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Setting up a RAID 5+spare Configuration

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September 23, 2009 10:16:20 PM

Hi All,

Here is a brief overview of what I am trying to accomplish. I currently have several PCs on my home network that access my 'main' PC, which is acting as a NAS of some sort. A few years ago I had a problem with one of my 500GB HDDs and I lost all of the data on it, almost all of which was unrecoverable. Today, my 'main' PC consists of 4x1TB drives running off of the motherboards Intel ICH9R RAID capable SATAII ports and 2x500GB drives running off of the motherboards GIGABYTE RAID capable SATAII ports. None of my drives are currently RAIDed, which concerns me because of the disaster I had a few years ago. What I would like to do is find one solution that can meet as many of my requirements as possible.

What I would like:
- RAID 5+spare across my 5x1TB Drives (knowing that I will need to backup the data somewhere to build the array)
- For the RAID to not be tied to my motherboard in any way
- For the RAID to run, at least, at decent speed. Since it is all files and storage rather than OS's or VM's, speed isn't as crucial, but as always it is nice
- I am ok with getting something external, and prefer it is it will benefit me in any way
- If i could allow my 'main' PC to be turned off with the hard drives still being accessible (such as in a true NAS setup) that would be great, but I have noticed that it can be quite costly
- Last but most certainly not least, I would like to keep this within my budget. I'm looking to spend no more than $500 on this, maybe $600 if I must.


I have found some promising products, but am not sure how well they work based on so many mixed reviews. One that I have been looking at, which doesn't have NAS but seems to meet almost all of my requirements. The only thing I am worried about is the fact that it is setup in a way where you can only have 2 sets of 4 HDDs, and that it uses a SATA port multiplier, which I have never used and am not sure what the performance is like on them.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

If I could get some ideas on what products might be good to look at, or some suggestions on how I might accomplish this without purchasing thousands of dollars worth of equipment would be great.


Thanks in advance!
a b V Motherboard
a b G Storage
September 24, 2009 3:23:17 PM

IMO, the best solution for you would be to build a NAS rather than attempting to squeeze your needs from an off the shelf system. There are free open source OS's available that support robust NAS/file server functionality and still have features to spare. Check out www.freenas.org and www.openfiler.com. Both are easy on the hardware requirements and use minimal resources. Heck, you can install FreeNAS on a 512MB Compact Flash card rather than a hard drive.

The Rosewill box you linked is nice with plenty of expansion but would be limited to the software that comes with it. If that software meets your needs then it looks like a great solution.

On a side note, I do not recommend software RAID solutions for critical/important data as I am an advocate of dedicated hardware RAID controllers. If you were to build a NAS solution, you can purchase minimally spec'd hardware (single core cpu, 256MB RAM, low end mobo) or even use old parts you may have from previous builds, and save your money for a quality RAID controller and more hard drives.

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September 24, 2009 4:13:41 PM

chunkymonster: Thanks for the reply! I do have a simple question regarding an NAS solution. One thing that I do use my file share for is a place to create images for all of my software, games, and CD's. Would the speed of a home network be fast enough to support direct read/write access to a hardware device such as a DVD-RW or would I be better off putting everything directly onto the PC and then copying it over to the network share?

Do you have any recomendations on internal PCI-E RAID Cards? I would like to get one that supports up to 8 SATA drives. (Time to look for a real case for his oil computer rather than the fish tank ;)  )

And also do you know of any guides on setting up a hardware raid? I'm sure that this is what I want to go with; Its just that I have never actually setup a RAID and want to make sure that I do it correctly from the get go so that I don't loose data.


PS. Based on tests I have seen, people running a NAS get read/writes that are considerably slower that I thought they would be. People running on 1000mbps networks have a write time of ~1m 43s for a 1GB file. I can write to an External USB drive in less than half that time. Where is the bottleneck coming from? Considering its on a 1000mbps network, the theoretical speed should be around 125MBps, taking into account the overhead of the packets and such, i would expect nothing less than 100MBps as long as both hard drives are capable of reading/writing at that speed. From the tests I have seen, people are getting about 10MBps... Thats 1/10 of what the network should be capable of. Any ideas where that bottleneck is coming from and if there is a way to prevent it?
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Best solution

a b V Motherboard
a b G Storage
September 25, 2009 4:17:00 PM

When making back up images of my machines, I also use my NAS to store those images. I only have a 10/100 connection for my home LAN but have found it adequate for direct writing of the image file from the machine being imaged to the NAS. I am also averaging 82Mbps LAN speeds across my 10/100. Gigabit LAN would/should be faster but a lot also depends on the NICs, the CAT5 cable, hard drive speed, and the router being used.

When it comes to direct writing across the LAN and/or to a CD/DVD disk, I have observed that it largely depends on the software being used to create the back up image. Some imaging apps are crap when direct writing while other are pretty snappy and have no issues. Currently I am using Macrium to create my back up images and it has been working pretty well for me.

As far as PCIe RAID controller cards, opinions will vary as to which one is the "best", but I have been using 3Ware cards for years and have found them to be very reliable. For an 8-port SATA card, I recommend the 3Ware 9560SE-8LPML ($490+/- new/retail) or the Areca ARC-1220 ($440+/- new/retail). They are expensive cards but, IMO, worth every dollar. Given the price, an option to save some cash is to peruse eBay for used controllers. I've snagged some used warez at very reasonable prices over the years off eBay. Also check out Highpoint and Promise controller cards; but the important thing to remember when selecting a controller card is to be sure that it has an on-board I/O processor, otherwise it is not truly a hardware RAID controller. No on-board I/O processor = fake RAID!

Regarding guides to set up a RAID array using a controller, the manual is a good place to start. You can DL the manual from the makers support site and read through it before making your purchase. But mostly, it is a pretty straight forward process once you get past the jitters and jargon. Fact is, setting up a brand new RAID array using a hardware card is almost fool-proof given that there is no data on the array to lose; so, you can configure/delete and configure/delete until you are comfortable with all the controller options. Also, most/all hardware controllers have a web GUI to help with configuration if using the controller BIOS makes you nervous. Personally, I prefer to use the BIOS to configure the controller, but that's me.

Lastly, building a purpose built NAS solution using either FreeNAS or Openfiler, even with the cost of a hardware controller card, would meet your data needs and stay within your budget.
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