Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

October of Horror #4: Fright Night (1985)

Posted by Trixter on October 4, 2018

(For an explanation of what these posts in October are, see the parent post.)

Synopsis

Charlie is almost certainly sure that his new neighbor is a vampire: He sees a coffin being brought into the basement, and women have a nasty habit of turning up dead once they visit next door.  Problem is, nobody believes him.  Desperate, he enlists the help of his friends and a washed-up horror movie actor to confront the vampire once and for all.

Opinion

I’d somehow missed this movie when it first came out, but my wife Melissa had seen it nearly a hundred times as it was in regular rotation on HBO in the 1980s, so we watched it together.  Unlike yesterday’s disaster Return of the Living Dead II, Fright Night mixes together just the right amount of comedy and horror.  The supporting players (Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall, and Stephen Geoffreys) are standouts, with Geoffreys in particular striking an unnerving, off-balance character that made him perfect for his later starring role in 976-EVIL.

The story is simple but engaging, the pacing is even throughout, it hits all of the right vampire lore notes, and the practical effects are cheesy but fun to watch.

Recommendation

While it may not be the best film ever made about vampires, it’s great fun, and definitely worth your time.

Posted in Entertainment | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

October of Horror #3: Return of the Living Dead II

Posted by Trixter on October 3, 2018

(For an explanation of what these posts in October are, see the parent post.)

Synopsis

That pesky toxic chemical Trioxin returns to transform the dead into living zombies that crave the taste of live brains.  The four main actors from the first installment return in an alternate storyline similar to the first film.

Opinion

The original Return of the Living Dead is one of my favorite horror movies:  It strikes the perfect balance of horror and black comedy.  I not only own it on blu-ray, but I made my own version that uses the 1080p video with the VHS audio, retaining the excellent soundtrack.

This sequel, Return of the Living Dead II, is not that movie.  It strives for 50% physical comedy, 50% horror, and misses the mark at nearly every turn.  An original screenplay forcibly adapted to the Living Dead series, it feels like the filmmakers were trying to create a kid-friendly version of the original.

Recommendation

Not worth spending time on.  If you’re thinking of seeing it anyway, know that it has 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Skip it and watch the vastly superior original instead.

Posted in Entertainment | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

October of Horror #2: A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)

Posted by Trixter on October 2, 2018

(For an explanation of what these posts in October are, see the parent post.)

Synopsis

Teenage kids are killed by a burnt madman, who comes after them in their dreams once they fall asleep.

Opinion

Believe it or not, I’d never seen A Nightmare On Elm Street all the way through from start to finish until tonight.  It was the basis for many movie sequels, reboots, tie-ins, and even a horror anthology series in the late 1980s (as was trendy at the time).  Based on how many VHS copies are available on ebay, A Nightmare On Elm Street contributed massively to keeping rental stores afloat.

So, how did it hold up?  As a teenager, I’m sure I would have been very scared by this.  I recruited my wife Melissa to watch it with me, and while there were some legitimate I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened moments, they are few and far between.  The movie is less horror, more campy-slasher catered to the teenage crowd.

Recommendation

The original Nightmare on Elm Street series is probably best left in the 1980s, but if you want a conclusion to the original film, skip to the 3rd entry in the series, Dream Warrior, where the good guys actually win for a change.  And if you really want to see Freddy go at it, Check out Freddy vs. Jason which is way better than it deserves to be.

Posted in Entertainment | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

October of Horror #1: The Visitor (1979)

Posted by Trixter on October 1, 2018

(For an explanation of what these posts in October are, see the parent post.)

Synopsis

A late 1970s cross between The Omen and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Visitor is, as the name implies, a visitor from another planet comes to Earth to try to stop a child with evil powers.

Opinion

I was expecting pure Italian cheese, being another in a long line of Italian sci-fi/horror knock-offs, but I was very pleasantly surprised by how much this film pulled off.  It starts with some science-fiction mythology that will confuse you if you don’t know the synopsis of the film beforehand, but then from about the 15-minute mark to an hour later, it’s a genuinely interesting and well-crafted film that holds your attention.  As an Omen knock-off, it works very well.  The evil girl in question, Paige Conner, is very talented (not just acting, but we see her performing some impressive gymnastics and ice skating as well), and strikes the correct tone for something sinister under the surface.  Other players (including John Huston, Shelly Winters, and a young Lance Henriksen) all play it completely straight.  (Fans of Henriksen won’t be disappointed; his acting is very natural.)  Some of the practical effects are fantastic for the late 1970s, including the best live bird manipulation I’ve ever seen in a film.  Some of the locations and Ennio Guarnieri’s cinematography are also really great throughout most of the movie.  The sound design is also excellent, and less heavy-handed than The Omen.

