Posts Tagged ‘RAID-10’

Intel Matrix RAID-10: down for the count

Summary

Intel’s Matrix RAID-10 is cost effective and extremely fast — even with regular old 7200 RPM drives — but it is not a trustworthy solution for a desktop PC. 

Go figure

No sooner did I open my mouth and blog about it, my Intel RAID-10 array died.   In dramatic fashion, two of the four drives suddenly were marked failed, and the lengthy resuscitation attempt ended in death by bluescreen. 

RAID-10 array with two of four drives failing
Not what you want to see from your RAID array

This array, composed of four enterprise-duty Seagate 500GB SATA Barracudas at 7200 RPM, provided almost 1 TB of very fast storage — faster even than a lot of SSDs. 

But it had been quirky from the moment it started life in March 2010, with almost weekly “verification” and “rebuilding” sessions.   Hey, I’m running mirrored RAID for a reason:  I hate losing data.    With the frequent issues it had, I could never completely trust the Intel Matrix RAID array.

I had a sneaking suspicion that sleeping and resuming Windows was a trigger for the Intel RAID issues;  but I can’t prove it. 

Kiddie RAID?

The opinion of “deep IT” on the forums of Tom’s Hardware and AnandTech.com is that the free-on-your-motherboard Intel Matrix RAID (the ICH9R/ICHR10R chipset) was playware.   These guys, some of whom maintain corporate servers for a living, think that folks needing “real” RAID should buy a dedicated card from Adaptec, LSI, 3Ware or Areca, at $300 and up.

For example, see the thread “A RAID that just works – no matter what” on Tom’s Hardware.

Also, having a dedicated chip on the motherboard, Intel Matrix RAID is technically firmware RAID, but actually considered to be a software RAID solution, in essence;  only dedicated controller cards are true hardware RAID. 

The OS RAID built into Windows 7 (Pro, Ultimate) and Windows Server editions runs just about as fast as Intel’s Matrix RAID, but does not support RAID-10 arrays.

RAID FAIL

I had been unwilling to part with $300 to $600 for a dedicated RAID controller – overkill except for application or database servers.

Now, the mortally wounded Intel Matrix/RST RAID-10 array was somehow showing two simultaneous failing drives out of four.   To me, the chances of two hard drives failing at the same time are astronomical, barring a power event.  Because of my poor experience with Intel’s RAID, I’m inclined to put the blame on the Intel implementation.

Intel Matrix RAID-10 array fail

I tried all the tricks in the book:  marking bad drives as “good” and rebuilding; powering down;  checking all connections; resetting the BIOS to stock settings.  I even unplugged the system to let the components “rest”  — basically the equivalent of hardware voodoo.

At the end of the day – literally – the RAID-10 array finally booted, but Windows 7 went all Code Blue on me, booting fine but crashing right after I logged in.   Safe Mode didn’t help, nor did Repairing or Restoring or anything else:

Windows 7 bluescreen

Death by RAID

She’s Dead, Jim

I had had it:  I was done with the Intel RAID array and all the verification and rebuilding… and now, its failure.  I didn’t want to waste any more time fooling with it.

Fortunately, I have put a lot of effort into organizing my documents and data – my “digital IP,” as it were.   Almost all of it resides on my primary fileserver and not on individual computers.  So if there was any bright spot to the RAID array crash, it was that I could decide at any instant to scrap my Windows install.  Which is exactly what I did.

Tip: I always re-map Windows “special folders” to network shares on my fileserver, including My Documents, My Pictures, and My Downloads.  Not only are the network shares multiply backed up and secured, but I see the same My Documents, Pictures, and Downloads on whatever computer I log into.

So I disconnected the four RAID-10 hard drives, fished out a 500 GB spare, and installed a fresh copy of Windows 7 64-bit.  No doubt this was a pain in the rear –  but it’s nothing compared to the good old days, when a hard drive crash for me usually meant losing data.

