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Flashing an LSI 9211-8i RAID Card to IT Mode for ZFS/Software RAID (Tutorial)

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Posted (edited) · Original PosterOP

Flashing an LSI 9211-8i to IT Mode
(might also be useful for flashing other LSI RAID cards)
 
(newbie edition)


"It can't  be that  difficult.", I thought to myself  before starting  this adventure.  "Tons  of people  have  done  it, there  are  quite  a few  tutorials  on it,  this should  be feasible."


Yeah, right...


Seriously though,  it's not actually that  tricky, it's just that the info  I needed to get it done  required quite a bit searching and trial-and-error.

Note:  I put  this in  the storage  subforum  instead of the tutorials because  it's fairly  specific and the  people who might find this useful are  more likely to be lurking around here I'd estimate.
 
 
Disclaimer
 
Flashing your cards can break  them if things go wrong. This post is merely  a documentation on my way to  success, and I provide  this  info in  the  hopes  it  might be  useful  to somebody. However,  I  take  no  responsibility  for  anyone else's misfortunes.
 
Proceed at your own peril.
 
Anyway...
 
FreeNAS Users

@wpirobotbuilder has discovered that FreeNAS already seems to have the  sas2flash utility built in,  check this post for more info.

Windows Users
See this post from  @Danny91 for a small tip about drive spin up and down.


The Objective

I plan  on using this  card in a  server running ZFS  as its main data  file system.  Since  this isn't a ZFS  tutorial I won't go into the details,  but basically ZFS prefers direct access to your disks without  a controller doing any "smart" things in between (like, for example, running a RAID setup).

Often, RAID  cards  will  be  delivered  running in  IR mode (Integrated RAID firmware), and we would like to change that to IT mode  (Initiator  target mode), so that the controller just  acts  as a  host  bus  adapter  without  trying  to do anything smart.

This can  also be desirable  if you're not running  ZFS, for example if you'd like to use software RAID.

In order to  change from IR to  IT mode, we need  to flash a different firmware onto the card.
 
 
What I Used


- motherboard: Asus P8Z68 (yes, the M/B matters)
- a 4 GB USB flash drive
- the file 9211-8i_Package_P17_IR_IT_Firmware_BIOS_for_MSDOS_Windows  from LSI's product  site's  "SOFTWARE DOWNLOADS" section on the 9211-8i.
- the file Installer_P17_for_UEFI from LSI's product site's "SOFTWARE DOWNLOADS" section on the 9211-8i
- a precompiled UEFI shell (see below for details)

Sources


I   primarily    followed   the   instructions   from  Bryan Vyhmeister's excellent blog post on this topic, but I needed to do quite a bit of additional research on getting the UEFI shell to  work, which is why I'm creating this tutorial (not that I fault  him for  that, his tutorial is not supposed to be an  UEFI shell primer, after all.  If it hadn't been  for his  post  it  would have  probably taken me many more hours than it did). There's quite a bit more info  I plowed through on my way to the  objective,  but none  of  it  was really  pertinent  to getting the job done.  Also,  for some of  the UEFI  shell files,  I used  the Arch Linux Wiki.


Shall We Proceed?

Alright then, let's get started.
 
Getting the Firmware and BIOS Files for the HBA

 
Note:  Obviously, the  version  numbers  might change in the future. ;)
- Create a FAT partition on the USB drive.
- 9211-8i_Package_P17_IR_IT_Firmware_BIOS_for_MSDOS_Windows: Grab the  file  from  LSI's site (doesn't matter if you're running Linux, *BSD or Win)  and  unpack  it. You need the file 2118it.bin, located in the directory Firmware/HBA_9211_8i_IT in the archive.  Of  course  you can also choose to simply update the IR  firmware if you wish, then you'll need that file, located in Firmware/HBA_9211_8i_IR. Either way, copy
the firmware file onto your USB drive.
- You also need to update the card's BIOS for this (at least AFAIK), so also grab the file mptsas2.rom,  located in the directory sasbios_rel inside  the archive. Copy that  file onto your USB drive as well.
- Note:   You  can,  but  don't  need  to,  create  separate directories on your USB drive. In  the end,  we will  only have four files on it, so it doesn't really matter.
- Grab the Installer_P17_for_UEFI  file  from  LSI's website and unpack it.
- Copy the file sas2flash.efi, from in the directory sas2flash_efi_ebc_rel in  the  archive,  onto  your  USB drive,  into  the  same directory  as  the  firmware  and  the BIOS file (yes, I'm aware  you  can  put  all  of the three files at arbitrary locations, but why make things more complicated...).
- That's phase  1 completed, now  all that's left is getting this  to run  on  your  PC. That was actually the trickier part for me...


