What RAID configuration should I use?

Choosing the right RAID configuration for your storage needs is crucial to maximize performance and protect your data. The most common RAID levels are 0, 1, 5, 6, 10, 50, and 60. Selecting the proper RAID depends on your priorities such as capacity, speed, data protection, and cost. We’ll explore the benefits and drawbacks of each RAID type so you can determine the ideal setup for your requirements.

What is RAID?

RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. It is a method of combining multiple physical disks into a single logical unit to provide increased capacity, performance, and/or reliability compared to a single disk. Data is distributed across the disks according to the RAID level. If a drive fails, the RAID can rebuild the data from the remaining disks. Key advantages of RAID include:

  • Increased storage capacity – Multiple disks added together
  • Improved performance – Spread data across disks for faster reads/writes
  • Enhanced reliability – Redundancy protects against disk failures


RAID 0, also known as disk striping, spreads data evenly across two or more disks with no parity or redundancy. RAID 0 offers fast performance and maximizes storage capacity, but provides no fault tolerance. If one drive fails, all data will be lost. Use cases include:

  • Non-critical data where speed is most important
  • Video editing, gaming, and other high bandwidth applications

RAID 0 is not recommended for mission critical data or databases since it lacks redundancy. At least two disks are required for RAID 0.

Advantages of RAID 0

  • Increased disk performance – Reads/writes are distributed between drives
  • Large capacity – Total disk space equals sum of all drives

Disadvantages of RAID 0

  • No fault tolerance – One disk failure results in total data loss
  • Less reliable than mirrored or parity RAIDs


RAID 1, also known as disk mirroring, duplicates data across two or more disks to provide redundancy. If one drive fails, the data can be accessed from the other mirrored drive(s). RAID 1 is beneficial for mission critical applications where high availability and fault tolerance are essential. Key points about RAID 1:

  • 2 or more identical drives contain the same data
  • Read performance is fast since reads can be distributed
  • Write performance is slower than RAID 0 since multiple disks must be written
  • 50% storage efficiency – 2 drives with capacity x have total capacity of x

RAID 1 requires at least 2 disks but can support many mirrors. It is commonly used for database, email, and other business-critical servers.

Advantages of RAID 1

  • Excellent read performance and redundancy
  • Real-time data backup with a mirrored copy
  • Easy to recover from drive failure

Disadvantages of RAID 1

  • High cost since it doubles the number of required disks
  • Slow write performance compared to RAID 0
  • 50% storage efficiency


RAID 5 stripes data and parity information intermittently across 3 or more disks. If a drive fails, the missing data can be recreated from the parity on the other disks. RAID 5 provides a balance of speed, capacity, and redundancy. Key characteristics include:

  • Data is striped across drives with distributed parity
  • Any single disk can fail without data loss
  • Write performance slows as parity must be calculated
  • Minimum of 3 disks required

RAID 5 is commonly used for mission critical data, database servers, enterprise storage, and other applications requiring a mix of performance and redundancy.

Advantages of RAID 5

  • Good read performance
  • Low cost redundancy
  • Capacity efficiency compared to RAID 1

Disadvantages of RAID 5

  • Slow write performance due to parity calculation
  • Vulnerable to data loss during rebuilds
  • Poor performance with large drive capacities


RAID 6 provides redundancy through dual distributed parity – similar to RAID 5 but with a second independent parity block. This allows RAID 6 to withstand failure of up to two disks. Key points about RAID 6:

  • Dual parity provides protection against 2 disk failures
  • Write speed is impacted more than RAID 5 due to dual parity
  • Requires a minimum of 4 disks
  • Used for mission critical data and large disk arrays

The added fault tolerance comes at the price of reduced write performance and capacity compared to RAID 5. RAID 6 is recommended for large storage deployments where downtime is unacceptable.

Advantages of RAID 6

  • Protection against 2 disk failures
  • Excellent redundancy for critical data

Disadvantages of RAID 6

  • Slowest write performance due to dual parity
  • Highest capacity overhead of dual parity
  • At least 4 disks required


RAID 10 combines mirroring and striping for both redundancy and fast performance. It mirrors two drives, then stripes mirrored pairs together. This provides fault tolerance and speedy reads/writes. Key characteristics include:

  • RAID 1 mirrored drives are striped via RAID 0
  • Fastest read/write performance with multi-drive redundancy
  • Requires a minimum of 4 drives
  • 50% storage efficiency

RAID 10 is ideal for applications needing maximum performance along with reliability like video editing, gaming, and mission critical servers.

