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Setting up two SATA hard drives on an IDE machine

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August 14, 2011 12:12:21 PM

Hi all,

This subject might cover RAID as well but I'm posting in the Hard Drives area initially and hoping someone can give me their expertise.

I picked up a Dell Precision 650 that my company was selling off for next to nothing, with the intention of it replacing my slower, single-core desktop. The 'new' machine itself has an IDE motherboard although the two hard drives I want to transfer into it are SATA. The machine was originally supplied with a SATA controller but it doesn't have one now. Should be simple to fix, I thought.

So far it's not been simple. I bought a small direct interface adapter but that seems to be a cheap little thing, didn't work and doesn't fit too well when the case shuts anyway. So I then bought a PCI Express SATA adapter, except I then stupidly realised I didn't have a PCI Express slot. Standard PCI interface cards exist but only seem to have a transfer rate of 150mbps, as opposed to 300mbps on the PCI Express card.. I'm assuming that's an advantage of the PCI Express interface. My hard drives can handle 200mbps.

I can only see that I have two options:

1) Get a PCI card and accept the reduction in speed
2) Ignore the two new SATA hard drives I have, and get two IDE ones instead

I know the latter is probably much easier, but without knowing the full details of either spec it feels like going backwards to me and will also cost me in buying more hard drives. If I were to follow option 1:

1) Do I have to setup RAID, which I don't really understand, or will it at least just be plug and play?
2) Would I be able to install and boot Windows XP and/or Windows 7 with an adapter card and no IDE drives installed?
3) Am I likely to notice the 50mbps loss in speed?
4) Any other issues to consider?

:( 

Sorry guys, I've exhausted my own knowledge on this one. Thank you very much in advance for your help.

schnide
August 14, 2011 7:15:24 PM

Thank you very much, I'll look into it - I don't know what the difference is to a normal SATA adapter card but I'm guessing there is one and it's relatively hassle free if that's what you've suggested!

Thanks again.

schnide
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a c 82 G Storage
August 14, 2011 7:22:15 PM

A PCI-X card has a maximum transfer rate that can be up to 4 times as fast as a standard PCI card.
August 14, 2011 7:45:46 PM

Thanks again.. It seems they're a little more expensive than the usual SATA cards but I'll give these a try. Hopefully they'll just be plug and play too.
a c 357 G Storage
August 16, 2011 2:56:31 AM

1. Your worry over PCI card sockets for the controller card is not a big one. The truth is that very few mechanical drives (that is, ones with spinning disks) can transfer data at or over the 1.5 Gb/s (original SATA) speed spec. If a byte is roughly 10 bits (a reasonable conversion factor), that's 150 MB/s. If you check some of the performance test reports here at Tom's, you will see most SATA HDD's below 150 MB/s Average Read rate. So a SATA controller card in even a plain PCI slot can pretty much keep up with a single drive on it.

2. If you really plan to move to RAID later, you probably do NOT want to add a regular SATA controller card. If you do, and the card can handle all the drive units you expect to need for your planned array (2? 4? 5?), you would have to be using a software RAID system that consumes CPU and bus time.

A relatively simple and cheap RAID controller may be closer to what you need. BUT the cheaper ones also tend to use software RAID. The software is in their BIOS chips, but they do use the CPU for the work. This is almost exactly the same as using the software RAID systems "built into" many modern mobos.

A much more capable and expensive type of RAID controller card will have its own dedicated processor, RAM and BIOS on board, and do all of the RAID disk work itself. That's what the pros do, but you may not be in that place. I don't know what you plan or need. But if you do want to go there, the speed of the interface bus (PCI vs PCIe) may become a factor.

But maybe you don't really plan to do RAID. You certainly to NOT have to, to get what you want at first. If you actually know that you WILL want to go to RAID for well-understood reasons, plan for it now. If you just want to add a drive or two to use, forget RAID - you don't need it.

3. Your question about booting without IDE may get tricky. Certainly the simple system is to continue using at least one IDE HDD as your boot device. Then you install in the OS (Win XP or 7) the appropriate SATA (AHCI, really) driver(s) for the SATA controller card you add, and it can use those drives just fine. BUT that way you cannot BOOT from those SATA drives.

