In an attempt to add redundant and fast storage to my desktop, I invested in a 500USD Adaptec RAID controller card that I won in an action for AU$50. Whilst outdated (and lacking free technical support), the controller still outperforms today’s consumer grade hardware, achieving SSD-like read and write speeds of 530MB/s in RAID 5 with five 500GB Seagate consumer hard drives. Random reads and writes suffer considerably because of the slow drives. I am not planning to take advantage of random access anyway as I can use the SSD array for that.
The specific model I got is an Adaptec 6805T PCIe 2.0 controller with 8 SATA ports. The manufacturer stopped maintaining this model in 2012. Free technical support also ceised a year ago or so and I sure as hell wasn’t going to pay 65 Euros for one support ticket. That is why the price dropped drastically over the past few years, allowing tech-savvy consumers to take advantage of enterprise grade hardware1.
The controller, being enterprise hardware for massive, dedicated storage servers, was anything but “plug’n’play”. After days of tinkering with the drivers, installing management utilities available on the manufacturers website and messing with BIOS settings, I still could not get this card to work properly. I am writing this post to help you avoid a waste of time, however do take the time to read the following paragraphs, which outline all the problems I had initially and ways I overcame them.
Configuration Option 1: Controller BIOS menu
The biggest problem I had was that there would not be any BIOS messages from the controller at all on system startup. It makes sense to assume that drivers had to be installed first in order for BIOS utilities to work on my relatively new motherboard. Installing Windows drivers did not help and I just accepted that I was only going to be able to access the controller settings graphically via maxView Storage Manager (the management utility listed on the manufacturers products page). This was kind of odd as command line/BIOS utilites generally work more reliably than a GUI utility which has to go through the operating system.
Long story short, installing the storage manager did not help either as this web based utility comes in three components – a webserver, a storage manger agent and a CIM server. The CIM server was impossible to start up due to a Windows “Process not responding”-error. Moving on…
Configuration Option 2: Using the Bootable USB image
I tried the bootable USB image next, which could be used to configure the controller by booting it from a USB drive. Long story short, out of all the things that could’ve gone wrong my monitor complained with a cryptic “HDMI out of range”-error. The reason for this error message has to do with the fact that my graphics card did not support the resolution or refresh rate of that particular version of Linux. Just what I needed on top of all the other hurdles overcome.
If you are reusing existing harddrives in your RAID array make sure you change your Windows
Temp folder to a different drive, otherwise your Windows programs might bombard you with error messages every time you reboot due to the broken
Temp directory path.
To conclude this section, setting up this controller was a pain every step of the way and for the lack of support I cannot recommend the Adaptec brand for consumers like me.
Key Information and Solution
Adaptec’s series 5 and previous series controllers use the legacy BIOS to interact with the motherboard, whereas series 6 and up use the new UEFI protocol to interface with other hardware. Luckily, I bought a UEFI controller compatible with my UEFI motherboard.
Now that I’ve explained the issues I had here are two things you have to understand:
- Don’t use maxView Storage Manager. It simply does not work. Even though it is the official management utility listed on Adaptec’s product page, it is somehow incompatible with the controller or Windows 10. By accident, I found out you can use Adaptec’s own management utility which works for all series controller up to series 6. Download and install Adaptec Storage Manager (available on the Adaptec 5805Z product page). Make sure you uninstall the other utility first if you installed it.
- Since series 6 and up are based on UEFI, older controllers which support the legacy BIOS are not compatible with new motherboards.
My controller was compatible and I still wasn’t able to confiugre it, so what gives? It turns out that you have to change the PCIe mode from “Disabled”, or “Legacy” to “UEFI only”.
Once that BIOS setting was changed, the controller displayed its boot screen at start up.
If you changed that BIOS setting and it still doesn’t work, try resetting your motherboard to default settings by “loading optimised defaults”. This has the effect of clearing your motherboard’s CMOS state, which might help as it reassigns PCIe addresses.
PCIe slot Configuration
The last bit of important information that might help you is that some motherboard PCIe slots can be used for graphics cards only. If you have one of those motherboards, that sucks because you will not be able to use hardware RAID at all.
Safety Note on Temperatures
If you do get a RAID controller, bear in mind that these things get ridiculously hot as they have relatively small heat sinks. The temperatures average at around 80 degrees Celsius idle.
The reason for this is that they are built for high air-flow server racks. Desktop computers provide no where near the required airflow to cool these things. For this reason, I replaced the tiny heat sink on my controller with a larger one to keep the temperatures below 40 degrees Celsius. You don’t want to overheat and blow your RAID controller chip, as that could happen at the least favourable moment, causing data loss.
All the information in this post took me hours to research and accumulate from manuals, online forums, reddit threads and pure coincidence. I sincerely hope this post helps you set up your controller. Now that it is all set up and working, I am enjoying 1.8TB redundant storage with ridiculous SSD like speeds using relatively cheap consumer hard drives.
Is it worth it? If you are an enthusiast and you can get a good deal on some hard drives and a RAID controller, and you need features like:
- lots of simultaneous access to files
- 24/7 data center operation
Then be prepared to spend some time getting it to work. In all likelyhood, RAID at home is probably not worth it.
12 months later
I removed the RAID setup and went back to hard drives connected directly to the motherboard via SATA. The WD Red NAS drives which origially served redundant storage in a Synology NAS, have been reformatted and now offer storage in my desktop. For my purposes, these NAS drives are unlikely to break, ever. I don’t run them 24/7 and once the SMART data reporting indicates significantly decreased drive health, there is always the option to swap them out. RAID is overkill for me. It adds complexity and power consumption.
The achieved speed is for large files whose size exceeds the cache size of 512MB. Speeds for smaller files are only bottlenecked by the PCIe 2.0 8x interface as they are automatically cached resulting in insane read and write speeds of over 2GB/s ! ↩︎