Category Archives: Windows Vista

Drobo 2.0, Features YES, Performance NO

As we progress through 2009, we have finally seen the release of a 3.5″ desktop SATA 2TB hard disk drive.  Unlike a few years ago – the average home PC now has upwards of 750GB to 1TB of disk space.  Advanced configurations are starting to even include RAID setups in a standard home PC that push beyond 2TB of raw disk space.

 

With these increasingly large drives and increasingly large home systems comes an increasingly large requirement for reliable backup storage.   To complicate matters further, many home networks like my own have multiple client PCs, sophisticated server machines, virtual machines, domain controllers, network appliances and an increasingly complex selection of devices that need reliable backup space.  

 

Then… disaster strikes.  On Monday of this week, my Windows 2003R2 server machine decided to crap out on me while I was installing a backup battery on my Intel SRCS28X SATA RAID card.  Fortunately for me, I have always had a couple of 1TB Western Digital external drives hooked to my machine with scheduled Robocopy jobs that sync data off of the RAID array to the externals as a crude form of backup.

 

In this instance, I was able to restore all of my data from these drives without incident.  I have discovered, however, that I am quickly running out of space for backups.  My home network contains about a terabyte of RAW data on the server and a total capacity of about 6.5TB of drive space across all of the machines in the house.  Granted I don’t have the typical home setup, I am fortunate in that I have designed the system such that my Domain Controller uses group policy to map all of the traditional “documents folders” on each of the machines to a network drive.  This means that all of my data is in a central location – on the server, easy to backup and restore but vulnerable to an outage like the one I experienced this week when the server dies.

 

Enter the Drobo.  For those of you who have not seen one yet – they’re a cool little box with four hot-swap SATA drive bays and a pretty intelligent stack of electronics (click here for a look).  The Drobo is basically a RAID unit – but unlike traditional RAID units – it doesn’t prompt you with 10 billion different configuration options, hassle you with the configuration complexities of RAID, nor even require you to insert four drives of the same brand, model, or size.  In essence – the folks at Data Robotics have given you a standalone redundant storage system that is intelligent enough to manage itself and simple enough for your mother to use.

 

The technology behind the drobo is amazing. It seems to waste a little bit more of the traditional drive capacity of say, RAID 5, but the amount of wasted space depends heavily upon how you have it “stocked” with drives.  If you have four 1 terabyte drives, for example, you end up with 2.7TB of disk space where the typical RAID-5 setup would yield 3TB.  The drive itself is very simple – a black box with front access to four quick-release drive bays (you dont even need to put drives in a tray – just slide the bare drives in), a light next to each bay for drive status, an array of blue LEDs on the bottom to show you how “full” the drive is at a glance, and then a power and activity LED.  On the back, you have a gaping hole that acts as the exit for the cooling fan, a power connector, and ports for USB and FireWire 800.

 

I’ve wanted one of these little guys since the day they were released.  On Thursday of this week, I happened to look on New Egg and they had a listing which showed a 4X1TB Drobo for $654.99.  Since the base price of a drobo is around $400, another $254 for 4 1TB drives seemed like a deal – so I ordered them, even with next day shipping.  I was determined that this would be a good backup system for the most important files in my network, and with room to expand and the ability to expand at will – I was looking forward to it’s arrival.

 

So it gets here this morning and I open it up.  What do you know, The box contained a bare Drobo unit and a RoboShare device (basically a little box that sits under the DROBO and turns your Formerly DAS device into a NAS device).  What’s this?  I say – no drives?  Could my faithful friend Newegg have mislead me on their website with the 4x1TB comment?  Yup.  Turns out that what I ordered was a Drobo/DroboShare bundle.  Funny thing is – the price of this “bundle” was around $60 more than if I had purchased them seperately – $110 more if you consider the current $50 mail in rebate promotion.

 

With awesome service, as usual, NewEgg agreed to RMA the device – and even offered me return shipping labels.  Me being the techno-geek that I am, however, I decided that I would drop a couple of drives in and benchmark the device to see how well it performs.  For some reason, in nearly all of the review’s I’ve read they comment on the simplicity, the coolness, and the uniqueness of this little “Data Robot” but they never include good performance comparisons.  I mean, after all – if there is ever an opportunity to “try before you buy” – this is it – regardless of whether I end up ordering another one or not I have to return this “bundle”.

 

The results are disappointing.  Don’t get me wrong – the device itself is awesome.  The ease of use is fantastic, the ability to continually “grow” your storage by replacing drives one at a time as you need more space is fantastic – something you can’t think of doing with normal RAID.  But when you think of using it in the type of configuration I am, you’re talking about moving gigabytes and gigabytes of files performing incremental backups on a daily basis – and if something cant move files quickly – it just isn’t efficient.

