More RAID Wonderfulness…

With the increase in the amount of data taken up by images on my PC data throughput has become a real problem. Dozens of seconds to load and save files, not to mention 25 seconds to open Photoshop. Each image I take of my camera is 25-30MB, and when I am working on a file, it can be 600-800MB for a few days until I’m happy with it and compress it down to a flattened image at about 100MB. Loading and saving these files can take up to a minute on my PC.

I started looking into increasing the performance of editing images on my PC. The main prompt was the fact that my 1TB drive in my pc crashed (I had 3 backups so nothing lost). I took a look at what the main bottlenecks were, and it seemed that disk speed was one of the main problems. Having discussed RAID systems in a previous post, I thought I’d investigate setting up a striped array as a second drive on my desktop. Striping allows two disks to be “merged” showing up as 1 disk to windows, but the underlying writes are spread across each disk, theoretically doubling the read/write performance.

First of all I discovered that Windows 7 now includes software RAID, and the benchmarks on the web showed that the speeds were very similar to the motherboard RAID solutions for both RAID 1 and RAID 0 (Mirroring and Striping), so I had a go at that. Well into the process of copying about 800GB of data around the place to make two spare drives, I found that only Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate allow RAID configurations. I’ve got Windows 7 Home Premuim, which DOES NOT have RAID functionality. Bummer.

Then I took a closer look at my motherboard, and it has a RAID controller built in. But there was a problem, I couldnt enable the RAID controller in the BIOS without causing my current windows installation to give me a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) at boot. Even the solution suggested by Microsoft didnt help, so I freed up another 500G SATA drive and installed a fresh copy of Windows 7 on it, after enabling the RAID controller on the motherboard. It was very particular about the BIOS settings to get windows recognising the SATA CD-ROM drive and the hard disk. Anyway, once I got the settings right, I installed Windows and the nVidia RAID software.

Then, I installed my two 1TB drives (Seagate Baracuda 7200.12’s, €80 each in Maplin), and kicked off the nVidia storage manager. This is quite a neat piece of software that allows easy configuration of arrays based on spare disks in the system. I started a couple of self tests on the disks, which checked out healthy. I chose not to migrate any existing data, so the new striped array was created in seconds in the nVidia storage manger. Then using the Disk Manager in windows to create a couple of partitions on that disk, which again, took seconds, I started up the ATTO Disk Benchmark Utility. Previously I had tested the Seagate disks individually, giving me a max speed of about  125MB/sec. With the new striped array, this was increased to 247MB/sec! Success.

ATTO Benchmark for Striped 1TB Seagate Baracuda 7200.12’s

Because it’s a striped disk, I need to be very careful to have a good backup policy, because if one of the disks in the array goes, I lose ALL the data. If youwant data security, dont use RAID 0 (striping).

Now to install Photoshop CS4, then the CS5 upgrade, and restore my photos onto it and see what kind of performance improvement I get in general use editing pictures. I don’t expect the actual processing to be much quicker. but organising images in bridge, generating previews, loading/saving large TIFFs should all be improved.

Once Photoshop was installed, I started it up, it took about 8 seconds. Closing and opening again took about 4 seconds. This is an improvement from about 25 seconds from cold with my old 80MB/sec boot drive.

Adobe bridge seems a lot snappier now, with previews loading much quicker. Also, I can now save a 1GB TIFF file in under 10 seconds. I reckon this will save me a several days over the course of a year 🙂

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6 Comments

  1. admin September 22, 2010 at 8:58 am #

    Footnote: I’ve also ordered a USB 3.0 PCI Express (x1) card and a dual SATA-USB3 adapter from eBay. That should increase the speed of backups onto (and restores from) external hard drives from about 25MB/sec to 100-120MB/sec. If I had Windows Professional, I could create an external RAID on USB3.0, and double that rate again, as USB 3.0 is good up to 400MB/sec, so 2 striped drives at 120MB/sec should give approx 240MB/sec. Bit I’m stuck with windows Home Premium, so I’ll have to live with 100-120MB/sec. 🙂

  2. IHL September 22, 2010 at 11:09 am #

    WOW!!! 🙂 You know your stuff for sure… Would increasing the RAM have helped?

  3. admin September 22, 2010 at 11:22 am #

    Inaki,
    The PC already has 4gigs, so no shortage of memory. What would help, though, is swapping out the motherboard for one that has dual channel memory controllers. My current motherboard is single channel, which could be a bit of a bottleneck.
    Using a motherboard with a dual channel memory controller would help in the acutal processing of images, where it’s copying large amounts of data around in memory.
    Dave.

  4. admin September 22, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    Footnote2:
    PC: Medion, €449.99 at Aldi
    Motherboard: MSI MS-7366 Ver 2.2 (4xSATAII), on-board nVidia RAID
    Boot Drive: 500G Seagate Baracuda 7200.10 (was WD Caviar Green, which I replaced)
    RAID drive: 2 x 1TB Seagate Baracuda 7200.12 in RAID 0 (Striped)
    OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (came with the PC)

    The 12th gen Baracudas seem to have much better sustained transfer rates versus the 10th gen drives. 125MB/sec versus 80MB/sec.

  5. admin September 23, 2010 at 8:42 am #

    I just discovered that I have an old external case lying around with happens to have an eSATA interface. And, my PC has a dock on top for eSATA. So, I plugged out the DVD drive (I only have 4 SATA connectors, remember), and plugged in the STAT cable from the dock. then, inserting a drive into the external case, and plugging it in to the dock, it was able to read and write to the drive at 80MB/sec, which is about as fast as that drive will go. Much better option than USB 2.0. And it’s hot-swappable.

  6. Niall Whelan January 11, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    Hi Dave,

    Good Article! I feel the need to buy some disks, but then again I have a problem. I do all my processing on a laptop with a 500GB disk and backup to external USB 2.0 disks. Now I thinking should I really have a desktop with a similar config to yours above to do most of the post processing…

    Thanks,
    Niall.