Which HDD?? Advice badly needed!

By st_eff ยท 19 replies
Dec 30, 2003
  1. Hi!

    This seems to be a good spot to ask questions. Greetings Experts!

    First some background:

    I need to get one or two extra harddrives for my system. My 14 months old IBM deskstar 80 gig is "clicking" now and then, and it continues to do so despite the installation of an extra dual fan HDD cooler ( that lowers the temp to approx. 29 C)

    OK, now to the point! I am a power user. I let my computer run pretty much 24/7. I do this because I have a cable broadband connection, and need to make use of it to justify the high cost. So... therefore I am running my favourite p2p programme night and day. That would mean that the computer mainly runs as a server.

    As the crappy IBM hdd started to click after only 3 weeks of 24/7 usage (I have had cooling for 2 weeks now), I figure that I will be better off with another brand. My motherboard supports RAID 0, and since I have heard many good things about RAID, I think it might be a good idea to try it.

    Question 1:

    Am I really better off with two 80 gig harddrives configured as a 0 level raid than I would be if I chose a single 160 gig harddrive. Performance-wise, that is.

    Question 2:

    Should I choose ata 100 or ata 133? I have looked around the internet, and some people claim that the differences are insignificant. Are these claims true? Is there any significant difference when it comes to 0 level RAID?

    Question 3:

    I am currently considering two options, if you recommend me to go ahead with RAID.

    One option is to buy two WD Caviar XL 80 HDDs. The pros of this choice seem to be that it has a cache of 8mb, and that it offers a 3 year warranty. The con may be that it "only" offers ata100

    Another option is to buy two maxtor diamond plus 9. The pros of this choice seem to be that it offers ata 133 together with an 8mb cache. The con seems to be the 1 year warranty that makes me suspect that the quality of this HDD is lower than that of the WD caviar. I don't want another drive clicking after 3 weeks use.

    Qustion 4:

    Are the above mentioned HDDs suitable for "server-like" usage? Of course I will install HDD coolers if needed.

    Over to you! What do you think? Any ideas or suggestions?

    Thanks for reading my post. Depending on when you read this, I will take this opportunity to wish you all the best for the new year! :)
  2. RealBlackStuff

    RealBlackStuff TS Rookie Posts: 6,503

    If you have a 120GX IBM-HD, these were never meant for 24/7. They should run a max. of 8 hours/day. Other (older) IBMs were notorious for conking out early in life.

    Between ATA100 and 133 there is indeed not much difference (I think). Any HD with an 8MB cache is a fast one, and both WD and Maxtor as mentioned are very reliable.
    Check out the Seagate Barracuda IV as well, not the fastest, but very quiet.

    I leave RAID to others.
  3. Nic

    Nic TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,549

    I believe IBM later withdrew that statement. No consumer level drives are designed for 24/7 use, and the IBM 120GXP drives were just as capable as any others. It was because they had excellent server performance, that users were buying them for 24/7 server use that concerned IBM. Consumer drives were never designed for this purpose, as that market is catered for by high cost SCSI devices.

    From my experience, the failure rate of new drives (regardless of brand) is higher that you would expect - if the manufacturer's figures are to be believed. Hard drives are the least reliable computer component, so if data security bothers you, then you should definitely consider a RAID setup.
  4. st_eff

    st_eff TS Rookie Topic Starter

    :grinthumb Ok, thank you both for your advice, but I need to know more. Is SCSI really the only way? (The manufacturers need to rethink. Many consumers have broadband today, and use their computers heavily). Why should I lose hours of bandwidth because shoddy hardware? Is it really that more expensive to manufacture SCSI drives than consumer drives, or can this be compared to the phenomena of airtravel where business class seats are rediculousely overpriced just because companies can, and do, pay more?) :darth:

    So...back to the point....what do you figure is the best solution to my problem? How many hours per day should I let my new harddrives rest? Or, should I delay my purchase of a new HDD until I can afford a smaller, way more expensive SCSI, and then let it work 24/7 to spread the cost over the increase in hours of usage?

