Saturday, February 25, 2006


Finally, finally, finally.

I got the new system up and running. It took only about two dozen installs, an hour or so of phone calls with Asus, an RMA with NewEgg (they really are wonderful!), slipstreaming SP2 into my SP1a installer, a new case with a larger power supply and nearly three weeks of elapsed time.

As I give the final answer, there will be sage nodding from those in the know. However, I hasten to point out (in my own defense) that the Asus people, both Level 1 and Level 2 tech support didn't help me to the final answer.

The final answer was.... (drum roll, please):

Use the latest drivers!

What do you mean, anti-climatic? Everyone knows that? Who? Tech support didn't. The folks on the forum didn't.

OK, I'll be less obtuse.

Asus tech support got me to the point of installing the latest BIOS and chipset drivers. The process is this: Update the BIOS at POST. Install the OS, then run the executable to update the chipset drivers. Every time, except the last, the PC would hang upon next boot. I had tapped out Asus. They really couldn't do more. I was using the latest BIOS and chipset drivers. However, the chipset is made by nVidia, so I went to their website.

Asus had version 6.65 for the Force4 chipset. nVidia had version 6.70. That seemed better so i downloaded it and used it. And it worked!

Yea! I don't have to RMA all the hardware and ship it back to NewEgg!

Yea! I finally built a machine after all these years.

Yea! I can once again say "I am geek"

Thanks for reading

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Agony of DIY

Actually, I should call it "Agony of Duh"

It has to do with building a new computer. The foundation (the loss of the original machine and some of the difficulties) is described in another post, which I started to keep, ah, pleasure separate from business. However, since I had a good amount of business data on the lost machine, and I am considering merging blogs, I thought I would continue the tale here.


The motherboard support CD-ROM was bootable. Who knew? It certainly wasn't documented anywhere, not in any manual, not in a FAQ, not in a forum. The bootable motherboard CD can make the driver disk needed to install XP

Asus wins awards for a reliable motherboard, and for reasonably fast phone support, but looses big time on the whole "self-service" concept for the internet. The forums are really the worst I've ever experienced. First, they work only in Internet Exploder. Every time you click on a link for another area (Support, Download, Forum), a new browser window opens. The search in the forum will show you the question with the subject that matches your query, but none of the threaded answers to the question. Oh, and it seems like all the data is coming from Asia b e c a u s e i t i s s o s l o w.

Here's the real beef. After going through the pain of making a RAID driver disk (see the other story for that fire drill!), the system boots up (YEA!!). Time to update Windows (I have XP-Pro SP1a). Need a network controller device driver. Pop in the support CD. Install the drivers.

There are three checkboxes (nVidia SMBus Driver, nVidia Ethernet Driver, and nVidia IDE Driver). The IDE Driver install gives me severe warnings and then says that I probably don't need to install it after all, 'cause the Microsoft one works just as well. That's OK, I'm in for a penny, in for a pound, so I say "Yes" to everything.

Heck, I even install the built-in Firewall and one other do-hickey when the prompt comes up. Reboot. Hang.

Yup, something broke the install.

Re-install, quick-format, boot, install only the Ethernet driver (cause I've done this before and know that one builds a Windows system one piece at a time, if it don't work out of the box). Reboot. Hang.

Much searching, time on the phone with Asus. Mobo (that's the cool term) is defective. RMA, new board, repeat one mo' time. Reboot. Hang.

More phone time with Asus. Slipstream SP2 into my 1a installation CD, burn a new CD, do the whole thing again. Reboot. Hang.

Pull the mobo out of the case to elminate electromagnetic interference (EMI). Re-install, reboot, hang. This will be funny one day.

Meanwhile, days are slipping by, bills are starting to pile up, yada yada.

On the phone with Asus, my case get elevated to Level 2. In a single two minute phone call, the technician says that I need to have -- get this -- all three check boxes checked. Yup, the drivers are a set and must always get installed together. I mean, doesn't this beg the obvious question of why, oh why, are there checkboxes? DUH!!

At this point (ATP, for you old time coders), system is SP2 with a network. I'm going to put the the whole kit and kaboodle back into the case and see if it will still work.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

And Computers, too -- Installing XP on ASUS A8N

Our computer died last Sunday. I'll tell that story another time. Right now, I want to crow about the new computer.

For context, I'll mention that the old computer was about six years old, a Dell 700 MHz. Rather pokey by today's standards. I missed building my own machine, and since things are tight, but I run my company from that machine, so I decided to build my own. When I priced it out, I realized that I could build, for under $900 shipped, what would cost $1600 assembled.

To keep this to a reasonable length, here are the key facts: The motherboard is an ASUS A8N-E. The motherboard has a built in RAID controller that supports RAID 0, RAID 1 and RAID 1+0.

The challenge -- and the point of this post -- was getting the Windows XP install started.

Naturally, the XP installer needed the driver for the new RAID controller. The motherboard came with a CD-ROM with drivers (many drivers). After realizing that none of the three laptops in the house have a floppy drive and running over to Staples to get a USB floppy, I put the CD-ROM into the drive and was horrified to see that it wouldn't run. It reported "Can't load ASCDDMI.DLL" So I put it into my wife's laptop, which has a optical drive in a drive bay, compared to my laptop, which has a USB CD-ROM. In my wife's laptop, the CD-ROM loaded the ASUSACPI.exe, but it reported "Detect no proper item" and didn't give me the option of creating a driver disk.

So, I had to find which of the drivers I should use from the CD-ROM. As we all know, using the wrong driver can have consequences ranging from the innocuous (it didn't work) to the terrible (ruins the hardware). I didn't want to risk the latter.

I searched the ASUS technical forums, which I found really quite bad, for help. There were a few postings on which files to use, or the contents of which directory to use. However, the directory structure of the CD-ROM didn't match the directory structure listed in the technical articles and postings, and the suggestions didn't work. The XP installer kept prompting for the hardware drivers.

Oh, and when I did find a list of detailed instructions for installing a RAID driver, it was too much information -- there were 10 different RAID controllers listed, and no way to determine which RAID controller is on my motherboard! Oy Vey!

So I guessed. I guessed that since I was using SATA hard drives, that I would want the SATA RAID drivers from the Windows XP directory.

Here's the summary:

Asus A8N-E Motherboard, revision 2.00, BIOS 4.84
Support CD-ROM "NVIDIA nForce4 SLI Serices support CD Rev.99.06"
2 Maxtor DiamondMax SATA 100 MB hard drive

I used the drivers from the following directory:


I copied all the files from this directory onto a formatted floppy and the XP installer found the two drivers necessary -- just as the instructions said it would. We are 95% done formatting the RAID array and I am happy.

Or at least, I will be happy until the next problem.

Thanks for reading!