visitors: Thanks for coming by. If you’ve experienced the problem described below, please leave a comment and Digg this story. Dell is aware of the problem identified here, but rather than take the proactive step of notifying customers who purchased susceptible systems — namely, data loss and/or a system crash from which you potentially cannot recover — they are addressing the problem only too late: when people call to report the problem.
This thread contains hundreds of comments now, some of which ultimately describe a different problem than the one originally addressed here. In short, IASTOR.SYS is a disk controller driver. Older versions of it are susceptible to errors which can cause problems with your hard drive(s).
Update in June 2008: This post has steadily drawn over 10,000 visits per month for the last year. Dell, if you’re out there and you’d like me to link to some concise troubleshooting information on your site, please email me at ydeologi [at] gmail [dot] com.
Summary as of 12/28/06: IASTOR.SYS is a driver provided by Intel to Dell as an interface to the on-board Intel storage controller used on motherboards in Dell computers. Simply put, it is software that allows Windows XP to communicate with a computer’s hard drive. Since I posted this article in April, I’ve had over 6,000 hits specifically on this topic, all from people researching the same basic problem I encountered early this year. Some salient points:
- So far, it has only been reported as a problem in Dell systems; I don’t know if the driver is being used in other manufacturers’ systems, but I suspect that if it is, the version being provided to Dell by Intel is different.
- This problem has been reported on many of Dell’s desktop product lines, so it is not limited to one type of system.
- Sometime in late 2005/early 2006, Dell began offering an option called “DataSafe”, where a PC is shipped with two hard drives arrayed in what’s called a RAID mirror; each hard drive contains an exact copy of the other so that in the event that one fails, the other lives on (and your data with it). To implement this, a few RAID compatible components are needed: the disk controller, the system BIOS, and a Windows device driver. RAID is very old, tested technology; the only new concern here is Dell’s use of it in their home market PCs. From what I’ve observed, the problem certainly seems to be most common in systems shipped with DataSafe enabled, but because the new device driver for the controller is also used for systems that weren’t ordered with the DataSafe option, the problem can show up for systems without DataSafe as well.
- It has been reported as a conflict with many different system devices, but especially video cards, sound cards, and network interfaces.
- Manufacturers like Dell depend on their suppliers to provide both reliable hardware components and software drivers to operate them. But companies like Dell are also responsible for testing the reliability of such components and their interoperability prior to releasing them for sale.
- Systems with bad drivers have been reportedly shipped as early as January 2006 and as late as October 2006.
- If this is, in fact, a problem for every Dell system shipped with IASTOR.SYS this year, then even after Dell and Intel work out a patch, it will have to be installed on every affected computer, or those computers will remain at risk for data loss and system failure.
- Intel released updated drivers in May 2006 which many have reported fix the problem, but Dell had not updated the drivers on their own website until posting a solution in late October/early November 2006. It is possible that even the drivers Intel posted in January fixed this issue, but that is not confirmed.
begin original story: If you have a Dell Dimension E510 or 5150 purchased in the last few months, you may experience a BSOD (blue screen of death) error in Windows XP related to a resource sharing conflict. I’ve read about errors related to IASTOR.SYS, an SATA controller driver, coming up a few different ways, but never quite in the way I saw it recently: under Windows XP Media Center with an SATA RAID mirror and an ATI TV Tuner add-on card.After the Windows splash screen, you’ll get a BSOD with a DRIVER_IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL error focusing on IASTOR.SYS, probably with stop code 0x000000D1. After enough reboots, the system might not even show the blue screen error, just reboot. Safe Mode doesn’t load the OS, either — just reboots. Booting into a recovery console is not helpful for rebuilding. Trying to update the IASTOR driver (which pertains to system with the 82801GR chipset, or related) manually without the OS accomplishes nothing.
Dell’s support technicians only recommend backing up your data and reinstalling. I usually don’t spend a lot of time, if any, calling Dell’s horrible level 1 support, but I thought I’d try a few times over a few days (even after I had it fixed) to see if some were better than others. (A note about Dell support: their Silver/Gold technicians are fantastic, but the Average Joe with an E510 won’t have access to them.)
The fix in this case: Open up the computer and remove the TV Tuner add-in card. That will alleviate the resource sharing conflict and allow the system to boot normally. Download and install D5150A05.EXE from Dell (a BIOS update that came out earlier this month). Also download R114566.EXE, which will update/reinstall your chipset drivers. After implementing both of those updates, put the TV Tuner add-in card back into the system and power back up. The system should work normally.
All in all, this is pretty routine troubleshooting; I won’t often post about fixes for specific issues, but I’m curious to see how many people are searching on the net for this particular problem. If you do post here about your experience, please be sure to include the date you purchased your system; I’m curious if they’re still shipping new systems with this problem.
Update 5/15/06: Turned out that wasn’t the end of the road. About a week later, trouble resurfaced when one of the drives in the RAID experienced corruption. Dell shipped out a replacement HDD which I’ve installed but have yet to incorporate into the RAID as yet. Right now, the system is using just one of the two drives, seemingly without incident. I don’t have a lot of confidence that rebuilding and using a RAID mirror will work properly until I see a new driver posted on their website. In any event, the BIOS update probably didn’t do anything except remap resources long enough for the system to boot… only for the resource conflict to re-emerge shortly thereafter.
Update 6/5/06: After hours of wasted time on the phone with technical support, explaining the problem and the process over and over again, not to mention transfers into supervisor queues only to languish on hold and eventually be disconnected… this system has been accepted for a free return and exchange by Dell’s Escalation team. A couple hundred people have searched the net for this problem and found this site. I wonder how many are having this problem, and I wonder if the “identical replacement system” they send out will have updated drivers or different hardware.
Update 7/3/06: I’ve yet to find any official word from Dell commenting on their awareness of this problem, but reports of the problem are out there everywhere. This must be a massive support headache for them. I have a few clients with the problem who have received replacement machines and have yet to experience any trouble; soon, I’ll post whether they replaced the offending hardware component, or if there’s a driver or BIOS update on these new machines that’s solved the problem. There aren’t any updated drivers on the Dell support site, from what I can tell.
Update 7/15/06: As you can see from the comments, a Dell technician has dropped by the site while searching for a solution to this problem. They don’t have a solution in the Dell Knowledge Base, but at least we can confirm they’re aware of the issue now; hopefully, they can work something out with Intel quickly.
Update 7/30/06: Amazingly, months later, Dell still lists the old, broken drivers on their website. As many readers have reported, using an updated Intel driver seems to repair the problem. This isn’t a Dell supported driver, but then, their supported driver is broken.
Update 10/11/06: A great post today from Edd gives hope that people experiencing this problem might not have to repair the IASTOR driver to correct this problem. (This is especially good news for people who are already experiencing the problem and can’t boot the OS.) I haven’t tested it yet, but it’s the kind of thing that shouldn’t cause any harm. When you first boot the computer, when the Dell logo appears, hold down the F2 key to enter the BIOS. Go to the section for your hard drives, and change the SATA operation type to “COMBO” instead of “RAID”. These instructions aren’t exact because I don’t have a Dell BIOS in front of me to check it, but I’ll try to test and post step-by-step shortly.
Update 11/9/06: Someone from Dell support has kindly posted a Dell support document in the comments below. It looks like they’ve gotten around to addressing the problem. While this won’t help all of the people whose systems have shipped with the problem until they run into it, at least they’re aware of it now.