Carlton Bale

My RAID5 PCI-Express System: Pitiful Performance - Need Recommendatio

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I've been working to fix a problem with my file server for several months now and I can't figure out a solution. I'm using it to serve my movies to one client PC, which shouldn't be hugely demanding based on the capabilities of the hardware. The problem is that the server keeps "pausing", making the movies jump, stutter, and sometime quit all together on the client end. The disk utilization is fairly low from the monitoring I've done, but yet it still can't deliver files "smoothly".

I've isolated the problem to the RAID system. I have a Seagate 500GB SATA connected to the motherboard controller and it servers files flawlessly. The shares located on the Areca ACR-1230 (RAID 5 w/ 4 500GB Seagate SATA drives) can't serve for more than 30 seconds without hiccups.

What I've tried:

  • Windows Server 2003 and Vista Beta 2 (Server 2003 was better, but problem was similar for both installs)
  • Uninstall all third-party drivers (no effect)
  • Disable all background services (no effect)
  • Monitor processes to figure out what could be causing disk activity (no single application is using the disk when the stutter occurs)
  • Different motherboard BIOS/RAID drivers/RAID firmwares (no effect)
  • Updated all Seagate drives to the latest AAH firmware as suggested in forum post (no effect)

I'm thinking it must be an incompatibility between my motherboard and the Areca RAID card. I'm willing to buy a new motherboard, but I want to make sure I'm not going to be wasting money and not find a solution.

Does it sound like a motherboard/RAID card conflict? Any other suggestions if not that? If it is the motherboard, which motherboard should I try instead of this one? (I'd like to keep my Socket 939 processor/DDR400 memory, but I'll get rid of them & try something else if it will fix the problem.)

Thanks in advance for any help!

Hardware list:

CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ Socket 939 Dual Core Processor (better value than any Intel dual-core processor)

* Memory: 2 x Kingston ValueRAM 1GB 184-Pin DDR SDRAM DDR 400 (PC 3200) ECC Unbuffered System Memory Model KVR400X72C3A/1G

* Motherboard: ASUS A8N-SLI Premium Socket 939 NVIDIA nForce4 SLI ATX AMD Motherboard

* Video Card: ASUS EN6200TC256/TD/64M Geforce 6200TC 64MB PCI Express x16 Video Card

* Power Supply: SeaSonic S12-380 ATX12V 380W Power Supply

* RAID Card: Areca ACR-1230 12-drive PCI Express to SATA controller card with 256 MB cache

* RAID Hard Drives: 4 x Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 ST3500641AS 500GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive (RAID 5)

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I have a Asus A8R32-MVP Deluxe running my ARC-1230. There's no problems what so ever. You can even use ECC ram with 939 processors. Board supporst 940 processors as well.

Edited by arge

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Just for kicks, could you try using a x-over CAT5 cable directly from your server to PC?

This way you could rule out a network issue...

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Thanks for the advise so far. Unfortunately, a cross-over cable would be a huge pain to try. However, the problem appears to be directly proportional to the amount of disk activity on the server, so I'm almost positive it is not a network issue.

agre: does the Asus A8R32-MVP Deluxe have true support for a non-graphics card in the second PCIe slot? My current motherboard is really designed for dual-SLI graphics cards in the 2 PCIe slots and that may be the problem. For one thing, the Areca card beeps like crazy during POST, but there may be other compatibility issues causing the performane problem.

Update on the testing:

I installed Win Server 2003 on the stand-alone SATA drive and installed the driver for the Areaca card. Movies servered off of the SATA drive played back almost stutter-free on the client end when doing the following at the same time: 1) copying from 2 DVD drives to the hard drive, 2) copying two 5 GB directories to two different locations on the hard drive, and 3) playing movie on client.

Running the fresh version of Server 2003 off of the stand-alone drive and serving files off of the Areca RAID controller, there was a significant amount of stutter on the client-end when all I was doing was 1) copying from 2 DVD drives to the Areca RAID array and 3) playing movie on client. So, much less disk activity and many more issues on the client side.