 

So to test this device – I decided I would do a USB 2.0 test *AND* a FireWire 800 test from my shiny new 17″ Macbook Pro under Windows Vista 64-bit.   I read about problems with Firewire on earlier versions of firmware – so I hooked the Drobo up via USB, installed two Western Digital WD2500KS 7200 RPM SATA-II drives, and installed the drobo software.   Upon installing the drobo “Dashboard”, which is a utility to show you current information about your little robotic friend, you are prompted to perform a firmware update.  At the time of this writing, that is version 1.3 – I performed the update, partitioned and formatted the drive – and got ready for testing.

 

Now – one of the weird things about the Drobo is because you can constantly upgrade the drive space by ejecting one drive and replacing it with another, larger drive – waiting for it to rebuild, and then repeating – you end up with a device that can “grow” from it’s initial capacity.  Windows would most certainly think this to be odd – so you “thin provision” the device to a certain size – anywhere between 1 and 16 terabytes.   The larger the provision, the longer Drobo takes to start up.  The lower the provisioned size, the more likely you are to end up with multiple logical drives as you expand past your initial provisioned size.  Drobo recommended a 2TB partition, so that’s what I went with.

 

It’s a little weird that although this drive only had around 238MB of free space (basically a mirror when you’ve got 2 drives) – it shows up in Windows as a 2TB drive.  You must use the Drobo Dashboard software or the lights on the front of the device to gauge actual capacity.  No big deal though, it’s a small price to pay for the unmatched flexibility this device has to offer.   Since i was already plugged in with USB – I decided to perform my USB tests first.  I decided I would perform two copy operations using RoboCopy, and spit the results to a log file to see the actual bandwidth specifications.

 

The first file was an ISO that I downloaded from TechNet – a 5.5GB ISO of Exchange Server.   I figured this would be great for seeing sustained transfer rate over a large file copy operation.  The second was going to be a transfer of a folder off of my machine that contained 389 Megabytes of data spread over 1,644 files and 96 folders – an accurate depiction of backing up something like a “Documents Folder”.  This would be good for testing the sustained transfer rate over many smaller files and folders.

 

The Results were suprising actually…..

 

Tests run on a 2.66Ghz Core2Duo MacBook Pro with a 7200RPM 320GB Western Digital Scorpio Black HDD, 4GB of RAM, running Windows Vista 64-bit

  • USB 2.0 – 5.5GB Large File Transfer – 25,228,221 Bytes/sec. – Roughly 25MB/sec or around 1443.570 Megabytes per minute.
  • USB 2.0 – 389MB Small File/Folder Transfer – 4,947,238 Bytes/sec – Roughly 4MB/sec or around 283.083 Megabytes per minute.

 

I then shut down the computer, Powered down the Drobo, and hooked it up via the FireWire 800 cable, plugged it into the PC – then rebooted everything.  I expected to see better performance, especially given the information on Drobo’s website – boy was I wrong!

  • FireWire 800 – 5.5GB Large File Transfer – 23,397,584 Bytes/sec – Roughly 23MB/sec or around 1338.820 Megabytes per minute.
  • FireWire 800 – 389MB Small File/Folder Transfer – 4,209,998 Bytes/sec – Roughly 4MB/sec or around 240.898 Megabytes per minute.

 

I also ran HDTune tests and received the following results

  • USB 2.0 – Read Benchmark Test
    • Minimum Transfer Rate – 18.7MB/sec
    • Maximum Transfer Rate – 23.4MB/sec
    • Average Transfer Rate – 19.6MB/sec
    • Access Time – 2.0ms
    • Burst Rate – 16.2MB/sec
  •  FireWire 800 – Read Benchmark Test
    • Minimum Transfer Rate – 13.3MB/sec
    • Maximum Transfer Rate – 17.3MB/sec
    • Average Transfer Rate – 14.4MB/sec
    • Access Time – 2.1ms
    • Burst Rate – 11.7MB/sec

 

I can only hope that something with Windows Vista 64-bit wreaks havoc with Firewire 800 speed.  I dont know of any other way to explain such a drop when going from USB 2.0 to FireWire 800.

 

My conclusion – The drobo is awesome….. IF.   If you like flexibility, if you like ease of use, if you like an attractive physical piece of hardware – then the drobo is your guy.  If you’re storing relatively infrequently accessed data or data that will be built up over time (pictures and home movies for example) – this device is perfect for you.  If you’re looking to backup gigabytes of data and run backup scripts on a daily basis that incrementally update the data already stored on the drive – look elsewhere.

