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RAID Information RAID Information
What is RAID?

You may noticed that more and more motherboards include extra SATA connectors for RAID on-board, but what is RAID and how does RAID improve the overall experience of your Home Theatre PC? Before we can answer that question, lets take a closer look at just what RAID is. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Drives and in a nut shell RAID combines a number of inexpensive disk drives into various configurations.

These configurations can be as simple as Mirroring one disk drive with another disk drive, in case one disk drive fails, you still have the data on the other disk drive or as complicated as combining multiple disk drives into a single large disk drive and so on.

Can I protect my data with RAID-5?

To keep this article interesting, we will focus on the later functions of RAID, that is, grouping a number of disk drives (with parity) to create a larger disk drive. This is also known as RAID-5. What does "with Parity" mean? It simply means that some redundant information is written to each disk drive, so that, should one disk drive fail, your data is still safe. Simply replace the faulty disk drive and the RAID array will rebuild itself using the new disk drive and continue to function as if nothing had gone wrong. This is important as you do not want to loose all your video, music and digital pictures that may be on your Home Theatre PC, just because one disk drive failed. This is the first way RAID can improve the overall experience of your Home Theatre PC, by providing some sort of fail safe mechanism for the data on your Home Theatre PC.

Can I increase the size of my disk drive with RAID-5?

When using RAID-5 you also end up with a larger disk drive then you would otherwise be able to have with the sizes of today's disk drives. The rule of thumb is that in a RAID-5 array, you lose one hard drive for the parity information. If you have four 500GB hard drives, you would end up with one 1.5TB disk drive (ie. 3 x 500GB). This is the second advantage of using RAID for your Home Theatre PC, larger disk drives! With high definition video it would take some time to fill 1.5TB of disk space.

It should be noted that there may be file system limits in your operating system that can limit the final size of your RAID-5 array. For example, under Windows XP Media Centre Edition 2005, the largest disk drive possible is 2TB. If you use four 750GB disk drives under Windows XP Media Centre Edition 2005 you would not end up with a 2.25TB disk drive (ie. 3 x 750GB), instead Windows XP Media Centre Edition 2005 will limit the size of your final disk drive to 2TB only.

Do I get a performance increase with RAID-5?

Already, you should be able to see that there are some really compelling reasons to use RAID for your Home Theatre PC. As you would expect, we have saved the best reason for last, that is, the read/write performance of the RAID-5 array is amazing!

When a block of data needs writing to the RAID array, it splits the data up by the number of disk drives there are in the RAID array, and then writes the smaller blocks of data simultaneously to each disk drive. The same applies when reading the data from a RAID array. The more disk drives you have in your RAID-5 array the greater the multiplier effect. We ran some test using PassMARK's PerformanceTest 6.1 benchmarking software, on a RAID 5 array with four 750GB disk drives and the results were amazing when compared to the performance of single 750GB disk drive.

Seagate ST3750640AS 750GB disk drive
Seagate ST3750640AS 750GB disk drive

RAID-5 array
RAID-5 array

From the 2 above graphs the results speak for themselves. The single 750GB disk drive achieved 6.2MB/Sec, where the RAID-5 array containing four 750GB disk drives achieved 27.9MB/Sec. The RAID-5 array resulted in a 4.5 times multiplier effect (ie 27.86 / 6.22). This was achieved using a mid-level RAID card. Your results may vary depending on the hardware you are using. The faster your disk drives the better your Home Theatre PC will perform and RAID-5 results in a very fast disk drive! Slow disk drives can result in skipping, digital artefacts, system failures and so on.

Now, we are in a better position to come back to our original question, that is, how does RAID improve the overall experience of your Home Theatre PC? Quite simply, it improves the overall Home Theatre PC experience in 3 fundamental areas :-

  1. Increases protection for your data
  2. Increases disk drive capacities to store more data
  3. Increases performance of your disk drives
and best of all, a RAID-5 array is transparent to your operating system. Your operating system will see the RAID-5 array as one large disk drive, which can be partitioned or defragmented just like any other disk drive.

What about RAID-5 for the operating system disk drive?

We do recommend partitioning a smaller disk from your RAID array solely for the operating system. Check the minimum disk space requirements for the operating system you would like to install and create a partition that size. For example, Windows XP Media Centre Edition 2005 will install and run very happly in a 10GB partition. This partition will still benefit from all that RAID has to offer!

Most RAID arrays can be configured during the DOS boot up stage, by pressing a specific key on your keyboard, you will enter into the RAID configuration screen which will allow you to create your RAID array before installing your operating system.

I have no on-board RAID on my motherboard, what do I do?

If your motherboard does not include RAID on-board, you can still achieve excellent results using an inexpensive add-on PCI or PCIe RAID Card. We used a mid-level Highpoint RocketRAID 2300 for the performance tests we carried out in this article and the results speak for themselves!

What commercial Home Theatre PC's use RAID?

Both Claritas and Maestro Home Theatre PC's include RAID-5 as standard on selected models. Please see their specifications to see if RAID-5 is included and if you are not sure, please contact us and we will be more then happy to assit you.

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