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Setting up a software RAID on a new PC

RAID setup

How do I setup software RAID on Windows XP ?

The description below is for setting up a bootable C: RAID system on your NEW XP computer. For details on setting up a data RAID on an EXISTING computer, see my Server/NAS, RAID setup page

Setting up software RAID on a new computer is made more complex because Windows will be unaware of the 'System Restore' partition hiding on your C: drive. So neither 'system copy' nor a 'full backup' is going to 'pick up' the System Restore partition. Instead you must use 3rd party 'cloning' software to get an 'exact copy' of the original C: drive. Then you can setup the RAID

Further, Microsoft only enables** software RAID on the 'server' version of their XP Operating System ('Server 2003'). I guess that (even today) Microsoft thinks the 'home user' has nothing worth saving (since RAID is not enabled in Windows 7 Standard or Home Premium either - you do get it in Windows 7 Professional, however that comes with all the nasty 'control your PC from the network' services enabled).

**RAID support has existed within all MS Operating System core code since Windows 2000 Pro, but is only 'enabled' on the 'Server' versions of w2k & XP

Of course if you know how to use a Hex Edit tool and are willing to modify some text strings in 3 of your system files (and are not resident in USA where the Digital Millennium Act makes it illegal for you to modify 'your' Operating System files on 'your' computer) there is nothing to stop you 'turning on' RAID support.

Note - the method below is intended to be used BEFORE TURNING ON your new computer for the first time, so you will need an existing computer that can be used to download from the web and 'burn' CD's. To setup a RAID Mirror on a system that's already 'running', see my Server/NAS, RAID setup page

What computers are compatible with RAID Mirror ?

Any desktop (or tower) PC that has two 'same capacity'** hard drives

**It is not necessary to have two totally identical drives - the second drive only needs to be the same speed and same or greater capacity as your existing C:. So, before paying rip-off 'spare part' prices for a second drive that's identical to your C:, check what's available from the likes of eBuyer etc.

What else should I do to prepare my new PC for RAID ?


When you turn on a new computer, the first thing that happens is all the 'crapware' starts auto-installing - so you need to take a 'snap shot' of your system BEFORE it's crapped out. Since making a disk copy is part of setting up RAID, it's a good idea to do the RAID set-up before letting the computer start windows

To prepare for RAID, you should install the Windows Recovery Console (you might already have it, but it's not installed by 'default')

To install the Recovery console, you need a Windows System CD (or OEM 'Operating System Recovery disk'). If you don't have one, and you are 'lucky', you MIGHT have the option to create (burn) one during initial boot-up = check your new computer's documentation

Using some other PC, go read Microsoft's explanation How to install the Recovery Console.

Insert the bootable System CD, power-on into BIOS and make sure 'boot from CD' is top of the 'boot order' list (whilst in the BIOS, check that all the SATA drive interfaces are set 'enabled' or 'auto' etc.) then continue by booting the CD and follow Microsoft's instructions to install the Recovery Console

A2. Power-on and F8 into the Windows Recovery Console, go into root of C: and examine the 'boot.ini' file. Locate and (if necessary) edit the [boot loader] section to include 'timeout=10' to give yourself a 10 second timeout before the computer starts to boot the Default choice

What else will I need to setup a RAID ?

You will need to use an existing PC to obtain the Open Source Hex Editor utility and the Clonezilla Live ISO (and burn that to CD).

If you don't have ISO burning software, I recommend ImgBurn. Note this is entirely free for non-commercial use, however I would like to encourage you to make a donation to the author - he is only asking for $2 and this software beats all the commercial rubbish (such as the Nero, Roxio, Digital Media Studio, Sonic or the Sony (DRM infected) 'free trial' (that was, no doubt, 'included' with your new computer) hands down.

Why do I need Clonezilla ?

Your system hard drive (C:) has one or more 'hidden' partitions that contain the manufacturer's (eg Dell) 'Factory Reset' data (consisting of your Microsoft Operating System and all your drivers). When you select 'RAID pair' in Windows Disk Manager, and it 'builds the mirror', none of the 'hidden' partitions are copied, so you have to do it manually first (see later).

Dell computers have a proprietary Master Boot Record (MBR) that allows access to the 'hidden' partitions during boot-up (by pressing 'Ctrl+F11'). Microsoft's standard MBR won't do that. From mid 2004, Dell added a 3rd partition (positioned at the end of the physical drive), presumably to prevent customers buying Dell PC's with the tiny 'loss leader' hard drive and then avoiding Dell's 'upgrade' rip-off price by fitting their own larger drives. For more on how Dell's 'recovery' partitions work, see here.

How do I enable software RAID in my system files ?

First get the full instructions for the modification (of Windows XP with sp3) which can be found at How to enable RAID in Windows XP Pro.

Next locate the 3 system files (eg by extracting them from your XP System CD) and use the HEX EDIT tool to modify COPIES. Burn the modified copies to a CD for use with the new PC.

