Hard Drives 102

10 07 2008

So I get the new hard drive (160gb IDE drive), and so I have to replace my old 20gb one.

…But I don’t want to lose my data… solution?  Imaging software.  Yeah, I created a disk image using my father’s handy work copy of Acronis True Image (there’s plenty of free ones out there, but this one was handy, and bug-free).  After saving my image to an external USB hard drive, I could place the new hard drive inside the machine, and use the same software to restore the image from the external drive.  While restoring it, though, I wanted it to take up the whole 160gb, not just 20gb.  Expanding a disk image is pretty easy to do, really.  It’s usually a built-in feature.  Heck, even Windows itself can expand partitions into empty drive space.  Shrinking partitions, that’s another story…

The whole process took a few hours, maybe…  Not too bad.  A small price to pay for total control over a hard drive 8 times bigger than my toy drive of 20gb.

And voila.  Data migrated successfully.

What if I want to put a second hard drive in?  Well, the Dimension 4500S’s case is a little too small to fit a second one in there (despite the fact that the ribbon cable itself has more than one input point on it… they prolly thought they were funny when they assebled that box, huh).

Hard Drives 101

8 07 2008

IDE, SATA, I or II?  I stare at the inside of the computer box and simply wonder to myself WTF all of the acronyms stand for, and what I’m supposed to do with them.My Dell came to me with a 20gb hard drive.  Let’s face it, there’s no hope for a machine with aspirations such as mine to survive this cold world’s antics with a hard drive that collosal.  At least with the RAM upgrade, I quelled the painful screen refresh.

Yeh, it’s snappy now, but it ain’t packin much.  After my bordom got the best of me, World of Warcraft got installed on this beast, and I found myself trying to coerce XP into letting me uninstall (normally) important OS programs in order to make room for the parade.  It was a loosing battle…

So, a new hard drive it is.

As I looked around, I realized how little I knew about hard drives and speeds and such. Turns out, my machine is (of course) using some pretty out-of-date technology.

The Dell Dimension 4500S needs the old IDE hard drive type (ie, PATA).

The loverly machine also can only handle one single hard drive (unless you’re alright with propping the case open in order to insert a second).

*Ahem* … slideshow time.

An IDE (PATA) hard drive and its cable hookup spots. IDE / ATA / PATA hard drive

Now, this bad boy needs one of those freakin old cables that looks like it wants to eat the future’s staple crops:

The IDE cable of doom. IDE / ATA / PATA data cable (sometimes called a “ribbon” cable)

Just look at its menacing appearance…  The power cable that plugs into an IDE hard drive also is quite the spectacle of colored wiring and plastic.  Make no mistake, if you’ve got an IDE drive, this is what it’ll look like.

Vocab / History lesson time.

