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Dell Optiplex 745 Mini_Tower RAID?

I have a Dell OptiPlex 745 MT with Windows 7 Pro 64 and a major application already installed and running.

I need to add RAID 1.

I can't confirm that this computer BIOS will support RAID as I've read conflicting things.
If I have to add a RAID card, which appears feasible, I'm concerned about finding a driver for the 64-bit OS.

Any experience with this?
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Fred Marshall
Asked:
Fred Marshall
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2 Solutions
 
PerarduaadastraCommented:
Have a chat with Dell and get them to confirm (or otherwise) whether or not your particular machine has native RAID support. If it doesn't, then any RAID controller vendor should have a list of supported OSes.

For example, Adaptec offer this:

http://www.adaptec.com/en-us/products/series/6e/

... and confirm OS support here:

http://ask.adaptec.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/17115

There are other reputable RAID controller vendors such as LSI, to name just one.
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Manfred BertlManagerCommented:
If you not have already RAID features integrated in your system (like in the BIOS), you can of course add a RAID controller in one of the free slots (either PCI or PCIe, depending on what your systems supports). When doing so, i'd suggest do backup your system completely, because most RAID controllers need to initialize a freshly created RAID1, which means, you would loose all your installed data. Best way of doing that is, to make a full system image. Then first install the driver for your RAID controller first (before install it in the computer), and then install the RAID Controller, create your required RAID1, then restore your system image to the new RAID. Your system should boot properly. (in worst case, you have a system image as a backup to fully go back).
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rindiCommented:
Never use those fake-RAID controllers in RAID mode which most desktop boards have included these days. They are terribly unreliable and perform badly.

Rather just add the other disk to the PC, then go into disk-management, and set up your built-in OS RAID 1. That is far more reliable, and the performance is also better, as that RAID can do load balancing, which only some very expensive real hardware RAID controllers can do (and that usually not even as well). Also with OS built-in RAID, you aren't forced to use enterprise class disks, desktop disks will usually work fine too (although enterprise class disks would be better).
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garycaseCommented:
The OptiPlex 745MT uses the Q965 ICH8-based chipset, which does NOT support RAID  (RAID requires an ICH8R), so you'll need to add a controller card if you want to use RAID-1.

Be sure you get a bootable card (not all are) if you want to boot the OS from the RAID array.

Note that only the MiniTower version has a full-size PCIe x16 slot, which is the best choice for a RAID adapter card.    The Desktop and SFF units require low profile cards, and the USFF doesn't have this slot.   AND be sure it's not already in use for a graphics card (if you're using onboard video, it will be; but if there's a dedicated video card this slot will already be in use).

If the PCIe x16 slot isn't available, you'll want to use a PCIe x1 card if you have the MiniTower;  otherwise you'll have to use a PCI card adapter (not as good a choice) -- or switch to onboard video and use the PCIe x16 slot.
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garycaseCommented:
... since you have Windows 7 Pro you can indeed use the built-in disk mirroring in Windows 7.   You'll need to convert your disk to dynamic, and then you can "add mirror" with the new disk.   It's a bit tricky with the OS partition ... but it does work.

I'd suggest you IMAGE your OS partition before you start, however ... and save the image on another drive (external) -- to be sure you can easily recover if anything goes awry while you're setting it up.
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Manfred BertlManagerCommented:
But remind, the built-in Windows RAID mirroring ia a Software RAID, like all the other fake-RAID controllers (they are much worse). It just simulates the RAID1 feature, but has to do that with software, which means, it costs CPU time to calculate, not like a hardware controller, which does that by itself.
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rindiCommented:
You can easily forget about the CPU load, that with today's CPU power is practically nil and therefore in-noticable. It may have been a different story over a decade ago with Pentium III or even lower powered CPU's, but today that is moot.
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Fred MarshallAuthor Commented:
Well, this is a 3.xGHz Pentium 4.  Whattya think of that?
It appears that the HighPoint RocketRAID 642L will work in the PCI-e 16 slot.
But, it says "PCI-e 2" and would the OptiPlex be compatible?
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rindiCommented:
Just use OS software RAID as I mentioned already. It is much more reliable and performs better. That isn't a real hardware RAID controller, but rather a hardware assisted RAID card, and that is only a little less bad than a pure fake-RAID controller.
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garycaseCommented:
Yes, the 642L will work fine.   The PCIe bus is backwards compatible, so a v2 card will work fine in your system.

The HighPoint hardware-assisted cards work very well with Windows, and provide several features you won't get with a simple mirrored dynamic disk configuration (e.g. a software RAID-1 mirror through disk manager) ... most notably online capacity expansion and support for migration to other RAID levels, should your needs ever evolve to that.

