Slipstreaming for Fun and Profit: RAID Setup in Windows XP

Slipstreaming for Fun and Profit: RAID Setup in Windows XP

Slipstreaming for Fun and Profit: RAID Setup in Windows XP

Slipstreaming for Fun and Profit: RAID Setup in Windows XP

In my previous post, I was detailing the process for building an NAS (Network Attached Storage) system using the Gigabyte GA-6KIEH-RH mainboard in the Chenbro ES34069 Mini-ITX Server case. While setting up the system, I hit upon a snag when I tried to get the Gigabyte board’s onboard SATA/RAID controller to work in Windows XP.

In order to get Windows XP to recognize the mainboard’s onboard Silicon Image 3114 SATA/RAID controller as a bootable drive, the drivers for the controller need to be loaded and installed during the initial Windows installation. This is normally done by loading the appropriate drivers onto a 3.5” floppy disk, and following directions when prompted by Windows in the first stages of the install to “Press F2 if you want to install a third party SCSI or RAID controller.”

However, if you do not have a floppy drive, you are out of luck! Windows XP will not detect any drivers on a USB stick or CD-ROM disc at this stage of the installation, and thus it will be impossible to get your RAID array working or even in some cases get Windows to detect any drives attached to the four SATA ports that are controlled by the Silicon Image SATA/RAID controller. This makes installing Windows to a RAID array or any of the drives on those ports impossible.

Since the Chenbro case does not have space for a floppy drive (and the Gigabyte mainboard has no floppy drive connector) I figured that it would probably be good to document a workaround to this problem. This workaround involves inserting the SATA/RAID drivers into a Windows XP installation disk by a process known as “slipstreaming.” This ensures that the drivers for the controller are loaded before Windows looks for places that it can install itself, allowing you to install the operating system to a RAID array or a drive attached to the controller.

Slipstreaming your XP Install

In order to “slipstream” the necessary drivers, you will need the following:

-Windows XP install disk

-Gigabyte GA-6KIEH-RH driver CD

-CD-Writer drive and compatible blank writeable CD

-nLite Windows Installer Deployment Tool – http://www.nliteos.com/

-Image burning software (I used ISO Recorder v2, a free download that integrates into the Windows shell)

-Approximately 1.5GB of free hard drive space

Luckily, the seemingly complex process of integrating drivers into the Windows installation environment is made incredibly easy by nLite, which has a friendly graphical user interface and does all of the difficult work for you.

The first step is to pop in the Gigabyte GA-6KIEH-RH driver CD, let the Autoplay run, and click on both the SATA RAID and SATA non-RAID links in the window that pops up. Copy the appropriate versions of these drivers into a location you will remember, as you will need them later. For my 32-bit XP installation, I just dragged the entire folders for the 32-bit drivers for both SATA RAID and SATA non-RAID onto my desktop, then combined them into one folder.

After installing nLite and ISO Recorder, you simply start nLite, insert your Windows XP installation CD, and tell the software to look for the Windows installation CD. Next, nLite will copy the relevant installation files to a folder you specify on your hard drive.

nLite Installation

After it is done copying (which might take several minutes) it brings up the above window, which allows you to customize many different aspects of Windows.Since we’re just dealing with slipstreaming drivers, I will only be touching on that aspect of nLite’s functionality; but there is plenty that you can do with the software to lighten up some of the Windows ‘bloatware’ and customize your installations easily.

NLite Drivers

Click on the “Drivers” button next to the “Integrate” field, and also select “Bootable ISO” next to “Create” on the very bottom. After you hit “Next,” a window will pop up. Use the “Insert” button and select “Multiple Driver Folder.” Select the folder you placed the drivers from the Gigabyte CD in earlier, ensure the radio button next to “Textmode Driver” is selected (it won’t let you select the drivers otherwise), and elect the driver versions that are designed for XP. Click next and then “Yes” to have nLite integrate everything. From there, it’s a simple matter to rename the label of your ISO disc image (I called mine WINXPPRO_6KIEHRAID so I could differentiate it easily) and to choose where to have the file saved.

nLite ISO

Once the ISO file is created, insert the blank CD into your burner and right-click the ISO file. If you have installed ISO Recorder properly, you should see the “Copy image to CD” option at the top of the menu. Select this option and click “OK” to burn the CD.

