Why 100% hardware RAID is best
Everyone knows software RAID is slower and because of this most RAID installations are using hardware RAID controllers. But most RAID controllers require special software drivers. And in many cases, that is just the start of your troubles. I just built my system with a transparent RAID controller requiring no software. Here is why I chose this specifcially and when you should consider this too. It is not the best in all cases as often the hardware software combos can offer other features, but especially in workstations transparent hardware shoudl strongly be considered.
The problem lies with the software drivers. Set up a RAID array and Windows and other OS's cannot see the drives anymore. To even install Windows you need to use a floppy disk with the RAID drivers, otherwise you cannot get past the first setup screen. And annoyingly enough, Windows prior to Vista can only load RAID drivers from a floppy, not from CD or DVD. RAID is typically used on high performance workstations and more often on servers. How many servers today still have floppy drives?
Most servers only boot one operating system so this is not an issue. But if you are building a workstation you may install several operating systems. It is essential that each and every operating system has the RAID driver installed during installation.
You must also ensure that your restore process has the ability to load the RAID driver. Many restore programs today use WinPE but getting the RAID driver into the recovery process is not always easy, and sometimes not even possible. If you are not aware of this and find this out during recovery it can be disasterous.
Recovery is not the same as restoring. Recovery is the process of trying to fix something that is damaged instead of replacing it with a backup. Most recovery tools run with their own boot disks before Windows loads. And unless your recovery tool can load a RAID driver, then you will not have use of your recovery tools.
I needed to boot multiple operating systems and more importantly when it comes time for recovery or backup I absolutely did not want any extra problems. Because of this I wanted a completely transparent RAID solution which was hardware based and did not require any software drivers. There are some RAID controllers out there that perform in this manner. They either use jumpers, DIP switches, BIOS configurations, or boot disks. The major advantage of being transparent is that all operating systems and recovery tools recognize them without the need for any drivers. They appear as a normal hard drive.
In my case it can be configured easily by jumper, or BIOS. The motherboard has three RAID controllers with one allowing transparent configuration. This controller allows RAID 0 or RAID 1 and can be used in conjunction with the other RAID controllers for more options. I wanted RAID 0 and once I had the cables plugged into the right slots configuration was easy. I did spend a bit of time fighting it initially as I had the SATA cables plugged into the wrong SATA connectors. I removed one jumper to enable RAID 0 (It defaults to RAID 1), connected two SATA drives and booted. The controller merges the drives and exposes them to the motherboard as another SATA controller. So this means that any operating system sees one drive on a controller, but is actually two drives and all the details are handled by it. Neat!
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