REPOST: A7V333: no longer able to access hard disks at boot time

Discussion in 'Asus' started by Chris Metzler, Jan 6, 2004.

  1. Hi. I posted this problem originally about three months ago, but
    didn't get a response. I'm trying again, hoping someone will have
    some advice for me.

    My basic problem: after almost a year of working properly, the
    system suddenly seems unable to boot off of either hard drive on
    IDE0/1, even though the drives seem to be working perfectly when
    accessed after booting through some other method.

    CONFIGURATION
    -------------

    - A7V333-RAID w/ Athlon XP 2000, 2x Corsair 512MB CAS2 DDR333/PC2700 RAM.
    - IDE0: Lite-On LTR-48125W CD-RW, WD 1200JB hard drive
    - IDE1: Lite-On XJ-HD165H DVD/CD-ROM, WD 1200JB hard drive
    - IDE2 (Promise): WD 800JB hard drive, WD 1200JB hard drive
    - IDE3 (Promise): WD 1200JB hard drive
    - Teac (?) floppy drive
    - Matrox Millenium G550 video card with Viewsonic P95f+ monitor
    - Creative Soundblaster Live! 5.1 sound card
    - D-Link DFE-530TX+ NIC
    - HP LJ1200 attached through parallel port.

    The OS is located on the WD 800JB (80 GB) drive (the master on IDE2,
    the first channel of the on-board Promise adapter), freeing the four
    120 GB drives (one on each IDE channel) to be used as a pair of
    RAID1 arrays. For faster execution, RAID functions are handled
    by the OS; the on-board Promise hardware is used solely for the
    extra IDE channels. The Promise *RAID* capabilities are not used
    at all.

    To be able to boot off CD when desired, the machine has to be
    configured to boot from IDE0/1 rather than the Promise channels,
    since the on-board Promise controller only allows disks to be
    connected. To allow the OS to reside on a disk on the Promise
    channels while still booting off IDE0/1, a bootloader is installed
    into the MBR of the first 120 GB hard disk (IDE0 slave) which
    points to the OS on the 80 GB drive. The BIOS is configured to
    attempt to boot off off, in order:

    1. the CD-RW (IDE0 master);
    2. floppy;
    3. the first 120 GB hard disk (IDE0 slave).

    When it attempts to boot off the hard disk, it loads and executes
    the bootloader which loads the OS off the 80 GB drive on IDE2.

    I've had this system configured as described since early last
    November, working flawlessly under heavy load for a workstation,
    including numerous cold boots (after e.g. shutting down for a
    thunderstorm) and some warm boots (after e.g. Linux kernel
    recompiles). Not one crash or glitch of any sort, ever.


    THE PROBLEM
    -----------

    I'm no longer able to boot from the hard drives on IDE0 or IDE1.

    The POST finds the drives OK: they're listed in the opening
    screen after memory is counted; and entering the BIOS setup screen
    shows all four devices on IDE0/1 just fine. So it's not as if
    it doesn't see the drives at all. But when it comes time to
    read from the MBR, trouble. If the boot sequence is left as
    above, and there are no bootable media in the CD or floppy drives,
    then the system hangs after trying the floppy drive, with the
    floppy drive light on; a hard reset is necessary. If the boot
    order is changed so that the hard drive comes first, then the
    system hangs immediately upon starting to try to boot, and again
    a hard reset is necessary. No error messages of any sort -- just
    a hang. Disabling CD and/or floppy booting doesn't change this;
    the boot still hangs when it gets to trying to boot from the hard
    drive.

    However, booting off the CD or a floppy is possible. In fact, I
    can boot the bootloader that would normally be in the first hard
    drive's MBR off a floppy, and use *that* to access the OS on IDE2
    master without any problem. It's just like things would normally
    work, except the first step of the boot process goes through the
    floppy rather than the IDE0 slave like it used to.

    At this point, I might normally guess that there's some sort of
    problem with the drive. However, the OS doesn't use BIOS routines
    to access disks; it uses its own, entirely. Once the OS is booted,
    I'm able to mount and mess with *all* disks, including the disk
    in question. I've done hours of tests on it, filling it up and
    doing compares and so forth. The disk works perfectly through the
    OS; there's only a problem when attempting to access the MBR through
    the BIOS at boot-time.

    Another hint that it's not a problem with the disk is that I
    installed the bootloader into the MBR of the *other* hard drive
    on IDE0/1, the IDE1 slave, and changed the BIOS setting to boot
    off that drive instead of the IDE0 slave. Exactly the same thing
    happened -- system hang when it came time to boot off that disk.

    The fact that there's no error messages at all made me suspicious
    that maybe the MBR simply got munged somehow. So I re-installed
    the bootloader into the MBR, more than once. No effect.

    It is as if the BIOS can no longer read from the drives, or at least
    can no longer read from their MBRs. But how can the BIOS get munged
    in such a way as to work perfectly in every way *except* in trying
    to boot off a hard drive?

    I've spent the last three months booting off a floppy as a result
    of this, and I'd really like to fix this problem if I can.

