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Upgrade Day

For some time now, I've owned the AudioRequest ARQ1 PRO music server.  This box is a precursor to the networked music boxes you see today. It's a nice discreet matte black box that looks something like an audio component, but inside it's a PC married to a little bit of audio video hardware.

The cover is easily removed.  There are four Philips screws on each side to undo, and then you can slip the top off.  Here's what it looks like inside.  You can see the hard disk, which is a Maxtor 60G 5400 RPM unit.  Underneath it is the CD drive, which is a very slow old drive.  Right above that, partially obscured by the drive cables, is the power supply.  To the left is the mother board, with what looks a 64M stick of RAM, and a Pentium 2 era processor.  Also stuck to the mother board are various random bits of AV hardware so you can have decent audio coming out of it. On the back of the unit are the standard AV connectors (L / R audio, composite and S-Video), as well as the usual PC items like a keyboard connector, VGA out, and a 10baseT ethernet port.

So, it's a PC.  Although it's designed for the media rack, at my home, because it has a noisy fan, it lives in the server closet. It gets used both as an audio component in the media room (I've rigged an IR repeater so I don't have to listen to the fan), and a server for MP3 audio all over the house. I've got about 200 CD's on it, with 4400 tracks of music, and it's about 50% full.  I'm about halfway through loading my entire collection on the beast, but it's slow going.

Although the Audio Request products are very good, they are super expensive.  You're going to spend close to $1000 for just their basic stuff, and some of their high end systems are well over $10,000 depending on configuration.  I wouldn't have bought one, except that the OS in the system is QNX, and I got a special deal from the manufacturer during the time I was VP of Marketing at QNX Software.

So, if it's a PC, then logic says it should be upgradeable.  I wanted a larger hard disk, so I pulled the ARQ1 disk out, and mounted it in another case I had, along with a spiffy new Samsung 120G 7200 RPM drive.  You can see that over to the right as well, including the fact that I didn't bother to properly mount the disks, and just left them dangling there in the case.  The beige wire stuck between the two of them is an old piece of telephone wire I used as an improvised insulator so that they wouldn't bump against each other and short out.  Both disks were configured as slaves to other IDE masters in the system.

On boot, I now had a system which had my existing hardware, plus a new F partition on my ARQ1 disk.  It also had an unreadable partition, which contained the system software for the ARQ1.  It's a QNX4 partition.

That QNX4 partition turned out to be my biggest headache.  I tried CasperXP from Future Systems, which is a great utility for copying one disk to a larger disk.  I used CasperXP successfully when I upgraded my laptop drive.  CasperXP couldn't read the QNX partition though.  I also tried Norton Ghost, which normally handles everything very well, but no joy there either.  In the end, I found a utility from the Paragon Group called Drive Backup, which did the job very nicely.   Their demo version is free, and so far as I can tell, fully functioning.  It has a nice little wizard that will walk you through the copy process, including automatically resizing the target partition to take advantage of the new space.

Drive Backup took roughly an hour to duplicate the structure of my old disk, surface scan the new disk, and copy the 30G of music from the old to the new.  It was painless, although a little time consuming.  You can see it working away in this photo.

Once the whole process was done, I rebooted the PC again, and checked the drive.  Although it didn't come up as a mapped drive on boot, a quick check with the disk tools in the admininistrator console showed it was there, and about 72% free, which seemed right.  It looked as if it had all worked.  I was a little concerned because the disk administrator now said that the QNX4 partition was a FAT partition, and that didn't seem right.  But since it said that the original QNX4 partition on the original drive was a FAT partition too, I kept my fingers crossed that it was the administrator software which was confused.  The alternative, that somehow I had changed my original disk, would be a very tough problem to deal with, and I am not sure what the AudioRequest folks would do if i phoned them up and told them that I had roached my unit by attempting an un-sanctioned hard disk upgrade.

I shut down the PC again, removed the disk from the host, and installed it into the ARQ1. I almost forgot to reset the jumper to be the master in the new system, and not the slave! You can see my shiny new SAMSUNG 120G drive in the picture.  Doesn't it look nice?

Next I plugged the unit in, booted it up, and kept my fingers crossed.  It seemed to take forever to go through the POST, but I figured that was just the bios enumerating the new disk.  Finally, the system started up, and it started building the music catalog and and and… PHEW!  It seemed to be working.

Shut it down one more time, put the cover back on, and take it downstairs to the media room to restore it to it's rightful place. 

The hard disk upgrade went so well, that next I'm going to try upgrading the CD reader to a faster unit (the one with the system is brutally slow), and adding some more memory.  Perhaps I can speed this guy up a little bit. I also wonder what would happen if I installed a second hard drive in the unit as a slave to the first. Would QNX4 recognize it? And I'm keeping my eyes open for used ARQ1s that come up on eBay, because occasionally you can get one for $300 or so.  It would be very cool to have a few of these around the house, networked together. 

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