Archive for the ‘Hardware Installation’ Category

A great article by Ed Bott

Setting up Windows on an SSD requires a few extra steps that aren’t necessary with an installation on a conventional hard disk. Here’s what I recommend:

1. Make sure you have the latest firmware. Because firmware updates wipe out all data on the drive, you must do this operation as the first step; make sure to back up all existing data first. You’ll need to check with the drive manufacturer or the OEM, depending on whether you purchased the drive as a retail upgrade or as part of an OEM PC. Follow the instructions to complete the firmware update; this typically requires booting from removable media such as a USB flash drive.

2. Set the disk controller to AHCI mode. In the system BIOS, set the SATA controller for Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI) operation before installing Windows. This step is crucial. Using the legacy IDE or ATA mode prevents you from installing the proper disk controller driver later and will result in reduced performance.

3. Consider using a Secure Erase utility to reset the drive to its original, out-of-the-box state. This step isn’t essential but can be helpful, especially on a well-used drive. Do not perform a full format using Windows disk management tools. For Intel drives, you can use the Intel Solid State Drive Toolbox. If you have a Lenovo computer, this feature is available as part of a BIOS Menu Setup Extension. For OCZ drives, see this discussion thread for links to a Secure Erase utility. The HDDErase tool also works with many drives; see this tutorial for download links and instructions.

4. Boot from the Windows media and begin the clean install. Use the Windows Setup utility to create the partition. If you have a partition created using any other tool, delete it and use the Windows 7 disk tools to create a new one. This ensures that the partition is properly aligned.

5. Install the latest storage driver. If your system includes an Intel SATA controller, you should use the most recent version of the Intel Rapid Storage Technology driver, which is located here. Currently (January 2011), the most recent version is

6. After completing setup, check the Windows Experience Index. Click Start, click Computer, then click System Properties. On the System page, click Windows Experience Index, which takes you to the Performance Information and Tools page. The Primary hard disk score for a properly configured SSD should be over 7.0. If necessary, click Re-run The Assessment to refresh the numbers.

To verify that all the features of the SSD are working properly, install the free CrystalDiskInfo utility. As this example shows, it confirms that Native Command Queuing (NCQ) and TRIM are enabled.

It also offers an interesting glimpse at the health of your disk.

When Windows 7 detects that you have a properly configured, fast SSD drive, it disables several unnecessary features, including Superfetch, Prefetch, and ReadyBoot. It also disables scheduled defragmentation operations for the SSD, which isn’t necessary, and can reduce the usable life of the drive.

PCI    132 MB/s
AGP 8X    2,100 MB/s
PCI Express 1x    250 [500]* MB/s
PCI Express 2x    500 [1000]* MB/s
PCI Express 4x    1000 [2000]* MB/s
PCI Express 8x    2000 [4000]* MB/s
PCI Express 16x    4000 [8000]* MB/s
PCI Express 32x    8000 [16000]* MB/s
USB 2.0 (Max Possible)    60 MB/s
IDE (ATA100)    100 MB/s
IDE (ATA133)    133 MB/s
SATA    150 MB/s
SATA II    300 MB/s
Gigabit Ethernet    125 MB/s
IEEE1394B [Firewire 800]    ~100 MB/s*

If you’ve been thinking of building yourself a dedicated storage server, this is a good time to do it. Prices are so low now that even a small home network can have a dedicated storage and backup server for not much money. SATA hard drives have large capacities and high speeds for low prices, and you don’t need the latest greatest quad-core processor or trainloads of RAM. The ultimate in flexibility and reliability combines Linux software RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) and LVM (Linux Volume Manager).

These are good times for hardware geeks of all kinds: prices are low and features abundant. Most motherboards include a feast of onboard controllers that used to require separate expansion cards: audio, video, RAID, Firewire, and Ethernet. Laptops and monitors come with integrated microphones and cameras. Hordes of USB 2.0 ports means easy connectivity for peripherals. Gigabit Ethernet? They’re practically giving it away.

