Hardware RAID Vs Software RAID – What’s The Difference?

If you lookup {hardware} and software program RAID options on-line, the final consensus appears to be that {hardware} RAID is healthier for each efficiency and reliability, whereas software program RAID is solely cheaper and extra handy.

This would possibly’ve been true a decade or two in the past, however in 2022, it’s not the case anymore. Software RAID has made nice strides and is undoubtedly higher fitted to sure situations. But, onboard RAID (i.e., FakeRAID) continues to be a waste of time although.

Isn’t onboard RAID additionally software program RAID? Not precisely. Such conflicting info leaves most individuals confused. As such, we hope that this text will go away you knowledgeable sufficient to have the ability to choose the very best RAID answer on your actual wants.

What is Hardware RAID?


Hardware RAID refers to arrays managed by purpose-built disk controllers that comprise RAID firmware. These RAID controller playing cards plug into the PCIe slots on the motherboard, very like regular disk controllers. However, they differ in that they comprise specialised processors which deal with array administration capabilities.

The important profit of those processors is that you just’re capable of offload parity calculations from the system’s CPU to the controller. Offloading RAID I/O like this used to make a big efficiency distinction again within the day when processors had been low-spec and already saturated. These days although, RAID I/O solely has minimal impression on a processor’s efficiency.

hardware raid controller sata

Most RAID controllers additionally help RAID caching, which is one other main issue accountable for {hardware} RAID’s top-tier efficiency. Data loss by means of energy failure is a possible downside, although, which is why any respectable controller as of late has a Battery Backup Unit / Module (BBU / BBM).

In the current context, these are the 2 important causes to go for {hardware} RAID. On the opposite hand, the trade-offs embrace greater prices, vendor exclusivity, and a relatively decrease stage of help.


  • Excellent I/O efficiency with high-end playing cards

  • Higher setup and upkeep price
  • Need to discover a appropriate controller in case it is advisable to change

What is Software RAID?


Software RAID refers to arrays managed by a software program element reasonably than a {hardware} RAID controller. Software RAID is usually carried out on the OS stage by means of a driver (e.g., the a number of gadgets md driver in Linux). It’s additionally generally carried out as a file system element, similar to within the case of ZFS RAID-Z.

As we’ve already talked about, the software program RAID has a destructive stigma surrounding it that it’s sluggish and unreliable. But that is an outdated notion.


RAID I/O could also be managed by the CPU in software program RAID. But not like prior to now, this may be finished with minimal impression on the efficiency as processors have improved tremendously. In reality, sure software program RAID options like ZFS or Linux RAID really outperform low-end {hardware} controllers.

There are additionally some misconceptions relating to reliability. Most {hardware} RAID controllers don’t really confirm parity knowledge except a disk dies or stories an error. In this respect, one thing like ZFS, which really verifies knowledge integrity, is way more dependable. This does imply that ZFS’s efficiency can be impacted because it’s doing further work. Definitely a worthwhile tradeoff, although.

Ultimately, the standard of a software program RAID answer relies on which one we’re particularly speaking about. For occasion, you’ll not often hear about good experiences with Windows RAID, whereas ones like ZFS or Linux RAID are extremely popular for his or her efficiency and reliability.

Another factor to bear in mind with issues like ZFS or Linux md is that they do have a slight studying curve. You want some information of how they work and the instructions they use, notably if you wish to arrange and handle them effectively.

Finally, you must also be cautious of onboard RAID. These are carried out utilizing a normal disk controller and particular firmware/drivers (e.g., Intel Rapid Storage Technology).

The intention with onboard RAID was to bridge the hole between {hardware} and software program RAID and supply the advantages of each. However, the truth turned out to be the alternative, and it gives neither efficiency nor reliability akin to the opposite two RAID sorts.


  • Lower setup and upkeep prices
  • Certain options are extra dependable for knowledge integrity

  • Slightly worse efficiency
  • Certain implementations require core technical experience

Hardware RAID Vs Software RAID – Key Differences

Hardware and software program RAID options differ in how they supply the I/O efficiency positive aspects that they do, in addition to in different metrics like reliability, price, and compatibility.


program max bandwidth

The efficiency distinction between {hardware} and software program RAID in the end relies on the particular answer in query. Certain software program implementations like Windows RAID or issues like FakeRAID are recognized to have fairly poor efficiency. Low-end RAID playing cards might present a barely higher efficiency, however they’ll’t be thought-about dependable if issues like BBU aren’t supported.

Good software program implementations like ZFS usually outperform low-end playing cards. This is partly resulting from the truth that the system processors are quicker than the RAID controller’s onboard processor. The similar is true for Linux RAID, however it additionally has the benefit of being open-source, thus peer-reviewed and optimized.


Ultimately, high-end RAID controllers are the highest of the road, although. High-end controllers cache knowledge within the onboard reminiscence throughout write operations which offers a substantial write efficiency enhance.

A bigger quantity of onboard reminiscence will present a higher efficiency enhance when working with a number of giant recordsdata like media recordsdata. This makes high-end playing cards with greater reminiscence worthwhile on issues like media manufacturing workstations. The efficiency acquire received’t be as nice on methods that cope with random I/O on smaller recordsdata, although.

One factor to bear in mind is that the efficiency enhance from write caching shouldn’t come at the price of knowledge integrity. We’ll cowl this within the subsequent part.


