Category Archives: Storage

The Solid State PC

A silent PC is one that makes absolutely no noise, and by necessity has no moving parts (including fans). Such systems usually use very low-end hardware limited to trivial tasks such as running a cash register. The system introduced today, a Solid-State PC (SSPC) is a powerful quad-core i5 PC which runs most software faster than the majority of modern PCs, yet uses less than 25W idle.

Continue reading The Solid State PC

New 3TB hard drives run into 2.19 TB limit

This is an interesting post raising the issue with having greater than 2TB hard drives.  Normal MBR partitions (that you can boot 32 bit OSes and traditional BIOS) only support 2.19TB maximum.  This is another good reason to use an SSD for your boot drive in addition to the insanely enhanced boot and OS performance.  It also makes it simple to image your boot partition for rapid restore purposes.

Realtek card reader drivers slow transfer rates 4 fold

I helped acquire an HP G72-250US 17.3″ with Core i3 notebook for a friend of my mother.  When I tested the SDHC card reader speed, I was shocked to find that read speeds would drop to less than 5 MB/sec after the first time read in Windows 7.  Once I uninstalled the software using CCleaner, the card continued to work but it would maintain its 20 MB/sec read speeds.

While I appreciate Realtek going to the effort of writing extra software, they really need better quality control.  I suppose I should be happy that at least this isn’t one of their silent data corruption bugs that I found a few years back.  The other thing that really bugs me is their massively bloated wireless network driver that forces you to install a bunch of extra wireless supplicants (like Cisco) on top of the Windows wireless client.  You’re forced to download a large EXE from Realtek which extracts and autoinstalls the driver without asking for permission.  I had to note the extract folder path and then uninstall the Realtek drivers, and then manually install the drivers from device manager by pointing it to the uncompressed installation folder.  It would be so much simpler if Realtek just provided the bare drivers.

HP needs to wise up and keep that software (and all the other crapware they install) off the system.  The PC industry needs to look in the mirror and ask themselves why Apple completely owns the $1000+ notebook market.

Best SDHC USB card reader for $3

These are simply the best USB SDHC card readers at any price because it’s the fastest reader I’ve measured, and DealExtreme sells it for $2.99 (free but slow ~3 week shipping from China).  I was able to measure read speeds of 22 MB/sec and write speeds of 11 MB/sec using a cheap 16 GB class 6 SDHC card from A-Data.  At these prices, I ordered a several extra just to hand them out as cheap but really cool gifts.

Deal Extreme SDHC USB card reader SKU 6858

Image credit:
I hope they don’t complain about the image usage since they’re getting free advertising here.

I also got one of these all-in-one 3.5″ media readers for $5.32 and they were terrible.  Not only was it incredibly slow (we’re talking 4 MB/sec read speeds), but the drivers aren’t stable and it “disappears” from Windows Vista.

How to Create 4KB Aligned Partitions in Windows XP and Linux

There has been some news regarding the new Western Digital “EARS” series “Advanced Format” hard drives and the associated performance problems. While these drives can be faster than older drives because of the larger sector size, a partition formatted without the correct alignment can slow to less than a third.

Read on for brief instructions on how to fix the problem in Linux and Windows XP.

Continue reading How to Create 4KB Aligned Partitions in Windows XP and Linux

Extreme slowness on SSD systems?

A friend of mine has a laptop with an SSD. Recently the system was crawling at a fraction of its former speed, with no logical explanation. After a lot of time with tech support, he discovered that the DMA controller on the drive was shot, which forced everything to go through the CPU. To check this out for yourself, look at the IDE channel’s properties in Device Manager. If the IDE channel is set to “Auto Detect” but is running in PIO mode, that’s the problem and the drive will need to be replace. The screenshot if from Windows XP.

SSD Problem Screenshot



I think we all remember the “Inconceivable!” routine from The Princess Bride. That’s about how I feel after the last few weeks. I have an extremely high end RAID controller in a box, a 20 port (16 internal, 4 external) device. It’s in a monster SuperMicro case, with 2 small drives for the OS, and 14 1 TB drives for storage. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been having a host of bizarre behavior, from the pair of new 2 TB drives magically disappearing and reappearing on the controller every 11 minutes (on the dot) to the system having LEDs and sirens as if there is a severe failure but the RAID controller software showing 100% optimal state. Update: Just to make it clear, we are (and have been) working with the vendor on this issue. When we find out precisely what the issue is, I’ll post a new item. Also, I forgot one angle of this when I first posted the story. These bizarre failings (not the two 2 TB drives, the other one) turned out to have been caused by (get this) bad sectors on the drives. But those drives (or the controller) are supposed to automatically handle and work around bad sector errors! And why would that kind of error blow out the RAID to the point where the controller is sounding alarms, but not to the point where the software is aware? “Inconceivable!”

