Intel Smart Response Technology on Windows 10

Intel’s Smart Response Technology is an interesting way of having the storage of a high capacity hard drive but with (some) of the speed benefits of a SSD.

Basically a small capacity SSD is used as a cache for both reads and writes to the slower hard disk.

I have a 512GB SSD for my system drive and a 2TB storage hard drive. I decided to test out Smart Response Technology (or, ‘SRT’, from now on) on my storage hard drive, even though most uses of SRT are for a system/boot drive (which in my case, is already an SSD).

I purchased a cheap Kingston 120GB V300, which has moderate read speeds but terrible (160MB/s) write speeds – but still faster than a hard drive, particularly at random reads/writes. I switched my BIOS over to RAID mode, opened up Intel’s ‘Rapid Storage Technology’ program on Windows 10, and attempted to add the new SSD as a storage cache.

Unfortunately, I came across an error message that was about as useful as a chocolate teapot:

An unknown error has occurred while an operation was in progress. The operation could not be completed.

Determined as I was, I opened up event viewer to see if there was a more detailed error message:

0: SSI Status: Internal Error
0: RAID Config Status: Illegal Disk Action.
TriggerTransaction operation failed for Trigger: CreateVolume
System.Exception: 0: Trigger create failed in internalIsiVolumeCreate
Error returned by IsiVolumeCreateFromDisks() in PsiData::PsiDataSource::ActionVolumeCreateFromDisks

Again, some critical error without any useful information…

It seemed with some further Googling that in fact SRT does not work with Windows 10, or more precisely, if you are running Windows 10 you can’t create a new SRT volume.

The solution to solve this is actually very simple, though a bit time consuming. You need to install Windows 7, Windows 8/8.1 or Windows Server 2008/2012 as a separate installation, set up the SRT caching from that OS in the RST program, then reboot back into Windows 10. Even though Windows 10 doesn’t support creating new volumes, the RST software recognized that an existing cache disk was setup, and just continued to use it.

I personally installed a fresh copy of Server 2012 R2 onto an old 160GB hard drive, connected via SATA (having unplugged my system SSD, but left the cache SSD and 2TB storage hard drive plugged in). Then I simply installed the latest version of RST, tried to enable the caching as I did before, and this time it worked straight away. After shutting down, unplugging Server 2012, and re-connecting my Windows 10 SSD, it picked it up automatically and just worked.

This method of course only works if you are setting up a cached configuration that is nothing to do with your Windows 10 boot drive. It may be possible to accelerate a Windows 10 boot drive using the same method (i.e. using a different OS to configure the RST software, but pointing it at the Windows 10 install), but I would do this cautiously as you risk breaking something.

The real question here is: why on earth hasn’t Intel fixed this problem in Windows 10 yet?! Win10 has been out for nearly a year now, and Intel still advertises SRT as a feature on their website….

New PC build

My old desktop PC has served me well for almost 4 years. However, technology from 4 years ago is now pretty much considered ‘ancient’ (well, not really – but you get my point) and so I decided it was time to build a new one.

I use to select all of the parts for any PC build. They generally offer good prices as well as a wide range of ‘higher end’ components suited towards enthusiast PC builders. I also like the fact that they remove VAT at website source for us Channel Islands customers.

Selecting the parts:

Picking the parts for a build can be quite challenging, with so many different options to choose from. I generally start with the processor and work from there. The most important thing in my opinion is to ensure you buy a processor from the latest generation. There’s not really point in paying money for a CPU that is effectively 1-2 years old already. At the moment, the latest Intel generation is “Haswell” – a 22nm process, and Intel have just recently released a refreshed line of desktop class CPU’s to carry us through until they release the newer 14nm Broadwell chips in 2015.

I normally go to OCUK’s website, select the latest CPU generation, then sort by price. Some CPU generations have much larger price variations between the highest end, and the mid-high end. To me though, with Haswell, the price difference between the top CPU and the mid-end doesn’t seem to be as drastic as previous generations were. With this in mind, I decided to go for the i7-4790k (quad core w/ Hyper Threading), the current top-end chip offered by Intel. It is fairly reasonably priced for their flagship desktop CPU, with a base clock speed of 4.00 Ghz and turbo boost up to 4.40 Ghz. Additionally, this new release was supposed to have better thermal material to allow for superior overclocks – more on that later.

