Finishing the New Pentium II Box: A Special Report


Robert Bruce Thompson

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BOOK Reviews

It now appears that Robert Bruce Thompson and I will be doing a book on "good enough hardware." Stay tuned. Thompson is the author of several O'Reilly books. I have never seen a bad O'Reilly book, which is interesting.

Other reports by Thompson:

Backing Up

Sony Mavica Digital Camera

Upgrading Old Kerby

Extending the UTP Ethernet

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Finishing the New Pentium II Box

As regular readers of my Day Notes journal will recall, I got the new Pentium II box built on the carcass of old kerby, (detailed in An Upgrade for Old Kerby) and installed Windows 98, but still had some hardware left to add. Several days ago, I installed the Creative SoundBlaster AWE-64 ISA card with no problems. As is usual for a sound card, it wanted a lot of resources, but Windows 98 loaded the proper driver and allocated those resources automatically.

I also installed the LinkSys 10/100 PCI Ethernet adapter. LinkSys is a fairly well-known name in networking, so I was surprised to find that Windows 98 did not have drivers for this card on the distribution CD. The card came with a floppy diskette with drivers, however, and getting them loaded from floppy presented no problems.

The only odd thing about installing the sound card and network card was that when I rebooted after installing the network card, the video was messed up--too small and off-center. Originally, I had the monitor set for a Mag DX1595, which is what was connected. Win98 automatically chose settings that provided a properly sized and oriented display on that monitor. After installing the network card, the monitor type in Display--Properties was set to Plug-and-Play, and the video was off-center and too small. Setting it back manually to the Mag DX1595 didn't repair the problem. I messed around with Display--Properties manual settings and used the controls on the front of the monitor until I got it right.

At any rate, I now have a functioning Windows 98 system sitting in my office. The longest 10/100BaseT Ethernet cable I had handy was 10 feet, which makes it a stretch to reach the hub, but I got things connected. I installed TCP/IP and Windows Networking and was able to connect to the servers normally. At this point the machine is working fine.

The goal is to move this new box back to Barbara's office to replace thoth, a Gateway Pentium/133 tower system that runs Windows NT Server. The first obstacle is that the only network connection in Barbara's office is 10Base2 thinnet. The LinkSys 10/100 Ethernet card has only a UTP connector, which means I need to get a run of Cat 5 UTP cable run back from my office to hers and terminated on both ends, which process is detailed in Extending the UTP Ethernet.

I already had the faceplates in place and the holes drilled, so running and stapling the new cable took only about 15 minutes, with another 15 minutes or so required to terminate the two ends. I did the wiring last Sunday (10/4/98), and moved the new box back to her office. Once it was connected to the new UTP port, it connected to the network and ran fine. Obviously, the new cable run works.

Tuesday, October 6, 1998

The choice comes down to one of two: either re-install all applications and rebuild Barbara's desktop on Windows 98, or transfer the existing Windows NT disk from thoth to the new machine. I decided to do the latter, mainly because Barbara is happy with Windows NT, and I don't want to change her over to the less stable Windows 98. Also, every test-bed network needs at least one completely stable machine, and Barbara's thoth is that machine for my network. It serves as the main network data store, has the tape drive used to do network backups, etc.

That decision being made, the question is how best to get the hard disk from thoth transferred over to the new box with maximum ease and complete safety. Since the Windows 98 installation on the hard drive in the new box is now superfluous, the idea I came up with was to blow away the Windows 98 partition, install that hard disk in thoth, and use Windows NT Server Disk Administrator to set up a Fault Tolerance Mirror Set to replicate the contents of the existing 3.1 GB NT system disk to the 4.3 GB disk that used to be in the new box.

Ordinarily, I'd do a complete backup and compare before starting on a project like this. However, I just completed a full backup and compare on Saturday, and there haven't been many changes since then. So I used my standard xcopy batch file to duplicate the data folders on thoth over to sherlock. With that done, the next step was to run a registry backup on thoth, using Regback.exe from the Windows NT Server Resource Kit, making sure that copies of the registry backup files were safely stored on sherlock.

Because old thoth has a Novell NE2000 clone 10Base2/10BaseT combo card installed and the new box has the LinkSys 10/100 PCI card, there's a good chance that all of my network configuration information will be lost when the drive boots in the new box. So, I brought up Network Neighborhood, fired up Collage Capture (an image capture program) and captured every single network configuration screen. For good measure, I also ran Windows NT Diagnostics and captured every screen there as well. I made sure the screen captures were stored safely on sherlock before proceeding.

