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The Truth about Raid

Sandra Prior
Jul 23, 2008
True gamers want to squeeze every last ounce of performance out of their beloved machines. CPUs and graphics cards can be upgraded, but hard drives, well they're kind of boring really. But your hard drive is one of the slowest parts of your PC, so surely there must be a way of getting it to go faster?

Even if you have the latest drive with oodles of cache and an ultra-fast SATA2 interface, you're still going to be sat there waiting in frustration as you see the inevitable game loading screen. Play as many games as we do and each second that a game takes to load is a wasted one. It's not long before those seconds become minutes, those minutes become hours, and before you know it, you've spent a whole month doing nothing but looking at a static screen.

So, what we want to know is, could setting up a RAID array banish those load times and make our games load faster? RAID is one of those mysterious technologies that everybody thinks they know about, but rarely, if ever uses. RAID has always been seen as the domain of big businesses, or too complicated for most of us to bother with. There's also the issue of what it does; are there really any advantages to using a RAID setup?

RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks - proof that we'll sex up anything with an anacronym. Until the last year or so, the inexpensive part was debatable for home users, but in a business environment, where data integrity is key, it was a cheap way to keep servers running. The key to RAID is redundancy; if one drive fails, one or more other drives take over, until the failed drive can be replaced.

The idea of having multiple, identical drives, that didn't add to your total storage was abhorrent to most home users, but now that hard drives are so cheap, RAID is a realistic proposition.

There are three types of RAID system that you're going to be interested in: RAID 0, RAID 1, and RAID 5. The majority of motherboards will support RAID 0 and RAID 1, but they may not support RAID 5. Check your motherboard manual for details. RAID 0 is known as 'striping', because of the way that data is written in alternate blocks to both drives. The net result of this method is that if you have two 500GBdrives, you'll continue to retain 1TB of storage. In fact, RAID 0, is not, RAID at all, because there is no built in redundancy: if one drive fails, you'll lose everything, because only half of the data will be stored on the surviving drive, and you won't be able to recover anything from the damaged drive.

However, RAID 0 has always been touted as the best solution for those looking to get the ultimate performance from their system. The theory is that by splitting the read/write load across two drives simultaneously, you end up with far better data throughput.

Your Certainly Won't Get Twice the Data Throughput From Using RAID 0

However, while much has been claimed, is this true? You certainly won't get twice the data throughput, but the theory says you should see a significant increase.

RAID 1 is true raid, and is also known as 'mirroring'. In this setup, each drive is an identical copy of the other, so should one fail, you have a complete image that will carry on working. Replace the failed drive, and the RAID array can then be rebuilt, copying the data across onto the new drive. The purpose of a RAID 1 setup is data integrity, pure and simple.

So what does this mean when it comes to setting up your rig for the best performance at the best price? There's no point in going to a RAID setup unless you're using it for its original function - as a system for ensuring the safety of your precious data.

If you're simply after the best performance, a fast, ordinary, non-striped single drive is absolutely fine - and it will have a statistically lower chance of failure than a dual drive striped setup.
About the Author
Subscribe to Sandra Prior's Online Newsletter and get up to date Computer Technology News delivered right to your email box for free. See website for details http://usacomputers.rr.nu and http://sacomputers.rr.nu.
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