Free Apple RAID card in used 4,1 - boon or bust?

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by macmesser, Sep 1, 2012.

  1. macmesser macrumors 6502a

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    #1
    Just got my "new" 2009 and was surprised that although it started up and seemed to run fine (passed all tests in TTPro suite with not so much as a bad sector) , the startup drive did not appear on the desktop. At first I thought it might be suspended in space off screen somewhere but that was not the case. Perplexed, I undertook my first cursory exploration of a Mac Pro and after poking around the OS a bit I discovered that the 500GB disk the unit sold with was attached to an Apple RAID card that the seller had graciously gifted me with. The "Untitled" disk apparently had been part of a RAID, its soulmate/s sadly wrenched from it and dispersed to unknown regions of digital Hades. Oh, the horrors of being a digital appliance! As a sensitive person myself I'm worried that "Untitled" might be a bit unstable and possibly hurting, so I'm deferring any further operations like upgrading OS and cloning until certain no permanent damage will be precipitated. I'm assuming this disk's identity has been compromised and that's why it's reluctant to show itself. Can I simply disconnect it from the controller and attach it like a normal drive?

    Regarding the Apple RAID card itself, is there any reason not to keep it and perhaps even purchase a new companion for "Untitled"? The RAID utility indicates that the battery is being conditioned but as this is going nowhere the battery must be dead. Can I install a new battery?

    Thanks for any insights.
     
  2. velocityg4 macrumors 601

    velocityg4

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    #2
    Unless you plan on setting up RAID 5 or 0+1 it is rather pointless. The Apple RAID card was and is overpriced considering it does not add the ability for external RAID. If it was the fibre channel card that would be awesome.

    I'd sell it if I wasn't going to use the RAID 5 or 0+1. Just don't expect anywhere near the $699 retail. These don't seem to even fetch the $349 buy it now price on eBay. The card is just overpriced there are far superior third party card offering external expansion for less than the Apple card.
     
  3. macmesser thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #3
    Thanks for response. Will probably sell it if I find it's working OK. Will there be any problem with installing the drive as a single drive?
     
  4. elvisizer macrumors 6502

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    #4
    The apple raid card is terrible- the batteries die a lot, and even when they aren't dead, the card will want to condition the battery every 90 days. The conditioning disables write caching, killing the card's performance, and the conditioning can take over 24 hours!
    Also, there are no windows drivers for the card, so you can't access any drives connected to it from windows if you install that OS.
     
  5. nanofrog macrumors G4

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    #5
    Assuming the disk as good, then no problems (will require reformatting before you'd be able to use it).

    As per the Apple RAID Pro, dump it, even if you did need RAID 5, as it's really that bad. You'd be far better off using a 3rd party card if you ever need one.
     
  6. ColdCase, Sep 1, 2012
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2012

    ColdCase macrumors 68030

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    #6
    If you "go to computer" from the finder menu, can you see the drive listed ? The original owner may have hidden it. I have a few drives like that, not set to show up on the desktop. The finder preferences may also be set to not show internal drives on the desktop. The RAID card may not have anything to do with it.

    So the 500G is the only drive and is the boot drive?

    If you want to be sure of what you have, connect the drive directly to a SATA port, boot from the OS CD, use disk utility to erase and format the drive and rename it. Then install the OS on it.
     
  7. ScottishCaptain macrumors 6502a

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    #7
    Don't restart the machine, shut it down, or put it to sleep during the conditioning process. If you do, the process will wait for the battery to charge back up then restart. You must leave the system running throughout the duration of the process.

    If your Mac Pro is a 4,1 unit, then you've got the newer RAID card. These cards are fantastic- contrary to flack the older units rightly deserve (the previous generation of RAID cards had some serious issues with just about everything).

    Performance of these units is good. I've been running one with everything as a RAID5 volume for years now, and I've never had an issue with it. It just works. It is true that these units do NOT work under Windows (and since the RAID card "takes over" the SATA drive bays, none of your disk drives will be visible/usable in Bootcamp), but most people running the RAID card are solely interested in running Mac OS X.

    If you had an older card, I'd say sell it. Since it's a newer card (the Mac Pro 4,1 only accepts the newer units), I'd say keep it. The unit is probably worth around $400 or more, but you're going to have one hell of a time selling it because of the reputation these cards got from the older units being so flaky.

    If you toss three more drives in that system, you can run a RAID5 array- which means you're protected against a single drive failure in any of the bays. You'll also get insane read/write speeds (usually around 350mb/sec). If you're only adding one drive, then you can run a RAID0 striped array (which is twice as fast as a single drive, at the disadvantage that you lose everything if a single drive dies) or a RAID1 mirrored array (which is the same speed as a single drive, but redundant- any drive can die, the contents are the same across all drives within the array).

