Using a Compact Flash card as a hard drive on a Dell Latitude D430

December 5th, 2013 @ // No Comments

We got our hands on the Dell 430, a great sysadmin tool from a not so distant past. Nice proportions, tough magnesium chassis and wide range of connectivity options.
That said, we now must address the elephant in the room. Since the machine is old the maximum amount of RAM is 2 GB and the CPU is a little bit slow even in its top spec. However that is nothing in compare to how slow the hard drive is.

Although there are factory SSD models most units are shipped with a 1.8 inch 4200RPM PATA ZIF drive. Since it is almost impossible to find a modern SSD working on the PATA ZIF interface, we have decided to bump the performance with an unusual mod. Compact flash card with a CF to PATA ZIF adapter. Compact flash cards for years have been fully IDE compatible and are used in industrial environments where having fewer moving parts that can break is vitally important. Latest CF specifications support UDMA 6 and TRIM command so they are practically fully functional SSD drives (well in terms of having a solid state memory they have always been).

Before you start thou there are couple of things you should know.

Microsoft Windows, even in its newer versions, require (for no obvious reason) a non removable drive to be installed on (excluding Windows To Go functionality). The onboard controller on the CF card is reporting the media state with a bit set to 1 for removable and 0 for fixed. Windows detects this and you are not allowed to install the OS on the media. Even if you have a conventional drive you are unable to place a swap file, use drive caching or create multiple partitions on a removable drive.
There are software hacks based on an old micro drive driver that allows you to experiment but this is usable only if you want to relieve you primary hard drive by putting the swap files on a removable media only.

The solution is to find a hardware modified CF to SATA/PATA adapter that changes the state of the removable bit, find an industrial CF card which has a default state set to non removable drive but they are slower or you could contact certain compact flash card manufacturers and purchase a large amount 1000+ in which case they can set the removable bit to a non-removable state.
Fortunately, there are no such issues with Linux. You are allowed to partition and install the OS as if it was a normal hard drive. After installing you should either enable TRIM or schedule a script for optimizing the FS for an SSD once a week.

There are some pictures of the process as well a performance screenshot of the old toy under Debian 7.







Hard drive platters swap

September 30th, 2012 @ // No Comments

Changing Hard Drive platters to extract information.

We needed to extract some useful information from a damaged hard drive.
It was not looking like a logical problem, so we took a closer view over the drive’s mechanics.

We suspected the heads actuator. Since another identical drive with a dead controller was available, we just couldn’t help it to play with it.

Changing the drive platters in condition different from a controlled laboratory environment is tricky and
will probably give you a limited time to copy your information, if you ever get to that part. When using a new drive, keep in mind that even if you do everything properly the drive will probably fail in a short time.

Since we do not have a lab, we needed to clean everything as much as we can.
We picked and cleaned a nice workplace. Isolated it from the rest of the office. Closed all windows and gaps, stopped all air conditions. Since the drive heads are travelling on a microscopic air cushion, a dust particle there could lead to a catastrophic collision between the heads and the platters. Even with all the precautions we are far away from a dust free environment so we have to minimize the exposure of the open drives to the elements.

Organize your workplace well. Investigate what tools will you need, probably a Phillips screwdriver and a torx for the drive and some other to help you with random sub tasks. Remove all magnets and keep the screwdrivers magnetic bits away from the plates or use non magnetic ones but be aware not to loose something in the drive. You should avoid every unnecessary movement. You will generate air diffusion that will lead to dust contamination. Clean you hands well, do not use fluffy towel. Use gloves, avoid latex with powder. When you are ready take a break for the dust to settle ….and give it a go.

A special tool is used to fix the platters to the electric motor spindle … you can use a larger screwdriver to bypass it. Be careful, you will severely damage the drive if you slip. Be careful when removing and installing the platters. The heads should be parked but there are some other slots you must match without scratching the platters. Since a torque screwdriver was not available at the moment we left the drive opened. This way it is also easier to see if the drive operates normally. The biggest problem with this is dust. In order to keep it clean we have, a transparent plastic case for opened drives. If you do not have one, just put the drive cover without tightening the screws too much.