Data Storage and Retrieval

The best part is it’s easier than ever to store, backup and retrieve your data. My personal favorite use for USB is connecting external re-writable storage devices; everything from little thumb drives to big hard drives. These are absolutely great for inexpensive backups and file transfers, and even my most relentlessly techno-gumby friends and relatives can copy files to a USB stick. I suffered during those awkward transition years when 3.5″ diskettes were too small and there was nothing comparable to replace them. Zip drives were too unreliable, and non-standard — can you read those disks now? CDRWs were funky — sometimes you could read them, sometimes not, and packet-writing never did work reliably on any platform. DVD-RWs offered bigger capacities, but hard drives still outstripped them. Plus there were (and still are) too many competing DVD standards, and just like their CDRW cousins they are not reliable enough.

My favorite solution for large-capacity backups and storage is hard drives. Yes, I know that tape storage rivals hard disks for storage capacity, but I don’t like it. It’s cumbersome, expensive, and non-portable. Hard drives are fast, easy, inexpensive, and —best of all— very portable. They are readable without any special software or hardware; just stuff a drive into any PC, or in an external USB or Firewire enclosure attached to a PC. It doesn’t even have to be a Linux PC as long as you have a Linux LiveCD or USB stick. You’ll be able to read nearly any filesystem, and Linux offers a number of good data-recovery utilities if you need them.

But as excellent as all of these are, there comes a time when they’re not quite adequate, and that’s when a dedicated storage server is the right tool for the job.

Why Use RAID?

One word: uptime. RAID protects you from drive failures. When a drive fails— and it’s always “when”, not “if”— the remaining disks carry on until you replace the dead disk. But do not expect RAID to replace regular backups, because it doesn’t. There are many things that can wipe out a RAID array: power surges, multiple drive failures, undiscovered drive failures, theft, and disk controller failures are just a few examples. You can’t read individual disks from a RAID array, except for RAID 1, so you have to rebuild the array to access your data. If too many drives fail, you won’t be able to recover anything.

A RAID array, no matter how many disks are in it, looks like a single logical storage drive to your system. There are several different basic levels of RAID, from RAID 0 to RAID 6. They use mirroring, striping, or parity, and various combinations of these. These are the three that are most commonly used:

A striped set with no error-checking. Striping means data are split equally across all disks in the array. It requires a minimum of two disks. It’s fast and increases your total available storage capacity, combining all the drives in the array into a single storage unit, but it’s also as fragile as relying on a single hard drive— if any one disk fails, the whole array is lost. It’s not really RAID because it’s not redundant, and you definitely don’t want to use it in any mission-critical applications that require high uptimes. It’s good for I/O intensive jobs like video production, because you get a large storage volume and the combined bandwidth of all the drives, up to the limitations of the RAID controller.
RAID 1 is mirroring. You need at least two disks, and each one is an exact copy of the other. If one disk fails you don’t lose a thing, and there aren’t any fancy striping or parity schemes to go haywire. I’ve used it successfully on client installations for that bit of extra redundancy when they’re careless or even interfering with a proper backup setup. ($Deity save us all from Knowitall Managers and their “Talented” Teen-age Nephews.)
This is my favorite general-purpose RAID. It uses both parity and block-level striping across at least three drives. Parity means you get data redundancy via some fancy on-the-fly calculations, and spreading it across all the disks in the array means you can lose one and still rebuild your array. There is some overhead for the extra storage equivalent to one disk divided by the number of disks. So if you have a 3-disk array, 33 percent of your total storage volume is dedicated to parity. On a 4-disk array it’s 25 percent, and so on. Reads are fast, but writes are slowed down by the parity calculations.

There are other basic RAID levels, and combinations of the various basic levels, and Google is full of information on those. We’re going to stick with the basics here.

Software RAID vs. Hardware RAID Smackdown

Ever since the vi vs. Emacs wars died of boredom it’s been difficult to find good flamefests. Even software RAID vs. hardware RAID has become mundane. But it’s worth reviewing the merits of each, because this isn’t a case of one being clearly superior over the other, but deciding which one meets your needs best.