    Any advice or suggestions would be welcomed.

    Thanks.

    -c
     
    Chris Metzler, Jan 6, 2004
    #1
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  2. Chris Metzler

    John Tindle Guest

    Chris..
    No wonder you didn't get any replies - you have a problem you don't see all
    that often, but you seem to have thought it through to a logical conclusion.
    You didn't mention the OS..... XP? WIN2K?
    In XP there are 3 commands you can use at the recovery console command line.
    BOOTCFG (/REDIRECT or /REBUILD), FIXBOOT and FIXMBR
    I would use BOOTCFG with no switches to see where it's trying to boot from,
    then use FIXMBR if all is as it should be.
    To access the drive on the raid controller from the RC you might need the
    promise driver loaded (F6 on bootup).
    My first thought would be a corrupt MBR....... but let us know the real
    answer....

    JT.
     
    John Tindle, Jan 6, 2004
    #2
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  3. Chris Metzler

    Paul Guest

    Could it be related to the settings of the disk detection in the
    BIOS "Main" section ? Most people set these to "Auto", but perhaps
    you've done something different ? Maybe the geometry detected
    for the disks is somehow screwed up.

    When the BIOS detects hardware, it stores information in the ESCD
    section of the flash chip. This seems to be a cache of hardware
    settings. The ESCD gets updated whenever new hardware is detected.
    Possible, the ESCD would get wiped after flashing the BIOS (even
    if you flash with the same version of the BIOS you are currently
    using). This is because the ESCD is just a section of the flash,
    and the flash image you download from Asus contains an empty ESCD,
    that would write over the current ESCD section. Maybe that would
    be enough to get the BIOS to reenumerate the hardware. (I don't know
    if any disk geometry info is stored in the ESCD or not - my point in
    explaining this, is that the use of "caches" in hardware can lead to
    modal behavior that is hard to explain otherwise. Even using the
    "clear the CMOS" procedure doesn't result in the ESCD being
    updated.)

    Note that backing up the current BIOS into a file, will have
    different contents than the same version of BIOS freshly downloaded
    from Asus. So, if you find that flashing with an Asus BIOS results
    in a worse mess than you have currently, flashing back to a backup
    copy of your current BIOS should return you to where you were.

    Also, when flashing BIOS on the A7V family, you might want to check
    a7vtroubleshooting.com, as there are comments there about boards
    dying if flashing from one particular version of BIOS to another.
    Just in case you decided to upgrade to a newer version of BIOS.

    http://www.a7vtroubleshooting.com/info/bios/index.htm#333

    Good luck and be careful. Messing around with disks with live data
    on them is asking for trouble. My own procedure for this kind of
    work is a full backup before touching anything. (I'm lucky in that
    I only use a single drive on a computer, and keep a backup drive
    powered down and disconnected during normal use of the computer.)
    That way, if something gets wedged while playing, I can recover
    using the backup image.

    HTH,
    Paul
     
    Paul, Jan 6, 2004
    #3
  4. Chris Metzler

    John Tindle Guest

    Experience hints that this is not a BIOS problem but a MBR glitch - an NT
    snafu that can drive you bananas.
    I'll second the backup strategy though, but don't spend too much time
    looking in or upgrading the BIOS.

    JT
     
    John Tindle, Jan 6, 2004
    #4
  5. Chris Metzler

    Paul Guest

    Do you know of any way to examine the contents of the MBR ? Because
    he's already tried to repair the MBR to no effect. I hate stuff you
    cannot debug. (Hmm. I wonder if you can load an MBR that just prints
    something on the screen :)

    I guess my thinking was, that booting from the floppy was using an OS
    routine to access the disk, while booting from the hard drive was using
    the BIOS for at least a short period of time. So, either the IDE operation
    is asking for too large a group of sectors, or maybe the geometry doesn't
    match, and instead of the MBR, something entirely different is being
    fetched.

    Maybe posting the problem in one of the storage or Linux groups would
    tweak some memories ?

    Paul
     
    Paul, Jan 7, 2004
    #5
  6. Chris Metzler

    the gnome Guest

    I have a floppy boot disk for W2k that has got my system going in the past
    when I couldn't boot from the HDD.

    It seems to have NTLDR and a few other things on it.

    Could it be these start up files that are dodgy.

    I think I got the info for the startup disk either from MS KB or one of
    those boot disk internet sites. It was free anyway.

    the_gnome
     
    the gnome, Jan 7, 2004
    #6
  7. Chris Metzler

    John Tindle Guest

    It would help to know if Chris' OS is XP or NT/WIN2K.
    NT/2K uses a differnet set of loaders than XP. ie no boot.ini or NTLDR.
    You *can* make a backup or copy of the MBR, but you need a utility to do
    it.
    DiskPro was useful as is Harddrive Mechanic...
    Symantec has a tool called BOOT_ALL that copies the MBR to a boot.dat file
    for analysis. I guess Chris could do that do verify that there is no
    undetected virus...

    JT
     
    John Tindle, Jan 8, 2004
    #7
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