Ah, storage. Every PC needs it it, but your standard PC storage solutions suffer from two glaring frustrations.
First off, storage performance tends to be one of the main bottlenecks in a typical PC, although the situation has vastly improved with the advent of solid state drives. (Yes, it's probably your hard drive holding back your high-end PC from even greater glory.) Second, drive failure can lead to the loss of valuable data, and no one wants that.
Thankfully, there's a way to help mitigate both of these problems using a feature that's supported on virtually every modern computer system: RAID.
RAID was originally an acronym for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks, but that has since morphed into the more commonly accepted Redundant Array of Independent Disks. As its name implies, RAID is a way to pair multiple drives together to improve performance, redundancy, or both.
RAID used to require expensive hardware purchases and was sometimes difficult to configure. Now, though, all but the lowest-end desktop systems (and even some laptops) feature integrated drive controllers with RAID support built right in. Most operating systems--including Windows--also give users the ability to configure what's known as software RAID. Expansion cards are available too, which can add RAID support to any system with an open PCI-E slot.
Setting up a RAID array is easy in most cases. Typically, the process requires little more than installing some drives, attaching them to a RAID or drive controller, and stepping through a simple wizard that's either embedded in firmware or available within your operating system.
When to use RAID
Budget permitting, there are many good reasons to use RAID.
Today's hard disks and solid state drives are far more reliable than their predecessors, which make them perfect candidates for RAID. As we've mentioned, RAID can increase storage performance or offer some level of redundancy--both things most PC users want.
Common RAID modes
Choosing the right RAID mode is paramount. Over the years, many RAID modes, or levels, have been defined. On most of today's desktop systems, however, only a handful of modes are typically supported. Here are the ones you'll see in the PC space.
RAID 0 -- Striping:
RAID 0, or striping, distributes data among the drives used in the array. And because the workload is parallelized and spread across the drives, read and write throughput in many circumstances is improved. RAID 0 requires a minimum of two drives and the total capacity of the drives in the array are combined into a single volume, due to the way data is distributed. Two 1TB drives paired together in a striped RAID 0 configuration, for example, will be recognized as a single, 2TB volume. RAID 0 does not mirror or store any parity data though, so the loss of a single drive will take down the entire array.
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