How do I replace the existing system files ?

F8 Boot your PC into Recovery Console Mode (DO NOT allow it to boot into Windows) and replace the 3 existing files in C:\Windows\system. Make sure you also replace the versions hidden in the 'System Restore' folder (in c:\windows\system32\dllcache) = otherwise, when Windows detects the changes you made, it will replace the modified files with the 'back-up' copies held in \dllcache

The Recovery Console is intended to allow you to 'boot' into a 'Command line' (DOS like) system even when Windows itself is so corrupted that it is unable to boot. You can then use the Console to replace corrupted system files (by extracting them from your Operating System 'sliver master' CD), or, if unable to Repair your Windows, you can use the console to copy any vital data files off the C: disk before wiping it with a reformat whilst reinstalling Windows (or doing a 'factory restore', which has the same effect).

Be aware that if you ever have to do a 'factory re-install' (or re-install from the Microsoft Operating System CD), you will loose your software RAID - so it might be a good idea to 'burn' a copy of the modified versions on a CD-R (along with all your Drivers etc.)

Note also that the original form of this trick was discovered prior to the release of XP Service Pack 3. When sp3 was released, Microsoft replaced all 3 files with new versions (which then had to be modified slightly differently). This MAY have been a simple co-incidence, however if your RAID suddenly stops working, the FIRST thing I suggest you do is uninstall the most recent MS Update :-)

How do I add my new hard drive(s) ?

Open up the computer and find the SATA connections on your motherboard. Chances are the first 2 will be in use (existing C: hard drive and CD/DVD) - just plug the new drive cable into the first free SATA connection

It's a good idea to mark the C: drive cable in some way - if you confuse it later you risk wiping your existing system

After installing the drive, power-on into the BIOS and make sure the new drive can be 'seen' OK.

Your existing C: will be 'disk 0', your CD/DVD 'disk 1' and the new drive 'disk 2' or maybe 'disk 3'. If it's 3, to avoid confusion later, I recommend you power off and move it's cable to the other free motherboard SATA connector now.

Do NOT continue into Windows = you will be booting with the Clonezilla CD next.

How do I prepare my new drive for RAID Mirror ?

Insert the Clonezilla Live CD, Boot it and use it to do a 'drive copy' clone of your existing C: drive onto the newly installed drive.

You should expect your original C: to be 'disk 0' (and contain at least 2 partitions), your CD/DVD to be 'disk 1' and the new, unpartitioned / unformatted drive to be 'disk 2'. If you see something else, be VERY CAREFUL before proceeding (if your mix up C: and any new, empty, drive you will end up 'cloning' 'empty' onto C:).

You should now have two identically configured drives.

How do I build the RAID (without 'configuring' the PC) ?

F8 Boot into SAFE MODE.

In Settings, Control Panel, Administrative Tools launch computer Management. Then double-click Disk Management. Check that it can 'see' both drives (disk 0 and 2) OK. The first (disk 0) should show as C: (the second may show as E: or just 'un-named')

The System Restore partition should be 'visible' to the Disk Manager as the first partition on each drive. It will usually be shown as 'Healthy (Unknown Partition)'. It will typically be between 1 and 5Gb in size.

How can I create the Mirror ?

Unfortunately** you have to 'convert' both hard disks to 'Dynamic' mode before Microsoft will allow you to 'build' the RAID.

Select (click on) 'Disk 0' and right click to choose 'Convert to dynamic'. When the 'convert' menu opens, select both, 'Apply' & shut-down the computer when asked to reboot

**Dynamic disks seem to have more data transfer failures / corruption problems than 'Basic' disks. This may be due to the multitude of MS 'Services' that attempt to keep 'track' of file locations .. fortunately most of these can be disabled = see my How to disable useless services page.

How do I build the software RAID ?

Power-on into SAFE MODE & wait whilst XP completes the 'Converting to Dynamic' sequence. Then, back in Disk Management, select Disk 0, right click and choose 'Setup RAID Mirror' and select disk 2 as the 'second' drive.

What if 'Setup RAID Mirror' is 'greyed out' (un-selectable) ?

Chances are this is because your modified system files have been 'spotted' by Windows File Protection and 'restored from backup'. Go back and check you have made the changes correctly & then try again

NOTE - you can disable Windows File Protection (WFP) from Safe Mode. From Start, Run, type 'regedit' (or regedt32).

Find the registry key [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon].
In the right hand pane, 'Modify/Add a New DWORD Value', right click & enter name as 'SFCDisable'.
Then enter a value of 'ffffff9d' (Hexadecimal) to disable WFP.

When you next boot-up, the changes will take effect.

NB. You may have to disable WFP later, anyway, before Windows allows you to strip out some of it's more useless 'hacker friendly' (and thus unwanted) services and applications (remember - MS built Windows so that Corporate IT departments could control the 'Employees PC' remotely, so making it easy to strip out this 'remote control' would not have been a good 'marketing decision' :-) )

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