Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lack of Posts (and cycle rides) - PC repairs

So that is part of the reason I have not been cycling (or Posting), the other part of the reason is I have had to replace the disk drives in my computer. The computer has been crashing occasionally and has reported some issues with one of the hard drives. When I bought the computer I decided that I wanted a fast machine and specified a RAID 0 set up with two hard disk drives - which act together as one "virtual" disk drive. To be honest I am not sure quite how much faster, the data is striped across them so that files are stored across two drives in what is known as Raid 0. A quick search suggests something like 20-30% depending on what you are doing.

What I didn't think through with this particular technique is that if either disk fails then the virtual disk fails and the information stored on them is no longer available. So when I started getting messages reporting that one member of the array (which means one of the two disks in the array) was failing and that I ought to back up as soon as possible - if the failure was not too catastrophic, I decided I'd better sort it out over Christmas. There have been indications that problems were afoot earlier in the year. I then started running three backups a week after buying Acronis True Image 2010 software. I bought it because it was faster than the Windows 7 backup software, but it also came with a disk cloning capability.

Now I am not too unfamiliar with the insides of computers and although I have not built a PC from scratch I have replaced various graphics/sound and network cards and drives in computers before. My current desktop computer started life with Vista and I upgraded it to Windows 7 last Christmas. That went remarkably smoothly and certainly helped to boost the performance - or perhaps stopped smothering the performance of the computer.

So parts of Christmas were spent reading as much as I could on the Net about RAID disks and more specifically my particular computer - Dell 9200 - and what to upgrade it with. The electronics industry is full of acronyms, that even people in the industry find a challenge sometimes. However I worked out what type of disks I needed (SATA - Serial ATA or Serial Advanced Technology Attachment). I also checked out what upgrade-ability my computer had - the problem is that as technology marches on there is no guarantee an old computer can use it. More specifically I wanted to check whether the Operating System/BIOS had limitations on the storage capacity of disk drives.

The machine had two 500Gb drives operating as one 1Tb drive (with around 250Gb spare) and I wanted to both increase the storage and to make it safer. I also wanted to avoid having to reload the operating system and the various programs that I use. That would have meant finding various disks and keys and passwords. Even though I try to minimise the number of pieces of software I use it still adds up - not to mention configuring them.

At this point I ended up reading a lot about the chipsets used in my desktop Computer along with what RAID configurations they would support and also whether there was room in the computer cabinet for additional drives. It seemed that the despite its old age (in computer terms) there was still life in the iP965 chipset and associated ICH8DH raid interface. The computer had spare SATA ports but it was unclear quite where the actual disk drives might go. It was also reassuring that the documentation indicated that it was possible to migrate from a single (non Raid) disk to a Raid 0 or Raid 1 set up. I also discovered that in a Dell computer they might only support a subset of what the chiipset could support.

So the goal became one of replacing the two disk drives in a Raid 0 configuration with two larger ones in a Raid 1 configuration. Essentially in Raid 1 the second drive is a mirror of the first, so if either drive fails the other one still has all the data on it and continues to operate. The only downside is that you need twice as much disk space. So if I was going to replace 1Tb of storage (2 x 500gb disks in Raid 0) I would need at least 2x 1Tb in raid 1. So if I wanted to increase the amount of disk storage available I would either need to use larger drives or add additional disk drives to my system. (As it was an "old" machine I did not want to add to much in the way of additional load on the power supply either.)

My plan became one of buying one disk drive to check my system was capable of handling 2Tb. I was originally hoping to use a 1Tb Samsung SATA drive which was on sale at PC World, and seemed a sweet spot for storage versus cost but it had sold out and I needed 2Tb for Raid 1 so I bought one WD Caviar Green 2Tb disk instead to check it out before buying another The steps were:

1: Complete system back up

2: Additional data back up - pictures, music, cycling and email

Clone the C: drive (2x500Gb ) onto a single drive as a non RAID drive

4: Replace the two Raid 0 systems disks with the single 2TB cloned system disk

5: Re-boot the system - check it works

6: Buy and then add a second 2Tb Drive

7: Convert the non Raid system disk to a Raid 1 system (where the second drive mirrors the first)

To cut a long story very short that is what I did. However some of the steps took quite a long time. The first back up took around 6 hours. The second was much quicker as I had basically already synchronised much of the data and so it was only an incremental back up. For step 3 instead of plugging the new drive in the cabinet I bought a SATA/IDE to USB disk caddy. Basically it allowed me to plug in the new SATA drive to a spare USB port and use it a a USB drive. I was unsure whether it would work with the cloning software, but it would allow me to investigate the old drives from my laptop if necessary just in case. The first shock was that the cables in the Caddy did not fit my new drive, but the problem was quickly fixed, the Caddy did take both IDE and SATA disk drives I just had to swap the cables.

