Saturday, August 14, 2010

Weird Windows Fun

So I got the RAID 0 stripped drive up on my home fun system - dual 150GB 10,000RPM WD raptors giving me a virtual drive C: of about 265GB. I moved my data (so My Docs, My Music etc) to drive E:, which is a 1.5TB drive. I am keeping that functional split - drive C: only contains temporary or application tools which can be replaced, while E: is my personal data which I backup on external USB drives roughly once a week.

The RAID 0 setup was surprisingly easy. My GA-P55M-UD2 motherboard has 2 SATA drive controllers, which surprised me at first yet makes perfect sense once I started thinking RAID volumes. The main (fast) controller is in the Intel chipset and has 5 SATA ports. The secondary (slow - x1 PCIx only) controller is a GIGABYTE chip with only 2 SATA ports. I know these ports are slower because they can't handle full-speed BluRay playback! I had to move my BluRay SATA drive to the Intel controller.

With the 2nd SATA chip it is safe to run a SATA CD or even SATA hard drive during the activation of the RAID control functions within the main Intel SATA controller. I disconnected all of my drives - including my old 160GB drive C:. I connected the two raptors in the desired 2 SATA ports, then used the built-in BIOS support to form the two drives into a single striped RAID volume.

(For those unfamiliar with the term, a RAID 0 uses 2 drives and stores your files by alternating small chunks on both - these are the stripes in 'striped'. Published tests show these striped drive pairs give about a 50-60% speed increase during large file operations. Of course, your file now no longer exists on either drive ... but is half on each! If either drive fails, you lose everything. Yet that's no riskier than someone using only 1 drive as C: - in either case, 1 drive failure and you lose all.)

After forming the RAID volume, in a fit of zaniness I decided to not try to restore my old drive C and just reinstall my fully legal Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit. I always like the cleanness of that approach.

It installed fine. I manually activated it - it activated fine and gave me the thanks for using Genuine Windows. A few hours later all the service packs were on, my DSL providers anti-virus was up, OpenOffice and all my other free tools were as fresh as the Internet allowed.


A week later and I'm quite happy with the result. The raptors are a chatty bunch (are noise drives), but I knew that already because I've them for years.

Then last night I learn something new and scary. I turn on the system, it does the old "Updating Please Wait" routine since the night before there had been a dozen critical updates. When I log in get a warning that I'm violating my license and need to reactivate. Odd - just the week before I successfully activated, so apparently Window 7 can un-activate itself at will!

The warning included a tool to run, which gives a bunch of unreadable codes including the main error 0xC004C008. Look on the internet, it's a quite common complaint. At this point, I am guessing that one of those dozen "critical updates" changed the rules for Windows 7 activation - it probably closed some loophole which pirate computer sellers were using to get around activation. I did install a new commercial-strength 'drive imaging tool' after the Win 7 activation. Perhaps that's the loop-hole; perhaps this tool is good enough to fool an activated Win 7 install to run on a dozen computers built with the same motherboard. That's just a guess.

Still, it is annoying (& worrying) since this means on any day, at any time my Windows 7 might stop working because Microsoft changed the rules.

My license was an OEM license, which means it gets tied to the motherboard and lives only as long as the motherboard lives. I understand and accept this - it means the Windows DVD cost $99 instead of $199.

What did NOT change between first install in Oct 2009 and second install in Aug 2010:
  • Same mother board (GIGABYTE GA-P55M-UD2)
  • Same processor (i7-860 Lynnfield 2.8GHz Quad-Core)
  • Same memory (8192MB CORSAIR XMS3 DDR3-1600)
  • Same DVD/CD Drive (Asus SATA DVD/CDRW with Lightscribe)
  • Same video card (EVGA 01G-P3-1226-LR Geforce GT220 1GB)
What did change:
  • Boot drive is now the pair of WD raptors in RAID 0, was a single 160GB drive
  • Data drive is now the 1.5TB Seagate, was a 500GB WD
  • I've added an LG SATA BD-ROM, DVD+/- with Lightscribe)
The really worrying part is that changing the hard-drive should have little or no effect on the Windows activation - after all, people often upgrade drives. Even the computer at Microsoft which rejected the activation should have been able to see that the motherboard didn't change.

I had to go through the phone thing twice, so read off a 60-digit number to a computer, then the first time it kicked me out saying no one was available. Second time I got some fine chap in India to read me another 60-digit number. It was annoying, but I figure I had the least work to do here - if Microsoft really did change the activation rules as one of those 'critical updates' my Win 7 downloaded Thursday night, then the fine chaps (and chapesses) in India could be have a huge increase in such work!

Labels: , ,

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Migrating Ubuntu 10.4 to larger drive

Summary: don't be fooled by all the 'use DD' posts on the internet - migrating & resizing Linux drives is as easy with Ubuntu as with Windows. For example, SeaGate's free Drive Wizard (which is actually Acronis's Drive Clone tool) happily took an 80GB Ubuntu 10.4 drive and copied/resized it up onto a 320GB drive. Of course the tool runs under Windows, but I have no shame and can handle that - I just temporarily added both drives to a Win7 machine.