Getting the UEFI Shell

The first thing that went through my mind when I got to that part of  the tutorial  I linked above  was pretty  much just "WTF?".

I quite frankly had simply never heard of an UEFI shell, let alone  used one,  and  searching the  web  I found  precious little information  about the subject  (and what I  did find was mostly rather technical and  would have required lots of thorough  reading to  understand it,  and even  then it  was doubtful if it was actually going to be of any use to me).

For those  of you who are  also a bit puzzled  by this (then again, maybe I am the only  one), basically the EFI shell is a  command line  interface that  let's you  do basic  system tasks  on your  machine  (yes, I  am aware  that  that is  a very broad   generalization,  but  it  will  suffice for the purposes  of this  tutorial,  otherwise you  are welcome  to start reading docs on the subject).

Unfortunately, depending on your M/B (and that's why the M/B is relevant  in this), you  will require a  different shell, and will need to follow different steps to access it. I have gotten the  impression that  some boards  even come  with an integrated one,  but I'm  not 100%  certain on  that. If you have such  a board, you  can skip  the next part,  since you don't need to download one.


The different  versions of the  shell you're most  likely to need are these:


- For the most current version (the 2.0 branch), go here and select the one which matches your architecture.
- If those do not work for you (and in my case they did not), it might be that your M/B requires an older version, either the X64 or IA32 version.
- The  links  for  the v1 versions  I got from the Arch Linux wiki page here, as mentioned above.
- Copy the EFI shell onto your USB drive as well, I called it  shellx64.efi. I am not  absolutely  certain,  but  the name
  might matter to some extent  to  your M/B, I have also come across simpler names like shell.efi, but I was so glad when I finally got things working I didn't experiment further to
  check which names work and which do not.
 UPDATE: Did another flash, indeed Shell.efi also worked.
 
Flashing the HBA


Mount the  LSI card in your  machine, plug in the  USB drive with all four  files on it (the LSI BIOS,  the firmware, the sas2flash utility and the efi shell), and drop into the BIOS of your machine.


Note: I'm  not an  expert on  this subject,  but I have seen it  recommended to  have  only one  9211-8i  in your  system during this process. Allegedly it's possible to specifically target a  card to flash, but  I couldn't try that  out, so I have no info on that process.


Getting Into the UEFI Shell

This too wil probably depend on your M/B. On mine, there was an option  in the Exit  BIOS menu of  the BIOS which  said  Launch   EFI  Shell  from   filesystem   device.  Basically,  that option  will  search any  devices you  have connected for anything  that might be an EFI  shell and will try to run it.

If you have  the wrong shell or your machine  can't find it, you will fail here  (took me a few tries to  get to the next step...).


Mounting the USB Drive

Once  you're  in  the  shell,  you need  to  mount  the  USB drive  with the  files on  it so  that you  can access  them (obviously).

On   my   machine,   the   first   thing   the   shell   did was   print   a  nice   list   of   all  connected   storage devices,   with  my   USB   drive   labeled   ft0   and   my HDDs and  SSDs labeled  blk... You might need to do a bit of trial  and  error here  to  find  the  right drive,  but  it shouldn't be an insurmountable obstacle.

In my case, mounting the USB drive was done with:



Then I needed to change directories into the drive:

mount ft0:

(yes, no 'cd ' or anything like that).

ft0:

Inside a directory, you can list the contents with

and change directories with

ls

And this is what it looked like for me after that:

cd directory_name

(click image for full res)

lsi--01--file-list.jpeg

 

Actually Flashing the Card

This was  actually fairly straightforward. Make  sure you're in the directory with  the BIOS, firmware and sas2flash.efi, and run the following command  to reset the card and prepare it for the new BIOS and firmware.