I then plugged USB from the Caddy into my desktop computer and waited. Software drivers loaded but no drive appeared - I needed to use an Admin program called Disk Management to create a volume on the new drive and then format it. I chose the simple options including setting it as an MBR (Master Boot record) type. I then made the mistake of not letting it go on to format the disk and had to go back and do it. Once that was complete it was ready and available as a new disk.

I had spent a lot of time on the Acronis forums looking at what was possible and was not totally clear whether the Cloning would work from a Raid to a normal disk and if it worked how it would deal with the dissimilar disk drives sizes (from 1Tb to 2Tb). It did work and I cloned all the partitions on the C drive, although some were related to the old Vista OS I suspect. I did have to download the newest version though - which meant creating an Acronis account, a minor delay.

I had some problems with the cloning options I had to specify a manual sizing of partitions but then accept the partition sizes from the original C drive. The cloning took around 8 hours, it might have been quicker if the drive had been plugged in as a SATA drive rather than through the Caddy - but this way seemed easier. One thing I was not prepared for was that the Acronis software needed the machine to be re-booted and then took over to run the Cloning operation. The graphic interface was a simple teletype format.

After the cloning had completed I re-booted the machine to find the new disk had a clone of the C drive on it. (With a different drive letter). The partitions were also identical in size leaving me with a 2Tb drive with only 1Tb available! Fortunately I was able to resize the partition using the Disk management software - although I was fooled at first by which disk was which.

I was now ready to do the disk swap. I labelled all the cables as I disconnected them from the Computer cabinet and then used the vacuum cleaner on the huge amount of dust when I opened up the cabinet. You'd be surprised how much dust builds up over a year. (It was last Christmas that I vacuumed the cabinet.) Then I took out the two old drives and popped in the new one, re-connected the keyboard, Ethernet and monitor cables and re-booted it. At this point it did recognise there had been changes and I went into the Setup mode. I set it to indicate there was no SATA 1 drive, but left it as a RAID configuration. I had read somewhere that to change the setting to automatically detect Raid could cause problems and that the RAID setting would recognise that it only had one drive. Relief it then booted up as "normal" loaded a disk driver for the drive it had just booted from and requested a reboot, so I did.

After a quick play to check everything was OK, including that the whole of the drive was available, I then bought a second drive (same type 2Tb WD) put it into the Caddy, went through the adding of a simple volume and formatting it and then stuck it into the Computer cabinet. I guess I could have done that without using the Caddy - but if it ain't broke don't fix it. On bootup I "told it" there was now a SATA1 drive and I now had a machine with 2 x 2T disks in it. One was the boot disk with everything on it the second was empty. I now needed to convert it to a Raid 1 set up. I ran the Intel Storage Console to manage the Raid system unfortunately it would only allow me to convert to a Raid 0. Ah well at least I had a functioning system. After some web-digging I found some new Intel software, renamed to put off people like me and with warnings about compatibility - so I installed it. After the inevitable re-boot I now had Intel Rapid Storage technology that had far more bells and whistles including the facility to convert from two separate disks to one Raid 1 volume. At this point I checked and re-checked that my conversion was the right way round. You have to nominate the source disk and select the option of retaining the information - I then put it to go.

This time around the program took around 18 hours to complete and all the while I had was worried that I might have got the source and destination the wrong way round. But no, it completed I then re-booted it, it loaded yet another driver and I re-booted it again and I now had a computer back to where it was before - with more disk space and maintaining a copy of the disk should problems occur. I can't say I've noticed it has gotten much slower either.

Since change I have also relaxed the back up and now only back up once a week. Which has left me with a minor problem that the old back up schedule causes problems in the Event logs. I can't really complain though the Acronis software did make it pretty painless.


1 comment:

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