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Is there a way to protect Windows OS installation against a disk failure other than putting it on a hardware RAID? I'm not after data backup, what I'd like to achieve is a machine with 2 physical disks and if one dies, the other keeps the computer running but without HW RAID if at all possible.

Windows have some sort of software RAID feature but from what I've seen it looks like it will only work for non-system drives (though I may be wrong). Are there any other options?

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You'll need some form of RAID, whether it's hardware, firmware (motherboard) or software. However, why are you against hardware RAID? – Cry Havok Aug 19 '12 at 10:32

If you want to keep running after one disk fails then you need at least one more disk with the same data on it, and a transparent way to access a shared device which manages the data on both drives. That comes down to:

  1. Hardware RAID. (Usually expensive and the RAID card should not die)
  2. Software RAID. (Not sure how this works under windows)
  3. Fake RAID with the motherboard. Basically this is software RAID but with support from the BIOS or UEFI and often limited to the same generation of motherboards.

To archive what you want I would advise HW RAID, except that you specified without HW RAID if possible. The next best thing would be SW RAID or fake raid with a spare identical motherboard.

A last option would be not to use RAID but keep a daily backup of the drive containing c:\ in a different drive. That would require rebooting (and pulling a broken drive) after the primary drive containing your c: volume dies, but it involves the least hassle to set up. This edges toward some kind of backup, which is also something you did not want. Basically this confuses me. (Do you already have backups and want to avoid those in the post?)

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Most Intel chipsets have access to Intel Software Raid ("Intel Matrix Raid"). I had some reliability issues, but

  1. It is software raid, and free if you motherboard has the feature enabled.
  2. The software has a migration wizard that allows to convert a single disk system to any kind of raid array, even the system drive.

The ability to use a SSD drive as cache is a nice trick that does an impressive job.

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