 

CAREFUL: DO NOT TURN OFF OR REBOOT YOUR MACHINE AT THIS POINT. ALLEGEDLY YOU WILL HAVE A BRICKED CARD ON YOUR HANDS!!!

 

This is what  it looked like during the  erasing process for me. The actual  erasing takes a  while, to be  specific this step:

(click image for full res)

lsi--02--erasing-flash.jpeg

sas2flash.efi -o -e 6

After a successful erase, this is what you should get: (click image for full res) lsi--03--flash-erased.jpeg  

 

Then flash it with the new files:   Which should look like this: (click image for full res) lsi--04--flash-successful.jpeg

 

You can check if the new flash was successful with:

sas2flash.efi -o -f 2118it.bin -b mptsas2.rom

Which gave me this output: (click image for full res)

lsi--05--listall.jpeg

sas2flash.efi -listall

Alternatively, you can get more detailed info with the -list command.  The  'Firmware Product ID" field  will indicate if the controller is now running in IT mode:

Output for that command:

sas2flash.efi -list

(click image for full res)
lsi--06--list.jpeg

 
NOTE: You  can  also check  if the sas2flash utility detects your card(s) properly with the listall command  before you start the  whole process. If the card  doesn't show  up  here,  you won't  be  able to  start flashing in the first place.


You can then  leave the UEFI shell with  exit and  should be back in your M/B's BIOS.

To  make sure  your  card is  now in  IT  mode, reboot  your machine and it should get  displayed when the card's BIOS is run.


As you  can see, it  is not  actually all that  complex, but there are  a hilarious many  things that can refuse  to play ball in this, and sorting out  those from the ones that work took quite  a bit  of effort. If you  search around  the web for  flashing  this  card  you will  find  many  alternative procedures,  and  depending  on your  setup  (hardware,  the version of  sas2flash you're using, which  firmware type and version you're wanting to flash  onto the card etc.) some of them might actually work for you.  For me, however, this was the only one that lead  to success. Thanks to Bryan's post I was able to save lots of time in finding out which files and tools I needed,  but then I was stuck quite  a while on that whole UEFI  shell thing. Once I  had that up and  running it was a pretty painless process though.

If you find  any errors please point them  out. I wrote down what I did quite carefully  during the process (primarily to make sure I  could reproduce it with a second  card should I ever buy  one), but  I'm not infallible,  so there  might be undesired entropy lurking somewhere.


Thanks for reading!


So long
-aw
 

Edited by alpenwasser
Fixing formatting for IPS4

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nice tutorial alpenwasser!

 

PS: I changed the blue text back to black on my 10TB topic as it wasn't clear on the dark theme. 

Just a tip.


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Posted · Original PosterOP

Noice.

 

Thanks! :)

 

nice tutorial alpenwasser!

And thank you too! :)

PS: I changed the blue text back to black on my 10TB topic as it wasn't clear on the dark theme. 

Just a tip.

Haha, yeah @prolemur just told me in my status update. I shall change it back then,

no problem.


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nice tutorial alpenwasser!

 

PS: I changed the blue text back to black on my 10TB topic as it wasn't clear on the dark theme. 

Just a tip.

you should change your sig as well ;) same problem there...

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So... If I'm using an LSI RAID card on a SuperMicro server motherboard, I shouldn't need to do the UEFI thing right? It has one built in apparently. 

I'll be honest, the timing of this tutorial couldn't have been better. I'm about to build a FreeNAS setup with LSI RAID cards and the above mentioned motherboard. Exactly what does this do? What is the point, I guess. 

I mean, we are giving ZFS more direct access to the HDD's because it likes that. What does that mean for real world performance and significance? What would happen if I didn't set the RAID card to IT mode?


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you should change your sig as well ;) same problem there...

awesome, now it's colored in the dutch flag!


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Posted · Original PosterOP

you should change your sig as well ;) same problem there...

