So, when you come up against a problem you don't know how to solve, how much background information do you need to be confident that you can locate and understand the information needed to actually solve the problem? I'm going to use installing a SATA hard drive into one of my computers as a case in point.
I actually physically mounted the drive a few days ago, but I had forgotten what a SATA power cable looks like and consequently installed a drive without plugging it in. This morning I opened the case back up and attached the power cable. However, still no luck with the computer recognizing the drive. After reseating the cables and trying the other SATA connector on the computer's motherboard, I started looking at the OS level (Ubuntu Linux) for reasons why my drive wouldn't be recognized.
After looking at a few different forums, I saw that someone had said something about telling the BIOS to enable SATA support. So I rebooted the computer and went into the BIOS setup. Now, anyone reading this far is either saying SATA, BIOS, what are all these acronyms? Or they already know without me having to explain. So that's probably one level of knowledge that was needed to even attempt to solve this problem. However, going into the BIOS, I didn't see anything useful which led me to search for the manual for my motherboard on the internet.
I'm not sure if it amazing or predictable the number of computer component manuals that can be found on the internet. It's probably a cost saving measure for manufactures to some degree. Anyway, I'm reading along when I notice that my motherboard only supports SATA up to 1.5GHz when I installed a 3.0 GHz drive, maybe that's the problem.
So I do a little more internet research which indicates that things still should just work even if the drive can pump out data faster than the motherboard can read it. Good, no messing with jumper settings. So that was another thing I didn't know when I started trying to make my drive work, but it was a potential wild goose chase. Thankfully I recognized it as such before I started going through my boxes of random computer components looking for a jumper I no longer needed.
Back to the manual, I find the section I needed, finally, in the On Chip ATA menu, you have to set it so that both PATA (a.k.a IDE) and SATA are both supported at the same time. So there's another level of knowledge needed. I had been in the BIOS and looked at all the settings I could potentially change, but that one didn't jump out at me as the one I needed to change. Maybe it should have, after all, ATA is very similar to SATA in name. However, since it didn't, it was back to the manual for me. (And why the %*&! isn't this the default setting? The motherboard should be set to detect everything it could possibly support unless you tell it you aren't running a specific type of device.)
Back to problem solving, the ultimate issue wasn't what I expected it to be, it wasn't even the 2nd thing I looked at. On top of that, I didn't recognize the actual solution until I got more information by reading the manual. It also took a fair amount of time. I started baking a loaf of cornbread when I realized that it wasn't just a matter of poorly seated cables, and I heard the timer going off just as I was saving the BIOS settings to turn on support for both PATA and SATA at the same time, which was 40 minutes. However, I never really thought I wouldn't be able to get the drive working. I was sure I knew enough to find the solution.
I'm sure having assembled 3 computers from parts was a big part of why I felt confident I could get the new drive working, but other than checking the cables that wasn't what got the drive working. Check the cables, see if someone else had the same problem, RTFM is a pretty basic set of troubleshooting steps., but I don't think that would have been enough without a 20 year background in working on and with PCs. What makes me keep thinking about this is that there isn't one specific thing I could point to which would be the key piece of information I needed.
Magic Candle III: Already in Snuff
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