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Helios 500 - OS on SSD instead of NVMe & running NVMe's / M.2 separately (ahci), not in Raid 0

ArioArio Posts: 24Member Networker
edited August 23 in Predator Laptops
Helios 500 (mine: Predator PH517-51): replacing hdd with ssd, installing OS on that ssd, and taking the 2x M.2 out of Raid and into AHCI. Giving you two separately accessible M.2 drives (e.g. D and E) instead of one.
Okay, I am sharing this info because A. it was hard to find it in one piece elsewhere, and B. I first approached this all wrong and ended up paying for it (in time, lots of it).
If you don't want to replace the hdd with an ssd, the below is still relevant, if you want to get rid of the Raid 0 (disk striping).
DISCLAIMER: any actions you take, are completely at your own risk, and completely outside my responsibility.

Notes on replacing the hdd with an ssd: the (hdd) disk is squeezed into a rubber ring, I presume to tackle vibration. I found no way to get the hdd out of this rubber, without getting to the bottom side of it (which takes more 'opening-up work'), and then pushing the hdd out from that side, which then was easy. Videos on Helios 500 maintenance are found on YouTube (but didn't yet show hdd replacement).

Since I work with NLE (video editing) and live streaming/recording programs that really benefit from fast cacheing drives, I wanted to use the 2 NVMe's (M.2) for that, and have the OS on an ssd. The ssd in my case is an EVO 860, write 300 MB/sec, read 500. For my work, that is fast enough, the OS drive does not need to be faster than that. The NVMe's now (AHCI, so non-RAID) give me around 850 MB/sec for read and write, so they are clearly faster than the ssd. I have no personal info on the NVMe's speed while in Raid 0 (probably the review sites like the excellent notebookcheck.net do), but un-Raided they approach 1 GB/sec (850 MB) which is very fast, and much faster than the ssd.

So why was my journey to get the OS on the ssd and the NVMe's out of raid so painfull? No doubt, partly because of my own ignorance and stupidity. Secondly, Acer gives no clear info on this AT ALL for the Helios 500. When you power it on for the first time, it installs Win10 on the Raided NVMe's, same for the boot (EFI) partition, and there the trouble begins.
No doubt there are alternative ways to what I will describe below (please add them in comments or a new thread; thanks!), but the one I tried initially (cloning the OS to the freshly installed SSD) is not the one to go. Since cloning the OS to the ssd leaves the boot partition (EFI) on the Raided NVMe's, disabling Raid (enabling Ahci in the BIOS /F2 during boot) will make the system lose access to the boot partition, giving you an unbootable 3.000 Euro laptop.

And no (unfortunately!), when first installing Windows, this laptop does NOT ask you, on which drive you want to install !!! 
And yes, I tried about 5 ways / tools of moving/cloning/copying/transferring the EFI boot partition to the ssd, but none worked. The laptop kept wanting the boot partition on the Raided drives, and accepted nothing else. 

So, i hindsight, the only way that worked for me was:

1.
let Windows be installed 'as is', meaning on the Raided NVMe's;
replace hdd with ssd as described above and verify that ssd is working / writeable. Format it as NTFS, GPT.

2.
grab a usb thumb drive of at least 8 GB that is empty or may be formatted (all existing data will be lost)

3.
Google "create installation media for windows 10" and follow the steps to transform the usb drive into a Windows installer drive
(probably this can also be done on a different PC with genuine Win10 on it; in that case, you won't need to install Windows from the Helios first; but I'm not sure if you might run into activation trouble later on, on the Helios) 

4. 
Download the Wifi/Wlan drivers for your laptop from the Acer site if you don't have wired Internet ! The latest MS Win10 installer does NOT include drivers (yet) for the wifi card in the Helios!
Put these drivers on the / a usb drive.

5.
Reboot the laptop, hit F2 when it restarts to access the Bios, and take the laptop out of Raid by choosing AHCI instead of Intel RST (Rapid Storage Technology) / RST Premium with Optane (the / my laptop does not come with Optane memory anyway).
NB ! when you continue, you will LOSE the Acer Windows installer/recovery that is on the NVMe's. For me, it's not a big deal since I don't care for the Acer bloatware and Microsoft lets me make my own (usb) installer (i.e. Step 3), but hey, you may feel different. There may be ways to salvage/clone this Acer recovery partition, but I spent enough time on this whole ordeal already, so I didn't look into that.
Save bios, exit, the system reboots and (don't be alarmed) will tell you No bootable device found (the only bootable devices were the Raided NVMe's, that you just un-Raided).

6.
Put the usb drive with the Win10 installer in.
Power off and power on the laptop, hit F2 when it starts, to access the Bios. Make sure the Boot order has Usb in first place. (Might also work when in 2nd place, but just in case.)
Also, check if Touchpad mode is in Basic (only after Windows install, put it on Advanced, again via the Bios). If you use a mouse, you can ignore this check.
Save bios, exit, the system reboots.