 

Argh, dammit. I really like the bright-ish blue on white! :wub:

*sighs* I'll see what I can do, but not tonight, I'm about to go to bed. ;)

 

So... If I'm using an LSI RAID card on a SuperMicro server motherboard, I shouldn't need to do the UEFI thing right? It has one built in apparently.

That would be my guess, yes. I think in that case you just need to put the

sas2flash.efi, the firmware and the bios onto a flash drive, then drop into

the M/B's EFI shell, mount the drive and flash the card.

However, I have encountered so many caveats and gotchas during this process

that my confidence is not 100%... ;)

If it works, post an update in this thread, I'll annotate it to the OP, since

this might be relevant to quite a few other people as well.

 

I'll be honest, the timing of this tutorial couldn't have been better. I'm about to build a FreeNAS setup with LSI RAID cards and the above mentioned motherboard. Exactly what does this do? What is the point, I guess.

I mean, we are giving ZFS more direct access to the HDD's because it likes that. What does that mean for real world performance and significance? What would happen if I didn't set the RAID card to IT mode?

From what I've read, the alternative (besides just building a RAID array out of

the disks hooked up to the controller and handing that to ZFS as a single disk,

which is not at all what ZFS best practices recommend) is to make one RAID0 array

out of every single disk on the controller and then handing those over to ZFS,

in an attempt to simulate something like JBOD (but of course, beneath all that

the controller will try to do its RAID thing, even for single RAID0 elements,

which will still interfere with ZFS AFAIK).

I can see primarily two problems with that approach (though both are educated

guesses based on what I've read, and not based on personal experience):

Firstly, the RAID setup will interfere with ZFS' performance optimization and

probably degrade performance of your ZFS pool. From what I've read, this is

because ZFS is aware of both the data structure of the pool and what kind of

data it still needs to write to the pool. A RAID controller (AFAIK) is not aware

of the actual data in your RAID array.

According to ZFS docs I've read, this means that ZFS can make optimizations

in read and write operations which a RAID controller could never make, since

it does not have access to the information required for those optimizations.

The second primary problem I can see is that once you start creating RAID0

setups (whether single disks to get something JBOD-like or striped over multiple

disks) is that you then are dependant on the underlying RAID controller to

work, and if that fails, you cannot just migrate your pool to another machine

or controller without having another RAID controller which can understand

the RAID setup you've built and utilize it.

If all you have is a bunch of disks, you can hook them up to any arbitrary

controller (or distributed across several), and as long they are properly

detected, you should be able to migrate your pool between different machines

(or controllers, should one fail and you need to replace it) without much hassle.

I must admit that I am neither an expert on RAID setups nor on ZFS, this is to

the best of my recollection what I've read in the past few months on the subject.

</wall of text> :D


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-snip-

That makes sense. 

So it can degrade performance as well as make it harder to recover the array should a controller fail. Hmm, might be worth doing then. 

A few things:

  1. The performance side of things implies to me that this is worth doing.
  2. The recoverability side of things implies to me that as long as you have identical controllers to replace the bad one with, it won't matter. 
  3. (unrelated) Why does all your text get put to the left? It only takes up half the comment space for me, whereas everyone else's doesn't.

It seems I may need and/or want to do this for our RAID cards then. *sigh* ... I hope this goes well. I assume building a ZFS array with RAID cards, then bringing it down to change the RAID cards to IT from IR would not be good. Probably break things in fact. 


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Posted · Original PosterOP

That makes sense. 

So it can degrade performance as well as make it harder to recover the array should a controller fail. Hmm, might be worth doing then.

Yeah, I think it especially makes sense if you're running your disks off of

mixed controllers (say, a few off the RAID card and some off the M/B ports). 

I'm really not sure how much performance is affected though, I have not

been able to find any numbers, it's just the official ZFS word AFAIK.

It does make sense, but I have not come across any actual benchmarks.

I have however come across somebody claiming the controller itself was

a few MB/s faster in IT mode.

 

A few things:

  • The performance side of things implies to me that this is worth doing.
  • The recoverability side of things implies to me that as long as you have identical controllers to replace the bad one with, it won't matter. 
  • (unrelated) Why does all your text get put to the left? It only takes up half the comment space for me, whereas everyone else's doesn't.
  • As said, I don't have any actual hard numbers, but it's best practice

    AFAIK.

