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I've got a Dell laptop that I use as a software developer box at work and find that the drive is usually the bottleneck. I'd like to hook up two 10k RPM drives that are striped for performance. I've looked for drive cases with RAID but there don't seem to be very many choices and I'm worried about compatibility with the drives (preferably SATA 2). Also I don't have a SATA connection on my machine so it'll have to USB 2.0 for now.

Am I headed down the right path or am I missing a much simpler configuration?

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i wonder if you might get a better informed answer at serverfault.com - this is only tangentially programming related –  Bramha Ghosh May 31 '09 at 22:41
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Actually this would be better at SuperUser (once it opens). –  Zifre May 31 '09 at 23:36

6 Answers 6

In practice your USB 2.0 interface will max out at around 30-40 MB/s. A single 10.000 rpm SATA 2 drive such as the WD Velociraptor will already saturate that connection. If you want to overcome the USB 2.0 bottleneck you can go for an eSATA ExpressCard. Models exist that have the RAID controller on the card.

As for keeping it simple and compact you will probably get the best performance by replacing your current internal drive with an Intel X25-M SSD. Stick to a 80 GB model, and complement it with a fast external 7.200 rpm 2,5' drive such as the Hitachi Travelstar 7K200 or the Western Digital Scorpio Black 320 GB.

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On a laptop you might be better off with one of the Intel X25 SSD's or one of the fast OCZ ones. Any USB to SATA enclosure will do for this with the bonus that it's relatively compact and should not need an external power supply.

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You have more options, consider the three listed below:

  1. Buy an powerfull monitor-less desktop with 2 or more high performance disks and do your development using Remote Desktop. Should work excellent over LAN, and even by WAN.

  2. Buy network storage box with RAID0 option and connect through 1Gbps LAN. On separate LAN segment you will get quite fast storage.

  3. Buy SATAII ExpressCard with two SATA connectors and connect your drives directly to your laptop. Make sure your OS can create a RAID0 configuration (typically these controllers cannot).

Check if your laptop can swap CD-ROM drive for a HDD - possible on some configurations, will give you option to run two HDDs internally.

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I've often thought about possibility #1, but since remote desktop only supports one monitor on the target machine, you'd have to goof around with extra utilities to span across multiple monitors on the client machine and I'm not sure how that would work in practice. –  Knox Jun 1 '09 at 9:51
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RDP6 (available for most current Windows operating systems) adds dual monitor support to RDP. I haven't used it personally, but I'm planning on using it in the future. –  Peter Bernier Jun 23 '09 at 18:58

Replace the internal drive with a faster one.

USB 2 will be slower than your internal drive no matter what you connect to it. Setting up RAID 0 via USB 2 will not solve your problem, it will make it worse: It will be both slower and more prone to failure than the internal drive.

If your laptop has an ExpressCard slot you can get an eSATA controller for less than US$50. The difference in speed compared to USB 2 is dramatic.

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+1 for the eSata controller. This is the setup that I'm using at work. Connecting my external drive via USB gives me 50MB/s, via the eSata card I'm getting 100MB/s. ( I know the drive itself is capable of higher throughput, so I suspect the eSATA bus is tied to the PCI bus on the laptop rather than PCIe. :( ) –  Peter Bernier Jun 23 '09 at 19:01

If you're going to do RAID 0, you had better have reliable backups. I would recommend RAID 1. Still very high performance, but at least you have a bit of fault tolerance. Disk is cheap and plentiful.

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One thing you might want to consider is partitioning your HDD to multiple drives. In particular, I partition a ~4 GB piece out just for Virtual Memory. I've found a noticeable improvement while developing and testing when I've done this vs. computers that don't have this configuration.

It might also be beneficial to partition for other concerns (programs on one partition, data on another, etc., etc.), but definitely make a partition for your VM, it will save you time.

I know your question is more geared towards purchasing/configuring other equipment, but this can definitely help your development box if you're experiencing a bottleneck from your hard disk.

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