RAID 1 for the time-challenged

It happens to the best of us. We spend hours putting together a new PC, mounting a nice aftermarket heatsink, making sure all the cables are nicely organized, and we’re just so glad to get Windows installed that we forget one detail: setting the storage controller to AHCI or RAID mode. Both settings enable native command queuing, which can improve performance, but switching settings after loading up Windows almost guarantees a nasty bluescreen.

I had enough foresight to enable AHCI before installing Windows last time, but I stayed clear from the RAID setting. That came back to bite me in the butt last weekend, when I received a fresh Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB hard drive in the mail and decided to arrange my dual Caviar SE16 320GB drives in a RAID 1 array. For the uninitiated, RAID 1 essentially mirrors the contents of one drive onto another drive. That doesn’t remove the need for backups, but if applied to an OS drive, it can save quite a bit of time in the event of a hard drive failure.

Microsoft provides simple instructions on switching from IDE to AHCI mode, but switching from AHCI to RAID was another story—at least on my Intel P965 Express- and ICH8R-powered system. I still got the bluescreen at boot-up, and no amount of Googling or tinkering with drivers solved that problem.

Finally, I found an easy solution. My motherboard has six Serial ATA ports running off the ICH8R south bridge, and a seventh SATA port is hooked up to a JMicron controller. All I had to do was connect my primary hard drive to that controller, make sure it was in IDE mode (since Windows has built-in drivers for that), and set the Intel controller to RAID mode. Vista happily booted off the JMicron and recognized the "new" Intel RAID controller my other drives were hooked up to, allowing me to go back, connect the OS drive to the ICH8R again, and finally boot with the RAID setting enabled (and no hiccups).

Wasn’t this all for nothing, though? Wouldn’t building a RAID 1 array from there on involve reinstalling the operating system anyway? I’m not familiar with other storage controllers, but Intel’s handy Matrix Storage Console software allows you to skip that step and create a RAID from an existing boot drive. Somehow, it doesn’t care if there’s an OS installed on it, and you can keep running software and doing whatever you need to do while the conversion process goes on in the background. Neat.

After about six hours, my dual 320GB Caviars were joined in holy redundancy at last, and I finally went to bed. Somehow, though, Windows wasn’t happy the next time I rebooted, since it asked me to re-activate it—and the online process didn’t work, so I had to use the gruelling automated phone system, juggling groups of digits and confirming that, yes, my operating system was still installed on just a single computer. That may have been the most annoying part of this whole endeavor, actually.

Comments closed
    • ChrisDTC
    • 11 years ago

    I just wanted to say I ran into this exact problem today. Your method worked like a charm.

    I didn’t have to reactivate my copy of Vista Ultimate either.

    Thanks

    • Forge
    • 11 years ago

    Cyril – to cross-migrate from AHCI to RAID, simply having the drivers available is not enough. You have to go into the control panel and manually update the AHCI controllers to the RAID driver, overriding detection entirely. Only after doing that are you able to switch the BIOS setting from AHCI to RAID without provoking a BSOD. Basically the OS is not running to do a device detect and driver search until AFTER the driver is loaded initially. Classic catch-22 badness.

    This and similar problems are why Intel strongly advises all OEM system builders to configure and ship with the Intel SATA controllers in RAID mode, even on systems with a single disk present. It makes configuration of restore media a little trickier, but allows end users to enable/setup/migrate to RAID with the simple installation of another HDD.

    • nerdrage
    • 11 years ago

    For some reason, I couldn’t get AHCI to work on my new board (Gigabyte EP45-DS3R using ICH10R). The AHCI controller booted into XP ok, but refused to coexist with any PCI card that I tried using. I would keep getting random bluescreens for no reason. Tried switching PCI slots, different IRQs, nothing seemed to help. After spending dozens of hours trying to get it working, I finally gave up and went back to plain old IDE mode and that resolved the bluescreens. I think the problem may have been that the AHCI BIOS on my board is really outdated… the copyright notice for it showed 2007, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to update it.

    The Intel board I used at work (DP35DP) updated the AHCI BIOS separately when I updated the system BIOS, and it worked flawlessly with both XP and Linux.

    • drsauced
    • 11 years ago

    The one thing I have never seen in articles like these is what happens when you yank a cable from one of the drives. That is, how does the software cope with the loss of a drive? I did just that once with an nVidia RAID (nForce4) and it promptly blue screened and killed the array. Hardware RAID: I’m a fan.

      • indeego
      • 11 years ago

      That is hardware RAID. Did you mean dedicated RAID card as opposed to onboard or Operating system RAID?

      I would go with 1. Dedicated, 2. Software well before 3. Onboard. I wouldn’t touch Nvidia RAID, I’ve heard horror storiesg{<.<}g

        • Forge
        • 11 years ago

        No it’s not. Not even close. Hardware RAID has the RAID management and parity calculations done by dedicated firmware and hardware respectively. Onboard RAID solutions are commonly called ‘fakeraid’. They have some bios trickery to configure and boot an array, but all array management and parity work is done fully in software, in a specially constructed driver.

