a single drive.

While I realize that the issues I’m experiencing are most likely caused by a combination of factors, I still choose to hate Microsoft, just because it’s the right thing to do.  Someone asked me, why do this now.  Why not wait for Windows 7?  Windows 7 officially releases on October 22nd, which doesn’t help me today.    At the same time, I have XP now, which using today as point zero, costs me nothing.  And I’m not going to spend $120 – $320 for one of several versions of Windows 7 and do Microsoft’s beta testing for them.  If and when I go to Windows 7, it will be six months to a year down the line when other people have found the bugs.  For now, I’ll take my $120 – $320 and put it toward a motherboard and memory that can use the Q9400 to it’s full potential.

(I’m going to format the pair of drives, then use EASEUS Disk Copy to do a bit-level copy of my existing, working version of XP from the 160GB drive to the RAID array, maybe putting the 160 in an external enclosure so that I can run three drives in a RAID-5.)

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September 25, 2009 Posted by | General | Leave a comment