Which RAID array improves performance?

RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is a technology that combines multiple physical disk drives into a single logical unit to improve performance and/or reliability. There are several standard RAID configurations, known as RAID levels, each with specific characteristics that make them suitable for different purposes. When choosing a RAID implementation, one key factor to consider is how it will impact system performance for your specific needs. Some RAID levels prioritize enhanced speed and throughput, while others focus more on drive fault tolerance and resilient data storage. Understanding the performance differences between RAID levels will help you select your optimal setup.

What is RAID?

RAID is used to organize multiple physical disks into a single virtual drive in order to meet various design goals. The core goals of RAID include:

  • Increased data reliability and fault tolerance – Data is replicated across drives to protect against disk failures.
  • Improved I/O performance – Spreading data across multiple disks can increase throughput and speed.
  • Greater storage capacity – RAID can combine smaller disks into a larger virtual volume.

By grouping drives together, RAID can deliver benefits that would not be possible with a single disk alone. Some key techniques used by RAID to achieve these goals include:

  • Striping – Data is split across multiple disks in equal-sized chunks called “stripes.” This allows read/write operations to be done in parallel to improve speed.
  • Mirroring – Data is duplicated on paired drives to provide fault tolerance. If one drive fails, the mirrored copy ensures continued access to data.
  • Parity – Error correcting parity data is stored on dedicated parity disks. This allows data to be recreated if a drive fails by using the parity data.

RAID management can be handled in hardware with a dedicated RAID controller, or in software via the operating system. The RAID level defines the exact techniques used to distribute and protect data across the array. There are several standardized RAID levels, each designed with specific performance and fault tolerance trade-offs in mind.

Comparing RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 Performance

Four of the most commonly used RAID levels for performance-focused applications are RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10. Here is an overview comparison of the read and write speeds can be expected with each configuration:


RAID 0, also known as disk striping, splits data evenly across two or more drives with no parity or redundancy. RAID 0 offers the best performance, as it allows parallel disk access with no parity calculation overhead.

Read Speed – Data is streamed from multiple disks at once, so overall read speeds scale linearly with the number of drives.

Write Speed – Writes can be distributed simultaneously across multiple disks for fast write throughput.

However, RAID 0 provides no fault tolerance. Any single drive failure will result in total data loss across the array.


RAID 1 uses disk mirroring to copy identical data across paired drives. All reads can be handled by a single drive, while writes must go to both mirrors.

Read Speed – Reads require access to only one disk. The performance is comparable to a single non-RAID drive.

Write Speed – Writes must go to both mirrored drives, so the write speed is equal to the speed of a single disk.

RAID 1 protects against drive failure by providing real-time data duplication, but the redundant mirroring doubles the required storage capacity.


RAID 5 stripes data across three or more disks with a dedicated parity drive. The parity drive can reconstruct data if a disk fails.

Read Speed – Sequential read operations can access multiple disks in parallel. However, small random reads may be slower due to frequent parity drive accesses.

Write Speed – Writes require both data and parity information to be written, reducing performance compared to a non-RAID setup. The parity calculation overhead can impact write speeds.

RAID 5 provides fault tolerance and consistent performance for medium read/write loads. But write speeds are slower than RAID 0 or 10 due to parity generation requirements.


RAID 10 combines mirroring and striping by creating mirrors of striped drive pairs. This provides both speed and redundancy.

Read Speed – Striping allows large reads to access multiple disks in parallel. Mirrored stripes provide two read paths, improving load balancing.

Write Speed – Writes must go to both disks in each mirrored pair. However, striping distributes writes across all disks.

By combining RAID 0 and RAID 1, RAID 10 delivers fast read/write speeds while also providing fault tolerance. However, it requires a minimum of four disks.

When to Choose Each RAID Level

So which RAID setup should you choose for your specific needs? Here are some guidelines:

Use RAID 0 for:

  • Maximum read/write performance
  • Applications with heavy I/O workloads that need sustained speeds
  • High capacity without redundancy

Use RAID 1 for:

  • Critical data that requires fault tolerance
  • Transactional databases or other write-intensive applications
  • Smaller storage footprint when mirroring is acceptable

Use RAID 5 for:

  • Medium read/write loads that benefit from parallelization
  • General purpose file and application servers
  • Cost-effective capacity and redundancy

Use RAID 10 for:

  • Mission critical systems that demand performance and fault tolerance
  • Database servers and other intensive applications
  • High throughput transactional workloads

Of course, factors like budget, physical drive types supported, availability requirements, and application workloads should also be taken into account. RAID 10 may seem like the ideal solution, but the cost of buying more total disks may make RAID 5 more practical in some cases. Software vs. hardware RAID, available drive bays, and other constraints can also impact options.

