Page 1 of 2
Many people appear to hit difficulties when it comes to installing Windows XP on a system that's been set up to use nVRAID for whatever reasons. We at AOA felt that it was time for an article that covered installing Windows XP on an nVRAID system. Documentation that's provided with most nForce 2/3/4 motherboards appears to skip over the topic, hinting that it's possible, but without giving any good solid directions! We set out to rectify that.
For those who are wondering just what nVRAID is, it's the RAID 'controller' built into many nForce 2/3/4 motherboards. For the sake of this article, we are using an EPoX 8RDA6+Pro motherboard and two Seagate 7200.7 SATA hard disks. The 8RDA6+Pro sports two SATA channels and two IDE channels using the nForce 2 chipset (There are four SIL3114 SATA channels, but they are not useable for nVRAID). This allows for a total of six hard disks in an nVRAID configuration. Whilst this article is SATA specific, the same rules apply for ordinary IDE disks.
We've broken down the install process into five easy steps:
1) Getting ready
2) Create an nVRAID support disk
3) Setting up the BIOS
4) Creating the RAID array
5) Getting XP to see nVRAID
If you've already got Windows XP installed on your machine, then this article is not for you, unless you are happy to re-install it!
Before we can install Windows XP, there's a bit of groundwork that needs to be completed. Obviously you need to have your hard disks physically installed in the computer as well as a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive AND a floppy drive with a blank formatted disk. As we mentioned above, we've got two Segate 7200.7 hard disks, with one on each SATA channel. We've also ensured that our machine is not overclocked, just so we can get the installation done safely.
Create an nVRAID support disk
Part of the installation process requires the initial Windows XP installer having access to the nVRAID drivers. Some motherboard manufacturers provide a floppy disk with the drivers on, others provide a CD-ROM that can create the disk. We decided that these drivers are almost always out of date, so we downloaded the latest nForce platform drivers from nVidia's site onto another computer (At the time of writing, they were version 5.10 - link). Unpack these drivers by running the file, by default they'll unpack to C:\NVIDIA\nForceWin2KXP\5.10\. After the drivers have unpacked themselves, they will attempt to install, so just hit cancel. As the drivers are not being installed on the machine at this point, it means you can use any system with Windows on it. If you have a USB key, it's also worth saving the platform drivers to the key for updating Windows XP!
Using Windows Explorer or similar, navigate your way to the C:\NVIDIA\nForceWin2KXP\5.10\IDE\WinXP folder. You'll see a bunch of files in the folder - these are the ones we need to copy to the floppy disk! Select all the files, EXCEPT the raidtool folder. The quickest way of getting them to the floppy is to right click, Send To, and select the "3½ Floppy (A:)" link. These are all the files we need for nVRAID support in the installer. Don't forget to label the disk, so you know what's on it, just in case it gets lost down the back of the sofa.
Setting up the BIOS
The following screenshots are from an 8RDA6+Pro board, so other boards may have a different look to them.
Before nVRAID can be set up, the motherboard has to be told which hard disks can be used for RAID. This is done by entering the motherboard BIOS with the "DEL" key when the board starts up. There's a bunch of menu options here, but the one we're most interested in is the Integrated Peripherals option. This will show you another menu (not pictured), but we're only interested in the "IDE Function Setup". This will provide another menu with a whole bunch of options!
The IDE Function Setup screen is the screen where you can select exactly which drives are assigned to the nVRAID array. If you're running SATA drives, you need to ensure that the Serial-ATA option is enabled, otherwise you won't be able to select the drives! Secondly, ensure that the IDE RAID option is also set to Enabled, otherwise you can't assign drives to the RAID array. The SATA Spread Spectrum option is best left disabled unless you notice interference with TV or radio transmissions. Finally the drives can be assigned to the RAID array! This is done by selecting the channel and setting the RAID to Enabled. In the image to the right, you can see that both SATA Primary Master RAID and SATA Secndry Master RAID are set to Enabled, meaning that the RAID module will work on these two drives. There's nothing stopping you adding other IDE drives to the array if you want, as long as they're on the interfaces connected to the nForce 2/3/4 chipset. Don't forget to save and exit!
Creating the RAID array
Once the system has rebooted after saving the settings in the BIOS wait until the screen shows the "Press F10 to enter RAID setup utility ..." message, then hit F10. Be warned, there's only a few seconds when you can hit F10 and have it register, so you might have to be quick! If you're unsuccessful, just reset the machine and try again.
When you get into the nVRAID BIOS, you'll be presented with a screen that allows you to assign drives to an array. In our case, we only have two drives, as you can see in the picture. You can use the TAB key to move between the various fields. The field you're editing is picked out in a cyan colour. Move the highlight down to the "Free Disks" section, and hit the right cursor key to add the disks to the array. If you want to build more than one array, set up the first array, then come back and create the second array the same way.
You do need to make sure that the RAID mode is set correctly! For RAID0, you need ensure that it's set to "Striping". RAID1 is known as "Mirroring". Both RAID0 and RAID1 need at least two disks to implement. RAID0 can cope with more than two disks, so you can effectively span up to six hard disks. If those happen to be 400GB hard disks, then you have 2.4 Terabytes of storage available! RAID0+1 requires a minimum of four disks to operate . Let's take a quick recap of the types of RAID array that nVRAID supports. RAID0 provides you all the space, but with no redundancy; if a disk fails, the array dies with it. RAID1 only provides you half the space, but it's fully redundant; if a disk fails, the data is safe and the machine should keep working. RAID0+1 is a combination of the two, you have half the space, but better performance!
Once you've set the array up the way you want it, you can hit F6 to go back to the main RAID utility screen, which will look something like the picture on the right. This screen shows an overall picture of all the nVRAID arrays in your machine - you can have up to three on the 8RDA6+Pro motherboard. You can see that we've got approximately twice the disk space of the original disks, as this is a stripe (RAID0). You can also see that it's set to be the bootable drive automatically - we didn't have to set this up. However, there's one thing we'd recommend doing before going any further: wiping the partition table on the disks. Don't panic, nVRAID provides an easy way of doing this. Select the array you want to wipe, hit ENTER to get the array detail. By hitting C on this screen, you can easily erase the partition table. Why do we do this? Well, if there's been any partitions on the disks previously, Windows XP gets a bit confused and won't allow you to partition the drive the way you want to. It's safest just to delete the table, so we don't have to worry about XP getting confused. Once you're done, exit out of the nVRAID utility.