How to Set Up RAID on Your PC

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How do I install a RAID adapter?

Here’s how to physically install a RAID adapter card in your PC. If your motherboard already supports RAID, skip to “Configuring the Adapter” below.

1. Unplug your PC and position the case so that you can comfortably reach into the interior. If you have a tower case, you’ll find installing an expansion card easier if you lay the case on its side.

2. Protect your PC’s delicate circuits from static electricity by properly grounding yourself. If you don’t have the patience or time to buy a grounding strap, at least make an effort to ground your body by touching your PC’s case before touching the inside of your PC or any component.

3. Locate an open PCI or PCI Express expansion slot and remove the cover bracket that blocks the slot’s access port on the back of the case. Typically, a single screw secures the bracket.

4. Remove the adapter card from its packaging, handling the card by its edges (not the edge connector on the bottom); avoid touching the chips and circuitry on either face of the card.

5. Align the adapter card’s connector with the expansion slot and gently but firmly push down on the top edge until the card is securely seated in the slot. Secure the card to the chassis with the existing screw or other clamping mechanism.

6. Once the card is installed, install and connect the hard drives to be used in the array. See “How to Install a New Hard Drive” for instructions.

7. Reassemble the PC and power it up.

Configuring the Adapter

Each RAID adapter has a firmware configuration program, unique to that make or model, that lets the user select the type of RAID array to install and choose which hard drives to include in the array. Sometimes the RAID functionality is embedded in the motherboard’s BIOS. Refer to your adapter or motherboard documentation to guide you through the specific installation steps for your adapter.

  • Typically, you launch the setup program for a RAID adapter by pressing Ctrl-R, Ctrl-A, or some other key combination during the PC boot process. Watch the screen for a prompt, or check your adapter’s documentation. On some PCs you may have to press the Tab key to see the boot messages and the prompt.
  • If RAID is embedded in the BIOS, as with many Intel motherboards, you will need to launch the BIOS setup. This is typically done by pressing F2, Ctrl+S, Del or some other key combination.
  • Choose the drives and create the array.
  • If asked to select a stripe size or chunk size for a RAID 0 or RAID 5 array, select the default size. Playing with these settings may increase performance for users with plenty of time and energy to experiment.

Installing Windows and the Adapter Drivers

If you are installing Windows XP or 2000 onto your array:

1. Carefully watch the bottom of the screen at the beginning of the setup process for the prompt, and press F6 if you need to install a third-party SCSI or RAID driver. Be quick: You have only a few seconds to press F6 and launch the installation process.

2. Wait for the screen that says ‘S=Specify Additional Devices’ in the lower-left corner. Press S.

3. When prompted, insert the floppy disk with the adapter’s drivers into the floppy drive and complete the driver installation. Once that’s done, Windows should continue the Windows installation routine.

If you are installing Windows Vista or Windows 7 onto your array:

1. Choose Custom (Advanced) Installation.

2. When asked where to install Windows, if your RAID volume does not appear (Windows Vista and 7 do have some RAID drivers) click the Load Driver button at the bottom of the dialog.

3. When prompted, insert the floppy disk, CD, or flash drive with the adapter’s drivers and complete the driver installation. Once done, you should be able to see the drives attached to the RAID controller. If not, you may have pointed to the wrong driver or the array hasn’t been created yet.

Transferring Existing Windows Installations to RAID

It can be difficult, and sometimes impossible to transfer an existing operating system installation to a RAID array. It all depends on the hardware and Windows operating system involved. Follow the steps below for the best chance of success.

Transferring Windows XP

1. Install or enable the RAID controller in your PC. Do NOT create any arrays.

2. Boot to Windows and install the RAID drivers. If your boot drive is attached to the RAID controller (some storage controllers such as Intel’s Storage Matrix pull double-duty) you may not be able to boot. If that’s the case, you’ll either have to attach the boot drive to a non-RAID port or use a secondary RAID controller for the new array. Start over.

3. Create a backup image in a safe, accessible location (external hard drive, flash drive, hard drive not to be included in the array, etc.) of the entire hard drive containing the existing OS installation using Norton Ghost, Acronis True Image or another program. Preferably one with bare metal restore capabilities, i.e. driver support for hardware that wasn’t in use when the image was made.

4. Reboot and create your array. Preferably, with new disks while keeping your old disk as a backup.

5. Restore the image using the program you created it with. If your system won’t boot, try again using the bare metal restore functions.

Transferring Windows Vista or Windows 7

1. Create an image of the hard drive containing the existing OS installation in a safe, accessible location (external hard drive, flash drive, hard drive not to be included in the array, etc.) using Windows backup.

2. Reboot and enable/install the RAID adapter.

3. Create your array. Preferably, with new disks while keeping your old disk as a backup.

4. Boot using your Windows Vista/7 installation disc, and select Repair your computer.

5. Click on Load drivers and following the prompts, load the RAID drivers and any drivers required for the device you backed up to.

6. Restore your system using the backup image you previously created.

Using Windows software RAID

Windows XP, Vista, and 7 all offer software RAID which is a more than viable alternative to hardware, and easy to implement. Which levels are available with depend on your flavor of Windows

The basic procedure for implementing Windows RAID is as follows:

1. Open the Start Menu, right-click on Computer and select Manage.

2. Scroll down the tree on the right to Disk Management (under Storage) and click on it.

3. Right-click over the large drive icon to the left for operations that will affect the entire disk (extend, stripe, mirror, or RAID 5). Only what’s available on your version and possible with your disk setup will be enabled. For some levels, a wizard will pop up. Follow the prompts. If the disk is not dynamic, this will automatically convert it.

4. On dynamic disks, right-click over a volume on the drive and you’ll see an option to mirror that individual volume (Windows 7 Professional/Ultimate, Windows 2000 Professional, and Windows server OS’s only).

Note: Depending on the amount of existing data, it can take an extremely long time for new Windows RAID mirrors to sync up, and disk performance will suffer till the process is completed. It’s far faster to back up your files, create new mirrored volumes, then restore the data. If you do opt for letting Windows sync all the data, keeping Drive Manager open and on top will speed up the process.

This article was updated on 10/31/11, at 5:00PM, with additional tips for modern machines.

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