No matter how expensive or reliable a hard drive is, there’s always the possibility it will fail. If it does, you run the risk of losing important data for work or personal needs. The best RAID controllers can help you secure your data while improving hard drive performance.
RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks or Redundant Array of Independent Disks (Source).
RAID controllers, or RAID cards, are combinations of physical disk drives that can manage solid-state drives, as well as a hard disk drive in a PC. The sum of the disk drives in a RAID controller is meant to match the reliability of a standard drive (Source).
RAID controllers come in levels denoted by the word “RAID” and then a number (i.e. RAID 0, RAID 1, etc.). These RAID levels all function differently in terms of how they disperse data across the drives in a RAID card. However, all levels in some respect work to enhance the capacity, performance, and reliability of your drive.
RAID controllers are ideal for those who are responsible for a lot of sensitive data, for example, business owners. They’re also great to enhance performance for gaming. Digital or creative professionals may also use RAID controllers.
Prior to purchasing a RAID controller, you’ll want to consider what level or levels of RAID it supports. You’ll also want to consider how many SATA ports it has, and what kind of hard drives it’s compatible with.
Protect your data with these top-rated RAID controllers.
What is a Raid Controller?
Table of Contents
- 1 What is a Raid Controller?
- 2 Comparing The Top 5 RAID Controllers
- 3 1. 10 Crest SATA II Controller Card – Most Cost-Effective RAID Controller Card
- 4 2. StarTech PCIe – Best RAID Controller with 3 Modes
- 5 3. Vantec SATA PCIe Raid Controller Card – Extremely Powerful
- 6 4. Semlos SATA Internal Card – Best for the Money
- 7 5. High Point Rocket Raid Controller – Advanced Features
- 8 What Are the Various Types of RAID Controllers?
- 9 When Should You Need a RAID Controller?
- 10 How to Choose the Right RAID Controller Type?
- 11 How Many Raid Controllers Do You Need?
- 12 Which One Is Better: Hardware RAID or Software RAID?
- 13 How Much Do RAID Controllers Cost?
- 14 Things to Consider Before Buying a RAID Controller
- 15 Ready To Buy The Best RAID Controllers?
The full form of RAID is Redundant Array of Independent Disks. It is an enhanced system where multiple drives are stacked together to offer you increased performance and storage options.
It is one of the most common ways of protecting your data from hardware failure, besides making data backups. A RAID card can help manage multiple solid-state drives (SSDs) or hard disk drives (HDDs).
The array of drives, stacked in a controller, acts as a logical unit. These units are available on the system as drives for applications and operating systems.
Even if the data of the OSs and applications are stored on multiple drives, the logical units still display as drives or parts of drives.
As a RAID controller can access several data copies on many physical devices, it protects the data at times of a system crash. This multi-drive accessibility also lets the system improve performance.
There are four main ways that RAID controller cards can be configured.
Comparing The Top 5 RAID Controllers
|10 Crest SATA II Controller Card|
|StarTech PCIe RAID Controller Card|
|Vantec SATA PCIe Raid Controller Card|
|Semlos SATA Internal Raid Controller Card|
|High Point Rocket Raid Controller|
1. 10 Crest SATA II Controller Card – Most Cost-Effective RAID Controller Card
Like other SATA controllers, this card is backward compatible with older SATA devices. It is also available from two to eight ports. Besides, one configuration offers four external ports on the back of the card and four internally. It connects to the PCIe x2 port but can work in an x4, x8, or x16.
Enough with the physical aspect, the performance of the 10 Crest SATA II Controller Card is outstanding. So to say, you can use any single drive on the market without a reduction of the maximum potential speed.
This card is purely designed for simple applications. However, it has one handy feature, which is the inclusion of the Native Command Queue. This extension is a SATA protocol that allows the drive to make changes in the order your data is sent. This is essential, especially when sending large files.
2. StarTech PCIe – Best RAID Controller with 3 Modes
With this card, you can select four SATA ports with different combinations allowing for external ports. Some configurations offer mSata port, a common connector that is used for small SSDs. As mentioned this card supports three modes including Raid 1, 0, and 1+0.
The bonus from StarTech PCIe RAID Controller Card is the Hyperduo, a drive stripping technology that combines different drives into one volume. Raid 1 works at full speed, and you can create Raid 0 of some hard drives to enhance the speed and performance. However, if you plan to use multiple high-end SSDs, there might be some bottlenecking.
