Is SATA SSD RAID worth it?


SATA SSD RAID stands for Serial ATA Solid State Drive Redundant Array of Independent Disks. It involves combining multiple SATA SSD drives together into a RAID array to improve performance or data redundancy. SATA SSDs connect via the Serial ATA interface and provide fast solid state storage without any moving parts. RAID allows using multiple drives together as if they were a single volume.

Common SATA SSD RAID levels include:

  • RAID 0 – Stripes data across drives for faster reads/writes but no redundancy.
  • RAID 1 – Mirrors data between two drives for fault tolerance.
  • RAID 5 – Stripes data and parity information across 3+ drives for both speed and redundancy.
  • RAID 10 – Mirrors data and stripes the mirrors for the best of RAID 1 and RAID 0.

SATA SSD RAID can boost performance beyond what a single SATA SSD can deliver. But it requires careful configuration for the right RAID level and SSD selection.

Benefits of SATA SSD RAID

Some potential benefits of setting up a SATA SSD RAID array include:

Increased Read/Write Speeds

Combining multiple SATA SSDs together into a RAID 0 array stripes data across the drives. This allows reads and writes to be done in parallel, increasing overall throughput. For example, two 240 GB SATA SSDs in RAID 0 can deliver nearly double the read/write speeds of a single 240 GB drive. More drives added to the RAID 0 array will further multiply the performance.

Added Storage Space

RAID 0 and RAID 5 arrays combine the storage capacity of all included drives. For instance, two 1TB SATA SSDs in RAID 0 become a single 2TB volume. This provides more storage space for the array while boosting speeds. RAID 1 and RAID 10 arrays mirror drives, so the total capacity equals the smallest drive size.

Enhanced Data Protection

RAID levels 1, 5, and 10 provide data protection through drive mirroring or parity. If a drive fails, the data can still be recovered from the remaining drives. This redundancy protects against data loss due to drive failure. SATA SSDs are less prone to failure than hard disk drives, but RAID provides an extra safeguard.

Cost Savings vs Larger Drives

In some cases, combining multiple smaller SATA SSDs into RAID can be cheaper than purchasing a single high-capacity drive. The combined price of two 500GB SATA SSDs may be less than a single 1TB SSD of the same model line. RAID allows using less expensive drives to get increased capacity and performance.

Drawbacks of SATA SSD RAID

While SATA SSD RAID has benefits, there are also some downsides to consider:

Added Cost

Building a SATA SSD RAID array requires purchasing multiple drives, which adds cost compared to a single SSD. A RAID card or motherboard with RAID support may also be needed, adding to the expense. RAID 5/10 also require at least 3 drives.

Complex Setup and Configuration

Configuring RAID requires digging into the system BIOS or RAID card utilities. Choosing the optimal RAID level and matching drives also takes some technical knowledge. Maintaining and monitoring RAID increases complexity versus a single SSD.

No Performance Gain from RAID 1/5/10

RAID 1, 5, and 10 provide data redundancy but do not improve performance. Reads and writes occur on a single drive at a time. These RAID levels add cost and complexity without any speed boost over a single SSD.

Requires Identical Drives

To properly configure RAID, all the drives should be identical in terms of model, capacity, and performance. Mixing drives can lead to wasted space or slow downs. Finding matching drives may require research and diligence.

Decreased Reliability

Adding more drives to a RAID array statistically increases the chances for a drive failure. RAID aims to protect against this, but still exposes more points of failure. Rebuilding RAID after a failed drive can also stress the remaining SSDs.

Real-World Performance Tests

To determine if SATA SSD RAID provides any real-world speed boost, some performance tests are needed. Here are benchmarks from an example system:

Test System Configuration:

  • Motherboard: Asus Z97-P
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-4690K
  • RAM: 16GB DDR3
  • Drives: 2x 250GB Crucial MX500 SATA SSDs
  • RAID Types Tested: RAID 0, RAID 1, Single SSD

CrystalDiskMark Benchmark

RAID 0 RAID 1 Single SSD
Sequential Reads 1055 MB/s 555 MB/s 555 MB/s
Sequential Writes 1010 MB/s 525 MB/s 520 MB/s
4K Random Reads 301 MB/s 156 MB/s 157 MB/s
4K Random Writes 268 MB/s 133 MB/s 134 MB/s

As expected, RAID 0 doubles the sequential read and write speeds by striping data across two SSDs. RAID 1 performs similarly to a single drive for reads and writes.

