My Experience With The Promise Ultra 66/FastTrack Hack

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I have installed 3 of these cards into three different systems, all running Windows 98 Second Edition, and here is what I have experienced:

The BIOS flashing and resistor soldering go right by the numbers. Nothing too difficult and it always works. The problems I encountered were adding the card to my system with an existing hard drive.

There does not appear to be any way (that I can figure out) on how to add a second drive without losing the data on the first one. I ended up using a third hard drive. I Ghosted my original hard drive on to the “third” hard drive. I then plugged the Promise controller into my PC, plugged my old drive and my new drive into the Promise controller (leaving the “third” hard drive still plugged in to the motherboard).

I then rebooted, ran the FastTrack utility to Auto Configure the drives (the Fast Track utility is in the cards BIOS, and by pressing CTRL-F after drive detection, there is a small menu to select features. This happens before the O/S starts to load). Of course, I set the options for Performance and Desktop, RAID 0, which the computer had auto selected, I pressed CTRL-Y to save my changes and once again rebooted my computer as required.

With a bootable floppy in the A: drive, when my computer rebooted to the A:> prompt I ran Ghost once again, only this time I Ghosted from the “third” drive to the newly configured dual-drives that are now seen as one large drive. As it copies the Ghosted image, the controller automatically stripes the image to both hard disk drives plugged into the Promise controller.

Once that Ghosted image is complete, I shut down the system, remove the “third” hard drive from the motherboard, remove the bootable floppy and then power the system back on. When the system enters Windows, it detects a new PCI RAID controller, and prompts me to insert the drivers. With the drivers on a floppy, I insert the floppy and tell Windows to get the drivers from the A: drive. It does this successfully and then asks to reboot. Once again I reboot, after removing the floppy.

After Windows comes back up, I then install the Fast Trak Utility software. Once the Fast Trak Utility software is installed, it puts a small icon in the system tray and puts a file in your StartUp folder called FastCheck Monitoring Utility. In fact, if no icon is in your System Tray after installing the software, just click on Start, Programs, StartUp, and then click once on FastCheck Monitoring Utility. You should now see the icon in your System Tray.

Double-click on that icon and an informational window will appear with three tabs. The only tab I am interested in is the last one titled “Options.” Under options I make sure that the PCI Bus Utilization is set all the way to High. I also put a check box next to Disable Hot Spare/Auto Rebuild. Then I make sure that the Array Synchronization is NOT disabled and I pick a weekly day and time for it to do that in the background.

I disable Hot Spare/Auto Rebuild because I am installing this for the purposes of speed. As long as you make regular back-ups of your data, this is an option you do not need. The informational window should display “Smart Sts FAILED” if you click on any of the drives listed in the array under the Array or Controller tab.

Before

Before Average Read Speed: 16,901 kps

That’s it, I then run HD Tach 2.52 to see the difference in the speed. I would run HD Tach 2.61 except that on all three PCs running Windows 98 Second Edition (one was a completely clean build with no other software), I get a Blue Screen of Death when running 2.61 after installing the drivers for the Promise Fast Trak card. Something about a conflict with a file called FTTKVSD.VXD, which is one of the drivers that gets installed for the Promise Fast Trak card. No other software I have crashes, just HD Tach 2.61.

After

After Average Read Speed: 26,634 kps – 58% Improvement

Some Other Problems And Fixes

Error Writing to Drive C

I had done everything described above, except that when I installed the Promise Fast Trak drivers and re-booted, Windows 98SE came up with a Blue Screen error saying it could not write to drive C:.

The Fix: After beating my head against the wall, I went into the Fast Trak BIOS and looked more carefully at my assigned disk array and found that disk 1 was set to MST (master) and disk 2 was set to SLV (slave). Upon closer inspection I did notice I left off a jumper from the hard disk drive. Once I correctly set the second hard drive as a Master, the blue screen error went away and everything worked beautifully.