        Hardware RAID means you pull the plug on a drive in a RAID1 array and your OS may not have any idea whatsoever.

        Fakeraid means pulling the plug from one of those RAID1 drives might give a BSOD.

        OS-based RAID means all the fun of fakeraid plus being unable to boot from an array. Worst of all worlds, but often cheap.

          • drsauced
          • 11 years ago

          Right, thanks Forge for clarifying my point. What I wonder, and I confess to not doing much research, is how much offloading does the Intel chipset do in their RAID implementation? My experience has not been very good, but I haven’t tried Intel’s solution.

            • Forge
            • 11 years ago

            None. None whatsoever in any form. The Intel ICH*R ‘RAID’ controllers are bog standard AHCI controllers with some pretty driver hacks on top.

            In the case of Intel’s fakeraid, they do most everything pre-boot in the BIOS and everything post-boot inside the driver package. Nothing hardware does anything past AHCI.

            In some other fakeraids, they don’t even do their own RAID, instead hooking Windows’ internal RAID routines to do the work.

            You can get a quick idea if you’re in the former or latter by unplugging a disk from a RAID1 array. Self-contained drivers make various alarming messages and continue on, while the cheap garbage ones that hook Windows routines will BSOD immediately.

      • nerdrage
      • 11 years ago

      [moved]

      • Delphis
      • 11 years ago

      I’m a fan of not using anything other than Linux software RAID ๐Ÿ™‚

      those ‘raid chipsets’ on mobos scare me. Treat them as ‘JBOD’, I tell them.

      How I operate at home is all my important stuff is on my Linux fileserver. Windows machine for games and Photoshop, all backed up to the Linux machine.

        • Forge
        • 11 years ago

        Be careful about telling onboard RAID chipsets ‘JBOD’, cause they’ll assume you want concatenated disks, and you’ll remain screwed in the case of a disk crash.

    • Entroper
    • 11 years ago

    Question that I haven’t been able to find through Google:

    So, it’s fairly simple to go from no RAID to RAID 1 (just clone the data). Even RAID 0 would be fairly simple to set up, if the source data is a single drive. But say you have three disks in RAID 5 on an ICH8R/9R/10R, and you want to add a fourth to expand your capacity. Is the Intel app able to “convert” your array without wiping the data? Obviously, you would want to do a backup first, but this would prevent you from having to reinstall your OS and apps.

    • herothezero
    • 11 years ago

    “Ah, product activation. I think the next time I upgrade I will do away with Windows entirely simply because of that one thing.”

    Yeah, that’s rational.

      • ssidbroadcast
      • 11 years ago

      The reply button is rational.

        • Meadows
        • 11 years ago

        Super Sid Broadcast is on point…ish.

          • willyolio
          • 11 years ago

          steam ship idbroadcast is rational.

        • eitje
        • 11 years ago

        your face is rational.

      • barleyguy
      • 11 years ago

      Honestly, if everybody made that same rational decision, activation would no longer exist. I personally ran Windows 2000 until I got an academic version of XP that doesn’t need activation.

      I might make an exception for my next laptop. Laptops come pre-activated and I won’t be upgrading the hardware. So I may leave Vista on it. Or I may “downgrade” to my activation free copy of XP.

        • Spurenleser
        • 11 years ago

        Then you better pray / cross your fingers that you’ll be able to find all required drivers for your new laptop. I’ve installed XP SP3 on my XPS 1530 last July and the whole process was a pain in the ass.

          • barleyguy
          • 11 years ago

          The MSI I’m planning to buy has official support for XP. They even have drivers for all of the extra buttons. So it shouldn’t be a major problem. I may need to get an INF file so I can use a current NVidia driver, but I would have done that anyway. Even with Vista, laptops often ship with old video drivers, because the manufacturers haven’t bothered to do an updated INF file and repackage a newer driver.

    • deruberhanyok
    • 11 years ago

    Ah, product activation. I think the next time I upgrade I will do away with Windows entirely simply because of that one thing.

    The process for switching from AHCI to RAID seems similar to the one used for switching from IDE to AHCI. At least my understanding is that it can be done that way.

    I agree with the utility of the Intel Matrix Storage app. That program is fantastic, and has even saved me from nasty data loss before. It reported a SMART error which got me to back up game installs and music to another drive (docs and such I always keep backed up). The drive that reported the error crashed hard a day or two later, the same day that my new hard drive was delivered. I’m a fan. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • MadManOriginal
    • 11 years ago

    From the screenshot it looks like you meant dual 320GB drives in the second paragraph.

    I’m actually a bit suprised that you had to do this for RAID mode. I always thought the pre-install drivers were for both AHCI and RAID mode. So were the drivers already present for RAID mode? And you just couldn’t boot off of it because the array hadn’t been created? I could have sworn some motherboards only have two modes – IDE or AHCI/RAID and the latter means no need to do anything funny when switching between modes aside from having an array built. Does your motherboard have 3 modes with AHCI and RAID separate?

      • Cyril
      • 11 years ago

      q[

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This