Sunday, 19 October 2008

Building a new Vista 64bit machine

I’m in the process of upgrading my Dad’s PC. He does a bit of video editing, and had noticed his machine was getting slower and slower, combined with the increased minimum requirements of the latest version of Pinnacle Studio.

The existing components that we wanted to reuse include:

Because his machine was a few years old, buying some extra RAM was going to be relatively expensive, so I suggested maybe he do a complete upgrade. Hoping to reuse the old case and drives, I selected the following components:

One thing I realised (from previous experience) was to make sure that there was enough room for the CPU fan. The old case was one of those compact upright boxes, and from examining the old motherboard it became obvious that the location of the existing PSU would prevent anything larger than ~5cm. All was not lost, as I just happened to have another case around that was slightly taller and allowed the PSU to sit alongside rather than over the top of the motherboard.

The GA-MA770-S3 comes with lots of SATA connectors, but only one IDE connector. As we wanted to make use of two existing IDE hard disk as well as the old IDE DVD drive, I bought the extra ATA controller that plugs into the PCI slot. The only downside to this appears to be that you can’t boot off of a drive connected to the PCI card.

Newer motherboards require a 24 pin power connector, hence the new PSU. The Vantec was not my first choice (I had chosen a Cooler Master eXtreme Power 500W but MSY didn’t have that in stock), but it seems a capable unit. I particularly like how all the cords are wrapped in blue mesh to keep things tidy.

I’d decided that I’d use the 80Gb drive as the system drive (apparently it has an 8Mb buffer compared to the 60Gb’s 2Mb so it should be a bit faster).

After connecting all the bits and pieces together, I booted up the Vista 64bit DVD and got as far as installing it onto the correct drive. It then rebooted and I saw the following unhelpful message:

“The computer has restarted unexpectedly or encountered an
unexpected error. Windows installation cannot proceed..”

I found a post to the Microsoft newsgroups by Richard Urban which lists some conditions which can cause this problem (and sure enough they matched my hardware).

Following his advice, I disconnected all the drives except the 80Gb drive and the DVD, which were both attached to the motherboard’s IDE slot. The Vista installation proceeded as normal.

(If the DVD drive ever gets upgraded in the future for a SATA model, this problem would be avoided)

Following the successful restart, I then reconnected all the other drives and put the DVD back on the PCI card. Everything then came up fine, however the DVD wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Vista identified the card as an Integrated Technology Express IT8212F. In the FAQ for this card, it mentions that there are two BIOSes available – a RAID BIOS which only works with hard disks, and “pure” IDE BIOS which also supports ATAPI devices (eg. CD/DVDs). There’s a BIOS upgrade application, but it only works in DOS mode, which won’t work in Vista 64bit.

I tried the BIOS upgrade (on three different machines) but with no success. I was about to give up when I figured out that I could host the two IDE drives (including the Vista system drive) on the PCI adapter as long as the system drive was configured as the first drive. This then allowed the drive to be listed in the main motherboard BIOS’s list of bootable drives.

Now everything is working well. The only outstanding issue is to check whether the Epson Perfection 2400 PHOTO scanner can work properly with Vista 64bit. There are Vista drivers but it appears the Epson Smart Panel software requires a non-free upgrade to a compatible version.


Dan said...

Your first mistake, buying an addin card to run ide devices on.

Grab yourself a couple ide to sata dongles, they are cheap and will acctualy improove the drive performance, allowing you to connect the ide drive to the motherboards Sata ports(keep optical on the ide chan alone)

If you do another upgrade like this, I would look at what biostar has to offer in the T-Series and T-Power lines of boards, they are higher quility then gigabytes boards are as a whole and offer better bios updates.

If you are doing alot of video editing, grab a 500gb hitchi sata hdd and just use that, they run around 60bucks shiped and out of hundreds of 320 and 500gb drives i have installed less then 10 have failed :)

well good luck, if you are looking at doing this kinda upgrade in the future check out its MY site and all the people there will happly help you avoid these kind of pitfalls.

David Gardiner said...

Hi Dan,

appreciate the comments.

I hadn't heard of IDE => SATA dongles before. They sound like a good thing. Something to keep in mind next time!


Jeffrey said...

Your overall experience is seriously crippled by using the older hard drive as the hard drive is very often the slowest part. Without a doubt, get a new SATA in a suitable size/price range. Junk the add-in card. If you still really want to use the older hard drives, I recommend getting a USB external hard drive case for backing up or transferring data, though you may find simply backing up to your 2nd hard drive adequate.

I didn't see any mention of a graphics card, maybe you are using an older one. That's fine. For non-gaming though, consider the almost released ATIHD4550, but wait for a passively cooled model. It has a lot of great features in an inexpensive card.

I highly recommend making a backup image of your Windows C-Drive in case you need to RESTORE for some reason. There are several programs, but I've only used Acronis True Image which has worked really well. Simply backup your C-Drive to your 2nd hard drive. Also, I recommend 2 partitions per hard drive. Keep your C-Drive at a minimum (say 60GB). Install your programs to the C-Drive but put all your files on your D-Drive, and all BACKUPS or less frequently used files to the 2nd drive. The first partition of my 2nd hard drive is also 60GB; if my main drive fails, I can simply go into my BIOS, change the boot order to my 2nd drive (or remove the 1st drive), RESTORE my backup image of Windows and be up and running in as little as 10 minutes!! Regularly backup your e-mail and critical documents.

David Gardiner said...

Hi Jeffrey,

currently I'm using a spare Gigabyte 8400GS card. Certainly not top of the line, but adequate for now.

I am thinking you might be right about using a SATA disk for booting. Nigel had a similar opinion when I was discussing the build with him.

Next time I'm over at Dad's place, I plan to run HD Tune to get some benchmarks on the relative speeds of the disks. If the SATA disks are dramatically quicker then I think we'll reconfigure the machine that way.


Dom said...

Personally, I would have just replaced the DVD writer with a SATA model - $30 - instead of adding a controller card.

Also, get rid of the old drives - they won't make much difference with storage, especially with your new 1TB drive. It's just slowing your system down. Use them as back-up drives with a tray or external usb enclosure.

Good luck with the rest of it