Terms to be familiar with: IDE, ATA, SATA (1.5Gbit), SATA-II (3.0Gbit), RPM

  • IDE stands for “integrated drive electronics” and is pretty much completely outdated.  I’ve depicted it above.  It’s slower, and its cabling is ginormous.  It needed some configuration of those jumper pins (shown in that first picture) in order to get a second one to run as a “slave” (secondary) drive.  The drive’s controller was not integrated on the drive itself.
  • ATA stands for “advanced technology attachment” and is the same thing as IDE.  Were they trying to be confusing?  There were so many sub versions of ATA that I would consider it spam to write about them all in this div tag.  Don’t worry about it… computers today probably don’t deal with anything other than “ATA” or “IDE” (if they even deal with it at all).  (Run away! .. Run away!!!)
  • PATA is just ATA, but with “parallel” prefixing the name.  Same thing as the above two.  (“WTF…?”, you might say)
  • SATA … now we reach something new: “serial ATA” was a step toward making hard drives more literally encapsulated, in terms of functionality.  It required less tweaking to make it work as a slave drive, banished that awful, forsaken ATA cable, and opened the way for future speed increases.  To give a brief rundown, SATA drives use 7-pin conductors, rather than the 40-pin mess in IDE drives.  The cables could also be longer now, since the type of signal passed through the cables wasn’t so sensitive to those distances.  The cables were now more flexible and were of course much thinner.  The signal strength only needed to be 250mV, rather than the 20 times higher voltage of 5V that the IDE drives needed.  And, EMI is less of a problem.  Big improvement, huh?
  • SATA 1.5Gbit.  Like all light and fluffy fun and games, the simplicity must come to an end.  But don’t fret, SATA isn’t as hard to understand.  Really.  When SATA drives first came out, they dealt with a 1.5gigabit per second transfer speed.  Not bad, but since we’re quaint and unsatisfied with anything in this world, we decided that that wasn’t good enough.  The next version of this drive is backward compatible, though.  Same cables.  If you’ve got a motherboard that wants a SATA drive, you can use whatever SATA you happen to be able to pull out of your… hat.
  • SATA 3.0Gbit is our latest upgrade to date.  Externally, the drive is the same as the 1.5Gbit version.  Be careful how you call this version of SATA drive.  There will be those merciless mean trolls out there on internet forums who will anxiously pound you into the ground for calling this drive a “SATA-II” (that’s “SATA two”).  Even though some companies market the drive as such, “SATA-II” was actually not the name of the drive.  The drive is (in all honesty) just a “SATA” drive.  “SATA-II” was something like the committee that came up with the ideas behind this 3Gbit version of the drive.  For your own reference, YES, if marketed as such, the SATA-II is, by all means, exactly the same thing as a SATA 3.0Gbit drive. So what’s the upgrade?  Speed.  It can push 3 gigabits per second, while the older model only pushes out half of that.
  • RPM is a simple acronym for “rotations per minute“.  Pretty basic, but I figured I’d list it.  Most average drives of today run at about 7200 RPM.  Frankly, that’s good enough.  Some “gamer” hard drives will run at 10000 RPM, but those are really only for the fanatically possessed.  RPM affects how fast the drive can seek data on the disk.  You’re still going to be limited to the bandwidth of the drive (like with a SATA 1.5Gbit).

So, I bought a 160gb IDE drive, which was a most welcome upgrade to my 20gb toy.

One last note, though… because the mini-tower design of the Dimension 4500S only allows for a single drive, I got stuck.  I had to fully replace my 20gb drive with the 160gb one.  This might seem kind of silly for a box that shipped with a 1.8GHz processor in the XP generation of PCs, but the 4500S was intended to be compact, and thus it is.

RAM 101 (And it begins…)

4 07 2008

I own a Dell Dimension 4500S. I’ve been trying to tweak it and change parts to make it preform better. I got it for free off of some woman my father works with. She didn’t want/need it, so it came to me.

This is how it was shipped to her: WinXP Home Edition, 128mb RAM, 1.78GHz processor (single core), some USB2.0 ports, a 20gb hard drive, 8mb of emulated on-board video RAM.


First things first… the RAM. I can’t run the computer without actually watching it redraw the windows on the left and then on the right of existing windows. Forget gaming, recording music, video editing, or even listing to music or surfing something like YouTube.

RAM is getting cheaper these days, so I wanted a lot, but I needed to check how much RAM the machine could handle. The old home computer that my family owns maxes out at 512mb… that’s a whopper of a total, weighing in at only 256mb per RAM slot. The max is important, because the slot won’t recognize / can’t utilize more RAM than its max.

RAM max for a single Dell Dimension 4500S slot: 1024 (1gb)

RAM slots on the standard 4500S motherboard: 2

Total: 1024mb x 2 = 2048mb (2gb)

So, http://www.tigerdirect.com is one of my preffered sources for such computer parts. Problem is, I need to know what kind of RAM my computer can make use of. The motherboard is what decides what I’m cabable of using. Skip over the terms section if you don’t care about it.