Once I picked the CPU, the next logical step is to choose the motherboard. This can be extremely confusing, with a whole host of different codes (e.g X79, Z87, B75, etc). The first thing is to narrow it down to match the CPU socket – in the case of Haswell, socket 1150. Then, you want to find out which generation (marked by the number code) of motherboard is appropriate to your CPU. The easiest way I have found is to search the socket type on Wikipedia, which usually brings up a table of the different chipsets from best to worst. In my case, I opted for the Z97 chipset, which should also be compatible with Intel’s next generation CPU’s, for better upgradeability.

Finally, it is time to choose the graphics card. This time round, I already had a new card so I didn’t need to buy one for this build. However, if you are buying a new card for a gaming PC, I advise to search for card reviews on the internet and get a really good idea of the state of things before making any purchases – price doesn’t necessarily translate into performance, and sometimes cheaper cards can end up being better or on par with the more expensive ones (e.g. R9 290 vs 780).

There are lots of other components you will need, of course 😉 , but these are probably the most important ones to settle on at first.

Parts List:

Intel Core i7-4790K 4.00GHz (Devil’s Canyon)
Asus Z97 Pro Motherboard
Corsair Vengeance Low Profile 16GB 1600MHz Dual Channel
Corsair AX760i Digital ATX Modular Power Supply
Corsair Hydro H100i Liquid CPU Cooler
Samsung 512GB SSD 850 PRO
Phanteks Enthoo Primo Full Tower Case (White)
Hazro HZ27WD-V2 10-Bit 27″ 1440p LED Monitor

Plus an existing R9 290 graphics card and a 500GB storage HDD.

Build review:

Sadly I didn’t take any pictures during the build, but I will instead try to give a review of how easy each component was to install. The first thing to unwrap is usually the case itself. In my case, the Phanteks Enthoo Primo. It really is massive in size, and far larger than even I was expecting. If you’re used to a large tower, the Primo seems to be even larger! However the size of the case does mean that it comes with plenty of room to work with internally, and some fantastic cable management features that are great for OCD’ers like me. The case is not just tall, but also quite wide – allowing even thick cables to be well hidden behind the motherboard. It’s also clear that this case was built with cooling in mind, there are literally 10’s of locations for fan mounting and I believe at least 8 (single slot) rad mount locations for water-cooling. The overall build quality felt fantastic: everything felt really solid, even the removable side panels didn’t bend when trying to add or remove them. Another feature of the Primo is the PWM fan hub that allows all of the case fans to be controlled from a single fan connector on the motherboard. The PWM hub comes with a 4-pin cable to connect to the motherboard, and the Z97’s fan connectors all seemed to be 4-pin PWM capable. You can connect the PWM hub to a molex connector as well, but this didn’t seem to be necessary if your motherboard can supply enough power on it’s own. My closing thoughts for the Primo are overwhelmingly positive. I don’t think I actually have any complaint about it. Perhaps a slightly better instruction guide could be included, since it wasn’t completely obvious what all the cable connections did at first (e.g. connecting a SATA power cable to the ’12v’ connector so that the lighting works!).

My second component to get out the box was the Asus Z97 Pro motherboard. I decided to install the CPU into the board before mounting it, and at this point I want to point something out that should’ve been obvious but still surprised me nonetheless. I purchased an OEM CPU, which means in practice that it doesn’t come with an included heatsink & fan. However, the CPU was included in a tiny un-sealed cardboard box with just a small piece of foam to protect it (no sealed plastic or even dust cover). I guess that’s what you get for paying less money for the OEM version! It does make you wonder, the chip could’ve been used previously and I wouldn’t know… Just for extra piece of mind, I decided to clean the top of the CPU heat spreader with some solvent cleaner before installing. Now back to the motherboard – you can’t really say much about it to be honest. It felt sturdy. Plenty of SATA ports (all 6G). It had, as far as I could tell, 2 USB3 headers and 2 USB2 headers. It had plenty of fan connectors (CPU, CPU_OPT, and I think 4 chassis fan headers?) all of which seemed to be PWM capable. Now skipping ahead slightly, onto the BIOS software. I’ve always liked ASUS bioses for some reason, probably because I’m just familiar with them. But all of the usual features were there, so I won’t bore you. I did like the new ‘homepage’ which displays the current CPU temps on a graph, as well as fan speeds. A nice addition.