For people who would like to BOOT from SATA drives attached to an added controller card there are three things you need.
A. The mobo main BIOS must be designed so that, when a controller card is added on, the BIOS will "add" the BIOS on the controller card, too, so that it can boot from those devices. You will have to check with Dell whether your machine's mobo can do this.
B. The controller card, likewise, must be designed to negotiate this with the mobo so it all works. A LOT of controller cards have this feature, but check before buying.
C. Win 7 has "built-in" AHCI drivers so it CAN boot from a SATA drive, and it CAN install to such a drive. I'm not sure whether having the drive on a PCI bus controller card makes any difference - I would expect not if the BIOS blending thing works, but ask the controller card manufacturers to be sure.

HOWEVER, Win XP does NOT know how to install to and boot from a SATA (actually, AHCI) device without drivers. This means that, when you first Install Win XP to a SATA drive, you MUST first install the AHCI driver required from a FLOPPY DISK - Win XP Install will only accept driver files from this resource. There is a well-established system in Win Install to add external drivers for non-IDE devices. VERY early in the Install routine there is a prompt to press the "F6" key if you wish to install drivers from floppy. This is how drivers for devices such as RAID arrays, SCSI drives and AHCI devices can be made a basic part of this particular Windows installation so that it can Install to and boot from one of these device types. When you use the F6 option you must have your driver(s) already on a floppy diskette in the drive, and you follow the prompts to get them in. When done, you return to the main process and the Install continues.

NOTE that, if you are planning on installing Win XP to a SATA drive so you can boot from it with no IDE boot drive, the drivers MUST be installed at the time you first install Win XP there. It is NOT the same as adding a SATA or AHCI driver into Windows after it is running - that is, after it has already booted from Win XP on an IDE drive.
August 16, 2011 12:14:50 PM

Wow, thank you - that's a lot of info. Much of it went over my head, but I think I got the important parts.

The drives I want to use are Hitachi and labelled as being able to cope with 200mbps, and that would be on a single card if that makes any difference.

I'll be honest though, as I said before, I've no real idea what RAID is despite having read around a few places on it. Is it something I really need? I've had a two x HD setup for some time now, and once before as well, and have never needed to do anything other than plug and play, with Windows treating them as separate drives exactly as I wanted. I use one smaller drive as a Windows partition, and the larger one as my data drive.

Would RAID ever be required for that kind of setup, bearing in mind I'm not any kind of super user and/or a server? Can I not just install the card, connect both drives and boot from them bearing in mind the limitations you've mentioned with Windows?

Thank you very much for this - it's appreciated.

schnide
August 16, 2011 12:15:33 PM

Wow, thank you - that's a lot of info. Much of it went over my head, but I think I got the important parts.

The drives I want to use are Hitachi and labelled as being able to cope with 200mbps, and that would be on a single card if that makes any difference.

I'll be honest though, as I said before, I've no real idea what RAID is despite having read around a few places on it. Is it something I really need? I've had a two x HD setup for some time now, and once before as well, and have never needed to do anything other than plug and play, with Windows treating them as separate drives exactly as I wanted. I use one smaller drive as a Windows partition, and the larger one as my data drive.

Would RAID ever be required for that kind of setup, bearing in mind I'm not any kind of super user and/or a server? Can I not just install the card, connect both drives and boot from them bearing in mind the limitations you've mentioned with Windows?

Thank you very much for this - it's appreciated.

schnide
August 16, 2011 12:15:47 PM

Wow, thank you - that's a lot of info. Much of it went over my head, but I think I got the important parts.

The drives I want to use are Hitachi and labelled as being able to cope with 200mbps, and that would be on a single card if that makes any difference.

I'll be honest though, as I said before, I've no real idea what RAID is despite having read around a few places on it. Is it something I really need? I've had a two x HD setup for some time now, and once before as well, and have never needed to do anything other than plug and play, with Windows treating them as separate drives exactly as I wanted. I use one smaller drive as a Windows partition, and the larger one as my data drive.

