Disk Preparation
Doing the
SATA thing

Time to bite the serial bullet....
SATA Leads
Dateline July 2005: Time for a new motherboard and being an avid AMD supporter, why not an AMD 64 CPU too. No plans to install XP64 yet due to the shortage of 64-bit drivers and software, but the Gigabyte K8T890 did come with some of the newer hardware features, such as PCI Express and SATA.

So time for the inevitable upgrade of other components too: a PCI-E graphics card and SATA hard disk. The board still has the ATA133 IDE interface for parallel devices, which is handy for transferring stuff from my previous Western Digital 200GB IDE drive. I decided to have a play with SATA RAID and plumped for an identical pair of smaller Western Digital 120GB SATA drives.

The Gigabyte board supports hardware RAID, which is always better than software RAID and I decided to try and get some extra performance by using a RAID 0 by striping data across both the drives (see above hyperlink for a detailed description of the different RAID configurations).

Comparison of SATA vs PATA What this means is you configure the RAID settings in the BIOS, which will make the operating system see both hard disks as a single disk. The data is stored across both hard disks, theoretically making the system faster by pulling data off both disks simultaneously. The downside is that there's no redundancy: if one disk dies you lose everything off the volume set. A separate backup system is, as always, essential.

Windows XP currently does not support SATA from the installation CD and so you hit the F6 button during install to "specify additional storage" and insert the motherboard's driver disk. I did have a bit of trouble at first with Windows not 'seeing' the SATA disks. This happened whether the disks were in RAID or in normal 'separate disk' modes. Getting the latest version of the SATA driver from the internet soon fixed things up - hurrah!

Once installed, Windows really does just 'see' only one volume. Even in Windows' Disk Manager, it's just like you've got one big hard disk in there..

Windows XP's Disk Manager

..although the VIA RAID Tool indicates the true state of affairs



As previously mentioned, some form of backup is essential and once the data was transferred to the RAID system following the Windows install, the Western Digital 200GB disk was installed into an external USB2 enclosure for on-the-spot backups, as required.

The other form of backup, of which I am extremely fond, is good old Norton Ghost. During the Windows install, I was careful to create a few system restore points along the way, just in case some driver screwed the whole thing up. However I was interested to see how Ghost would cope with the RAID setup as Norton's official line is that SATA's not supported, although " may work."

SATA on the motherboard My version is Norton Ghost 2003 (Corporate Edition) and so I just lobbed the diskette into the drive and rebooted.

Much to my utter pleasure the thing detected the SATA drives as a RAID0 and treated the whole thing just like a single hard disk, just like Windows.

This is one of the big benefits of hardware RAID, a software RAID wouldn't have allowed this as it is run by the operating system - no good when booting to DOS..

And that's about it really. The whole system acts just like it's got a single hard disk. Set it up in the BIOS and forget it! Windows is definitely quicker to load and runs noticeably smoother. Next time you upgrade, go for a SATA board and instead of one humungous hard disk, get a pair of smaller ones and whack them into a RAID setup. As long as you back up, you won't regret it..
- A.

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