Incredibly Dorky Tech Bleg

First off, I apologize for leading off with this. I’ve been AWOL from blogging for the better part of a week, and I doubt most of you clicked over today to read about my computer problems. So fair warning, if you keep reading, you’re going to learn a lot more about them than you wanted to know.

I’m in the process of building up a home server. It’ll be used primarily to store and serve up audio and video files to the main entertainment center downstairs. I’ve been building it on the uber-cheap, which (as I’m sure I’ll be reminded) is probably the source of many of my problems.

The hardware centers around a generic white-box PC bought on eBay (here come the catcalls already) for $50. The mainboard is a Shuttle AK12, Award BIOS AK12S013, with an AMD Duron 850MHz CPU and 512MB of PC100 RAM. The operating system is FreeNAS, which is basically a stripped-down version of FreeBSD 6 optimized for small servers, including a very nice browser-based GUI for remote setup and administration. FreeNAS installed painlessly on a small hard drive attached to the board’s main IDE bus.

I collected up a six 300GB hard drives, four IDE and two SATA, with the intention of setting up a RAID 5 array for 1.5TB of storage with at least some possibility of recovery in case of a single drive failure. I’d intended to hook all of these in using three PCI cards, but as the saying goes, then my troubles began. The cards are two Rosewill RC-200’s for IDE (Sil 3114 chipset) and one RC-209 for SATA (Sil 0608 chipset), ideally with two drives attached to each card.

The box refuses to boot with any of the PCI cards installed and attached to a drive. It will boot up with just the RC-209 SATA card installed, but just repeats the initial startup process over and over if I actually attach a drive to the card. It will also boot up (very, very slowly) with just one of the RC-200 IDE cards installed, but freezes completely at the end of the BIOS startup with any IDE drive attached to the card.

Now, in all the vastness of the VodkaSphere, there have to be at least one or two wizards out there who can offer up some suggestions. I have tried all of the following: replacing the power supply (no effect, brand-new 400W unit), swapping around the PCI cards (no effect), flashing in an updated BIOS (the box doesn’t like any boot floppy I’ve made to date), unplugging various drives (no effect, doesn’t work even with just one drive attached), booting to a USB thumb drive (BIOS no hablo USB boot drive).

So, for the geniuses, what say you? At this point, the only options I can see myself are getting either a new box/motherboard or trying different PCI cards–although the chipsets and cards that I already have are listed as supported by FreeBSD 6, and they have all been reported as working with FreeNAS by other users.

For anybody who can help, as they say in the Kentucky Fried Movie, you haff my gwatitude.