Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Computer Quiz: why would moving a PCI card cause attached hard drives to fail?

The saga of the failing Vantec was passing into memory. It was time to hook it up to my system again. Alas, the IDE cable didn't quite reach (old story). I had to move the drive controller (Paradise IDE card) to a slot closer to the top of my case. A simple procedure.

All was well. I started my backup. My system locked up completely. Not even a blue screen. What was going on?

At first it seemed the problem was Retrospect; it causes me much pain. I tried my favorite disk diagnostic -- running a defrag utility. Started ok. Next morning -- locked up. Was the drive overheating in the new location? Had I bent a pin? Was the IDE cable bad? Did the card not like the new slot? Was it another Norton Antivirus fiasco? Since drive letters had changed, had that cased a problem (I had the swap file on one of the secondary drives) with XP?

I remembered my XP admin events tool. There I saw these fatal errors:

- The device, \Device\Scsi\ultra1, did not respond within the timeout period. (XP treats the Paradise IDE controller as a SCSI controller.)
- An error was detected on device \Device\Harddisk2\D during a paging operation. (that's because of my swap file)

Hardware? Overheating? Software? Two long nights and a new air condition installation before I figured it out.

When you move a PCI Card in Windows, XP loads new device drivers for it (just as XP still loads drivers when you move your printer's USB cable from one port to another). In the old days XP loaded a copy of the current drivers. Post SP2 XP loads, it seems, the latest signed drivers. The signed drivers for this IDE card don't support large (>135 GB drives); I'd previously updated to the vendor's unsigned drivers. I forced XP to install the new drivers (you have choose the manual install by location, XP SP2 refuses to install unsigned drivers by any other means).

Problem solved.

And some people think TV shows are responsible for stressed brains and elevated IQ. I don't know how I figured this one out.

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