Feed your greed for speed by installing SSDs in RAID 0

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Tired of waiting while your top-of-the-line SSD loads files? Is what once seemed blindingly fast just not cutting it any more? Relax, you’re not the only one suffering with Greed for Speed (GFS). Plenty of velocity addicts are stricken with the same affliction. Let us help.

In this, the first step in PCWorld’s exclusive one-step program for the amelioration of GFS symptoms (extreme anxiety at the least pause in program launch, tantrums over large file load times, etc.), we’ll show you how to nearly double the performance of even the fastest SSD. 

That’s right. You’ll soon be able to spend those hundreds of lost milliseconds on a variety of pursuits. Programs and files will pop up so fast, you won’t have time to contemplate the even faster SATA Express (capable of delivering 1.5- to 3.0 gigabytes per second, via SATA over PCIe) or the up-and-coming NVM Express (aka NVMe, which is PCIe optimized for the non-volatile memory in SSDs).

So here it is: Relief. Enlightenment. RAID 0.

Yup. That’s the whole kit and kaboodle. One acronym and a numeral describing a rather old technology. Of course zero isn’t just a numeral to a GFS sufferer, it’s symbolic of the race track. Any pony or Formula One lover knows that from the betting guide. Chomp, chomp; zoom, zoom…. What RAID 0 provides is two (or four, if you’re rich) separate conduits to carry your data to and from two (or four) SSDs.

RAID 0 works far better with SSDs than it does with hard drives, because mechanical drives aren’t fast enough to take full advantage of the increased bandwidth. In most cases, running SSDs in tandem works really, really well.

This tip is primarily for desktop PC owners, of course. Laptops that can accommodate dual hard drives—solid state or otherwise—are few and far between. 

For more information on RAID, read RAID made easy.

Our recent review of Intel’s 730 series SSD piqued our interest in the concept of striping SSDs. You see, Intel asks reviewers to try a RAID 0 setup with their drives.That’s probably because benchmark results indicate that the 730 is a mundane performer when tested solo. Run them in tandem or in packs, and they blossom. Stacking 730s gives Windows an instantaneous feel. It’s nice. Really nice.

Intel 730 Series SSD

The skull on Intel’s 730 Series SSD mark indicate Intel’s is targeting enthusiasts. But it takes running two drives in RAID 0 to really deliver the goods.

To see just how much a typical desktop rig might benefit from an RAID 0 SSD upgrade, we tested the three pairs we have in the lab (we have many more single drives, of course, but we typically don’t benchmark RAID performance). Those drives were the bargain-class SanDisk X110, Intel’s enterprise-influenced 730 Series, and the enthusiast-class Plextor M6e SSD-on-a-PCIe-card. We set up the first two using the Intel Rapid Storage controller on our Asus Z87 Pro motherboard; the Plextor required Windows software RAID.

A kick in the pants

The performance of both the Intel 730 Series and the Plextor M6e drives improved immensely when paired up in a striped array—between 46- and 88 percent on the plus side. We performed a write test by copying a single large file (10GB) to the drive under evaluation, and a read test by copying that same file from the drive. We repeat this sequence with a 10GB collection of small files and folders. 

As I mentioned earlier, the 730 Series SSD produces middling numbers when running solo. It wrote the single large file at 470.4MBps and read that file at 376.2MBps. It wrote our 10GB collection of small files and folders at 479.0MBps, and it read them at 351.3MBps.

When we paired two of these drives in RAID 0, large-file write and read speeds skyrocketed to 800.1MBps and 707.3MBps respectively, while the collection-of-small-files write and read speeds exploded to 811.3MBps and 582.3MBps respectively. That’s an overall average of 725.3MBps reading and writing. Intel tells us running four 730 Series drives in RAID 0 can achieve average speeds of 1.2GBps. Now that’s haulin’ the freight.

Intel 730 Series SSDs in RAID 0

Intel’s 730 Series SSDs deliver huge benefits when you run two drives in RAID 0. 

The Plextor M6e’s PCIe interface helps it perform much faster than SATA 6Gbps drives do. A lone drive wrote our 10GB file at 526.5MBps and read it at 556.4MBps. While that’s fast for a single SSD, two of the drives in RAID 0 performed the same tasks at 807.2- and 854.4MBps, respectively. Their performance with our collections of small files was equally striking, writing the group at 772.0MBps and reading it at 677.8MBps.

PCIe drives in pairs rock.

Plextor M6e SSDs in RAID 0

The Plextor M6e’s PCIe interface delivers higher performance than the older SATA 6Gbps can muster. 

Bargain drives like the SanDisk X110 will benefit, too, although we didn’t see such large deltas. But two X110’s in RAID 0 did outperform any single drive that’s ever come through the lab. 

Just do it

Until SATA Express and NVMe (with its parallelism and multiple queues) shows up, combining SSDs with RAID 0 is the sure cure for performance anxiety. Even when the new technologies arrive in force (Intel’s latest chipsets already support SATA Express), RAID will help.

If you have the cash and the appropriate infrastructure, we highly recommend running SSDs in RAID 0. You will notice the difference. And if you’re suffering from GFS, you’ll sleep better at night.

One final word of advice: Be sure to have a routine backup plan in place. If any drive in a RAID 0 configuration fails, you could lose all your data. 

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