The next component is the Corsair H100i liquid cooler. I’ve never had any sort of water-cooling in a build before, and I’m too nervous to go for a custom water build in case I broke something(!), so buying an integrated water cooler seemed like a logical step. Unfortunately this part of the build was the least satisfying in terms of ease of installation and in some ways, performance. The first step was screwing the radiator onto my case. It turns out that the screws between the case and radiator screw partially into the radiator fins. To me this just seems like slightly sloppy design. Next, you had to install the rear retaining plate on the back of the motherboard. Unfortunately, the Asus Z97 motherboard seems to be thinner than Corsair were expecting and, as a result, there was significant slack between the retaining plate and the motherboard even after tightening the screws fully. Sadly, the H100i comes with no spacing washers for this purpose, and I’m sure the Asus Z97 isn’t some sort of ‘odd one out’ motherboard either. After procuring some washers out of the garage, the retaining plate finally fitted snug against the rear of the motherboard. Next, was to mount the cooler itself. The H100i comes pre-pasted with thermal compound, and I decided to just use that rather than clean and re-apply something different. Installing the cooler itself was relatively easy, it slots over the CPU and you just tighten the screws to secure it onto the backplate protrusions. Finally, screw the fans into place on the radiator. Next I had to connect all of the various cables onto the cooler. There is a SATA power connector cable, a single pin connector that goes onto the CPU fan header, and then a micro-USB socket that talks to the Corsair software. There are also 2 sockets for fan connections – the supplied fans HAVE A COVER PROTECTING THE CONNECTION PINS which you need to slide off. I literally spent 20 minutes searching the internet as to why my fans wouldn’t connect onto the cooler. This is why -_-. The supplied micro-USB cable connects to a motherboard USB header. All seemed to be well. Sadly, after booting windows and installing the software, it couldn’t find the cooler… After literally HOURS of searching corsair’s forums, I came across the reason: Windows 8 has a power saving feature (urgh, typical crap) that disables the USB devices from working properly. You need to do a registry hack to get it to work, unfortunately. This is incredibly shoddy from Corsair and I would’ve expected far better to be honest. On top of that, the supplied software seems somewhat.. basic? Updating the H100i’s firmware is also a hassle – the supplied software doesn’t seem to have an auto-updater (or didn’t, until I downloaded their beta version) and I got a whole host of random error messages during the firmware update process. Also, setting up the fan profiles on the H100i resulted in unexpected behaviour – the profiles basically didn’t work properly so I decided to just stick it in ‘default’ mode which works reasonably. Finally, let’s talk about the fans. Oh dear Corsair, WHYY!? The supplied fans, at least in my case, are NOISY. And I don’t mean loud as in ‘air noise’, but in fact a distinct ‘rattling’ noise that has, on the forums, been likened to an idling tractor! The fans actually rattle. I have never seen a brand new fan make a rattling noise – again, really shoddy, and sort of defeats the point of having water cooling (for quieter fan speeds?). It is definitely the fans, since if you unplug them, the pump seems almost silent. In the future, I might use the Phanteks case fans instead of the corsair ones, though I will likely lose control of them through the Corsair Link software (not a particularly bad thing, might I add…). The performance of the cooler is OK, though I was expecting better temps under load. Then again, the Haswell’s are renowned for bad thermals, and in credit of the H100i the water temp in the loop only increased a few degrees between idle and load (i.e. the IHS of the CPU is likely the limiting factor here).

The other components, such as the RAM and SSD, are harder to review really. Both of them slotted into place easily, and in the case of the SSD it has fantastic performance, as to be expected.

