Most consumers do not need a dedicated RAID card for SSDs. Onboard SATA controllers on modern motherboards have RAID capabilities that are sufficient for most home and office use cases. However, there are some potential benefits to using a dedicated RAID card with SSDs:
- More RAID options like RAID 5/6 for data protection
- Better performance with more SATA ports and PCIe bandwidth
- Additional caching memory to optimize SSD performance
- Advanced features like battery backup or onboard hardware encryption
For most typical consumer setups, the onboard SATA RAID capabilities are good enough. But for mission critical storage or more complex RAID setups, a dedicated RAID card can provide better flexibility and performance.
Do consumer motherboards have RAID capabilities?
Yes, most modern consumer motherboards have onboard RAID capabilities via their SATA controllers. Here are some examples of RAID modes commonly supported:
- RAID 0 – Stripes data across disks for faster reads/writes. Provides no redundancy.
- RAID 1 – Mirrored disks for 100% redundancy. Halves usable capacity.
- RAID 10 – Stripes and mirrors disks for both speed and 1-drive fault tolerance.
The most basic RAID modes like 0, 1 and 10 are commonly found integrated into the SATA ports on consumer motherboard chipsets from Intel, AMD and others. This allows building RAID arrays without any additional hardware.
However, there are some limitations to onboard SATA RAID:
- Limited to the number of SATA ports built into the chipset (typically 6 or less)
- No support for more advanced RAID 5/6 data protection
- RAID management done through BIOS or OS software only
- No additional hardware acceleration or caching
So while suitable for smaller RAID arrays, onboard SATA RAID lacks some of the more advanced features you can get with a dedicated RAID card.
What are the advantages of a dedicated RAID card?
Here are some of the key benefits you can get with a dedicated RAID card compared to onboard SATA RAID:
- More RAID options – Supports RAID levels like 5 and 6 for data protection through parity. Most onboard SATA is limited to RAID 0, 1, 10.
- More drive connections – 8 to 24 ports on a RAID card vs. typically 6 or less ports onboard.
- Higher bandwidth – Uses faster PCIe x4 or x8 vs. DMI/PCIe x2 for onboard SATA.
- RAID caching – 1GB or more cache memory for faster writes/reads.
- Data protection – Battery backup, flash storage for cache data protection.
- Enhanced management – Dedicated management software with more controls and optimizations.
- Hardware acceleration – ASIC or FPGA to offload RAID tasks from the CPU.
- Encryption support – Self-encrypting drives or other hardware encryption options.
The right RAID card can provide a lot more speed, drive connectivity, data protection and management features compared to basic onboard SATA RAID.
What RAID modes work best for SSDs?
SSDs are becoming popular for building RAID arrays thanks to key advantages:
- Much faster read/write speeds than hard drives
- Lower access times for more responsive performance
- Use less power and run cooler than multiple hard drives
- Compact 2.5″ form factors take up less space
Here are some of the most common ways SSDs are used in RAID setups:
- RAID 0 – The preferred choice to maximize SSD read/write performance. But provides no redundancy.
- RAID 1 – Can be used for a two drive mirror with SSDs for performance and redundancy.
- RAID 5 – With 3+ SSDs for a good balance of speed, capacity and 1-drive fault tolerance.
- RAID 10 – Combining mirroring and striping for peak performance and redundancy.
SSDs are less suitable for parity-based RAID modes like 5 and 6 since the write penalty has a bigger impact on their performance. But for RAID 0/1/10, SSDs can provide significantly faster speeds than hard drives.
Are onboard SATA ports fast enough for SSD RAID?
Modern onboard SATA ports provide more than enough bandwidth for saturating even the fastest SATA SSDs in a RAID configuration. Here’s a look at the speed potential:
- SATA ports support up to 6Gbps bandwidth per lane.
- Even PCIE 3.0 x2 offers nearly 2GB/s which can saturate multiple SATA SSDs.
- Peak speeds of SATA SSDs top out around 550MB/s for sequential reads/writes.
- So a single SATA port can handle max speed of a SATA SSD without bottlenecking.
