Enabling RAID 1 on a Dell Vostro 220

Over Christmas, the main hard disc on our 5.5 year old Dell mini tower failed, causing us to replace the computer with a new one. We could have replaced the disc, but we had had other components in it fail in the past year, so its time was up. We didn’t really loose any data, as the majority was already stored on our server and backed up regularly. What was more of a problem was the assortment of programs that had been installed and configured over the years. The thought of having to re-install and reconfigure these wasn’t something I was looking forward to, especially if I had to change the operating system to Windows Vista, from Windows XP. Some of the programs would need upgrading to run on Vista and the cost would be prohibitive.

Dell do a range of computers for Small Business, called Vostro which are very well specified and which also offered the option to ‘downgrade’ from Vista to XP for £10. This seemed a very good solution to me. We specified a Vostro 220 mini tower system with a dual output graphics card to match the functionality we already had. This also became the point at which we changed from a pair of 17″ CRT monitors to a pair of 19″ widescreen TFT monitors. The thought was to re-arrange our desk to minimise the items on it. To accomplish this we bought a Belkin OmniView Pro2 KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch which would allow us to run both the new computer and Jo’s laptop sharing one of the screens and the other screen only attached to the new system.

ATI Radeon HD 3650 graphics cardWhen the system arrived, I was in for a surprise with the dual outputs on the graphics card. I was expecting a pair of DVI (white digital connector on the left) outputs. I should have checked the specifications of the ATI Radeon HD 3650 card that Dell provided more carefully. It had one DVI output (which I promptly had to convert back to VGA to attach to the KVM switch) and a Display Port and HDMI output. I had to get a HDMI to DVI cable to attach the second monitor.

Dell Vostro 220 mini towerI had planned to move my Creative Labs Audigy 2 soundcard and Live Drive (drive bay mounted additional inputs including Firewire which I use for my negative scanner) from our old system to the new computer. Installing and configuring the sound card was easy and then I tried to install the drive bay expansion. The old system had the required Molex power connection (white connector with 4 wires) to power the expansion device, however the new system only had SATA power connectors for the drives, even for the DVD drive. I had to buy a convertor cable to change from SATA power to Molex power before I could install it. Then when I tried to reattach the front of the case, I found that it was designed for optical devices in the drive bays and didn’t provide a full 5.25 drive bay hole. I could have tried to hack the case to make it fit, but in the end replaced the sound card with a Creative Labs Audigy 2ZS with external expansion. This still required the SATA to Molex power convertor to provide the additional power to the sound card to power the external box, but is a better solution.

I purchased a second hard disc this week to enable RAID 1 on our Vostro 220 mini tower. RAID 1 is when the same data is written to 2 discs, meaning that the discs are mirrored. This provides redundancy if one of the hard disc fails; the computer will carry one working as normal. You then just replace the failed disc and re-create the mirror to restore the fault tolerance. We didn’t buy the second hard disc at the time we bought the system from Dell, for a couple of reasons. First, we were spending enough at the time and it wasn’t necessary to make the system work. Secondly, Dell wanted £130 for an additional 500GB hard disc, but sourcing it seperately would be about £50.

Intel Matrix Storage ConsoleI installed the second drive in the lower hard disc bay in the tower and attached the available power connector to it. There wasn’t a spare SATA data cable attached to the motherboard, so I had to use a SATA cable from a USB to IDE/SATA kit that I had. This only need to be a short cable as the motherboard connections were almost under the hard disc. After restarting the computer, I entered the BIOS (F2 on startup), the second hard disc was already detected and then I changed the SATA Mode to RAID from AHCI (under Integrated Peripherals). I saved the settings and restarted the computer. Windows informed me that new hardware was detected and wanted to restart, so I let it. The next time it started I ran the Intel Matrix Storage Console. I switched to Advanced Mode and saw that both drives were showing (the original on Port 0 and the new one on Port 2).  I selected Actions, Create RAID Volume from Existing Hard Drive. I then selected RAID 1 (mirroring), the other option RAID 0 (striping) creates a single volume striped across both discs. This gives a single large partition, but in my opinion is worse than two separate discs because if one drive fails, you will loose all data stored on both discs instead of just loosing one disc worth. Anyway back to the RAID 1 creation, I then selected the disc on PORT 0 as the source and the one on Port 2 as the member disc and let it get on with creating the mirror. It took just under 3 hours to mirror the existing 500GB drive. I am now protected if my system disc fails, which is a good place to be.

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