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Upgrading to Server 2008 on Dell Precision 670

February 28, 2008 6 comments

I should have known.  Seriously.

Windows Server 2008I’ve written about some of the angst of moving to Windows Vista at work over the past few months, specifically getting my Dell Precision 670’s CERC 1.5/6 SATA RAID controller to work right.  I managed, for Vista, to hack the .inf files and it “worked”… just not real well.  Performance was horrid and the drives would just sit and think once in a while.

In the end, I rolled back to Server 2003 R2.  The past few months have been good—things have worked.  Visual Studio 2008 works, plugins, etc.  I couldn’t load Adobe PhotoShop CS3, but accepted that as a casuality to the war and have continued using Paint.Net.

So, I had a grand idea—upgrade to Server 2008 x64.  Things looked good, and, I assumed, I could hack the .inf files again if necessary.  The upgrade check came back clean—so what’s the worst that could happen?

A fire.  That’s the worst.  But, thankfully, nothing has caught fire (yet) over the past two days.

An Upgrade

I prefer clean installs over upgrades since I kept most all of my applications on my portable drive and well, I just like things to be clean, but for the sake of testing and brevity, was willing to make a concession to the war.

To upgrade, I had to uninstall a few applications:

  • McAfee Anti-Virus Enterprise 8.0 (and manage the upgrade before ePO noticed that it was missing and reinstalled it)
  • Microsoft PowerShell 1.0

PowerShell was the most annoying to uninstall—it’s not an application, but a HotFix and is listed as such in Add/Remove Programs.

After those, the upgrade proceeded.

“Your upgrade may take several hours to complete.”

Thankfully, it was time to go home, so I left it to install.  On arriving this morning, I was greeted by a new BSoD—the black screen of death—informing me that a driver was valid, but not signed properly.  I disabled the driver signature enforcement, but then the driver was no longer valid.  *boggle*

After that, I tried to roll back.  I must say that, if it worked, that’d be a great feature.  It said it worked, but on reboot, simply informed me that the boot sector couldn’t be found.  Stellar.

A Clean Install

My second attempt to install Server 2008 was a clean install—good deal.  Without a boot sector, the system was ready for a nice, clean installation.

That was a no-go.  Unfortunately, my “hacked” drivers were needed, but were not signed properly.

A Clean Install + “Disable Driver Signature Enforcement”

My third attempt involved hammering F8 while the DVD was spinning up.  After a few moments, I was greeted with the installation option screen.

Notice to Microsoft:  Allow MULTIPLE options.  I’d love to be able to select to disable TWO things—specifically, “reboot on exception”.  I’m not Superman, I can’t read the BSoD’s for the millisecond they’re on the screen.

Unfortunately, this installation didn’t like my “hacked” drivers, but DID like the unhacked ones.  I checked the original KB article that discussed Vista’s hatred towards the CERC drivers and didn’t see Server 2008 on there or a reference to other operating system articles—there might be hope.

There was hope, until the installation tried to reboot and BSoD’ed as it did with Vista.

A Friendly Ghost

Annoyed and unproductive, I did what any good, self-respecting geek would do—I reghosted my machine back to Server 2003 R2 with all of my tools.  I’m assuming the entire issue revolves around the CERC controller in the Precision 670, but don’t have another SATA Raid adapter sitting around to test. 

Dell Precision 690As my Precision 670 nears it’s End of Life (it’s over 4 years old now), I should expect some of the newer software not to work on it, or not work with components used in it.  As a friend and I were discussing earlier, running the latest software tends to require the latest hardware—whether that’s “right” or not, that’s just the way it is. 

So, for now, my IIS 7 testing shall remain in virtual machines as my “new” Dell Quad-Core Precision 690 was ordered, then reallocated to a new coworker.  I randomly go over and drool on it. It’s so pretty. 😦

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Dell 720 upgrade motherboard needs upgraded

October 10, 2007 2 comments

QX6850 DieFor those who have upgraded their 700 or 710 to a 720 motherboard using the Dell XPS Upgrade Promotion, here’s an FYI for you.

The BIOS on the motherboard is outdated, vA02.  The current version is vA03 from 8/31/2007 and is available from Dell’s website.  The file is called XPS720-A03.EXE.