  • Probably true, yes. To me it's not just about that though, it's also

    that creating eight single-disk RAID0 is just so... inelegant.

  • I hard-wrap my lines, it's a habit from coding, and I'm unlikely to

    let go of it any time soon. ;)

Or, to be a bit more precise, this is the answer I gave @MG2R when he asked

me about it. I think you're like the third or fourth person to actually notice

and ask me though. :D

2013-09-21--23-50-04--screenshot.png

 

It seems I may need and/or want to do this for our RAID cards then. *sigh* ... I hope this goes well. I assume building a ZFS array with RAID cards, then bringing it down to change the RAID cards to IT from IR would not be good. Probably break things in fact.

I do not believe that would be advisable, yes. You could of course always try

it out and report back what happened just for the fun of it with some dummy

data. ;)


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Posted · Original PosterOP

This is OK.

This is not.

 

 

6rB4j.png

Better now?

Cleaned up the OP a bit btw., formatting was a bit unsatisfactory (then again,

it is always going to be unsatisfactory, due to reasons stated above ;) ).

EDIT: On my screen it's pretty readable now with the night theme.


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Much better

Is there a guide for colors to use such that it is readable on both the dark and light themes?


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Posted · Original PosterOP

Much better

 

Excellent. :)

 

Is there a guide for colors to use such that it is readable on both the dark and light themes?

Not to my knowledge, but I'd guess that you'd usually need to go for the middle

ground. Not too bright, or else it's not usable with the normal theme, and not

too dark for the dark theme.

If all else fails, you can always try it out yourself by switching the theme

temporarily.


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Is there a guide for colors to use such that it is readable on both the dark and light themes?

You just gave me and someone else who is far less lazy an idea for a guide thread (so the answer is no). 

FYI, this should be in the thread:

When you copy/paste something, always paste as plain text and format it yourself. If you just copy/paste, it can carry the background, font, color, and such with it and you end up with a white background and black colored letters on a black themed website. It looks terrible and is annoying to read. 

Switch to the night theme and read this:

When I set out to review how different compilers


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Posted · Original PosterOP

Just thought I'd give a quick update because while I could verify that the

card reported a successful flash and announced itself as now running the IT

firmware, I had not yet had the opportunity to actually hook up drives to it

and test it out.

Having today had that opportunity I can now confidently say that the operation

was indeed successful; I am currently running a ZFS pool on disks hooked up to

the 9211-8i card. No problems whatsoever so far, plug and play in the true

sense of the word.

So: Yay! :)


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Thank you very much for this guide!

 

I did this just earlier and successfully flashed a newly ebayed 9211-8i to IT mode. I had done it in the past with a pair of M1015s but on a non-UEFI mobo and had completely forgotten where I found instructions. What could have been hours of research turned into just a few minutes of reading.

 

Card works great with a Supermicro SAS expander and my ZFS pools are all accessible.

 

Also Supermicro mobo FTW. Mine had a built-in UEFI shell which made this a 5 minute process.

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Posted · Original PosterOP

Thank you very much for this guide!

 

I did this just earlier and successfully flashed a newly ebayed 9211-8i to IT mode. I had done it in the past with a pair of M1015s but on a non-UEFI mobo and had completely forgotten where I found instructions. What could have been hours of research turned into just a few minutes of reading.

 

Card works great with a Supermicro SAS expander and my ZFS pools are all accessible.

 

Haha, yeah I got my card on eBay as well, probably going to get one or two

more to have a spare or so, plus I might want to put one in HELIOS (not sure

yet, will do a few benchmarks on the one I have first, but the SATA3 Marvell

controller on the SR-2 isn't exactly brilliant).

Happy to know this was useful, thanks!

Also Supermicro mobo FTW. Mine had a built-in UEFI shell which made this a 5 minute process.