In addition, most onboard SATA controllers have RAID acceleration built-in via DMA engines and other optimizations to efficiently manage multiple SSDs in a RAID array.
The only limitation is the number of SATA ports. With 6 or fewer ports, large high performance SSD RAID arrays may be limited. But for home builds or smaller office NAS/DAS boxes, onboard SATA provides plenty of RAID flexibility and bandwidth for SSDs.
Do you need hardware acceleration for SSD RAID?
One of the advantages of a hardware RAID card is offloading the computationally intensive RAID tasks from the main CPU. This can provide a performance boost, especially for write-heavy I/O.
However, for typical consumer SSD RAID setups, the CPU overhead may not be significant enough to require dedicated hardware acceleration:
- Home/office workloads are usually not heavy enough to pressure the CPU with RAID tasks alone.
- SATA SSDs have much lower overhead than high RPM hard drives in RAID.
- Onboard SATA often has some acceleration, like Intel RST for managing RAID.
- Modern multicore CPUs have lots of headroom for efficient multitasking.
The exception would be with NVMe SSDs in RAID. Because of their much higher speeds, there is a larger benefit to offloading RAID tasks from the CPU to dedicated acceleration hardware or co-processors.
But for SATA SSD configurations on a typical single system, the CPU can readily handle RAID workloads without a need for specialized hardware acceleration.
How much RAID cache memory is ideal for SSDs?
Many RAID cards include anywhere from 256MB to 4GB of onboard cache memory. This can help optimize RAID performance:
- Cache improves write speeds by buffering data before it reaches the SSDs.
- It helps read performance by holding frequently accessed data.
- Enables read/write optimizations like read-ahead, write-back, etc.
More cache is always better, but the benefits have diminishing returns beyond 1-2GB of RAID cache for most SSD arrays. Some general guidelines on RAID cache for SSDs:
- Consumer-grade cards often have 512MB to 1GB cache.
- 2GB or higher recommended for heavy workstation/enterprise use.
- SSDs benefit less from cache than high RPM hard drives.
- Prioritize cache if running a larger RAID 5/6 array.
- Onboard SATA RAID cache is handled by system memory.
SSDs are less dependent on cache thanks to their fast access times. But more cache helps when pushing higher queue depths or large simultaneous workloads in RAID.
Do you need RAID 1 with SSDs for redundancy?
RAID 1 remains a simple and effective way to provide full redundancy with two SSDs:
- A mirror provides complete data duplication between drives.
- If one SSD fails, the system can instantly failover to the other.
- RAID 1 has very little write penalty, matching single drive speeds.
- You can run a RAID 1 array with onboard SATA RAID.
The downsides of RAID 1:
- 50% storage efficiency since drives are duplicated.
- Requires at least 2 drives.
- No protection against file corruption or accidental deletion.
For a reliable redundant array without sacrificing too much SSD capacity, RAID 1 remains a tried and true choice.
Should I use RAID 5 with SSDs instead of RAID 1?
RAID 5 requires at least 3 drives and offers an alternative to RAID 1 for redundancy:
- Blocks are striped across drives, with distributed parity for redundancy.
- Provides redundancy with better overall drive utilization than mirroring.
- Can survive failure of 1 drive.
- Overall performance is faster than a single drive.
However, RAID 5 can have higher write penalty with SSDs:
- Parity calculation on writes makes them slower.
- SSD performance degrades as more drives are added.
- RAID 5 rebuild times are slower with larger SSD arrays.
For better performance, consider RAID 10 instead of RAID 5 if drive cost allows. But for home users who need flexible redundancy with 3-4 drives, RAID 5 is a decent option.
Should I use RAID with NVMe SSDs instead of SATA?
NVMe SSDs are substantially faster than SATA SSDs, so they can benefit more from RAID:
- NVMe SSD read/write speeds can exceed 3,000MB/s.
- Bandwidth scales nearly linearly with each drive added to RAID.
- RAID 0 can provide additive performance scaling.
- RAID card allows more NVMe drives since limited onboard M.2 slots.
