RAID 10 & hardware questions.

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I've been asked to build a number of Windows based computers that are
are fast and reliable and at a reasonable price.  They're for business,
not gaming.  I've built a lot of computers, but I've gotten stuck with
this one and after spending the week researching CPU's and MB's, my
brain is a bit fried.

For this project, I might be going with Windows XP Professional x64
Edition and 8GB of DDR2 (not DDR3).

I've started off with this as my hardware RAID controller:

3ware 9650SE-4LPML PCI Express Lanes: 4 SATA II Controller Card RAID
Levels 0, 1, 5, 10

And for hard disks, these seemed like a good fit (4 each + 1 spare for
"just in case"):

Seagate Barracuda ES ST3750640NS 750GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s
Hard Drive

For the PSU, I'm going with what I'm comfortable and happy with: Antec
Phantom 500 ATX12V 500W

I'm having a problem deciding which CPU to get.  I've looked at the
Intel Extreme, Dual Core and Quad Core. There are a bunch of seemingly
similar ones to choose from.  I'm looking for something as fast as
possible but below $500.  I've read tons of reviews and so many seemed
to be aimed at gamers.  Since I'm looking for reliability (they're
running a business, not games), I don't want to overclock and deal with
any complaints.

Then comes the motherboard issue.  I been reading reviews of them all
week and I can't seem to home in one.  Previously, I used Intel Dual
Cores with relatively simple Asus MB's, Antec Sonata II cases with
Zalman fans and I've had no issues.

Since there are 4 hard disks, I'm going to need a case with a fan that
cools the hard disks.  Again, I've read several dozen reviews, been to
computer stores (terribly limited selections) and I can't find a case
that seems meets my needs (filter, fans, easy disk access, well-built).
  The funky gamer cases are a definite no-no.

I don't know why I'm feeling so lost with this project.  I would
appreciate any suggestions you can offer.

Re: RAID 10 & hardware questions.


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It's not reliability that's the factor, it's how many
simultaneous demanding threads the system will run.

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If you're familiar with certain boards and have to support
"issues", that is a good justificaton to stick with what you
are comfortabe supporting, so long as it meets the need.

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The ideal for 4  disks is a case  with 2, 92mm fans.  92mm
is the widest you can fit while the  diameter is small
enough that the drive rack completely  encloses it,
resulting in all intake airflow flowing through the rack.
However, in a moderate  environment, it may not matter
having a single 120mm intake fan instead, so long as there
is some space (I recommend at least 1cm inbetween each
drive) between drives in the rack.  Some racks allow this
but others try to get as many drive mounting  positions as
possible leaving no space between them, so in this latter
case you should leave an empty drive space between each

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 Case depends a lot on budget.  There are a lot of options.
I suggest you go to Newegg and look over what they have,
because unlike many vendors they have reasonable pictures,
to know more about the interior of the case you're

Re: RAID 10 & hardware questions.

Julie wrote:
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For a business, these could be servers or they could be desktops.
The considerations might be quite different for each.

For a processor, your choices are relatively simple. There are dual
cores or quad cores. If this is a desktop, used for email, web surfing,
Microsoft Office, then the fastest dual core will be relatively cheap
and useful. If this is a server, with many tasks running on it at the
same time, then a quad core might be a better fit for the job.

One tough question people ask right now, is which of the following
is better. Both are $280.

Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 Kentsfield 2.4GHz LGA 775
Intel Core 2 Duo E6850 Conroe 3.0GHz LGA 775 Processor

In terms of total compute power, the first one is 4 x 2400, while the
second is 2 x 3000. For a single piece of software that can spread
to all four cores, the first processor is able to do more work (9600
units of power versus 6000 for the other one). Or, if the first processor
was hosting virtual sessions of some sort, and is heavily loaded, the
9600 units of compute power will be better than the 6000 units of the
second choice.

On the other hand, if a person is running single threaded software (desktop
scenario), a program which only makes use of one core, the second processor
would be better for that kind of task. Plenty of legacy software might run 25%
faster on the second processor, than on the first (due to the clock rate
available on the second one).

You could always explain this to the customer, and fill them in on the

Issues with RAID:


1) Using one of the reliable RAID standards listed for your controller (1, 5,
    if a single disk fails, the array can run in degraded mode, until service
    personnel can be dispatched. The machine continues to do useful work.


1) Complexity. In a desktop scenario, the typical user flips out, if they
    see any mention of "degrade" or "fail". Degrades are a normal occurrence
    when a computer starts, and perhaps one drive is not ready in time. While
    you can set up the RAID monitoring software to send an email, in case of
    trouble, that doesn't prevent the users from seeing what is going on. And
    flipped out users are not happy users.

2) A RAID equipped machine should be on a UPS. That allows orderly shutdown,
    in the event of a power disruption.

3) A RAID is not a replacement for backups. If the idea was "I'll just use
    this RAID 1 as an automatic backup system", think again. If the power
    supply overvolts on +12V, and burns the motors on all the disk drives,
    you have no backup copy. Also, I've been a user in a large corporate
    environment, where the RAID5 hardware controller for a major software
    server decided to scribble all over the array, requiring a restore from
    tape during daylight hours. Hundreds of people were twiddling their thumbs
    for three hours while that was rectified.

