Can you raid 3 hard drives?

What is RAID?

RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks or Drives) is a storage technology that combines multiple disk drives into a logical unit. RAID allows for increased performance, capacity, and/or reliability compared to single drives.

There are several different RAID levels, which provide different benefits:

  • RAID 0 stripes data across multiple drives for increased performance. However, it offers no redundancy if a drive fails (references TechTarget, Gartner).
  • RAID 1 mirrors data across drives for redundancy. If one drive fails, data can still be accessed from the other drive (references Fujitsu).
  • RAID 5 stripes data and parity information across drives, providing redundancy while requiring less disk space than RAID 1.

By combining drives into logical units, RAID aims to provide increased performance, capacity, and/or reliability compared to single disk systems.


RAID 0, also known as disk striping, is a RAID configuration that spreads data across multiple hard disk drives. It works by dividing the data into blocks and writing a block to each drive in sequence (TechTarget). This allows for parallel read and write operations, improving overall performance.

The main advantage of RAID 0 is increased read and write speeds, as data can be accessed simultaneously from multiple disks. However, RAID 0 provides no redundancy or fault tolerance. If one drive fails, all data will be lost. For this reason, RAID 0 is generally used in applications where performance is critical and data redundancy is less important, such as video editing or gaming (The Plug).

Overall, RAID 0 is best suited for non-critical data where speed is the priority. The tradeoff is increased risk of catastrophic data loss if a drive failure occurs.


RAID 1, also known as disk mirroring, is a RAID configuration where data is written identically to two or more drives (TechTarget, 2022). This creates an exact copy of the data on the second drive, providing redundancy in case one of the drives fails. The main advantage of RAID 1 is high reliability and fault tolerance. If one drive fails, the data remains fully accessible from the other mirrored drive with no downtime (PCMag, 2022). However, RAID 1 does have some disadvantages. It is expensive since it requires at least two hard drives of equal capacity. It also does not provide a performance boost since the data is simply mirrored between drives rather than split. Overall, RAID 1 provides excellent redundancy for critical data at the cost of storage efficiency.


RAID 5 is a redundant array of independent disks (RAID) configuration that uses disk striping with distributed parity. In RAID 5, data is striped across all the disks in the array, and a parity block is calculated and written for each stripe of data blocks across the array (TechTarget). The parity block contains checksum data that can be used to reconstruct data if one of the drives fails.

Parity is distributed across all the disks, unlike RAID 3 where it is stored on a dedicated parity disk. The location of the parity block shifts for each stripe, following a rotating pattern. This distributed parity helps improve write performance in RAID 5 compared to RAID 3, since the writes of parity blocks are spread across multiple disks instead of bottlenecking a single disk (Wikipedia).

A key advantage of RAID 5 is that it provides redundancy and protection against a single disk failure with minimal storage overhead. Only one disk worth of capacity is needed for parity versus a full copy of all data in RAID 1. However, RAID 5 is vulnerable during the rebuild process if a second disk fails before the first failed disk is replaced and rebuilt. RAID 5 also has slower write performance than RAID 0 due to the parity calculation overhead.


RAID 10, also known as RAID 1+0, combines both disk mirroring and disk striping to provide increased performance and reliability compared to a single disk (What is RAID 10 (RAID 1+0)?). It requires a minimum of 4 drives and combines a RAID 0 array with a RAID 1 array.

With RAID 10, data is both striped across drives for performance and mirrored for redundancy. This provides fast read/write speeds from the striping along with protection against drive failure from the mirroring (Definition of RAID 10).

The pros of RAID 10 include excellent performance and redundancy. The cons are it requires at least 4 drives and 50% of the total capacity is used for redundancy. Overall, RAID 10 provides a good balance of speed, capacity, and reliability for many applications.

3-Drive RAID Configurations

There are a few different RAID configurations that can be implemented with 3 hard drives:


RAID 5 requires at least 3 drives and uses block-level striping with distributed parity. This means data is striped across all 3 drives, with the parity information distributed amongst the drives as well1. RAID 5 provides redundancy in case one of the drives fails – the data on the failed drive can be rebuilt using the parity information. The usable storage capacity in a 3-drive RAID 5 setup is the total capacity of 2 of the drives.


RAID 10 requires 4 drives, but can be implemented with 3 drives as well. It uses mirrored pairs and striping. With 3 drives, 1 drive would be mirrored while the other 2 are striped. This provides the redundancy of RAID 1 mirroring along with the performance benefits of RAID 0 striping. However, the usable capacity is only 50% of the total in a 3-drive setup2.