Someone else had this same problem, but had a different fix for it – here is what they said:

“It would seem that either A) The BIOS wasn’t flashed properly the first time around or B) Win98SE required all the Windows Update stuff to be installed first. I’m not sure which one turned the trick as I tried doing both at the same time. All I can tell anyone who might have a similiar problem is to try this:

Boot into Safe Mode. Go to Device mMnager and remove the Fasttrak Driver. Make sure you have folder options set to show all files. Navigate to c:windowsinfother and delete the Fasttrak.inf file. Restart and don’t assign any driver to the PCI Raid card that Windows finds.

Use your internet connection to go to Promise.com and download the latest bios. Windows Update and download all relevant updates. Restart once more to let all changes take effect. Restart a third time, but boot into safe mode command prompt. Flash your Fasttrak bios. Restart a final time and reinstall the Fasttrak driver thru device manager.”

Interference From RAID Card Coming Through Speakers

“When the card was still just an Ultra66, I had no problems. However, when I turned it into a Fasttrak66, suddenly I started getting noise through the sound card. It consists of various pops and rumbles that correspond to when I have data moving to or from the RAID card. Also, when I go into games now, the sound card is obviously not working correctly as sounds seems to repeat forever until I leave the game. Sounds while in the desktop are unaffected.

At first, I thought this was “just” a problem with the Miniport IRQ driver. I’ve seen this before on Aopen motherboards – you just have to reinstall the driver and you’re fine – but that didn’t work this time. I’ve tried moving the card to a different slot hoping that would work but to no avail.

The Fix: The reason, for two and a half days, that I was getting data sounds through my CD audio cable, and thereby my speakers was that the CDROM was plugged into the IDE bus, but WAS NOT POWERED! So, without power to the CDROM, the PCB in the CDROM was letting all sorts of signals go through and out the CD-audio cable. ARGH!”

Win98 Drivers Can’t Install

“Well, I set-up striping with 2 HDs and installed fresh Windows 98. Then I installed drivers. It still says that controller is off, or not working properly. It marks it with exclamation (!).”

The Fix: “I re-flashed BIOS 1.08 and it works.”

Hangs At Windows 98 Splash Screen

“I just modified my Promise Ultra66 card to the FastTrak66 and everything seemed like it went great; flashed the BIOS, then soldered the resistor, booted up, went into the Fast Trak BIOS and set up the array for my single drive (for now). But when it starts to boot Windows, it gets to the splash screen (clouds with Windows 98 across it) and stays there forever. I’ve waited for about 5 minutes with no luck and had to cold boot the machine.”

The Fix: Go into your computer’s BIOS (not the Ultra66 card) and set the option to Boot to SCSI First. (More information on this can be found in your motherboard owners manual).

ABIT BE-6 II Locks Up

“I’m using the BE6-II with the FT66. The mod to the Ultra66 worked fine but I’m having troubles with Win 98 locking up; when doing a defrag, the system locks up at around 10%. I reboot and then I get a message that tells me that the IRQ on the PCI is incorrect. I have no HD on the internal controller, including the UDMA66. I have them all disabled except for the Primary Master for use with my CDROM.

The Fix: “I re-installed Windows 98 SE with only my video card and the Fast Trak – drivers worked perfectly!! No conflict with the onboard ULTRA/66. Now I will put the rest of my system drivers in one at a time !!”

ABIT BE-6 II Locks Up (similar issue as above)

I’m using an Abit BE6 rev2 motherboard. My FastTrak comes up (on bootup) with its BIOS and I can set it to RAID mode Stripe and it sees both my Quantum 18.2 KA drives, but I get a yellow flag in Windows and it will not work. I even removed every card except my video card I also tried manually setting IRQ’s as well. I’ve tried it in all slots, changed the IRQ in BIOS, removed every card but my video card.

“In System properties it says device not present, not working properly, or does not have the all the drivers installed (code 10) . No conflicts in resources, I’ve installed and removed the drivers.”

