Monday, July 28, 2008

SATA, Western Digital, Seagate, nvstor.sys

So, as a hobby and for gaming, I put my own computers together. I think I'm pretty good at it.

In January of this year, I put together my first Vista system. Unlike most folks, I like Vista. It hasn't given me any problems.

The company I work for refuses to support Vista. So, if I want to work from home via VPN, I have to use XP. It's a travesty. I like working from home. I write/design software for a living and having a fast compiler is key. Each time I build a new computer it is about twice as fast as the last one. Without getting into the specifics, my new computer is very fast.

So, if I want to work from home I must use XP and I refuse to go back to my old computer running XP. So, I decide it won't be a problem installing XP and dual booting. People do it all the time, right?

For two products, from the same company, these guys don't play well together (XP & Vista). I finally managed to get it working. I put XP on an old hard drive and left Vista alone on my new hard drive. Everyone was happy for many months.

In July, I moved to a new house. The first thing I do is setup my computers because when Gar's Computer aren't working, Gar's not working and my wife wanted me to work (unload boxes of dishes and other useless stuff).

The old drive with XP started exhibiting problems that are normally indicitive of hardware failure (BOOT Drive not readable type things). It was an older drive so I just decided to order a new one. I order 98% of my computer supplies from Newegg. I trust them.

So, I went shopping at newegg. I just looked for the first 250 gig drive I could find that had a 5 egg rating. It was a Western Digital for $59. Not bad. I ordered it.

When it arrived, I took some time off of my busy dish unloading routine to install it and start the XP installation. I had done it once before so I knew the tricks. Since I was busy unloading dishes, I would let it do the installation while I was in the kitchen.

I returned to check on it and it had rebooted and XP was "checking drive C for errors" and was about 75% done destroying my original hard drive! I went into panic mode (read: I hit the main power switch). I turned on one of my old computers and did a Google. I think something like, "SATA Western Digital Seagate XP Vista". One of the first pages that came up talked about this little known problem with dual booting XP and Vista where XP will corrupt the Vista installation. It's only been documented using the WD 250 (the one I had), but they recommended hiding the Vista installation from XP. I wish someone had told me about 30 minutes sooner.

I start playing dramatic horror stories in my head about losing all my emails and tax statements and pictures and and and. I don't backup as often as I should. I've got good intentions. I just never get around to it. How can I get the data off of my Seagate drive without damaging it further? It's impossible for me to boot into Vista. XP hosed it real good. So, I think, I'll boot into XP (without letting it check drive C for errors) and just copy the files off of C onto something else.

XP really doesn't like drive C. It's can't read it at all. It can see the contents, but it won't let me copy the files. I can't remember all the different errors I was getting, but suffice it to say that I would have been there for 24 hours trying to get a few directories copied.

So, I think, I'll install Vista on the new drive and use it to copy the files off of drive C. Remember, drive C is the Seagate, the new drive is the Western Digital.

I kid you not, I tried for 8 hours to install Vista on the new drive. The best I can tell SATA has controllers and ports. So I have two controllers and 4 ports. I can disable controllers which disables 2 ports at a time. The initial setup was Controller 1 has Seagate on port 1 and DVD player on port 2. I have to have the DVD player to install (Vista comes on a DVD). Controller 2 has Western Digital on port 1 (they call it port 3), and port 4 is empty.

Every time Vista starts expanding the installation files on the Western Digital, it crashes about 20 minutes into it. You get the blues screen of death and the message about "if this is the first time..." which is ironic. Then, down at the bottom, it blames nvstor.sys.

Nvstor.sys is an nvidia driver used by Microsoft to read SATA drives that are on the nvidia SATA controller. My motherboard is an nvidia chipset so I can kind of see the pieces falling into place.

I don't know if I can tell you all the different things I tried. I went to nvidia's website and downloaded new drivers for Vista (if nvstor.sys is the cuplrit, then replace it with a newer model). This didn't work. I tried upgrading my BIOS on my motherboard. This didn't work. I tried removing all but one stick of memory. This didn't work. I tried resetting BIOS settings to their "safe" defaults. This didn't work. I tried removing the Seagate drive putting the Western Digital drive on port 1. This didn't work. I tried disabling controller 2. This didn't work.

After countless hours, I finally removed the Western Digital Drive all together and put the Seagate drive back where it was. Vista was installed and running 15 minutes later.

I went back to Newegg and requested an RMA. They are going to charge me a $9 restocking fee. I don't really know if they should restock it. Maybe the hard drive really is defective. I don't know if Western Digital has a problem with my motherboard or if they have a problem with NVidia's SATA controller or if I just got unlucky with a slightly bad hard drive. It's strange I was able to install XP on it to begin with. When I was looking up the RMA on newegg, I noticed that they had my Seagate drive on sell for $59. It's also a 250 gig hard drive and it has a 5 egg rating.

So, never pick the first one and stick with what you know.

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