SATA in Dell Dimension


I just want to report my recent experiences when installing a Western Digital WD20EARX SATA drive. My system is an old Dell Dimension 8300 running Windows XP SP3. I wanted to install the 2 Gb SATA drive as an additional data drive to my 200 Gb EIDE system drive. The problem with this Dell Dimension and many old Dells is that it has few options for specifying the boot order. All hard drives are essentially lumped together. In my case as Hard Drive C:. However, a seldom described feature of this BIOS is that it apparently searches all drives for an active partition in the order listed in the Drive Configuration menu where the drives are enabled and disabled. Since the SATA drives are listed before the IDE drives, the BIOS should boot Windows on my EIDE system drive as long as no partition is set as active on any SATA drive. The problem is that running WD Align, as recommended for Windows XP, appears to set the flag for an active partition on the SATA drive. In my case, I had just one primary partition. Although I have not tried to verify this behavior, I ended up with the error “NTLDR missing” when restarting. After specifically booting from my system drive, I could see that the active partition flag was indeed set on the SATA drive. Perhaps this can be an explanation for the many reports that old Dell systems require Windows to be installed on the SATA drive. Unfortunately, Windows XP does not have any function to reset the active partition flag once set. I therefore used a legacy version of mbrwiz to reset the active partition flag on the SATA drive. After this everything works flawlessly.

I had long road to arrive at this point since I due to some initial mistakes ended up with a corrupt Master Boot Record on my system drive. Therefore I could not boot Windows nor Dell’s utility partition. The corruption was so bad that any installation of Windows crashed during booting whether it was Windows XP on the SATA drive, Windows XP recovery CD, or any version using Bart PE. The error message in all these cases was a strange Plug and Play error “Duplicate PDO”. The solution for me was to use Ultimate Boot CD and testdrive that is included in Parted Magic. That way I could restore a working MBR and partition table.

WOW…That’s like a lot of trouble to install one hard drive…