With all of that done and safely backed up to another machine on the network, I shut down thoth, popped the lid, and blew out all the dust bunnies. The current 3.1 GB hard disk is contained in a drive cage. I pulled the IDE and power cables from the back of the hard disk, removed the three screws that secure the drive cage, and pulled the cage out. The Western Digital 3.1GB hard disk has three jumper settings--pins 1 &; 2 for MA (master), pins 3 &; 4 for SL (slave), and pins 5 &; 6 for CS (cable select). Right now it's jumpered, but not for any of labeled settings. Instead, there's a jumper installed horizontally, linking pins 1 and 3. Oh, well. The whole time I'm working on the system, I'm dictating details like this into my little Panasonic micro-cassette recorder. I rejumpered the Western Digital drive to connect pins 1 &; 2, because it will be the master in a two-drive system once I get the other drive installed.

I extracted the Seagate ST34321A Medalist 4321 drive from the new box. Seagate very considerately affixes a laminated data sheet to the bottom of the drive. Right now, it's jumpered pins 1 &; 2, which designates it as the Master or Single Drive. I rejumpered it as a Slave and installed it in the drive cage. For a tower case, this Gateway doesn't provide very long cables, either IDE or power supply. I managed to get the IDE cable connected to both drives. I had to do some shifting around to get a power supply cable over for the second drive, but managed to do so.

With all that done, I reconnected all the external cables and powered the system up. The boot screen appeared normally, but now shows the WD drive as Drive 0 and the new Seagate as Drive 1. So far, so good. Once the system finished booting, I logged on as myself (my regular account has full administrative privileges--horrible practice but very convenient). Once the desktop appeared, I fired up NT Disk Administrator. As expected, it told me that my disk configuration had changed and asked permission to write an ID to the new disk. I told it to do so, and the main Disk Administrator screen appeared.

Drive 1 was still showing the DOS partition that I'd created for Windows 98, so I used Disk Administrator to wipe out that partition. That done, I had Drive 0 showing a 3.1 GB NTFS partition, and Drive 1 showing 4.3 GB of free space. I clicked in the NTFS partition to select it, and then Shift-Clicked on Drive 1. That done, I told NT to create a mirror set. After the usual required reboot, NT started replicating the contents of the NTFS partition to the new drive. It completed surprisingly quickly, requiring only a few minutes to replicate 2+ GB of data.

With the Mirror Set reporting its status as "Healthy", I now have an exact duplicate of the NTFS partition on thoth. Robin was due to show up any moment, so I took a short break until she arrived. When she showed up, we broke the Mirror Set on thoth, which converts it from a synchronized single partition on two physical drives into two independent partitions. That done, we powered down thoth, removed the drive cage, rejumpered the original Western Digital drive to its previous settings, removed the Seagate drive, and reassembled everything. At this point, thoth was back to its original state, so we moved it aside to serve as a live backup.

We rejumpered the Seagate drive as Master, reinstalled it in the new box, connected all the external cables, turned on the power switch, and crossed our fingers. What we were hoping would happen is that the new box would boot as thoth, although we expected a certain amount of complaining about not being able to find the proper network card, etc. What happened instead is the the boot at first appeared to progress normally, but hung at the point when it would usually boot to the hard drive. The BIOS displayed an error message saying that it couldn't find a boot device and prompting us to insert a bootable disk and restart.

My first thought was that perhaps the drive geometry was off, so I fired up BIOS setup, turned off AUTO mode for that drive, and tried specifying some reasonable alternative settings manually. None of them let us get even as far as we had on AUTO, so we returned to the default settings. My next thought was that perhaps there was something the matter with the boot loader, so I started the system with the Windows NT Boot Disks and told it to repair an existing installation. For safety, I turned off repair for the Registry, Security, and other aspects of the system, and asked it to repair only the boot-related items.

The good news was that it found the existing installation and appeared to do a normal repair. The bad news is that it still wouldn't boot afterwards. At that point, we decided to try Partition Magic. I found a Windows 98 boot floppy with CD-ROM support, stuck the PM CD in the drive and booted the Win98 startup disk. We told PM to repair the NTFS partition, and restarted the system afterwards. Still the same result. It sees the drive and partition, but it won't boot from it.

