Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Few Well Deserved Kudos for Western Digital

I never say this, but I really hate knowledge bases. Even FAQ sections seem depressingly inadequate nearly all the time. Knowledge bases always seem hard to navigate. So much so that it is often a full day's work to find and digest enough information to solve whatever problem it is I am having. The Microsoft KB is like that. It's not their fault, either. The entire site shows that they try really hard to make it pertinent, up to date and usable, but there is so much information to dispense and it overlaps so dramatically that one is often left sorting through literally dozens of articles that might, just might, apply to what you are about. I appreciate Microsoft's efforts to make their KB usable, but with so much there, even the best search facility falls flat at times and I have to sort through all those possible hits. Sometimes more than once, if I haven't chosen my search terms well enough.

You have all heard me complain about being poor. It's a common enough affliction, these days. Because I and a lot of those whose computers I service are not terribly flush, I often buy factory refurbished parts, particularly hard drives.

I stick with the major brands and have had remarkably little trouble with them. They have given good service over an acceptable service life and on the very few occasions I have had trouble, the vendors and/or the manufacturers have made things right in short order.

The brand of refurbished hard drive that has gotten most of my business lately is Western Digital. My local vendors always seem to have them and occasionally Fry's has them on sale. Generally, I can get an 80 GB Caviar IDE drive (7200 rpm) very affordably. That is all the capacity most of my users, including myself, need. And the drive is so common that even the beta RAID drivers for Vista see them on the first try. Linux RAID software works just as well with them. Should someone need more capacity or redundancy, tossing another one into the box is easy as pie and cheap.

(I generally don't go in for bigger drives because I own and work on a LOT of older hardware. Often the older disk controllers or bios cannot see larger drives and rather than partition to overcome this, I just stick with that size.)

I have spent the last few nights trying to get a 5 year old bios to see one of my WD refurbs. It just would not. I could even install an OS, but it would not boot after the installation because a bios cannot hand off to the OS hardware it cannot see. I tried all the tricks I know and not one thing worked. I don't have enough hair left to be pulling it out, so I hit the WD web site.

What I found there was a delight. The FAQ had a couple "the bios can't see it" entries. Both recommended I download their diagnostic tools as well as giving me information on remedies to try. Everything was plain, clear and easy to find. The solution turned out to be an alternative jumper setting which was not listed on the label of the drive. I ran the diagnostic tools on an XP machine overnight. It took 9 hours, but I did not mind. I was asleep, after all.

In the end, I added a few bookmarks to my favorites under "help" and read about 10 articles that gave me a better understanding of what had happened and things to look out for, that I might anticipate problems. It really was a treat to see a knowledge base so well laid out and easy to digest. I just wish the Microsoft KB could be that way, but the sheer size of it would defeat anyone who tried to make it over and I just have to accept that.

And the PC boots and runs just fine, now.


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