Tip

Universal ATA controller driver serves as alternative to Windows generic driver

If you're trying to get a system running and don't have the manufacturer-specific parallel ATA driver needed for a given controller, you can fall back on the generic Microsoft PATA/IDE device driver. This driver, one

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of several "stock" mass storage drivers included with Windows, runs most hard drives and CD-ROM drives.

You won't always get the advanced features provided by a manufacturer-specific ATA driver (the driver might not support command queuing), but at least you'll have something that works well enough to get a machine up and running.

Another use for this generic driver is debugging. If a machine is suffering from a BSOD generated by a PATA mass storage driver, you can swap in the generic Microsoft ATA driver to keep thing stable in the interim.

Now I've found an alternative to the generic PATA driver: a third-party universal ATA controller driver (both PATA and SATA) from Alter.Org.UA. This device can work as a temporary fallback driver or as a replacement for Microsoft's stock driver or even a manufacturer's driver if the native drivers don't seem to be working correctly.

So aside from supporting the vast majority of PATA and non-RAID SATA controllers, the driver's authors claim this driver also allows slightly better support of advanced command options for those controllers than the generic Microsoft driver. It supports:

  • PIO, DMA and UDMA modes, up to UDMA6
  • All 32-bit versions of Windows, from NT 3.51 and up.
  • Most Intel controller chipsets
  • Controllers from SiS, Promise Technology, Highpoint Technologies, California Micro Devices and Cyrix, and NVidia's nForce3 and nForce4 motherboard chipsets.

The authors say that down the road the driver will support RAID, hot-swap support for IDE devices under Windows NT 3.51, and, where possible, full support for SATA AHCI.. The driver also includes a command-line tool that lets you change its command modes and force device resets on specific busses.

Note: You should set up a second hardware profile on any machine you test this driver on, so you can boot back to the original driver set if it doesn't work as intended.

No word yet about Vista compatibility, although the XP version of the driver should, in theory, work in Vista.

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Insight, (formerly the Windows Power Users Newsletter), a blog site devoted to hints, tips, tricks and news for users and administrators of Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Vista. He has more than 12 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to SearchWinComputing.com and SearchSQLServer.com.

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