7.
Since you are now booting from the usb drive, the installation of Windows 10 should start.
This time, you CAN choose which drive (in my case: the ssd) to install it on, since you are now using the generic Microsoft installer, and not the image that Acer has put on the system, with pre-defined Acer settings. NB: this also means, you will not install Acer software (bloatware). Later on, via the Acer website, you can download and install Predator Sense, which seems usefull. All 'Acer' drivers that are not installed right away, are installed when doing Windows Update (but see Step 4 about Wifi drivers). No need to download them from the Acer website. NB 2: creating installation media (as described under 3) has the advantage that this package may already include major Windows updates (like the April/Spring 2018 one), which may be absent in the Acer-image that the laptop comes with. Of course, they can always be installed anyway, but it seems more elegant/robust if they are in the original installation package as provided by Microsoft).

8.
After installation, use Disk Manager to check if you have indeed 3 drives, with Windows on the ssd (C:) and probably with the other 2 (NVMe) drives unformatted.
Install Wifi drivers (see step 4.) in case you are not on wired Internet.
Delete existing partitions on the NVMe's, if any. You may need to open a Command prompt (or PowerShell) and use Diskpart for that. Google 'Diskpart' and learn how to select volumes and delete partitions.
Format the two NVMe's (NTFS) so that one NVMe becomes D and the other E and they both have only one partition, that utilizes all the space of the disk.

Run Windows Update (several times, until it says Up to date), which will install all other drivers & updates for you.

If you are worried about disk performance, download the free Blackmagic Design Desktop Video suite, which includes Disk Speed Test. Be aware that when testing sustained (!) writing, performance for drives gets really tested, and is usually slower than advertised. As mentioned above, I get between 800 - 900 MB/sec on the NVMe's when they are tested separately (not sure how to test them simultaneously, and not sure if that would lower performance).
As mentioned: via the Acer website, you can download and install Predator Sense, which seems usefull. It configures the RGB lighting, overclocking, and fans/cooling.

9.
After installation, you will see that on the OS-drive, there is a recovery partition.
I am not sure what it contains and how to use it.
I would advise anyone to continuously make full backups both locally (e.g. with the free EaseUS ToDo Backup) and in the cloud (e.g. Carbonite), as well as to make Windows restore points manually every so often. 

10. Put Touchpad in Advanced mode via the Bios (enables things like 2-finger scrolling).

What were the benefits again, of this whole circus? Well ... I wanted my OS on an ssd. Plus, I wanted the fastest (i.e. NVMe) drives for cacheing of video projects / renders, and NOT wasted on the OS. Plus, I wanted to physically separately identify the two NVMe's, and not have them in an 'abstract' Raid setup (apart from the fact that you have to use write-back cacheing to really get the most out of Raid, which ... can jeopardize the stability of your system).

What I don't know: 
if the very first time that you boot your new laptop, and you would disable Raid (choose ahci) in Bios, if the installer would still work, so that you don't need a usb drive.
I think that this won't work, since the installer is on the NVMe's, which need Raid in order to run.
But you can try it: very first boot, immediately hit F2, choose Ahci over Intel Rst, see if installation starts, and IF it lets you choose a destination drive.
Again, I think it won't.

Happy computing !

FAQ & Answers

  • Red-SandRed-Sand Posts: 1,582ACE Pathfinder
    Very informative write up!!
    I will bookmark this post in case this question comes up somewhere else in the future!

    Well done.
    - Hotel Hero
  • ArioArio Posts: 24Member Networker
    You are welcome. Writing it up, makes me feel that all the detours I took, before I figured out the right way to do this, were worth it ;-)
  • JackEJackE Posts: 11,023ACE Trailblazer
    Thanks for the write-up @Ario. I've already copied it to a text file just in case of a 404 error. RAID's are a pain if you really don't want one. Despite the drawbacks, it still would be helpful to somehow convert the ACER-specific RAID installation without all the hassles. It does have some benefits that outweigh its drawbacks for a lotta folks. Jack E/NJ
  • ACustomer1234ACustomer1234 Posts: 31Member

    Tinkerer

    I'm having the same problem - My Samsung 970 EVO NVMe drive is not recognized in the Helios 500 (AMD).

    What can I do?  The spare slot isn't recognizing anything.

    The BIOS has literally no options to do anything. 
  • ArioArio Posts: 24Member Networker
    Did you follow my instructions? Were they of any help? How far did you get? (I'm using an Intel version of the Helios btw, not AMD)
  • RazamaxRazamax Posts: 9Member

    Tinkerer

    Ario said:
    Helios 500 (mine: Predator PH517-51): replacing hdd with ssd, installing OS on that ssd, and taking the 2x M.2 out of Raid and into AHCI. Giving you two separately accessible M.2 drives (e.g. D and E) instead of one.