So, is it the motherboard causing the problem, or is the Areca RAID controller not capable of handling multiple writes and servering files at the same time?

Edited by Carlton Bale

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Try these two things

1. Try setting the PCI-e as either SLI and Non-SLI and report back your findings

2. Uninstall the Nvidia graphics drive and use the standard VGA "Software Driver" and report back your findings

Also grab this program http://www.steelbytes.com/?mid=20 and run it locally on the server, try it on the raid array and let me know if there are any sudden drops in read speed

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What slot is the raid card in? try changing slots and sticking it in the first slot pcie16_1 rather than the second one which you would normaly think of.

If you were to change motherboard something like one of the S939 tyan boards would be great as thoes guys specalise in servers and server boards so they are more likely to have tested cards like yours - plus you can get things like remote management cards for them and they are ultra stable with 4phase power supplies ect.

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Try these two things

1. Try setting the PCI-e as either SLI and Non-SLI and report back your findings

2. Uninstall the Nvidia graphics drive and use the standard VGA "Software Driver" and report back your findings

Also grab this program http://www.steelbytes.com/?mid=20 and run it locally on the server, try it on the raid array and let me know if there are any sudden drops in read speed

1. When I set the motherboard to non-SLI, it switches-off the second PCIe slot and the card is not recognized during POST.

2. For my temporary install of Win Server 2003, I'm using the standard VGA driver. I thought that maybe the shared system memory that the video card uses might have been causing the problem, but it seems to be pretty much unchanged using the standard VGA driver.

HD_Speed for stand-alone Seagate 500GB SATA drive

All block sizes: 60 MB/s

HD_Speed for Areca RAID controller (four Seagate 500GB SATA drives)

Block sizes 8KB or larger: 170 MB/s

4KB block size: 135 MB/s

2KB block size: 77 MB/s

1KB block size: 40 MB/s

HD_Speed for Areca RAID controller - Read cache set to off (was on), write cache set to off (was auto)

All block sizes: 40 MB/s

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I switched the Areca RAID controller into PICe slot 1 and set Dual SLI mode to Auto. Here are the HD_Speed results:

Block sizes 16KB or larger: 165 MB/s

8KB block size: 153 MB/s

4KB block size: 98 MB/s

2KB block size: 57 MB/s

1KB block size: 30 MB/s

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In order to properly solve the problem, you'll probably have to find out exactly what's causing the stutter.

First off, does the same stuttering and/or freezing occur when using the RAID array locally?

Secondly, you should find out where in the drive access chain the freezing is - any of processor, software, file system, motherboard transport, PCIe bus, card interface, card logic, drive interface, drive logic or even drive hardware could be causing the problem.

Check in Event Manager to see if any information has been put there. Also check Performance Manager to see what the stuttering actually is, try different drivers for your RAID card, find out if the problem occurs outside of Windows' GUI, and also find out whether the symptoms are limited to certain types of file access/seeks and if they are in fact limited to high-level file accesses at all.

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In order to properly solve the problem, you'll probably have to find out exactly what's causing the stutter.

First off, does the same stuttering and/or freezing occur when using the RAID array locally?

Secondly, you should find out where in the drive access chain the freezing is - any of processor, software, file system, motherboard transport, PCIe bus, card interface, card logic, drive interface, drive logic or even drive hardware could be causing the problem.

Check in Event Manager to see if any information has been put there. Also check Performance Manager to see what the stuttering actually is, try different drivers for your RAID card, find out if the problem occurs outside of Windows' GUI, and also find out whether the symptoms are limited to certain types of file access/seeks and if they are in fact limited to high-level file accesses at all.

