I am currently in the process of building myself a new server. This server will primarily serve as a file server as well as a learning platform for Windows Server 2008 and other various utilities such as Microsoft CRM 4.0, System Center, and others that come with the Microsoft Action Pack Subscription. I’m a Microsoft Partner so I was able to pass a test and literally be able to purchase tens of thousands of dollars worth of Microsoft software for just $299, all legally.

My original intention was to build my server with six identical 750GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 SATAII hard drives in a RAID-5, with 100GB of the 3.5TB partitioned as the C: drive. However, the RAID array never seemed to initialize properly. I had left the IMSM BIOS utility overnight for 2 whole days with it saying “Initialize”. Finally, I lost patience and gave up on it – especially after I had read some forum comments about Intel’s Matrix RAID slowness in initialization. I immediately tried setting up a RAID-1 array of two of the 750GB hard drives. The initilization was instant and it was immediately available and ready with a status of “Normal”. I then decided to RAID-5 the remaining four hard drives. Again, the initialization was instant and it was immediately available and ready with a status of “Normal”. At this point, I probably should have deleted the arrays and tried the full six disk RAID-5 array creation once more. But, I went ahead and went with the Server 2008 install. The down side to this RAID-1 and RAID-5 mixed setup is I basically “wasted” 1.5 TB of potential space, as two of the 750 GB hard drives have to be dedicated to the RAID-1 mirroring and the RAID-5 parity (although parity is actually distributed across ALL disks, equaling approximately 750GB total for parity data).

The next step was the installation of Server 2008 Standard Edition, x64. I have 8 GB of RAM installed on a Gigabyte GA-EP35-DS3R motherboard with the Intel P35 chipset and a Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz CPU. The hardware is definitely not server-grade, but it works well for a budget server and so far everything has been installed and running without a hitch. I’m fully going to rely on the RAID-1 and RAID-5 for my nearline backups and an online backup subscription to MozyPro for the more serious business data. This server will finally be the central hub for all of my data – photos, music, videos, documents, e-mail, and business-related data.

So the moral of the story here with Intel Matrix RAID is this: It’s great for a low-cost, budget PC or server but it definitely lacks when it comes to true RAID benefits and performance. A true RAID solution would have, at a minimum, support for up to 8 drives in a RAID-5, battery backup, and onboard dedicated RAM for RAID caching. These RAID solutions costs upwards of $500 for an add-on card alone. The Intel Matrix RAID costs $0 when it’s already included in certain motherboards.

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