Using Benchmarking to Gauge Performance

One way to get a more objective measure of RAID performance is by benchmark testing the storage with tools like:

  • IOMeter – Flexible I/O workload generator and performance analyzer.
  • FIO – Open-source disk I/O benchmarking tool.
  • DiskSpd – Microsoft command-line disk speed test.
  • CrystalDiskMark – Popular SSD/HDD benchmarking software.

These tools allow simulating real-world storage workloads by tweaking parameters like:

  • Block sizes for reads/writes
  • Queue depths for I/O requests
  • Read/write ratios
  • Random vs. sequential I/O
  • Threads to saturate disks

By benchmarking with different patterns, you can get a profile of the latency, IOPS (input/output operations per second), and throughput your RAID configuration can sustain under your expected workloads.

Here is an example benchmark comparison from CrystalDiskMark showing the higher throughput of RAID 0 versus a single SSD:

Benchmark Single SSD 2 x SSD RAID 0
Sequential Read 540 MB/s 1015 MB/s
Sequential Write 520 MB/s 1010 MB/s
Random Read 4KiB 38 MB/s 76 MB/s
Random Write 4KiK 110 MB/s 221 MB/s

While expected performance differences can be calculated, real-world testing helps validate the actual gains for your hardware and use cases.

Software vs. Hardware RAID

Another factor that can impact RAID performance is whether it is implemented in software or hardware. Here is a quick comparison:

Software RAID

  • Managed by OS and device drivers
  • More flexibility in RAID management
  • CPU overhead for RAID processing
  • Slower write speeds due to CPU utilization

Hardware RAID

  • Dedicated RAID controller required
  • RAID management handled transparently
  • Higher cost of RAID cards
  • Faster write speeds by offloading RAID tasks

For most desktop and general server use, software RAID provides sufficient performance. But for mission critical systems that demand peak I/O throughput, the increased cost of a hardware RAID controller may be justified.

Testing both hardware and software RAID with benchmarks can quantify the speed differences under your expected workloads. If the benchmark results do not show significant gains with hardware RAID, the additional cost and complexity may not be warranted.

Optimizing RAID Performance

Beyond selecting the optimal RAID level, there are other techniques that can maximize the speed of your array:

  • Use higher RPM drives – 15K RPM models offer faster sequential throughput than 7200 RPM drives.
  • Add cache/buffer – RAID cards with NVDIMM or SSD caching absorb writes quickly.
  • Use S.M.A.R.T. monitoring – Enabled checking for early warnings of disk issues.
  • Enable write-back caching – Caches writes in controller memory before committing to disk.
  • Schedule defragmentation – Restores contiguous data layout on fragmented arrays.
  • Distribute load evenly – Don’t overutilize or underutilize any single disk.
  • Set appropriate stripe size – Match to typical I/O request size for efficiency.

Fine-tuning these aspects helps eliminate bottlenecks and ensures your RAID configuration performs as expected.

Newer RAID Advancements

In addition to classic RAID, some newer technologies that aim to improve storage performance include:

ZFS – robust open-source file system with native software RAID. Features checksums to prevent silent data corruption. Optimized for flash by using variable stripe size.

btrfs – Linux file system with built-in volume manager and RAID capabilities. Utilizes checksums, compression, and SSD-tailored optimizations.

Storage Spaces – Microsoft’s software-defined storage with flexible virtual disk support. Enables features like tiered storage pools and thin provisioning.

Ceph – Open source software storage platform designed for scalability and high performance. Runs on commodity hardware and supports cloud integration.

Testing these newer storage solutions can reveal additional performance and data integrity advantages compared to traditional RAID.


While RAID improves redundancy and availability, it can also provide tangible performance benefits when configured appropriately for your workload. RAID 0 excels at read/write throughput while RAID 10 balances speed and fault tolerance. Newer software-defined storage technologies offer advanced capabilities. Benchmarking your environment helps validate the real-world speed gains any RAID configuration delivers. With the right setup, RAID can both protect your data and accelerate your applications.