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Living with the Promise FastTrak

  April 28, 1998 Author: Tim Peters  

Recently I've been contemplating building another system and hadn't really decided how much I was willing to pay for a hard drive, so I was excited to get the chance to live with the Promise FastTrak and two Maxtor 5.7 GB DiamondMax 2880 drives. My current setup consists of Pentium 200MMX, 64MB of EDO DRAM, a Shuttle Hot-557 VX chipset motherboard, an Adaptec 2940 SCSI card hooked up to my JVC XR-W2010 CDR, internal Iomega Zip drive, and Plextor PX-20TS (a.k.a. 12/20). For Storage I'm using a Maxtor 4 GB 84000A6 as my primary, and a Western Digital 1.6 GB AC31600 as my secondary drive. I'm using Windows 95 OSR 2.1 with the MS remideup and the inf update with DMA checked on both drives. As you can see in the profile below, this isn't a bad setup but there's certainly no cutting edge technology here.
My Computer Hardware
Motherboard Shuttle Hot-557 (VX chipset)
Processor Intel Pentium MMX 200MHz
Memory 64MB 60ns EDO RAM
SCSI Controller Adaptec AHA-2940 for JVC XR-W2010 CDR, internal Iomega Zip drive, and Plextor PX-20TS
Boot Drive Maxtor 84000A6 (4 GB ATA)
Secondary Drive Western Digital AC31600 (1.6 GB ATA)
Video Card Matrox Millennium PCI, 2 MB

My Operating System Configuration
Operating System Windows 95, OSR 2.1
File System FAT 32
Patches Applied 82371xB INF Update
Display Driver MGA PowerDesk v3.80
1024x768, 24-bit color, 85 Hz, Small Fonts

The controller and hard drives I received were the same used in the initial FastTrak testing in The Storage Review. Just to refresh your memory, the unit had a v.1.02 BIOS and the latest drivers dated 3/31/98 downloaded from the Promise FTP site. An engineer from Promise sent Eugene an e-mail suggesting that he use the 64k stripe block size in another test for better performance (lower stripe block size yields better access time whereas larger size gives you higher sustained transfer rates), so I decided on that for my RAID 0 configuration. I decided to partition the array into a large 9.5 GB partition for the C: drive with the last 2 Gigs going to the D: drive for my personal data.

Since the system wasn't a testbed but actually one of my personal machines, I wanted to transfer my data over to the new drives from my old ones. The only way to do that other than a backup and restore was to have my WD drive hooked up at the same time as the Fasttrak. In the extremely well detailed manual it states that to run a drive on the mainboard's IDE controller along with the array the mainboard drive must be bootable. I had to temporarily run my Maxtor and WD off of the on board IDE channels while I set up the Raid array, then transfer the data currently on the Caviar to the second partition on the new storage system. During this ordeal I ran out of Molex power connectors, so I had to unhook my Zip drive and CDR to temporarily hook up all hard drives at once. Once they were hooked up I booted using my old Maxtor and tried to copy my data onto the second partition on the array using Windows Explorer. This proved unsuccessful; during every copy attempt I received a fatal exception error and I had to start over. I eventually decided to just go to a DOS prompt and use good old xcopy, finally succeeding. At this point I was growing very tired and agitated at the problems I was having but was determined to get this thing up and running to see what it could do. Now with my data on the new drives I turned the machine off and unhooked my old drives from the controller cables and stole their power adapters to get my Zip drive and CDR back online. I now booted off of my boot floppy disk that has my SCSI drivers on it and put my OSR2 CD in and installed windows. Windows, thankfully, installed fine and I was back in business. As you can see, installation was hardly a breeze though I wouldn't necessarily say that it was the FastTrak's fault. I later discovered that I had a bad memory chip which I believe was causing my problem with the windows copy, and better planning on my part may have alleviated the power problem.

Right away I noticed windows seemed to start up and shut down faster than normal. I loaded MS Office 97 and noticed that the programs loaded faster when I started them as well. File copies also appeared to be faster. I was pleased with the performance of my new configuration. Next I installed Norton Utilities 3.0. Upon attempting to run Norton Speed Disk I received an error message that my drives were configured incorrectly and that the program refused to run. Disk Doctor gave me the same error. I decided that this was due to NU not being programmed to deal with a RAID configuration or possibly because the program couldn't handle such a large partition. I looked in the readme file and found a solution that read " can set a key in the Registry... To force Norton Disk Doctor and Speed Disk to always skip the drive configuration check, add a DWORD Registry value named NOLBACHECK at this location: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Symantec\Norton Utilities" I reran Speed Disk and Disk doctor and both ran fine at first. Disk Doctor began to find errors every time I ran it. Eventually it "fixed" my hard drive by getting rid of the extended partition. Oh well, at least I had a backup. I later scoured Norton's web site where I found their FAQ on NU 3.0, eventually finding a section entitled "Reconfiguring the Utilities for newer drives larger than 8 GB" implying that it may have problems handling large partitions.

At this point The Storage Review needed the hard drives back so I pulled them out and turned them back in. My final conclusion is that while the FastTrak is significantly faster in real world usage than a regular ATA setup I'm not ready to go that route yet. It doesn't appear to be supported by Norton Utilities and I use that for my disk repair and maintenance. Maybe Promise will fix those problems in a future BIOS revision and send me the new product. Until then I may just get a Pentium II and new motherboard and hold off on storage.

Promise FastTrak ATA RAID Controller
Estimated Price: $149

* Note: All reported test results are the average of five trials.


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