My history of RAID and storage

April 23, 2009 // 10:46 a.m.

Tags: #backup #intel #matrix #nas #raid #storage

So I run three terabyte Samsung F1 drives in RAID 5 at home from a motherboard with an Intel ICH9R Southbridge with Matrix RAID. It's 'onboard RAID' but even so, I've still been impressed.

My experience with Matrix RAID has transversed the ages ever since Intel introduced the technology. Previously I've played with Western Digital Raptor 74GB hard drives connected to an ICH6R (on an Intel 925X reference board) and getting all sorts of super-sized theoretical bandwidth figures for fun and it booted a fresh install of Windows XP like lightening. Yay for a bit of e-peen swinging, hey?
After that came two Maxtor 300GB hard drives in RAID 1 on an Abit 955X motherboard and I soon came to the conclusion that I would never, ever buy a Maxtor hard drive again. RAID 1 is great idea - until the DiamondMax 10 hard drive controller corrupts and writes wrong data to one, confusing the RAID software about who has the right data... Chalking it up to experience didn't do much for my mood at the time given that 300GB of precious data has gone down the pan. We've all been there, we've all felt that pain.

My quest for reliable storage then lead me to try tape (SCSI! wooo!) but that took too long and couldn't be automated - plus the drive got dusty and the outcome was high cost and high pain-in-the-arse factor for little gain. DVD-RWs are far cheaper than reels of Crome-Oxide, but are too small for mass storage needs.

I moved on and tried an external hard drive over the newer and faster eSATA but the JMicron chipset on my Asus P965 motherboard threw a fit under Vista and blue-screened my PC whenever I plugged it in. This was despite the fact it was a P5B Deluxe Vista Editionmotherboard. The 500GB of the Western Digital MyBook was also limited as it was a self-contained unit it wasn't upgradable. So that idea went too.

Discovering FreeNAS and a cheap mini-ITX board in our trading forums, I then built myself a NAS box. Firstly I built this, which was fun but ran too hot or too noisily, so eventually I bought a Cubit3 case for £40. It was a little beauty, running FreeNAS from a USB stick, with software RAID1 (Western Digital drives this time), mounted with rubber bands to reduce vibration, and a silent 14dB 80mm fan to keep everything cool. Before I got much time to use it for myself, my parents/family required something similar and so I gave it away. They still use it today - three years later.

My history of RAID and storage Intel Matrix Storage, CoolIT Domino ALC and the Akasa Mirage

As you can see, my storage history is very varied, and here I am, settled on buying cheap 1TB Samsung F1 hard drives, RAID 5ing them and convinced Intel's Matrix Storage is great.

Well, for one, it's helpful. I recently upgraded my CPU cooler to the CoolIT Domino ALC and plugged the drives back into different ports. The software automatically detected the RAID setup requires re-initialisation and a redundancy check, but has gone about sorting itself out in the background. Very nice! I can still explore the array and pull data off it, but the downside is that it's only 3 percent done it's going to take another 8 hours and 45 minutes to finish. At 10pm this evening I'll be able (brave enough) to shut down my PC. So, considering what I've been through to date, I'm impressed, but I'm having to expend a lot of patience to keep my data safe.

Ask Harry and he'll tell you that patience is not something I'm naturally in possession of. Normally if it doesn't work right I resort to the fist smack and shout at it method of correction, despite its low success rate.

One thing I do particularly like about the Matrix RAID technology is that you can migrate it across Southbridges - and therefore upgrade your motherboard. Having said that I've not tried a RAID 5 migration, and not with either ICH9R or 10R but I have moved a RAID 0 and RAID 1 array up a generation without issue. This gives me faith that when upgrading I can most likely take my critical storage with me.