NexStar MX…The Unofficial Manual on RAID
If you’re like me, you’ve purchased Vantec’s NexStar MX to use for data storage and redundancy with it’s RAID 1 function, and it’s super fast eSATA connection.
A few problems first present itself when first working with the NexStar MX.
1. The user manual must have been written as a grade 9 Korean-English computer project because the instructions on how to do the most simple procedure (reset) is incorrect, and has been since they first published the manual and still show it online here.
2. There are no clear instructions on what the status light indicators mean.
3. There are no clear instructions on how to go about rebuilding the RAID 1 drives when one drive fails.
4. There are no clear instructions on how to format or initialize the drives before use.
So, after many hours of working on this device and working back and forth with the technical support staff at Vantec, I’ve been able to come up with a few solid answers to those dilemmas.
Here we go:
1. To Reset the NexStar MX follow these directions:
- Make sure your computer is OFF and that none of the blue lights on the NexStar MX are blinking, then turn off the NexStar MX enclosure from the power switch on the back. Wait at least 20 seconds after the lights stop blinking to ensure the drives stop before shutting off the power.
- Once your power is off. Install the hard drives as per your required configuration (as shown in the manual on Pg.6 – 8). Note, the bay on the RIGHT (closest to the jumper switch) is always the SOURCE DRIVE. This is important when rebuilding a failed RAID drive! DO NOT PUT THE ENCLOSURE BACK ON! YOU NEED TO RESET THE DEVICE FIRST!!! (This is the source for 99% of people pulling their hair out when installing their drives for the first time…so I’ve read)
- Time to reset the device using the settings you need. Refer to the manual regarding the jumper switches and toggle them to the appropriate settings for your application. Once you have done this it’s time to reset the device. With the device still powered off and the computer still off – Push and hold the reset button while you turn on the power – Continue to hold the reset button for 20-30 seconds (or until the lights stop blinking on the front), then let go. You should see a quick blink of lights and then hear the drives spinning. To make sure that you did this correctly, go through the reset process again. But wait at least 10 seconds with no light blinking activity before shutting off the power switch. By resetting the device twice, you will ensure that it’s properly done. Now you can move forward.
- Once the drive lights stop blinking, you can turn off the device and continue the enclosure installation. Ensure all screws are put in place. You can skip this step (as I did to make sure that the setup was done correctly)
- Power on your computer and check out the result.
-Rapid Flashing/solid = Hard drive activity or RAID 1 rebuild
-Not lit = no hard drive activity
-blinks at a constant rate = the hard drive has failed
3. How to rebuild your RAID set:
- Identify which drive has failed. The top blue light is for the right drive and the bottom light is for the left drive. If you’re using a Mac, your computer will tell you that your drive has failed and that you should backup your files and reformat your hard drive. This is an indication from MAC that your drive is not perfect and does not mean that you have lost all of your data. It just recognizes that something is wrong with the drive. According to Vantec, the failed drive will have a consistent blinking light.
- If your computer is telling you that the drive has failed, but the light is not blinking consistently for either drive, then you need to test which drive has failed. This is where it can get tricky and dangerous (because your data is not duplicated anymore). This is how you would test your drives using the NexStar MX:
- Shut down your computer.
- Wait 30 seconds, then power off the NexStar MX.
- Remove the drive on the left and set it aside in a safe and low electrostatic location (anti-static spray is always useful)
- Set the jumper on the NexStar MX to individual mode (Jumper 1 in ON position only)
- Push and continue to hold the reset button for 20 seconds after you turn on the power switch, then let go.
- Make sure that the reset worked by turning off the power (after waiting 20 seconds to make sure the blue lights don’t turn on) and then follow step 5 again.
- Now that you’ve reset the device to individual mode, you can start the computer.
- Once booted up, the drive should show up on your computer. If it doesn’t show up at all or there is an error message, or it tells you that the disk needs to be formatted or initialized…DON’T DO ANYTHING!!! You must test the other drive first to make sure that the jumper reset was done correctly or you could be formatting the working drive.
- If it recognizes the drive and you see all of your data and no error messages came up…this is your working drive. If not, continue to step 10.
- Shut down the computer. Turn off the NexStar MX as instructed above.
- Remove the drive from the right bay and put it in a safe place.
- Install the other drive into the Right bay. No need for a reset at this time.
- Start up the computer.
- If the drive does not show up or you get an error message with this drive as well, then it means that you did not reset the jumper settings properly to individual mode. Restart this procedure from the beginning.
- If the drive shows up and you can see your data, then this is the working drive (source drive).
- Now that you know which drive is the source drive, you need to change the jumper setting back to RAID 1 (Switch 1&2 ON)
- Shut down the computer. Then turn off the NexStar MX. Then change the jumper to RAID 1 with only the source drive in the device on the right side. Then press and hold the reset button while turning on the power and hold it for 20 seconds and let go. You will see a blink and then the bottom light should blink consistently. Time to install the new drive to replace the failed one.
- Now that you know which drive has failed and your device should be in RAID 1 jumper setting, you need to turn off the NexStar Power and remove the failed drive (if you haven’t already done so…with the computer OFF!)
- Install the new target drive into the left bay and the source drive to the right bay (closest to the jumper switches). The new drive DOES NOT NEED TO BE FORMATTED beforehand to rebuild the RAID set.
- Hold the reset button and turn on the NexStar MX and continue to hold the reset button for 20 seconds after. Let go of the reset.
- You should see both lights blink a bit and then turn off. Once they turn off, you can start your computer.
- Once the computer has started, both blue lights on the NexStar MX should remain solid (or blink frequently, but not flash consistently as in a failed hard drive would).
- If the lights are solid, then you have successfully started the rebuild process. I’m told by Vantec that the computer needs to remain on during the rebuild process for it to work properly, but I found that it works much better when the computer is off or the drive is completely disconnected from the computer; this is because when the drive is connected to the computer and the computer is running, it will read from the source drive and this will slow down the rebuild process. They say that it takes 6-7 hours to rebuild 1TB of data. I found that it took just about 20 hours to rebuild a 2TB drive.
4. How to format or initialize the drives before use with the NexStar MX
You will notice that upon installation of a new drive, the computer will not recognize the drive if you want to RAID the drives. You need to initialize or format the drives first (except for when you are rebuilding a target RAID drive).
To initialize the drive, you must put the device in individual mode with one hard drive in the right bay. Start up the computer. It will recognize the drive and you are able to format it. Shut down the computer. Turn off the NexStar MX. Remove the drive. Install the other drive in the right bay. Start up the computer and format this drive. Shut down the computer. Turn off the NexStar MX. Install the other formatted drive into the left bay. Change the jumper setting to RAID 1. Reset the device (as described above). Start the computer. Voila!
If you are using a PC or a Pre-Lion Mac and are trying to rebuild your RAID set and want to know it’s progress, you can use the software found at Silicon Image.
Silicon Image Support Page
- Select SiI5723 Storage Processor
- Then Configuration Manager
- Then your desired OS (Doesn’t work on LION because it’s a Power PC application)
I sincerely hope that this helps anyone having issues with Vantec’s NexStar MX and that the company wakes up in the future when writing their instruction manuals and giving information on their website. A technology company should not have to rely on it’s customers to supply its other customers with support. But I’m glad I could help, if I’ve done so.