MICRO CENTER: COMPUTERS AND ELECTRONICS
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In The Lab
OS Assimilation
by chris

For the last two issues, we have been creating an extreme case mod that takes its inspiration from a Star Trek® Borg® cube. This is the continuing saga of Borg assimilation. Our cube appears to be seeking out advanced technology feature and programming support. Unfortunately, we find that the newer hardware is not always supported by the operating system (and our core systems are not the most advanced, either!) Here are the log files showing the analysis of the assimilated system code.

Assimilated Technology:

  • ABIT AA8 DuraMAX system board (Intel® 925 chipset, Socket 775, integrated Realtek sound and Ethernet)
  • Intel® Pentium® 4 3.2GHz Processor with HT Technology
  • 1GB DDR2 Dual-Channel RAM
  • NVIDIA® 6200 PCI Express video
  • One Parallel ATA (IDE) channel with Samsung CD-RW, DVD +-RW
  • Four SATA channels with 160GB and 120GB hard drives

MS-DOSAssimilate Microsoft® MS-DOS®: This takes no effort since there is no special hardware support at all. DOS uses whatever hardware devices are provided by the system BIOS. With a generic CD-ROM driver, MSCDEX and the other "real mode" support, DOS sees the hard drives, provides generic VGA support and that's about it. This configuration has no clue what USB devices are and, if you hunt hard enough, it might support networking and sound on some systems, but don't hold your breath...

MS-DOS assimilation complete: limited access to assimilated technology.

Windows 98SEAssimilate Microsoft® Windows® 98SE: Windows 98 detects the IDE controller and provides access to optical drives for driver installation. Installation of the Intel INF drivers for the 925 chipset allow Windows 98 to detect USB devices, but does not appear to provide support for PCI Express (PCIe) slots, so it does not support NVIDIA display drivers; and no audio support. It does detect USB and the flash card reader once the Intel Chipset drivers have been installed. Two devices are still displayed as "unknown" in device manager. (Similar problems were found with ME, but at least one work-around for video was discovered; see below.)

Windows 98SE assimilation complete: limited access to assimilated technology.

Windows MEAssimilate Microsoft® Windows® ME: Windows ME detects IDE controller, but not the DVD and CD-ROM drives attached to it. ME does have basic support for USB and detects memory card reader fine. Use of a USB CD-ROM drive allows install of Chipset drivers. After Intel Chipset drivers installed, Windows ME displays both Optical Drives in My Computer. Device Manager still shows two "unknown" devices: PCI Card and PCI Universal Serial Bus. The Realtek audio setup reports that there is no support for Win9x, and will not run. Installation of the NVIDIA video drivers for Windows 95/98/ME proceeds, but does not detect the video adapter when complete (apparently no PCIe support either.) The documentation only lists support for Windows XP and 2000. By deleting the PCI VGA adapter and restarting, I forced Windows ME to use the NVIDIA 6200 driver for the video adapter. After restarting, the splash screen appeared with a weird mix of 16 colors for the shaded startup bar and normal shading for most of the rest of the screen. The Windows ME desktop was almost unreadable - like looking through muddy water. Switching from the analog VGA port to the DVI port with an adapter, the display appears to work fine in true color and high-resolution modes.

Windows ME assimilation complete: limited access to assimilated technology.

Windows 2000Assimilate Microsoft® Windows® 2000: Installation to a small partition would not proceed, so I pulled the primary SATA drive and left a second drive to install to. I had the setup create a small 20GB partition for the new OS. Once at the desktop, I checked device manager and found a number of unknown devices (this is normal until chipset and other drivers have been applied). After installing the Intel chipset drivers, all but the Ethernet controller, a PCI Device, and the Video controller were detected. Installation of the Realtek Network driver cleared that device from the list of unknowns. The sound driver would not install until I applied Service Pack 4. Service Pack 4 also added USB support, at which point Windows 2000 detected the Flash card reader at the next startup, although there is still an issue with the USB controller being flagged in the USB device list (but it works, so ignore it for now...) Sound, video, networking, optical dives, and USB are all functioning, although the USB controller still shows the drivers are not loaded in device manager.

Windows 2000 assimilation complete: full access to assimilated technology established.

Windows XPAssimilate Microsoft® Windows® XP: This was the cleanest install so far. Install Windows XP normally; cancel any new hardware detection that asks for driver media. At the Windows desktop, install the Intel Chipset drivers first. Install Network, Audio and Video drivers. The final step was to run Windows updates and install any new driver versions detected by the update process. All devices were detected, no "unknown" or "other" devices showing in Device Manager.

Windows XP assimilation complete: full access to assimilated technology established.

LinspireAssimilate Linspire™ 4.5: Linspire 4.5 (also known as Lindows 4.5) installs without issue to the SATA drive after booting from the CD. Support for the detected hardware is very basic, but does include high resolution VESA video modes, DVD and CD operation; sound and network are not operational

Linspire 4.5 assimilation complete: limited access to assimilated technology.

LinspireAssimilate Linspire™ 5.0: The Linspire install CD starts fine, but has problems when trying to load the Linspire Live! (a demo that runs Linspire from CD), running the diagnostics, or starting the Install process. I have seen a similar situation when the default drive is in a "non-standard" configuration, such as with RAID striped drives. The problem usually comes down to not being able to install the OS until the hardware or chipset driver is installed and you can't install the driver until the OS is installed. The simple solution is to install the OS to a standard IDE drive, install the necessary drivers, and then use a program like Symantec Ghost to copy the image to the RAID media.

To test this theory, I replaced one of the optical drives with a standard IDE hard drive to do the install. The first time I tried this, I disconnected the CD-RW drive, while leaving the DVD drive attached as Master (configuring the IDE hard drive as slave.) Linspire still locked up, but with different messages. I eventually got around to configuring a parallel hard drive as master and connecting the CD-RW as slave, at which point the Linspire install performed flawlessly. One thing I noted was that the Linspire setup takes only a fraction of the time to get to the desktop as any of the other OS installs. Linspire 5.0 supports high resolution VESA video modes, the onboard sound and network adapter, and can access the CD-RW and DVD+-RW drives and USB Flash card readers. So far, all of my attempts to install or transfer a working system image to a SATA drive in this system failed to produce a bootable image. One very interesting feature I found while trying to get this working was the ability of Linux to mount and access CD-ROM .ISO file images as media and the ability to mount and access FAT drive partitions.

Linspire 5.0 assimilation complete: limited access to assimilated technology.

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