Unfortunately, the last 45 minutes of the film has some severe pacing problems, some character turns that don’t feel quite right (and others, such as Shelly Winters, chewing up the scenery), and a slightly clumsy final act that feels like the film ran out of time or money to complete properly.  There is also a God/Devil allegory that is hinted at, then not hinted at, then clumsily mixed with science fiction?

Recommendation

If you remember the 1970s and can overlook its problems, it’s worth seeing, if anything to see the idealized perfect 1970’s house (A pool in the living room! Front-projection TV playing Pong! A Desert Patrol arcade game!).

Posted in Entertainment | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Binging 31 Horror Movies in October

Posted by Trixter on September 29, 2018

The month of October, culminating in Halloween, is my excuse to watch horror movies.  I save all of my horror media watching throughout the year until October, and then I binge:  Tales from the Darkside, Twilight Zone, Monsters, A Nightmare on Elm Street — you name it, I binge it.  It’s very cathartic.

This year, I’m going to do two things I haven’t done before:

  1. Watch only movies I’ve never seen before
  2. Blog about the experience

I’m not expecting to write volumes about each movie, but I’ll definitely provide my take on each movie and opine on whether or not viewing it is worth your time.

What’s the movie schedule?  I don’t know!  I have a long-neglected Plex library to go through, and will be viewing things in roughly chronological order, but it will be a surprise to me from week to week.  I love cheesy, terrible movies, but my wife doesn’t, so to rope her in I may flip from cheese to mainstream depending on her availability.

 

Posted in Entertainment | 15 Comments »

Vintage DOS Memory Conventions Explained

Posted by Trixter on August 20, 2018

Confusing expanded (EMS) memory with extended (XMS) memory happens all the time in the vintage PC/DOS computing hobby for those new to those terms.  Which is which?  What does my hardware support?  Do I need them?  This article will attempt to explain, as succinctly as possible, what each “type” of PC memory is and how it is used.  This article is not an extensive technical dive, but is meant to be an explanation of DOS memory conventions for the novice DOS user who is new to using DOS.

Protected Mode memory (DPMI, VCPI, DOS extenders, etc.) are not mentioned in this article because they typically don’t require any user intervention to work (ie. DOOM comes with DOS4GW.EXE and it just loads and works automatically).

Terminology used in this article

PC: Any IBM PC  or compatible system from the 1980s and 1990s running DOS.
8088: Shorthand for the entire 8086 CPU class, which includes the 8086, the 8088, the NEC V20, and the NEC V30.
640KB: The typical limit of memory DOS can access.  (Exceptions for DOS to access higher than 640KB exist, but are not mentioned to keep this article understandable for the layman.)

Quick history of memory on the PC

The 8088 CPU in the first IBM PC could access up to 1MB of memory.
Later, PCs built with the 80286 CPU could access up to 16MB of memory.
Later still, PCs built with the 80386 CPU could access up to 4GB of memory.

All PCs can directly access the first 1MB of memory.  Accessing memory beyond the first 1MB requires functionality only 80286 and later CPUs have.  Memory that extends past the first 1MB is called Extended Memory.

Because 8088 CPUs can’t access Extended Memory, special memory boards were created for them that fit into their system expansion slots.  These boards contain extra memory visible somewhere in the first 1MB, where the 8088 can see it.  The memory provided by these special expansion boards is called Expanded Memory.

Memory types in detail

EMS, XMS, conventional memory, UMBs… what does it all mean?  Here are some definitions:

Conventional Memory

What is it?  The first 1MB of memory visible to all 8088 and higher CPUs.  DOS is loaded into the area from 0-640KB and manages it.  The area above that, from 640KB to 1024KB (1MB), is typically used by the system hardware and not generally available to DOS programs.
How do DOS programs use it?  DOS provides function calls for allocating, resizing, and deallocating memory blocks for program use.  (Alternately, programs can directly access any portion of the first 1MB of memory they want to, although doing so can be risky if the programmer is inexperienced.)

