Archive for February, 2008

Computer performance puzzle: Hard drive PIO vs. (U)DMA mode

February 18, 2008 7:06 pm

[I may have a hard drive mini-series on my hands here, see previous post.]

If your computer has performance problems and you can’t quite explain why (you’ve ruled out startup items, spyware and such ilk), it may be worth looking at how your IDE controller manages hard drive data transfer. It should be using (U)DMA, unless your computer and hard drive is from the stone ages.

To check, go to Control Panel – System:


Click Device Manager and expand the IDE ATA/ATAPI Controllers node:


Now double-click on a Primary or Secondary IDE Channel and go to the Advanced Settings tab:


If the Transfer Mode combo box doesn’t say “DMA if available”, you can change it, then restart the computer. That should switch Current Transfer Mode to (Ultra) DMA Mode (X) if your drive supports it, which it should.

But what if Current Transfer Mode doesn’t say (Ultra) DMA Mode (X) after that? What if it stays in PIO mode no matter what you set the Transfer Mode to and no matter how many times you restart? That’s what happened to my system. And it was slow as molasses starting up, since my boot/system drive was in that mode.

It turns out that Windows keeps track of the transfer statistics between your drive and the rest of the system. If Windows encounters a lot of transfer errors, it slowly dials the transfer mode back. So it can go from Ultra DMA Mode 5, to Mode 4, Mode 3, etc. all the way back to PIO mode. If Windows encounters DMA transfer timeouts, it will immediately go back to PIO mode. According to this support article on Seagate’s web site, those errors will be logged in the Windows Event Log, but I guess it happened so long ago on my system that the entries have been lost in the meantime.

According to the same Seagate article, the solution is to delete the corresponding IDE Channel device from Device Manager, restart Windows, let the system re-detect the device, reinstall the driver and restart one more time. Now DMA transfer mode should be back, and your system should perform much better.

You still might want to investigate why the mode got switched back to PIO. Look through the event log using Event Viewer, filtering by Event source type “disk”. Also, check the ribbon cable you use to connect the hard drives. It may have come loose, or it may not be of the right kind (it has to have 80 conductors, not 40) or quality. Using ribbon cables with too many hard drive changes can cause loose/broken connections between the connector pins and the cable.

Listen to your hard drive’s S.M.A.R.T. status

1:37 pm

As I mentioned in my last post, I went to the local Fry’s recently to get a replacement hard drive. What prompted me to do that was a warning from the BIOS of my computer saying that the S.M.A.R.T. status of the drive was bad. I’m glad I listened to that warning. After replacing the drive, I put it in a separate machine to perform a safe erase (using Eraser, which can also be found on SourceForge), but not until looking at the S.M.A.R.T. information using SpeedFan. It told me that there were over 65000 excess relocated sectors, which means that the drive basically was running out of spaces to move bad sectors to when needed.

After this exercise I installed SpeedFan on my main machine as well, and found that I have another hard drive that’s not too healthy. So I may have to go out and get another replacement soon.

I also found a monitoring tool called ActiveSmart, which costs money (unlike SpeedFan, which is free), and can alert you via email or network messages when a drive is beginning to deteriorate.

While I’m on the subject of hard drives, another handy tool is DTemp, which shows you the temperature of your hard drives in the Windows notification area (and can show S.M.A.R.T. data, too). Keeping the temperature of your hard drives as low as possible is important to make them perform optimally and make them last as long as possible.

On the cover of PC World February 2008

February 17, 2008 12:06 pm

Okay, time for a little bragging :).

I was at the local Fry’s yesterday, buying a new hard drive to replace one that’s about to go bad, and on my way out I stopped by the magazine racks. Imagine my surprise when I saw this on the cover:


How cool to see the product you worked on so intensely be recognized with a magazine cover photo! If you look closely, you can even see one of my photos to the left of the big red circle in the little photo stack.

I’m still pinching myself a little just to make sure it’s not a dream.

The HP TouchSmart PC came in at number 7 on the top 25 innovative products. Not too shabby, I think. And I’m glad to see that the OLPC took third place ahead of it. I’m still waiting for the OLPC I’m supposed to get with my give-one-get-one donation, but I hear it will come any day now.

Here are some more pictures from the magazine:



Vista SP1 – still no audio after resume from sleep

February 12, 2008 10:45 am

[Update 2012-03-03: Since there still seems to be no real solution at the driver level (after 4 years), I've written a little app, that at least puts a band-aid on the problem. Check it out. Now you can reset the device without having to go to Device Manager and disabling/re-enabling the device.]

[Update 2 2008-11-29: I think I may have found a package that solves my particular problem. I've put the computer to sleep several times now, and each time sound came back properly after waking it up again. The thing that seems to have done it is something called a UAA Bus driver. I got it directly from the HP FTP site here: There's also an article around the SP file here: I'm not sure this will help your situation, but it helped mine (so far, keeping my fingers crossed, maybe I'll run into other issues with it.) The article says it's for XP, but it seems to have worked on Vista SP1 as well.]

[Update 2008-11-29: I've looked around a bit more. The chipset used in the HP laptop is of the "Waikiki" Conexant HD audio variety, according to this forum post. Apparently there is an online petition, asking for HP  to release an appropriate driver, since some of the notebooks that use this chipset were marketed as "Vista Capable". The "Venice" chipset variant, apparently, is covered by updated drivers.]

[Update 2008-07-24: This is now one of the most popular posts on my blog. Seems to me that a lot of people are having issues like this. Unfortunately there only seems to be a solution for Sony systems; look through the comments to see it .]

I have a laptop that has an issue with properly restarting the sound subsystem after Vista resumes from sleep. Microsoft brought out a hotfix about 6 months ago that supposedly fixed issues like this. On my system, the problem persists, even after installing Service Pack 1! I let the computer go to sleep, and when I wake it up again, there’s no sound. The sound device is listed in Device Manager as “High Definition Audio Device” and has the following Hardware IDs:


I’ve tried just restarting the sound services (as admin: net stop “Windows Audio”, net stop “Windows Audio Endpoint Builder”, net start “Windows Audio Endpoint Builder”, net start “Windows Audio”), but that doesn’t work. Restarting the computer works, obviously, but is too slow to be a proper solution.

One thing I can to do to get sound back without restarting is remove the “High Definition Audio Device” from Device Manager and then Scan for Harware Changes. But it’s still annoying to have to do this. Since there’s no crash involved (no Windows Error Reporting possible) and no “yellow bangs” in Device Manager, I’m not sure how I would report this to Microsoft. They probably wouldn’t do anything about it anyway. They’d say it’s a driver issue. Talk to the driver vendor. Nice idea. Trouble is the laptop is older (it scores a 3.2 Windows Experience Index, not half bad) , and the vendor probably won’t bring out Vista drivers for it. So it looks like I’m stuck with a broken package.

Maybe a kind soul (at Microsoft?) will read this at some point and get in touch to help me troubleshoot the issue.

Oh well. Feels good to get it off my chest, though.