Unresponsive SATA Hot Plugin with Windows 7 on AMD 785G PC

Posted on December 24th, 2009 in Hardware & Software by andrija

I have had serious issues with hard drives on my main PC for months now. First was the issue when using hard drive dock. The way it worked on my old PC was like this: with the dock turned off and eSATA cable plugged into it and the PC, you plug the hard drive into it and then turn on the power to the dock. PC should automatically recognize it – and it would, on my “old” Intel P35 motherboard. Not on my “new” AMD 785G motherboard with Phenom II 955. Well, I wasn’t expecting it anyway seeing as I was running my SATA ports in “Native IDE” mode.  The idea here was that since I was using an SSD drive (plus a regular HDD) I needed to run it as “native” in order to get TRIM instruction to work. TRIM support is what you need in order to prevent SSD performance deteriorating over time; if you don’t know why and how, hit Anandtech’s legendary article on the subject.

Anyway I wasn’t really able to use external dock to a great extent or, frankly, at all. A drive would only get recognized if it was plugged in and turned on before the PC itself was turned on. There was a trick one could use, where if the PC was sleeping you would be able to do the deed. Since sleep/wake cycle is much faster than a full shutdown/restart, this wasn’t too awful. But you couldn’t remove the drive while PC was running either – unpredictable results would occur. And often I’d either forget to put it to sleep or would have a reason to not want to put the PC to sleep (ongoing download, music conversion or whatever). So this was a big pain.

Due to my SSD dying recently, I had to reinstall Windows so I took the opportunity to set BIOS to AHCI. Unfortunately it didn’t go as smooth as it should have. I first tried to restore drive from a 10-days old full image and while that worked (more or less), the system would only boot if the drive was set to native IDE; set it to AHCI and poof, blue screen during boot. I thought this was because I replaced SSD with a HDD but no. I got Intel’s SSD and restored image to it, and the result was the same.

I decided to update BIOS. For some reason I thought there was no BIOS updates for my Gigabyte motherboard but lo and behold, they were all the way up to F5 while mine was still the original F1. I had big hopes because I had big problems (in addition to this hotplug, I had major dropout issues with USB, Firewire and keyboard not being recognized at boot time, all addressed in upcoming posts). AHCI looked much nicer – and faster – in BIOS this time ‘round but it was still giving me the blue screen.

So I did a full reinstall from scratch, using AHCI and F5 BIOS. Yay, it worked. Of course, I had a blank slate of a system. But to add insult to injury my eSATA was still not working!

Now I was getting nervous. I knew I probably needed to install chipset drivers but I was avoiding it because unlike AHCI I was definitely sure that only the virgin Microsoft SATA drivers supported TRIM. If I install AMD drivers, no more TRIM. Right?

Well it turns out my brand new Intel SSD did not come with firmware supporting TRIM anyway! What the?! The thing was delayed for months because of that and now that it’s finally back in stock, it’s still using old firmware? I had to deal with this as well, now. Funny enough, flashing Intel SSD firmware involves booting off a CD into a custom DOS-like OS. And it didn’t recognize my SSD until I reverted BIOS to “Native IDE”. Anyway, I flashed it, turned AHCI on again and it booted up fine. At least some good luck, I’d have hated it to end up with a wiped drive or much worse, a RMA-ready one.

trim is a go

Once in the Windows 7, I ran the CrystalDiskInfo and it was showing TRIM as supported (before firmware update, it didn’t – that’s how I knew something was up). Now does this mean TRIM is supported by the drive or that it’s supported by the whole chain (OS, drivers, drive)? I do not know, but after finally installing chipset AHCI driver (available from Gigabyte or AMD itself), it was still showing TRIM as supported. I’ll take my chances for now as the worst that can happen is that the drive gets slower over time (and there’s a lower boundary of how slow it can get so it’s not a disaster by any means).

And on the plus side, after installing AHCI chipset drivers, hotplug of eSATA drives is  working like in good old times! Plug in, turn on – it’s recognized in seconds after spin-up. Turn it off, OS recognizes the fact and removes it from the drive list cleanly.

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