    Personally, I think they're a fine companion to the Mac Pro. They're the easiest RAID card to work with. If you do dump it and get a third party RAID card, well, good luck... It's kind of funny since everyone around here recommends non-Apple RAID cards, but then I see floods of posts about firmware compatibility issues, issues with Bootcamp, and issues with just about everything else you could think about. The only negative thing I ever read about the Apple RAID cards is about the old units, but again, you've got the new unit. And they work fine.

    -SC
     
  8. nanofrog macrumors G4

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    #8
    Not from what I've seen or other posters with them have stated.

    Battery reconditioning is still problematic (some still indicate issues), they're still slow (faster than the previous generation, but slower than 3rd party counterparts running the same level and drive count, and of course, there are additional options with 3rd party cards, particularly with increased port counts), and as you know, are not compatible with any other OS.

    Add in they're pricey, and support is horrible (any real issues, users tend to find they're on their own), I don't see it as a good choice.

    Minimum drive count for RAID 5 is only 3 drives.

    Based on what?

    I ask, as Areca isn't that hard in my experience, and ATTO is the easiest I've ever had access to, including compared to an Apple RAID Pro (BTW, these are made by LSI w/ firmware developed by Apple).

    Firmware issues usually arise out of users not knowing what they're doing, such as trying to use a card that's not compatible or not loading the correct firmware (unit must have either EFI or EBC firmware to work in a MP, and it must be installed of course, as the default firmware installed is BIOS).

    As per good firmware on a card that will work in a MP, but failed operation under OSX, most of what I've seen is the result of OSX itself (i.e. previous revision worked, user installed the latest without knowing/testing it's compatibility with their RAID system). This included breaking things with their own Apple RAID Pro cards BTW, not just 3rd party products.

    Just mentioning such details, as they're critical.
     
  9. ScottishCaptain macrumors 6502a

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    #9
    I've never had an issue. Conditioning is a bit of a pain in the ass, but whatever- you can force enable the cache and my system is on a UPS so it doesn't entirely bother me. I've had to condition server RAID systems before on other servers to properly calibrate the battery (most notably, HP's P800 controllers seemed notorious for reporting bad batteries after a year or two when in fact they were not). The only difference is that it seems to be mandatory on the Apple RAID card.

    You still need custom drivers to run those cards and the configuration utilities aren't included with OS X (obviously). Areca's solution of including an ethernet port on the card just so you can configure it without software is very bizarre and totally overkill to say the least (seriously, a RAID card running a web server?). What if you upgrade your OS? Will the RAID kernel drivers will work? Maybe, maybe not, who knows- it all depends on how interested your third party vendor is in supporting the next release of OS X.

    With the Apple RAID card, you install it in the top slot. There is no second step.

    Would I get better performance out of a third party solution? Maybe, but I bought this workstation to do work on- not to tinker with hardware. I would happily take a slightly poorer performing card that requires no driver installation and no additional configuration utilities over something that requires both.

    Perhaps I'm in the minority, but my card has been totally rock solid from 10.6.4 through to 10.6.8, 10.7 up to 10.7.4, and 10.8.1.

    -SC
     
  10. macmesser thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #10
    My conditIoning cycle will be long, if it ever completes. The Windows driver issues are a negative selling point.

    ----------

    Thanks. Even a JBOD disk won't be usable without the card?
     
  11. macmesser thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #11
    Thanks! Sure enough, the drive is there so it must have been hidden. HDs had not been checked in "show these on desktop" in Finder prefs. The drive checks out fine in RAID Utility as a Western DIgital Caviar, AOK. Don't have the OS Disks so a plan to clone a bootable DVD.
     
  12. macmesser thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #12
    Reformatting necessary even with JBOD?
     
  13. ColdCase macrumors 68030

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    #13
    Just to note that SNMTP or web management is a common/mandatory feature for the better stand alone RAID and enterprise type RAID cards. RAIDs that you want to manage remotely. Arcea may have just copied it over, or thought that not having to design and then the user install RAID manager software on the host computer would be a selling feature.
     
  14. macmesser, Sep 2, 2012
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2012

    macmesser thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #14
    Thanks for response. It's starting to look like the problems were due to my unfamiliarity with the hardware. I really need to analyze my needs as to RAID but I would prefer to keep options open and keep the card. (If, that is, it's not a liability and at the same time compatible with my new K.I.S.S. philosophy.)

    If one is not using RAID 0 but just a single boot drive (it would be a JBOD drive) and perhaps a RAID 1, is there any performance overhead incurred for the boot drive? Would it be faster on the standard SATA bus (ditching, of course, the card)? Could this equation be affected in any way by the native speed of the drive? (I have an Intel 520 Cherryville SSD on order for my boot drive). I want to run with as much speed as can reasonably be achieved. Perhaps I should just get an OWC Accelsior, don't know yet.

    If I set up RAID with the intention of having the machine double as a safe backup repository for a small Windows based POS system as well as a photography database, would there be problems due to lack of Windows drivers?

