Chipset Serial ATA and RAID performance compared

Whose arrays are faster?

STORAGE SUBSYSTEMS DON'T GET nearly enough attention, though they're arguably the most important subsystem of a modern PC. Of course, they store all of a system's data—an increasingly precious resource that most of us don't back up nearly often enough. Storage subsystems are often the slowest components in a modern PC, as well. Hard drives are essentially mechanical devices, and even with ever-growing platter densities, their seek times can amount to a practical eternity in computer time. Modern storage subsystems have a trick up their sleeves, though. RAID arrays have the potential to improve storage performance dramatically by spreading data over multiple drives. They can also improve redundancy, allowing a system to survive one or more drive failures with no data loss.

If RAID's speed and redundancy aren't enough to pique your interest, maybe its price will. Serial ATA RAID support is included in most of today's core logic chipsets, so it's essentially free. Chipset RAID has been around for a while, of course, but only the most recent core-logic chipsets from Intel and NVIDIA support arrays of up to four drives and the highly coveted RAID 5.

We've spent a couple of months running Intel's ICH7R and NVIDIA's nForce4 Serial ATA RAID controllers through our exhaustive suite of storage tests, and the results are something to behold. We started with a single drive and worked our way up through RAID levels 0, 1, 10, 0+1, and 5 with two, three, and even four hard drives. Read on to see which RAID controller reigns supreme and how the different RAID levels compare in performance.

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