Thanks for the advise. First of all, the stuttering does occur locally with video playback as well, so it is not just a remote client problem. In fact, I would say the problem is pretty much identical. Here is some more info:

  • The Windows GUI is not freezing at all, just the video playback.
  • I've tried different firmware / driver / Motherbaord BIOS versions over the past few months and have not noticed any change in behavior.
  • I used the Performance monitor as well as filemon/diskmon (sysinternals.com) and also DiskAction2 (pcmag) and could never relate the pauses in local playback to any specific process. The only thing I could see in Performance monitor was a spike in disk utilization (% Disk Time counter jumps to maybe 10%) after the freeze started to occur. I referenced this article when setting up what was to be monitored.
  • I don't remember anything in the Windows log file but I'll check and report back. There was nothing in the RAID controller internal logs.

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UPDATE:

I purchased a new video card (doesn't use system memory), installed a new Tyan motherboard, and re-installed Win Server 2003 Standard Edition. I set the write cache on the Areca RAID card from "auto" to "enabled".

The results are improved, but definitely not perfect. If the computer is not being used (no substantial disk write activity), it serves videos flawlessly (to 3 clients at once). However, if there is any substantial disk write activity, such as converting a large wave file to another format or copying large files from another drive, it skips and pauses like crazy when sending video to only 1 client.

Is there anything I can do to give disk reads priority over disk writes? Why does writing to the disk cause the reads to become so unreliable? I'm not sure what I need to do here. Thanks for any advice.

Edited by Carlton Bale

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I see you are running raid-5 have you tried raid 1+0/0+1/0/1?

I'd recommend any of the 1+0/0+1 raid modes (fast and redundant). Raid 5 is generally only problems unless you buy professional raid-5 cards with scsi interface.

Edited by stefanpi

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This does sound like a rather peculiar problem. Could you check the properties of the RAID disk device itself in device manager, and make certain that write cache is enabled for it there? If that doesn't solve the problem, a closer examiation of your performance monitor numbers could help.

Could you let me know what happens to the counters "Current Disk Queue Length", %Disk Time, %Disk Idle Time, and Disk Bytes/sec both before, during, and after the stutters?

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Correct me if I am wrong...but if you have 3 clients connecting to the server you have multi-user environment that SATA is essentially going to suck at...especially when trying to stream video...

I would suggest adding more RAM (cache) to your controller...that Areca controller can take up to 1GB RAM correct?

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No, SATA should not suck with 3 concurrent accesses, the problem your having is definitly some "Drive/Firmware/Software" thing and not something I'd consider as hardware lacking.

The ARECA "on paper" is quite a serious controller, but I still feel their software side is a bit lacking

Time to get out "Performance Monitor" and start looking at every bloody HD/FileSystem option

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Hardware list:

CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ Socket 939 Dual Core Processor (better value than any Intel dual-core processor)

* Memory: 2 x Kingston ValueRAM 1GB 184-Pin DDR SDRAM DDR 400 (PC 3200) ECC Unbuffered System Memory Model KVR400X72C3A/1G

* Motherboard: ASUS A8N-SLI Premium Socket 939 NVIDIA nForce4 SLI ATX AMD Motherboard

* Video Card: ASUS EN6200TC256/TD/64M Geforce 6200TC 64MB PCI Express x16 Video Card

* Power Supply: SeaSonic S12-380 ATX12V 380W Power Supply

* RAID Card: Areca ACR-1230 12-drive PCI Express to SATA controller card with 256 MB cache

* RAID Hard Drives: 4 x Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 ST3500641AS 500GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive (RAID 5)

That sounds like you have an optical drive hooked up to a controller that doesn't support it. I had a similar problem when I hooked my CDRW to the Promise controller on my old MB. It paused every 2 seconds to check the drive for media. as soon as I put media into the drive, the pauses lengthened, but with less frequency. as soon as I unhooked the drive from the controller, the pauses went away.

I noticed you didn't list any optical drives in the equipment list, but you most likely have at least one. Unhook all optical drives one at a time. You might have a bad drive or have it hooked up to a controller that lags when dealing with optical drives.

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