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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.