I wouldn’t even bother with a PATA RAID controller; they’re more trouble than help. SATA is where it’s at these days. First the advantages of a good-quality SATA hardware controller:

  • Offloads all the processing from the CPU
  • Add more disks than your motherboard allows
  • No booting drama

The two disadvantages of good RAID controllers are cost and inflexibility. 3Ware controllers are first-rate, but not cheap. Hardware controllers are picky about what hard disks you can use, and the entire disk must belong to the array, unlike Linux software RAID which lets you select individual disk partitions. Recovery from a controller failure means you need the exactly correct new controller. Some admins think that using a hardware controller is riskier because it adds a point of failure.

Poor-quality hardware RAID controllers are legion. Those onboard RAID controllers and low-end PCI controllers aren’t really hardware controllers at all; they do all their work in (usually crappy) software.

Linux software RAID has these advantages:

  • Cost- free!- and these days CPU cycles cost a lot less than good hardware RAID controllers
  • Very flexible; mix-and-match PATA and SATA, individual partitions
  • More recovery options: any Linux PC can rebuild an array

If I were running a super-important mission-critical server that had to be up all the time and no excuses, I’d use SCSI drives and controllers. For everything else, Linux RAID + SATA + LVM. Why do we want LVM? So we can resize our storage volumes painlessly.

Jan 1

The Samsung GDI driver for ml-1740 et al. is packaged in an .exe file from the Samsung download web site.

However, the .exe file is not Windows 7 compatible. If you try to install the driver by clicking on the executable, the program will terminate. So what to do?

Well, it’s simple really. The driver works fine in Windows 7; you just have to install it manually. To do so, follow these steps:

1. download the driver from the link above
2. double click on the downloaded file. there will be a windows error message informning you this program is incompatible with this version of windows. Don’t close this error message window yet, because we need to access the temporary files the install program has extracted.
3. now go to the temp directory of your computer, typically, it’s (user folder)\appdata\local\temp. It’s a hidden folder; to view it you need to enable view of hidden files and folders in Windows folder option. The files contained in the .exe file above were extracted in this directory. Sort by date and you’ll see a temp folder containing the following directories: printer\GDI\Vista. Copy the content of the directory to a permanent folder, for example, the download directory.

– There’s actually an easier way as pointed out by one of the comments below. You can right click on the Samsung exe file and choose properties –> compatibility –> and choose to run the program under the compatibility mode for Vista SP2. I tried it and it works.

4. Now go to Start –> Devices and Printers. Select Add a printer, when you reach the page for selecting printer drivers, click on Have Disk… and choose the driver file you had copied earlier.

Works like a charm. Have a look at my printer set up:

Newer : NVidia Geforce4 4400 AGP 8X in Windows 7

Older : Installing Windows 7 on a Netbook without DVD drive

Full article here

What is this about?

To keep the introduction short, Microsoft denies that booting Windows off a USB drive works.

See this page for example. It says:

Q: Can a USB storage device be the primary (and only) means of storage?
No. USB-based mass storage devices cannot be the primary hard disk storage solution on a regular system …

Or this one from the microsoft newsgroups:

Windows cannot boot from an USB drive. If your computer supports
booting from such device, you can load a boot loader to the USB device
which starts Windows XP from the HDD.

Anyway, the web is full of those. I was wondering about the same thing, as i did not want to put a Windows partition on my Linux.based work laptop, and thought it was a good idea to run Windows XP off a USB Hard drive that i just plug in when i need it, and boot from it. To put a long story short, this is exactly what i do now, thanks to the fantastic research of the people credited below. However, it took me significant time to figure out all the painful little problems, and i was not fully happy with the current official guide by Dietmar (no pun, he was the first to make ANYthing public). I wanted an easy guide that allows creating a modified version of the Windows XP CD, for painless and transparent installation to as many systems as you want. Read More…

Mar 17

Connector Types / Images

Male and Female connectors, do you really know the difference?

Connectors on your computer Motherboard: PC
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for SCSI connectors, see here.

Monitor Connectors

HD15 15 pins in three rows, pins are skinnier than a usual “DB” connector, thus it’s got an “H” for High Density. Used for PC’s SVGA video cards and monitor cables. DB15 15 pins in two rows, pins are just like a DB9 or DB25. Used for Mac monitors.
BNC connectors are used on Macs, Sun’s and just about anything that’s old and good.
DB9 9 pins in two rows, used on older monitors, and VGA’s. PS/2 style Serial ports also use DB9 connectors. 13W3 a bunch of “DB” style pins and three funny looking coax contacts. Used on Sun and Mac monitors.