Installing the slipstreamed CD on your Gigabyte GA-6KIEH-RH based system works just like any standard Windows install. You don’t need to worry about pressing “F2” to install a 3rd party SATA/RAID driver, as Windows will load the slipstreamed drivers automatically before it looks for disk partitions to install itself on.

Setting up RAID

However, if you are interested in setting up a RAID array on the 6KIEH, you have a few extra steps to deal with first. In the system BIOS (press F2 during the initial boot) you will need to go to the “Advanced” tab, then under the “ICH8MDO Feature” make sure that the option next to “Silicon Image Sil3114” is set to “RAID.” Then, select “Exit Saving Changes” and tap the F4 key or Ctrl-S while the system reboots until the RAID Configuration Utility pops up. This utility lets you create or delete RAID arrays from disks attached to the four purple SATA connectors that are controlled by the Silicon Image 3114 controller on the mainboard.

For my example, I used the four 80GB disks in my system to create a 223GB RAID 5 array. RAID 5 provides some of the advantages of the speedier RAID 0 (striping data across disks) with the safety and redundancy of RAID 1 (mirroring data on two disks for security.) This means that, while essentially you only get the capacity of three of your four disks in one volume, it will read and write faster than a standard hard disk, yet you can also have a disk fail and not lose any data as the data stored on one disk is also stored on the others. Inserting a replacement disk will allow the array to be rebuilt without data loss.

In order to get Windows to identify the RAID array, there are two further steps that must be taken. First, it is recommended that you install the SATARAID5 utility bundled on the software disc that comes with the 6KIEH mainboard. This utility allows you to set up and rebuild RAID arrays within Windows. Next, you need to format and partition the array so that Windows will recognize it.

Right-click on the “My Computer” desktop icon and select “Manage” from the popup menu. This will bring up the “Computer Management” window. Select the “Disk Management” option on the left under the “Storage” tree. Make sure each disk is labeled as “Basic.” If a disk (most likely your RAID array) is labeled as “Unknown,” or “Dynamic,” right-click it and select “Write Signature” for an “Unknown” disk or “Revert to Basic” for a “Dynamic” disk.

Right-click on your RAID array and select “Create Partition.” Select “Primary Partition” when prompted and choose the size and drive letters desired. Once this is completed, Windows should recognize your RAID array as a single drive.

Should one of the drives in your array fail, the SATARAID5 utility will warn you. Once you replace the failed drive with a new one, you can select “Rebuild RAID array” from the “RAID Group” menu in the menu bar. Select the failed drive and the new drive in the resulting popup, and click “Rebuild.” This process can take a while, so do not restart your computer until it has completed.

This sort of RAID capability is very useful in high-traffic server applications such as those designed for business data servers or high-definition media streaming. The RAID 5 setup provides a performance boost in writing speed with the security offered by an automated backup system. As long as only one drive fails, you can easily insert another and use the utility to rebuild the array, preventing data loss. With the Chenbro ES34069 case and Gigabyte GA-6KIEH-RH mainboard, it is now relatively simple and affordable to have that sort of performance and security, whether you are a home user looking for a home theater PC/media server or a business looking for a data server.

Comments (4)

  1. Petar
    January 27, 2009

    Or you could just use a connected USB floppy disk drive during the Windows XP setup phase and hit F6 to select the drivers 🙂

  2. Cecil
    February 2, 2009

    That depends on the motherboard bios support for usb floppy boot. I’ve use nlite on a dell server build with a third party raid controller os install saved the day!!!

  3. Julie
    March 6, 2009

    It shouldn’t depend on USB Floppy boot since the Windows installer is being booted from CD-ROM.

    I’ve done this countless times with Windows boxen of all sorts and it’s the only reason I keep a USB
    floppy lying around.

    Give it a try next time.

  4. M. V.
    April 3, 2009

    My Little Falls 2 board let me use a usb flash drive as a floppy. Copied my raid drivers to the flash drive, and during the XP install, when I pressed F6, it simply saw my usb drive as drive A.

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