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Hi...I'm trying to setup on XP Home an LG Electronics SATA GH22NS30

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Motherboard chipset, 2) bus master transfers work a LOT better. The best way to debug what's really happening will probably require a PCI-e bus analyzer. I remember the first time I used a PCI bus analyzer to optimize a driver, it was VERY enlightening (or depressing might be more correct).


DVD-writer on an older Intel D845PEBT2 motherboard (ICH4 core) with a
Silicon Image Si3112 SATA controller. It 'should' work but something
is wrong.

The drive reads both DVD and CD data disks, but a bit slow (8 MB/s). I
can't write either type at all. Using Nero 7, or another writer, it
stalls consistently about 10% into the write, even in simulate mode.
Both the Silicon Image configuration utility and Nero report the drive
in PIO4 mode.

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I have been able to boot from the writer by configuring it to do that
in BIOS, but there's nothing else in BIOS related to SATA except a
means to enable RAID, which I don't want. I returned the drive to the
retailer and they supposedly tested it. They claim it's working fine.

It seems the PIO4 mode is way too slow but I have no means to manually
switch to UDMA mode. There is a feature in the SI config utility for
switching between modes, but all it does is write an entry to the
registry which is ignored. There is nothing in Device Manager for
switching modes.

I have a hunch it may have something to do with Microsoft. They check
for CRC errors, and if found, they drop the transfer rate back one
level at a time till a suitable level is found. I don't know where
they do that, but if that is the case, it's supposed to revert to UDMA
mode if the driver is deleted and re-installed. It doesn't, unless
it's doing it so fast I'm missing it.

I'm out of ideas. I downloaded the WDK and may try to trace the code
using a debugger. Before doing that, I'm hoping someone will know
something.

RAID is one of those legendary geek topics that can work people into a frenzy. Ask any IT manager what their preferred RAID level is and they will have a strong opinion, likely formed over years of experience. Solid State Drives (SSD) have muscled in on turf traditionally held by mechanical drives. But mechanical can still dominate when the discussion moves to max capacity. Today’s SSDs max out around 1 TB while mechanical drives offer up to 4 TB of storage.

I’m not going to get into the ring with anyone to debate RAID levels, but it is worth starting any discussion about RAID with a simple definition:

RAID: Redundant Array of Independent Disks

RAID combines multiple disks into a logical unit for the purpose of data redundancy, performance improvement or a combination of the two. I should note here that I’m referring to hardware RAID rather than software RAID which is implemented at the operating system level.

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What I want to discuss today isn’t RAID itself but mechanical drives used in RAID arrays. Most consumers that purchase a computer today consider the drive’s capacity and maybe the brand, but not much else. And that’s just fine. Companies such as Western Digital and Seagate build dozens of drive models that fit every storage need and budget.

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RAID Drive Features

Western Digital, Seagate, and others also make a line of drives with features that work best when implemented as part of a RAID array. Let’s take a deeper look at some of the features that set RAID edition drives, like the Western Digital RE (RAID Edition) apart from consumer grade drives such as the popular Western Digital Black drives.

TLER Support – Stands for Time Limited Error Recover. It places a limit on the amount of time a disk can attempt to recover from an error. Consumer drives will attempt to recover and repair errors which can take up to a few minutes. But RAID controllers only allow for a short recovery time (between 7 and 14 seconds) before the controller drops the drives from the array and marks it as degraded. TLER limits the amount of time the hard drive can spend recovering the error which works well for RAID arrays because many types of RAID already have built-in error recovery.

RAFF Support (Rotary Acceleration Feed Forward) – While both RE and Black drives include vibration reduction in the form of StableTrac, the RE drives include a more advanced form of vibration cancelation where sophisticated electronics monitor the drive to correct for both linear and rotational vibration due to sources such as chassis fans and additional hard drives. RAFF improves the performance and reliability of the drive.

SED (Self-Encrypting Drive) – With a motherboard that supports this technology, SED allows the drive to be encrypted using the AES 256 bit encryption engine. SED also includes a feature that allows for the drive to be wiped almost instantly, a time-saving feature for IT manager.

When I worked with customers who were in the process of configuring workstations and servers with RAID, they often asked me if RAID drives outperformed consumer drives like the Western Digital Black or Blue drives. If you were to compare the performance between a single RE drive and one Black drive you’d find them nearly identical in terms of transfer rates because both drives contain the same amount of disk cache and both run at the same 7200 RPM.

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What RAID provides is a level of insurance that, if a drive goes down, you’ll be able to continue working with limited interruption or minimized downtime. If your employees use an application that relies on a server running Microsoft SQL Server, performance is important, but keeping that server running, even if a disk crashes, is crucial. This is the type of environment where RAID arrays provide substantial benefits.

RAID Considerations

Are there any downsides to using drives specifically built for RAID? Well, they consume a bit more power than consumer drives which means they run a little hotter. Neither the RE or Black drivers are the quietest drives on the market, but given most RE drives will be placed in a data center, drive noise is seldom an issue. The RE drives also weigh a bit more, up to a quarter pound.

The popular 8-port RAID controller card from LSI – Photo courtesy of LSI

Price is the last consideration. RAID drives cost 15% more than consumer drives. But you’ll also need to account for the cost of a RAID controller. Many modern server-grade motherboards include RAID supported ports, but they typically only support RAID 0 or 1. For the more advanced levels of RAID you’ll need a dedicated RAID controller card. Intel and LSI are two of the most prominent makers of RAID controller cards. The 4-port cards start around $400 and the quality 8-ports around $750 and up depending on features.

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For that price premium you gain a number of features that make for a drive suited for RAID and the demanding tasks found in the enterprise. Keep in mind that having a RAID doesn’t guarantee 100% uptime. The RAID controller could fail as could the software causing downtown. But RAID does help mitigate those risks along with providing a level of redundancy.

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Top photo credit:Western Digital