However, there are some downsides:
- NVMe RAID requires using a PCIe slot for RAID card.
- More CPU overhead without hardware accelerated RAID card.
- Enterprise drives recommended for RAID reliability.
- Costs significantly more than SATA RAID.
For peak speed in a desktop or workstation, NVMe RAID is compelling. But for home and office, SATA RAID offers a more affordable blend of speed and redundancy.
Should I get SAS SSDs instead of SATA for RAID?
SAS SSDs are enterprise grade drives that offer benefits for RAID use:
- Dual-port for built-in redundancy and multipathing.
- Higher endurance with 24/7 operation rating.
- Hot-swap support to mix SSDs and HDDs.
- Higher and more consistent performance.
However, SAS has key disadvantages vs. SATA SSD RAID:
- Significantly more expensive than SATA SSDs.
- Require a SAS RAID card and infrastructure.
- Primarily beneficial for large business storage arrays.
- Overkill for home/office use.
SATA SSDs often provide the best blend of performance, capacity and affordability for RAID. But for mission critical storage, SAS SSDs can provide higher reliability and performance.
How can I connect more SATA SSDs without a RAID card?
If onboard SATA ports are maxed out, there are some ways to expand connectivity for more SSDs without a RAID card:
- Add a SATA expansion card – Low cost way to get more SATA ports.
- Use M.2 SATA drive adapters – Converts M.2 SATA SSDs to standard SATA connectors.
- Employ port multipliers – Allows connecting multiple drives to a single SATA connector.
- Install a HBA SAS card – Works with SATA SSDs and provides 8-16 more ports.
The optimal solution depends on available expansion slots and needs:
- PCIe slot needed for SATA expansion cards or HBA SAS.
- Limits on motherboard M.2 connectivity with adapters.
- Port multipliers limit overall performance.
For most balanced approach, a simple SATA expansion card can give 4-8 extra ports on one PCIe slot.
Can I put boot/system C: drives in a RAID array?
It is possible to install boot or system drives like C: into a RAID array, with a few caveats:
- Requires RAID driver installed and integrated during OS installation.
- Booting from RAID 1 mirrors is most reliable and fast.
- Some OSes may not support booting from certain RAID levels.
- Drives used for RAID boot need to be same model and capacity.
- Boot times may be slightly slower depending on RAID configuration.
- Drive failure can prevent booting into OS without redundant boot.
While supported on most RAID cards, booting from a RAID array adds complexity. For user data RAID, it’s simpler to keep boot drives separate.
Should I use software or hardware RAID with SSDs?
SSD RAID arrays can be implemented via:
- Hardware RAID – Dedicated RAID card with onboard processor.
- Software RAID – OS or driver-based implementation.
Hardware RAID advantages:
- Dedicated hardware accelerates RAID tasks.
- More I/O bandwidth if using faster bus like PCIe.
- Additional cache memory improves performance.
- Doesn’t consume CPU resources.
Software RAID advantages:
- No additional hardware costs for cheap implementations.
- Can allow finer control over RAID options.
- Drives do not need to be identical models.
- Easier drive expansion and flexibility.
For most home builds, software RAID provides a good balance of cost and flexibility. But hardware RAID can pay dividends for busy workstations and servers.
While a dedicated RAID card has advantages for SSD arrays, it is not essential for many typical home and office setups. Onboard SATA RAID capabilities found on modern motherboards are often good enough for smaller SSD RAID configurations focused on performance and redundancy.
The key benefits a true hardware RAID card can provide are additional drive connectivity, more supported RAID levels, enhanced performance via caching and acceleration, and enterprise-grade management features.
For mission critical storage arrays, niche workstation setups, or expanding beyond 6 SSDs in RAID, a dedicated card makes sense. But an average home user doing occasional work and backups often won’t see major real-world differences versus a basic onboard SATA RAID array with 2-4 SSDs.
Ultimately, it depends on your performance needs, expanding requirements, and budget considerations when determining if a RAID card is worthwhile for SSDs. But for typical home and office demands, the built-in SATA RAID support on motherboards is often sufficient and the simplest option.