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... To Nvidia nForce 590 MCP

The Raid Migration Adventure
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... To Nvidia nForce 590 MCP

Source Platform Target Controller Successful Migration Possible ? Port Change Possible ? Plug & Play Migrate with Windows Repair Installation Rollback if Failed
Nvidia nForce3 Nvidia nForce 590 yes yes - yes -
Promise FastTrak 378 Nvidia nForce 590 no - - - yes
VIA VT8237 Nvidia nForce 590 no yes - - yes
Intel ICH6R Nvidia nForce 590 no - - - yes

Our migration efforts to the nForce 590 weren’t very successful unless we used an nForce 3 source system. Using the Promise controller, an Intel or a VIA source system, the existing RAID arrays weren’t even recognized ; the system reported only empty hard drives. This is rather dangerous if you’re working with more drives, as you could confuse the RAID drives with other drives that might indeed be empty, and destroy your RAID array accidentally. The VIA controller’s RAID array was detected as a broken RAID 5 array by the nForce 590 MCP.

Conclusion

Migrating RAID arrays from one controller to another one is possible under only limited circumstances, due to the different implementations of RAID and hence different RAID signatures from controllers. We found that it is possible to migrate RAID arrays within controllers from the same manufacturer ; for example, we were able to migrate any RAID array built on an Intel ICH5, ICH6, ICH7 or ICH8 controller to the ICH9. Going from the ICH8 to ICH9 didn’t require any effort at all, as the storage units seem to operate identically. Going from nForce3 to nForce 590 was also smooth, as was the transition from the Promise controller to the ATI/AMD 690 chipset and the SB600 Southbridge, as they are based on the same controller logic.

Even where successful, all migration procedures required a Windows XP repair installation, which is triggered by booting from the installation CD and selecting "Repair" instead of "Fresh install" at the time you choose the target partition. Luckily, it is always possible to stop the migration efforts and move a RAID array back to its initial controller without losing data.

So far, so good. But the tests for this article extended over more than a week, which shouldn’t be the case considering that even on-board RAID controllers have become very mighty. Multiple RAID modes and even multiple RAID installations on the same set of hard disks are easy to configure for up to six drives. Nvidia’s software will tell you if a drive fails, and it even tells you right under Windows which one to replace. But none of the controllers, whether the AMD SB600, Intel’s ICH9 or Nvidia’s nForce 5/6 MCP, can reliably discover an existing RAID array, let alone import one.

This clearly is an area that requires improvement, although we realize that it’s not easy : the actual implementation of RAID arrays is different across various manufacturers, as there is no specification. According to information we received from companies such as CBL Data Recovery and Kroll Ontrack, the RAID controller manufacturers aren’t cooperative when it comes to their RAID implementations.

Organ Transplantation For Storage Professionals : Migrate Your RAID Array

"RAID Migration ? What the heck are you Tom’s Hardware people doing now ?" Once again, we are doing what we believe we do best : testing and benchmarking scenarios that occur in every day life, and providing information that may come in very handy to enthusiast users and administrators. RAID Migration has nothing to do with RAID level migration, where you change an existing RAID configuration into a different one. RAID migration rather refers to porting an existing RAID array from one mass storage controller to another. This is an important issue whenever you change your hardware ; it happens most frequently when people decide to upgrade their system’s platform (motherboard, CPU, RAM and so forth). Since the actual implementation of RAID arrays isn’t defined anywhere - RAID levels define only what to do, but not how to do it - the so-called "RAID signatures" of various controllers can vary, and moving an array from one to another may render your fully featured RAID array useless.

When we were playing with different Windows installations on various RAID controllers to find a good setup for our RAID Charts, we often had issues with re-using the installed RAID arrays on different controllers. If you’re running your system hard drives in a RAID configuration, you might be interested to know whether or not it is possible to migrate your storage array to your new dream platform. Think of a three year old motherboard with a storage controller that you used to create a RAID array for your Windows installation. Will you be able to migrate the existing array to a newer on-board RAID controller ? Are there workarounds if it doesn’t work ? And perhaps most importantly, would you be able to rollback the whole process without losing your RAID array data if there is a problem ?

For this test, we searched our hardware dungeons for suitable platforms. We decided to go back in time to the year 2003, when RAID controllers were first integrated into chipset Southbridge components. Intel’s ICH5R, which was an option for the 865 and 875 chipsets, first offered two Serial ATA/150 ports with support for RAID 0 and RAID 1. The ICH6R from 2004 (915, 925 chipsets) increased the SATA port count to four, and ICH7R first introduced support for RAID 5 and Intel’s Matrix RAID feature, which allows users to install more than one RAID array across one set of hard drives. In addition to Intel chipset boards, we picked one nForce3 motherboard, as well as a solution based on VIA’s K8T800 Pro (VT8237 Southbridge). And we also found an old Promise FastTrak 20378 controller, which can be found integrated on various enthusiast motherboards and stand-alone RAID cards.

We then selected three storage controllers/Southbridges that represent the majority of systems used today : AMD/ATI’s SB600, which is part of the AMD690 chipset and the AMD/ATI Crossfire Xpress 3200 ; the Intel ICH9R that is part of the P35 and the upcoming X38 chipsets for Intel’s Core 2 Duo CPUs ; and Nvidia’s nForce 590, which is still the most popular chipset for Socket AM2 solutions and the Athlon 64 X2. All of these support AHCI mode and various RAID configurations, but all we wanted them to do is accept the existing RAID arrays from our source platforms.

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    Passarinhuu , 11 July 2008 01:15
    My old ICH6R motherboard stopped working and I got a new ICH9R Asus P5K Pro to replace it. When I plugged the old disks I tried to boot winxp and I got to the loading screen but then got a BSOD.
    I was already expecting that and tryed to run a repair install. The problem is, even when i correctly load my RAID drivers provided by the mb maker, winxp install doesn't detect the disks. If I set the SATA mode to AHCI in the BIOS winxp can detect them but the repair doesn't allow me to boot windows.

    What am I doing wrong and how can i fix it?