Apr 6 2006
01:31 pm

UPDATE May 2007: The Dell DataSafe setup discussed in the following post saved the day on one occasion. But there have been numerous problems. The factory default backup partition is not big enough, and Ghost does not manage backup storage well. It fills up and stops working and doesn't tell you. You have to check the logs.

I also had problems getting it to automatically consolidate/remove incremental backups and create fresh checkpoints, leading to problems with the backup partition filling up. Dell was not able to help me resolve these issues and Symantec does not support Ghost sold through OEMs (nor do either provide software updates). So I decided to go with an external USB drive for backups. As part of that plan, I was going to repartition the RAID-1 drives into one large partition and eliminate the backup partition.

I made a Ghost backup to the USB drive, repartitioned the drive, and attempted to restore from the backup. The standalone Ghost recovery environment would not recognize the USB drive. So I basically had to reinstall XP and all my software, then I was able to get to the USB drive backup and do selective restores of my current data using Ghost.

After all these problems, I decided Ghost was not worth the hassle. I switched to Acronis True Image Home 10. This software is far more flexible and easier to use and seems technically superior. It has better storage managment that lets you set rules based on space, number of incremental backups, or number of days worth of backups, and automatically cleans up and consolidates as necessary. The scheduler is much more intuitive and easier to use, and it can send e-mail notifications of all operations. (I think Ghost may have this feature, too, but I don't recall if I ever got it working.)

In addition, I attached a Seagate 500GB eSATA drive to use for backups. This is faster and hopefully more reliable than an USB drive. We'll see.

So now I have a RAID-1 mirrored 500GB logical hardrive (using two 500GB drives) on my desktop PC (which is a little over half full owing to 134GB of digital music ripped from my entire CD collection and 105GB of digital photo files) and a 500GB external eSATA backup with daily incremental backups run and managed automatically by Acronis True Image. I tested a full standalone recovery of the hard drive from the eSATA drive and it worked fine. Hopefully this will be a better setup going forward. We'll see.

So that's the rest of the story, read more about the Dell DataSafe hardware in the following original post...

As mentioned earlier, I had another disk crash last week. This is the second time in less than a year. The first was probably caused by lightning (it completely wiped out two drives). This most recent crash may have been caused by brain-damaged OS/software (something stomped on the boot sector of my C: drive) but I was able to repair it enough to get all my stuff off both drives, plus I had backups of everything critical.

This time last week, I was looking at getting a new hard drive (or taking a chance I could get away with just reformatting the failed drive) and reinstalling Windows XP, compilers and dozens of related software development tools, publishing and graphics applications, and all the usual Microsoft Office and other assorted software.

Because we make our living with our PCs and require a lot of "stuff", rebuilding a desktop workstation is an all day proposition at best. (Our checklist of things to install and notes on where to find all the CDs, archived files, license/activation keys, versioning info, service updates, and other assorted parts and pieces is three pages long -- just for the compile-and-distribute environment.)

In looking at our records, my desktop was purchased over three years ago. Thinking maybe the HD controller or something else may have been damaged from the lightning incident, that it was probably time to upgrade anyway, and realizing I had to go through the major hassle of rebuilding either way, I decided to shop for a new PC. (Our theory, which has held true for nearly 20 years now, is that a new PC with the latest technology costs $3000, and it will be obsolete in 3 years.)

I went with a Dell Dimension XPS-400 from their "Home/Home Office" store, configured with a 3Ghz Pentium D, 4GB of RAM, and two 500GB SATA disk drives. (This is extreme overkill for most people, but like I said, we make our living with our PCs and need lots of horsepower and flexibility.) The XPS is essentially the same as the Dimension 9150 from the “Small Business” store where we usually get stuff, but the XPS had slightly more configuration flexibility. Besides, "XPS" just sounds cooler. Plus, it came in about $100 cheaper, mainly because you can order it without the "free" monitor that comes with the 9150.

These PCs are available with Dell’s new "DataSafe" feature, which I ordered. It consists of a new Intel "Matrix Storage" RAID-enabled hard disk controller with related BIOS and driver software, and a copy of Norton Ghost 10. You could set all this up yourself (assuming you have a RAID disk controller of some kind or want to install one), but having it already setup and ready to go from the factory seemed appealing.

I was hoping DataSafe would be completely transparent and automatic out of the box. It almost is. The two 500GB SATA drives were configured as a RAID-1 (mirrored) array, with all the appropriate BIOS and driver settings. The drives appear to the operating system as a single drive, with two partitions. The main C: partition is where you put everything as usual, and a D: backup partition is where it saves Norton Ghost backup images.

The only thing you have to do is run Ghost the first time, setup a backup schedule, and run a full image backup to establish the first "recovery point." After that, Ghost will make incremental backups daily, and recreate a full image copy weekly or whatever schedule you set. These options are all configurable in Ghost. You can also schedule full backups to a network or external USB drive for even more protection.

What you end up with is a 346GB C: drive and a 116GB D: drive for backup images (Ghost compresses the disk images by about 3 to 1). All of it is mirrored automatically so you can keep running if one of the hard drives fails. It is supposed to report failures, and automatically rebuild the mirror if you replace a failed drive. The RAID setup protects against hardware failures, while Ghost backup images provide extra protection against "logical" failures such as a virus attack or brain-damaged software/OS corruption of your hard drive.

(RAID doesn't protect you from "logical" disk errors. The hard disk controller will dutifully write the corruption to all protected disks as instructed by the software. That's what it's supposed to do - write sectors to the RAID array as instructed as reliably as possible.)

