Beware of Seagate 7200.10 disk series

I noticed a bunch of articles regarding highly praised Seagate 7200.10 disk series and a couple of forum threads: one, two (I am sure there are others as well).

The problem is if you got a drive with an AAK firmware - it is abnormally slow (see article). Unfortunately I have one of these and can confirm the bad HD Tune results as others are reporting - at least my results are similar but not exactly the same since I have a 750GB drive instead of 320GB the people are talking about. Looks like my drive is having hardware problems, too. Since the Seagate is unwilling to comment (According to second forum's thread, at the bottom, they just say that this version is an OEM and it should never see retail stores. And since it is an OEM version Seagate isn't supporting it.) it is a big possibility that these results are correct and drive performance sucks. But it gets even worse - firmware is written on ROM and thus can't be flashed. Isn't that just great. I guess the hard disk price fall has its own bad side.

image

I am also getting some hardware errors, it seems (perhaps this is related to bad results?). Not sure why there are a vast amount of errors and HD Tune reports status as OK.
image

The bottom line is to avoid 7200.10 AAK versions unless you are sure that its performance is OK. At least I will be very cautious when buying a new drive, specially from a Seagate. 

Global warming is affecting Apple, too

the Inquirer writes that "Apple has lodged a patent for a device charger that works only with one device". In other words, you won't be able to charge your i[THING] with anything else than original charger. They mention that this would be good to make stolen devices unusable and thus preventing thefts.

As people don't have enough chargers already. Instead of thinking how to reduce the number of chargers by unifying them, Apple is thinking about increasing the number of chargers. If your family has two (or more) i[THINGS] you'll need two (or more) different chargers to charge them. This is stupid and I hope it never reaches the production phase. Not to mention the problem if the charger fails.

Apparently global warming and current heat wave is affecting Apple R&D people.

Jumping from 2GB to 4GB RAM makes Vista x86 faster

Recently I've increased my workstation RAM from 2GB to 4GB (all modules are CL4). Although I am running Vista Ultimate x86 and the available RAM increase is actually smaller than 2GB (Task Manager is reporting 3581MB of total RAM) due to x86 nature of OS the speed increase is quite nice. No, I haven't done any benchmarking or anything, I am speaking out of my subjective experience. Was it worth? Definitely. It would be nice to have all 4GB available, but hey, I really don't want to go x64 path (where I would have 4GB available and possibly more), not right now as half of my devices wouldn't work due to the lack of proper 64 bit drivers. Yes, the x64 era for workstations isn't yet here. Unless you really really really need more than 3,5GB RAM I don't see a reason to go with x64.

The bottom line is that if you are doing development (or any other serious job that consumes memory) don't hesitate and jump on 4GB wagon even if you are on x86 OS. Perhaps a word of caution here: some (older) motherboards have problems with 4GBs and you might get a lot less available RAM than me, so check it out before buying RAM. And if you wonder, my motherboard is Gigabyte GA-965P DS4 rev 1.0.

Intel Matrix Storage driver, production version 7.5.0.1017

Intel has put its Matrix Storage driver, official production version 7.5.0.1017, online. Among other improvements, it is supposed to fix iTunes/QuickTime problems for good. I have to say: finally - it was about time! Hopefully this ends months long saga of destroyed RAID drives. I guess we'll soon find it out if the problem is fixed. As a precaution I'll make a copy of my disk content using excellent Acronis True Image software right before installing this driver and later iTunes. Just in case. May the force be with the brave.

Go get it here.

UPDATE: I've been running the above RAID driver and iTunes 7.2 for a couple of days now and there are no problems. Not sure about the disk speed when using iTunes though.

Intel acknowledges that there is a problem with Apple software and their RAID drivers in Vista

I finally contacted [MS] support center about iTunes/Vista/Intel RAID situation (so far I managed to contact only Intel technical support - they said that this isn't a problem in their drivers). Rok, the [MS] support guy, listened to me and after a couple of hours he found this article on Intel's website - a very recent modification of article I guess. Here is an excerpt of interest:

2294301, Timeouts, degraded RAID volumes when playing/transcoding video files in Apple iTunes* and QuickTime* software, Windows Vista

This is hardly surprising after all. The breaktrough is that they acknowledge that there is a problem with iTunes and QuickTime - the same problem we figured a while ago. Intel could see the problem a while ago, too, if they'd looked into the problem.  But they didn't - instead they buried their head in the sand, at least publicly.

The bottom line is that one of the parties involved acknowledged the problem and I suppose it will fix it in near future. Yes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for us...

UPDATE 17.5.: After a reader posted a comment that there are new drivers version 7.5 I went checking Gigabyte web site and yes, there they are ("original" Intel drivers, not tied to Gigabyte mobos) and so are included release notes - it is clearly stated that they've fixed problems with Apple software. If you trust them, of course (a month ago or so, the technical support guy claimed that this problem doesn't have anything to do with their drivers). The same reader is reporting that the problem is actually gone with these latest drivers. A warning here is in place: Although it is not stated on Gigabyte web site, these 7.5.0.1017 SATA RAID drives are production candidate quality (aka RC version if you are a developer) and not final fully tested without errors (just with known issues). I think I'll wait a bit more, at least until final version is released and more positive reports will appear on the Internet. But if you dare install new drivers and test iTunes, please, don't hesitate to report the outcome (if your computer still boots :-P).

