Wednesday, December 18, 2013

[Rant] How to upgrade my hard drive setup?

I've never liked having a lot of hard drives in my PC. I don't like partitioning either. In my PC, I currently have three drives. One of them is a 250GB SSD. The other two drives are hard drives, 3TB a piece. And each of them has only one partition.

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I only use one of the 3TB drives because the other one is used solely for backup. I never touch it. The backup happens automatically using Microsoft Sync Toy. I could have setup the drives as RAID-1 but I didn't want to go into the complexities of RAID. I am fine with manual backing up. Well, it is actual automatic - just not real-time. (I do use real-time online backup using Carbonite but I’m thinking about dropping it because it is too slow and you can never upload 3TB data within 20 years.)

The backup drive is a 5400RPM Western Digital Caviar Green drive. The other one is a speedy 7200RPM drive made by Toshiba. But in reality, you cannot tell which is faster and which is slower. The WDC Green drive is pretty fast. The main reason for that is both drives have the same platter density - 1GB per platter.

Before upgrading to these drives a year ago, I had two Samsung F3 1TB drives in RAID-0 and a 2TB Samsung F4 Eco drive for backup. That setup was pretty fast, but I was running out of space. I didn't know what to do. I already had 3 drives. I would always want the backup drive to be as large as the data drive. So 2TB in a RAID-0 volume and 2TB in a single drive satisfied that condition just fine. But where to go from there? I didn't like to see dozen drive letters in Windows Explorer. I wanted to keep it simple and partition logically, using folders. That not only makes things easier, but also allow me to fully utilize the free space. It is also easier to organize data as well. Ideally, I should have bought 2TB x 2 drives for data (setup in RAID-0) and a 4TB drive for backup. The 2TB drives are fine, but a 4TB drive would have cost an unjustifiable amount of money. Besides, I felt that I didn't really want RAID-0 for data. I don't access the data all the time. I wanted a hassle free storage solution.

I know what you are thinking. Wouldn’t keeping all the data in one partition affect the performance? The data that was written a while back would be residing in the beginning of the drive where the performance is also highest. But keeping the data that is hardly accessed (that counts to like 90% of data actually) in the fastest area of the drive is inefficient. No, that is not a problem, because I have enabled automatic defragmentation using Diskeeper and it moves the data around so that the performance remain in peek levels. The stuff that is less frequently accessed are pushed to the back.

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Anyways, I decided 3TB drives are the way to go. In fact, I managed to grab both drives are a cheaper price than they sell them in the US. So I sold off all my drives and got two 3TB drives - one for data and one for backup. At first I was a bit sad to let go of the RAID-0 data volume, but eventually I forgot all about it. Even though one of it is slower than the other, both drives cost pretty much the same amount of money. I went with a 5400RPM drive for the backup drive only for two reason - low power consumption and low risk of the drive going bad. I bought these drives when the Japanese Yen was much stronger than today, thus the current prices of these drives are higher than what I paid for a year ago! Funny!

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A year has passed and now I have only about 350GB space left (in each drive). I will have to come up with another storage plan eventually. Maybe I can get two more 3TB drives and use Windows 8's Storage Spaces to combine the data drives and the backup drives into two storage spaces. But that's almost identical to RAID - and perhaps inferior because RAID is not visible to the OS. The OS only sees one volume. The real stuff happens only under the hood. Storage Spaces seems to be like Dynamic Disks. (Read a guide on how to setup Storage Spaces here.) However, you don't seem to need to convert them into Dynamic disks initially. But what I don't know is whether all the data on the drives will be deleted when I make a storage space. That would suck.

But since I already have a backup in one drive, I don't have to worry even if it deletes everything. I can make a clone of the first data drive to the 2nd data drive just to keep a backup. Then create a storage pool from the two backup drives. Even if it kills everything on the old backup drive, it won't matter as I have a backup in the new data drive. After that I should copy all the data to the backup pool from one of the data drives. Now I can make a storage pool from the data drives. Then I have to copy it all back from the backup pool to the data pool. Should work fine, right? It would take a long time though.

There is another option though. I’m sure I will be able to find a lot of stuff on these drives that I will never use. Maybe I should search for them and get rid of them. If I can manage to free up 500GB (which is highly unlikely) I would be able to survive the next year until 6TB drives come out. But I highly doubt they will be affordable in a year.

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