Get yourself a beverage of choice (beer, coffee, tea), and settle in for a 20 minute read. If it only takes you 5 minutes to read this, read it again four times! At any rate if your drinking beer (which I am), it is probably best to read extra slow and have a couple. My goal here isn’t to show off, and say “They said it couldn’t be done”, instead it is to share some wisdom in the hope of helping others.
I decided to create this post because I read (heard), “RAID 0 with SSDs, why would you want to do that? SSDs are fast enough without RAID0!”, and my counter thought has been, and remains “I want to setup RAID0 with SSDs simply because I can!”.
I have setup RAID0 with 2 x Samsung 830 SSD 256Gb drives, installed Windows 7 onto those drives (after partitioning the drive space into Win 7 / Ubuntu / Data) and am using my Workstation for the purposes of Document / Graphic / Web Design, and just about anything else that crosses my radar whilst I am at my core tasks.
I am not going to bore you with every intricate detail of my setup. However the crux of using SSDs in RAID0 is having a RAID chipset that supports TRIM! To the best of my knowledge TRIM and RAID0 have only been supported with Intel Chipsets over the last year or so. I performed quite a bit of research before deciding on the motherboard that I would use, and prior to purchasing the motherboard I read that you need a Z77 (“or higher”) chipset in order to perform the task. Ultimately I decided on a Gigabyte X79-UP4 motherboard, and it has done a fine job with SSDs in RAID0.
Biting off more than you can chew:
I came up short, and ran into a host of issues, simply because I tried to do too much all at once. For the first time in my life I had the opportunity to build a computer that exceeded my wildest dreams. Not only does it have a great processor, and an outstanding FSB (front side bus), but it also looks cool! These facts amongst others went to my head, and my response at the time was I will try “X”, “Y”, and “Z”, all at once.
Consideration 1: RAM Voltage
My “X”, although essentially a side consideration, without some thought will doom your efforts! High end motherboards, which is to say motherboards that support both RAID0 and TRIM, generally have the ability to facilitate very good RAM. In my case I chose to invest in 16 Gigs of PC 17000 RAM, and whilst good RAM is not in any way crucial to the SSD / RAID0 arrangement, the lines do get “blurred”. In my case the RAM explicitly required 1.65 Volts, and unfortunately my motherboard was automatically supplying 1.5 Volts. It was doing this even when I enabled XMP (Extreme Memory Profile), and whilst the clock speed of the RAM was increased (from 1600MHz to 2133MHz) the required voltage was not! What this meant is that my system was simply unstable. Whist I was able to install Windows 7 with the 1.5 Volt setting I was unable to get the system stable. Instead it was constantly rebooting & giving me the BSOD. After talking with a friend, Joe B ( you know who you are he suggested that the voltage on my RAM needed to be increased, and he was spot on (thanks again mate!).
Consideration 2: SSD Firmware
My “Y”, I didn’t give enough consideration to the SSD firmware. I found out the hard way (after building my array, installing Windows 7, and programs) that I simply could not trust the drives to have the most up to date firmware (thanks Nat for pointing this out!). The end result is that I had to break my array, reformat my drives, and then run the required software in order to determine the firmware version. Whilst I discovered that I have the most recent firmware (as of posting this thread), and that no updates were required, I would have preferred to discover this two days before hand. Long and short – check your SSD firmware (use a separate system, external drive bay, external hard drive enclosure, or whatever it takes to do so). If your SSD firmware is not the newest available UPDATE!!!
Consideration 3: Windows Page File
My “Z” was making the silly assumption that because I had 16 Gigs of RAM (running @ 2133MHz) that I could turn off the Windows Page File. I turned the Page File off for a number of reasons, first and foremost I noticed that when installing Windows (7) it automatically creates a Page File (on the hard drive) that is the same size as the physical RAM – and this fact meant that “I was wasting valuable storage space”. My second reason for turning the Page File off was that I didn’t need it anymore, surely with 16 Gigs of RAM it becomes irrelevant! Well, talking from experience it is not irrelevant, and probably never will be. Through my errors I have come to see that the Page File is much like the foundation of a Sky Scraper, and much as you cannot build a Sky Scraper without a solid foundation, ultimately Windows cannot cope without its foundation the Page File (several varying BSODs, culminating with “PAGE_FAULT_IN_NON_PAGED_AREA” proved this to me). No matter how much space you think that the Windows Page File is “wasting” DO NOT TURN IT OFF. Don’t adjust it, don’t even look at it sideways!!!
Windows 7 installation issues:
Whilst trying to install Windows 7 I encountered a number of errors, and my experience was very much a “one step forward, two steps backwards” affair. Below I have listed the errors that I encountered in chronological order. If you have encountered any of these errors then you’re in the right place, just skip down to the “How to install Windows 7″ section to avoid these.
1). I was not presented with the “Agreement” window. The typical “Agreement” window is pictured below, and I only saw a “blank screen” in its place (unfortunately I didn’t think to take a photo at the time).
2). I was presented with a “Load driver…” dialog, as pictured below. The dialog was automatically presented, and I was unable to load the appropriate (RAID) drivers through it.
3). I was unable to load drivers through the standard dialog. Although the dialog was shown, and I was able to interact with it, I was unable to find the medium on which I had the RAID drivers. I tried both a CD & a USB stick, and in both cases the medium simply wasn’t there. Imagine not seeing “Backup (C:)” or “Removable Disk (D:)” in the screen shot below!
Note: Although I did encounter each of the errors above in a chronological sequence it was over a period of multiple installation attempts, and I did try many different fixes, before finding a method that works from “start to stop”!
How to install Windows 7:
*** Steps 1 to 3 below require the use of a secondary computer ***
1). Using UltraISO (and the selection of ISO tool here is not an arbitrary one, I am actually a fan of PowerISO, however only UltraISO performed the task correctly), create an image of your Windows 7 installation DVD.
2). Download the RAID drivers for your motherboard.
3). Using RT Seven Lite create a “slip streamed” Windows 7 installation USB stick. For the purpose of creating the installation files you will need both the Windows 7 ISO (from Step 1), and the RAID drivers (from Step 2).
*** Perform these steps on the computer that you are setting up ***
4). Boot your computer and enter the BIOS (refer to your motherboard manual)
5). Set “IDE Mode” to RAID (refer to your motherboard manual)
6). Reboot your computer and enter the RAID utility (refer to your motherboard manual)
7). Create your RAID array (refer to your motherboard manual – leave stripe size at 128K)
8). Reoot your computer and install Windows 7 from the USB stick (created in Step 3).
What guide would be complete without some test results.
AS SSD Benchmark -
Samsung Magician Software -
Yes it can be done! But before it can be done, check your RAM voltage and update (if required) your SSD firmware. Once it is done do NOT alter the Page File.
I am sure that there will be additional questions regarding the “How to install Windows 7″ section, as my instructions are not exhaustive. Over time this thread is likely to grow and encompass more specific methods, and short falls.
I hope that this helps the pioneers…
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