The Fix: “A Format and re-install of Windows seems to have solved my problems; now I will put everything else back”

Overclocking

“In my system, when overclocked to bus speeds of at least 75 MHz before this controller, I can no longer go higher than 66 MHz (Celeron 500, Soyo 6BA+). Has anyone else been kept from overclocking by this card? I know it’s the card as it is the only change to my system – immediately kept me from overclocking.”

The Fix: “I was running my P3/600 at 660 on a 110 MHz bus. FastTrak was very flaky. The important number was the PCI bus that ran at 36.67 when overclocked. Promise states that the card is designed for PCI bus 33MHz. I went back to this setting and the card has been rock solid.”

Utility Software Doesn’t Find FastTrak66

“After my successful manipulation of the controller, I get problems running the utility software in Win98. Everything else works fine. I can boot-up the computer on the connected hard disk drive and in Windows I can use the drive without problems. The driver is correctly installed and there is no driver-conflict. But when I want to run the utility software, I get problems, because I get the message: Driver or card not found.”

The Fix: “The problem was where I plugged in the card. I placed it in the 3rd PCI-Slot and it didn’t work. The same happened when I tried the 1st, so I tried the 2nd and now it works perfectly.”

No FastTrak Controller Found

“I have two Ultra66 cards (assy 9841-00 rev A1 TLA:B0-A1-0R-6-0-02) and have tried flashing the bios on each followed by very carefully soldering the 100-ohm 1/4 watt 5% tolerance resister from pin 23 to pin 16 on one and from pin 23 to the little hole near “home” on the other.

By all accounts I believe I have very nice, shiny, solid, but not overheated connections made with a 15 watt soldering iron. When I try booting the system with either card the FastTrak66 bios version is 1.08 displayed but tells me that there is ‘No FastTrak Controller Found. As far as I can tell I’ve performed the ‘upgrade’ perfectly.”

The Fix: “I have two cards and used pin 23 to 16 on one card and pin 23 to ground on the other. I finally achieved success when I asked another person to look at the resisters to make sure I had the right one. It seems I need a little color adjustment of my tired old eyes – I was using THE WRONG RESISTORS. Now I am using 100 ohm resistors and BOTH CARDS WORK FLAWLESSLY!”

No Performance Gain

“After doing this hack, my system hard drive is not running faster. I know that I have a good contact on pin #23 but I’m not sure about my ground. The card seems to be working, it starts in BIOS and Win98 see’s it, (yes I did load the drivers), but where is this speed I’ve heard about? I have a Soyo MB and a Maxtor 20gig 7200rpm HD.”

The Fix: You must have two hard drives attached to the controller (each as Master, one on the Primary controller, one on the Secondary controller) to achieve a performance increase.

Windows Protection Fault

“When I attach the drive to the card, I can set it up in the BIOS fine. It boots into Windows BEFORE it has found the drivers for the card. On the first re-boot the system hangs with a Windows Protection fault, saying it failed loading the VCOM Device. I assume that’s the VCOM.VXD. This is with NO cards in the machine except video.”

The Fix: “I had to totally re-format the partition Windows was on and install all the cards separately. It works now and I found that my Intel PCI 100+ NIC card was toast.”

Hardware Or Driver Not Properly Installed

“I did the 100 ohm resistor to pin 23 and pin 16 method. I flashed the BIOS prior to adding the resistor; when I boot the FastTrak BIOS shows up but I can not get it work in Windows. Windows keeps saying the hardware or driver is not properly installed error. It is not conflicting with anything in the Device Manager.”

The Fix: “The card would not install properly in Windows until I connected drives to it. Now it works fine.”

Asus V3800 Ultra & FT66

“If anyone out there has an Asus TNT2 Ultra V3800 TVR AGP card, and flash their BIOS to the upgraded 2.0.13sb (or something like that) BIOS just released, you will not be able to boot from the FastTrak66!

