The Gray Bunny (graybunny) wrote,
The Gray Bunny

Frankenstein Powers ACTIVATE!

I had Monday off for Labor Day. My plan for the morning was that I would install the IDE/USB2/Firewire combo card in the fileserver, redo the kernel, and then leave a big file copy going while I had breakfast and took a shower.

That was the plan.

The first hint of trouble was that the Plug and Play BIOS in the Dell didn't like the combo card. It refused to configure it, which meant that the NetBSD kernel couldn't see it. Oops. There were no BIOS updates for the Optiplex GXi 5133L, either. Frustrating, but back in those days (circa 1995) Plug and Play wasn't called "Plug and Pray" for nothing. I considered moving the fileserver to the 486/100, but I had no faith that the even older BIOS would do any better, so I started looking around.

My eye fell on the K6-2/500 sitting by the copier. For a while that machine was the Win98 machine, running a couple pieces of older hardware that wouldn't play with newer OSes, but those have all been superceded. Its only remaining special ability was that it had a SCSI card and was within SCSI-cable-range of the copier, to attach to the scanner interface, which could be replaced by a USB/SCSI converter and a USB extender.

The first problem with transferring the fileserver was that the K6-2/500 didn't especially like the higher-capacity DIMMs I was putting into it. The POST memory test would fail sometimes, but not others, but finally I got a configuration that seemed to work. I got the boards and disks moved over, then NetBSD would hang while booting. A bit of process-of-elimination later, I discovered that the problem was the 200G disk. The combo board's BIOS recognizes it OK, but NetBSD doesn't like it when it's attached to that controller. Since it's past the 137G limit, it requires LBA48 addressing, and either the CMD chipset on the combo board doesn't know how to speak it or NetBSD doesn't know how to make the CMD chipset speak it. So I tried attaching the 200G disk to the IDE controller on the motherboard, fully expecting it to make the BIOS lock up during POST, but it didn't, and NetBSD was happy talking to it through the VIA controller. That meant that the fastest disk in the box (ATA133) was talking to the slowest controller (ATA66, instead of the combo board which can do ATA133), but it was still better than the PIO4 that the Dell could do.

I love testing zip files as a way of checking disk function, because it both proves that the OS can read from the disk and that the data being read is correct. Well, the data being read from the 200G disk was mostly correct, but that's not really acceptable in a fileserver. Of course, by then I'd buttoned the thing up and put it back on the shelf, so I had to take it back down and open it up again. Initially I blamed the VIA controller on the motherboard, because VIA has a long history of sucking, but the 200G disk exhibited the same problem even when I put a Promise controller in and attached it to that. The errors were in different places in the files, though. I checked the other, smaller disks, and they had the same problems too, so it was a broader issue.

At that point I got out my handy memory tester floppy and discovered very quickly that there were errors in the second DIMM. It didn't matter which DIMM I put in that slot, either, so I gave up and left the machine with only one DIMM in it, which still gave it 128 megabytes, as much as the Dell had. Having solved that problem, I tried to fire up NetBSD again and discovered that the OS drive was no longer bootable. Futzing around with the NetBSD installer revealed that the partition table and filesystem were just fine, and reinstalling the boot blocks didn't help. I gave up and booted my Win98 floppy and did a fdisk /mbr, and then everything was happy again. NetBSD booted and all disks tested out OK, even the 200G attached to the VIA controller. Yay!

So, in preparation for the arrival of the USB/SCSI converter, I installed the USB extender on my main machine. To prove that it worked, I plugged a USB DVD drive into it. Well, it wouldn't play DVDs, the entire machine got very slow in fact. I rebooted and that just made things worse: the hard drives just kept running and running. Further investigation revealed that the Windows installation, which has been around for a couple of years and has been decaying recently, was finally too far gone, so I shut it down to await a wipe and reinstall with XP.

The result was that I was forced back to my good laptop, which is intended to be able to function as an everthing-I-really-need-in-one-package backup for times like these. The problem is that I've been spoiled by multiple monitors for too long. I can't live on only one monitor anymore, it's so cramped! I can't see everything at once! So I now have one of the odder pieces of hardware ever made.

Everybody is aware of USB to serial converters, and USB to parallel, and even more exotic things like USB to ethernet or SCSI. Well, how about USB to VGA? Yes, USB2 is actually fast enough to run a framebuffer, barely. You wouldn't want to play a game or a movie on it, but it's great for IM and telnet windows and such.
Tags: tech
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