Sunday, 25 August 2013

IDE power to Dell E520

Adding harddisks to an old Dell E520 should be easy - it's built with easy slide compartments. And it would be easy if you are adding newer SATA disks - if you're adding old school PATA (aka IDE) disks from your other (even older) PCs then it's a little more painful.

Firstly you will need to power your IDE disks - the SATA power connectors are obviously different so you will need a male SATA to female 4pin Molex power adaptor. This will allow an IDE disk to be powered in the easy-slide bay location (underneath the main SATA disk).

There is however a 4pin Molex power adaptor near the 5.25 ODD bays but this will need a 3.5" to 5.25" rails (these screw into the side of your 3.5" disk to increase the width to 5.25") or a 5.25" bay mount tray (where the 3.5" disk sits in the device and it will mount as if it was a DVD drive). It is advisable to use the 5.25" tray mount as the 3.5"-5.25" rails will position the disk where the front plastic cover will not close properly.

Secondly you will require someway to perform data transfers to the main PCI bus of your E520 from your IDE disks - the Dell only has SATA data connections and the only way to overcome this is by having a IDE PCI controller card to connect your IDE cards.

From one my even older PCs I was able to source a PCI ITE8212F card, which although was marketed mostly as a cheap hardware RAID card many years ago, can also be used as an IDE controller.

When the ITE8212 was plugged into the E520 the startup sequence will hit the ITE8212F BIOS first - at this stage we are able to configure whether the disks are to be used as IDE or in various RAID configurations. However, once past this stage, the E520 failed to boot WinXP after the ITE8212 card initialized with the IDE disks attached. Without any IDE disks attached, the Dell would boot. Furthermore with the ITE8212 Windows driver installed, the PCI card was recognised and not reporting any faults.

To verify/diagnose any hardware failures on the ITE8212 or the old IDE disks, the E520 was booted from a USB Linux pendrive hosting Fedora 16. Both the ITE8212 and the IDE disks were visible and reporting no issues which pointed to some issue with the way WinXP was being presented with the new hardware. At this point I took the opportunity to clear out the partition tables and to reformat the disk to NTFS from the running Linux system.

After much hacking and digging around the ITE product page the PCI card BIOS/RAID and the BIOS update util were downloaded in an attempt to resolve any lingering bugs in the ITE8212 BIOS. The BIOS update utility was DOS only and not able to be run succesfully from within WinXP, claiming that there was no ITE8212F device found - it was therefore necessary to find a DOS boot disk - unfortunately that meant either finding some DOS floppies/floppy disk drive or to find another way.

So the other (simple) way is to create an USB bootable DOS system - there appeared to be many options but Rufus was most suitable - it provided FreeDOS as part of the single executable but it also functions as a generic tool to create bookable USB devices from ISO images.

Once the DOS environment was booted the ITE8212 BIOS was flashed successfully - the ITE firmware updater saved out the previous BIOS image to the local disk in case of a need to revert. Upon further reboot of the E520 with the IDE disks powered and connected to the ITE8212, the Dell booted successfully and the disks were visible from WinXP.

Rescuing 2x 320GB IDE disks and an RAID PCI controller from a forgotten PC plus a few adaptors has added some very welcome space to an agingg Dell E520 that only came with 160GB.

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