Now that would have been so convenient! My Supermicro board is of the pre-UEFI

variety though. Ah well, makes the guide more comprehensive and therefore useful

to more people I suppose. ;)


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I'm about to flash my IBM ServeRAID M1015 to IT mode with your guide and I'm a bit unsure regarding the UEFI shell. The motherboard in the system, where the M1015 is, is a MSI B85I which has what they call Click BIOS 4, the latest UEFI BIOS. Does that mean I can skip this step?

 

Unfortunately, depending on your M/B (and that's why the M/B is relevant in this),

you will require a different shell, and will need to follow different steps to access
it. I have gotten the impression that some boards even come with an integrated
one, but I'm not 100% certain on that. If you have such a board, you can skip the
next part, since you don't need to download one.


The different versions of the shell you're most likely to need are these:

  • For the most current version (the 2.0 branch), go here and select the
    one which matches your architecture.
  • If those do not work for you (and in my case they did not), it might be that
    your M/B requires an older version, either the X64 or IA32 version.
  • The links for the v1 versions I got from the Arch Linux wiki page here, as
    mentioned above.
  • Copy the EFI shell onto your USB drive as well, I called it shellx64.efi. I
    am not absolutely certain, but the name might matter to some extent to your
    M/B, I have also come across simpler names like shell.efi, but I was so
    glad when I finally got things working I didn't experiment further to check which
    names work and which do not.

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Posted · Original PosterOP

I'm about to flash my IBM ServeRAID M1015 to IT mode with your guide and I'm a bit unsure regarding the UEFI shell. The motherboard in the system, where the M1015 is, is a MSI B85I which has what they call Click BIOS 4, the latest UEFI BIOS. Does that mean I can skip this step?

Just because you have en EFI BIOS does not mean your board comes with an

EFI shell. The Asus board I used also has an EFI BIOS, but does not come with

its own EFI shell. I think it's mostly server boards like Supermicro's that come

with their own shell, but maybe yours has its own as well.

You'll just need to try this one out I'm afraid. First step I'd try to find

out if your board has its own shell, if it does not, try one of the ones I've

linked.

The shell looks like a terminal interface (DOS, Linux command line), in case

you're wondering, but obviously has different syntax. I must say I have been

rather annoyed at manufacturers' lack of documentation for this kind of stuff,

not user-friendly at all IMO.


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It's not difficult, just make sure you're getting the correct firmware. This is slightly more involved on motherboards with integrated LSI controllers (like my supermicro X10SL7-F), but just as easy in the end.

 

Nice guide

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From the first site you've linked, there's a couple of different options;

Lets say I try the first one and it turns out to be the wrong one, could that hurt my hardware or would it simply not run it?

I do think I'm supposed to use the X64 as my CPU is the Pentium G3220T.


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Posted · Original PosterOP

It's not difficult, just make sure you're getting the correct firmware. This is slightly more involved on motherboards with integrated LSI controllers (like my supermicro X10SL7-F), but just as easy in the end.

 

Nice guide

 

Thanks. :)

 

From the first site you've linked, there's a couple of different options;

Lets say I try the first one and it turns out to be the wrong one, could that hurt my hardware or would it simply not run it?

I do think I'm supposed to use the X64 as my CPU is the Pentium G3220T.

I tried two that didn't work before the third one did, the only thing that happened

with the ones that didn't work was just that they didn't initialize. The EFI shell

is just an interface, it doesn't actually do anything unless you instruct it to do

so (well, buggy behavior notwithstanding ;)).


BUILD LOGS: HELIOS - Latest Update: 2015-SEP-06 ::: ZEUS - BOTW 2013-JUN-28 ::: APOLLO - Complete: 2014-MAY-10
OTHER STUFF: Cable Lacing Tutorial ::: What Is ZFS? ::: mincss Primer ::: LSI RAID Card Flashing Tutorial
FORUM INFO: Community Standards ::: The Moderating Team ::: 10TB+ Storage Showoff Topic

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From the first site you've linked, there's a couple of different options;

Lets say I try the first one and it turns out to be the wrong one, could that hurt my hardware or would it simply not run it?

I do think I'm supposed to use the X64 as my CPU is the Pentium G3220T.

You will have multiple prompts requiring a yes to initiate a flash, there won't be any 'oops' that you haven't said yes to a couple of times.

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