My final component comment is for the Hazro monitor. There are a number of positive and negative things about it. On the positive side, the image quality is in my opinion fantastic. Great, deep colours, good brightness and contrast, and the 1440p resolution is a definite bonus over an existing 1080p monitor. However, there are a number of negatives, the main one being the incredibly poor stand that comes supplied with the monitor. It has zero adjustment whatsoever. Not even a basic tilt function – and this was an issue, since by default the screen was actually ever so slightly angled forward when sitting on a desk – a completely unusable display! I had to prop up the front of the stand with a book… It meant I had to purchase Hazro’s £50 VESA stand, which solves this issue, but at a cost. Additionally, the monitor settings are fiddly to use since they are behind the screen and you can’t see what each button does. Of course, on the positive side, the screen is relatively cheap, considering it is a 1440p IPS panel. And that is pretty much all you get – you are compromising additional features for the panel itself. Having said that, the monitor does come with built in speakers(!?) which seems odd given they spent money on that but not on a basic tilt function.


I am not an experienced Overclocker, and as such I wasn’t expecting too much improvement on the base clock speed of 4Ghz. To me, stability is far more important than getting that last 0.1 Ghz. With the Haswell generation, your only overclock options are adjusting the CPU multiplier and the core voltage (there are probably others, but those are the main ones). The BCLK frequency, which is the equivalent of the old FSB, should be left at 100Mhz. I started with a core voltage of 1.20v and a multiplier of 45x (giving a base clock speed of 4.5Ghz). This resulted in some instability so I upped the volts to 1.25v, which seemed to work perfectly.

In terms of temperatures, overclocking didn’t add that much onto them. Probably because I wasn’t seeking an extreme overclock and my voltage was fairly low by enthusiast standards. Unfortunately I can’t remember the exact load temps with P95 large FFT test (let’s be honest, small FFT is not exactly realistic for most applications), but I think they were all sub 70 degrees under load, which was fine for me.

Closing Thoughts:

I am really happy with my new build. The framerate improvement in a number of CPU limiting games was around 40-50% compared with the i7-930. I am considering getting a second GPU for a crossfire setup, since the 1440p monitor is somewhat taxing on a single card, though prices for the 290 will begin to fall (hopefully) as Litecoiners begin to sell their units.

Mac: Locked firmware password and you didn’t set one. Or did you?

I recently had a pretty major problem on my mac.

The ‘Master Firmware Password’ appeared to have been set on my new Macbook Pro, but I don’t remember ever setting one. The firmware lock prevents you from choosing boot up options like holding down ‘alt’ to select a startup disc, or using cmd-R to enter recovery mode.

I hit a problem when my Bootcamp installation become corrupt. Windows 7 wouldn’t start and I couldn’t get it to boot off the recovery USB stick that I made. So I thought, no problem, we can just boot back to OS X. But that’s when the problem started.

Because for whatever reason I had the firmware lock, it wouldn’t let me choose OS X as the startup disc. My Mac was effectively bricked. Stuck on the Windows 7 side, which itself didn’t work. It would not boot OS X, and holding down the alt key sent me to a grey screen with a giant padlock and a password box.

I couldn’t for the life of me remember setting a password. It was a brand new machine (a few months old) so it seemed odd to have a firmware password set, when it is usually turned off by default. After reading pages and pages of forum posts from the Apple support website and endless googling, I stumbled upon the answer: Find My Mac.

I will now give you my solution: When I first got the laptop, I setup ‘Find My Mac’ as most people do. Months ago I tried to test a ‘remote lock’ of the mac from the website. I expected a remote lock to prevent user access in the OS, a bit like the iPhone lock screen. To my dissapointment the lock function didn’t seem to work, nothing happened on my screen, and it just seemed to have failed. I completely forgot about this, until now.

You see, when you do a ‘lock my mac’ from that website, it turns out some sort of bug (or maybe it’s meant to do this, I don’t know?) actually locks the FIRMWARE password of the mac, using the password you entered on the website as the firmware lock password.

So to solve the problem, all I had to do was remember what the password I entered into the ‘Find My Mac’ website was all those months ago. Thankfully it turned out to be ‘1111’.

So if you find your mac’s firmware has suddenly become locked, the password might well be one you entered into the ‘Find My Mac’ website to lock the device. It will save you a lot of time and messing about with visiting an Apple Store to try and reset the password.

Apache, Virtual Hosts & Subdomains

I was trying to setup a subdomain on this website. After reading countless articles and forum posts on how to do it, it just wouldn’t work! No matter what I typed as, it would always just redirect to!