In essence, it is like adding a SCSI card with a higher BIOS memory address than the FT66, where the SCSI card will take priority in booting, and the drives on the FT66 are inaccessible until you load up the drivers for it; you can still access the drives in Windows, but not in DOS or in the bootup period.”

The Fix: “I followed the suggestion of another post, which stated that you should disable BIOS support for USB keyboards in the POST (change it to OS support). Mind you, BTW, I am using an Abit BF6 motherboard to do this.”

Can You Use Two Different Hard Drives?

Question: “Can you use two different hard drives if they both support Ultra 66 but are of different sizes? I saw on Promise’s site that it isn’t recommended, but does it work? I want to use a 27.2 gig u66 Maxtor and a 15.3 gig Maxtor u66.”

Answer: “It will work but you will only be able to use 15 GB each from both drives. The extra space on the 27GB drive will be inaccessible. Also, it will run at the slowest speed of the 2.

For RAID 0 – stripe set you will have a 30 GByte RAID HDD (15G x 2) with a sequential I/O performance like twice than lowest HDD. FT66 support JBOD too, and you will have a 27+15=42 JBOD HDD, with the performance starting from lowest to highest of the two HDDs (depending where physically data are stored).”

Unreal Tournament Taking a Long Time to Load

Another problem I had was that Unreal Tournament would take about 30-40 seconds to load and connect to an internet game when my friends were loading in about 12 seconds on slower PCs WITHOUT the Fast Trak card.

The Fix: I tracked that down to a software caching utility that comes with some motherboards (I like using Abit boards and this utility comes with Abit motherboards). The utility is called Xstore, or Xstore Pro. It is suppose to increase data throughput for Windows applications, which it may do just fine. However, when I uninstalled Xstore Pro from my system (and once again rebooted) I was then able to load and connect to an internet Unreal Tournament CTF game in less then 7 seconds. Much faster.

For performance reasons I also ran Norton 2000 and allowed it to set a permanent swap file size, and then defragment the hard disk (as well as the swap file) to help increase performance that much more. Once Norton did all it could under it’s Optimization utilities (rebuild the registry, etc.), I then removed Norton 2000 from my system. Leaving it installed is only asking for trouble (in my opinion).

Soldering Tips

Just follow the instructions to flash the BIOS to a FastTrak66 BIOS once before you solder the resistor and you’ll be fine. For those starting off, use a 15 watt solder iron – anything more is too much heat. Flat tip or point tip is fine. Flat tip allows more surface to melt the solder against when you’ve got the solder on the IC lead and the flat tip is behind that.

Use the finest solder you can get if possible so it will melt quickly – you don’t want to keep the solder iron on the IC lead more than ~ten seconds (ten won’t hurt if you’re using a low 15 watt iron). Remember rosin solder with tin and lead – no acid stuff or you’ll mess up the electronics.

(assuming card is oriented with metal faceplate on left)

Best way is to follow the tip on soldering a 100 ohm resistor between pin 23 and ground. Best way to mount the resistor is to bend the leads so that the resistor and resistor leads form a squat S shape. Lay the resistor parallel with the long direction of the IC, that empty space just under the Promise Tech labeled IC.

One lead will touch the square resistor pad (1 of 4, either one closest to the metal faceplate on the left is fine. I chose the one near the left bottom edge because the S shaped resistor fits perfectly like that w/o the leads bending funny.).

The other lead will form the other part of the S; but unlike the bottom lead, you’ll want to bend it so that starts off parallel to the IC, but just when it is under the 23 pin, you’ll bend it to go in that direction – towards the 23 pin and perpendicular
to the IC.

When it reaches the pin 23 leg that goes into the board, you’ll want to bend the resistor lead once again so that it follows the lead upwards and just touches it.

Now all of that turning above, unlike simply connecting the resistor lead straight to the leg as described on the Geocities site, does two things:

  • One, allows both leads to lay flat against the connecting points on either end, and
  • Two, as a result, stress that could make the resistor pop off otherwise is reduced to a minimum.

