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!

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