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SATA = Space And Time Allowing

I'd just about got to the stage of accepting that installing the Windows O/S wasn't as awful a task as it used to be. I've figured out how to save my profile settings and all the other stuff I expect to find close to hand in a new installation, and I have a folder on the server that contains the setup files for all those little extra apps I use all the time - such as TextPad, PaintShop Pro, etc. Even Office is reasonably easy to install now. With the larger hard disks on modern machines I just tick "OK I'll have the lot" and leave it going overnight. And you can even do the same with Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005!

After a bit of fiddling about, and doing other jobs in the meantime while bytes zoom from ultra-quick DVD drive to even more ultra quick hard disk, it's soon all up and running. I always buy "standard" machines so there is usually no problem with needing extra drivers and stuff either. Of course, there's the 200 MB or so of updates and patches to apply, but with the new Windows Update site you just set that going - and it does Office and well as the O/S.

So what's all this stuff going on now with the Simply Annoying Technical Advance that is SATA drives? I know I'm by no means the first person to comment on this, but it really does make the whole "start again with a fresh O/S install" process (something I do often now I'm playing with alpha and beta software for a living) a lot more painful. I recently bought a rather nifty Dell 5150C from their Outlet site at a very reasonable price because I needed to do lots of stuff like run Compact Framework apps under emulation and use VPCs. So I needed something with a bit more grunt than the rest of my stable of trusty steeds (the only machine I'd got faster than 1.5 GHz and with more than a 60 GB hard disk was the box downstairs in the lounge that runs Media Center and our TV, and my wife wouldn't give me that one back).

Of course, I didn't read the description well enough to notice what the "C" on the name means until the postman delivered it in a padded envelope. I see what they mean by "compact" now. But, wow!, it is quick - even if it does sound a bit like Heathrow airport when its running. And the burnt patch of wallpaper just behind its exhaust vent does kind of match the office color scheme. It's even got dual core, so I can play two games of Freecell at the same time. However, having fiddled about with it for a while, it was time to upgrade from the Windows XP Professional installation it came with to Windows Server 2003 so that I could run System Center Operations Manager 2007 (side-tracking slightly here, I wonder who thought SCOM would be a good acronym...? My spelling checker keeps changing it to SCUM, so it sounds like I'm writing a technical document about cleaning the bathtub).

Anyway, here's roughly what happened (excluding expletives) when I tried to reinstall my super new Dell 5150C with Windows Server 2003. It's probably a familiar story to some, though has an interesting twist in the tail (note that I use the word "interesting" here in a very optimistic and highly geek-oriented way)...

  1. Shove the Windows Server 2003 disk in the CD drive and reboot. Go and make coffee. Come back and find yourself back in Windows XP again.
  2. Reboot and figure out which key you need to press to get into the BIOS setup screen. Repeat several times until you discover which part of the screen to look at during the 0.25 seconds the prompt is displayed. Reboot and press that key, then edit the BIOS settings so it will boot off the CD/DVD drive next time.
  3. Repeat step 1, but this time find yourself looking at a screen that asks which partition in the following list you want to install on, followed by an empty list. This is a good way to discover that you have a SATA drive, and should have pressed F5 about three days ago.
  4. Search the Web to find out what to do next. Discover that you need drivers. Look on the disks provided with the machine to find that they are simply a complete O/S reinstall image. Go to Dell site and (after scrawling under desk for a few minutes) enter the tag code for your machine to see a list of drivers.
  5. Download the drivers to create the floppy disk it says you need. Discover that you downloaded the drivers onto your laptop (it was handy at the time) which doesn't have a floppy drive. Copy them to one of the trusty old steeds that does have a floppy drive and create the disk.
  6. Repeat step 1 again (see how we're making progress here?). This time, avoid going to make coffee and watch for the prompt to load disk array drivers and press F5. Wonder why nothing happened. Think about going back to Step 1 again, but then suddenly see a prompt to place the floppy disk in Drive A and press Enter.
  7. Search in vain on the machine for a floppy drive. Oh dear, they seem to have stopped fitting them now (probably because it's a "compact" machine, or else it fell out of the padded envelope when the postman was delivering it).
  8. Remember that you have an old USB floppy drive somewhere. After long search, find it on the desk behind the monitor, plug it in, and press Enter. Discover that you need to boot the machine with it plugged in before it gets recognized.
  9. Repeat step 1 again. Then repeat it again after you forget to press F5 at the right moment. Finally, get to the Enter prompt and it reads the driver files. Look at list of available drivers found on disk, and realize you have no idea which one to select. Pick one at random and wait 15 seconds for Blue Screen of Death.
  10. This is optional, but what I did (of course) was go back to Step 1 and repeat for each available driver on the disk. And, as expected, each one produced exactly the same 15 seconds of rising optimism followed by the Blue Screen of Death.
  11. Next day, after fetching computer back in from the lawn below the office window:

