Scott's Column
Training in .NET, New Hard Drive

February 1, 2005
By Scott Lewis

During January (remember I post this on the first of the month, but everything happened the previous month for me to write about it) I attended a seminar on .NET. I am trying to get into this stuff. If preparation for using .NET I put a new hard drive into my server.

.NET Training

My company sent me to some .NET training during January. It was not an actual class, but a conference. You can learn quite a bit at a conference, but I would prefer a real training environment with labs. Overall I was able to get looks at a number of components to the .NET platform (framework, whatever). Most important to me will be ADO.NET as we will be doing lots of database access. We are going to be starting a plan to replace our mainframe system. We don't yet know what kind of server will store our data, but it will need to be a big one.

I may be tasked to help write the front end that will replace the current mainframe screens used in the order entry department. This is where .NET will come in. The decision was already made that we would build the front end on the thin client model using the browser as the client software. This is a lot easier than trying to maintain 200 copies of a fat client program on workstations that are used by multiple people a day (the call center people share workstations from shift to shift). Especially in the early stages of such a migration when we will be making a lot of changes to meet the differences between building to requirements, and reacting to a lot of real users.

Like I said, I don't know if I will be working on it, but it will be a great challenge. I do have a couple of big projects that I am definitely going to be working on, so I have a little time to try and learn this .NET stuff.

What I would like to do is install this stuff at home and create a project that will actually do something for me. That is my current dilemma, trying to think of a project that can use the same tools as I use at work. I don't know if I will go so far as look for someone to host an actual web site using .NET and SQL Server. That is getting ahead of myself. I just need a simple at home project... any ideas?

New Hard Drive

The computer in the closet of my study (a file/print server) has been making a lot of noise lately. I was sure it was one of its hard drives going bad. I spent a few hours making sure that everything of importance on that computer was backed up to DVD discs. Once this was done I started collecting Best Buy gift certificates. I was having a hard time deciding whether to spend the money on a new video card for my main machine, or upgrade the hard drive in the server. Ultimately I could not be that selfish and I looked at hard drives while at Best Buy.

I got a screaming deal. I picked up a 120 GB drive for $100 with $50 in rebates. Normally I don't like rebates, but in this case I didn't mind. I had plenty of gift certificates good only at Best Buy, and when the rebates come back they are cash. I took my boys with me and we went through all $230 of gift certificates I had. It was a very fun afternoon. In the end I will pay $50 for a 120 GB drive.

My server has two hard drives. I assumed the D drive was going bad. It was the D drive in my main computer before being put to work in the server. This is a 60GB drive I bought back around Sept. 2000, so it seemed reasonable considering that this drive has seen a lot of action in the last two years in a server.

I pulled the server out of the closet and tested unplugging the drives one at a time to see which one was making all the noise. Once I found it physically I unscrewed it from the drive cage. Then I noticed the drive that was bad was the C drive. This bothered me because I assumed this to be a 20GB drive that was new when I built the server. I didn't like that I was losing a drive only two years old. However, this did mean I was going from 80 GB (20 + 60) to 180 GB (60 + 120) instead of just to 140 GB (20 + 120).

This complicates things. I assumed I would just plug the new drive in, format it, copy 60GB of stuff to it and get rid of the old drive. Since the C drive was bad this meant I had to reload the Operating System on this machine.

I backed up the C drive and plugged the new drive in. This is where things went very wrong. The system hung before ever trying to boot from the CD-ROM drive. I guess I better read the documentation. It said that if the computer hangs during the BIOS stage (sorry, it would take too much time to explain was a BIOS is, except that this is where BASIC configuration information about you computer is stored) that I should use an "alternate" jumper setting on the drive with two jumpers. Since it came with the second jumper I put it on and lo and behold the computer booted up.

I used Western Digital's utility to partition the drive. I hate having everything on the C drive, so I partitioned it 30/90 for C/D. I let the utility format the C drive and installed Windows 2000 Server. However after the first reboot it could not find the operating system. Oops! Time to get tough. I have had bad luck in the past when I let third party utilities format a drive, so I started over and used Windows to partition and format the drive. Nope, same error.

Time to read the documentation some more. Nothing stands out. I read a lot of stuff about the BIOS not supporting drives larger than 8.4 GB, 32 GB and 137 GB. Well, since I already have a 60GB drive, and this drive is not larger than 137 GB I should be OK. I decided to put the old drive back in and try to format the new drive under Windows. Worse case is that I would copy all the stuff from the 60 GB to the 120, then load the operating system on the 60 GB drive. When I loaded the drive up as E it format to a little less than 8 GB. That is very weird. Continued reading of the docs says to enter special parameters in the BIOS for this drive. I did that but still get the same problem... only 8 GB was there. I have read every single item in the documentation. I am stumped. It is time to call tech support (yikes!).

The docs say to check the web site after doing all I already did. I searched their FAQ and kept getting the same information over and over. Then I stumbled on one article that said do not use two jumpers if you are experiencing a certain problem. That is odd, the documentation that comes with the drive says to use two jumpers. Well, I'll try anything at this point. I take one of the jumpers off AND make the changes in the BIOS. Sure enough that does the trick.

I take the drives out and start all over. I use the Western Digital utility to partition the drive, but I let the Windows install program format the drive. I install Windows 2000 Server and all is back to normal. I did have to re-install a couple of things, and re-share all the network drives. I had to rearrange the drive letters so that the new drive is C & D, and the old 60 GB is E. I copied off everything except all the music from the 60 GB drive to the 90 GB partition that is the D drive.

Everything is up and running. I have plenty of space free on all three partitions. Next I plan on installing SQL Server, the .NET Framework, IIS and anything else I can think of to start doing development work on learning .NET.

BTW.. the server is much more quiet now. In fact I have had to stick my head inside the closet to verify it was running. Cool!

For the tentative ones out there... if you read the link to the article where I built the server you will figure out that the C drive of the server was the C drive from my old computer. The 20 GB drive I thought was new in the server was really an 18 GB drive from the first computer I ever built back in March 1999. Wow, I paid $390 for that 18 GB drive. I paid $50 for 120 GB drive today. Cool! I am very relieved too, because now I know that the oldest hard drive in the house was the one that was going bad. I can rest a lot better now. I got 6 years out of that drive in a desktop and a server. And guess what... that old drive and the new drive are both Western Digital. Go figure.

Hopefully I should be in good shape for some time to come. I still kind of want that video card. Maybe I can save up for it. A friend at work is thinking about getting a new computer and I am trying to talk him into letting me build him one. He wants a gaming system, but thinks he should spend a lot of money for a computer that will last 6 to 7 years. All you serious gamers out there know as well as I that a good gaming computer will not last 6 - 7 years.

You can try and buy/build a $5,000 computer every six to seven years, or you can buy three $1,500 computers every two years. The second and third computer will be better than the $5,000 one when you get them, and in the end you have 3 computers instead of one. It does not pay to spend too much up front... even for a gaming rig. Next month I will outline a "first draft" of a really good gaming system I came up with for less than $1,400... with a monitor. 

Come back next month to see what components I went with, you may be surprised.