Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Big Vista Sweep, part II

When last we left our intrepid heroes, 1 out of 5 machines (the Sony SZ Laptop) was successfully upgraded to Vista without incident. In fact, the laptop seems to be performing significantly better. It's zippier, and noticeably "prettier." (In fact, the mac-fans at work begrudgingly admit to liking it.)

On to the next victim:

Mind Transfer #2: The Sony RC210G Desktop

Sony RC210G Desktop
Native OS: WIndows XP MCE 2005, SP2
Memory: 2 Gig
Hard drive: 320Gig RAID0 (twin 160Gig Seagate SATA drives)
Extra Devices/Features: Support for most digital memory sticks, high end graphics card/processor, specialized Sony NTSC Tuner, specialized Sony 7.1 audio, wireless keyboard/mouse, DVI Sony Monitor (1900x1620)

Bolstered and full of misplaced hubris (can you see where this going?) from my laptop upgrade, I turned my attention next to my main home office desktop - the RC210G. This machine is really my workhorse - personal financing, gaming, editing, video composing and editing, transcoding, iPod docking center, coding machine, etc.

Because of all the work it does, and because I use it to control all the other equipment in the house for maintenance reasons, I chose Vista Ultimate for this machine. Ultimate is the top of the line for Vista - all the bells and whistles, and - of course - the most expensive. This upgrade clocked in at $250.

For this upgrade, I received nothing from Sony - I purchased an upgrade to Vista Ultimate at Microcenter, and went to the Sony support website to download the 35 driver and installation scripts required. (As I mentioned in the last blog entry, Sony is very into creating custom hardware for their machines, and their drivers are very very specific.) Being Sony, there was - of course - no "install these in this order" document, so I had to read through all of the files that I downloaded from their support site, and determine my own ordering. I used my history with OS upgrades and clean installs as a guide, and came up with the following determination for an order of events:

  1. Uninstall applications that were not Vista compatible. (Microsoft's Vista Advisor helped to identify these.)
  2. Use the Sony BIOS upgrade to ready the BIOS for its tighter integration with the OS
  3. Uninstall all native drivers
  4. Run the Sony uninstall scripts for the Sony specific drivers
  5. Run the Vista upgrade from the Vista Ultimate DVD
  6. Have a stiff belt of brandy to quell the panic when the machine reboots without video or audio drivers.
  7. Run the Sony install scripts for the Sony specific drivers in the following order:
    - video drivers
    - audio drivers
    - internal television tuner drivers
    - Sony ancellary applications
  8. More brandy
  9. Reboot
Voila! Vista-fied.

The machine came up, and all of the apps and devices seem to run fine - except for my 6 year old HP 5300 scanner. A quick search through the HP site confirmed that the 5300 would no longer be supported. Oh well, a minor loss. Scanners are a dime a dozen these days.

Oops - spoke too soon, what's that flashing icon in the lower right? Oh look, it's the Intel Matrix controller for the RAID array on the RC210G. It claims that one of the two RAID0 drives is failing.

I bring the system down, and boot up again with to run a surface level scan of the hard drives without the operating system in the way. Results: negative. Both RAID drives are operating fine. I assume that there is just an incompatibility with the firmware on the drives and the Intel Matrix monitor, so that the Matrix monitor is just mistakenly reporting that there is a problem.

After a reboot, tho, I begin to notice things:
  • The hard drive LED will periodically come on and stay on
  • The system will be zipping along and then lock up for about 2 seconds and then resume.
  • Then the kicker: iTunes would freeze the entire system, forcing a reboot.
I spent a fair amount of time blaming Steve Jobs (there's a lot of chatter in the blog world about Apple's reticence to support Vista) until I dug into the symptoms a bit more. It only happened when iTunes was fetching new podcasts (my primary reason for having an iPod). It would start to fetch the latest batch, and somewhere around 8-10 downloads it would lock the system up. My suspicion returned to the RAID drive array, since that is where the podcasts were being deposited.

I did a defragment of the RAID drives and another surface level check to see if there were any bad sectors that were getting hit... same issue: iTunes would lock up during podcast fetches. I attached a USB2 external drive to the system, and logged into iTunes to change the location that it kept its music and podcasts. Rebooted, and...iTunes resumed working.

Ruh-row, Reorge! Fuck. It's the RAID array.

A quick scan through the mighty blogosphere revealed a couple of interesting gems: Intel RAID controllers were failing under vista for a couple of different configurations, and after a lot of finger pointing between Microsoft and Intel, Intel finally fessed up...sorta. They claim that their controllers were working fine, but just before shipping Vista, Microsoft changed the way that they did power management on RAIDs, and Intel wasn't given enough time to test out the change. Whatever, someone didn't get a memo, apparently.

So, I've done all the software change things I can do: updated the firmware on the drives, removed bad Intel entries in the windows registry - all to no avail. What's left? Replace the Maxtor SATA drives that are causing the trouble with Western Digital SATA drives that purportedly work with the new Vista configuration.

After a trip to Microcenter, I now own:
  • A 320Gig external firewire drive
  • 2 500Gig WD SATA drives
Back home, I download a copy of Norton's Ghost Solution Suite 2.0, the only ghosting software I would trust that can handle the Vista boot sectors.

...yes, kids, the Rocketman is going to replace the primary RAID drives. Bahahah. I'm so whacky.

Stay tuned....

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