If you’re a serious geek, you could also reconfigure it all yourself with a RAID-0 (striped) partition for performance and another RAID-1 (mirrored) partition for reliability if you wanted.

It probably takes a little more technical know-how than expected (or advertised), but Dell provides a decent cookbook summary to guide you through setting it up. The new version of Ghost is also a lot nicer than I remember, too. You can open backup images and recover individual files or folders, instead of having to restore the entire drive image. This is a nice feature that gives you an extra level of backup for "oops" type mistakes like deleting a file or recovering an earlier version of a file you didn’t mean to overwrite.

(I’m probably going to get Ghost for our other desktops and notebooks and use a portable USB drive to image them from time to time.)

For the "uh-oh" situations such as getting your boot sector stomped on, recovery is supposed to be as simple as restoring from your latest Ghost "recovery point" image. That sounds a lot easier than what I just went through rebuilding my workstation. Hopefully I won’t need it, but if I do I’ll let you know how it goes.

("Hopefully" in the sense that I will get a new PC before I need it, but recognizing the undeniable fact that all hard drives will fail eventually.)

I predict that "DataSafe" or similarly packaged technology will be a standard feature (or at least an option) on most if not all desktop PCs in the near future. I’d recommend at least taking a look at it.

WhitesCreek's picture

Ok, well...i don't

Ok, well...i don't understand much of all that, but now I want one...or two...

lovable liberal's picture

I'm going home to set up

I'm going home to set up Ghost on my DataSafe disks tonight!

Anonymous's picture

Intel Matrix Storage Manager / XPS 400 / Ghost

I recently was experiencing some serious disk corruptions in my working databases on my XPS400. BTW, I have it in RAID0, striped 2 320gb sata drives. My mistake, I believe is using Ghost 9.0 . Lucky for me, and it the positive power of negative thinking - that I put my images on external disks and also run separate batch backups for important files and directories. So I went ahead and rebuilt the RAID set and put in my recovery disk - to find that it doesn't detect my RAID set. I went ahead with an XP Pro install and formatted the disk(s). Ghost still did not detect the drives to restore the image too - although it saw my external usb drives fine.
I also suspected that the corruption in my database files could have been caused my Ghost backups -although my scripts shut the instances down before imaging.
So now i'm hoping the issue is that Ghost 10.0 will detect those drives...any thoughts are appreciated.

Anonymous's picture

Oh, you said Norton. I'd

Oh, you said Norton. I'd rather my data was safe to be honest.

Anonymous's picture

How did you repartition the drive?


How did you repartition the drive? Did you have to do anything special?

I'm looking at purchasing the 500 gig Datasafe setup from Dell and I would like to do the same as you. Repartition the drive so that its one big 500 gig drive (I've had no good experiences with Norton and would like to use Retrospect) and use Retrospect to backup to an external drive.

Any suggestions or tips? If I can't figure it out then I'm thinking about just going the 750 gig Datasafe route.. which I'd rather avoid.


R. Neal's picture

How did you repartition the

How did you repartition the drive? Did you have to do anything special?

No, just used plain old FDISK. The RAID bios/controller sees the two mirrored drives as one drive C:, so nothing special is required.

As noted, however, my Ghost backup on the external USB drive was not recognized, so I had to reinstall XP. I was then able to recover critical files from the Ghost backup.

So I would recommend taking a full image backup (using something other than Ghost, maybe) and testing it before repartitioning the drive.

Anonymous's picture

RE: How did you repartition the drive

Wow, just FDISK? I was going to use Partition Magic (although I see on their [symantec] site they have a '*' next to up to 300 gig* which makes me wary).

I plan on just performing this as soon as I receive the computer, so I thought I'd just do a complete re-install. ie. computer comes, modify partition, re-install / recover from disks provided from Dell? Sounds like it should work right? I won't have anything to lose if I take this path.

I read in another thread, that the person disconnected the other hard drive during the repartitioning (then reconnected after it was partitioned). You didn't do this? You just repartitioned with the RAID running and the second drive just matched it?

(btw, thanks for your information and experience, its hard to find any information regarding this stuff)

R. Neal's picture

No, didn't disconnect the

No, didn't disconnect the second drive or anything. (Used the new and improved FDISK that came with XP, or actually the first part of the XP install that prpares the drive, as I recall.) Didn't have to do anything special for RAID. I believe that's all in the BIOS/firmware and the disk controller.

I'd just do a complete re-install. ie. computer comes, modify partition, re-install / recover from disks provided from Dell? Sounds like it should work right? I won't have anything to lose if I take this path.

Sounds to me like that would work, don't see why not.

Anonymous's picture

I'll post my results

Sorry, just to get it straight.

You performed the FDISK while re-installing XP? ie. you rebooted the computer with the XP install disk there, and during the installation just repartitioned the disk using XP?

I'll give it a shot.. ordering now. I'll post my results back to the comments here after I'm done, so hopefully it will help others and you can hear about my results.

Thanks again.

R. Neal's picture

That's how I remember it,

That's how I remember it, but it's been a while.

There is a driver, and I don't remember how that got installed or if you even need it initially...

Here's info on the disk controller, drivers, etc. used:


You may need the driver if you were doing a brand new install from scratch (and also make sure RAID is enabled in the BIOS settings), but I believe if you use the Dell supplied XP setup to recover your factory installation it will do everything.

Also, the disks will already be setup and configured for RAID1 from the factory, so they should remain that way during the reinstall, even if you were just installing XP from scratch.

(P.S. Be sure to order the XP setup and recovery CDs. Not sure they automatically ship them any more.)

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