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First let’s draw some specific conclusions from the results of our testing about the controllers that we used. Overall, our opinion of nForce4 for Intel was that it works very well indeed but we advise you to ignore the RAID 5 feature completely. We don’t feel that a striped array gives you a sufficient increase in performance to justify the increased risk to your data but a mirrored RAID 1 array is a completely different story as you only suffer a tiny drop in performance compared to a single drive yet your data is completely protected.

It came as a surprise to find that Intel’s ICH7R is slower than nForce4 for Intel in most configurations, and while it picks up the pace in RAID 5 it’s still too slow to impress. Although the management software worked well enough we found no significant difference between the utilities that are supplied by nVidia and Intel.

You may expect a dedicated controller such as the PCI Promise SX4-M to knock spots off integrated chips but our tests show that the Intel ICH7R matched the Promise card in RAID 5. This doesn’t mean that the Promise is a waste of time as it has a significant advantage over an integrated controller as you can move the card and array from one PC to another in the event of a motherboard failure. In addition there is no risk that you’ll corrupt the array when you flash the BIOS on your motherboard. With an integrated controller you can never be sure that a BIOS update won’t do something nasty to the controller, but we feel this is a very expensive luxury at this price.

And then we come to the Areca ARC1220. This is a wonderful piece of hardware, but that’s no more than you would expect for £435. In effect the Areca enables you to run RAID 5 instead of a mirrored array with a tiny performance overhead to give you the maximum in data protection.

So what are the more general conclusions that we can draw about RAID?

Well, in the face of conventional wisdom a striped RAID 0 array doesn’t have much to offer unless you go to the extremes that we did with eight drives on the Areca card. We can see the allure of striping on a gaming PC where any extra performance is welcome and that’s fine provided you are prepared to lose all of the data on your PC in the event of a problem. By all means use striping on a dedicated gaming PC but not on your workstation or home PC.

A mirrored RAID 1 array offers data protection and is practically free of charge in terms of performance. You’ll suffer a minimal performance hit, but bearing in mind the aggravation that we suffer in the real world with power saving and anti-virus software we doubt that you’ll even notice the drop-off. To our mind RAID 1 is the forgotten RAID, yet it makes a great deal of sense.

RAID 5 is the pinnacle of data protection for the desktop PC and the workstation as you can suffer a drive failure and the array will rebuild itself with minimal fuss when you install a new drive. However, if you want to use it, forget about integrated controllers. With RAID 5 there’s no point in taking prisoners - you need a hardcore controller and that’s going to cost you serious wonga, though at £435 the Areca card represents good value for money.

For anything other than RAID 5 an integrated nForce4 controller is stunningly effective whether you run an AMD or Intel processor, and while Intel isn’t far behind it can’t match nVidia for performance.

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