Hard-drive shuffle tough to master

Question: I want to switch my hard drives around and change the corresponding drive letters.

I have a Pentium 133 mHz machine with a 545 meg Seagate drive and a CD-ROM. I recently added another 2.5 gigabyte IDE Samsung hard drive.

I kept the old drive as drive C, the master drive. The new drive is the secondary master and is partitioned into D and E drives. My CD-ROM is the secondary slave and became F drive.

I now want to use the new drive as the master drive. I’d like to change the drive letters and have my new drive partitioned as C and D. The old drive would become E.

If I don’t change the size of the partitions, can I use FDisk to change one partition to read as primary partition without losing all the information on my new drive? I am trying to avoid backing up the old C drive as it will take forever and a day with 3.5-inch floppy disks.

One store clerk suggested I exchange the ribbon connectors on the hard drives, but it didn’t work. Any help you can give me will be appreciated. — F.S.

Answer: I read this note and felt the same way one does when you step in the catbox in the dark: annoyed at myself for being disoriented.

I didn’t have a clue. Though if you read another of my columns, you would know that my dad and I recently butchered the inside of his Aptiva when we added a second drive. So I’m supposed to have half a clue.

An e-mail later from adviser David Peterson, VP of Edmonton-based Concept International, Inc., provided some clarity.

“The store clerk should stick to clerking,” he began, in what turned into a flurry of e-mail back and forth until I got it straight.

So first, some necessary background for us cat-litter steppers, then the answer.

A PC requires one hard disk to be in charge. It’s the boss hard drive, if you will, because it contains the operating system.

“In theory,” explained Peterson, “the primary master drive is master to all other devices. It is the boot device.”

If you install a second hard drive, it needs to be configured as a slave drive or secondary master. A secondary drive isn’t bootable, it simply holds data and does what it’s told to do by the master drive.

Some motherboards support two IDE channels. It means they can support up to four drives, including a CD-ROM drive.

A motherboard, as you know, is the large circuit board that connects all a computer’s components together. It’s the roads, fields, and fences in CPUville.

Ribbons connect from two IDE sockets on the motherboard to the drives. Each ribbon has two connectors for two drives.

On a two-channel IDE motherboard, there will always be connectivity for a primary master drive and a primary slave drive on one ribbon. A secondary master drive and a secondary slave drive go on the other ribbon.

“In reality, though,” continued Peterson, “the drives must be set up (or jumpered) so that one drive is a master on each IDE channel. Normally, on a new machine, the hard drive will be the primary master, the CD-ROM will be the primary slave, and the secondary channel will remain unused.”

The master or slave settings are set by moving tiny connector switches (or jumpers) on the side or back of the hard drive.

So the question at hand is how to swap everything around so that the new drive with two partitions (virtual drives D and E) becomes the primary master.

First, the new drive must meet the following conditions so it can be used as the boot drive:

1. It must have a system on it. (command.com)

2. It must have some kind of operating system on it. (DOS, Windows 95, etc.)

3. It must be set as the primary master.

4. The partition must be set as active in Fdisk.

Fdisk is a DOS application that allows you to slice and dice a hard drive into one or more virtual drives, each with its own drive letter. I certainly prefer Partition Magic. It does the same things with more features and a graphic click-and-drag interface. See http://www.powerquest.com/ for more info.

To set a virtual drive as active, use option #2 in Fdisk.

So, given two ribbons which connect the drives to the motherboard, you’ll want one with the new drive configured as the primary master. On the same ribbon, connect your CD-ROM drive as the primary slave. On the second ribbon, connect the older drive as the secondary master.

If you’re going to use the ribbon cables trick, swap them at the motherboard side, not the drive side, said Peterson. “The motherboard will dictate which set of drives is the primary or secondary IDE chain.”

Peterson offered an extra tip. “I generally recommend that the old drive be removed from the system when a new drive, which significantly exceeds the old drive in capacity and performance, is installed as the new boot drive.”

His theory is that the old drive sits and spins and rarely, if ever, gets used, especially with the large capacity of today’s new drives.

The actual drive letters will be assigned by the BIOS, he explained. “Hard drives will almost always take precedence over a CD-ROM drive in drive letter assignment. The new partitioned drive will become C and D drives. The CD-ROM will take F for its drive letter.”

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the dual IDE ports on motherboards have been around since the arrival of PCI-bus 486 machines. The technology also applies to all Pentium-class machines that have a PCI-bus. PCI-bus, by the way, is the Peripheral Component Interconnect bus.

A bus in this context is the electronic pathway on a motherboard that moves data around between components on a computer.