For those overclockers and custom processor users, it adds a bit of… oh, helpful things:

1. Added support for new processors.  (Hmm, can maybe upgrade to a QX6850 now!)
2. Update to chipset over-voltage support.
3. Added C1E support.  (Enhanced Halt State — lower power consumption)
4. Modified our SERR enable\disable code.

I noticed that, after the BIOS update, Windows Vista finally recognized my Extreme X6800 at the right CPU speeds.  Who knows why, but nice.

On a side note… maybe it’s just me getting older, but does anyone remember actually having to yank the BIOS chip out of the board and replace it?  Remember when you couldn’t replace it—it was saudered on?  The BIOS update took like 5 seconds and a reboot.  *dreamy eyes*

Oh, and thanks to Michael’s idea… the clipart, rather than being a boring computer chip as I planned, is the core die of the Intel QX6850.  It’s glittery and shiny.

Upgrading from Dell 710 H2C to 720 H2C

October 2, 2007 18 comments

So, I ordered my Dell 720 H2C Upgrade kit. Let me begin that the sales guy’s idea of a “trivial” installation is … like building a car from paper clips.  What I anticipated to be an hour or two… took me almost five hours.  To qualify that a bit—this is somewhat what I used to do for a job and I still maintain my Dell Technician certs (for the business class servers, Precision workstations, and Latitude laptops) today. The 700 series case is so tightly packed that there are a few cables with teflon coating them on specific spots—apparently they assumed they’d rub.  Getting in and around, pulling a few cables through that are replaced, and generally working is not meant for someone with large hands.  My hands are nicely cut up from the adventure. So, a few tips:

  • Take everything out.  Seriously.  Why?
    • It’s VERY painful to snake the front input panel ribbons behind the drive cages and power supply.
    • You can’t take the back cover off (well, without taking the power supply and media drive cages out and about 50 screws), so taking out the fan cages and such makes it easier to get to the front input panel.
  • Careful with the thermal grease.
    • They don’t give you very much, be conservative and realize that you don’t need to COAT it.
  • Put the memory and CPU on the board before you put it back in… save yourself some pain.
  • Label your cables and drives.
  • Make sure your cables and drives are labled somehow so you know where they go or take a photograph with your camera/cell phone/whatever first.

I did run into one snafu.  After booting up, I went into the BIOS to configure the processor, service tag, and RAID controller.  Made my changes, saved, exited… and it reverted on reboot.  Ehh.  I did this 3–4 more times and finally took a look at the event log.

    Type: “POST ERROR”   Message: “CMOS Checksum Error”

The book tells me that system configuration is incorrect and or my battery is dead.  I changed the battery (pulled it off the old motherboard) and nothing.  Bleh.  I Googled and found almost nothing relating to Dell PCs.  So, I rejumpered it, reboot a few times, no dice.  Finally called XPS Support and got ahold of a tech who was very nice but didn’t see anything in their books for my problem.  Well, while he was looking, I made a couple of changes in the BIOS. Under Maintenance, I set Load Defaults (well, clicked Continue)… I set the H2C color to green (so I could see if it reset), and it didn’t.  Wheeee!  Made a few more changes and everything seemed to stick.  I’m not sure why “loading the defaults” was more helpful than simply clearning the CMOS via the jumper, but oh well. So, told the Dell guy and was on my way.  I downloaded the 680i NVidia Drivers, reinstalled my Video Drivers, and everything is running smooth.

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Oracle SQL Developer and Dell D820’s

August 29, 2007 Comments off

I use Oracle’s SQL Developer (previously called Raptor) as a quick interface for SQL development on Oracle.  No installation, no odd files—just have the JRE on the box and go.  However, I could NEVER get it to work on my Dell Latitude D820 on Windows XP SP2.  The screen would go black and I’d have to cold boot it. 

After several attempts (or accidents by forgetting which machine I was on) with the “black screen of death”… I finally got annoyed enough today and went in to replace the video drivers (uses the same Quadro drivers for the NVS 120M as my workstation’s Quadro FX 4400)… but the installation failed.

The NVidia drivers couldn’t find valid hardware—even though the 162.50 drivers stated that model in the release notes.  I figured they may be special, so I checked out Dell’s website and the newest drivers they had were 83.x.  Ehh.

The fix?  I used WinRAR to break the .exe archive, extracted the files out, and manually installed the drivers through the management console.  It told me that the driver I was specifying (the ‘NVidia Quadro NVS 120M’) was invalid and could corrupt the display—I ignored that and pushed on.  The driver went in, the screen flashed a few times, and it was done.  I reboot and everything seemed to work.

