The Trouble with Troubleshooting

By Loyd Case  |  Print this article Print


Desktop-as-a-Service Designed for Any Cloud ? Nutanix Frame

Commentary: Our Tech Director Loyd Case sets out to build a bootable CD with partition backup tools. Along the way, he burns a dozen coasters, mutters some profanities, and gets a few more gray hairs. But the payoff is worth it.

Last week I ran into some interesting technical challenges. One was of my own (un)doing, while the other seemed to be partially the result of a bug.

One tool we like to use around here is some form of partition backup tool. It used to be that plain old Ghost or DriveImage would work just fine. But those applications, along with Acronis' TrueImage, have evolved (devolved?) into purely Windows-based tools. There are times, though, when a Windows app isn't really useful. For example, when we set up test beds for benchmarking, we like to have clean installs of Windows.

Last week, I was facing a major benchmarking project, so I wanted to streamline the process. The idea was to create multiple partition images, each with a different set of benchmarks. That would minimize the time required to install all the benchmark apps when switching processors. To date, I'd been using DeployCenter 5.0, which was the enterprise version of DriveImage. But 5.0 was getting long in the tooth: It didn't recognize most USB or FireWire drives, for example. But PowerQuest was acquired by Symantec, which is rapidly becoming the 900-pound gorilla in the utilities market.

As it turns out, Symantec was offering a strange hybrid product in its Ghost Solution Suite. GSS turns out to actually include DeployCenter 5.6, as well as Ghost 8.2 plus various other utilities useful for departmental and enterprise-class disk-image management. Really, though, all I wanted was the ability to back up partitions to secondary drives, including external USB or FireWire drives. Oh, and I wanted it on a bootable CD, rather than on a floppy. Quite a few systems, including quite a few small-form-factor systems, no longer offer a floppy drive as an option.

I'd built a bootable CD around DriveImage 5.0 using Nero 6.6. It was quite straightforward using Nero's floppy emulation capabilities. Just insert a bootable floppy with the apps you want, tell Nero to burn the CD using the floppy, and click Burn. Less than a minute later, I'd have a bootable CD.

Ghost 8.2 proved to be a harder nut to crack. The Ghost Boot Wizard will happily build a bootable floppy set that spans two floppies. Therein lies the rub: Nero, and other CD burning tools that can build bootable CDs from a single floppy or from an image of the floppy contents stored in a file, can't do it from more than a single floppy.

Riding to the rescue came WinImage from Gilles Vollant Software. WinImage allows you to create image files from floppies. So I did that, and tried to add the Ghost 8.2 executable to the image. Nope, "image full." However, WinImage allows you to change the format of the image after it's read into the app. So I told WinImage to make the image a 2.88 MB floppy. At that point, the Ghost Executable could fit.

Here's where I ran into a quandary with the Ghost Boot Wizard. The Boot Wizard will happily format the floppies, and add PC-DOS and the Ghost application to the two discs. It will not, however, create an actual bootable floppy. I didn't discover this flaw until I'd burned a few coasters, swearing at Nero (which was innocent), swearing at WinImage (equally innocent), then discovering the actual problem: The solution was to format the floppy using the "Create an MS-DOS startup disk" option, then delete all the files. Then I had to uncheck the "format floppies" option in the Ghost Boot Wizard.

After all this, WinImage then created the correct 2.88MB floppy image containing the Ghost executable, and Nero happily burned a bootable CD that worked. Continues...

Feeling smug about all this, I set out to install Windows and a bunch of applications in different partition sets on a system that was using an ASUS A8V-E Deluxe, which has Via's new K8T890 PCI Express chipset for Socket 939. After doing all this, I began running SYSmark, which proceeded to crash in a highly repeatable, but frustratingly obtuse manner. The SPEC APC 3ds max R6 benchmark would also crash.

Then it occurred to me that I had never installed Via's own IDE drivers. The system was using a Seagate 7200.7 serial ATA drive, but SATA is supposed to be 100% backward compatible, right?

I had remembered to install Via's Hyperion 4-in-1 motherboard chipset drivers, so I thought I was done at that point. What I had not done was install Via's "RAID driver." After all, I wasn't using RAID, so why did I need a RAID driver?

So I went back, installed the RAID driver (without the RAID management utility, which wasn't needed). Voila! All benchmarks ran without a hitch. At this point, I'm still not quite sure why I needed to install a RAID driver, or why Via didn't include it as part of the 4-in-1 package. But it's all good now, and I've only got a couple more gray hairs. Live and learn.

This Week on ExtremeTech
We've got some spiffy stuff this week, including a review of Dell's 24-inch widescreen monster of a desktop LCD flat panel. Also on deck is Jason Cross's review of Abit's Fata1ity AA8 motherboard, including some overclocking data. We should also have some coverage from Linux World Boston as well. So drop by and check it all out.

Loyd Case came to computing by way of physical chemistry. He began modestly on a DEC PDP-11 by learning the intricacies of the TROFF text formatter while working on his master's thesis. After a brief, painful stint as an analytical chemist, he took over a laboratory network at Lockheed in the early 80's and never looked back. His first 'real' computer was an HP 1000 RTE-6/VM system.

In 1988, he figured out that building his own PC was vastly more interesting than buying off-the-shelf systems ad he ditched his aging Compaq portable. The Sony 3.5-inch floppy drive from his first homebrew rig is still running today. Since then, he's done some programming, been a systems engineer for Hewlett-Packard, worked in technical marketing in the workstation biz, and even dabbled in 3-D modeling and Web design during the Web's early years.

Loyd was also bitten by the writing bug at a very early age, and even has dim memories of reading his creative efforts to his third grade class. Later, he wrote for various user group magazines, culminating in a near-career ending incident at his employer when a humor-impaired senior manager took exception at one of his more flippant efforts. In 1994, Loyd took on the task of writing the first roundup of PC graphics cards for Computer Gaming World -- the first ever written specifically for computer gamers. A year later, Mike Weksler, then tech editor at Computer Gaming World, twisted his arm and forced him to start writing CGW's tech column. The gaming world -- and Loyd -- has never quite recovered despite repeated efforts to find a normal job. Now he's busy with the whole fatherhood thing, working hard to turn his two daughters into avid gamers. When he doesn't have his head buried inside a PC, he dabbles in downhill skiing, military history and home theater.

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