    Regarding operation, if it's used while conditioning does this drastically increase time and or speed? If interrupted does it go back to square one or is the resumed conditioning cycle any shorter? Have you needed to replace battery and if so how often?

    I noticed in RAID Utility that my single drive has state=JBOD but there are no (JBOD) RAID sets listed. Also no volumes. Is this OK?

    Much appreciate all the insights shared.

    ps- I'll be flashing to 5,1. Should this be seamless as far as the card is concerned?
     
  15. nanofrog macrumors G4

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    #15
    Conditioning is a PITA, as scheduling it usually isn't an option for most independent users (may not know to do it, or how if they're at least familiar with the performance issues it can cause). Granted, it can be solved to some extent (performance) by manually activating the cache, but there is still the lack of protection while the battery is conditioning (power goes, and not enough power to retain the data before power is restored).

    Now there are ways to mitigate these issues, such as using a sufficient UPS, and in enterprise environments, the UPS system is also backed up by generators. Unfortunately, this is well out of the financial means of most independents and SMB's in my experience (generators). So YMMV due to the specifics regarding the backup power system.

    As a result, 3rd party controllers don't include backup batteries, and only offer them as options if offered at all (expectation of being used in the enterprise environment that has a well designed backup power system). Not that big of a deal for independents and SMB's IMHO either, so long as they implement a decent UPS system (sans generators due to budgets).

    Even with the card battery installed, it's no guarantee, as the data created that has to be written to disk can exceed the cache capacity. Under such conditions, card battery or not, data integrity is relying on the rest of the backup power system assuming it's not shut down, and the application doesn't log where it left off (application automatically resumes operations where it left off when power is restored).

    I don't see this as a big deal though, and it usually doesn't require Herculean efforts to perform (Linux can be another matter).

    This is a requirement of a lot of enterprise users, as they don't have IT staff available for each and every server's physical location, so they require remote access.

    As it's currently formatted, that is correct. The system wouldn't be able to read it.

    Same thing happens when the disk's configuration is changed, even if it's not moved to a different controller (i.e. break up a JBOD set, and use each as individual drives).

    There are software packages that can recover the disk's data (essentially removes the JBOD formatting), and makes it available. And in such cases, the disk shouldn't be moved to a different controller prior to this being carried out.

    Better chance of getting it to work under multiple OS environments (Win, OSX, multiple Linux distros).

    If you mean to the MP itself, then No. If you mean on the card, Yes, but it's very small (single digit %, and typically no more than 3% on the slowest of controllers; 1% is typical of most these days).

    BTW, JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks), is usually read as multiple members concatenated/spanned into a single volume, not a single disk. To me, including single disk operation is a mistake, particularly with RAID controllers, as you are able to run both Single Disks and RAID arrays simultaneously. But this is not the case with JBOD and RAID (between these two, it's one or the other, but never both on the same controller; 2 separate controllers would be required for this due to how the card operates under these different conditions <only one can be loaded into the card's controller chip at a time>).

    No, the load on either the card or drive controller would be about the same. On a faster PCIe based controller, even less than the built-in controller.

    Native speed of the drive is the ultimate dictator of throughput.

    Where a separate card can seem faster, is when the data to be written is passed to the card's cache (if equipped), as the system "sees" it as completed, even if it actually hasn't entirely been written to the disk. The card takes over when the data is stored to its cache.

    But in regard to how much of the controller's time will be spent processing it, No (sits idle between read/write cycles, assuming no other disks are being accessed during those periods).

    If you mean to have Windows access it directly, Yes. Windows wouldn't be able to access the card at all.

    Now if Windows were running on a separate system, and you're accessing the stored data over a network, that's possible.

    If the card is being used while conditioning, and you haven't manually forced the cache to be active under that condition, it will slow the card's operation (cache is shut off during a battery condition by default, so you loose the performance benefit of the cache during the procedure).

    If interrupted, it should resume. Though IIRC, some have reported issues with this, particularly on the earlier generation of Apple RAID Pro cards (not as many newer ones out there).

    As per replacing the battery, Yes they must be replaced at some point, and unfortunately, the reports on these cards, including the at least one I recall, that the new ones have already needed this as well. Entire cards have had to be replaced because of battery problems (conditioning never stopped, battery replaced, and the card found to be defective <performance, stability, or both>).
     
  16. macmesser thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #16

    Thanks for sharing so much good information nanofrog. Will most likely return to this thread as a reference in the future. I feel like I have a handle on the issues now and after considering options I'm going to pull the card. The thought of the card failing is scary and there are better ways to handle my limited needs.
     
  17. nanofrog macrumors G4

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    #17
    :cool: Glad it helped. :)
     
  18. macmesser thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #18
    Probably overkill for me but I'm trying to determine if mine is busted. I notice that when I go into the RAID utility and try to clear the event history after a successful conditioning cycle, the events will not clear when selected and the delete button is pushed. Is this an anomaly or normal and a function of the fact that the startup disk is the sole (JBOD) disk on the system?
     

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