With the StarTech PCIe RAID Controller Card, the Raid array compensates during the times when the drive is operating in challenging conditions. However, when working on large files, you cannot exceed the PCIe bandwidth of 600MB/s, though the drives can reach 1000MB/s.
Due to these features, this card is ideal for those who want to use the RAID 1 redundancy but not willing to accept the modest improvement of Raid 0.
3. Vantec SATA PCIe Raid Controller Card – Extremely Powerful
Despite having 6 ports, only four can be used at a time, with FIS switching allowing the ports to be activated on the fly. The card supports both the latest SATA standards and HyperDuo standards.
The Vantec SATA PCIe Raid Controller Card shines when it comes to performance. It supports 1, 0, 1+0, and JBOD raid modes. The card can also offer a functional bandwidth of up to 1200MB/s, thanks to the four PCIe lanes the card supports. Certainly, it is through this that the benefits of advanced RAID arrays become apparent.
When it comes to the features, this controller has few features similar to other high-end products. Apart from the HyperDuo and RAID system, there is an additional stripping configuration called JBOD.
This acronym means a bunch of disks. it allows users to make as many drives as they want. This is neither redundancy nor speed improvement but saves you the hassle of moving files around if your disk is full.
More of the features, there is FIS switching that stands for “First in service.” As mentioned, the card supports up to 6 ports for SATA drives. However, out of this, only 4 can be read at a time.
With this feature, if you had all the 6 ports connected, you will be able to see all the 6 drives from your pc. The first four drives to be accessed becomes automatically online. If you need to access a 5th drive, you will need to eject one.
4. Semlos SATA Internal Card – Best for the Money
To install this, you need to plug the PCI card into the PCI slot on the motherboard and connect the SATA devices to the ports using the cables. The card comes with optional Raid utility, that allows users to configure Raid modes. You can choose from Raid 0, 1, or 1+0.
5. High Point Rocket Raid Controller – Advanced Features
- Supports Raid 0, 1, 5, 10 and JBOD
- Supports NCQ – Native Command Queuing
- Features smart array monitoring for checking hard drive status and reliability
- Supports bad sector repair
- Compatible with SATA, SAS devices
- Online capacity expansion and online raid level migration for Linux/Windows
- Quick and Background initialization for instant Raid access
What Are the Various Types of RAID Controllers?
RAID cards are of the following types:
- RAID 0 – This controller is great for increasing speed, but lacks redundancy. With disk striping, it divides data among multiple drives, thus improving performance.
- RAID 1 – This type of RAID card can protect data with enhanced speed, as the data is mirrored twice. So, it needs at least two drives to work. The performance is a little bit slower.
- RAID 10 – Also known as RAID 1+0, this card needs at least four drives, which divide data among themselves to increase speed and redundancy.
- RAID 5 – It has a great balance between redundancy and speed. It needs three drives, at least. It strips data on multiple drives with parity feature to revive data when a failure occurs.
- RAID 6 – This controller is the most reliable of them all, as it has two parity-driven strips to save two disks from failing. SATA drives are most suitable for this RAID type.
When Should You Need a RAID Controller?
If you want your PC to deliver data redundancy and reliability, then you need a RAID controller. At times, you may need to backup your data, which can consume a lot of your time.
It can also be frustrating when those backups need to be restored. Restoring from backup data can even lead to data failure or loss. With a RAID controller card, you get the utility to avoid that risk of data loss.
It even offers complete data backup and restoration in very little time. Even for input/output problems, a RAID card is a useful device. Its presence lets you get extra throughput for reading and writing data from several drives at the same time.
Hardware RAID controllers even come with redundant cache memory, thus decreasing the pressure on the other hardware components. That way, you get an enhanced performance for your system.
How to Choose the Right RAID Controller Type?
Depending upon your requirements, you might need a RAID controller type.
If you want to increase the speeds of your computer with data redundancy, then RAID 1 is a cost-effective option. It is also suitable for improved uptime.
You might want to go for RAID 5 or 6 for operations that require high reading operations. But, it might not be ideal for writing functions. Instead, go for RAID 1 if you need to write more.
For overall performance, a RAID 10 controller is perfect. It might be the most expensive choice, but it will give you excellent writing and reading speeds with decent redundancy.
You can consult an expert to learn more about the right controller card for your machine so that you do not overspend without a decent idea of your needs.
How Many Raid Controllers Do You Need?
The number of hardware RAID controllers vary for each one. For instance, if you are going to use RAID 5, then you will require a minimum of 3 drives. One drive will be there in your OS, and two additional drives you will need for it.
