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Gear & Apps

The Case for RAID-10 From a Photographer’s Perspective

By Anthony Thurston on February 22nd 2016

As photographers, we are always looking for better ways to store our images, either from a speed or security perspective. Late last year, I had my two main drives crap out on me, and unlike what we preach here at SLR Lounge all the time – I did not have them backed up. I lost pretty much my entire 2015 catalog.

Needless to say, it was a devastating wake-up call that I needed to take my data storage a little more seriously. I started investigating some solutions for better performance and redundancy. SSD’s are much more affordable now than when I had built my system, so I knew I wanted to take advantage of their blazing fast speeds. But I also wanted to have some built-in redundancy for those times between backups; this meant going with a RAID of some kind.

After much research and some trial/error, I decided on the following setup, and in this post, I am going to details how easy it was to set up and why you should consider it.

The Case for RAID-10

I ended up settling on a RAID-10 setup, made up of four 512GB Transcend SSD370S Drives for a total storage capacity of just under 1TB. You see, with RAID-10 you get both the speed benefits and redundancy benefits of RAID 0 and RAID 1. The downside to RAID-10 is that you actually only get access to 1/2 of your true storage capability. In my case, 1 TB of usable storage when my four SSDs actually has a capacity of around 2TB.

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But I am not using this array as my long term or ‘bulk’ storage solution, this is my working drive, my OS drive. Files and Projects on this array will be things I am using and working on; when they are done, they get offloaded to my external backup storage drives. So, I am not too concerned about the max storage space on this drive because projects will constantly be coming on and off.

The benefits that RAID-10 gives me is spectacular; incredibly fast read times and extra security against single drive failures. For example, if, for some reason, one of the drives failed, I could simply replace it, and the array would rebuild the data on the new drive once I replaced it. I could continue to use my system and suffer little to no downtime.

raid-10-speed

Your Use Case May Be Different, But RAID-10 Is StilL Good

You may not want to use a RAID-10 array on your primary OS drive. In fact, I would think that many of you are simply looking for a better working drive/array to add into your current system. RAID-10 is still a great option for you, though your setup will differ from what I had to do in my setup process.

My Setup Process

To setup the RAID-10 array like I intended (running my OS), I could not just set it up through Windows. I needed to make use of my motherboards built in Intel RAID controller to create my drive array ahead of time, and then install windows on top of it after the fact.

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This process had me hit a few snags – mostly with having to press the right buttons during the bootup process at the right time. But overall, it was really simple, I just selected my four SSDs and told the controller that I wanted to run them in a RAID-10 with the maximum drive capacity, which in my case was just under 1 TB.

After this, the controller set up the RAID and the system rebooted. I confirmed that the RAID array was functioning and detectable, and then rebooted the system again. From this point on, the rest of my setup process was pretty much like any usual PC install. I connected my Windows installation USB stick and installed Windows, making sure to select my RAID-10 array as the install location.

In some cases, you may need to install special drivers in order for Windows to detect your RAID array, but in my case, that was not necessary.

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Once Windows was installed, I took the time to let it download and install all of the necessary updates, and then installed all of my software, etc. This included downloading Adobe CC, with Lightroom and Photoshop being priorities.

To Wrap It All Up

In summary, RAID 10 has given me both things that I desired from my drive, speed and redundancy. This gives me the piece of mind knowing that my working projects are safe until I am ready to offload them to one of my backup locations.

RAID-10 Benefits

  • Increased Read Speeds
  • Redundancy (Security Against Drive Failures)

RAID-10 Drawbacks

  • Only 1/2 Of True Storage Capacity is Available

Working with files (since I purchased my a7R II) had become a bit of a hassle, especially in Lightroom. I doubled the RAM in my system, and that did not help much (though it did help some). I have noticed Lightroom running a little smoother now that it can access my files faster – thanks to the increased read speeds from the RAID-10.

Overall, I am very happy with this new setup and I wanted to share it will all of you. The chances are that some of you have been looking into similar setups or have been looking for ways to increase performance/redundancy on their systems, and this is a great option.

I should also note, this is also a great way to get around having to purchase SSDs for better read speeds. You could buy several higher capacity, but slower traditional hard drives and put those into a RAID-10. The performance, in that case, would likely bring you closer to that of a single SSD, and give you access to much higher storage capacities for your RAID-10.

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Michael None

    Wow, yet another guy who didn’t do backups and lost it all. Pretty sad that you knew better yet choose to ignore good advice and move ahead with the “won’t happen to me” mentality.

    What are you doing for backups now? Your RAID 10 setup IS NOT BACKUP! You need a proper data security strategy, I outlines mine here: ***

    Also, why did you choose RAID 10? Was drive performance the bottleneck in your system? Why RAID 10 instead of a more standard RAID 1 mirror? If you wanted read performance , RAID 1 offers that.

    Also, using a motherboard RAID controller, especially for your boot drive, is just asking for trouble. These controllers are notoriously poor, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you are not getting the full benefit of your SSDs.

