Setup problem: ZFS locks my system

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Prufrock

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I'm having recurring problems setting up FreeNAS 8 because ZFS locks up my computer, preventing it from booting or even showing the BIOS screen.

In outline, I want to set up FreeNAS on a spare machine as a backup device for two or three computers The system I want to use dates from about 2007 and has an Elite (ECS) KV2 Lite motherboard (VIA K8T800 chip and VIA 8237 south bridge). It has (as far as I can tell) the manufacturer's latest version of the Phoenix Award BIOS. I have a 400 Gb IDE drive I want to use as my first disk and to set this up there are currently no other disks connected to the motherboard.

Installation to a USB drive went fine, I could then log in to the web interface and format the drive using ZFS and do some initial configuration. However, once I reboot the machine it stops at the motherboard start-up page - pressing <delete> no longer lets me enter the BIOS setup, nor does <f2> let me enter the screen to temporarily select a first boot drive. Once I disconnect the ZFS drive, FreeNAS will boot up again - but of course there's no drive. The only way I could retrieve the drive was to remove it from the computer and put it in a USB enclosure (removing the existing disk) where I was able to use a disk utility to check the whole disk (it passed) and then repartition it temporarily so I could try again to see if I'd just made an error. The result was the same.

I've searched for any help on this - alll I have found so far is advice to set the BIOS so that the IDE disk detection for each IDE Channel is no longer <Auto> but is instead set to <None>. Unfortunately this makes no difference. The boot priority is set to start with the USB drive.

Can anyone help?

Would using a drive on the SATA connector avoid this problem? (A SATA drive would be a cheap upgrade - I don't really want to buy a new motherboard, processor and memory when this system, though using older components such as a 939 pin CPU and DDR2 memory, still works fine in other ways.)

Should I use UFS instead or is this system just not suitable for FreeNAS?

Thanks
 

headconnect

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May 28, 2011
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Wow.. my initial reaction is quite simply that if something prevents you from entering bios, then there's something seriously wrong - the only thing your system should be doing at that time related to disks is to see if something exists, and possibly extract general high-level information from it (size, sectors, ports, serial nr, make, what have you). It should definetely not be going into any detail regarding the /contents/ of the disk.

HTML:
<del>Have you tried throwing the disk in another machine (to see if the same issue appears) and if not, reformatting it and placing it back into your old system (to see if the same issue still appears), and if not, trying to set it up again?</del>

Edit: strikethrough of redundant request to test what's already been tested. So the value of this post remains simply at the *gasp* state.
 

Prufrock

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I thought I ought to give a quick update, in case anyone else is having a similar problem. To be brief: it seems that for this system, there's no solution to the problem. Using a SATA drive made no difference, nor did an attempt to use the UFS format with my IDE (PATA) drive.

My guess (though I claim no technical expertise) is that FreeNAS or the disk formatting itself affects the boot record of the disks in a way that the VIA K8T800/8237 chipset cannot handle, so it would never start or even allow me to access the BIOS. My more recent setup, with the AMD 785G/SB710, doesn't have this problem and I could use that motherboard to access the drives and reformat them so I can use them again in the older motherboard.

This is a pity, as I liked the neatness of the FreeNAS setup, with the system on a USB drive and an interface specifically designed for NAS. But I don't want to have to invest in new kit when the current hardware works in all other ways (and it's not that old - about 4 years), so I've reluctantly started to try out Ubuntu server instead. I'm not finding it straightforward to configure!
 

jgreco

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That sounds more like a dodgy BIOS than anything else. You've already said that the BIOS is at the most recent. I will make one unlikely suggestion, which is to try flashing a new BIOS *anyways*, just in case something in your BIOS has been corrupted. This has worked once or twice for me over the years when something strange was happening at the most basic levels. Otherwise, you've pretty much done all the obvious things.