For RAID 10 or RAID 6, you will require a minimum of 4 drives in total. This is the basic number required for these controller cards to provide suitable disk space, redundancy, or extra performance.
If you plan to increase the storage, redundancy, or performance even further, then you can further add more array disks to the OS. Just remember that adding additional RAID controllers are going to increase your costs.
Which One Is Better: Hardware RAID or Software RAID?
Software RAID has its perks, such as no need for adding a physical card to the CPU. Furthermore, it is much cheaper than the hardware RAID controller.
On the other hand, hardware RAID will offer you additional benefits such as excellent processing power, more cache, better redundancy, storage, support for power failure, etc.
All these benefits do come at an additional cost, which can affect your budget. For windows-based systems, it is recommended to choose a hardware RAID if possible, for you, as that will lower the probability of low performance.
How Much Do RAID Controllers Cost?
The cost of hardware RAID controller cards differs drastically. You can expect desktop cards to be around $50. More complex ones, which have an exceptional performance to support your network storage flawlessly are quite expensive.
You can expect them to be anywhere between $100 and $10,000.
Things to Consider Before Buying a RAID Controller
All the cards mentioned above are great options for their own specific use.
Therefore, depending on your need for speed, redundancy, or other purposes, one card may be better than the other.
To ease your selection process, below are some of the essential aspects to look into with recommendations for each situation.
Do you Plan on Using RAID Features?
If you are looking to add more drives to your computer but have no plans to use the Raid features, the 10 Crest SATA II Controller Card will be a perfect choice.
This card is inexpensive, has no frills, and can be customized depending on the ports needed. This is on a condition that you don’t need more than 500MB/s bandwidth and use only one or two drives at the same time.
Do You Need to Keep Your Data Safe From Drive Failure or Corruption?
You might be storing resourceful and vital data on your PC that loosing could be disastrous. If you need to store such data in a safe haven, consider the StarTech PCIe RAID Controller Card. With Raid 1, the second drive doesn’t require additional bandwidth.
Are You Looking to maximize Data Transfer Rates?
If maximizing performance is your goal, consider the Vantec SATA PCIe Raid Controller Card. The card provides insane 1200MB/s, perhaps the best transfer rates you will ever see.
The SATA Mode
This is perhaps the simplest way to configure and use the RAID controller card. In this mode, there are no RAID features active. The card simply gives you extra ports to plug your hard drive into.
The RAID 0 Mode
Also known as stripping, this mode increases the speed of your drives. This mode spreads data across two identical hard drives to increase speed. RAID 0 mode offers great performance for both read and writes operations.
However, a major drawback is that the system is not fault-tolerant. If one of the drivers fail, all data could be lost. Therefore, it should not be used for critical mission systems. The mode is perfect for the non-critical storage of data that needs to be rewritten at high speed.
RAID 1 Mode
It is also known as mirroring mode. Unlike the previous mode where disks are used separately, this mode works in a way that the disks are configured with two identical drives joined as one. Similarly, instead of spreading data across the drives, data is exactly the same on each.
For instance, with the previous mode, having two 1TB drives will show as 2TB when in use. However, for this mode, the 2TB storage in your computer will only show as 1TB. You are also protected from unexpected data loss if the drive fails. This is because data can be read off the other disk if one breaks.
RAID 1 offers excellent write and read speed comparable to that of a single drive. It is also a simple technology that doesn’t require much jargon. Since there are no risks of data loss, this mode can be used for mission-critical storage such as accounting systems.
RAID 1 + 0 / RAID 10
As the name suggests, this is a combination of the two aforementioned modes. Here, you take four matching drives and install them. Of the four, two drives will have data spread between them while the others duplicate the information on the first two.
The modes mentioned above are just a fraction of the various configuration modes available. However, they are the only four that can be configured to a desktop environment.
If you want to take advantage of these configurations, you should begin by installing a RAID card in your desktop. With the endless possibilities and options available, it can be challenging to understand which card will work best for you. However, worry not as our RAID controller review below will shine some light on the five best cards.
Ready To Buy The Best RAID Controllers?
RAID controllers might not be for everyone. However, if your goal is to achieve exceptional performance, storage, and redundancy, then better invest in the right hardware RAID. The booster cards are some of the most preferred accessories by tech-savvies.
With these you can boost your PC rate among other functionalities. To get this, begin by looking at your needs.
Individual needs are perhaps the determining factor and a deal-breaker. If you find one that meets your needs, consider other aspects including the price, ease of installation, and compatibility.
From our raid controller review above, which one is your favorite? Share with us in the comments section below!