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Using WindowsXP to Make RAID 5 Happen

Conclusion

There was definitely some amazement at THG's storage test lab, since handling a RAID 5 array under WindowsXP proved to be extremely doable. Relocating the RAID administration from controllers to the operating system may not be a powerful solution, but it enables a level of flexibility that is not common in the storage area. Any WindowsXP system is technically capable of running RAID arrays, as long as the desired amount of hard drives can be attached. It does not matter what hardware you are using. For RAID 5, merely three files need to be altered.

Our drive failure simulation passed with flying colors, as the rebuild process can be initiated easily even by less experienced users. In addition, it took about the same time that hardware-based RAID solutions would require. Yet we need to mention Windows security as an important issue, since access to the disk management will enable everybody to wipe out the whole array within seconds.

Another advantage of our WindowsXP RAID 5 approach is its unbeatable price point. Besides that hard drives one obviously needs to get, all you need is an adequate amount of storage ports on your motherboard or the controllers used. Buying expensive RAID controllers is no longer necessary here.

At the end of the day there is one downside left: Windows RAID 5 by far does not work as fast as hardware-based solutions. However, file servers do not always need to be as quick as possible. If you need to set up a redundant file server for occasional access and little traffic, a Windows RAID should definitely be an option to consider. But be careful: Once the RAID is rendered, you cannot transfer it to any of the hardware RAID controllers. Changing your mind this will always require reinstalling the whole array.

  • Can I grow an array made this way? That is, add another disk without having to lose the data currently held on the raid?
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  • op365
    From past experience with Hardware RAID, you would have to first backup your data and then break the RAID and put in the higher capacity drives and create a new container.
    The feature that you want/asking about is called X-RAID
    Reply
  • micokeman
    I have used this hack and it works, but there are some problems that can occur. First of all, if you do this on SP2 and upgrade to SP3, XP will no longer see the RAID5 drives. Uninstalling SP3 allowed me to regain access to the RAID5 devices, but I would continuously get blue screens. After a repair of XP I no longer got blue screens, but I could also no longer see the data on the RAID5 drives. I suspect XP saw them as foreign drives and XP can't import foreign RAID drives!!! Yes, the hack works, but be aware that a service pack upgrade might render the data inaccessible.
    For those of you wondering, I was able to get my data back by installing Server 2003 and importing the RAID5 drives. No data lost, WHEW! You can also use a trial Windows Server 2003 to access your data for 30 days. Get the download from here.
    Reply
  • This works with SP3 and also with the x64 version of XP.

    To get it to work with SP3, you just have to redo the changes above.

    To get it to work with x64, just locate those same strings in the files and apply the changes. Notice how the changes are only swapping the locations of the words SERVERNT and WINNT. I'd post the exact changes here, but it would take forever to type out all of those hex values. UltraEdit doesn't seem to allow one to copy the hex data to the clipboard.

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  • I have also notice the problem when upgrading to SP3 that the RAID no longer works. Even after changing the files (dmboot.sys, dmconfig.dll, dmadmin.exe) on the SP3 release I still could not get RAID to work correctly. I have taken the 3 files from a system running SP2 and copied them to the system running SP3. It looks like the SP2 files work on SP3 but I have only had the system running for about a week.
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  • SlAoTkAiN
    I was lucky and installed sp3 and then used the hack and got a the raid working. The only problem I'm seeing is that XP doesn't start up the raid at boot. I have to go into manage and re-activate the drive. Anyone have any suggestions?
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  • I got it working again after migrating from sp2 to sp3, but I have to go into manage and re-activate the drive every time I reboot.
    Anyone has a solution for this?
    Reply
  • tiborakos
    After spent a week wondering what went wrong with my XP SP2 raid5 setup...i fell into this, and remembered i hd installed SP3 as well!!!
    Is there a way to get those SP2 files from somewhere please? Else i think i might try the server2003 solution.
    As for the "re-activate the drive every time I reboot" it has happened to me in my old PC after the mod, but could not find a way to solve it
    Reply
  • cwilk
    I am lost with the hex editing. I tried a fix from Randem Systems but that doesnt work. Anyone have a copy of the files i can get?
    Reply
  • tiborakos
    Cannot help with the files unless you want mine. btw, i managed to get the Raid5 volume working again, after uninstalling SP3 and getting back to SP2.
    What if i copy the files, install SP3 again and just replace them with the current ones? Do you think it might work? Or i will end up needing "reactivate the drive every time i reboot" ?
    Reply