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My Duron: It’s alive! It’s alive!

Solving the boot problem. I don’t know how I managed to forget this stuff. But I’m getting way ahead of myself.
I used an external SCSI hard drive to build up this system so I could get up and running without touching my old hard drives. I’ll want to juggle my data a bit. Of course it’s a lot more elegant to keep everything on a server drive. I never said I did everything right in this project. Actually I don’t think I said I did anything right in this project.

Well, the SCSI drive wouldn’t boot, no matter what I did. I even swapped out controllers. At one point I started wondering about termination. The drive worked, it just wouldn’t boot. So I recabled everything, making sure I had a terminator block installed, and using cables and terminators that I knew worked.

Rule #1: When a system acts goofy and there’s SCSI involved, always suspect cables and termination first.

That didn’t fix the problem, so I gave up on SCSI for a while. I tried several different hard drives in my new system. I’ve got a collection of smallish drives, most of which have some old DOS installed. None would boot. I disabled boot sector virus protection in the BIOS, and then one of the drives finally booted.

Rule #2: When building a system, find the boot sector virus protection option in your BIOS and disable it. If you want that feature, re-enable it after you get your OS installed. Just about every OS diddles with the boot sector during installation, which will make your BIOS very upset. Evidently, changing hard drives midstream can make your BIOS upset as well.

So then I put another drive in, one whose contents I totally didn’t care about. It wouldn’t boot. Finally I came to my senses and ran FDISK. It immediately gave me a warning: No partitions are set active. So that’s why endless SYSing wouldn’t make that drive boot, even after disabling the boot sector virus paranoia!

Rule #3: Whenever a disk acts funny, immediately run FDISK or Partition Magic or some other disk partitioning utility and look for goofy stuff, like no active partition set.

Then I took a look at my external SCSI drive. I’d forgotten I formatted that drive as one big extended drive–it didn’t have a primary partition. That’s why it wouldn’t boot. That’s a sneaky trick for adding a drive to an existing system without throwing off other drive letters, but then of course the drive won’t boot or anything. That kind of setup is great for portable data storage, but it makes the drive unbootable.

Rule #4: See rule #3.

Rule #5: Usually when you do something goofy to a seldom-used component, you have a perfectly good reason for doing it but you’ll forget what you did and why by the time you need to use it again. Write yourself notes and put them on oddly-configured hardware so you don’t rip your hair out the next time you try to use it.

Oh yeah, one more thing: This Duron-750 with 256 MB and an ancient SCSI hard drive (I think it’s a 4500 RPM model) running Windows 2000 really smokes. It boots in about a minute and everything’s silky smooth. Literally the only thing that keeps me from ordering a 10,000 RPM SCSI drive for it this second is noise.

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