    To me, this article seems like you wanted to try something new. It doesn’t seem like you benchmarked your system before nor after, so you don’t really know if it helped. You also said you lost all your data but don’t offer any advice on how you addressed THE BIGGEST PROBLEM, you just told us about how you did this other thing unrelated to my original issue.

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    • robert garfinkle

      agree, raid is not backup, but you could have a backup that is raided, yes?

      I like mirror. and actually, in my experience, I have not run across a MB where raid has tanked, but have stuck to intel ICH10r / ICH11r on-the-mb units. This does not mean I think they are better; as I think independent cards are best, yet never made the investment.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Hi Michael, if you read the post you would know that I am not claiming that the RAID is a backup. I specifically note that I am using this drive array as my working unit before offloading projects to my external BACKUP drives. This raid setup does address my initial issue, single drive failures, had my data been on a RAID-10 like it is now, I would likely still have it.

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  2. robert garfinkle

    t’would be arguable if raid 1 only uses half the space – yes, you put two drives in, of equal value, say 1tb, which should equal 2tb, right? yet you only have 1tb of use – it should also be noted that there is a performance hit when mirrored. but, great redundancy as if one drive goes down, just stick in another drive in, it rebuilds, should be that easy, yes? the other advantage of mirrored drives are, if the raid system is normal / common and the mirror is broken you can read the data right off of one side.

    but your chain is only as strong as the weakest link, right? meaning, you can raid 0 to your hearts content all you want, but add mirroring you now take a performance hit due to the mirroring, right?

    if the idea was to expand your storage capacity (raid 0) and then mirror (raid 1) cool – but, I have reservations about raid configurations that leave your data unusable if you decide to break the raid – and having said that, mirror, to me, though there is a performance hit speed wise, but leaves my data readable should I have a need to disassemble the mirror…

    if I need to up the diskspace on a mirrored drive, either bring in two more drives and configure them in a mirror or just replace what I have with larger drives…

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    • Dave Haynie

      The mirroring performance hit is only on writes, and it’s a very small hit — you’re sending the same data to two drives, so yeah, the write is a bit slower, but not even close to half speed, since the writes overlap. And you get the same read benefit from RAID1 as you do from RAID0, both drives being read in parallel.

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  3. Marthur Jones

    Thanks for the article Anthony. I’m curious, which Intel chipset is your motherboard using? I’m a Systems Administrator and enjoy Photography as a hobby. Unless something has changed recently with SSD drives, I want to point out that the TRIM command that the OS sends to the SSD usually cannot be sent through the RAID array. The TRIM command is primarily used to help maintain the performance of the SSD, without it the SSD may show signs of performance degradation. Here is a short article that discusses TRIM:

    http://www.thessdreview.com/daily-news/latest-buzz/garbage-collection-and-trim-in-ssds-explained-an-ssd-primer/

    I know x79 and later chipsets can pass the TRIM command via Intel RAID 0, but not 10 etc. This may or not matter to you, but thought I’d mention it.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/6161/intel-brings-trim-to-raid0-ssd-arrays-on-7series-motherboards-we-test-it

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    • Joseph Wu

      Intel supports TRIM on RAID1/0 & RAID-10 since RST V13. I believe RST V11 supports trim on RAID-0 and RAID-1. Basically any chipset past Z87 natively supports trim.

      Anthony is on X99.

      If you OP by at least 20%, you can mitigate the effects of TRIM.

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    • Marthur Jones

      Hey Joseph, thanks informing me about the RST v13 RAID 10 support. I did not know this was officially supported by Intel. I’ll need to take advantage of this in the future.

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  4. Joseph Wu

    RAID-10 will also benefit from increased write speeds.

    Given that you’re using Intel RAID, it’s possible the stripe size defaulted to 16KB, which will give you better 4K / random access performance, but for sequential write speeds, you won’t seem them as quick as they should with a larger stripe size.

    For SSD’s that are used more so as a working drive, than large media files, I like around 64KB, as it gives you the benefits of both.

    RAID-10 is a mirrored stripe. You can lose up to 2 drives, as long as they are the “right” drives, otherwise if you lose both of right drives, you will lose all your data.

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    • Marthur Jones

      You can lose up to 2 drives, 1 drive from each mirrored segment in the array. If you lose 2 drives from the same segment, your data is lost. I still prefer RAID 10 for drives larger than 2TB, because with RAID 10, you don’t have to worry about parity and the unrecoverable read errors associated with rebuilding the array (RAID 5, 6 etc).

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    • Dave Haynie

      Another advantage of RAID10 over RAID5 is that it’s super low overhead, CPU-wise. So when you’re running your RAID software on your PC, rather than a dedicated RAID processor, you see preformance across the board. The Intel chipsets put a few minor features in there to speed up the hardware part of the RAID as well, but that doesn’t really help much in the RAID5/6 case.

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