I installed two 2 TB hard disks as placeholders and configured them as a single 4 TB spanned volume. I put the swap file on that volume.
I ordered a Host Bus Adapter (HBA) that would support the 3 TB drives, and got to work on getting the machine to boot without the 250 GB Western Digital disk installed. My first thought was that there was something on the WD disk that was redirecting the boot process to the SSD. Boot.ini, which used to do that, is not used in any Windows version after XP, and some poking around left me with the idea that I should try a Windows repair. I booted from the OS disk that came with the computer, picked the “repair” option, and was presented with an error message that said that the OS DVD that I had was a different version than the OS on the machine, and that I was out of luck.
That seemed strange, so I called Dell. The tech couldn’t figure out what was going on, and while I was poking around in the Disk Administrator, I noticed that the drive the OS was installed on was slightly smaller than the drive called DATAPART3, which I had thought was the WD 250 GB drive. That didn’t make any sense: the SSD is 256 GB and the WD drive is 250 GB.
It turned out that the OS was installed on the WD 250 GB disk. The SSD had nothing on it but one small C++ runtime library file. The drives were similar in size, and the boot drive had a 10 GB partition on it, so I was fooled into thinking that Dell had installed the OS where they said they were going to install it. No real excuse for this, but having the SSD named DATAPART3 definitely pointed me in the wrong direction as well.
Nothing to do but reinstall the OS to the SSD from the recovery media. When I attempted that, I get the message, “Setup was unable to create a new system partition or locate an existing system partition. See the Setup log files for more information.” The tech first thought the SSD was formatted wrong. I put the WD boot disk back in the computer, booted from it, and formatted the SSD as NTFS, then rebooted from the recovery media, and tried to install the OS on the SSD. No joy. The tech’s next tack was to assume that the Windows installation disk was missing some drivers for the SATA interface on the motherboard that it needed to access the SSD. Using another computer, I downloaded The Intel Rapid Storage Manager (Pre-Install), copied it to a USB thumb drive, loaded it into the Windows installation program, and tried again. No dice. I did the same with the Intel Matrix Storage Manager (Pre-install drive r only). Same old thing.
Hoping to end run the Windows installation problem and incidentally save myself some work loading aps and applying updates, I installed Acronis True Image on the WD 250 GB drive, and used it to make a backup of the OS partition to the 4 TB spanned volume. Then I restored that backup, less the restore partition, to the SSD. I shut down the computer, pulled the SATA cable to the WD 250 GB drive, and powered the machine up. No boot device found. I shut it down again, plugged the SATA cable that had been originally plugged into the WD drive into the SSD (SATA address 1, by the way; the SATA ports are numbered by the BIOS from 0 to 3), and rebooted. This time I got the message “BOOTMGR is missing”. Not what I was hoping for, but definitely useful information: all the SATA ports are not created equal. It looked like the machine was at least trying to boot from SATA port 1. Incidentally, the disk bays are labeled 0 through 3, but the labeling does not correspond to the SATA port numbers reported by the BIOS. The bay cabled to SATA port 0 is labeled 1 and the bay cabled to SATA port 1 is labeled 0. Bays 2 and 3 are labeled correctly.
To see if moving SATA ports made any difference, I attempted a repair from the OS DVD, and got the same complaint that the version of the OS on the disk and the version on the DVD were incompatible. I tried a clean installation from the DVD and get “Setup was unable to create a new system partition or locate an existing system partition“ again. I attempted to boot from a retail copy of the Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit DVD, and got the same version incompatibility message as with the Dell OS DVD. I wonder if upgrading the OS on the disk to SP1 is causing the incompatibility. Probably not; it iwould be a huge support mess for Microsoft.
I left an email message for the Dell tech who had helped me before, asking him to call me. He emailed back that he was tied up on a long call, and if I was in a hurry, I should call the support 800 line and give them my case number. I did. I got a tech who pretty rapidly focused in on the spanned volume as the source of the problems with the Windows installation DVD. He had me pull the SATA connectors to both 2 TB disks, so that the only drive connected was the SSD. Then the Windows install went fine. Seems like there’s a bug in the Windows installation program that keeps it from working with some disk configurations.
With Windows installed, I went to the Dell website, loaded the remote control app, and did other things while the Dell tech installed updates and drivers. He shut down the machine when he was done. It now boots fast, just like a computer with an SSD boot drive should.
Summary of this set of problems:
- Dell installed the OS on the wrong drive.
- Bug in Windows installation program prevented moving the OS until other drives removed
- Dell techs polite, helpful, and the second one fixed the problem.
Now back to configuring the computer.