External Firewire Drive

Backups are good. That's why I bought myself an 80GB external drive to keep my data safe. I decided to take my friend's advice and check out customer feedback on various drives. So I surfed on over to newegg and took a look at some external drives. I was hoping to get one with both a usb and firewire interface, but they were more expensive, and there were fewer choices. The Fantom Drive got excellent ratings; so, I went with it.

When it arrived, I had an immediate disappointment. I had read that firewire provides its own power. But the drive came with an external power adaptor and wouldn't turn on without it. I plugged in the drive and turned it on. It was very quiet at least. I tried to run fdisk on the corresponding device, but it failed complaining about not being able to read the partition table along with other errors.

After posting to the linux1394-users list, someone had me patch my kernel from here. Unfortunately, that didn't help. He then had me generate some debug output. To do this compile the following into the kernel. Also, disable your log files so your internal hard disk is not being used. Last, you'll need to do the follwing each time you reboot. echo 9216 > /sys/module/scsi_mod/parameters/scsi_logging_level

--> Device Drivers
    --> SCSI Device Support
        --> SCSI Logging Facility

Eventually I removed the pci card with the firewire ports and transferred it to a windows box. In linux, I could at least see that there was an 80GB hard drive there. In windows XP, it didn't work at all. At one point it told me there may be a problem with the device. I later tried it on a mac without my pci card and it worked just fine. So the pci card I was using was suspect now. I had read that the via controllers do have some known problems with certain devices. But I was told that linux has a simple work around and that this was probably not the problem.

I finally got around to calling tech support. The first thing they told me was that firewire pci card has a connection for more power. This seemed a bit strange. The hard disk has an external power adaptor, gets power over the pci bus, and requires another internal power adaptor. I bought an adaptor from the standard four pin power supply in the case to the smaller four pins on the pci card. It's the exact same adaptor as for a floppy drive. But I had to file a little plastic tab off the back to get it fit over the pins. (I noticed when I returned that this connection actually came with my power supply. Oops.) The adaptor didn't help at all.

At this point I tried it on another windows machine (again with the same pci card). Windows seemed to recognize a device. But that was about as far as it got. There were some funny error codes that even the tech support guy didn't recognize.

At this point I finally went out and got another pci card. I noticed that one of the more expensive cards had the full size power connector on it. It didn't require an adaptor. The card I bought did need the adaptor though. This one did not have any via chips on it. I tried it in the windows machine and it worked. When I later tried it on my linux box, I removed the power adaptor, and it still worked (as I suspected).

Apparently, either the via firewire chip does not work, or there is a problem with the electronics on the pci card, or it has some kind of conflict with this hard drive. For your reference, the pci card I have has four external usb ports and one internal. There are two external firewire ports and one internal. There are two chips on the card. One is for usb -- VT6212. The other is for firewire -- VT6306.

The drive came formatted as FAT32. I re-partitioned using fdisk. I created a standard 30GB linux partition for backing up my internal raid drive and a 50GB one for anything else. Then I ran mkfs -t ext2 /dev/sdf1 to create the file system. And then mount /dev/sdf1 /dev/fire. That's it. I use flexbackup to make my backups.