The long flat contact on both ends also ensures a high chance that you’ll get a solid contact the first try out (unlike some who have complained of having to re-solder the resistor again due to poor contact).

The easiest way to keep the resistor in place for soldering? Just scotch tape the resistor in place, taping the resistor, the bottom part of the lead (leaving the tip that will be soldered to the square ground pad exposed), and wrap it around the bottom edge of the board.

This should keep the top lead touching the IC (Important! Re-tape if necessary), and the bottom lead touching or floating just above the square ground pad (not so important if it isn’t touching becuase you can push it down to contact the pad with a flat tip soldering gun as you apply solder to make the connection).

Question: Do you need to remove the metal faceplate as some suggest?

Answer: Not even! This mod is so easy, you’ll be done in a minute.

Question: Best place to solder?

Answer: I did mine in a nice sunny spot on my concrete garage floor with the card on a pad of paper — concrete won’t conduct electricity, won’t burn or melt if you accidentally drop the solder iron on it or leave it there for hours, and it’s a great surface for scraping off the gunk off the tip of the solder iron to tin it (scrape to bare shiny metal, then apply solder all over to cover it — this prevents oxidization, the brown black stuff from appearing, which makes your solder iron not work as well because it won’t transfer heat as well).

Have a single paper towel, folded, and very wet nearby in case you need to wipe off the tip of the iron against it, or if you get a bit of solder on your skin by accident (ouch!). Also, when you touch the iron to the wet paper momentarily, you’ll hear a bright sizzle and you’ll know the iron is getting hot.

Question: How do you know when the iron is fully heated?

Answer: Touch the tip of the solder to the iron and see if it melts in 1-2 seconds of continuous contact. Keep feeding the solder and it should keep melting. Then, clean the solder off on the piece of wet paper and try again immediately. If it is too cold, the solder will not melt in 1-2 seconds after it has been cleaned off on the wet paper (the water will cool down a too cold solder iron too much to melt solder; on the other hand, a hot solder iron ready-to-go will still be hot enough).

Remember, as it melts, the solder gets shorter, so you’ll have to move the tip of the solder closer to the iron.
Remember to draw out a long enough piece of solder before you solder the resistor in place or you’ll find your fingertips right next to the solder iron! and not enough solder to finish the job!!

Question: Best place to buy the Ultra66 card?

Answer: See a price search engine like www.shopper.com, pricescan.com, pricewatch.com and mysimon.com (and if you’re doing dozens of cards like some are, www.dealcatcher.com and www.dealnews.com for coupons and rebates some stores might give you on purchases).

In the end, I went with Onvia.com for their decent price, fast and FREE shipping, and no tax (I’m outside their state). (Egghead also offers free shipping with a decently low price) Both places sell the card for $32 vs. the lowest place listed at $30.49, but they add shipping to that amount. Also, you might want to check out eBay auctions for some screaming deals.

If you are ordering a lot of cards, visit BUY.COM and get them at wholesale in minimum bulks of 5.

Why is RAID better?

RAID0 (striping) will give a theoretical maximum multiplier of read and write performance of however many hard drives are raided. For example, if you stripe 2 drives together, you are theoretically doubling performance. READ: THEORETICAL. You don’t actually get twice as much performance, but it is significantly faster. And at the price this mod will cost, it’s the greatest perfomance increase you could possibly get!

RAID1 (mirroring) is for data protection. It effectively mirrors 1 hard drive’s contents on another hard drive. That way if 1 hard drive fails, you still have all your data because it is Mirrored on another drive exactly. It also improves read times quite a bit also.

So therefore, RAID is one heck of a performance/security increase. And now it is so at an unbelievable price!

Carey Holzman

NOTE: I sell the cards already modified and guaranteed to work (with a UDMA cable included) for $35 SHIPPED anywhere in the US. If anyone is interested, they can email me to work out details.


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