Tonight took the cake, though. My on-site person deliberately broke the RAID. We had planned to do this; we wanted to take one of the mirrored drives and put it into our backup chassis to help diagnose a problem with the backup unit. One of my “Inconceivable!” moments two weeks ago, was when we wanted to move to the backup chassis, the system went into an endless reboot cycle, even though it worked fine a few months prior and hasn’t been touched since. The plan was simple: pull the drive, put one of our spares in, and let the RAID (it’s a RAID 1) sync. No big deal. Well, the system decides to BSOD, in a definite “Inconceivable!” moment. Let’s get this straight. A RAID controller that we paid $1,500 – $2,000 for (I can’t recall the number offhand) decides to panic so badly that the entire OS comes crashing down, over a simple hot swap of hard drives? Inconceivable!

After the reboot, users start complaining that they can’t get their email, so I get a call. Yet another “Inconceivable!” moment… I had just sat down at a restaurant to celebrate my wife’s birthday with about TWENTY friends and family. We look at the Exchange server (a VM on the machine that BSOD’ed). After some diagnoses, it looks like the Exchange databases managed to get corrupted and refuse to recover themselves. Once again… “Inconceivable!” I spent the entire dinner (including bathroom breaks, ordering, and eating) on the phone. My only break was when we ran some repairs that took a while, just long enough to have a few moments of conversation and sing Happy Birthday. I’m on the phone throughout the goodbyes. And of course, Thursday is the night when I usually do the food shopping. To make matters worse, I deliberately ran out of food this afternoon, so food shopping was not an option. Valuable troubleshooting time, and I need to be in the food store. On top of that, I can’t stay up all night and sleep in, because I’ve been watching our son in the morning as my wife has returned to work, and he wakes up  early. “Inconceivable!” So I must get this resolved before, say, midnight.

I eventually give up with my on-site guy, and resign myself to a very long night. My boss calls while I am in the food store, and he decides to give the recovery another try. See, the previous recovery attempts failed, with error codes that were not found on Google or Bing. “Inconceivable!” Well, the new recovery attempts all fail. At the last moment, we decide to try a different command line switch. The whole thing took an hour and a half, finished up (after fixing the corrupted database file), and after a restart of the Information Store service, Exchange is working just fine again.

So, to add up all of the “inconceivable” events:

  • The enterprise grade RAID controller wet its pants over a simple hot swap
  • A hard drive hot swap BSOD’ed Windows
  • A “power off” failure put the Exchange database in a state that it could not automatically recover from
  • This all happened on one of the three nights a year that I cannot be at my home office for, oh, four hours, and during the one three week period of the year that I can’t stay up all night and sleep during the day
  • None of the obvious recovery choices worked

Obviously, “Inconceivable” does not mean what I think it does!


How to get a nice Home Theater PC for $595

As I’ve previously explained, an Intel G45 motherboard and Intel Conroe-L “Celeron” processor makes the ideal computer system as oppose to an NVIDIA Ion system.  Now I’ll give you the full configuration list of parts for building a great HTPC system for under $600.

Thermaltake Mozart Xaser

Blu-ray and NAS storage capable Home Theater PC (HTPC)

Item Cost
Foxconn G45 MicroATX motherboard

ICH10R storage controller (RAID 0, 1, 10, 5) and Blu-ray capable HDMI graphics

Intel “Celeron” 430 Conroe-L 1.8 GHz

Stock speed much faster than dual-core Atom, and can easily clock to 2.88 GHz

2 GB DDR2-800 RAM $22
Lite-on Blu-ray ROM drive $90
Western Digital Green 1.5 Terabyte Hard Drive $140
Thermaltake Xaser Mozart HTPC chassis (supports 5 internal hard drives) $109
Hauppauge 1196 WinTV HVR-1250 Hybrid Video Recorder PCI-Express 1x $52
Seasonic S12 330 watt 80 Plus power supply $50
Total $595

At $595, this is an unheard of price for an awesome HTPC system that you can hook up to your HDTV television set via HDMI cable.  Not only can you play Blu-ray movies, surf the web, and watch Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and every other website, you can also do some casual PC gaming on your living room TV.  A good Blu-ray player without any recording and storage capacity will cost you this much money and Blu-ray players typically have very annoying one-minute startup times but this computer can sleep and wake in a few seconds for instant-on gratification.  You can also add 4 more hard drives to this chassis and have this double as a super fast gigabit network attached storage (NAS) server and the RAID 5 controller in the motherboard makes fault tolerant storage feasible.