If you use a single disk per machine, the failure scenario is always
the same. Someone has to be dispatched pronto to fix it. If you use
the RAID, they don't have to arrive on scene quite as quickly, except in
cases where the entire array was destroyed. But the RAID may have more
nuisance maintenance calls, either due to user stupidity, or due to the
disks not playing nice all the time.

Certainly, the people who post here, who have no backup copies of their
data, and have just discovered a degraded or failed RAID, they're pretty
frantic. So there is a tendency to place too much trust in the RAID,
whereas if they had an "unreliable" setup, they might be more approachable
about setting up an automatic daily backup system.

I also saw mention of 8GB of RAM in your grocery list. That should be
equipped with ECC, as that amount of RAM represent an exposure for a
business and reliable computing. To use ECC DDR2, you'd need a 975X
motherboard, as that chipset supports ECC. I'm not sure there are too
many other choices for ECC equipped desktop motherboards. (Server
boards would be better equipped in that regard.) ECC makes
a big difference to your planning process, since it is not supported
very well on current Intel desktops. The X38 motherboards coming out soon,
would represent the replacement for the 975X, but those probably won't
be ready in time if you are shopping today.

(This is the master list at Asus. There are X38 boards listed here,
and those could support ECC. I cannot get to any of the product pages
that link off this page right now.)

(These two are FSB1333 capable, if you check the Asus CPU Support page.
Chipset is 975X.)

ASUS P5W64 WS Professional T (LGA 775) Intel 975X 12" x 9.6"  $295

ASUS P5WDG2-WS PRO T (LGA 775) Intel 975X 12" x 9.6"  $285

2x2GB DDR2 unbuffered memory kits, equipped with ECC. Fastest is PC2-5300 CAS5.

On a real server board, you might see FBDIMMs being used, and those
are fully protected.

In terms of coverage on ECC, AMD processors are in much better shape.
The memory controller is inside the processor. ECC is part of the
architecture, and the designer only has to wire up the DIMM sockets
for it to work. But in terms of compute power, the picture is
quite different.

It almost sounds like you're trying to use a desktop to take the place
of a server. Details are important.


Re: RAID 10 & hardware questions.

Paul wrote:
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These are the two that I read up quite a bit but I got terribly
confused. Just when I was thought the Q6600 was the way to go, I read
some (seemingly) conflicting opinions.

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The computers will be used for fairly ordinary stuff, including
PhotoShop CS2 which is very CPU and disk demanding.  They'll be using
Photoshop, email, virus checking, browsing and all the usual stuff.  The
users are very low on patience.  It sounds like from what you're
describing that the E6850 is the way to go.  Am I correct?  What about
the Intel Extreme?

I think that once I know which CPU is the way to go, picking a MB should
be fairly easy.  But the cases are driving me nuts.  I just don't know
if the Antec Sonota (which are small and sturdy) will have enough
air-flow for the 4 hard disks.  I find them them easy to build and very
quiet with the correct components.  Did I also mention that they want to
the computers to be as quiet as possible?

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No, they don't want choices.  That's why they're paying me.  I'm the
person who has to put together the systems.

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I already told them that a UPS was mandatory.  I use APC UPS 1200's and
set the voltage window to be as narrow as possible.
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I've drilled backup-backup-backup into their heads (to both DVDs and to
an external hard disk) and already told them that RAID 10 will protect
them from a hard disk failure but not from data loss (del *.*, viruses
or data corruption).  I'm going to include an external hard drive
enclosure as part of the package.  I use Ghost 2003 but I think that
they might have problems with that; it's a little on the geeky side.  I
saw Ghost 12.1 but I never used it.  I haven't tried any consumer backup

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That might be overkill for this project.  They're not running 24x7.
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No, they won't be servers.  They are desktops, but they want speed,
speed, speed and as much reliability as reasonably possible (UPS, RAID
10, backups, routers).  They're loading multiple 100+MB files and it's
currently taking forever.  One of the systems was taking 20 minutes to
boot up but I was able to get it down to 4 minutes just by talking them
through some steps.  Some of the performance factor is lack of computer
maintenance on the part of the user, user not knowing how to use the
programs properly and the other is that the computers are 3+ years old.

The external hard disk enclosures will be SATA connected.  I get nearly
2GB/min performance with my current systems.
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Re: RAID 10 & hardware questions.

Julie wrote:

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Photoshop is a bit of an issue when it comes to benchmarks. Some of the
filters are multiprocessor aware and some are single threaded. In addition,
there may be issues as the number of cores grows. Some of the Mac people
in the past, who have done Photoshop benchmarks, break the results down
by filter. There have been a couple benches constructed, where one benchmark
concentrates on single core and one concentrates on the multicore ones.
Many review sites now, use benchmarks they constructed themselves, and
don't explain what was tested. Which leaves the reader of the articles in
a lurch.