We’ve established how an excellent RAID controller card will present the very best efficiency by means of caching. But moreover, you must also make sure that the cache is protected by a BBU or BBM. Otherwise, an influence loss occasion in write-back mode might result in knowledge loss, which might in the end result in the failure of the array.

Assuming the info within the controller cache is preserved (usually as much as 72 hours), merely restarting the system ought to be sufficient to recuperate the info. Also, as a normal rule, you need to examine the battery standing and change it if essential, because it tends to deteriorate after a number of years.

Onboard RAID doesn’t help such backup batteries, which makes it susceptible to numerous issues, from energy outages to kernel errors. Yet one more reason to not use it.

Software RAID, alternatively, is dependable in a unique sense. Software options like ZFS might have comparatively decrease efficiency, however that is for an excellent purpose. 

It’s generally thought that high-end controllers confirm parity and proper errors on the fly, however this isn’t the case. Linux MD is thought to be among the best software program RAID options because of its efficiency, however even it doesn’t confirm the parity except a disk self-reports an error.

This is why one thing like ZFS or BTRFS actually shines when it comes to knowledge integrity. ZFS has a local scrub function that usually checks for and repairs knowledge corruption and bit rot. As for frequency, the final advice is to clean regular disks as soon as per week and enterprise-grade disks as soon as a month.


One essential issue to contemplate with {hardware} controllers is compatibility. First, the RAID controller clearly must be appropriate along with your motherboard. 

And in case your present controller fails, you’ll want an an identical controller from the identical producer. Swapping it for a unique controller from a unique vendor received’t work. 

hardware raid controller card

It’s additionally essential to check these spares infrequently as they may probably fail as nicely. And for those who can’t discover a appropriate controller, you received’t be capable of recuperate your knowledge.

Software RAID doesn’t have this downside, because it’s carried out on the OS stage. It’s much less delicate to element failures, but when any of the disks within the array fail, you’ll usually be capable of hot-swap the disk and rebuild the array with out a lot issue.


When getting began with RAID, one of many main components that put most individuals off {hardware} RAID is the setup and upkeep price. After all, RAID controllers don’t come low-cost. At least not any respectable ones. When you are taking issues like spares under consideration, issues look even grimmer for {hardware} RAID.

Software RAID, alternatively, is an economical answer that additionally gives respectable efficiency.

Application / RAID Levels

When selecting between {hardware} and software program RAID, it’s additionally essential to contemplate different components like the dimensions of your setup and the RAID stage you’re going to make use of.

standard raid level

If you intend to make use of decrease RAID ranges like RAID 0 or RAID 1 for a small array, you received’t want a {hardware} controller. But within the case of bigger arrays, you’ll need to go for greater RAID ranges like RAID 5 and RAID 6 or hybrid RAID ranges like RAID 50, RAID 60, and so on. In such instances, a RAID controller is important for optimum efficiency.

Alternatively, for those who plan to make use of non-standard RAID options like Linux MD or RAID-Z, you received’t want a {hardware} controller both. In reality, it’s really helpful to keep away from {hardware} RAID controllers when utilizing ZFS for effectivity and knowledge safety causes.

Is Hardware RAID Worth It?

Software RAID can also be nice for efficiency as of late. But in the end, it nonetheless can’t match the extent of efficiency {that a} high-end card with write caching and BBU gives. If prices aren’t a difficulty, you possibly can undoubtedly take into account going with a high-quality {hardware} RAID setup for the very best efficiency.


As an apart, we must also point out that NAS options like QNAP and Synology are literally software program RAID. People usually splurge on such NAS models, considering they’re getting high-end {hardware} RAID, however this isn’t the case. The good factor, although, is that their efficiency continues to be akin to, if not higher than, a median {hardware} RAID setup.

When is Software RAID Better?

As lengthy as top-of-the-line efficiency isn’t a necessity, software program RAID tends to be a greater possibility as of late. The efficiency is mostly respectable, and the truth that you don’t have to purchase costly controllers lowers the entry barrier. 

However, whereas we’re on this subject, we should always point out that sure software program options like ZFS or Linux RAID do have a slight studying curve, notably for those who plan to arrange and use them effectively.

Final Verdict – Hardware RAID Vs Software RAID

At this level, it ought to be evident that each {hardware} and software program RAID provide comparable advantages as of late. The proper RAID answer for you in the end simply relies on components like your price range and your highest priorities (comfort, efficiency, reliability, and so on.). 

Regardless of whether or not you go for {hardware} or software program RAID, or normal or non-standard RAID ranges, please remember that RAID isn’t a backup. RAID solely protects towards disk failure. Without a separate offsite backup, it’s nonetheless potential to lose all of your knowledge to malware, corruption, accidents, or human error. To reiterate, backup!

With all that stated, listed below are the important thing variations between {hardware} and software program RAID as soon as once more earlier than we conclude the article:

Hardware RAID Software RAID
Performance Better top-end efficiency Slightly worse efficiency normally
Reliability In the case of write caching offers safety by means of BBUs Certain options like ZFS are higher for knowledge consistency
Compatibility Compatible substitute controller is required within the case of failure Physical controller isn’t used, but when mobo fails, you possibly can merely swap for a unique one
Cost Higher setup and upkeep price Cost-effective answer
Application Better fitted to greater normal RAID ranges like RAID 6, 10, 60, and so on. Best to go along with non-standard implementations like ZFS, Linux MD, and so on.

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