VMware Purple Screens of Death can spring up from improper eSATA cabling

Posted by Paul Braren on Apr 10 2013 in
  • ESXi
  • Motherboard
  • Storage
  • Virtualization
  • One my shortest, simplest articles ever, but of high value to the fellow home lab enthusiast that may be afflicted by the occasional PSOD.

    Alas, over the past 23 months of running vZilla, it hasn't all been roses and sunshine. One vexing, intermittent problem that cropped up mid 2012 had to do with eSATA cabling. You see, my affordable Mediasonic HFR2-SU3S2 External RAID5 enclosure can only use SATA2's 3Gpbs maximum speed, so I had figured using the eSATA port built into the Fractal Design Define XL Titanium Grey ATX Full Tower Silent PC Computer Case would be a good idea. It wasn't. Time passed, and every 2-3 months or so, a lovely PSOD greeted me. Couldn't go back to 15% slower USB 3.0 cable as a workaround, because the move from ESXi 5.0 to 5.1 broke the pass through of my USB 3.0 PCI card.

    It was a random assortment of PSODs actually, with little obvious indication of what really went wrong each time. Time passed, and I began to correlate those PSODS with periods of high activity on that particular RAID5 external enclosure. Ah ha!

    Next came devising a simple way to induce the problem, so I wouldn't have to wait around for months to fix this. Simple, reduce workload to just one VM each night (to reduce chances of filesystem corruption), then I kicked off a 2TB overnight file transfer. It worked wonders. PSOD in the morning. A nice ESXi kernel panic for breakfast.

    Now I could test if replacing the eSATA cable would make a difference. Here's the steps I took, just last month:

    1. Made sure that the SATA2 port the ASRock motherboard I chose to connect to the enclosure was set to 'External' in the ASRock Z68 BIOS.
      I had experimented with turning this on and off, but PSODs struck every other month roughly anyway, so that tweak alone didn't seem to really have any affect.
    2. Made sure to buy a decent eSATA to SATA cable, for $9.39 here,
      StarTech 6 Ft. Shielded Internal to external eSATA to SATA Cable, M/M (SATA2ESATA6)
      and ran it directly from the enclosure to the chosen SATA2 port on the motherboard, using a cooling hole on back of the Define XL tower, which bypassed the case's internal eSATA cabling. This nicely avoiding the extra length, and the "splice."
    SATA2ESATA6 photo courtesy of Amazon

    That combination worked for me. I slammed the enclosure with 2TB of data transfers, 3 nights in a row, no PSODs greeting me for breakfast. Stomach settled.

    In the end, it turned out to be strictly a hardware thing, not an ESXi software fault. End of story!