Computer-Building Lament

At the risk of being way to geeky here, I would like to ask the computer world if they could find some way for me to have a RAID disk drive array on my custom built PC's without having to also buy and install a floppy disk drive that I only use once.  For those who don't know, a RAID is an array of multiple, usually identical, hard drives that can be combined together for redundancy.  For example, two 250GB hard drives can be combined in a RAID such that they appear to be one 250GB drive to the system, but all data is mirrored on both drives, so if one fails, you still have everything, even without making backups.  I usually build RAIDs into my computers, either for redundancy or, if that is not needed, at least to combine multiple drives into one drive letter.  You can even build a raid where all files are split between the two drives, which is a reliability problem but makes for wicked fast drive access (kind of like splitting calculations between two CPUs)

Unfortunately, on most motherboards, the only way to install the RAID drivers if I want to install Windows onto the RAID is to load them with an old 3-1/2 inch floppy.  Which means I usually install a floppy drive on every build -- OK, its only $20 or so, but it still seems like a waste.   On my own computers, I just have one redundant floppy I pass around, but when I build for others, I don't want to leave them hanging if they have to reinstall the OS. 

I would think that this should be doable via a USB key, but I have never tried it.  Anyone out there know a better way?

</geekiness>  OK, I will now return to economics and business.

  • http://www.creativedestruction.com/blog Sameer

    Hello there. I don't know much about the RAID/Windows situation, but can't you install windows onto a small drive that isn't RAID and then create a RAID drive for all your files? Or do you need Windows to be on the RAID as well?

  • JD

    Coyote, If you have a bootable CD Drive (I'm guessing you do...) and a bootable Windows installation CD, you can slipstream the Raid drivers into the installation cd (you'll have a burn a new copy with the RAID drivers, of course) so that when the text-mode installer is searching for applicable drivers it will find them. It's a pretty complicated process, but this old Maximum PC magazine article should help :
    http://maximumpc.com/2005/01/how_to_slipstre.html

    Look for steps 3 and 4, specifically. Slipstreaming drivers (and even patches like SP2) can save a lot of time on a new Windows installation.

    Good luck,
    --JD

  • http://www.polarman.com knox

    If this is for new stuff, Vista gets lets you get RAID drivers from CD's or DVD's. Or USB thumb drives. Also, Vista includes drivers for a lot of the RAID hardware, so you don't even need to find it. Really enjoy your blog, BTW.

    Knox

  • Matt W

    I'm actually building a system for myself right now and have not expirimented with RAID, but I was actually researching it yesterday. Have any of you tried to use RAID mode 0 (The mode where you split data between two drives to speed things up). Cany anyone comment, even anecdotally, how effective this was at doing things like loading windows or other read/write intensive tasks (load MSX for instance)?

  • Michael

    I have a ASRock 939DualSata2 motherboard in my XP system. I have built it twice, once with RAID1, again with RAID0. In both cases, all I had to do was setup the array via the POST screen and the OS saw the array without the need for any drivers.

    In response to knox, the RAID0 setup (striping 2 drives together to make one larger drive) is wicked fast on my system. I used a pair of cheap seagate 160GB, 7200 RPM drives for the array. I benchmarked things like loading maps in Battlefield, booting the OS, etc. I get roughly 1.5x performance compared to a single-drive solution.

  • http://smilerz91.blogspot.com Chris

    you can make a USB drive bootable on most motherboards.

    Instructions here - http://www.weethet.nl/english/hardware_bootfromusbstick.php

    All I demand for my troubles is an autographed copy of your book. :)

  • mjh

    Coyote: If you're using software raid in windows, then I don't think there's any way to do it. You could look for an inexpensive IDE/SATA RAID card, you should be able to boot Windows directly into RAID because the hardware manages the RAID but the OS sees it as a single drive.

    Another solution is to build your server with Linux using software raid. Linux can boot into software raid. If you only use it on your server, then you don't have to worry about software incompatibilities at your desktop. If you're not familiar with Linux, this might end up being a higher cost solution.

  • http://politics.lel-hosting.com/ Matt

    1. Don't use windoze. This is, of course, the best solution.

    2. If #1 isn't to your taste, a USB floppy drive will work just as well as one that's permanently installed, be much easier to remove, and not meaningfully more expensive. If you build PCs often enough to care about this, you'll be better off with a USB floppy. And if you don't, then you'd probably be better off having a system builder do the RAID installation for you before you take delivery of the PC.

    3. Hardware RAID. It's faster and more efficient than doing it in software, and I'd be more confident in the ability to recover from an actual crash. But since I don't actually use windoze, I lack the experience to confidently assume that hardware RAID wouldn't impose some sort of weird insanely stupid problems under windoze. (Last I checked, windoze took the BIOS's word about what hard drives are installed, which, if it's still true, would mean that a true hardware RAID would appear, to windoze, as a single hard drive and not require any special drivers. But that may not be true anymore.)

  • Matt

    Depending on what you want to achieve, you might also consider investing in a Network Attached Storage (NAS) system to sit on your network. It's a separate physical box that holds (only) harddrives (often up to 1TB total storage for consumer / SOHO use) and makes them available over the network. Once it's configured, it doesn't matter how many PCs you put on your network, your storage on the NAS is automatically available to the new PCs and you don't have to keep configuring RAID systems when your WinXP box (inevitably) needs to be reformatted. Of course, this does not provide any kind of RAID backup on the specific machines (and requires a small amount of fore-thought in deciding where to install applications and save files), but does have the advantage of being able to be put out of sight (say in a closet) without having to worry about length-limited keyboard / monitor / etc. cords reaching it AND being more difficult to spill coffee on :-). I've seen 500GB NAS systems for around $650 at Fry's Electronics.

  • Cathy

    Well I'm actually on the hunt for the same thing apparently there are a couple of USB floppy drives that are supported at this stage but I have yet to find model #'s or if they can be found but I'll post back if I findout more.