The Best Driver Testing Box Ever!

I posted on the PCAUSA NDIS Driver Discussion List ( a couple of weeks ago about my new driver-testing computer. Since then, I have gotten a couple of questions about the details of the setup. Since everyone needs one of these anyway 🙂 I thought I’d post some details.

I am currently running my driver tests on a home-grown dual-AMD64. Reasons I went with this setup:

  • All drivers need to be extensively tested for race conditions, etc., on a 2+ processor system before foisting them on the unsuspecting public. Using a pair of Opteron 240 CPUs, I can get into a true* dual-processor system for a reasonable amount.
  • Driver writers should be looking in the direction of 64-bit compatibility, starting now. Peter Viscarola from OSR pointed out in an NT Insider issue months ago that AMD64 boxes are, in fact, the coolest things since sliced bread (more on that later). Going with Opteron CPUs now should help work out any 64-bit compatibility problems.
  • In my experience, MP boards tend to be higher-quality, leading to fewer mysterious hardware-based bugs than on your run-of-the-mill junk mobo. This has its downsides, though: the IWill board that I chose requres registered RAM, and only specific chips and manufacturers are listed on IWill’s compatibility matrix.
  • Back to that IWill board- it has all of the new toys that current motherboards have: firewire-800 (for kernel debugging, assuming I ever get it working), usb1.1 and usb2.0 ports, built in GigE on copper, plenty of RAM slots (8!), Serial ATA and standard IDE connections, on-board SATA RAID, and lots of other little bells and whistles that aren’t coming to mind atm. This thing has more toys even than my wife’s Mac G5, which I thought was pretty well loaded at the time.
  • It is known (by me, at least!) to work with the AMD64 preview of XP

Installation was a bit of a pain – I finally had to use an IDE disk as primary/master to get it working with our version of Ghost (although our IT staff tells me that the new Ghost should support my SATA controller).

Once the hardware configuration was ironed out, installation of the 64-bit os went perfectly. I started with a release mode version, just to see if it was fast. It is. 😀 It is the fastest Windows computer I’ve ever had a console on, in terms of app responsiveness. IO is lightning fast. The best part is that VMWare already has native amd64 support. That, plus all of the standard development environment (psdk, ddk, cygwin/vim/cvs/grep/blah/blah), yields a fully-useful dev box.

For testing, VMWare is sufficient for 32-bit SP OSes, but that wasn’t really the point of all this, was it? Ghosts of the 64-bit checked OSes will round out the system nicely, once I get around to building them, and since I don’t really use the release side for development anyway, that is perfect for testing on a release build.

Anyone who wants more details on the parts that went into this box is welcome to contact me, and I’ll be glad to send along part names/numbers, etc.

Happy Hacking.


* Intel Pentium 4 CPUs do something called “hyper-threading”. This basically presents a dual-processor interface to the OS, resulting in the same sorts of race conditions that you get on boxes with two+ real chips. This is a VERY GOOD REASON to test every driver on a 2-proc+ chip, as every stupid computer sold at BestBuy/CompUSA/etc., is now a multiprocessor box.

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