We decided stronger measures were called for, so we booted the Windows NT startup floppies and told it to do a full repair, Once again, the repair appeared to run normally, and Windows NT informed us that the repair had been successful. Once again, the disk failed to boot. At that point, we decided there was nothing to lose by doing a complete install, so we booted the Windows NT setup floppies yet one more time and told Windows NT to do an upgrade installation. Once again, everything appeared to proceed normally, but the disk still refused to boot.

With most of the afternoon shot, we decided to punt and return the original thoth to the network. I disconnected the new box and moved it down the hall to my office, and reconnected thoth. It restarted normally, thank god, and we're now back to where we were this morning. From here, I think I'm going to take the following approach:

  1. Boot the Windows NT setup floppies on the new box and do a fresh install, blowing away all existing partitions.
  2. Install TCP/IP and networking, and get the new box connected to the network under a temporary new name.
  3. Run PowerQuest DriveImage Pro on thoth to create an image of its NTFS partition, and store that image on a network drive.
  4. Run DriveImage on the new box, and restore the image from thoth to the new box, being careful to disconnect the new box from the network before it restarts as thoth and causes big problems because there's already a thoth on the network.

Nothing is ever easy. I'm too whacked to mess with this all today, but will get to it as soon as I have time.

Well, when I wrote that last it was about 4:45 p.m. I figured I still had an hour or so until Barbara got home, so I decided to see what I could get done. I installed NT as a member server on the new box, temporarily naming it gladly (for the cross-eyed bear). It connected to the network and ran fine, so I decided to see what I could do with DriveImage.

I stuck the DriveImage CD into thoth. When the program started, it told me that it could be installed only to a DOS partition. Because the entire hard disk in thoth is one NTFS partition, that kind of ruled out installing DriveImage. It mentioned boot floppies, though, and I remembered creating a set on the new box the other day, so I decided to give them a try, although I could see no way that they'd allow me to connect to a network drive from DOS.

I was right. The boot floppies don't do anything for me, because you can only save the image of a partition to a different partition, and I don't have a spare partition to save to. However, one of the options on the opening screen is intriguing. It offers to replicate the contents of the selected partition to another drive--kind of like what I used the NT Mirror Set to accomplish. Something tells me that if I'd tried using DriveImage while that second drive was installed in thoth everything would be working the way I wanted it right now.

But I didn't do that, and it's not worth tearing down thoth and re-installing the Seagate drive to try it. I have a functioning NT system now on the new box, and I think I'll just duplicate Barbara's environment on there. That has the additional advantage of starting with a clean install. Just to keep everything copacetic, I think I'll blow away the existing install and make the new machine a BDC on TTGNET. That'll replicate all the account information from thoth. I can later take thoth down and substitute this box.

As a matter of fact, I think I'll do it right now. I'll have to reinstall from scratch anyway, so I'll go ahead and devote the entire 4.3 GB disk to one partition. Barbara wanted her new box to be named sophocles, so that's what I'll call it for the time being. Once I get it configured and use it to replace thoth, I'll rename the new box thoth.  That way, the drive mappings on all the other machines will stay consistent. For that matter, I'll probably assign the new box the same IP address that thoth is using now.

Okay, that's interesting. I just booted the Windows NT Server setup floppies and told it I wanted to do a new install. I blew away the existing partitions to yield an empty 4103 MB hard disk. Windows NT offered to create a partition for me, stating that the minimum size was 8 MB and the maximum size 4103 MB. I chose the later, but when I went to format it, NT told me the partition was too large. Okay, that's easy enough to fix. I created a 3072 MB partition manually and started the install. I can use PartitionMagic later on to fix things up, or I may just keep a separate 1 GB partition available on the new box.

sophocles is now set up as a BDC on the TTGNET domain. I formatted the remaining free disk space as a 1 GB FAT partition, which may come in handy later. It's all over but the shouting now. I'll re-install Barbara's applications, including MS Office, her PalmPilot desktop, her games and so forth. Once I get all that stuff installed and her desktop configured on the new machine, I'll move all the data over to the new box, shut down thoth, and rename/renumber the new box to thoth.

Oh, yeah. I forgot to put the other 64MB DIMM in. I'll do that now and declare the thing done...


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Copyright 1998 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.

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