 

That’s exactly what I did.  I ordered a Lacie 4Big 2TB unit.  Once she gets here (early next week) – I’ll perform similar tests and post the results.  The big difference?  Other than FireWire 800 and USB – the Lacie drive also supports eSATA.

 

When the folks at Data Robotics release a Drobo with an eSATA connector – I’ll definately own one of these great devices.  Until then – have fun putting YOUR home movies, pictures, and documents on one.

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Multi-Boot and Multi-OS on Mac Pro – the best way.

Being a total PC geek, I have always been anti-mac.   This is to say, of course, until I joined the iPhone bandwagon and started development for the iPhone, which requires Mac Hardware.  Now that Mac hardware is all intel based, however, I find myself still falling back to Windows installs as often as possible.  And now that I have seen how incredibly any operating system runs on my Dual Quad Core 2.8Ghz Mac Pro with dual video cards, 16-gb of RAM, and four 1TB Western Digital Black 1TB hard drives, I am truly enjoying mac hardware.

 

Traditionally, Apple has provided a Boot Camp installer – which is a great tool when you want to share a single drive to run multiple operating systems.  Boot camp will shrink your OSX partition, create a landing spot for your favorite flavor of windows and then kick off the installer for you.  What you get in the end is a PC with a single drive that contains multiple partitions – one of which will be your “default” OS, and the other which can be selected for restart using the boot camp manager or can be picked on the fly by holding down the OPTION key as the mac starts up.

 

As I have illustrated in an earlier article, all of this hubbub is totally un-necessary on the Mac Pro.  The Mac Pro is a standard EFI PC, and can boot straight off of the windows installer disk just as well as it can the Mac OS installer disk.  Additionally, the Mac Pro is the only PC (thus far) in the Apple lineup that supports multiple hard drives – four, to be exact.

 

In this article – I will walk you through creating the ultimate geek set up – modeled after my own Mac Pro, quad booting Mac OSX, Windows XP 64-bit, Windows Vista 64-bit, and Windows 7 64-bit.   I will assume that you already have install disks for each of these operating systems, you have four bare drives – all of which have been installed in the Mac Pro’s drive Caddies.  At the present time, do not place the caddies into the Mac Pro – we’ll do that one at a time.

 

  1. Install the first bare drive into bay 1 (closest to the front) – we’ll use this one for Mac OSX
  2. Power the Mac Pro up, eject the DVD drive, and insert the Mac OSX disc 1 into the drive.  If the machine gives you an error because it cannot find a boot device, simply restart again once the CD is inserted.
  3. The Mac Pro should boot straight off of the install CD – but I always recommend holding the C key as soon as you power up the machine, which will force a boot from the DVD drive.
  4. Install Mac OSX
  5. When Mac OSX has completely finished installing, eject the installer DVD and replace it with the Windows XP-64 bit install DVD.  Close the drive tray and power off the machine.
  6. Gently pull out the Mac OS Hard Drive located in Bay One just far enough so that it is no longer connected to the motherboard – 1/2″ should be fine.  Fully install your second bare hard drive into the second bay.
  7. Power up the machine and hold down the C key to boot from the Windows XP DVD you placed in the drive in step 5.
  8. Follow the instructions to install Windows XP 64-bit on the machine.  The system will restart many times.  If the setup application fails to successfully boot and resume the installation process, restart the machine and hold down the Option key.  Pick the Hard Drive Icon to boot from the hard drive and resume the install.
  9. Once Windows XP has completely finished installing, eject the installer DVD from the drive and replace it with the Vista 64-bit DVD.  If the Vista Installer begins running, exit and then shutdown the machine.
  10. Gently pull out the XP64 hard drive located in bay two just far enough so that it is no longer connected to the motherboard – 1/2″ should be fine.  Fully install your third bare hard drive into the third bay.
  11. Power up the machine and hold down the C key to boot from the Vista DVD you placed in the drive in step 9.
  12. Follow the instructions to install Windows Vista on the machine.  The system will restart many times.  If the setup application fails to successfully boot and resume the installation process, restart the machine and hold down the Option key.  Pick the Hard Drive Icon to boot from the hard drive and resume the install.
  13. Once Vista has installed successfully, eject the installer DVD from the drive and replace it with the Windows 7 installer DVD.  If the Windows 7 installer begins, exit and then shutdown the machine.
  14. Genlty pull out the Vista hard drive located in bay three just far enough so that it is no longer connected to the motherboard – 1/2″ should be fine. Fully install your fourth bare hard drive into the fourth bay.
  15. Power up the machine and hold down the C key to boot from the Windows 7 DVD you placed in the drive in step 13.
  16. Follow the instructions to install Windows 7 on the machine.  The system will restart many times.  If the setup application fails to successfully boot and resume the installation process, restart the machine and hold down the Option key.  Pick the Hard Drive Icon to boot from the hard drive and resume the install.
  17. Once Windows 7 has installed correctly, eject the installer DVD from the drive and close the tray.
  18. Power down the machine.
  19. Push all of the hard drives completely into their bays and close the Mac Pro case.
 