    If I decide to use a new consumer harddrive 24/7 and it breaks after, say 5 months, will the manufacturer be able to see that I did not use it according to their recommendations, and thus deny me compensation?:confused:
  5. Nic

    Nic TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,549

    Just stick with IDE or Serial ATA. They'll be good for 24/7, but just don't expect them to last as long as drives that are designed to run 24/7 (i.e. SCSI or WD Raptor SATA drives). You'll only void your warranty if you are using your drives for commercial puposes as they will be under heavy load almost constantly. Cheap IDE drives are not designed with this in mind. SCSI drives have higher performance and better reliability, hence most of the better (expensive) models come with 5 year warranties and can be run commercially 24/7.
  6. Per Hansson

    Per Hansson TS Server Guru Posts: 1,959   +217

    Yes, I agree with everything said...

    RAID-0 will not significantly increase your daily performance... It will however make it 100% more probable that you loose your data (one more component that can fail)

    And if it does data recovery will be a real pain...

    So if you want RAID-0 you better have a really good backup strategy...

    If, on the other hand you use RAID-1 you are covered for failures of one harddrive, RAID-1 copies all files to two harddrives, so they become identical, the downside being that you loose 50% of your storage capacity... (the capacity of one of your harddrives)

    Gurthermore RAID-1 is no substitute for backup, if you delete a file it will be deleted from both harddrives... And a virus infection will be copied to two harddrives...

    So in your case I'd rethink my strategy and ask myself how important my data is... If it indeed is that important then go ahead and set up a IDE-RAID-1 array, that will be pretty safe...

    On the other hand; if you want what little extra speed RAID-0 can offer you go that route, and bear in mind that your data will be very unsafe...

    Or, go buy a couple of SCSI harddrives and a SCSI controller, giving you more choices;

    You can now also run a RAID-5 array, where parity data is calculated for each harddrive and put on the other, the performance of such a setup is on par with RAID-0 and the data security is on par with RAID-1 (you can loose one harddrive without loosing data)

    This setup will also allow "hot-swap" meaning that when your harddrive failes you simply pull it out and plug in a new one; a rebuild will occur and you will not even need to restart your computer....
  7. st_eff

    st_eff TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Thanks Nic and Per!

    Many wise suggestions from you both. RAID 5 sounds interesting, but the controller card needed for such a setup seems to be too pricey for me. (I searched google and found quotes around $300) I was thinking of spending a maximum of SEK 3000 on upgrading my storage. I was thinking of following alternative setups:

    Alternative 1

    2 HDDs making up a RAID 0 array + 1 HDD that stands alone

    There are only 2 IDE connections on my MB, and I have read that it is recommended that each HDD in the array alone occupies an IDE cable. So I figure that I will need an extra PCI controller card for the stand alone HDD, the CD-RW and the DVD-RW.

    I have also read that the performance of the array is increased if it is not used as a boot device. Does that mean that I should use the stand alone HDD as a boot device holding the OS and the Swap file?

    Alternative 2


    Can IDE and SCSI coexist on a system? I was thinking of a Maxtor Atlas 10 K IV 36,7 with an Ultra 320 connection. What kind of extas will I need to get if installing this HDD? Will a controller card be enough?
  8. Per Hansson

    Per Hansson TS Server Guru Posts: 1,959   +217

    There is one more alternative to SCSI... Serial ATA or "SATA" Western Digital makes a 10.000RPM harddrive with 5 yeras of warranty, it's called "Raptor"

    It is based of a SCSI harddrive...

    There is the "old" 36gb model and the new 74gb model... www.storagereview.com has a review of it...

    But you did not answer my question; is your data very important...?

    Yes, you are correct in that IDE devices should not share a channel... It reduces performance because only one device can talk at any given time...

    If I was you I would leave all my optical devices like CD-ROMS etc on the onboard mainboard controller

    Then I would decide if I want RAID or not, and by a Serial ATA controller thereafter... you can find a Serial ATA controller (non.RAID) for less than 400SEK at www.komplett.se

    A RAID 0-1 and maybe JBOD compatible Serial ATA controller for just a little over 400SEK, and a RAID-5 compatible one for a little over 1000SEK

    There are also RAID-10 compatible ones for less than 1000SEK

    You can get two 160gb harddrives plus a controller for less than 3000SEK, run it either in RAID-0 or 1 giving you 160 or 320GB usable storage space respectivley.

