Flex 8 on Windows 10/10 - getting LSI hardware raid detected
Finally decided to do a post here, after searching for help via the Tech Support, and on Reddit, ServeTheHome forums and Google of course. Hope someone wouldn't mind chiming in.
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Bought a Flex 8 last year and been using the SoftRaid, with a RAID5 8x8TB setup. Also built a new PC with Asus H670-Pro WiFi D4 and ThunderboltEX 4 adapter around the same time, to work with this enclosure. I'm aware that 8 bays on a RAID5 is pretty alarming but the Windows version only supports RAID 1/0/5 even till now.
Fast forward to last month, I finally pulled the trigger and bought an LSI Megaraid 9271-8i card, since Flex 8 has a spare PCIE slots that can be tunneled via Thunderbolt. Hoping to turn this enclosure into a hardware-raid system (which is a part of the advertisement).
That's when the nightmare begins. For the life of me, I just couldn't get the card to be detected at all in Windows (10&11). Even though I've managed to boot into the ROM BIOS and set up the raid and everything, the Windows Device Manager just doesn't see it at all. I even took the card out and installed it directly into my PC's motherboard, to replace the thunderbolt adapter, still no luck.
From my research, this is a pretty old card that the latest driver and firmware support stopped around 2016 or so. Alright, returned it.
Early this month, I got a Megaraid 9362-8i (set up a RAID10), which supposedly has newer support. This time, it'd get detected in Windows, if it's directly installed on the motherboard, but not in the thunderbolt enclosure.
Alright, gotta be something with the thunderbolt PCIE tunneling I suppose, at least progress!
Then I started fiddling around with the motherboard's thunderbolt-related settings in the BIOS, e.g. Discrete Thunderbolt Support, DTBT Controller Configuration, Control IOMMU Pre-boot Behavior, etc. Toggling everything I could and check if it makes it better.
On one instance, I accidentally discovered, that after a period of time after booting to Windows, the enclosure would turn to Sleep mode (as it's not being detected/used for a while I guess). But if I open the Device Manager and Scan for hardware changes, all of the sudden, it'd "wake up" the card/enclosure and it shows up in the Device Manager finally!
But after setting up the array, this method needed an update as well, as Flex 8 would not turn to sleep mode anymore. So I had to unplug the cable and make it asleep and reconnect and pray if everything gets detected. It only works about 10% of the time. Most of them, the unit wakes up, and I can see the raid controller is lit, but the drives are asleep. Only when I hear the good old "spin-up" sound from the drives, that means it's successfully booted.
Other caveats with this workaround is: the Raid volume shows as a "removable storage", and I'd have to change the Removal Policy in the Device Manager every time to make it "Better performance";
At this point, I was almost certain that it has something to do with the Thunderbolt PCIE tunneling. But for the life of me, I couldn't find the right settings/tweak (if there's one). Funny thing is, I have a 10G PCIE ethernet card installed in the enclosure since day 1 prior to getting the LSI cards, and it works perfectly regardless when I connect the enclosure to the PC. Of course I've swapped the PCIE slots of the 10G card and the Megarad, just to rule out factors.
I even tried a Virtual Machine just to see if virtual tunneling via IOMMU does anything, but I've already reached my knowledge/limit on this.
Summary of my system specs:
Windows 11 Pro
Asus H670-Pro WiFi D4
ThunderboltEX 4 add-on
OWC Thunderbay Flex 8, 8x8TB HDD
Avago/LSI Megaraid 9362-8i
Little background: I do video editing and currently have a customized PC, plus a MacBook Air M2. The thing I'm looking for in a storage system, is fast and reliable and relatively easy to maintain. Judging by my experience so far however, such thing is hard to nail down. I work mostly in Windows, with often tap in macOS, but very limited knowledge/experience on Linux (actually tried a couple of portable Linux in this case but didn't succeed).
Was told by the Tech Support agents, either ThunderBay Flex 8 isn't officially supported on Windows (that it doesn't show as an Approved Thunderbolt Device in the Intel manager), or there's no way to turn off the Sleep Mode for this unit, or no idea when RAID 10 is coming to Windows.
At this point, I just want a system that works in RAID10 with decent performance (since this might be the only time of the year that I can fiddle with the storage without interrupting my work), doesn't matter if it's hardware or software raid, with my current hardware setup. But unfortunately have not found such solution.
Hope someone could shine some insight here.
Thanks so much!
I don't know if there are enough Windows experts here to assist. I asked around our engineers, see if I could get any feedback for you.
I did learn this:
The reason ThunderBay Flex 8 is not certified for Windows is that not all PCs with Thunderbolt 3 can support a PCie switch over Thunderbolt.
There are some PCs users have reported it working, but there is really no easy way to tell without testing, if a specific PC will work.
So check with your motherboard specs, if PCIe switches are supported on your system.
Hey thanks for the reply.
Not quite sure what exactly is the PCIe switch. If you meant the ability to change each PCIE slot from Auto to Gen1, Gen2, Gen3 etc, yes I can see those options in the BIOS. Let me know if that's what you were looking for?
I think this is a problem with the Flex8 having PCIe card slot. There are encrypted communications with Thunderbolt and the Flex8 may not have the public key to open the door. its complex and beyond my pay grade.
One idea is if you hang a Ethernet network device off the back, it may force the Flex8 to stay awake. Just a thought there.
The ethernet card would only keep the unit on when a Thunderbolt connection is detected, so it'd still go to sleep upon a reboot or shutdown, which makes sense to save power, but rather risky for a hardware raid system.
I know, but am trying to help. Thunderbolt on windows should be solidly working by now, after all it is Intel technology. Its much more "expensive" than USB (component costs plus infrastructure support), so I guess that is the reluctance to make it a standard where everything works and is transparent.
Yea I agree with the Thunderbolt situation on Windows. Though the advertising of Flex 8 seems to be more definitive about its Windows support which is misleading in this case. I wish I knew all the limit before making the purchase.
Thank you and appreciate your help so far!
I think the issue, which was not well understood, is the PCIe support, which is what is problematic on Windows. We are adding this to the specs page.Outside of asking you to investigate alternate motherboard, I am not sure what I can recommend.