Extended Memory

What is it?  Memory visible beyond the first 1MB, usually physically located directly on the motherboard, but sometimes provided by adding memory cards.
How do DOS programs use it?  Via an API called the eXtended Memory Specification, also called XMS.
What provides XMS?  XMS is provided by a driver called HIMEM.SYS, loaded by CONFIG.SYS at boot time.
How does XMS work?  XMS provides function calls that DOS programs can use to copy data between conventional memory locations and extended memory locations.

Expanded Memory

What is it?  Memory provided by special expansion cards.
How do DOS programs use it?  Via an API called the Expanded Memory Specification, also called EMS.
How is EMS provided?  Via a driver provided by the expansion card manufacturer.  Each card has a different driver and you must use the correct one for your card.  The driver configures the card for use, and provides EMS function calls that DOS or programs can use to access the memory on the card.
How does EMS work?  EMS boards provide a small “window” into the memory they contain, and this window is located somewhere in the first 1MB of RAM where 8088 CPUs can access it.  To access more memory, programs issue EMS function calls that “move” the window to a different area on the card, changing what portion of the larger memory shows up in the small window.

A quick note about EMS:  If you want to run a program that uses EMS, but you don’t have an EMS board in your computer, don’t fret: You can emulate EMS on any 80386 or higher.  This is done by loading a memory manager such as EMM386 or QEMM.  One of the services provided by a memory manager is to section off a portion of Extended Memory and present it in response to EMS function calls, like a real EMS board would.

Upper Memory

What is it?  The upper portion of Conventional Memory located between 640KB and 1024KB (1MB).  There is typically no user-accessible memory in this area, but 80286 and higher systems can relocate portions of Extended Memory into this area for use by DOS programs.
What is it used for?  The total amount of upper memory available is typically very small, between 64KB to 128KB, but this amount can still be useful for loading small memory-resident programs or drivers outside of Conventional Memory.
How do DOS programs use it?
  XMS provides functions for allocating and deallocating memory in this area in units of “blocks”, called Upper Memory Blocks, or UMBs.
How are UMBs provided?  For 80386s and higher, DOS comes with HIMEM.SYS and EMM386 which, loaded together, provide UMB functionality.  For 80286s and lower, there are programs (such as QRAM or USEUMBS) that use “shadow ram” functionality provided by the 80286 system’s chipset to perform the mapping.
How does upper memory access work?  Once a program is provided an upper memory block via a UMB functional call, it can be accessed the same way conventional memory is accessed, ie. directly.

Guidelines to running DOS programs

  1. First off, simply try to run a DOS program.  Most run without needing any special memory configuration.
  2. If you have an 80286 or higher, always load HIMEM.SYS in your CONFIG.SYS file.  There’s no harm in installing it even if programs don’t use it.
  3. If you want to load a single program on a 386 or higher to manage all of this for you, install QEMM.  QEMM will manage all of your memory and provide your programs with either XMS or emulated EMS based on what each program asks for.
  4. Finally, if a program claims to support both EMS and XMS, choose EMS.  EMS is faster than XMS.

Posted in Vintage Computing | 3 Comments »

Using a Sound Blaster in a PC/XT-class system

Posted by Trixter on August 3, 2018

I’m asked this a few times every year: Can you put a Sound Blaster in an IBM PC, PC/XT, or otherwise 8088/8086-class system?  If you can, is there anything that can use it on that class of hardware?

The quick answer is yes and yes:  As long as there are no hardware conflicts, you can put any of these:

  • Sound Blaster 1.0
  • Sound Blaster 1.5
  • Sound Blaster 2.0
  • Sound Blaster Pro
  • Sound Blaster Pro 2.0
  • Pro Audio Spectrum 8
  • Pro Audio Spectrum 8+
  • Pro Audio Spectrum 16
  • Thunderboard

…into any system and it should work fine.  You’ll be able to use the onboard joystick port, and have Adlib/FM sound effects and music.

The longer answer has a caveat: There are less than a hundred sound-enhanced games that will run, and less than 20 of those will use the digital sound channel.  The Sound Blaster was commercially available to consumers in 1989, which was right as the 8088 era was coming to a close.  Only a handful of games were produced around that time period that supported the Sound Blaster and could still run on 8088-class hardware and supported the CGA graphics typical of 8088-class systems.

But, if you have a souped-up NEC V20/NEC V30 XT, you’re feeling adventurous, and you really want to hear some sampled (“digitized”) sound come out of your system, you can try running these:

Commercial games:

Legend:
1) Used the Activision OmniMusic driver. There might be more games compatible with 8088+CGA that use this driver.
2) Need the rare “16-color” version of this game which supports CGA 640×200 2-color mode

Shareware games:

Demos:

 

There might be more than the above, but this is all I can remember personally testing.