    Or save a few bucks and get 120 or 80GB harddrives instead...

    Or a single harddrive... There are many options...

    Or get the Raptor I talked about, the 36gb one is just 1000sek, the 74 is 2500sek though

    Or buy three 80gb harddrives and run them in RAID-5, around 3400SEK cost...

    Many options.... What I want you to answer is how important your data is.... How much storage you want and how important it's speed is... And also how you will backup your data
  9. Nic

    Nic TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,549

  10. st_eff

    st_eff TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Hi again Per and Nic!

    I'll answer your question now. Well my data is not that important. I regularly back up important files, as one should. However, I am tired of shoddy hardware. As you may read above, I have an IBM/Hitachi 80 GB harddrive now. I have had it for about 14 months. My sister had the computer then so the harddrive was only used a couple of times per week. However, I got the machine and hooked it up to my broadband connection leaving it to run pretty much 24/7 with just rebooting everyday. My broadband connection costs me SEK 4000 per year and I want to use it day and night for p2p, so I was very dissapointed to note that the IBM had begun to "click" after about 3 weeks of around-the-clock-usage. I just want a harddrive that l don't have to worry about after one month. I have to admit that I don't know much about RAID. My computer keeps asking me to define an array every time I boot, and I thought it would be cool to set up an array as I have read many positive things abot it on the net.

    I checked out the card. It seems great. I would need a minimum of three harddrives to set up a RAID 5 array, right?

    Ok, I think will forget about SCSI. It seems to be very much of a cash cow for the manufacturers, and I with my limited budget do not wish to contribute to the fat margins they earn from such products. However, when it comes to adding a SATA Pci controller card to my system, I wonder if my Mobo (that means motherboard, right?) will become a bottle neck. I have an ASUS P4B533-E motherboard and I wonder if I really can take advantage of the 150 MB transfer speeds. The technical specs for the card in question say that it is a 33/66 mhz card. Does that matter?

    Also, I intend to keep my IBM drive as long as it lasts and make a boot drive of it since I have heard that booting from the array will affect performance adversely. That would make the array, a data drive.
  11. Per Hansson

    Per Hansson TS Server Guru Posts: 1,959   +217

    Well, any harddrive will fail, it's just a matter of time... (they wear down after time)

    However you may also get a harddrive that has been mishandled during shipping, this harddrive might last only a short while before it fails...

    It is quite uncommon that there is anything wrong with a certain type of harddrives, more probably is that it is the handling out from the factory that there is something wrong with...

    (The IBM 75 and 60GXP DeskStar are an expeption to the rule)

    So if you want no downtime go for a RAID-1 setup... The Silicon Image chipset supports hotswap of harddrives and cost very little, this will also leave you with the option to run RAID-0 for increased storage and performance...

    The card NIC linked to is a 66Mhz card, it will require a 66mhz PCI bus and will not work in your mainboard...

    A RAID-5 array will require 3 harddrives, that is correct, and it will endure the failure of one of them without loosing any data or going offline. Just like a RAID-1 array... But unlike a RAID-1 array where you loose 50% of the storage space here you only loose 33%

    The 150mbps transfer rate is not needed as it is right now, and no, you will only be able to use 133mb of it due to the PCI bus limitation... This applies to all current SATA implementations except for the one on the Intel ICH5 Southbridge which offers that speed via a special link (not PCI)....

    However it will not limit the performance of your harddrives anyway...

    I looked at the specs of your mainboard and it already has a built-in Parralell RAID controller... So buy one or two harddrives and connect to that instead to save some money...
  12. Rick

    Rick TechSpot Staff Posts: 4,572   +65

    The performance difference between the 160GB will be about the same as 80GB in RAID 0. The reason being RAID 0 isn't exactly "twice" as fast.. Infact, nowhere near it. The 160GB will have a larger platter size, giving it about a 20-30% increase in thoroughput, which is about what you'd see with RAID 0.