It's pretty common with some older BIOS versions to experience severe problems when trying to hook up disks that are bigger than what the BIOS expects; we've seen all sorts of stuff ranging from a simple hang to random crap appearing on the screen. It seems that many times the BIOS will attempt to feel out the drives even when apparently configured not to. You can *sometimes* avoid this through careful testing of different BIOS settings, such as removing them from the boot order list entirely. Turning off the controller at the chipset level isn't helpful because then you lose the drives entirely; what you want is to come up with some setting that has the BIOS ignoring the ports but the OS seeing the controller.

The one thing that usually *works* in this sort of scenario is to try a SATA controller that has its own BIOS extensions built-in. This still isn't a guarantee but it's a lot more likely to work. You want to specifically look for a SATA controller that includes a BIOS ROM. You can double-check to see if the manufacturer has a BIOS update utility for the card. Higher-end cards like RAID cards definitely qualify; I've
thrown large drives into ancient platforms like an Intel ISP1100 with a 3Ware card and had them work, despite the fact that the ISP1100's BIOS usually freaks out with drives larger than, ah, I want to say 120MB.
 

Prufrock

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Thanks, I'll look at this, although I have checked it's the latest BIOS, which I updated myself a while ago. I'll try the process again, though. The motherboard has worked fine with Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux.

I've looked at an add-on card - but the cheaper ones seem to have problems (from comments on the Internet) and the only 3Ware cards I could find would cost more than buying a completely new AM3 motherboard, CPU and memory. I might try a Silicon image version - though as I want to keep both IDE and SATA drives I already own, it seems I may have to buy two cards. (There is a cheap card that offers both IDE and SATA, but there's quite a bit on the Internet saying these have problems with FreeBSD, Linux, etc.)
 

jgreco

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I've been thinking about this a bit and I'm trying to remember what FreeBSD does with disks that haven't been initialized through the BIOS process. There's a possibility that it might be made to work by sticking in a controller with no BIOS that your existing BIOS also doesn't recognize, but I would only try that if you happened to have one sitting around. You might also have some luck playing with alternative bootloaders ... I believe FreeNAS installs the FreeBSD one without asking, and maybe if there's something specific to that which is causing the trouble, you might find an alternative that works.

For me, I can say that it's possible most of the time to make it work somehow, but the frustration level and possible future problems are generally sufficient to make the purchase of some new cheap hardware preferable.
 

Prufrock

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Jun 2, 2011
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Thanks. The issue with this motherboard/chipset seems to be to be that the motherboard hangs even before it even tries to boot an OS from any disk - it just stops at the maker's splash screen. It does seem that this is connected with what's on the disk, though, as it only happens with disks formatted in FreeNAS and not with blank, unused disks or ones partitioned in Windows or Linux. When I looked at them (on a more recent computer) using the disk manufacturers' DOS-based utilities, they each had a small 'unidentifiable' partition at the start of the disk, which might be the cause of the problem on the older board.

I've been looking at possibly upgrading the motherboard with an add-on PCI disk controller card and might try this, but (as you mention) 'the frustration level and possible future problems' make me hesitate. I'll look into this a bit more, balancing time and money spent on old hardware against a fresh start (and more time and money....).
 

Prufrock

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Jun 2, 2011
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Update: problem now solved with a PCI disk controller card
Acting on the suggestion by jgreco (thanks!) I located a PCI interface card on eBay that has removed the problem. It had to come from the USA, hence the delay before I could try this out. It is a Maxtor branded version of the Promise SATA300 TX2 Plus Parallel ATA Adapter (not to be confused with the cheaper 'Promise RAID' adapter that's quite widely advertised) - and it does come with its own BIOS. It seems to be old stock, as Maxtor no longer list it (but there is documentation on their site and on the Promise site) - and the US seller was a lot cheaper, even with postage, than any others I found. It's given me an IDE port and 2 SATA ports, with the bonus of SATA II, so I didn't need to set the drive to the slower rate of 150MB/s. I've been able to run FreeNAS, format the drive to ZFS and reboot the system without problems.

So if anyone else is having a problem with the VIA K8T800/8237 chipset, this card (or another in the series) might be the answer. Thanks for the help here!
 
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