The answer: You need to make sure the following is true:

1) Set CNAME records of your subdomains to point to your main domain

2) Configure apache in httpd.conf (or any of the main apache config files) to include AT LEAST this information:

NameVirtualHost *:80


<VirtualHost *:80>
DocumentRoot /var/www/home


<VirtualHost *:80>


DocumentRoot /var/www/subdomain

It’s critical that the first line is included. Without this, it just would’t work. Once it was in, everything worked perfectly!

iTunes Store – Connection Problems with SSL

I have to connect through a corporate proxy server from where I am at the moment. I recently discovered that my iTunes was not connecting properly to the store – I couldn’t buy anything and I wasn’t able to check for downloads! It was incredibly infuriating – all my https proxy settings were correct, and it had been working for the past couple of months. Of course, there was always the chance that they had started to block the iTMS. But, it was still working on other people’s computers (macs).

It had to be something to do with the SSL security chain. Pushing https through a proxy never works well; somehow, all of my SSL connections are routed through the proxy server by using the proxy’s own certificates(?!)

Anyway, to solve the problem, quite simply, I had to visit the following sites in Safari, and when the warning popped up about the SSL connection not being trusted (because the proxy was intercepting it, I guess?), just click continue. Because in Mac OS X, all certificates are kept in one place for all apps to access, allowing it in safari will allow it for all other default applications.

Simply visit the following sites with the https:// prefix:


After clicking continue a few times on the popup, it started working!

You’d think that iTunes would have realised there was a problem and come up with a window itself, saying “SSL error”, but instead it just times out.


Javascript Benchmarks – March 2011

Quite recently, Microsoft pushed out its latest release of Internet Explorer. IE 9, the brand new, all improved browser which is meant to be faster and more compatible with everything, was released to the general public a few weeks ago.
I’m not going to go into a detailed review of IE 9: I admit, it’s actually pretty good. What I actually want to look at is how fast IE 9 is compared to the latest browsers currently out there.
I decided to run two javascript benchmarks: Mozilla’s ‘Kraken’ and Webkits ‘Sunspider’. Kraken is designed to push the browser to its limits, testing future compatibilty, while sunspider tests more ‘everyday’ jasvascipt.
I ran all tests on the same Mac, as well as IE9, except this was in Bootcamp, obviously…
The results are here: (smaller bars are better)

For the overall score, I ranked each browser from 1st to 6th on both tests, then added the score. So firefox came 1st and 2nd, so gets an overall score of 3. Safari came 4th and 6th, so gets an overall score of 10.


Well, it seems clear that Safari, which was once near the top of the speed tests, is now lingering at the bottom. Firefox 4, the latest Mozilla creation, fares very well in both tests. Internet explorer 9 comes somewhere in the middle: It is much better than IE 8, now easily competing with all the ‘proper’ browsers. Infact, it came ontop of the benchmarks for the Sunspider test (although there are claims that Microsoft cheated with one of the units in this – try googling it!)

Anyway, if you want the best browser for now, it’s Firefox 4 (though it’s not yet a stable release, though RC status is pretty close). But if you’re looking for something slightly more stable, then Google’s Chrome is still the best current browser to be at the top of the benchmarks.

New PC Build – Odd whistling noise

I have recently built my own PC. After suffering on various Dell machines, which were completely locked down and not possible to do any kind of over clocking, I finally decided to take a leap of faith and build my own…

Asus P6X58D-E Motherboard, Intel Core i7 930, ATI 5850, 6GB Corsair RAM, Corsair 650w PSU, Akasa Raptor case

After building it, and then switching it on, I noticed a rather annoying whistling noise coming from somewhere within the PC case. On closer inspection (with my ears, obviously) I discovered it was coming from somewhere on the Motherboard, even the processor itself(!). Now I realise that processors don’t make odd whistling noises, so it’s something close to the CPU socket on the motherboard itself. But what? It’s not any of the fans because I briefly unplugged them and the noise continued.

After a bit of googling, it seems that this problem could be fairly widespread. I tried disabling C1E and speedstep and manually setting voltages and CPU multi’s, but nothing worked and it still whistles.

Oddly, it doesn’t do it as much under load – only really when idling…. Very odd.

I could return the board, but after building it all it seems too much of a hassle really to have to undo everything just to see if a new motherboard would fix it.