Lo and behold, SQL Developer also works—no more black screens of video unhappiness.

I combed the release notes for both SQL Developer and the drivers and couldn’t see anything that would make sense to the problem—especially since my workstation has been using the same drivers.  *sigh*

 

FIX: CERC 1.5/6 RAID Driver (Dell) + Vista Installation

March 28, 2007 14 comments

After months of dinking around with drivers and waiting for new versions, a helpful comment from a reader led me to the fix–now Vista x64 is running like a dream on my Dell Precision 670.

Ken posted a VERY useful comment to the my woes of Vista installations and the errors I kept getting on my Dell Precision 670.

The CERC 1.5/6ch drivers cause a BSOD on boot every time – if the stop code you got was 0×7B, it’s because of the CERC drivers.

http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=928632

Well, reading that Microsoft article, it states that the afamgt.sys file is the issue and to contact Dell for a package that ‘does not include the filter’. Well, since it says ‘does not include’ instead of ‘an upgraded version’, I figured just to remove it.

Here’s the steps:

  • Download a fresh copy of the driver from Dell (for x64 Windows XP). The current filename is R111012.EXE.
  • After extracting it, I removed the driver that the MSFT article references, afamgt.sys.
  • Then remove the references to it in cercsr6.inf, the setup kicker for the driver. Anything that references afamgt.sys, adding AFAMgt as a service, etc. See below for a copy of my .inf file.
  • Toss it on a USB drive or floppy disk, boot up the x64 Vista installation, and browse to your cercsr6.inf file when prompted for drivers.

It didn’t balk, detected all of my drives. I’m currently at the desktop and installing Visual Studio 2005 (and writing this blog post).

Success!

Here’s a paste in of my cercsr6.inf file for reference.

Read more…

XFi, nVidia 8800, Vista, and Crackling Sound…

March 8, 2007 Comments off

I rebuilt my Dell XPS 710 H2C with the 64–bit version of Vista to do some testing and try my hand at some 64–bit .NET development while I had a bit of professional free time (inbetween everything else, in other words), and found a quite annoying ‘issue’.

As soon as I turned SLI, the sound went to *crackle* *snap* *pop*.  The Rice Crispies trio landed in my speakers and were singing a symphony.  Eh? 

A bit of googling found some interesting posts, though, odd because I never had this problem with the 32–bit version—or did I?

In x86, I couldn’t get INTO the NVidia Control Panel to turn SLI on.  Oh yeah!    So.  I went in, turned SLI off.  … … and no fix.

To get sound back, it required removing ALL NVidia software (graphics at 100.65, Nforce at 15.0), removing the Creative Labs XFi drivers, reinstalling the CL drivers, then the NVidia software—but not enabling SLI.

Here are a few posts discussing this issue.  They don’t all appears to relate to Vista, but interesting (and quite old none-the-less):

http://chris.pirillo.com/2006/05/20/huge-creative-x-fi-problems/

http://forums.creative.com/creativelabs/board/message?board.id=soundblaster&message.id=71962&page=4

http://forums.creative.com/creativelabs/board/message?board.id=Vista&message.id=6287

http://forums.creative.com/creativelabs/board/message?board.id=Vista&message.id=1005&jump=true#M1005

So far, everything works and the non-SLI mode seems to work fine (though defeats the purpose of two cards until my other monitor shows up).

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MCE 2005 vs. Vista on the new PC?

February 20, 2007 6 comments

I ordered up a new Dell (finally!) and have spent a while researching the claims of Vista and NVidia cards going to crap.  My ATI x850 works like a champ under Vista; however, many are claiming that NVidia’s driver base is still a bit flaky–even on Microsoft’s own Channel 9.  So, I checked out the latest driver release notes.  v100.65 was released yesterday:

 http://us.download.nvidia.com/Windows/100.65/100.65_ForceWare_Release_Notes.pdf

Now, not to be a naysayer, but the fact that there was.. two sentences of ‘fixes’ and almost three pages of ‘limitations’ and ‘not quite working yets’ is a bit concerning.

Is there anyone out there running a 8800GTX in SLI mode and also playing games, like EQ2, that could give any point of reference regarding performance and stability?  While I love Vista, I have no qualms sticking with MCE2005 if it means a more stable system. 🙂