Although the tool warned me that I might need to boot a Linux floppy or CD to repair the boot loader, I didn't have to. The first time Ubuntu 10.4 booted, it warned me that the expected drive id (a big long hex code) was missing and I could wait or manually repair the issue. I pressed "M" to repair it, which I assume just meant that Ubuntu changed the id of its expected boot drive.

If one searches the internet for how to migrate Linux between hard-drives, you'll see the famous (infamous?) one-liners of:
dd if=/dev/hdb3 of=/dev/sde3

Of course, what most of these posters don't mention is the need to create the new swap partition, etc, etc. Plus below these posts will be the comments of the dozen kids who trashed their disks because they typed the wrong dev names. Then all the others chime in about needing to manually edit fstab and grub etc. Then of course to 'grow' an EXT filesystem on a bigger drive, there are other commands to run.

Anyway, I am pleased that I 'risked' my experiment to use a standard, run-of-the-mill Windows drive cloning tools and it very smoothly cloned and resized my Ubuntu image.

Why am I doing this?
I have been playing musical-hard drives this past week. I will be installing striped RAID 0 drives in my 2 main Windows 7 systems, so have been putting older, larger drives into my Ubuntu systems to free up their smaller drives ... make sense? :-)

Let me step back - so the drive design I've migrated to over the past year is to use 1 modest sized drive C: (say 160GB) for the OS and applications, then use a second 1TB or larger drive for my personal and miscellaneous data. I do this because my backup strategy is VERY different for the two styles of data.

The only way I trust to backup Windows 7 in a recovery form is to create a full drive image, which tends to be perhaps 30-40GB ... if I don't have 750GB of personal data clogging up drive C! Since I'll probably never need a single file from these images, having them highly compressed and slumbering on an external USB drive in one of those $40 department store fire-safes is just fine.

Most of my personal data (my writing, my 3D graphics, my ripped media) is instead backed up by echoing (one-way mirrored) onto one of several external USB drives. I don't ZIP these because I often need to look for individual files. The only down-side is that the backup slowly grows larger than the original as I move, rename or delete things from my original working set.

So I have not yet started the RAID 0 process, but from what I read migrating a drive C: from a single drive to RAID 0 is easiest by using 3 drives. Both of my motherboards have RAID controllers built in and supported at a BIOS level, so I assume this will go smoothly.

So for example, to migrate my single 160GB drive C: I need two more 80GB or 160GB drives. I get these working as RAID 0 as say drive F:, then do a full drive image of C: with a tool designed for a complete recovery - I use Acronis's "True Image". Then I remove the old Drive C: from the system, get the RAID 0 starting as the first drive, and finally use the Acronis recovery CD to restore my Windows 7 image to the new drive C. Hopefully it goes just like that.

Plus another nice reason to have all my personal data on my second drive is that I can disconnect it during all of these trials and tribulations. Better, there is literally nothing important on my drive C! Worst case, the OS and applications can always be reinstalled at a cost of a wasted afternoon (or three).

Labels: , , ,

PogoPlug still plug'n away

Just a quick update - the Pogo Plug is working fine after nearly 4 months.

The only complaint I have is that occasionally - especially on weekends - the cloud service seems to fail or go offline. I have only seen this I think 3 times so far, but it annoying. Especially since the PogoPlug driver in my home systems uses direct Ethernet to access the device, but aren't smart enough to contact it when the host cloud is down!

What do I put up there? Simple example: I am assigned to a business trip. I get the PDF file details by email, so I copy it up to my drive "P".

Labels: ,

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Personal Cloud (your data anywhere)

There are some interesting new tools coming out with powerful implications - kind of like the 'place-shifting' & 'DVR' which allowed TV to be watched anywhere.

Your own 'World-Wide Drive' (WWD):
Any interesting new class of product is the PogoPlug appliance. For about $125 it lets you 'mount' a few USB drives which you nestle safely at home (or work). It supports Windows, MAC and Linux. So now while at home or at work or on the road, I have a magic drive "P:" which is my own private little 500GB of space. Course it's NOT a very speedy drive! Your broadband upload speed is tiny compared to real online servers. But it lets me keep PDF files of industrial protocols and other rarely needed stuff in easy reach. Plus it is MINE - all mine. I can maintain or backup my 500GB without paying monthly fees or getting nasty bandwidth warning from my broadband supplier! Plus it could expand to a dozen TB (1000 of GB) there if I wanted to.

The PogoPlug device is a small Linux-based appliance about the size of a USB drive with an Ethernet port and 4 USB host ports (aka: PC-like). You plug your USB drives into it - preferable drives which power down when idle. My only drive at the moment is a chromy-choco-brown Samsung 500GB drive which I bought on deep discount. The drive's a bit gaudy, but it is small, runs cool and spins down after 5 minutes of inactivity.

From your home Ethernet, the PogoPlug-driver fetches data directly via Ethernet, which makes the PogoPlug a simple 'home file server'. I can maintain or backup the files directly to a 1TB drive in my desktop.

