SAS vs SATA Part 2: Adaptec 3405 SAS Controller + Tyan n3600R Mobo

Recently I mentioned that I needed some SCSI action in order to get VMware ESX server to play nice, and detailed my learning experiences with SAS and SATA. I now have in my possession an Adaptec 3405 SAS Controller, with the objective being to install it in a system based on a Tyan n3600 Motherboard. This in itself became another saga.

The Tyan board has two PCI-Express slots, a x8, and a x16. For whatever reason, only the x16 slot aligns with a mechanical slot on the back of the case. I deem this alignment to be important because the controller will have a fairly substantial cable hanging off of it inside the case, and PCI-Express x4 is not a very substantial (mechanically) connector.

The first thing I tried was installing the card in the x16 slot which provided nice mechanical stability. Upon rebooting the machine, the monitor never came out of sleep mode (i.e., its power LED stayed orange and never turned green), even though I was able to press NumLock and get the keyboard’s LED to blink for a while (not indefinitely; the system eventually froze). Bummer, no luck.

The next thing I did was remove the metal bracket from the back of the card and insert it in the x8 slot. This time, the card worked as expected. I tried installing ESX server but ran into a problem inserting the aacraid_esx30 module where the error message was to the tune of invalid module parameters. Google provided very little of any use, except for one message from a guy who suspected an interrupt problem and that the error message was spurious. I packed it in and gave up on the x8 slot. This was two days ago.

Today, I decided to call Adaptec Tech Support. I was put in touch with a very helpful woman who was patient while I connected, disconnected, rebooted, and generally messed with my system. Her conclusion, and it was a good one, was that I should update the BIOS of my motherboard and of my controller card.

Step 1: Update the BIOS of the motherboard. I updated from v1.01 to v3.00 on the Tyan S2912 BIOS update site. After doing this, my system booted as expected with the card in the x16 slot. This solves my first problem: get the system to boot with the Adaptec card, but it says nothing about whether ESX Server will like the card.

I decided to give the ESX Server install a try before updating the firmware on the controller card. The installer hung while “Loading aacraid_esx30 driver…”. Booo. The diagnostic 7-segment display on the motherboard seems to be stuck, oscillating between two values. It happens so quickly that even my digital camera can’t get a good capture, but it looks like the values are 46 and 86 (hex). I guess I will be applying the Adaptec BIOS updates.

The BIOS on my adaptec card as I received it is version 12415. The Adaptec SAS-3405 BIOS Update site showed two newer versions: 12814 and 15323. The tech support woman suggested that I update iteratively, instead of directly to the latest version. Further, each update is sufficiently large that it requires two floppy disks, plus the DOS boot disk, for a total of 5 floppies involved in the updating.

Upon booting the ESX Server installer in text mode, the message “Loading aacraid_esx30 driver…” appears for about 5 minutes before asking me to test the install CD. I selected “Skip”, and then the same “Loading aacraid_esx30 driver…” message returned for many more minutes. Eventually, this too timed out and the installer continued. I also have an IDE disk in the machine and this is the only drive listed when installation reaches the Partitioning step. This is insufficient since it leaves me with nowhere to store guest VM images.

I came across a forum post entitled “aacraid_esx30 / Adaptec RAID 2120S” where somebody else had the same problem. No resolution is posted, however. Adaptec lists ESX Server 3 as supporting the SAS-3405 with no additional driver needed.

To be continued…

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