How to Make a RAID-1 DAS for Under $125

I love working with video. Shooting, editing, uploading, watching, and even facilitating the storage of video is a process that feels a lot like archiving moments in time. Through video, we are able to see an event as it happened in the past, and keep it preserved for generations to come. Indeed, the people who will walk this planet long after we are gone will likely stumble across cats that play on keyboards, geeks who make fun of pre-flight announcements, and possibly even discover just how much our youth likes turtles.

Indeed, working with video can be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, video takes up a lot of space. This means that you need to invest in some form of physical storage in order to keep a high-quality copy on hand without stressing out your ISP by sending large source files to the cloud.

This is one of many reasons to consider investing in a local storage solution. Important digital documents, music, programs, photos, and other files should be backed up in order to preserve them in the event that something happens to your primary hard drive(s). Unfortunately, most external storage solutions are only as reliable as the hard drive itself. Modern spindle drives are only so reliable, and the rate of failure increases dramatically as time goes on. Within the first three years, the rate of failure for a standard drive can sit somewhere around 5%. After three years, this failure rate climbs as the read head and bearings that keep the platter spinning at just the right speed wear down.

One solution to this problem is establishing a RAID that adds redundancy to your external storage solution. Unfortunately, hardware RAID enclosures are very expensive, and the price increases as you add more drives. Thankfully, there are some software solutions to setting up a RAID that allow you to combine two less-expensive storage devices into a virtual RAID system.

RAID-1 is one of the simplest and most straightforward standards. It creates a duplicate set of data across two or more drives, significantly decreasing the chance of hardware failure caused data loss. The chances of having two drives fail inside a single RAID-1 are far less than relying on a single external drive, and for this reason it is one of the preferred RAID solutions among consumers and single-system users.

There are, of course, other solutions out there such as RAID 0, which stripes information between multiple drives and thus increases the read/write speeds. Unfortunately, this solution also increases the chance of hardware failure causing data loss as any one part of the array failing will render the entire chain of data unusable.

So, you want to try making a RAID-1, but you have a budget that restricts you from buying one of those pricier hardware solutions? There are a few things you can do to make this happen. Here is the solution that has thus far worked for me, but keep in mind that it may not be the best all-around solution for any and all circumstances.

Things you’ll need:

  • BlacX Duet from Thermaltake– $50
  • Two duplicate internal hard drives – $??
    • You can use 2.5 inch or 3.5 inch drives, so long as they’re at or under 2 TB in capacity, each.
    • The drives do not have to be duplicates, but be aware that mismatched size will result in a loss of capacity on the larger drive.

You could go expensive with the drives, but for this application I was able to snag two SATA drives for roughly $60 at a local discount computer store that specializes in refurbished products and/or overstock merchandise sales. These are great places to find a deal on hardware that is still covered by warranty without having to pay retail.

The BlacX Duet is a two-drive docking station that allows you to insert standard and small drives intended for internal use and run them externally. This particular model gives you the ability to connect to your Mac or PC using eSATA or USB 2.0. You can write to both drives simultaneously, making it a workable solution for a basic software RAID configuration.

Now comes the software end of the process. Once you have the two drives inserted in the BlacX Duet, and you’re ready to set up the RAID, you’ll need to configure things using your operating system of choice.

If you’re a Windows user, here are the steps you’ll need to set up a software-driven RAID-1 (mirrored array).

  • Right-Click on your My Computer icon and select Manage.
  • Select Disk Management from the list of features on the left side of the window.
  • Make sure there is nothing on these disks that you want to keep. If so, move them over to another drive.
    • If the drives have not been initialized yet, do so now.
  • Right-Click on the first disk in the list you’d like to turn into a software RAID and select
    New Mirrored Volume…
  • Add the second disk to the mirrored volume using the wizard that guides you through the setup process.
  • Assign a drive letter, if you want.
  • Under format, you would normally want to use NTFS if the array is being used on a Windows machine. FAT is great for cross-platform use. Bear in mind that the RAID is being set up through software, and will only continue on your host machine.
  • Once Windows completes the process, you should have one mirrored drive ready for you to add files.

As a side note, Windows will only recognize two drives on the BlacX Duet through the eSATA connection if your system supports the “port multiplier” function. This can often be turned on through BIOS if it isn’t switched on by default. Please check your manufacturer’s website for more information on this feature.
Users of Mac OS X can set up a mirrored RAID using this process.

  • Open Disk Utility after connecting the BlacX containing two drives to your Mac.
  • Select the first of the two drives in the menu on the left side of the screen.
  • Select the RAID tab.
  • Give your new RAID a name in the RAID Set Name field.
  • Select your preferred format. For Mac-only use, Mac OS X Extended (Journaled) is preferred.
  • Under RAID type, select Mirrored RAID Set.
  • Click and drag the second drive for your array to the drive field.
  • Select Options.
  • Configure your RAID block size to your preference.
  • If you wish Mac OS X to manage your RAID automatically, select Automatically rebuild RAID mirror sets.
    • This option rebuilds the array if one drive is removed, added, or fails, and is most helpful in software arrays that contain more than two drives.
  • Hit Create.

At this point, the array will be formed and a single drive will appear in place of two individual ones.

Important Notes

Creating a RAID deletes everything that exists on the two drives. Make sure you’re not using drives that currently hold any important data you wish to keep.

A hard drive docking station is much more exposed to the elements than a closed system. This means elements such as dust, dirt, pets, children, and ninjas can disrupt the drive’s operation much more easily than an internal mounting solution.

This setup is simply meant to be a proof of concept, and not intended for long-term or commercial use. Simply put, I assembled this RAID in order to prove that it can be done on a tight budget.

RAID-1 divides your storage capacity by half. You should expect to lose at least 50% of your starting capacity. You are literally making two cloned volumes, which means that 2 TB of data will be created for every 1 TB you add to the RAID.

Software RAID solutions are considered less reliable than hardware ones. This particular solution isn’t intended to be better than a purely hardware product. It’s simply an inexpensive method of creating an automated system of redundancy in order to provide an added level of protection from data loss.

3 comments On How to Make a RAID-1 DAS for Under $125

  • Usually I would rather go with a built in raid on the motherboard that some motherboards do offer this ranging from raid 0, 1,3 , 4, and 5. Raid 1 is the simplist as you said. Software side I have not had the experience to deal with but with servers or computers that have a raid controller for Saa or SCSI. I would usually suggest raid 5 for the best redundancy on them since you can always repair more than one disk if it should faily. Raid 1 with two disk is great for a home computers. I still have a 2u server configured with a raid 1 on it. And use it as a testing machine when dealing with websites mainly. 

    • Thanks for the input. Yes, RAID 5 would be great. Ultimately, I’d like to see something like a Drobo (which I think is a modified RAID-5?) fitted with solid-state drives. That might combine speed with storage reliability in a great way.

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