During the last couple of posts on RAID, I talked about both software and hardware RAID. Since that time I had a small issue which sent looking for a better solution. Specifically, I had a power outage the other day which caused my test server to shut off (yours truly forgot to hook up the USB cable from the UPS). When I powered it back on after I got home from from work, I noticed that the software array had been disturbed and that it was rebuilding itself. Granted, this is exactly what it is supposed to do if it detects a problem but it kind of bugged me that it took something this small to set it off. To make things even worse, the rebuild took as long as the initial build which around 96 hours. I had a hardware array on this systems as well and nothing happened to that so it was only the software array. At this point I realized that an array this large is probably not practical done in software as it is just to slow if has to rebuild. So I set out to find a decent hardware controller that would not require a second mortgage to purchase and that would provide for around 8 sata ports.
In my frequent travels to newegg.com, l discovered the Highpoint RocketRAID 2680 which happened to be on sale for around $139, a $140 off the normal price. After doing some homework it appeared to be a decent controller and supported 8 sata ports through a breakout cable (see below). The card itself has twos SFF-8087 connectors which allows the card to be very small.
The concept here is that you plug the SFF connector on to the controller and attach the drives to the breakout. Each cable supports 4 sata drives and there are two connectors on the card for a total of 8 sata drives supported.
4 Sata ports per cable. Each us labeled nicely and cables are very pliable.
SFF-8087 connector that plugs into the controller card.
Card is a 4x PCI express. Heatsink gets hot after hard use.
Package Contents. Also came with SFF to SFF cable to chain controllers together.
This is what it looks like inserted into the motherboard with the breakout cables attached.
The control BIOS which is accessed by “CTRL+H” during boot up. You do most things from here or the software screen depending on your preference and situation.
The first array I created was using 5 older 2T “EADS” drives in a single array for a total of 8T of available storage. The array took 37 hours to build which is still a long time but dramatically faster than the software array which took 96 hours for a smaller array (4x2T).
I also took the last three ports and added 3 2T “EARS” drives for a second array of 4T. This gave me a total of 12T (8T + 4T) which should be enough for even the most demanding users.
All in all, I found the experience to be fairly painless. The controller itself seems very fast and overall is straightforward once you get past the terminology. Compared to other controllers, I saw it as very cost effective (assuming you can get it on sale) especially when compared to 4 port controllers. The end result turned out better than I expected and I feel better with regards to the safety of the data. During my experimentation, I was able to set it up, delete the OS and re-install a different OS, load the drivers and everything re-appeared with out incident. Swapping the motherboard also yielded the same result. Considering the RAID 5 protection, not having to worry that I have the right motherboard if something goes bad, or worrying that something will go wrong because I installed a new OS, I have a much better feeling about using this technology. Also, the first RAID array has 4 identical disks and 1 of a different vintage and it seems to work without an issue. This particular server I am testing will become my Vail test box when the next refresh comes out so I will publish an update once I install Vail and see how it interacts with this RAID configuration. I plan to install Vail it on an ICY box using two laptop drives in a mirrored configuration. Stay tuned and let me know if you have any questions or comments.
2. Not motherboard dependent
4. Not OS dependent (Tried WHS, Server 2008, and Win7 without issue)
5. On sale, it is relatively low cost
1. Requires the purchase of separate cables ($29 for each breakout, 4 Sata plugs)
2. Although much faster than software, initial build and rebuilds do take time
3. Although not very difficult, it does require a moderate technical skill
4. Controller did run a bit hot for my taste especially after about a few days of solid copying, but a small fan resolved the issue quickly.