Getting Internet over FTTH (optics) isn't that easy, oh no, it is an adventure

Amazingly, Slovene national ISP Telekom (recently SIOL, my original ISP, was merged with Telekom) has really fulfilled the promise to bring fiber optics to my home. Actually, the infrastructure (cable) has been outside my doors for a month or so now. In the middle of the month I was wondering when I can get a connection already - FTTH 6Mb/6Mb would be of great benefit over ADSL2 2Mb/384Kb to me. So I called ISP's sales center. The operator said that they are sending letters (not e-mails) to subscribers and once I get the letter I can upgrade (I am already on their ADSL2). I got the letter in a couple of days and I phoned them again asking, hey connect me. The operator (new one) said - we have to check whether you can get optics at all. After telling him that I sure can, since cable is right outside the doors, he told me that they are not connecting customers yet and that I should call later next month (May). Oh well, but the story doesn't end here. Next day I was reading their forum and I saw a post from a guy saying that Telekom has already connected a bunch of customers in my city. I even found the news on the website that "first seven customers has been connected" and that they actually started fulfilling the promise. Go wonder. Of course I phoned the sales operator again (yet another one) who told me to apply for connection through their website and if anything goes wrong, I should call their support operator. So I went, filled a ton of data and clicked finish - just to get an exception of server error. This time I phones support and the guy I got told me that he can't help me as he can't even come close to this application of theirs and that I should call sales. See - I am already being pushed in recursion. OK, so I called sales and a new operator told me that they are experiencing problems with this application (which seems being used by them, too) and I should call them in an hour or so. Of course the application wasn't working for a couple of days and a bunch of different sales operators told me to call later because they have no idea what's wrong. Only after n-th call I got a sales operator that almost yelled at me: "What do you want? We are not selling optics yet, go away and return after we announce we are selling optics! And those seven guys who were connected were testers". Yet, they have an application in place that lets you apply for optics (but it throws a seemingly unrelated exception later on), they announced that they started connecting customers (note: there was no mentioning of test connections, no, it was explicitly stated that they were connecting subscribers), they have a price list in place and 80% of sales operators told me that I can apply, it is just the application that doesn't let me. And I can't even apply for optics right now.

The bottom line is no optics for now and I can't even apply for it. Perhaps in a month or less, who knows - apparently nobody. When it happens it happens. As for me, I have mixed feelings about optics: sure, the speed will be great, the stability should be better, the price should be lower but seeing how they are dealing with this makes me afraid of logical problems related. Needless to say, that my old ADSL2 modem needed a year of constant firmware upgrades to start working properly, at least more or less properly, IPTV has constant problems, IP phone quality is bad, etc. So I am bit in a dilemma whether to switch to optics right now, or wait for situation to stabilize (I guess the illogical part of me will prevail and I'll jump on optics bandwagon as soon it is available).

Burning large files using free DVD burning software

I had to burn a ~12GB file today on Vista, not a trivial task unfortunately.

Of course, I opted for burning the file to 3 DVD-Rs. First I made 3 files that matched maximum DVD-R size using WinRAR (if you don't need compression I strongly suggest using Fastest mode which is really fast). Then I had to burn those three files to 3 blank mediums. At this point the problems started. Which burning software should I use? I don't consider Nero anymore because it is bloated and I had an odd experience with it, plus it isn't free. Note, that I don't need fancy features, just burn the selected file(s) or ISO image.

I looked at David's list of free burning software and picked DeepBurner first, I installed it, run it, picked first file (~4.5GB) and started burn process. It was finished in 2 minutes. Wow, that was fast! But the problem was the fact that it burned just ~400MB of file for some odd reason No errors were reported, just the file wasn't there. Entirely at least. Later I discovered in their forums that DeepBurn has problems writing large files. Go figure, bad luck of choice.

Next, I picked InfraRecorder. Amazingly, it has a similar problem. It has written a bigger part of the file though. And again, no errors reported.

At this point I opted for Vista's easy burning feature. This time it won't even try to burn the file. And yes, no errors reported, just the click on Burn Files to Disk button doesn't do a thing. Argh.

Finally, after several ruined DVDs, I tried ImgBurn and it worked. Huraaaa, at last. I had to set UDF mode though.

So, the winner is: ImgBurn! A good choice if you have to burn really large files. The other software mentioned just acts oddly when burning such large files. What is even worse is the fact that no error is reported. OTOH if you need an easy to use burning software for writing not too large files I would recommend InfraRecorder - it is more friendlier than ImgBurn.