First, using the single 500 GBdrive, I tried to restore from my Windows 7 backup on the network, which failed – even though the backup had completed successfully AND I had created the recommended recovery boot CD.

Plea to Microsoft:  in 2010, this is unacceptable!  Please make Windows backup and restore completely idiot-proof!

Windows 7 restore from system image: FAIL

My, isn’t the blue background pretty?

Despite these slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, about an hour later, I had a fresh copy of Windows 7 Ultimate installed with my “core” software apps loaded: FireFox and plugins, Picasa, Windows Live Writer, etc.

Out of balance

A balanced system has few bottlenecks due to mismatched components.   Here, with the single 7200 RPM hard drive, I realized exactly how important a fast hard drive is for top-of-the-food-chain processors like the Core i7-860: the system ran noticeably slower

In my last post, “The Experience" of the i7-860, I wrote that apps like FireFox and even Internet Explorer exploded onto the screen.  Now, the experience was more like click… wait… wait…  done.   I could hear the hard drive chattering away.  

Wondering precisely how much performance I had given up, I ran PassMark’s Performance Test on this drive, a Seagate Barracuda SATA 500GB.  What ‘s interesting about these numbers is that the RAID-10 array was composed of the same type of Seagate drive:

  • It scored an overall Disk Mark of about 500, whereas the RAID-10 array scored about 1,110, over twice as fast!  
  • It benchmarked at  76 MB/s sequential read and 55 MB/s sequential write, where the RAID-10 array benchmarked at 154 MB/s read and 144 MB/s write, about twice as fast reading and three times as fast writing! 
  • Its random seek read-write was about 4 MB/s, where the RAID-10 array was 9.5 Mb/s, again over twice as fast.

    RAID-10 Array, 4 x Seagate 7200 RPM: Disk Mark DiskMark: Intel Matrix RAID-10 with 4 x  7200RPM SATA Barracuda 500GB

    Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200RPM SATA: Disk MarkDiskMark: Seagate 7200RPM SATA Barracuda 500GB

Forging ahead

This wouldn’t do at all:  I loved the responsiveness the fast hard drive array gave Windows.  It just didn’t seem to make sense, pairing one of the fastest desktop CPUs in the world with a single hard drive whose platter-spinning technology – and speed – had remained largely unchanged for at least ten years.  

The only thing that would get me close to those speeds was an SSD.  As a consultant, all that time spent trying to recover the RAID-10 array was costing me real money.

Kingston SSDNow V Series 128 GB SSD So despite the huge premium, I  bought the highly ratedKingston SSDNow V Series 128 GB SSD for use as a boot drive ($250 from NewEgg.com). 

Conclusion

The RAID-10 array was wonderfully fast and far less expensive per GB than an SSD.

But I had so many issues with it, even with “enterprise-duty” drives that are designed for server and RAID use, that I can’t really recommend Intel Matrix RAID (now Intel Rapid Storage) for this kind of array.

I am hoping the SSD will be the best of both worlds – speed and robustness.  With my new SSD on the way,  I’m excited.  Hopefully I will at least be thanking the Intel RAID team for ushering in a new era of performance storage in my life. 

Next Up: Experience and benchmarks running the Core i7-860 off an SSD.

***

More reading

  • Kingston SSDNow V Series SNV425-S2BD/128GB 2.5" Desktop Bundle 128GB SATA II Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)   On Kingston.com – On NewEgg.com 
  • A RAID that just works – no matter what” (Tom’s Hardware forum thread)
    Overwhelming consensus is that hardware RAID is the way to go for serious users.
  • ICH10R – RAID failure” (Tom’s Hardware)
    Another from-the-trenches view of the real world
  • RAID-5 vs. RAID-10 (Art S. Kagel)
    An interesting, well-informed dissection of why RAID-5 should never be trusted with your data.
  • Intel Rapid Storage Technology Wikipedia
    Intel Rapid Storage Technology (early Intel Matrix RAID) is a firmware RAID system, rather than hardware RAID or software RAID.
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