Other PC/Mac connectors

CN36 (female) This is the connector you see on the back of most printers. CN36 (male) This is the connector used by most printer cables.
DB25 (female) This connector is used for parallel printer output on the PC. It is also used for SCSI output, especially on the Mac. DB25 (male) This is used for parallel printers (and other parallel port devices) as well as SCSI and serial ports. If you see a male on the back of your computer, it is usually your COM2 serial port.
HPCN36 male This is the new “Type-C” IEEE-1284 Parallel port connector which is used on some new laser printers. MINIDIN-8 (female) Serial Mac connector. Mac Printers, Mac printer and modem outputs, etc.
DB25 serial connector. On a computer, this would be a male not a female as pictured above. DB9 serial connectors. On the computer there should be a “male” connector, the mouse or other serial device (modem, digital camera) would have a female.
USB and Firewire connectors
“i.Link” connector. This is basically a 4-pin Firewire/ connector. “Firewire” connector.This is a 6-pin Firewire/IEEE-1394 connector.
USB type “A” connector. Connects to computer or USB Hub. USB type “B” connector. Connects to peripheral or to USB Hub.
Mini USB connector used on many new USB digital cameras. Mini USB 2.0 connector used on many new USB digital cameras.
Other connectors
S-Video connector, sometimes called S-VHS or Y/C video. There’re 4 little pins in there, it’s called a DIN4. RCA (above) connector. Standard stereo connector.
3.5 mm Mini Phone Plug connector, (below) used on computer sound cards.
SC connector, fiber optic network connector. ST connector, fiber optic network connector.
MTRJ fiber optic network connector. Toslink connector. Used for digital audio.

  • Hard Drives – Bigger is Better
  • But Size (GBs) Does Matter and So Does Speed (RPM)
  • When 2 Drives Are Better than One

Purchasing a hard drive (HDD) is an important buying decision. That’s because all your data is saved on it. If you buy a low quality hard drive it may crash on you and you’ll lose all your games and all your digital data. In the end, though, hard drives are all about capacity. And, far more often than not, your biggest hard drives are the costliest. However, once the new models hit the market you will be able to purchase the earlier generation models for less cash. Additionally, the higher-performance (7200-rpm) drives are usually pricier than the more pedestrian (5400-rpm) drives at the same capacity.

Choosing a Top-Notch Hard Drive

  • Capacity – We recommend at least 160 to 500GB; but the more the merrier!
  • RPMs – Go for 7200RPM – it gives you faster read and write speed.
  • Interface Speed – To get the max from your HDD the interface speed must match the interface speed of your PC.
  • Seek Speed – Not a huge deal. It’s how fast drives can pick a particular piece of data. 8ms or lower is an exceptional seek speed, but 8ms to 9ms is just fine.
  • Buffer Size – Go for at least 2MB

Bigger is Better
It’s generally a smart move to purchase the biggest hard drive capacity your budget will bear, even if you won’t need all that drive space right away. Of course, larger hard drives cost more than smaller ones, but the cost per GB doesn’t work out byte for byte. For example, the difference in cost between a 60GB and an 80GB HDD isn’t much, but a huge HDD could cost quite a bit more. Hard drives are able to handle larger amounts of data all the time. And it’s a good thing, because programs are getting more complex, graphics-intensive. You can now hold an amazing 400GB of data on a single drive. For those of you who hoard vast amounts of digital media or edit videos this ever-burgeoning hard drive capacity is a gift from cyber heaven. The proliferation of extra-large hard drives takes away some of the mystery out of HDD shopping. However, determining what size hard drive you need is a subjective matter. It really depends on how much data you need to store. Some folks can get by with 60GB on a desktop; others prefer the huge hard drives ranging from 250Gb all the way to 2.0TB or more. Size requirements, of course, differ for notebook computers. Before you get too involved in the GB numbers, though, you will need to check your motherboard’s manual or with your computer manufacturer to see how big a hard drive your PC can support. We recommend that you start off with at least an 80GB hard drive.

