As I’ve said before, nothing’s common sense until you’ve done it about
100 times — and even though I’ve upgraded hard drives at least that many
times, my latest experience proved anything but!
It started at CompUSA, where my eye was captured by an UATA133 7200RPM
200GB Maxtor hard drive with 8MB cache. I wasn’t certain whether my motherboard
supported UATA133, but I figured since the packaging claimed to hold a
free controller, I couldn’t lose. Besides, it was on sale!
Arriving home, I inventoried the upgrade candidate — an Athlon XP 2000+
on a Gigabyte GA-7VRX (v1.1) motherboard. From the Gigabyte Website, I
determined I had the latest BIOS. The release notes highlighted changes
to support newer CPUs, but no mention of support for larger/faster hard
drives. I viewed the motherboard FAQ, finding no hard drive issues or limitations.
I downloaded the latest manual, which claimed the on-board IDE controllers
support UATA133 natively but didn’t mention drive capacity. I finally checked
the product page, confirming UATA133 support.
Step two was documenting the current system. There were two hard drives
on the primary IDE controller (master and slave) and a CD-RW drive as the
secondary master. Mixing hard drives and CD-ROMs on the same controller
does NOT produce optimal performance, so I wanted to see if I could get
the Maxtor controller to co-exist with the on-board controllers.
Skimming through the documentation, I noted several warnings. First,
some older motherboards don’t support UATA133 or hard drives above certain
sizes. Feeling I’d already addressed these issues, I moved on. Next was
a warning to install the card in one of the first three PCI slots closest
to the processor, with no mention of whether this card could be used in
conjunction with on-board controllers. The first three slots are referred
to as the bus mastering slots, due to their ability to take priority control
over motherboard resources. A review of the internal configuration of the
machine revealed an AGP video card, an Intel 10/100Mbps NIC in Slot 3,
and an Adaptec 2940UW SCSI controller in Slot 5. The Adaptec controller
was further connected to a SCSI CD-ROM drive. This left me with Slots 1,
2, and 4 open for expansion.
Another warning stated that Windows versions prior to XP with Service
Pack 1 have known issues with drives over 137GB, with some disk utilities
having issues with partitions over 127GB. The machine in question held
Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1. The first hard drive had two
NTFS partitions, one for the operating system and the other for data files.
The second hard drive had a single NTFS data file partition. Since none
approached the documented limitations, I decided there was little need
I inserted the MaxBlast II CD-ROM and floppy into the system, and powered
down. I installed the PCI card in Slot 1. I powered up, the fans started,
but nothing else happened — no beeps, no video. I shut down and returned
to the documentation. They advise trying different PCI slots. I switched
to Slot 2 with the same results.
Since the motherboard supports UATA133, I decided to pull the Maxtor
card. I further disconnected the slave drive and plugged the new hard drive
into its position, setting both drives to cable select (CS)—which allows
the master/slave settings to be controlled by the drives position on the
No beeps, no video.
As Maxtor’s documentation went sailing across the room, I put on my
troubleshooting hat to determine what went wrong. I systematically pulled
components off the motherboard — SCSI card, NIC card, then both on-board
IDE connections. I shorted the CMOS jumper to reset the motherboard. I
even pulled the AGP video card. Still no beeps!
I pulled the memory and powered on to missing memory beeps. With memory
back in, I got missing video beeps. With the video card reseated, I was
informed that no boot devices were present. The system then recognized
the CD-RW reconnected to the secondary controller. I connected the system
hard drive and the new hard drive to the primary controller and the system
Disconnecting the hard drives didn’t help. I repeated the previous reset
procedure and was able to POST again. I plugged the CD-RW into the primary
IDE controller and the computer LOCKED!
At this point, I suspected the UATA133 card may have adversely affected
my primary IDE controller. I reset the board a third time, changing all
IDE settings to “Not Installed.” With the Maxtor card back in Slot 2, I
connected the system and the new hard drive to the IDE1 connector on it.
The system booted and the UATA133 BIOS from the Maxtor card picked up the
two drives. As the system was launching Windows, the computer reset itself
and started the POST over again. The next prompt stated Windows failed
to load successfully and asked if I wanted SAFE MODE. That didn’t help!
I went back to the motherboard BIOS and checked boot device order. I
discovered entries for custom devices (D1 and D2), which I recognized from
the assignments made by the Maxtor card to the drives connected to its
interface. Switching to D1 failed to allow Windows to launch.
I removed the Maxtor card again. This done, the standard boot settings
returned to normal. With a sense of hope, I restarted with the two hard
drives plugged into the primary IDE controller. The system booted, recognized
both drives, and the upgrade was complete.
UATA133 expansions cards are meant to REPLACE the on-board IDE controllers.
They will not supplement your system like IDE RAID cards.
Maxtor UATA133 cards can alter your motherboard BIOS and may force you
to take extreme measures to boot your system.
Upgrade with caution!
Until next month…