Creating Dynamic Disks(RAID) in Windows

Creating Dynamic Disks(RAID) in Windows

Ever have the problem of a few too many old small hard drives and not sure what to do with them? I have, and Windows is able to manage them and even create a large contiguous file system out of multiple drives. The tool? It’s called “Disk Management”.

Backstory

(Feel free to skip to the tutorial below)

I was a semi early adopter of SSD’s buying my first back in 2012 which was right when they started to hit the enthusiast crowd. Prices had fallen enough that buying one for at least your boot drive justified the high price tag for the fast access to the OS and programs. If you had a lot of money you may have even opted to buy another SSD for a specific workload or games for decreased load times.

Seeing reviews online I bit the bullet and purchased my first SSD(Samsung 830 128GB for 90$), and within a year I purchased two addition drives(same make and model, PNY XLR8 120GB 75$ a piece). Prices were actually quite a deal for the time. For the first drive I upgraded my PC to use a 120GB drive for everything. Then I built Allyson and I new PC’s and passed the 128GB drive to her as I quickly ran out of space and ran a 120GB boot drive and a separate 120GB drive for all of my files. We game on PC lightly and weren’t very media heavy (relatively speaking) at the time(but now we do YouTube and more) so these lasted for a while but eventually things felt cramped with my 120GB boot drive filling up with programs that got exponentially heavier with each release. So I bought a new 240GB PNY XLR8 Pro and then bought another later for Allyson’s PC as it ran out of space as well.

This left me with the following drives:

  • 2 x 120GB PNY XLR8
  • 2 x 240GB PNY XLR8 Pro
  • 1 x 128GB Samsung 830

Having pushed the 830 to my laptop, and Allyson only needing a single 240GB drive I found myself with three SSD’s; 1x 240GB which would be my boot drive and 2x 120 GB drives that weren’t all that big to make it worth it to leave as separate drives(especially as I started to dive deep into VM’s and using VirtualBox). Surely there is a way to get them mapped as a single drive? Yes, Disk Management is the answer and is available in currently supported OS’s (at time of writing Windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, and 10).

Disk Management – Striped Volume

Disk Management does far more than just allow you to create a single large disk from multiple smaller disks. However in this tutorial I will be showing you how to create a new striped volume. What is a striped volume? A striped volume is technically RAID 0 or having identically sized disks where data is stored in stripes across two or more drives. So if a file is composed of 1000 sectors and it’s sent to a striped drive composed of two drives(A&B), 500 will be on drive A and 500 will be on drive B. This does mean that if one disk fails you will lose all data on all drives as none contain the full data, it’s split as evenly as possibly among the drives.

So why stripe if you can lose data? Well if you have only a single large drive the same risk is present. Also striping the data means file access is faster as each disk can spin up to load pieces of the final file. So if loading a file takes 10 seconds for a single HDD, using two drives could result in up to a 50% speed boost decreasing the time to 5 seconds as each drive loads half the file. You won’t see this entirely though as for mechanical disks seek time will remain a factor based on previous drive head location etc. However there should be a steady increase in speed with each additional drive. However, there is a downside with this, and that the group of disks is only as fast and as spacious as the smallest disk. So if you created a striped volume with a slow 60GB drive and a fast 80GB drive you can at most get 120GB (2x60GB) and you will need to wait for the 60GB drive to finish loading it’s half before you can use your requested file.

So the takeaways here are to ensure you back up your data as single drive failure is total data loss and also to try to use similar disk sizes and specs for best performance.

Tutorial

To set up a striped volume be sure to have your desired drives connected to your computer. Now you want to load Disk Management. The easiest way to find it is by searching for it with the key phrase ‘Create and format hard disk partitions’. Otherwise it can be found buried under Control Panel -> System and Security and then under Administrative Tools, ‘Create and format hard disk partitions’. (You can also search for ‘Disk Management’)

Windows search showing results for 'Create and format hard disk partitions'.
The easiest way to find the app is to search for it on the Start menu

Clicking the link will then open the app which will look like this:

Image of Disk Management's main user interface.
Disk Management’s main window.

Here you can see I have two unallocated disks. You can access disk options by right clicking on each disks box (space representation). So you may need to format or delete the volume if one already exists on the disk you are going to use. WARNING: Yes, this will delete all data on the disk. If they aren’t blank and you need to do this, the options will be available when right clicking.

Once you delete the volumes you can then right click and pick a new volume type. To make a combined drive with striped data for increased performance, pick a new striped volume as shown below.

User interface showing right click menu to create 'new striped volume'.
Right click the disk space section to select the option to make a new striped volume.

Once you click this it will start a wizard to guide you through the rest of the process. First step is to click Next.

New striped volume wizard start screen.

Now you will see a screen where you can pick what disks are used.

Second step in the wizard showing you can select additional disks to add to the striped volume.
In the second step you can pick what disks to add to the striped volume.
Using the Add button another disk was added to the list of disks used in the striped configuration.
Use the Add and Remove buttons to configure what disks will be used.

Once done, press Next. Now you can choose a drive letter or folder to the new volume.

Picking the drive letter for the new volume.

Click Next. Now you will be prompted to format the volume and name it.

Formating and naming the volume using the user interface.

Clicking the option for a quick format can save you time, however if you are overwriting an old previously used disk of the same file system type I would recommend leaving this option unchecked so there is no possibility of bad data working its way back into the drive(although being striped, that shouldn’t be an issue, but I would suggest to do it anyway).  Once set and click Next you will be greeted with a window to confirm the changes and click Finish to apply them.

End of the wizard summarizing the changes to be made.

Clicking finish will bring up the following confirmation window where you can confirm the changes and start the formatting.

Confirmation screen warning of data loss. Clicking yes will start the process, and no will abort all changes.

Once done it will format the drives which can take a while depending on your hardware.

Disk Manager shows the progress of the format in the drives status area.
Disk Manager shows the progress of the format in the drives status area.

Once this finishes the drive should now be visible under ‘This PC’ in File Explorer:

New D: Drive labeled SSD is ready for use as shown in file explorer.
New D: Drive labeled SSD is ready for use!

And that’s it! Your new drive is ready to use.

This is one of the best things you can do with old disk drives to increase space. It’s especially useful if you bought into the SSD craze early when size was small and prices were high. So no need to scrap those drives! You can combine them and get not only more contiguous free space, but even better performance from them combined as well.

~Trevor

Questions or comments? Let me know down below!

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