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the HARD way!
April 2003

Shane Hicks is an independent consultant and technical trainer, providing support to individuals and small businesses. He's been in the industry for over 10 years.

Email your questions, it will be answered as space permits.

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 for concern.

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 IDE cable.

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 FROZE!

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.

Lessons learned

  1. UATA133 expansions cards are meant to REPLACE the on-board IDE controllers. They will not supplement your system like IDE RAID cards.
  2. 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…

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