Here, a quad at 2.66GHz runs a bench in 113 seconds, compared to a
dual at 2.93GHz running the same in 124 seconds. So the quad looks
worthwhile, for a slight increase.

There are a few comments about the above article, here.
the software.

If we look at Tomshardware, you'll notice the dual core is still beating
the quad core, only in this case they use Photoshop CS3 and their own
benchmark. It doesn't look like they've fixed their results.

The guy here, knows a bit about the filters, and the filter choice in
the benchmark helps pick a winner.

I know at this point, your head is spinning (and mine hurts a bit too).
So for fun, now I switch to Cinebench. Cinebench is closer to a perfect
scaling application. When doubling the cores doesn't double the results,
you can blame memory bandwidth, FSB bottleneck with X cores, or make
up your own theory. In the chart at the bottom, the Q6700 doesn't do
bad, and it costs $540 :-) Job done. Your customers can while away their
days, tweaking Photoshop themselves :-)

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The computer I'm typing on, is an original Antec Sonata. It has a 120mm in the
back. The lower drive rack, is side mounted. It holds four drives, and
each one fits a tray with rubber grommets. You bolt the drive to the
tray, then slide the tray into the side mounted rack. The only issue with
that, is occasionally the cables interfere with the door, so the cables
have to be tucked in. With SATA drives, you'd want to look for some
right angle or left angle cables, to prevent the door from being an

What I did to mine, is removed the front plastic bezel, and pulled the
removable air filter permanently. This leaves some nice holes in the front
of the computer. In the back, I fitted the biggest 120mm money can buy.
Fresh air enters through the holes, and immediately hits the disks.

The rear fan is on a voltage reducer, and even then, is not quiet. I
don't think you want to do that (use a 110CFM fan). But you can still
borrow from the concept and select a slower 120mm fan. My case temp is
only a few degrees above room temp. (I even have a sensor on the front
of the computer, that measures room temp, and uses the third channel of
the hardware monitor.)

(My 120mm fan :-) An impulse buy at a local electronics store. )

Once the restrictions on the front of the case are removed, the
drives will be nicely cooled.

If you want a big case, a CMStacker is one option. In one of the
reviews on this page, one of the reviewers gives a list of model
numbers and what you get with them in terms of features. See
"Great Case, Confusing Model Numbers"

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OK. I've worked in places, where the staff I work with, know more about
what they're buying, than the builder.

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Well, this is where you "meet or exceed" expectations. Come up with a
backup scheme that requires minimal interaction from them. I've seen
some neat schemes where I've worked, but they took money. One scheme
backed up the data, into another country :-)

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Well, what happens when there is a memory error ?

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So this is really a desktop scenario. If the desktop falls over,
or the current work is corrupted, they go back to the last saved
state. The only cost, is a little cursing and swearing. Been there,
done that (the cursing and swearing I mean).


Re: RAID 10 & hardware questions.

Paul wrote:
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Contrary to what one might have thought, my delay in responding to you
was not due to indifference but you've entirely altered my thinking so I
spent the entire time pursuing a different strategy.

I've decided, and the users agreed, to forego the RAID 10 or RAID 6
solution.  Although the extra disks would have sped up the system and
reduced the chance of disk failure, I felt that by introducing more
variables into the equation could make repairs much more complicated for
the user.

I've also dropped the idea of a 64bit OS since the users are comfortable
with XP Pro and don't want to risk having any of their applications not

The X38 boards are so new that I can't find any meaningful reviews on
them and I don't want to take a chance of bleeding-edge technology.
Especially upon the users.

I've looked over the links that you provided and my head was truly
swimming.  Here's what I've come up with so far for components:

EVGA 122-CK-NF68-A1 LGA 775 NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI ATX Intel Motherboard

4GB/computer of this:
CORSAIR Dominator 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500)
Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory
with the memory cooling fans.

To answer your question regarding memory failures. If there's a memory
failure it will shut them down for a bit and they'd have to find and
pull one of the four RAM modules to resolve the problem.

Getting three hard disks/computer.  One for the external enclosure, one
for the main hard disk and the second one for Photoshop cache.
It might be overkill in size, but if the main hard disk should fail then
one of the other disks can be pressed into service.

Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD7500AAKS 750GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA
3.0Gb/s Hard Drive

I'm going to replace the fans with blue LEDs near noiseless
non-illuminated fans.

Antec Nine Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case

ZALMAN ZM600-HP ATX12V 600W Power Supply 100

Since they're not gaming, this $29 graphics card should suffice.
GIGABYTE GV-NX72G512P1 GeForce 7200GS 128MB 32-bit GDDR2 PCI Express x16
SLI Supported Video Card - Retail

ZALMAN ZM600-HP ATX12V 600W Power Supply 100

Intel Core 2 Duo E6850 3.0GHz LGA 775 Processor - Retail

To keep the CPU cooler and much quieter than a stock CPU fan:
ZALMAN CNPS9700 LED 110mm 2 Ball CPU Cooler

And when it's in stock:
Antec MX1 External Enclosure

Plus a SATA DVD burner.

Comments, opinions and suggestions are encouraged and welcomed.

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