For possibly much more comprehensive information on this subject, you can do no better than to check out Great Hierophant’s Nerdly Pleasures blog, which performs deep technical dives into these and other subjects.

Posted in Demoscene, Gaming, Vintage Computing | 13 Comments »

Public Service Announcement: Do Not Use The eBay Global Shipping Program

Posted by Trixter on July 31, 2018

If you sell rare, unique, or otherwise irreplaceable items on ebay, do not use eBay’s Global Shipping Program.  Doing so grants eBay’s partners the right to effectively take your item and resell it without your knowledge.  What follows is an explanation of what the Global Shipping Program is, why it exists, and why you shouldn’t use it for items that are difficult or impossible to replace.

Shipping internationally is a hassle in the USA: It requires multiple forms, a declaration of value, and for anything over a certain size, interaction with a shipping service employee.  However, if you’re selling rare items with global interest, such as vintage computers or software, dealing with international shipping is a necessary evil.  You could always not ship internationally, but that cuts out a large section of your audience and potential profits.

To try to ease the pain of international shipping for USA sellers, ebay introduced the Global Shipping Program (“GSP”).  The GSP allows a USA seller to market to international buyers, but then ship to a central USA domestic address.  Once received, ebay then handles delivery of the item to the international buyer.  The benefit to both parties is straightforward: The buyer gets access to more sellers that will ship to their country, and the seller only has to pay for a domestic delivery and avoid international shipping hassle.

The central USA address facility is subcontracted out to Pitney Bowes  (“PB”).  PB is a business, and they need to make money too, so they collect many packages to a single destination country and then ship them all off at once in a single freight shipment.  (This is usually facilitated by repacking items into smaller boxes so that PB can fit more items per shipping container.)  Large freight shipments are much cheaper than shipping packages individually, so the difference between what the international buyer paid, and what the eventual shipping cost is, becomes PB’s profit.

What most people don’t realize is that eBay’s agreement with PB allows PB to steal your items and resell them.  Worse, they get caught doing it all the time.

The Global Shipping FAQ contains this language:

What happens to lost, damaged, or undeliverable items?

GSP items purchased by your buyer may be covered by an eBay Money Back Guarantee or PayPal Purchase Protection program. eBay and Pitney Bowes shall have no liability and shall have, in their discretion and in any manner that they prefer, the right to dispose of or liquidate parcels (and their contents) that eBay or Pitney Bowes conclude are undeliverable.

At first glance, this seems like protection for PB such that they won’t get in trouble for shipping things that are dangerous or prohibited by a certain country.  In those cases, the parcels are likely disposed of.  But this wording gives PB the right to “conclude” that any item is “undeliverable”.  Remember, PB is a business, and they need to make money, so what happens when they have only a few huge boxes (for example, vintage computers) to ship to an international destination, and/or the contents of those boxes are fragile and cannot be repacked and made smaller to fit into a shipping container?  PB would lose money passing them on to the buyer, and they’d also lose money returning them back to the seller.  So, rather than lose money in either case, they classify the item as “undeliverable” and it goes nowhere.  Their agreement with eBay (wording above) grants them the right to do this.

The reason this doesn’t turn into instant outrage on an hourly basis is that eBay compensates both the seller and buyer when this happens.  The seller gets to keep the money they received for the item, and since the item can’t be delivered, the buyer gets a refund for what they paid.  If the item is something common, then the buyer can just start their shopping again from a different seller or store.

But what happens to the original item if PB doesn’t want to deliver it?  The wording in the agreement grants PB the right to “liquidate” parcels.  While most people think liquidated means destroyed, it doesn’t:  In this context, it means apportioned, which is another way of saying reallocated and redistributed:

What happens to items that can’t be delivered to my buyer?

If eBay and/or Pitney Bowes determines that a GSP item is undeliverable eBay and/or Pitney Bowes may elect to dispose of, destroy or liquidate the undeliverable parcel, at which time title to the GSP item shall transfer automatically from you to eBay and/or any third party designated by either eBay or Pitney Bowes

In other words, the original item is given to a third party who can do whatever they want with it.  And what the third party does is resell it… back on eBay… using your original listing!

