Arrayed in RAID

RAID on a GA-K8NSC-939 – Problem Solved

Last year I got hold of a GA-K8NSC-939 motherboard with a 3000 processor, 1GB RAM and a Radeon X800 Pro Video card. I built a system around it, and so Poseidon was born. After upgrading the memory to 2GB and the processor to a X2 4400, the result was quite a fast machine, in spite of the fact that it cannot run Windows Vista or 7. With one minor drawback – slow Hard Drive speed. Restricted by its SATA-1 ports, Poseidon maxes out at 121MB/Sec.

So I decided to experiment with RAID. I am no stranger to RAID, having run a mirrored drive on Athena, an aging dual-PIII board that has served me well since 2002. For most of that time, Athena ran a two-drive RAID-1 mirror. This means that she had two identical drives that each held all my data. In the eight years she had been running, Athena suffered two separate catastrophic drive failures – and never lost a byte of data. Since the two drives were on different IDE ports, RAID had an extra benefit – Athena could read from both drives simultaneously – resulting in faster load times. And that is what I wanted.

The problem was that no matter how hard I tried, the F10 RAID menu never came up, and there was precious little information out there on the subject.

As a matter of course, I always install the latest BIOS on new boards, and I noticed that the version I had installed – F9G – had only one change, described as “Disable PCI prefetch “, over the previous F8 version. On a hunch, I downgraded to F8.

And the F10 RAID menu magically appeared.

My problem was only half-solved. I had a 400GB drive with good data on it (OS, etc), and another that was blank. The F10 menu didn’t seem to allow me to do what I wanted – to rebuild an array from a single good drive. When setting up an array I answered the “Clear Disks?” question with a resounding “NO”. ThenĀ  I was rewarded with a cryptic “select disk inside array” message, but that did not seem to do anything. And I could not build a Mirror array with only one drive.

Again, on a hunch, I built a single-drive STRIPE (Raid 0) array, and it booted right into Windows. Then I bought up nVidia’s RAID manager software and converted the array to a two-drive mirrored array. This rebuilt the array INSIDE WINDOWS, which took almost a whole day for a 400GB drive.

This is not exactly progress; after a drive failure, Athena could rebuild a 240GB IDE drive, within the RAID BIOS in under four hours.

Once again, nVidia has disappointed me; not because of the performance issue, but because they:

  1. Did not document the fact that the RAID BIOS is disabled in build F9g
  2. Did not provide documentation for the blindingly obvious task of converting a single drive into a dual-drive RAID mirror.
  3. Did not apparently allow rebuilding of the array within the BIOS.

Postscript: The RAID array slowed down bootup time and made only a minimal difference to performance; I ended up backing out my changes; thank God for Ghost images.

Ah well, another learning experience.

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