PCMark 10 Storage Benchmark

RAID 0 RAID 1 Single SSD
Total Score 5143 2567 2551
Bandwidth 553 MB/s 274 MB/s 273 MB/s
Latency 0.032 ms 0.057 ms 0.059 ms

In PCMark 10’s real-world storage tests, RAID 0 again doubles bandwidth compared to a single SSD or RAID 1. Latency is also reduced for RAID 0 with the parallelism of striping.

Game Load Time Testing

In addition to benchmarks, game load times were tested across the RAID configurations. The games tested were Call of Duty: Warzone, CS:GO, GTA V, and Overwatch running from a secondary hard drive. Here are the results loading from the main menu into gameplay:

RAID 0 RAID 1 Single SSD
Warzone 8.1 s 15.7 s 15.5 s
CS:GO 4.0 s 7.6 s 7.8 s
GTA V 26.3 s 49.1 s 48.7 s
Overwatch 9.4 s 18.7 s 18.2 s

With game load times, RAID 0 cut loading times approximately in half compared to RAID 1 or a single SSD. This demonstrates real-world speed benefits in applications for striping data across drives.

Ideal SATA SSDs for RAID

If building a SATA SSD RAID array, here are some ideal drive characteristics to look for:

  • Matching models and capacities – Ensure all drives in the array are identical for optimal performance.
  • Higher sustained speeds – Look for drives with better sustained read/write speeds under load.
  • Better endurance ratings – Drives with higher TBW (terabytes written) ratings will last longer in RAID.
  • Hardware RAID support – Some SSDs are optimized and validated to work with hardware RAID controllers.
  • Enterprise options available – Enterprise SSDs offer enhanced endurance and reliability for RAID.

Great SATA SSD options include:

  • Samsung 870 EVO
  • Crucial MX500
  • WD Blue 3D NAND
  • Intel 545s

For hardcore RAID setups, consider enterprise SATA SSDs like:

  • Intel D3-S4610
  • Samsung PM883
  • Micron 5200 ECO

These offer guaranteed performance specs, extra endurance, and data protection features designed for RAID.

RAID Controller and Motherboard Considerations

To set up SATA SSD RAID, the right hardware is also key:

RAID Cards

Dedicated hardware RAID cards like those from LSI or IBM offer the best RAID performance and drive support. Look for cache memory, battery backups, and a fast bus like PCIe 3.0 x8. RAID cards can support large drive counts and RAID 5/6 parity. High-end cards add hardware acceleration to offload RAID processing.

Motherboard RAID

Many consumer motherboards include basic RAID support through Intel or AMD chipset SATA ports. This “fake RAID” uses the CPU for processing and only works pre-OS. Performance is limited versus hardware cards, but can work for small RAID 0/1 arrays. Ensure your motherboard chipset supports RAID before selecting drives.

HBA Cards

For ZFS, unRAID, Windows Storage Spaces, or other software RAID, an HBA (host bus adapter) SATA card avoids fake RAID. LSI, Dell, and IBM make quality HBA cards that simply pass drives directly to the OS without RAID. These work well for DIY software RAID setups.

Is SATA SSD RAID Worth It? Conclusion

For the right use case, SATA SSD RAID can boost performance and offer data protection. But it requires weighing increased cost and complexity against benefits like:

  • Nearly double sequential speeds from RAID 0 for workflows involving large files.
  • Faster game/app load times if limited by storage speeds.
  • Extra data redundancy with RAID 1/5/10 as a backup safeguard.
  • Ability to utilize multiple cheaper SATA SSDs for combined capacity and performance.

However, for many consumers, a single large SATA SSD often provides good enough performance. In those cases, RAID may be unnecessary complexity.

In server/professional environments, RAID 1/5/10 can safeguard valuable data at the cost of more drives. And highend RAID cards provide the best performance for heavy workloads. But RAID still requires planning for the workload, checking drive and controller compatibility, and increased setup/maintenance.

For maximal speeds, NVMe SSD RAID or upgrading to faster NVMe drives altogether provides much higher performance than SATA SSD RAID. Although at a higher price point.

Overall, SATA SSD RAID can be worth it depending on your storage needs. For most general users, a single SATA SSD is ample. But for storage enthusiasts or performance demanding workloads, a well-planned SATA SSD RAID setup can make sense if you understand the tradeoffs.