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Achieving Instant Performance Improvements By Upgrading Storage
Welcome to Accidental IT, a series of technical how-tos for people whose job descriptions don't necessarily include tech support but who often find themselves doing just that for their co-workers.
The size and number of files that accumulate on desktops and servers is growing beyond control. Fortunately, drive capacities continue to grow while the cost per gigabyte declines. But while it becomes less expensive to add storage to the typical PC, the larger drives present two problems. The first problem is that as the drives fill, file retrieval takes longer. The second problem is that more data is at risk by being on drives that are vulnerable to failure.
Access times can be improved by regularly defragmenting the drives, and data loss can be mitigated by performing regular backups. But when faced with the task of increasing storage by adding drives to a system, the combination of lower prices, increased capacity, improved throughput, and drive reliability can all be accomplished through a single upgrade operation.
As an example of this kind of quick fix, I installed a pair of Seagate 500GB Barracuda-7200.9 drives and a Promise Technologies FastTrak TX4310 SATA controller in a Dell 170L desktop PC. The drives were paired as a single 500GB RAID level 1 volume, replacing the original 40GB ATA drive.
The installation process is only a bit more complex than replacing a standard drive, but the most vexing issue was that Windows XP requires that third-party drivers be loaded from a floppy disk. Of the half dozen computers in my lab, only one has a floppy drive, which is likely to be the case for any servers and most recent vintage desktops you may want to upgrade. After making multiple backups of the existing main drive, I connected a 3.5" floppy drive and used the utility on the CD provided by Promise to put the SATA controller's driver on the floppy.
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