Crossflashing OEM 9300-8e to LSI IT firmware, 100% compatible?

Discussion in 'RAID Controllers and Host Bus Adapters' started by Tim, Dec 26, 2016.

  1. Tim

    Tim Member

    Nov 7, 2012
    Likes Received:
    Are there any differences between the IBM/Lenovo/DELL/other OEM's and the original LSI 9300-8e HBA except the price? Particularly related to getting a true/clean fully functional IT firmware 100% working.

    My reason for asking this is that some users seems to have compatibility issues when crossflashing OEM editions compared to users with original HBA's in general.
    At least that's what I get from this thread regarding HBA's for the Lenovo SA-120 DAS found here:
    Lenovo ThinkServer SA120 - Rackmount DAS

    As some get it to work, others not.
    Is this a known general issue when crossflashing? (not getting 100% original functionality)
    Or might it just be user errors, related to non-compatible firmware on the SA-120 I/O controller maybe?
    Or due to raid volumes on the disks that needs to be erased when going from IR to IT firmware before the drives will be visible again?

    I can't find my source for this, but I read at least once that after crossflashing some users didn't get 100% compatible IT mode of some sort?
    As in lacking protocol commands or something, not able to get full SMART data or give ZFS full controll.
    I guess this might be due to disks firmware as well, or could this be a possible drawback with OEM cards when crossflashed?
  2. Terry Kennedy

    Terry Kennedy Well-Known Member

    Jun 25, 2015
    Likes Received:
    There are a number of possibilities, ranging from easiest to most complex:

    * The manufacturer just stuffs a standard LSI card in there, doesn't change anything (not even the PCI IDs), maybe puts their name in the BIOS. Rare, except for smaller / niche markets.

    * The manufacturer takes a standard LSI board, changes the PCI IDs, has custom branded BIOS and possibly firmware with various changes.

    * The manufacturer designs a board based on the LSI reference design, but makes hardware changes for functionality (possibly different form factor, etc.).

    The first 2 are pretty easy to deal with - it is simply a matter of convincing the flash utility and card to accept the generic firmware. These should work just as the generic card.

    The third can be anything from trivial to extremely difficult. Some examples:

    o The Dell "6Gbps SAS HBA" has a pair of dual-color (green/orange) LEDs, one for each port. The stock LSI firmware doesn't know about these, so they're both always on and orange (the power-up default). Mostly cosmetic.

    o Some flavor of HP card (this one is not from my direct experience) shuffles the numbering of the ports around when using generic firmware. This can be a pain if (for example) the internal and external port numbers swap. You can work around this, but it can be confusing. I suspect HP goofed when laying out the card and decided to "fix it in the firmware".

    o The OCZ Velodrive (a PCIe SSD) is a "half-flashed" card. The flash is only half the capacity of the generic LSI design. The regular flash utilities understand it, but revovery tools like megarec bomb out - it gets up to "50%" (actually all of it on this card) erasing flash and errors out, it will program firmware but the start addresses are wrong, etc. So you can end up with a bricked card. More annoying, the flash chip on that card is a BGA, so it isn't a case of simply swapping it.

    As far as things like SMART not working, that shouldn't happen. I don't know of any custom SAS chips from LSI for OEMs (and if there were any, they likely wouldn't run at all with generic firmware). There isn't a heck of a lot between the chip pins and the SAS connectors on the card. Any incompatibility is likely from things like a SAS expander you didn't know you had (Dell backplane, etc.) or a flash that doesn't change the various vendor strings on the card, so the software utility you're using (smartmontools, etc.) doesn't think it can get data from the drive and doesn't even bother trying. IT mode is pretty simple and the data paths involved should either work or not work.
    Tim likes this.
  3. Tim

    Tim Member

    Nov 7, 2012
    Likes Received:
    This reassured me that I most probably will be fine with a Dell card crossflashed to LSI IT firmware.
    I can see that an unknown backplane/expander could present some issues, but I know that it's there.
    So I guess my best bet is to use SAS drives to keep any backplane/expander issues at a distance.
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