Terms to be familiar with: SDRAM, DDR, DDR2, Dual Channel

  • SDRAM stands for “synchronous dynamic RAM” and is an advancement of DRAM. RAM works by having some address of memory open for reading/writing. The processor can then request information from the RAM and the RAM will faithfully deliver it. DRAM only keeps one address open at any given time, while SDRAM keeps two open. Why? This cuts down on the delays caused by accessing various parts of the RAM rapidly (which is virtually always the case). The RAM must close one address before opening another. SDRAM cuts the delays by supporting two open addresses. The RAM can then send/write data to one address, while a second address is being prepared. When the second one is being accessed, the first one is closed and then adjusted to point to where the processor wants to go next. The first one gets the spotlight again, and then the second closes and goes and finds its next target. You get an overlapping effect. The addresses aren’t being read at the same time, but rather, the second address is filling in the gaps where delays (caused by closing and opening addresses) are occuring. The processor effectively doesn’t even need to care if the RAM is SD or just plain D.  In effect, this method of doubling speed is very internal.
  • DDR stands for “double data rate“, and is SDRAM. If you know much about how computer circuitry works, then you’ll know that the electronics’ speed is regulated by the internal clock. That’s the processor. The faster it can go, the faster the parts can operate. In the modern age, the clock regulates just about every part, making the design “synchronous”. All changes in the computer’s memory can only occur once per clock cycle, either at the beginning or the end of the cycle. DDR revolutionized this idea by allowing changes to the RAM at both the beginning and the end of the clock cycle, thus doubling the number of changes that could be made in a single clock cycle. This method brings an increase in speed that nears the external side of improvements.
  • DDR2 is an improvement on DDR which makes it twice as fast. Normal SDRAM pushes a single bit of data out each clock cycle (remember, it has two addresses open simultaneously, but only one is read/written at a time), while DDR SDRAM pushes a 2-bit line of data out (once on rising edge, once on falling edge of the clock), and then DDR2 SDRAM pushes out 4-bit data per clock cycle.
  • Dual Channel RAM is capable of yet again doubling the data transfer rate. Dual Channel memory starts to complicate things. According to most sources, mixing memory types can work, but the stability is often contested. It depends on some things… things that you really don’t have much control over, like how good your motherboard’s memory controller is. Ideally, you should match capacities and types. Ideally, you don’t want to mix memory types because the slowest one will determine the speed at which the computer will operate its memory processing. Consequently, the faster of the two modules would have reduced performance. Motherboards that support Dual Channel memory will divide its RAM slots into “banks” of (at least?) two slots. They’re usually color coded. The idea is that two identical memory modules can be put into the same bank, and then the CPU will know how to inferface with them most effectively
  • Other terms include DIMM and RIMM, but you likely don’t need to worry about that.  do a google search for “define: DIMM” if you want to know more about it.  Memory today works on DIMM technology.

So, the 4500S can only handle DDR SDRAM. Not DDR2, not Dual Channel. Just DDR. And since the slot max is 1gb, I have to buy two 1gb sticks of DDR SDRAM.

Now, the other variable here is the speed of the RAM. RAM comes in varying speeds. In fact, the speed of the RAM is most usually the actual bottleneck of speed. The processors of our computers are blazing fast, but the RAM can’t so easily match that speed. (That’s why we keep trying to double the speed of our RAM these days through varying techniques.) Check out this chart (taken from http://www.buildorbuy.org/ramchart.html):

DDR SDRAM DIMMs Data Rate FSB Peak Bandwidth
PC1600 = DDR200 200MHz 100MHz 1.6 GBps
PC2100 = DDR266 266MHz 133MHz 2.1 GBps
PC2700 = DDR333 333MHz 166MHz 2.7 GBps
PC3200 = DDR400 400MHz 200MHz 3.2 GBps
PC3500 = DDR400 433MHz 217MHz 3.5 GBps
PC3700 = DDR466 466MHz 233MHz 3.7 GBps
PC4000 = DDR500 500MHz 250MHz 4.0 GBps
PC4200 = DDR533 533MHz 266MHz 4.2 GBps

As you can see, the number postfixing “PC” in the left column corresponds to the data transfer rate.  The secret is that the speed of the RAM is bolstered by all of this DDR and Dual Channel nonsense.  The middle column is how fast the RAM can go, after applying all of the doubling factors like DDR or Dual Channel.  The fourth column is the speed of the broken-down parts of the RAM.  For instance, PC3200 RAM can operate at 400MHz total, but if you break it out of its DDR context (which allows the RAM to work on both the beginning and end of a clock cycle), then the RAM is really only running at 200MHz per clock cycle.  DDR capabilities (be it DDR or DDR2) allow the processor to interface with the RAM twice as much.

Anyway. My motherboard documentation says that I needed PC3200-type RAM. I only bought one stick for now, since that’s plenty for an old XP Home edition installation.

Perhaps my music recording will push that limit though… *shrug*

(Awesome list of terms and brief definitions: http://www.satech.com/glosofmemter.html)