When you are out & about, then the PogoPlug-driver uses HTTP (or HTTPS) to fetch your data via cloud servers which fetch it from your home box using encrypted UDP. You never need to know the IP of your home system because the PogoPlug keeps itself 'available' to the cloud 24/7. You can also 'share' the drive, so I could give YOU access to my protocol library or music files.

Is it secure? Probably fairly, being somewhere in between the 'very secure' of running your own dedicated Linux home file server with fixed IP, and 'not really secure' of an online file-space company. (Sure, those 'online' backup sites promise your files are private, but the files sit on a 'computer drive', where any bored night operator can browse your files looking for porn.) The PogoPlug system only bounces data packets through the cloud, so it would take a higher level of security breach to actually see your files as 'a drive'.

Magic WWW File Sync:
The other tool I am starting to use is Microsoft's Beta 'Live Mesh' service, which allows you to automatically sync files between internet-connected Windows (& MAC) computers. It has other features, but my main interest is in simple things like (as example) say there is a new version of 7-zip or OpenOffice. I can download the installers once, place them into a magic directory on one PC and eventually it will exist on all of my other computers.

Why not use my PogoPlug? For one thing the speed of the Pogo drive is not good enough to run applications - even opening a PDF file is slow since Acrobat jumps around the file so much as it read the file. So I find manually copying the file to a TEMP directory the best.

in contrast, the Live-Mesh solution allows me to just have the EXE/MSI installer magically appear on each of my local hard-drives. Is it secure? Is anything connected to the Internet? For now I am just using it for big things I need to 'have local' on each computer.

Labels: , ,

This blog has moved

This blog is now located at
You will be automatically redirected in 30 seconds, or you may click here.

For feed subscribers, please update your feed subscriptions to

Monday, January 11, 2010

Win7 and Blue Ray - is it free?

I been busy - now have an i7 core system up with Win7 Home Premium 64-bit. My 3D rendering with Poser 8 likes the larger memory.

To answer a question I didn't find answered directly: while Win7 'Media Center' now plays DVD for 'free', it does not play Blue Ray.  I always found that annoying in Win Xp Media Center 2002 - you needed to pay someone $20 to play DVD, and if I understand it correctly, the 'theory' is that the fine people creating the DVD encryption/encoding demand a 50-cent per copy royalty.  So your $20 is a $19.50 mark-up.

So now Win7 (somehow) lets one play DVD without buying a third-party addon.  But not so for Blue Ray - trying to run a Blue Ray disk causes a 'cannot play with any installed app' error.

Why Blue Ray?  Well, the internal BD-ROM/drives are now down to $50+ and i needed a new drive.   Just be aware - some of the lower cost drives don't come with software which plays Blue Ray (aka: you get a 'legal' DVD software suite which needs an 'upgrade' to play Blue Ray).

I bought the low-end LG model from, in part because the lower cost LiteOn had lots of customer warnings that the included tool didn't play Blue Ray (seems rather counter-intuitive, but money is money I guess).

So now I have a NVIDIA GT-240 with HMDI/HDCP to an Asus 22-inch 1080p display.  Works great, but on such a small display one doesn't really 'feel' a huge difference between normal DVD and HD.  of course on a 60+inch HD TV I bet it's more meaningful.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Firefox 3.5 Embarrassments

(This entry is 'dated' and will become irrelevant some day - at the moment " Vista + FireFox 3.5 + Karpersky " is an incompatible combination)

Well, I had to stop using Firefox after it upgraded itself to 3.5 – but switching to Opera has started to grow on me. (  Opera seems very light and agile after using either FireFox or IE, and while it doesn't work well on heavy ASP business sites, but I can use IE for those anyway.

Although the issue has (perhaps) been solved for others, it hasn't helped me yet so I put this web page up to help others discover the secrets which a month of casual web searches didn't find for me.

Half the time when I start FireFox, it hangs using 100% of one of my four cores. Then I must open the Windows Task Manager and manually kill FireFox off.  Whenever FireFox does succeed in running again, I get that "this is embarrassing" error display which so many FireFox apologists are in love with.

Worse, I have FireFox set to open a BLANK page when it starts, so this "embarrassing" message about failing to reopen pages I don't want to see is beyond annoying. Again, the FireFox apologists say isn't it wonderful that a potentially harmful web page which crashed FireFox is the very first thing FireFox tries to open after restarting. If this crazy behavior was a user-option which I could enable or disable then I won't mind, but I am forced to accept this asinine default which over-rides my explicit request to always start FireFox with a blank page!

The issue is (I guess) solved for others, but not me. mentions there is an issue with FireFox and Karpersky.

My company forces me to use Vista Business, plus Karpersky Internet Security 2009 – and some feature within ( Vista + FireFox 3.5 + Karpersky) clashes. Suggestions to “update Karpersky” don't help me because corporate “Security Policy” locks me out of doing anything with it. “They” (meaning IT) push down updates daily, but I have no idea when they'll risk the firmware update which works with FireFox given the strain Vista + Karpersky + MS Office 2007 + VPN causes on most of the notebooks around here.