We put the drive on a stand, with a new drive to backup the info, kept our fingers crossed and powered the beast. The drive detected normally which is a good sign, then we booted from a USB stick, and discovered the drive was also logically troublesome. We mirrored everything sector by sector. And couple of hours later from the healthy drive we managed to recover almost all the information we needed.

If you are lucky, when you connect the drive it will be recognized by the OS and you will be able to copy your files without the upper complications. Keep in mind that the whole procedure is highly risky. If you have critically important information it is better to consult with a data recovery service provider or data forensic lab.


Apple iMac G5 repair session

September 13th, 2012 @ // No Comments

We have just completed a comprehensive repair of an old iMac G5. Here is a short list of the problems it had.

– could not start every time
– when it starts it usually crashes couple of minutes later

and some problems we have discovered later

– SuperDrive is not working. Since no boot from USB is available this is a major issue if you don’t have a spare one.
– Airport disappeared
– software errors regarding boot process

The symptoms lead us to thinking what the problem turned out to be. Faulty capacitors on the motherboard, also known as “capacitor plague”. Poor quality, aging and high temperatures lead to catastrophic failure of the capacitors thus preventing them from adequately filtering the direct current voltages on the motherboard resulting in system instability. Visual symptoms like cracks on top with electrolyte spillage over them can be spotted.

Some symptoms:

The problem with this is that there are more then 25 capacitors all over the iMac G5 motherboard …and you have to change all of them to do the job properly. You need nerves of steel, steady hands, nice docking station and soldering equipment. Otherwise you can damage the motherboard, which is made from several different layers. This is why in many places you get the whole motherboard changed, which is expensive and not justified on old Macs because of its price.

So couple of hours and 29 capacitors later …. on a board not meant to be repaired

Voila …. we have lift off …. but as you have probably guessed we are far from over…. a PRAM reset is needed because of the massive dissemblance and the removal of all power sources and batteries …. it would also probably solve the boot problem it had (they were different from the capacitor plague issues).

We have successfully loaded the ages ago installed MAC OS Tiger

Can you spot the antics in the distance? We at just love history.

Anyway back to reality. We have added some memory to the G5 and decided to put the newest operating system it can handle, 10.5.8 Leopard.

Some of problems associated with that…

– the SuperDrive is not working, as on almost every old Mac …. and even if it was working …it was a single layer drive opposed to the Tiger’s double layer installation DVD.
– this old Mac does not have the “boot from USB” option….

There are couple of solutions to install the OS …. new drive being the easiest one.
If you don’t have one, here is a tip for free …. you can use standard non SATA slim DVD that support double layer. You will need to remove its front plastic cover bar and will have to lock the disk inside forced by the Mac’s chassis since the drive is not slot loading type. This solution seems a little bit extreme but it will do the job for the instillation, which is pretty straight forward.

So after a lot of work we have some progress. Finally.

By coincident after installing the new OS, the Airport disappeared. This is a common issue. It might be software or hardware issue. Since it is a full OS install and not an upgrade we had to check for mechanical failure at first. And it was indeed a hardware issue. Although not removed from the motherboard during the repair the huge dissemblance of everything around it may have resulted in loss of contact with the motherboard. Due to poor design, the socket mechanism of the wireless adapter is prone to poor contact, so be careful.

The fixed machine is fully stress tested and working for over a month now. And we are very proud of it.


HP Proliant ML150 G5 unknown device – ACPI\HPI0002

February 8th, 2012 @ // No Comments

In case you’ve installed Windows 2008, 2008 R2 on a similar machine and you don’t know what the unknown ACPI\HPI0002 device is. It is the IPMI NULL Driver, HP NULL Management Controller or as HP called it:

HP ProLiant 100 Series Servers Null Management INF Installer Smart Component for Microsoft Windows Server 2003/2008 x64 edition

You can get the drivers for it from here: Click

If the OS version is unsupported, install it manually ….