Our police knows everything

Last month there were two thefts from people connected to Slovene president Janez Drnovšek. Each time there was a computer (with possibly sensitive data) stolen among other minor valuable things. After first theft the police immediately issued a notice that the theft probably isn't related to the president, rather that it was a coincidence. After the second theft they immediately claimed the same, plus that two incidents aren't related. Even though they didn't have a clue who was behind the thefts and what were the reasons at that time. Isn't that really brilliant crime investigation from our police? Here comes even more fascinating investigation conclusion.

After a while they arrested a couple of drug addicts that stole one of the computers and sold it to another person. But here comes the witchcraft touch: the police says the data wasn't compromised in any way. How can police be so sure that nobody copied the harddrive or stolen the data in some other way - the computer was missing for weeks? Are they using some alien surveillance technology?

Statements like that certainly don't add to police credibility, do they?

iTunes is trying to destroy my RAID 10 running on Vista x86

It all started to happen when I tried to convert a large video to iPod format within iTunes. Since the conversion takes time I left the computer for a while. When I returned I got "Unable to boot screen" because Vista x86 bluescreened. The frightening fact was that it couldn't boot even though I am on RAID 10 (controlled by Intel ICH8R). Next I went to check into the RAID diagnostics utility and saw an even more frightening fact: 3 out of 4 drives were marked red saying "Failure". Fortunately the utility offered to recover RAID array and marked all but one drive as Normal. So there was still hope. I restarted and I could boot to Vista. As soon as I logged in Intel Matrix Storage Console warned me that my RAID array was degraded (since one of the volumes wasn't operational this info was correct). So I marked the fourth drive as normal as the RAID array was rebuilt in a couple of hours or so. Good for me, everything was working again and nothing was lost.

Now it was time to investigate the cause of this hard crash - I mean taking out 3 of 4 disks isn't just a normal blue screen and if there is a system problem I am in trouble. My first suspect was my Intel E6600 Dual Core CPU. Last thing I did to my computer before crash was to start a lengthy conversion that utilizes 100% of one CPU core (50% of entire CPU). The theory was that it could warm up too much during the conversion and when a CPU is overheating odd things happen. I crated a simple .net application that does an endless loop and run it twice so both cores would be pushed to the limit. Before that I've installed and run SpeedFan utility (one of the few sensor reading applications that work on Vista) that reads the temperature info from motherboard/CPU. I saw that when CPU is pushed to the limit the temperature of the cores raises to 53C/51C. The numbers don't look too high for me - before running Intel I was running an Athlon 2800+ that could reach 70C without problems - that was one hot CPU hard to cool. Back to my investigation. If my CPU crashed because of that relatively low temperatures it would mean that CPU is probably faulty and I would have to change it - I guess I would loose almost a week. Ouch. But this wasn't it. Vista was happily running without and problem for half an hour. Good for me. What was then? As a good programmer I tried to recreate the situation - I fired up iTunes and started conversion again - after some minutes it bluescreened again with similar RAID problems - disks were failing. That made iTunes the prime suspect that I would torture for a confession if I had to. I mean it can't be coincidence. I figured out that doing a conversion does something bad, very bad. Because I don't want to debug iTunes I decided to avoid the conversion feature and do conversions using other software available - Videora iPod Converter is an excellent choice, furthermore is free. Of course there were no problems converting video using Videora stuff. However, when I tried to update my iPod (again using iTunes) with converted video (that means just updating iPod data) Vista bluescreened again having a bunch of failed disks.

For now I decided to avoid using iTunes at all costs since I don't have time to rebuild my RAID array for couple of hours per crash through each day. I don't know what the exact problem is but it only manifests when iTunes is doing something (i.e. updating iPod). OK, I know that Apple doesn't recommend running iTunes on Vista for now, but this problem is just too much - that an application kills RAID disks isn't acceptable for Apple (destroying RAID), Intel (perhaps there is something wrong with RAID drivers?) and [MS] (letting iTunes destroy RAID).

The bottom line is beware of iTunes on Vista.

UPDATE: Although I managed to rebuild RAID volume, NTFS was damaged beyond repair. chkdsk just gives up on errors and all I can do is to login in safe mode. Thus I'll have to reinstall Vista today. Oh well.

UPDATE 2: A reader (in a comment bellow) reported that Apple Quicktime causes the same problem. Consider yourself warned.

UPDATE 3 (18.4.): I contacted Intel technical support and they say it certainly isn't their fault. The only explanation from them: it happens only with iTunes. I doubt that they bothered checking at all. But how can they say that it isn't their fault as their driver/controller (the last line between disk and other hw) should protect the integritiy of RAID array and shouldn't let any application destroying it. I will try to issue a PSS request to [MS] asap. I would ask Apple, too, but I don't have any contact e-mail...

UPDATE 4 (26.4.) One of the readers might have found the answer and solution to the problem. See for yourself here. Note that I didn't tested it nor I can confirm it or anything. However, it seems that he is on the right track.

UPDATE 5 (7.5.) A reader is reporting that it happens on opteron 170 in a DFI Lanparty nF4, too. This info sort of moves finger away from Intel to [MS] and Apple.

UPDATE 6 (11.5.) A breakthrough: Intel acknowledges the problem.