Before you install and configure FreeBSD on your system, there is an important subject that you should be aware of if, especially if you have multiple hard drives.
In a PC running DOS or any of the BIOS-dependent operating systems (WINxxx), the BIOS is able to abstract the normal disk drive order, and the operating system goes along with the change. This allows the user to boot from a disk drive other than the so-called "primary master". This is especially convenient for some users who have found that the simplest and cheapest way to keep a system backup is to buy an identical second hard drive, and perform routine copies of the first drive to the second drive using Ghost or XCOPY. Then, if the first drive fails, or is attacked by a virus, or is scribbled upon by an operating system defect, he can easily recover by instructing the BIOS to logically swap the drives. It's like switching the cables on the drives, but without having to open the case.
More expensive systems with SCSI controllers often include BIOS extensions which allow the SCSI drives to be re-ordered in a similar fashion for up to seven drives.
A user who is accustomed to taking advantage of these features may become surprised when the results with FreeBSD are not as expected. FreeBSD does not use the BIOS, and does not know the "logical BIOS drive mapping". This can lead to very perplexing situations, especially when drives are physically identical in geometry, and have also been made as data clones of one another.
When using FreeBSD, always restore the BIOS to natural drive numbering before installing FreeBSD, and then leave it that way. If you need to switch drives around, then do so, but do it the hard way, and open the case and move the jumpers and cables.
An illustration from the files of Bill and Fred's Exceptional Adventures:
Bill breaks-down an older Wintel box to make another FreeBSD box for Fred. Bill installs a single SCSI drive as SCSI unit zero, and installs FreeBSD on it.
Fred begins using the system, but after several days notices that the older SCSI drive is reporting numerous soft errors, and reports this fact to Bill.
After several more days, Bill decides it's time to address the situation, so he grabs an identical SCSI drive from the disk drive "archive" in the back room. An initial surface scan indicates that this drive is functioning well, so Bill installs this drive as SCSI unit four, and makes an image copy from drive zero to drive four. Now that the new drive is installed and functioning nicely, Bill decides that it's a good idea to start using it, so he uses features in the SCSI BIOS to re-order the disk drives so that the system boots from SCSI unit four. FreeBSD boots and runs just fine.
Fred continues his work for several days, and soon Bill and Fred decide that it's time for a new adventure -- time to upgrade to a newer version of FreeBSD. Bill removes SCSI unit zero because it was a bit flaky, and replaces it with another identical disk drive from the "archive." Bill then installs the new version of FreeBSD onto the new SCSI unit zero using Fred's magic internet FTP floppies. The installation goes well.
Fred uses the new version of FreeBSD for a few days, and certifies that it is good enough for use in the engineering department...it's time to copy all of his work from the old version. So Fred mounts SCSI unit four (the latest copy of the older FreeBSD version). Fred is dismayed to find that none of his precious work is present on SCSI unit four.
Where did the data go?
When Bill made an image copy of the original SCSI unit zero onto SCSI unit four, unit four became the "new clone," When Bill re-ordered the SCSI BIOS so that he could boot from SCSI unit four, he was only fooling himself. FreeBSD was still running on SCSI unit zero. Making this kind of BIOS change will cause some or all of the Boot and Loader code to be fetched from the selected BIOS drive, but when the FreeBSD kernel drivers take-over, the BIOS drive numbering will be ignored, and FreeBSD will transition back to normal drive numbering. In the illustration at hand, the system continued to operate on the original SCSI unit zero, and all of Fred's data was there, not on SCSI unit four. The fact that the system appeared to be running on SCSI unit four was simply an artifact of human expectations.
We are delighted to mention that no data bytes were killed or harmed in any way by our discovery of this phenomenon. The older SCSI unit zero was retrieved from the bone pile, and all of Fred's work was returned to him, (and now Bill knows that he can count as high as zero).
Although SCSI drives were used in this illustration, the concepts apply equally to IDE drives.