    Thank for this post @Ario,

    I will follow this procedure and remove the RAID setup on my SSD and HDD when I have time. Right now I am satisfied the way my PC is configured.

    Since you have had this machine for a while, I just wanted to ask you (or anyone else) some basic questions about the SSDs, please respond whenever you have free time, there is no rush:

    1- So, are both SSD slots on PH517-51 (72NU in my case) NVMe capable? I am asking this because there is conflicting posts all over, either saying that they are both NVMe or some saying that one is NVMe and the other is M2 Sata only.

    2- Is the SSD that came preinstalled, in my case Hynix hfs256gd9mne-6200a, a NVMe SSD or not? My Macrium imaging software says it is an NVMe SSD, but I have read online that it is configured to run in SATA 3 mode only. Which is true?

    3- In future, will I be able to put a NVMe SSD in the current SSD's slot, and move the current SSD to the empty slot?
     
    My system is PH517-51-72NU, the (i7-8750/GTX1070/FHD Display) version.

    Thanks,

    ~Raza
  • JackEJackE Posts: 11,023ACE Trailblazer
    edited December 4
    Razamax
    (1) One m.2 slot is nvme speed capable. One slot m.2 is SATA3 speed capable. Both slot should work with either card but a few nvme cards apparently don't play nice with SATA3 m.2 slots.
    (2) m.2 2280 SATA3 part # KN.2560G.024
    (3) In theory, yes. A few nvmes aren't backward compatible with a few SATA3 m.2 slots.

    The safest bets are still m.2 SATA3 cards for both slots. PCIe's are still a bit bleeding edge and more trouble-prone tech in comparison.

    Jack E/NJ




  • RazamaxRazamax Posts: 9Member

    Tinkerer


    Thank you for answering. I am disappointed as I was expecting both SSD slots to be NVMe capable, and furthermore I was told that in US the SSD shipped with these units is NVMe. It is even mentioned on the specs sheets of all major US retailors MicroCenter, Amazon, B&H and Newegg

    And I am pretty sure I read it on the Acer Store page for this laptop as well.

    Oh well

    Thanks for clarifying this for me.

    ~Raza
  • JackEJackE Posts: 11,023ACE Trailblazer
    Razamax If your vendor/seller claimed a PCIe SSD was installed, then that's what you should've gotten. Who's the seller? Jack E/NJ
  • RazamaxRazamax Posts: 9Member

    Tinkerer

    JackE said:
    Razamax If your vendor/seller claimed a PCIe SSD was installed, then that's what you should've gotten. Who's the seller? Jack E/NJ

    I bought it from Microcenter in US, but as I linked above, all US based retailers are claiming that this Laptop has a 256 GB NVMe SSD inside. I am assuming this is what Acer told them when they gave the spec
  • JackEJackE Posts: 11,023ACE Trailblazer
    Request the nvme card that Microcenter advertised. Jack E/NJ 
  • RazamaxRazamax Posts: 9Member

    Tinkerer

    I will try that

    Thanks,

  • ACustomer1234ACustomer1234 Posts: 31Member

    Tinkerer


    I'm having similar issues.  The second M.2 port on the laptop does not work.  It does not work when I put an NVME drive in it, nor does it work when I put the default 256GB drive the laptop came with into it.

    Did Acer bait-and-switch the laptop, or what else could explain this?
  • JackEJackE Posts: 11,023ACE Trailblazer
    ACustomer1234 Some nvme's won't work in a SATA3 slot. What is the mfr model for the nvme and the 256GB SATA3 that came with it? Jack E/NJ

  • ACustomer1234ACustomer1234 Posts: 31Member

    Tinkerer

    JackE said:
    ACustomer1234 Some nvme's won't work in a SATA3 slot. What is the mfr model for the nvme and the 256GB SATA3 that came with it? Jack E/NJ

    What are you referring to when you say "SATA3 slot"?  The laptop has 2x NVMe drives, correct? 

    Both of the M.2 slots in the laptop are M-keyed.  This means they are both PCIe 4x, with the 4x being the amount of PCI-e lanes.  SATA M.2 drives do not utilize 4x PCI-lanes.  They don't even utilize 1 fully.  M-keyed M.2 slots are for NVMe.

    The drive it came with is this:  HFS256GD9MNE-6200A

    Slot 1 (the unused M.2) won't work with anything.  I've tried 5x different NVMe + the base drive the laptop came installed with.  Bios doesn't detect anything.

  • JackEJackE Posts: 11,023ACE Trailblazer
    edited December 6
    ACustomer1234If your model is the PH517-51 then yes nvme. However, it may be limited to 256GB nvme. This model came with either a 128GB, a 256GB or a 512GB capacity limitation. Your's apparently came with the 256GB  limitation. Jack E/NJ 

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