VMware tools on Debian 6 guest PREREQUISITS

February 8th, 2012 @ // No Comments

To install VMware tolls on minimum net installed Linux guest operating system we need the following:

aptitude install build-essential

then we need to find the proper headers for us:

aptitude search linux-image

something similar this should appear:
p linux-image-2.6-vserver-686-big – Linux 2.6 for PCs with 4GB+ RAM (meta-pack
p linux-image-2.6-xen-686 – Linux 2.6 for modern PCs (meta-package), X
p linux-image-2.6.32-5-486 – Linux 2.6.32 for old PCs
i A linux-image-2.6.32-5-686 – Linux 2.6.32 for modern PCs
p linux-image-2.6.32-5-686-bigmem – Linux 2.6.32 for PCs with 4GB+ RAM
p linux-image-2.6.32-5-686-bigmem – Debugging infos for Linux 2.6.32-5-686-big
p linux-image-2.6.32-5-amd64 – Linux 2.6.32 for 64-bit PCs

look up for the proper images available for our guest os. Then install the proper headers by replacing image with headers like this:

aptitude install linux-headers-2.6-amd64
– for 64 bit machines
aptitude install linux-headers-2.6.32-5-686 -for 32 bit machines

that is all, we proceed by installing the VMware tools as it is described in VMware documentation … mount them, untar them, install by invoking the *.pl script


Toshiba Satellite L655 1D0 movies problem

February 8th, 2012 @ // No Comments

The Core I3 PSK1JE model had really unpleasant movie shattering after like 5 minutes of watching, the problem stayed after new OS installation, after changing most of the drivers and flashing the BIOS and anything i could think of. All temperatures were OK and ATI/AMD power play had been disabled.
It was close to mind that the problem was in the hard drive or in faulty disk controller but all other problems and OS worked just fine. The logs were clear, SMART was showing no problems. The drive also passed all its diagnostics.

In the end the problem was indeed a faulty hard drive or partition table.

The notebook as most Toshiba products has this ACPI/TOS6025 unknown device ….. it is the mega big Toshiba Bluetooth Stack


Intel Desktop Board and Windows Server drivers

February 8th, 2012 @ // No Comments

As you know, Intel has a politics, that is followed by most board makers, that states: If you want a server OS, you will buy a server board. Unfortunately there are very fine desktop boards with nice features out there that are in the desktop segment and are good for serious work.

In the current case we have the Intel DG45ID Desktop Board on which we want mirror RAID possible via the ICH9R and Windows Server 2003. Because the board has no legacy devices and that includes the floppy disk controller, the disk controller drivers were embedded in the Windows 2003 Server ISO and then burned to disk. How to do this? Check here: Click
Otherwise you could use USB Floppy drive to install the drivers by pressing F6 during the beginning of the Windows 2000/XP/2003 installation process and using the floppy disk that comes with the board.

The installation process after we took care of the controller driver is known to everyone.

After the installation is completed it is time to install all the missing drivers. If we are not careful what is install, we might damage our OS so the following steps are 100% problems free but that also depends on the driver version used.

So 2003 drivers, here we go:

Chipset and audio drivers can be installed directly via setup……. no problems here.

Lan driver can be installed manually, then use setup to install the extra features. Nice adapter with lots of features by the way.

Video driver is installed manually because setup doesn’t support Windows 2003, so as the HDMI driver.

Intel Matrix Storage console supports Windows 2003 so no drama.

Pci simple controller is Intel Management Engine Interface. The setup doesn’t work on Windows 2003. The driver works on 2000 and 2003 but its support is disabled via driver inf. So open inf using notepad ot notepad++ or other SIMPLE redactor and rework it so the Windows 2003 part becomes the same as the Windows XP part, then we install it manually and voala. We have nice system with board awesome for its money.

I have also posted that several years ago on Intel communities: Click

The message here is simple. If our drivers are not intended for specific OS the pattern you should follow if any other measure fail is: Windows 2003 – use drivers written for Windows XP and even for Windows 2000 if no other option is available. Windows 2008 – use drivers written for Windows 7. Of course we always must use proper drivers for the architecture we use. 64bit OS – 64 bitt drivers, 32bit OS – 32 bitt drivers.

Here is a screenshot of the machine i did back then:


Graphics switching, ATI-AMD/Intel all in one driver

February 8th, 2012 @ // No Comments

In case you had problems with display switching on some notebooks without hardware switch running Vista or Windows 7, use this:

it works on AMD Mobile HD4330 and Intel4500MHD …. and included all the needed drivers, both graphics cards and the additional software for the switching…

Click to download