The choice between RAID 5 and RAID 10 depends on whether redundancy or performance is more important for your use case.

Performance Considerations

When configuring RAID with 3 drives, the key performance factors to consider are read and write speeds. Different RAID levels offer tradeoffs between performance, capacity, and redundancy.

RAID 0 stripes data across all 3 drives, providing the fastest read and write speeds but no redundancy. RAID 0 with 3 drives can deliver up to triple the read/write performance of a single drive, ideal for applications requiring maximum speed like video editing or gaming [1].

RAID 1 mirrors data to all 3 drives, providing increased read performance but reduced write speed. Writes must be duplicated to all drives, so the write performance will be similar to a single drive. The reading performance is boosted since the reads can be distributed across the drives [2].

RAID 5 stripes data across the drives with parity information distributed among them. Read performance approaches that of RAID 0 while write performance is reduced due to the parity calculation overhead. RAID 5 offers a balance of speed, redundancy, and storage capacity ideal for general use. However, some experts recommend avoiding RAID 5 with only three drives due to the high likelihood of data loss during rebuilds [3].

Reliability Factors

When choosing a RAID configuration for 3 drives, fault tolerance and ease of recovery are important reliability factors to consider. RAID levels differ in how they provide redundancy and protect against drive failures.

RAID 0 offers no redundancy at all. If any one drive fails, all data will be lost. This makes RAID 0 a poor choice for a 3-drive storage system where reliability is desired.

RAID 1 provides mirroring across drives. With 3 drives, there are a couple RAID 1 options. A RAID 1 array with 2 drives holds copies of data, while the 3rd drive remains independent. This allows one drive failure without data loss. Alternatively, the 3 drives can be mirrored together in a RAID 1 Triple Mirror set. This allows up to 2 drives to fail without data loss, providing maximum redundancy.

RAID 5 stripes data across the drives and stores parity information. It can withstand a single drive failure without data loss. After a failed drive is replaced, the RAID 5 array can rebuild itself using the parity data. RAID 5 provides good redundancy with 3 drives.

RAID 10 combines mirroring and striping for both performance and redundancy. Data can withstand a single drive failure. With 3 drives, RAID 10 configured as a stripe of mirrors would be RAID 1+0.

Overall, RAID 10 or RAID 5 provide the best combination of good performance and fault tolerance when using 3 drives.[1] The Triple Mirror RAID 1 array provides the maximum redundancy if performance is less important.

Hardware Compatibility

When setting up a 3-drive RAID configuration, it’s important to ensure your hardware components are compatible. The three key factors are:

Motherboard Compatibility

Most modern motherboards include onboard RAID controllers that support RAID 0, 1, and 10 using 3 drives. However, some budget boards may lack RAID support or be limited to only 2-drive RAID. Check your motherboard specs to confirm 3-drive RAID capability.

RAID Controller

If your motherboard doesn’t support 3-drive RAID, you can add a compatible RAID controller card. Make sure the RAID card specifically indicates support for the RAID modes you want with 3 drives. Some lower-end cards may only support up to 2-drive RAID configurations.

Hard Drives

Your hard drives must be of the same interface type – SATA or SAS. Mixing interface types within a RAID array is not supported. For best performance, use identical drives in terms of RPM, cache size, etc. Overall capacity doesn’t need to match.

Check compatibility specifications for your RAID controller and motherboard to ensure your chosen hard drives will work properly in a 3-drive RAID setup.


In summary, there are pros and cons to using a 3-drive RAID configuration. The pros are that it can provide good performance and redundancy for a relatively low cost. A 3-drive RAID 5 or RAID 10 can protect against one drive failure while still providing decent read/write speeds. The cons are that a 3-drive RAID has less redundancy than a configuration with more drives. With only 3 drives, if a second drive fails before the first failed drive is replaced, all data will be lost.

For home users looking for a good balance of performance, redundancy, and cost, a 3-drive RAID 5 or RAID 10 can be a good option. However, those with mission critical data may want to consider a RAID 6 configuration with 4+ drives to allow for two drive failures. When setting up any RAID, it’s important to use matching drives from the same manufacturer and batch when possible, have a good RAID controller, and monitor the health of the drives.

Overall, 3-drive RAID configurations can work well in many situations, providing increased performance and redundancy over a single drive. But the limitations in redundancy should be considered based on the criticality of the data. Using enterprise-level drives, testing backups, and monitoring drive health are important for any RAID setup.