The Need for Speed
The speed of a hard drive is expressed in revolutions per minute (RPM) and it refers to how fast the computer can read data from the hard drive. We recommend that your hard drive moves at a clip of at least 7200 RPM. At less than 7200RPM your data-intensive applications, such as games, might slow down because it takes too long access the data.
You need at least 5400 RPM for fast data read and write speed. High RPM is especially critical if you use your computer for multimedia or video applications. Faster RPM doesn’t make much difference for word processing or surfing the Net.

Secondary Considerations: Interface and Seek Speeds, as well as Buffer Size
Secondary considerations that taken together should have an impact on your buying decisions include Interface Speed, Seek Speed and Buffer Size.

Interface Speed
Interface speed is measured in ATA/100 or ATA/133. There isn’t much noticeable difference between the two values. To get the maximum performance from your hard drive, its interface speed must match the interface speed of your PC. If not, you must install an interface card that matches the speed of the new drive.

Seek Speed
Average seek speed is how fast your drive can find a particular piece of data. This should not be a huge factor in your hard drive buying decision unless you need to copy large folders full of many small files, which makes it necessary for your PC to assemble small, scattered bits of data.

Buffer Size
The buffer is a memory cache on the drive. This cache is a repository for the temporary storage of data awaiting the next likely request of your computer’s CPU. Because random-access-memory (RAM) is much faster than mechanical rotating storage, the buffer can speed up performance. Most new desktop hard drives have buffers of at least 2MB, which is perfectly acceptable for most uses.

Other Considerations:

  • RAID
  • SATA
  • Moving Data to Another Drive

RAID!! What is it? Do You Need it?
In case you are interested, RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. Simply stated, RAID allows you to use more than one hard drive to ratchet up your disk speed or retain a backup of your data in case a drive fails. In either circumstance, you will need more than one identical drives, and it’s not particularly easy to configure them. More and more systems use RAID 0, which can markedly increase system speeds for reading and writing data. If you want to go for RAID you will need to choose a couple of drives that match the storage capacity you’re looking for. Now that you can purchase 1.0TB hard drives for less than $100, you can easily go for the RAID advantage. Making this decision easier is the fact that most new motherboards support Redundant Array of Independent Disks.

Take Serial ATA Seriously?
Serial ATA, known as SATA is definitely the way to go if you are building your own PC from the ground up. Even the most inexpensive mobos support SATA, and if you go with a SATA drive your PC system will be easier to set up. Plus, you’ll have a much easier time moving your drive to a future PC. Now if you want to boost the storage capacity of an older PC, choosing SATA is not such a simple proposition. In order to use a SATA drive you’re going to have to add a SATA controller card, which can be costly. However, many of the new SATA controller cards have built-in options to add RAID support to your system. If you’re a video editor or the kind of person who stores tons of digital data, it just might be worth your while. In the alternative, it’s a wise choice to simply add a second parallel ATA drive. Some manufacturers are adding new wrinkles to SATA technology to enhance hard drive performance. For example, Seagate’s Native Command Queuing (NCQ), which requires a native Serial ATA drive, accompanies one of its 160GB hard drives, improves performance by packing good aerial density, meaning it has more data than ordinary into a small space. NCQ allows the drive to master multiple outstanding commands simultaneously and utilizes an internal queue that can store up to 32 commands at once to allow the drive to quickly reorganize the commands so they can be written and read more efficiently. This particular Seagate drive with NCQ also uses 8MB of cache to help overall performance by caching sequential data hits.

Moving Your Data to Another Drive
When it comes time to add a new hard drive to your older PC, the new addition will almost always be faster than your existing drive. However, if all you do is install the new drive on your PC, you’re going to maroon your operating system on the slower drive. In committing such an act of abandonment, you will forfeit some of the benefits of upgrading. So, make sure you use the newer, speedier hard drive as your boot drive. Hard-drive upgrade kits generally include software that will clone your existing drive to the new one, thus turning your faster drive into your boot drive.