21 October 2005

Floppy fails, Windows Code-5's and resurrecting machines

Another busy week in the systems support office, what with our upcoming move into the Brindley building (although we're still not sure exactly when it will happen). At the moment I seem to be answering lots of calls and taking messages as we're short staffed (1 guy is off sick and another lost a family member this week).

Today I wondered what was happening with my machine after I tried to format three different floppy disks and they all failed to format. Turns out that my drive must have failed as I replaced it with another which is working fine.

I found that out during my attempt to resurrect an old piece of kit which would otherwise have been thrown out. A single machine I found in the clearing room which looked a little unusual as unlike our other old lab machines it had a 2GB Jazz drive in it. Inside I found an Aopen AX6BC motherboard. I'm not sure how this PC got here but it's not the usual sort of thing we buy. This board was once an overclockers dream. After stripping it down, removing the old PII 300MHz and fitting a 1GHz PIII chip I reconnected a CD drive and tried to install Slackware 10.2. It locked up straight after boot-up with a meaningless HEX error message.

At that point I thought I'd just stick win XP on it to make sure it works. Needless to say, it didn't and I got a Code 5 error message. From this point on I am going to plug Aopen relentlessly due to the fact I estimate this board to be at least 5 years old and I could still find BIOS updates on their web-site (which is how I discovered my floppy drive had died).

One successful BIOS update later (from 2.36 to 2.59) and the motherboard is now running well with it's PIII thanks to a great range of multiplier and FSB settings all of which can be done through BIOS settings (no fiddly motherboard jumpers).

I tried windows again and it failed during the file copying process. Now experience has taught me well that 9 times out of 10 this is caused by faulty memory. Luckily Microsoft now have a utility which you install to a floppy and boot from which runs a DOS-style diagnostic to check your memory is ok. IMPORTANT POINT: When you use this, press T to get the extended tests. The basic test runs 7 diagnostics while the extended tests run 17 (my memory failed on number 15 so always use the extended test feature).

After replacing the memory I realised XP probably wouldn't work well on just 64MB so I went back to Slackware as this machine was intended to let me have a look at the all new Slackware 10.2. Next week I'll be looking through my old blogs and checking out how the networking runs (and to see if I still have problems with the gateway settings).

Abit AN8 Ultra nForce4 Ultra (Socket 939)

This week I've also been putting some equipment together outside work for the company my wife works for (Intelligent Orthopaedics). This was my second opportunity to build an Athlon-64 system and based on my previous fairly favorable experience with my own Abit system, I went ahead with building a similar system for IO to run their CAD/CAM software.

I have to say it went better this time. Most of the components were bought from OCUK and EBuyer. Sticking with suppliers and brands which I know and trust proved worthwhile as this was one of the easier systems I've ever built. The main problem was a cheap finger-cutting case bought from a third (unnamed) supplier. Once the board was fitted though, the extra bits just seemed to fly in although it took a few minutes to figure out where the USB front-panel pins should go (what with the 3 rows of pins for 6 USB's on the front of the board).

I was most impressed with the speed at which this system was up and running. The Sapphire X800 should be able to cope with Solidworks and the OCUK value memory forced me to have another look at my own system (3rd eye with the micro-guru) during which I discovered that my memory had been running at DDR333 speeds for some time. Well done OC for decent quality value memory. I might invest in some myself after Christmas.

I did however have one Hitachi deskstar drive from OCUK which failed to work (in fact it sounded like a bomb ticking when I installed it). My better half has now obtained a returns number for it so no doubt next week I'll be commenting on whether or not their returns turnaround is any good. I hope so because we ordered two drives and the other is for my own machine.