RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is a data storage technology that combines multiple disk drive components into a logical unit. RAID is used to provide redundancy, improve performance, or both. So do computers use RAID? The short answer is yes, many computers use RAID technology.
What is RAID?
RAID is a way of combining multiple physical disk drives into a single logical drive to provide increased storage capacity, reliability, and/or performance. The specific goals of a RAID configuration depend on the RAID level used. The different RAID levels each strike different balances between key goals like reliability, availability, performance, and capacity.
Some key things to know about RAID:
- RAID combines physical drives into a single logical drive, also known as a RAID array.
- Data is distributed across the drives according to the RAID level being used.
- RAID utilizes techniques like disk striping (spreading data across drives), disk mirroring (data duplication), and parity (error checking data) to achieve goals.
- Popular RAID levels include 0, 1, 5, 6, and 10.
- RAID can be implemented via hardware (a RAID controller) or software.
- RAID aims to provide increased storage, reliability, and/or performance compared to single disk drives.
In summary, RAID leverages multiple drives to enhance a storage system’s capabilities beyond what singular physical drives can provide. The specific benefits come from the RAID level being implemented and its underlying techniques.
Why is RAID used?
There are several key reasons RAID is used:
- Increased storage capacity – Combining multiple drives increases total storage beyond a single drive’s capacity.
- Improved reliability – Data redundancy (mirrored or parity data) allows RAID to withstand drive failures and recover lost data.
- Enhanced performance – Striping data across drives improves read/write speeds, especially with SSDs.
- Efficiency – A RAID array is still seen by the system as a single logical drive.
RAID’s core benefit is taking multiple physical disks and utilizing them in a coordinated fashion to get enhanced capacity, reliability, efficiency, or performance compared to standalone disks. Specific RAID levels are implemented based on which of these benefits are most needed for a particular storage environment or use case.
What are the different RAID levels?
There are several standardized RAID levels, each with different mechanisms and tradeoffs:
- RAID 0 – Disk striping improves performance, but provides no redundancy. Vulnerable to drive failures.
- RAID 1 – Disk mirroring provides redundancy and reliability, but at 50% storage efficiency.
- RAID 5 – Striping with distributed parity provides redundancy, good read speeds, and storage efficiency.
- RAID 6 – Similar to RAID 5, but with double distributed parity for higher fault tolerance.
- RAID 10 – A hybrid approach, combining mirroring and striping for both performance and redundancy.
There are also non-standard nested or hybrid RAID levels like RAID 50 (combining RAID 5 arrays) and RAID 60 (combining RAID 6 arrays). The specific RAID level used depends on the priorities like performance, protection, and cost for a storage solution.
Do consumer PCs use RAID?
Many consumer desktop PCs and laptops do support RAID, but it is generally not enabled by default. Enabling RAID on consumer systems requires a few things:
- A RAID capable motherboard – Motherboard must have a RAID chipset/controller and connectors for multiple hard drives.
- Multiple physical drives – At least 2+ identical drives are needed for key RAID levels like 1, 5, and 10.
- Operating system support – Software RAID support built into Windows, Linux, etc to access and manage RAID arrays.
While motherboards may support RAID, typical consumer PC setups with a single drive installed won’t have RAID enabled. But RAID can be enabled on consumer desktops and laptops when configured with multiple identical SSDs or HDDs.
Do servers use RAID?
RAID is very commonly used with servers to provide performance, capacity, and resilience. Key reasons RAID is highly prevalent in server environments:
- Servers require high capacity redundant storage, which RAID delivers.
- Mission critical data requires fault tolerance that RAID redundancies provide.
- Performance demands require the parallelism of RAID disk striping.
- Server motherboards include hardware RAID controllers for performance and manageability.
Server-grade RAID controllers, backplanes, and chassis make it easier to deploy and manage RAID. RAID levels 5, 6, 10, 50, and 60 are commonly used in servers for performance and redundancy.
Do workstations use RAID?
High-end workstation PCs aimed at intensive workloads like engineering, design, content creation, and software development often leverage RAID to deliver fast, resilient storage:
- Video editing workstations use RAID 0 to speed up access to large video files.
- Engineering workstations use RAID 5 or 6 to combine capacity and redundancy.
- Developer workstations may mirror drives with RAID 1 for peace of mind.
- Digital art Creation workstations use RAID 10 for both speed and protection.
Workstations can utilize both hardware RAID with dedicated controllers as well as software RAID integrated into the OS. High-end workstations designed for critical data benefit greatly from RAID protection and performance.
Do NAS devices use RAID?
Network-attached storage (NAS) devices almost universally leverage RAID to provide large networked storage capacities along with fault tolerance:
- Entry-level NAS boxes often include dual-drive RAID 1 support.
- Mid-range NAS devices have RAID 5 or RAID 6 options.
- High-end NAS appliances have RAID 10, 50, and 60 support.
- Business-class NAS systems may include hardware RAID controller cards.
RAID enables NAS devices to combine multiple drives into large, protected storage pools that can be accessed by endpoints over the network. The RAID capabilities match the intended usage scenario and cost profile of the NAS product.
Do Mac computers use RAID?
Mac desktops and laptops can support software RAID through macOS if configured with multiple internal drives:
- Older Mac Pros supported hardware RAID cards and multiple internal drives.
- Newer Macs can handle software RAID through Disk Utility if multiple SSDs/HDDs installed.
- Typically used for performance via RAID 0 rather than redundancy.
- Thunderbolt also enables external RAID arrays to be connected.
While not as common as on Windows PCs, Mac RAID capabilities allow combining multiple internal or external drives for added performance and/or protection appropriate to the Mac model and hardware capabilities.
Do smartphones or tablets use RAID?
Smartphones and tablets do not support RAID for several reasons:
- Mobile devices are designed to be small and lightweight, limiting internal storage options.
- Power consumption requirements make RAID impractical.
- OSes like iOS/Android don’t have software RAID capabilities.
- There is no room for multiple drives or hardware RAID controllers.
In rare cases, external RAID enclosures can be connected to mobile devices via USB-C or Thunderbolt. But internal RAID support is essentially non-existent on mobile device platforms due to size, power, heat, and other constraints.
RAID is widely used across computer types and usage models where increased storage, performance, redundancy, or a combination of these benefits are needed. Servers, workstations, and NAS systems commonly leverage RAID to achieve needed data availability, integrity, and throughput. Consumer desktops and notebooks can also utilize RAID, but it rarely makes sense with a single drive. While not suitable for small mobile devices, RAID provides key storage advantages on many computing platforms.