Advantages of RAID 10

  • Excellent performance and redundancy
  • Withstands multiple drive failures if in different mirrors

Disadvantages of RAID 10

  • More expensive since requires at least 4 disks
  • 50% storage efficiency


RAID 50 combines the straight block-level striping of RAID 0 with the distributed parity of RAID 5. This provides fast performance and the ability to recover from a single disk failure within each RAID 5 array. Key points about RAID 50:

  • RAID 0 striping of multiple RAID 5 disk arrays
  • Survives single disk failure within each RAID 5 group
  • Large storage capacity and fast performance
  • Requires at least 6 disks

RAID 50 is commonly implemented on higher end network attached storage (NAS) devices and enterprise level servers.

Advantages of RAID 50

  • Very large capacities supported
  • Excellent performance balancing reads/writes
  • Single disk fault tolerance in each RAID 5

Disadvantages of RAID 50

  • Complex configuration
  • Rebuild times can be very long
  • Performance degrades during rebuilds


RAID 60 combines the straight block-level striping of RAID 0 with the double distributed parity of RAID 6. This provides very large capacity along with the ability to withstand up to two disk failures within each RAID 6 array. Key characteristics of RAID 60:

  • RAID 0 striping across multiple RAID 6 arrays
  • Survives two disk failures within each RAID 6
  • Ideal for large arrays needing maximum redundancy
  • Requires at least 8 disks

RAID 60 is predominantly used for enterprise and data center storage systems where maximum data protection is essential.

Advantages of RAID 60

  • Excellent redundancy – survives two disk per RAID 6
  • Large storage capacity
  • Fast performance balancing reads/writes

Disadvantages of RAID 60

  • High complexity to implement and manage
  • Slow rebuilds impact performance
  • Maximum capacity overhead due to parity

Choosing the Right RAID Level

Selecting the appropriate RAID configuration involves prioritizing your key requirements including storage capacity, performance, redundancy level, and cost. Here are some guidelines for choosing the right RAID for your needs:

Priority Recommended RAID
Maximum performance RAID 0 or RAID 10
Data protection RAID 6 or RAID 10
Balanced performance and redundancy RAID 5 or RAID 10
Large capacity RAID 50 or RAID 60
Cost-effective redundancy RAID 1 or RAID 5

You should also consider the number of drives you have available and your budget. More drives allow you to implement more complex RAID setups. RAID 10 requires a minimum of 4 disks while RAID 6 needs at least 4 drives.

Hardware vs. Software RAID

RAID can be implemented in hardware or software. Hardware RAID uses a dedicated RAID controller to manage the RAID and process I/O. Software RAID manages the RAID through the operating system. Key differences include:

  • Hardware RAID has better performance and frees up CPU resources
  • Software RAID relies on the CPU so can impact performance
  • Hardware RAID has dedicated cache to optimize reads/writes
  • Software RAID is cheaper and offers more flexibility

For mission critical servers and high performance workstations, a hardware RAID controller is recommended. Software RAID may be sufficient for standard file and print servers.

RAID Configuration Tips

Keep these best practices in mind when configuring and managing your RAID:

  • Use same size, speed, and type of disks for each array
  • Keep spare disks ready for quick swap in case of failure
  • Monitor disk health to catch problems early
  • Schedule regular backups in case of disaster
  • Test RAID rebuild process periodically
  • Consider a battery backup for caching writes if power loss

Following these tips will help ensure your RAID keeps performing and protecting your data.


The right RAID setup for your environment will balance performance, capacity, redundancy, and budget. RAID 0 and RAID 10 offer pure speed while RAID 5, RAID 6 and their nested variants add data protection. Smaller deployments can often use RAID 1 or RAID 5 to get started with redundancy on a budget. For critical data and heavy workloads, RAID 10 or the nested RAID levels 50 and 60 provide speed plus enhanced fault tolerance. Carefully weigh your priorities including cost, performance, capacity, and data protection as you select the ideal RAID solution.