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Beginners Guides: Installing RAID on a Desktop PC

Beginners Guides: Installing RAID on a Desktop PC - PCSTATS
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Abstract: With the right number of identical hard drives, motherboards that support RAID can choose from RAID 0, RAID 1, and sometimes even RAID 0+1 for improved performance, data redundancy and backups.
Filed under: Beginners Guides Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: PCSTATS Apr 22 2008   Mike Dowler  
Home > Reviews > Beginners Guides > PCSTATS

Beginners Guides: Installing RAID on Desktop PCs
How to set up a RAID array, what performance you can expect from it, and oh ya... a quick explanation of what 'RAID' actually means. - Version 1.1.0

It's an unfortunate fact that hard disk drives are rather slow at storing and retrieving data. Sure they are faster than CDs, linear backup tapes and other removable media, but compared to actual computer memory, they lag behind massively. The mechanical nature of Hard Disk Drive (HDD) technology will always hold it back when compared to a purely electronic storage devices such as a stick of RAM or a Solid State Drive (SSD). The thing is, our reliance on hard drives has if anything increased over the years, while the technology they are based on has changed little.

Modern software requires ever-increasing amounts of disk space and free memory, leading to constant hard drive access both to retrieve data from the program directory and to store data in the 'virtual memory' space that Windows puts aside on the hard drive.

Hard drives are faster in terms of transferring data than they used to be, mainly do to increases in the speed of the interface (the IDE and Serial ATA controllers) between the drive and the rest of the computer. Over the course of the last few years, the standard has gone from 33MB/s through 100MB/s and 133MB/s, and now reaches 150MB/s and 300MB/s with Serial ATA and SATA II drives.

RAID is an acronym for "Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks". This describes a configuration for multiple hard drives which provide fault tolerance and improved data access times. RAID was traditionally only found in the domain of servers, but inexpensive IDE/SATA RAID solutions now mean many desktop computers can benefit from the same data redundancy, and performance increases for applications like video editing. With the right number of identical hard drives, consumers with motherboards that support IDE/SATA RAID can choose from RAID 0, RAID 1, and sometimes even RAID 0+1.

The problem remains that the speed that the controller transfers data can't cover up the real limitation of hard drives, the fact that due to their mechanical nature they can only retrieve and send data to the controller at a certain speed. Improvements in controller technology may make you think the drives are retrieving data faster mechanically, but they are not. Not appreciably faster any ways.

So the fact that controller technology is moving forward while the drive technology behind it is essentially static means that sooner or later, a point is going to come where there is no benefit to increasing controller speed, as the drive cannot mechanically read data fast enough to justify it.

Most IDE drives are available at speeds of 5400 and 7200 RPM, which indicates how fast the hard disk platters inside the drive are spinning. Serial ATA drives are typically paced at 7200RPM. This ultimately dictates how fast the drive can retrieve and store information.

Since the read/write heads of the drive can move back and forth along the surface of the disk platters, the faster the platter rotates, the quicker the head can reach different sections of the disk; somewhat like like a record player (but not exactly).

There are even 10,000 RPM SATA/IDE drives available, generally aimed at business applications or performance users. Using SCSI (Small Computer Systems Interface) controllers, an alternative to IDE and SATA, allows for faster transfer rates, but this hardware is considerably more expensive because it is engineered for greater usage demands in servers. These faster drives also require considerable care, as they generate a significant amount of heat, and if not properly mounted may end up damaging themselves in the long term because of this.

The fact that hard drives are limited by the speed that they can send data is not a new issue. Big Business computing has been wrestling with the storage space and cost vs. speed question since hard drives have been around, as well as problems with the reliability of the drives.

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Contents of Article: PCSTATS
 Pg 1.  — Beginners Guides: Installing RAID on a Desktop PC
 Pg 2.  RAID Terminology Explained
 Pg 3.  Parity and Common types of RAID
 Pg 4.  RAID 1 and RAID 0+1 Explained
 Pg 5.  Hardware or software RAID?
 Pg 6.  Setting up a hardware RAID array
 Pg 7.  Configuring Promise RAID
 Pg 8.  Configuring Highpoint RAID controllers
 Pg 9.  The advantages of RAID: Tests
 Pg 10.  HD Tach and Timed Data Transfer Tests

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