    RAID 1 offers total redundancy, but performs slower writes.. However, reading data is faster. 'Reading' is exactly what most people spend doing anyway.

    Rather than buy two 80gb and a RAID card, I would get a 160GB drive and a 120GB or 160GB as a backup.

    If you do the math, 80GB + 80GB + RAID 0/1 controller = $75 + $75 + $60 = $230

    If you decide to go RAID 5, you'll probably spend an extra $50 on the controller and you'll need an aditional drive for parity data, so add another $75. Which comes to a hefty $355

    Alternatively, you can pick up two 160GB for about $110 each. You'll get the extra speed RAID offers (If you choose your 160GB wisely), only without the headache and with a single drive. You can use the secondary 120GB or 160GB as a standby or backup for your data. That comes to about the same cost as dual 80GB in RAID 0 with a RAID 0/1 controller.

    If you are really willing to drop some cash on a RAID 5 setup, you may want to consider 200GB or even 250GB drives as they offer even more performance. You should be able to pick up a 200GB for around $150 each. You'll get more space than RAID 5 and probably better performance for slightly less cash.

    If your data is important to you, then you will not consider RAID 0 an option unless you also have a third backup drive.

    I've recently been debating on going RAID or not. But I think I just answered my question. ;)
  13. Per Hansson

    Per Hansson TS Server Guru Posts: 1,959   +217

    I think my statement here is incorrect, I have not looked up the details but I think I've read that it should be backwards compatible somewhere... it's 66/66 this is not...
  14. Rick

    Rick TechSpot Staff Posts: 4,572   +65

    That would be correct. A 66MHz PCI card will be backwards compatible with your standard 33MHz PCI bus found on most people's computers.

    I've installed a number of 66MHz Ultra ATA controllers for quite a few happy customers without a single 66MHz PCI slot. :)
  15. Per Hansson

    Per Hansson TS Server Guru Posts: 1,959   +217

  16. Nic

    Nic TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,549

    Something else to bear in mind is that although the risk of drive failure increases in a RAID setup (e.g. with 2 drives instead of one, you double the chance of drive failure occurring - from defective components/manufacturing, but not from wear and tear), the drives will share the workload and so they will not be working as hard. This might improve the longevity of your drives, so that (barring failures due to defects), they should not wear out so fast. They will not heat up so much (less activity) and so that should improve reliability a little. Just another angle.
  17. Nodsu

    Nodsu TS Rookie Posts: 5,837   +6

    That failure chance increase is true only in case of RAID 0.
    In any other RAID configuration a single HD death is not a "failure" since your virtual drive is intact and replacing the dead iron can be considered as routine maintenance.
  18. st_eff

    st_eff TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Rick, Nic, Per and everybody else,

    thank you for all your advice. I have now decided that RAID is not what I need at the moment, as I want a good compromise between price, reliability, and performance. I will go for a 160 GB Seagate drive that comes with a 3 year warranty. I know that any harddrive breaks eventually but if it can last me those 3 years, I will be quite satisfied.

    So, my setup will be as follows:

    IBM/hitachi 80 GB HDD 2MB cache + Seagate 160 GB, 8MB cache. To optimise the performance of my system, should I assign the space needed for the swap file on the disc that is not the boot disk? My system never uses more than half of my RAM which is 512 MB, so can I eliminate the swap file altogether?
  19. SubKamran

    SubKamran TS Rookie Posts: 166

  20. Rick

    Rick TechSpot Staff Posts: 4,572   +65

    Most average users will not need a swapfile if they have 512mb of memory - But a warning - If you use graphics or video editing programs, the swapfile is usually a necessity whether you have enough memory to get by without or not. Certain programs look for the swapfile and if they don't find it, they don't run.

    The swapfile, by general rule of thumb, should be small if you have lots of memory and should be placed on the least used, fastest drive on your computer. Since you have so much memory, I don't think you'll notice much in the way of performance hit or gain from trying to 'optimize' your swapfile... Your system will likely swap memory very, very little.

    Seagate makes a decent performer. But if you want to see hard facts about disk speed, www.storagereview.com is a very nice spot.

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