Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How to Get eSATA to Work

I've had a hell of a time trying to figure out eSATA. My first post mentioned my 32GB Kanguru flash drive that worked on one computer for two weeks and then stopped.
I bought a new computer - obnoxiously fancy - capable of everything and including three eSATA ports. So far, none of them have worked.

I bought a SATA hard drive dock that had both USB2.0 and eSATA, but only the USB2.0 ever worked.

At work, my 2TB LaCie Firewire drive has been failing. It keeps dropping offline. To keep from Blue-Screening, I have to delete it from Device Manager and then unplug it, then re-plug it and wait for it to reinitialize. It's been happening about six times a day. That gets old!

So I bought a nifty little 5-drive AMS RAID box that uses 2.5" laptop drives.

It has USB3.0 and eSATA interfaces. Since computers mostly don't come with USB3.0 yet, I decided to give eSATA one last chance.

Google showed me that there are tons of techies out there who can't get eSATA working, so it wasn't just me.
Here's the deal... the marketing departments virtually lie. Manufacturers know that if they put eSATA on a motherboard, they'll sell more computers, but they don't tell you you can't have both internal RAID 5 and eSATA.

AHCI is a SATA mode required for hot-swapping SATA drives. This is very desirable if you intend to use an eSATA device like a USB flash drive. Yanking an eSATA device out without hot-swap capability will crash your computer, and can damage the device.
When you buy a fancy motherboard that can do anything, they don't tell you that of all the drive options it allows, you can choose only one. My Asus motherboard has a 4-drive RAID 5 main drive, but if you turn on RAID 5, you can't use AHCI mode, so none of my eSATA ports work.
Allegedly, AHCI isn't required for eSATA to work - only for hot-swapping. So allegedly you can still use eSATA if you turn off your computer, plug in your eSATA device, and boot cold. But in reality-land, hardly anyone can get eSATA to work unless AHCI is turned on. And it never seems to be "on" by default.

At work, to get my 2250C mini to work on a Dell Optiplex 980 with Windows 7 x64, I checked the BIOS. Unfortunately it was set to SATA-RAID-ATA. I changed it to SATA-RAID-AHCI and the computer became unbootable and even a repair wouldn't work. So I put it back to ATA, dis-joined it from the domain, and ran Sysprep. Sysprep ripped the entire hardware and drive configuration out and turned-off the machine. Then I set the BIOS to AHCI and booted. Windows built back up and booted fine.
So if you've tried changing the BIOS SATA settings and failed on an in-place machine, Sysprep can be your salvation.

Next, I downloaded the latest BIOS flash, Intel chipset drivers, and AHCI drivers and installed them all. Previous to getting the BIOS set to AHCI, the AHCI drivers wouldn't install. The attempt only told me "computer does not meet minimum specs". But with the correct BIOS setting, the drivers went right on.

Then I installed the RAID management utility. When I plugged my RAID box in, it was easy to set it to RAID 5 and build the array. Then in Windows Disk Management, I formatted NTFS and was done. Five drives, 2TB, and almost palm-sized. Freakin' cool!

Too bad the 32GB Kanguru still doesn't work on the eSATA end. It has always worked on the USB end, and it's still one of my favorite flash drives. Only thing is, the Kanguru dumps regularly. The partition tables or something keep vanishing and all the data on it goes bye-bye. If I kept vital data on it, this would piss me off, but I just have a backup script that I run to snatch loads of the most important personal work files off my work computer to take home and dump on my 5.5TB Drobo. So the data doesn't have to live long, and the script is backed-up.

So here I am with another almost built computer sitting on the floor at home and seeing that I want RAID 5, but also want all the eSATA ports to work, I guess the thing to do is use Solid State Drives. They're faster than RAID 5. You can also get SSD's that fit into PCIe slots, and I can attach a RAID 5 box on the outside, via eSATA. As long as the RAID 5 isn't internal, you can still use it.

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