 
This completes installing all of the Operating Systems on your machine.  At this point, Mac OSX should boot by default, and you can pick any of the other Windows installations by holding the ALT key during the boot sequence.  You’re not done yet.  One of the things that could cause a problem at this point is that Mac OS will be able to see all of the Windows Partitions, and each of the Windows partitions will be able to see each of the other Windows partitions.  This doesn’t actually create a problem right off the bat – but if any of the partitions are edited by one of the other operating systems either inadvertently or on purpose, you could end up with a system that won’t boot.
 
 
The solution – we want to boot each of the windows partitions and remove the drive letters pointing to the other windows installs.  Once we’re finished with that, we’ll want to boot up Mac OSX and edit the /etc/fstab (File Systems Table) to tell it not to mount the windows partitions automatically.  The process for this is simple:
 
 
On the Windows Partitions:
 
  • Boot into Windows (XP, then Vista, then 7)
  • Assuming you only have one DVD Drive in your Mac Pro – you’ll notice that the hard drive representing your current active OS will be your C: drive, your DVD drive will be your D: drive, and then you will also see an E: and F: drive representing the other two Windows installations.
  • We want to make sure that the E: and F: drive no longer appear.
  • Right click My Computer and then click Manage
  • Click on Disk Management
  • Find the first hard drive partition after your DVD-ROM drive (most likely E:).  Right click the area containing the drive letter, and then click Change Drive Letter and Paths.
  • Click the Drive Letter, Click Remove, Click OK on the “warning” and then click OK again.
  • Find the second hard drive partition after your DVD-ROM drive (most likely F).  Right click the area containing the drive letter, and then click Change Drive Letter and Paths
  • Click the Drive Letter, Click Remove, Click OK on the “warning” and then click OK again.
  • Close Computer Management.
  • Reboot the PC, boot the next windows installation, and repeat the same steps.  Do this for Windows Vista AND Windows 7.
 
These steps will ensure that your windows installations do not inadvertently step on one another.
 
 
On Mac OS X:
  • Open a terminal window.
  • At the prompt, type “sudo pico /etc/fstab” and press enter
  • Enter your password.  This is a UNIX based text editor.  Depending on your OS version, this file will most likely be blank.  If there are already entries in here, scroll to the bottom of the file and put your cursor in the first column of a new line.
  • Open Disk Manager
  • Once Disk Manager populates all volume information, you should see a tree view with four drives.  Underneath each of the drives there will be individual partitions.
  • The first drive is Mac OSX, we don’t want to do anything with this one.
  • The second drive is Windows XP 64-bit.  There should be one partition on this drive.  Click the partition, then press command-I to get information.
  • You will notice a “Universal Unique Identifier” – this is a GUID that identifies that partition.  Expand the window so that you can see the entire number and copy it to the clipboard by hilighting it and pressing command-C.
  • Go back to your terminal window – enter the following line “UUID=<PASTE YOUR IDENTIFIER HERE> none auto ro,noauto” – the first line will look something like this “UUID=E4545B84-D5B9-46EF-AD91-802433AAD41C none auto ro,noauto”
  • Repeat the same thing by pasting the identifiers for the partitions on the remaining two drives much like you did in the previous steps.  When you are finished, you should have one line for each partition you want to HIDE from Mac OSX.
  • When you are completed, press CONTROL-O, press ENTER
  • Press CONTROL-X to exit pico.
  • Reboot.
 
Now you have happily installed Mac OSX, XP64, Vista 64, and Windows 7 64 on your Mac.  You’ll want to finish each install by going into device manager and ensuring that all drivers have been installed.  On the Vista and Windows 7 partitions, you can use the MAC OSX CD to install the Boot Camp control panel and remaining drivers.  When all is said and done, you’ll have four absolutely clean and segregated installations, and one sweet running rig.
  

 

Installing Windows Vista on a Mac Pro Non-Startup Disk

So, you've gone through the boot camp wizard and have prepped your hard drive for boot camp.  When you run the Vista installer, you get an error indicating that your drive either can not be found or is not suitable for use.

How to fix it?  Well, it's really easy.  Vista supports EFI so crack open the case on your mac pro and pull out the startup disk so that the only drive "hooked up" in the system is your Vista Hard Drive.

Boot up, install windows, and then put your Mac Drive back – easy as that.

Hope this helps 😉  I've seen many more convoluted solutions and this one appears to be the easiest.