Archive for October, 2008

Things you need to know about the Vantec NexStar MX and RAID

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

When the Vantec NexStar MX (NST-400MX-S2) first came out I was quite excited. A dual drive housing, “how great will that not be for backups?” Then I discovered that it did not have RAID 1 support. I then looked at some of the entry level NAS devices, but they were more than I needed and cost quite a bit more. Fortunately not too long after the S2 they released a new version the SR (NST-400MX-SR) which supported RAID 0 and RAID 1. I sent Vantec USA a few technical questions specifically around RAID rebuild times and what happens in the event of a disk failing. They were pretty quick to respond. The disk light would go off in the event of a disk failing and the rebuild time was about 1GB/m. I also asked if the drive would rebuild without being attached to a machine and they said it would.

So I recently purchased the SR version and proceeded to setup 2 x 250GB SATA disks in RAID 1 (mirroring). I initially flipped through the instructions and then installed the drives in the housing. Everything was easy to install and the manual was reasonably clear and I set the jumpers to RAID 1. When I first attached the housing to my machine and started up disk management in Windows I was presented with 2 drives. I suspected I had not set the jumpers correctly but proceeded to create partitions and format the disks anyway to test it out. I then shut the housing down and opened it up and checked the jumpers and found that I had in fact not set them correctly, so I set them and pressed the little reset switch as per the documentation, but was still presented with two drives in Windows. After going through all the jumper options I could still only get two single drives. I even went as far as wiping the disks with the Seagate tools and starting again, no joy. I mailed Vantec twice, but their speedy support was now something of the past and I received no replies whatsoever. I then sent the housing back to the supplier and asked them to make it work. Two days later the housing was back and declared working. So I started it up and sure enough it was now in RAID 1. I then queried the technician who had worked on it and the trick was to press the reset button while the unit was powered on! Something that was not stated in the documentation (they suggest you press it before installing the drives). So I tested it for myself and sure enough it worked. It was actually quite cool starting up disk manager, setting the jumpers, pressing the reset switch and watching the disk config change suddenly. Obviously doing this destroys any data you had on the drives!

So the next thing to do was to simulate a drive failure and the subsequent rebuild with RAID 1. What you will notice immediately when coping data to the housing is that both drive lights will burn solid, once the copy is complete they will turn off. I then shut the housing down, removed one of the drives and started it back up again. Contrary to what Vantec support claimed, the drive light did not go off, instead it would flash on/off. Thus I would suggest each time you start your housing up let it flash through the initiation sequence and wait for both lights to stop flashing. If one continues to flash on/off at steady intervals, you have a failed drive. If you copy data to the housing while a disk is in a failed state the good drive will burn solid and the failed disk will continue to flash. I then shut the housing down reattached the drive and started it up again. It probably took about a minute or two before the rebuild started. Both lights will burn solid similar to when coping data. I did also test ejecting the housing while a rebuild was in progress (I used USB) and as soon as I did that the lights would stop flashing, so I had no idea if the rebuild was still running or not. I suspect that once again Vantec were incorrect and it’s best you leave the drive attached while the rebuild runs. I would also advise against copying data to the housing during the rebuild as this will only slow the rebuild down and potentially cause other unforeseen problems.

After all that struggling I am however very happy with the unit. The only minus (and most of the reviews mentions this) is that the fan is quite loud. I don’t leave the housing on for long (it’s just there for backups) so I don’t have to bare it for long šŸ™‚

I hope this post helps someoneĀ  else in the future!

Edit:

After some futher digging on the internet I found some posts on Newegg suggesting that Silicon Image SteelVine Manager is able to show you the RAID status of the NexStar MX. To find this go to:

Silicon Image Support Page

  • Select SiI5723 Storage Processor
  • Then Configuration Manager
  • Then your desired OS (I selected Vista)
  • I then downloaded SiI57xx SteelVine Manager for Windows 5.1.24B

For convenience a direct link can be found here

Edit: Users of the NST 360 MX with 2TB drives should read the great comments from JP