Would RAID ever be required for that kind of setup, bearing in mind I'm not any kind of super user and/or a server? Can I not just install the card, connect both drives and boot from them bearing in mind the limitations you've mentioned with Windows?

Thank you very much for this - it's appreciated.

schnide
a c 82 G Storage
August 16, 2011 3:11:00 PM

Knowing the version of Windows would be very helpful.
August 16, 2011 3:39:13 PM

Not quite sure how I managed to triple post there.. but it seems I'm not allowed to edit or delete my posts!

I've been using Windows 7 for a while but I'm not amazingly keen, so I may either go back to XP Professional or heavily tweak W7. If W7 makes it easier to use the setup I want to, aside from the obvious future proofing, I'll go with that.

But as I say, I've been used to just plugging in two hard drives in the past and just having them work, so I'd want the closest thing to that with the greatest possible performance. RAID as a concept, and in terms of practical implementation, are completely new to me - in my mind, I plug them in, they work :) 
a c 82 G Storage
August 16, 2011 5:36:59 PM

If I were you, I'd get used to Windows 7 and installing it might be less painful than installing XP (though you can slipstream the drivers if a floppy isn't available).

If you want the greatest performance, then you have 2 options:
1. Use a bootable PCI-X controller (the one that I suggested should work, but I can't certify that it will and you may have to flash the BIOS to the non-RAID version);
2. If that system has a SCSI controller (you can confirm if it does or not), you could buy SCSI disks and the required SCSI cable, but that will be a rather expensive solution for an old system.
August 22, 2011 1:50:28 PM

In the end I've bought a well-priced DOS bootable standard PCI SATA card. I still don't understand what RAID is but I've actually found out I don't need to set one up! I couldn't find a PCI-X card at an affordable price for me, that was DOS bootable, and Windows 7 compatible. At least, one that went along with me getting the PC for peanuts in the first place. Otherwise I'd just look into a brand new PC.

So thank you very much for all your help on this.
September 2, 2011 2:26:48 AM

Just adding my 2ยข.

You have a dual SCSI controller and a dual IDE controller on that motherboard. You also have dual 1.4Ghz XEON processors and enough space for 4GB of ram. I own the same machine and because I can't find decent IDE drives for a decent price I'm forced to look to SATA.

You have three (3.3v, 64b, 100MHz) PCIx slots and two PCI 2.2 (5v, 32b 33MHz) slots. The PCI slots as you can see are physically slower and use a smaller bus. This means the PCI version of a SATA controller will be inherently slower than using a PCIx SATA.

I got mine with a 17GB SCSI which promptly died so I simply pushed in an 80GB IDE drive which now serves as my OS drive. I boot from it fine. Everything else is bulk storage. I wasn't too concerned about SATA performance since they're both going to be used to consolidate the data from the other smaller drives I have. I purchased a PCI (actually 2 because I wanted to set up another machine as well) card and began to move the data across to the SATA drive. It went fine for a little while, but then it started to drag dramatically. Still not a big problem, until it started to stall. Then I couldn't copy specific files across like a 2458K HTM file which actually confused the controller so bad it locked up and wouldn't let me kill the process. Bottom line is now I'm looking for a PCIx controller in the hopes it's not so hokey (aka more professional) and it works better. The problem is most of the files are transferred, but only half are still on the IDE drives.

I hope your experience is better, but if not, remember the PCIx is the better solution. If you have to spend another $25 to get a fully working controller card break the difference down over the life of the machine and it won't look so bad.

I'm disappointed that it doesn't use the PCIe bus because that would make it much better, but the horsepower alone is enough to make the investment IMHO. It's a pretty kick ass machine for the $375 bucks I paid for it and I plan to make it last as long as possible as my main machine for training, development, general storage and everything else I like to do.

If anyone has a suggestion for a nice stable and well working PCIx SATA card I'd be appreciative.
September 2, 2011 2:28:46 AM

>You also have dual 1.4Ghz XEON <

Apologies for the typo. That was supposed to be dual 2.4GHz processors.
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