To make sure this is compatible with your HDTV set, you need an HDTV with HDMI inputs with either 1280×720, 1366×768, or 1920×1080 native resolution (preferably the latter which is usually called “Full HD 1080P”).  A nice 42″ LCD 1080P HDTV these days can be had for under $1000.  You don’t need to worry about sound because HDMI covers both video and audio so it’s nice and simple with only one cable and connector to worry about.  Also make sure you don’t make the mistake of buying hundred dollar HDMI monster cables.

Lastly, if you’re going to buy an OEM copy of Windows Premium Edition, wait till fall for Windows 7 and it should be available for around $120.  I would also suspect that vendors will soon be offering free Windows 7 coupons for those who purchase Windows Vista.

Update 5/17/2009 – Note that the Blu-ray optical drive comes with an OEM copy of PowerDVD.  The OEM copy is limited to stereo audio which is fine if you’re plugging this HTPC directly into your HDTV which typically only supports stereo anyways.  If you’re going to plug this into a 5.1 or 7.1 receiver, then you’re going to need to upgrade to the full retail version of PowerDVD.

Also note that this type of system will idle around 40 watts or less and peak at well under 90 watts.  The 330 watt power supply makes it somewhat difficult to achieve very low power states because the power consumption is too low to be in the optimum range of this power supply which is one of the smaller PSUs you can find.  But if you load in 4 more energy efficient hard drives, we might expect the idle power consumption to remain below 55 watts which is extremely reasonable for a 6 TB storage device (using RAID-5).

OCZ 32GB SATA II Solid State drive now only $99 after rebate!

Via Dailytech, you can now get an OCZ 32GB SATA II Solid State drive now only $99 after rebate!

It has some impressive performance specs on throughput and IO speeds.  While the random write IOPS metric isn’t as impressive, it still beats the pants off normal hard drives.

My friend Charles points out this article from Anandtech that raises serious concerns about small random write input/output (IO) performance being absolute garbage.

Tomshardware redeems themselves with new flash versus hard drive energy efficiency tests

The last time Tomshardware posted an article on SSD Flash drives versus HDD Hard Drive power consumption, I gave them a well deserved “F”.  They had botched the analysis badly and drew incorrect hypothesis because they didn’t test their theories and it turned out that their theories were wrong.  But to be fair to Tomshardware, they took the criticism and came back with a much better piece of work and tested some of the suggestions I made such as fixed storage workloads across the different test beds.  This time I’ll give them an “A-” for effort and thoroughness so I recommend that you check out the interesting results.

However, it’s clear that their new conclusion conflicts with their old conclusion.  Their old conclusion claimed that flash drives resulted in lower battery life.  As it turns out, the hard drive they tested last time was one of the most efficient hard drives on the market and it wasn’t representative of the average hard drive.  This time they tested a newer SSD flash drive which resulted in remarkable performance and energy efficiency that completely dominated hard drives on all tests.  It’s kind of like saying that we scored the game 55 to 45 instead of 45 to 55.  Just imagine if they had scored a boxing match or basketball game this way and declared the wrong winner and then said “oh, but we were close on the actual score!”  So while I applaud Tomshardware for owning up to the mistake, I have to take some issue with the latest conclusion.

The correct conclusion – which I stated in my review of the first article – is that the average SSD flash drive does consume less energy than average Hard Drive though there are exceptions to this rule.  Furthermore, SSDs almost always achieve higher work per unit energy.

So does this mean that SSD flash drives are a better technology?  With the latest SSD drives like the OCZ SATA II 2.5″ product, the answer is a resounding yes.  Does that make it worth the money?  If high performance, complete silence, and the highest energy efficiency matters to you, then by all means it is worth the price premium.  If what you’re looking for is reasonable power consumption, low cost, and high capacity, then mechanical hard drives remain the best solution today.  The price of SSD flash drives were outrageous but the price has recently dropped dramatically and now you can soon pick up a 64 GB OCZ SATA II 2.5″ SSD for $280.

While that’s still about 5 times more expensive, it’s a very affordable price for a mid- to high-end laptop.  Prices will continue to drop and it’s possible that flash drives will eventually become mainstream in the laptop market if the price drops continue at the rate they’re falling today.  We will also see smaller 1.8″ SSD models or simply a “chip” that gets plugged in to an ultra portable laptop so the size and durability is where flash technology shines.

Now if I can just get Tomshardware to fix their badly botched Intel Atom power consumption analysis.