  12. Reboot into Windows XP and use System Information to figure out exactly what driver and setup combination the Stupid And Tremendously Aggrevating (SATA) drive is using now. Write it down. Go to Intel Web site and download driver for Windows Server 2003.
  13. Repeat step 1 again, remembering this time to plug in USB floppy drive and press F5 at the appropriate moment. Press Enter, then select the correct driver combination. Get ready for repeat of yesterday by opening office window and checking that nobody is standing below it. Be completely amazed that you get to see a list of available hard disk partitions, and that it all just works - Windows installs itself!
  14. Install all the other gubbins and stuff you need, including SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005, tons of VS addins and other extensions for Mobile and VSTS, Office, and the usual array of other useful apps. Copy user profile, and it's all working! Hooray! I'm almost a computer hardware technician now!

NOTE: It seems from a message on the Dell Web site that you can often get round the SATA problem by changing the hard drive setting in the computer BIOS from "SATA Operation" to "RAID Auto/ATA". All the usual warnings about breaking stuff apply, of course.

So, now we skip forward a couple of weeks. System running fine, and I'm getting used to working with ear defenders on and with a fire extinguisher nearby. Everything goes really fast, and I've got more free GB of disk space than I could throw a cat at (maybe got the metaphor a bit wrong there, but you know what I mean). Even my Compact Framework emulated apps are relatively untreaclelike.

And, even better, when a colleague finally phones to say the VPC of the new stuff I'm supposed to be working with next week is on the way, I assure him that I'm all ready to go. Of course, those of you still awake after all my previous rambling will possibly have already seen the sting in the tail coming. Got the DVDs with the 16GB of VPC image (what on earth is on there?), so dug out the MSDN disk with Virtual PC on it and - as I'm slowly learning is a useful precursor - read the release notes and requirements.

Yep, that's right, Virtual PC 2004 only runs on Windows XP Professional, and not on Windows Server 2003. Ah, but the MSDN site talks about Virtual PC 2007. Let's see, what year is it now? Hmmm... do I want to trust this to run what it already beta software? Maybe not. Do I want to try VPC 2004 on Windows Server 2003 to see if it actually does work? Not after hearing what a colleague discovered when he tried it. And he doesn't have a SATA drive (or, if he does, he's not aware of this fact). Maybe I can install XP Pro and do dual-boot? Do I really want to do that "Repeat step 1 again" thing all over again? Maybe not. There's no imagining what I could screw up this time.

No problem, just run the VPC on one of the other trusty old steeds that's got Windows XP Professional installed. In fact, I've already got Virtual PC installed on my work machine! So, I started the un-RAR on the DVDs to get the VPC file onto the machine, and went to make coffee (I reckon I'm one of the mainstays of the Brazilian economy). Remember I said the VPC was 16GB? Guess what? Halfway though it ran out of disk space. None of my XP Pro machines has enough spare disk space on any of their multiple partitions to install the VPC. I wonder if I can sneak it onto the Media Center box tomorrow while my wife is out at work...

Space And Time Allowing...

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