Need proof?  Here’s a listing from someone who sold an IBM PC to an international buyer:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/-/273283847165?nordt=true&orig_cvip=true&rt=nc&_trksid=p2047675.l10137

They then were informed by eBay that their package was undeliverable, and both parties were compensated.  Then, a few weeks later, this listing showed up on ebay:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Working-IBM-Personal-Computer-Model-5150-PC-No-Monitor-/163169047795?epid=1900490613&hash=item25fda214f3%3Ag%3AVRAAAOSwgVlbWhO1&_nkw=ibm+5150&_sacat=0&_from=R40&LH_Complete=1&rt=nc&nma=true&si=xcoEA3o5aXAEajzy2eboTpHSO70%253D&orig_cvip=true&nordt=true&_trksid=p2047675.l2557

Not only is the original item for sale (with “No international shipping” predictably part of the shipping conditions), but the pictures were lifted wholesale from the original listing.

This is surely cause for outrage.  However, by merely using the GSP, you transfer all of your rights and have no recourse.  eBay’s official wording makes it clear that once the item is received by PB, not only do you lose all title to the item, you also lose any intellectual property rights your listing may have had:

Will content from my original listing be used if the item is liquidated?

Yes.In the event eBay or Pitney Bowes elects to dispose of or liquidate a GSP item, you grant to eBay, Pitney Bowes and/or any third party designated by either eBay or Pitney Bowes (as eBay and Pitney Bowes may elect) a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, transferable license to any intellectual property rights in the text or images presented in the original listing related to the GSP item, which exists or ever existed, including, but not limited to, the right to reproduce, prepare derivative works base on or display, any copyrightable elements, for the limited purpose of disposal or liquidation of the GSP item. You acknowledge that eBay or Pitney Bowes’s election to dispose of or liquidate the GSP item and allow you to retain your buyer’s payment for the GSP item is sufficient consideration for the transfer of title to eBay and/or any third party designated by either eBay or Pitney Bowes (as eBay or Pitney Bowes may elect in their sole discretion) and the grant of the license.

Always read the fine print.

Bottom Line

If you are selling something irreplaceable, such as a vintage computer or highly rare vintage software, do not, under any circumstances, use the GSP to sell internationally.  Doing so grants eBay the right to effectively destroy your item on a whim instead of delivering it.

Losing a vintage item is much more painful than simply being out the money you paid (or received) for it — the true cost is the loss of something that cannot be replaced.  Any seller of such items cannot, in good conscience, allow rare items to be put in this position.

I’d like to thank my colleagues at the VCF Forum for investigating and bringing this to light.

Posted in Vintage Computing | Leave a Comment »

What they don’t tell you about getting older

Posted by Trixter on July 16, 2018

I’m nearing 50.  I’m developing the usual amount of physical issues for someone who doesn’t take care of themselves, but nobody told me about the mental issues that follow.

The human brain is an organ, just like every other organ in your body.  It’s highly specialized, but then again so are most major organs.  As we age, our organs don’t perform as well: We are slower to perform, slower to adapt, slower to heal.  Sometimes organs that performed well in our youth start losing the ability to perform their primary function, such as your kidneys leading to early-onset diabetes.  And, I’m now finding out, the brain suffers from this as well.

It’s no secret that the elderly have easily-identifiable mental issues, mostly speed of processing and the difficulty of forming short-term memory.  What isn’t as well communicated is how less-than-peak-performance brain function affects you long before you become that old.  In the last few years, I find myself:

  • Sensitive to emotion and empathy.  I guess this comparison is inevitable, given my nerd pedigree, but it’s very much like Bendii Syndrome, where you feel emotion more strongly.  There have been times when I was expected to be impartial in a situation, only to find myself quite subjective and borderline irrational based on how I personally felt.
  • Feeling a pervasive sense of loss.  When I first started out in my career (and hobbies), I had an experience and intellectual advantage in my field.  Someone much older than me described me as “the smartest kid in the room”, and I definitely felt that way up until about 8 years ago.  You can see a definite correlation between how much I felt I was losing that and my demoscene productions from 2013 through 2015 — almost as if I was desperately trying to cling to that feeling of being the smartest kid in the room.
  • Being resistant to change.  As emotional response increases, logical reasoning has to fight harder to win.  There are many changes in last few years I’ve resisted because I felt about them a certain way, when logically they made perfect sense to me.
  • Tiring after periods of concentration.  What happens when you work a muscle too much?  It gets tired and hurts.  What happens when I have to learn something new, or concentrate on a difficult problem?  I feel fatigued.