Well worth the modest cost of the controller..
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Fred MarshallAuthor Commented:
What experience is there that the OS RAID is "much more reliable and performs better"?
I remain concerned that this is only a Pentium 4 system and that adding a software load could be inadvisable.

How is it "a little less bad than a pure fake-RAID controller"?
How is it bad at all?

How does that reconcile with "the 642L will work fine"?

I understand hardware vs. software but I don't really understand "pure fake" vs. "less bad".
What does the 642L do?  Not do? in that context?
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Manfred BertlManagerCommented:
The difference in short words would be: with the 642L, you can access the RAID only with the driver (you would have to provide that before setup will recognize your drive). The software RAID does not need any driver.
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garycaseCommented:
Either method will work fine.    If you use Windows mirroring, the drives have to be converted to dynamic drives.     This can complicate the use of some disk tools ... both data recovery and things like imaging utilities.    But for a simple mirror (RAID-1) it's not going to be enough of a CPU load to make a noticeable difference in performance.

With a hardware-assisted RAID card like the 642L, the disks maintain a standard format, but you DO need to install drivers for the card in Windows.    The biggest advantage of the card is as I noted earlier -- it supports more types of RAID, and provides the ability to expand the array "in place" ... or even to change the RAID type if you should need to do that.    The management software provided for the RocketRAID is FAR better than what you can do with a Windows mirror -- there's basically NO management capabilities in Windows ... you just set up the mirror, and that's all you can do.

I do NOT agree that software RAID will "perform better" ... they'll have equal performance; but the RocketRAID has far better management and is much simpler to use in the event of a disk failure.   It also allows online capacity expansion, which is not possible with the software implementation.
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rindiCommented:
All fake-RAID controllers are cheap crap, built mainly because all mainboard manufacturer's include them, for marketing purposes. That means they are bad. If you use them in "Non-RAID" mode, that is fine though. The hardware assisted 642 Only add a few features, but it doesn't have it's own RAID CPU, cache and battery backup that a real controller has. Like fake-RAID controllers it uses the PC's CPU for RAID functions (so it uses CPU cycles just as OS software RAID would).

The PC of yours normally doesn't have "just a Pentium IV", but rather normally it comes a with Core 2 Duo CPU, that isn't too bad. Besides, even with old Pentium IV CPU's you have enough horsepower to not notice any RAID overhead, particularly if all you are using is RAID 1.

With any RAID controller you need enterprise class disks to get some sort of reliability (with RAID controllers used together with desktop disks I've never seen a stable system, the disks just go offline even if they have no issues). With OS RAID I've seen the cheapest disks work reliably, at least until the disk actually fails. Besides, as I mentioned earlier, OS RAID does load balancing, so you get better read speeds (higher performance) when compared to fake-RAID and most hardware RAID controllers.

So save yourself wasting money...
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garycaseCommented:
I agree that with RAID-1 there's no performance advantage of using an add-in card ... the key difference is in the management features.    I'm sure rindi's right about the mirrored disks doing load balancing on reads, but I think the RocketRAID does this as well (but don't know that for certain).

As for the reliability with various disks ... high-performance RAID controllers are indeed very sensitive to this -- they'll fail a disk if it takes too long to do a recalibration, so you need disks that use "TLER" (time limited error recovery).   But I don't think an inexpensive hardware-assisted controller has this problem.

Nevertheless, I don't disagree that you can simply use Windows built-in mirroring to do what you've asked here and save the cost of the controller.   A simple disk mirroring operation isn't a stressful CPU activity ... even on the Pentium IV in your system.

r.e. "... The PC of yours normally doesn't have "just a Pentium IV", but rather normally it comes a with Core 2 Duo CPU ..."  ==>  The OptiPlex 745 series shipped with Pentium IV's, Pentium D's, Celeron D's, and Core 2 Duo's  ... so I'm not sure I'd say it "normally comes with the Core 2".      But even with a Pentium IV, it's got plenty of "horsepower" for the software RAID option.
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Danny ChildIT ManagerCommented:
you can check the original shipping spec of your PC with the Dell warranty tool.
This should tell you the CPU that it shipped with.  You'll need the service tag from the outside of the box.
http://www.dell.com/support/home/us/en/04?c=&l=&s=bsd

I'd be a little concerned about putting a critical app on a PC of this age (even with RAID?).  It will almost certainly be out of warranty.  I think they were first launched in 2006?
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garycaseCommented:
"... you can check the original shipping spec of your PC with the Dell warranty tool.     This should tell you the CPU that it shipped with."

?? WHY ?? ... the author already knows what the CPU is:  "... Well, this is a 3.xGHz Pentium 4"
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Fred MarshallAuthor Commented:
Thanks
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