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XPS 8700, changing disk configuration?

I recently bought an XPS 8700 to replace my trusty XPS 420 that has seen me through many years – sadly, the motherboard gave out and cannot be revived despite my best efforts. I’m in the process or setting up the 8700, and my plan is to replace the supplied 2TB HDD (with M-SATA cache) with the disk configuration I had in the XPS 420 – two 128GB SSDs in one RAID array for the OS and programs, and two 500GB HDDs in a second RAID array for data. The plan is to migrate the new OS (Win8.1) and installed programs on the existing HDD to a new SSD RAID, and then mount the 2 data HDDs in a second RAID. I  should stress that although the SSDs are currently setup with Win7, as used on the old XPS 420, there’s no intention to migrate anything from the old to the new system setup, and so the SSDs can be reconfigured or overwritten during this process. For obvious reasons, the 2 data HDDs need to be preserved during this migration so that no data is lost (it's backed up elsewhere but it's better to avoid having to reconstitute it if possible). But before starting I wanted to check the right sequence and any necessary steps I should take.

I imagine a process like this:

  • Deactivate or uninstall the M-SATA since it will be of little or no use in the new setup, and move the DVD drive to SATA 4 (in readiness for the later stages)

  • Restart the system to be sure that it updates itself to reflect the absence of the M-SATA, and defrag the HDD

  • Clone the 2Tb HDD to one of the SSDs using a standard utility (I already have a few to choose from), or by installing the SSD and building a new RAID array (HDD & SSD)

  • Remove the HDD, and switch the cloned SSD to the SATA 0 port

  • Install the second SSD at SATA 1 and then rebuild the RAID array from 0 to 1

  • Install the 2 new HDDs on SATA 2 and 3 and rebuild or initialise the second RAID array

  • Reconfigure Win8.1 to point at the HDD RAID for all data folders (Documents, Music etc etc)

The doubts and questions I have about this process are as follows:

  • The best way to uninstall the M-SATA. I guess I’ll leave it physically installed, but just want to neutralise it. Or would I be better off removing it ?

  • Whether I should clone the first SSD or simply use the in-built RAID tools to make it a mirror of the HDD

  • Whether I need to change any BIOS or other basic settings in order to use the SSDs, and at what point in the process.

  • Any potential hazards/glitches I need to avoid in this process

Any thoughts or helpful tips would be much appreciated.

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RE: XPS 8700, changing disk configuration?

I would advise making recovery media with the latest version of Dell Backup and Recovery before making any of the hardware changes:

http://dellwindowsreinstallationguide.com/dell-backup-and-recovery-1-8-1-71/ v

Dr Philip Yip
Tech Enthusiast and Author of the Unofficial Dell Windows Reinstallation Guide

Windows FAQs and OEM Downloads

#IDoNotWorkFor Dell
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RE: XPS 8700, changing disk configuration?

Thanks Philip, for the valuable reminder.

I've already made a factory recovery disk (and USB pendrive copy, just to be sure). I'll also make a full clone of the 2Tb disk before I do anything else.

I'm currently waiting for some drive bay adapters so I can fit the SSDs in a 3.5" bay and move one of the HDDs to the 5.25" bay. So I've got a few days yet before I embark on all this.

Best regards

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RE: XPS 8700, changing disk configuration?

Hi al

well, I've made some progress but I've stopped before I get to the tricky bit, and seek advice on how best to proceed....

I've made system images (on an external USB drive) and created a recovery disk (on a pendrive), as a safeguard

I've installed my 2 HDDs on SATA 2 and SATA 3, and created a RAID 1 array of these 2 disks. I also switched the "acceleration" feature (which uses the M-SATA drive as a cache) to this new array.

The PC works fine although start-up times have lengthened since the acceleration feature is now linked to the data disk rather than the system disk - that's to be expected.

That leaves my original HDD as a non-RAID system disk, on SATA 0.

The big question now is how can I safely clone/copy the system disk to a new SSD on SATA 1 ? I presume that this is the next step, before removing the HDD altogether and inserting the second SSD and creating a RAID 1 array for the 2 SSDs...

Any suggestions welcome !


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RE: XPS 8700, changing disk configuration?

The big question now is how can I safely clone/copy the system disk to a new SSD on SATA 1 ? I presume that this is the next step, before removing the HDD altogether and inserting the second SSD and creating a RAID 1 array for the 2 SSDs...

I've used several disk copy and re partitioning tools. My current preferred tool is easeus. I've used it on desktops, laptops, win7 64, win8 64, with no complaints. The scenario I've used it for is cloning a larger HDD to a smaller SSD and I've had no issues. 


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RE: XPS 8700, changing disk configuration?


Finally managed to transition to the new configuration, but not without a few adventures along the way.

Fitting the 2 HDD data disks and setting up a RAID for them was a doddle, and soon after it came with the bonus that I was able to remove the acceleration feature (which uses the M-SATA drive) from the system drive and instead attach it to the new data array.

The fun and games started with my attempts to clone the 2tb system HDD to a 128mb SSD. I had already reduced the OS/programs to less than 50gb in readiness for the transfer/clone.

- I first used the EZgig software that came with the SSD, but this created a system partition on the SSD that claimed to be the same size (1.8tb) as the HDD, and it would not boot - just went straight into system repair and never came out the other end

- I shelled out - not a lot - for EaseUS only to find that it won't clone GPT system partitions

- By this point too I had an SSD and an HDD with the same disk signature, and so the SSD was always put offline by Windows, to protect the system.

- in the end, I found the Mini Tool Partition Wizard which is freeware and includes a wizard to clone an HDD system disk to an SSD. This worked faultlessly. I wish I'd discovered this little beauty sooner !

Then, having replaced the single system HDD with the cloned SSD, I inserted the 2nd SSD. At first, the OS didn't like this, as the 2nd SSD was still marked as a RAID array member (from its XPS420 days). But once I'd marked it as a non-RAID disk and rebooted, I was able to use the Intel RST program to create my new system RAID with the 2 SSDs - taking care not to copy the blank one over the newly cloned system SSD !

So, now I'm all set up - one RAID with 2 SSDs, for the OS and programs; another accelerated RAID with 2 HDDs for data.

But boy, what a process. Over a week of experimentation and fiddling, with more than a few missed heartbeats along the way. But if all goes wrong I have the original system HDD as well as a cloned HDD copy of it, as well as umpteen recovery disks and USB drives, and drive images.

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RE: XPS 8700, changing disk configuration?

Oh, and another thing ....

I'm posting these answers to my own question so that they may help others who want to do the same thing.

All is working well, but I thought it best to check to see if there was anything I should do to improve SSD performance now that they are successfully installed.

I fired up the Windows disk optimizer tool only to find that my new SSD RAID was identified as an HDD and was scheduled for defragging, which I think is not a great thing for SSDs, shortening their working lives.

However, I quickly tracked down this useful site (Fernando's Win-RAID Forum) which not only provided reassurance that this is not an unusual problem with Win 8 but also provided a very easy fix - so now my SSDs are recognised as such - heave another sigh of relief !


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