There are ways to mitigate the above, but the cruel irony is that your brain is the organ that has to fix itself, and it’s malfunctioning.  I should get more sleep, exercise, eat better — but my brain wants everything to just go away.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

You cannot violate the laws of physics

Posted by Trixter on May 4, 2018

It’s technology refresh time at casa del Trixter.  I’m dabbling in 4K videography, and upgrading my 9-year-old i7-980X system to an i7-8700K to keep up.  Another activity to support this is  upgrading the drives in my home-built ZFS-based NAS, where I back up my data before it is additionally backed up to cloud storage.  The NAS’ 4x2TB drives were replaced with 2x8TB and 2x3TB (cost reasons) in a RAID-10 config, and it mostly went well until I started to see disconnection errors during periods of heavy activity (ie. a zpool scrub):

Apr 30 19:32:07 FORTKNOX kernel: sd 0:0:2:0: [sdc] Device not ready
Apr 30 19:32:07 FORTKNOX kernel: sd 0:0:2:0: [sdc] 
Apr 30 19:32:07 FORTKNOX kernel: Result: hostbyte=DID_OK driverbyte=DRIVER_SENSE
Apr 30 19:32:07 FORTKNOX kernel: sd 0:0:2:0: [sdc] 
Apr 30 19:32:07 FORTKNOX kernel: Sense Key : Not Ready [current] 
Apr 30 19:32:07 FORTKNOX kernel: sd 0:0:2:0: [sdc] 
Apr 30 19:32:07 FORTKNOX kernel: Add. Sense: Logical unit not ready, cause not reportable
Apr 30 19:32:07 FORTKNOX kernel: sd 0:0:2:0: [sdc] CDB: 
Apr 30 19:32:07 FORTKNOX kernel: Read(16): 88 00 00 00 00 00 08 32 11 70 00 00 01 00 00 00
Apr 30 19:32:07 FORTKNOX kernel: end_request: I/O error, dev sdc, sector 137498992
Apr 30 19:32:07 FORTKNOX kernel: sd 0:0:2:0: [sdc] Device not ready
Apr 30 19:32:07 FORTKNOX kernel: sd 0:0:2:0: [sdc]

At first I thought the drive was bad, so I replaced it.  I then saw exactly the same types of errors on the replacement drive, so to make sure I wasn’t sent a bad replacement, I tested the drive in another system and it passed with flying colors.  So now the troubleshooting began:  Switch SATA ports on the motherboard:  No change.  Switch SATA cables: No change.  Switch SATA power cables: No change.  Switch SATA cables and ports with one of the drives that was working:  No change; that specific drive kept reporting “Device not ready”.  I even moved the drive to a different bay to see if the case was crimping the cables to the drive when I put the lid back on:  No change.

It was really starting to confuse me as to why this drive wouldn’t work installed as the 4th drive in my NAS.  I started to doubt the aging Xeon NAS motherboard, so I bought a SAS controller and a SAS-to-SATA forward breakout cable so that the card could handle all of the traffic.  This seemed to work at first, but eventually the errors came back.  I then started swapping SATA breakout ports, then entire SAS cables, then eventually a replacement SAS controller.  In all instances, the errors eventually came back on just that single drive, a drive that worked perfectly in any other system!

The solution didn’t present itself until I started building my replacement desktop system based on the i7-8700k.  In that system, I opted for a modular power supply to keep the cable mess at a minimum (highly recommended; I’ll never go back to non-modular PSUs).  When I was putting my video editing RAID5 drives into the new desktop, I noticed with irritation that each of the modular SATA power cables only had three headers on them instead of four.  This sucked because I was hoping to use one SATA power breakout cable for all four drives, and now I’d have to use two cables which added to the cable clutter inside the case.  This power supply was Gold rated, high wattage — why only put three SATA power headers on a breakout cable?  In thinking about the problem, I came to the conclusion that the makers of the power supply were likely being conservative, to avoid exceeding the limits of what that rail was designed to provide.

And that’s when I remembered that I was putting four drives on a single rail back on the NAS, and not three like the new power supply was enforcing.  When I moved the misbehaving NAS drive to a SATA power header on another rail, all of the drive disconnection problems went away.  Whoops.

How did this work before?  The power draw of 2x8TB + 2x3TB drives was just high enough to be dodgy, when the previous configuration of older 4x2TB drives was not.  The newer drives draw more power than the older drives did.

Lesson learned, and now I have spare controllers and cables in case there’s a real failure.

Posted in Technology | 5 Comments »