How to Configure a RAID Setup

Hard drives are cheaper and have more storage space than ever before. It wasn’t long ago that having a terabyte of disk space was unheard of and we got by with a few hundred gigabytes at most. The days of being picky about what we keep on our hard drives and storing the rest on backup drives are gone. These days it’s cheap and easy to keep adding hard drives to our computers so we have all our data quickly accessible. The problem of course is how to manage all the data and keep it safe. With a Windows 10 PC this is really easy since it has built in drive management tools to combine multiple hard drives into one big drive.

Raid Server ImageAlthough Windows calls it by different names, what we’re talking about is RAID. I’m not talking about vikings raiding villages but a Redundant Array of Independant Disks. RAID was developed back in the day when hard drives were tiny and expensive. The idea was to use lots of inexpensive disks to simulate a large one. This was accomplished by additional hardware but eventually the process was accomplished with software. Today we can use RAID in a similar fashion to combine our cheap, large capacity disks into massive ones.

Why set up a RAID?

There are a number of reasons to use a RAID setup on your computer. The obvious one of course is to reduce clutter and maximize hard drive space. If you install two new drives for extra storage you’ll end up having to keep switching back and forth between them to access your data. With RAID you have a single drive letter to use so it’s easier to keep things organized.

Storage Spaces defaults to what’s called RAID 0. In this setup, data is broken up and the pieces stored on different drives. This might sound strange but it does give you an advantage. Data can be accessed faster because each drive helps out with the job. Although hard drives are faster than ever a little boost is always nice.

What You’ll Need for a RAID

Pile of Hard DrivesTo begin setting up RAID with Windows Storage Spaces on your computer you’ll need hard drives. The beauty of using Storage Spaces is that you can use any hard drives you want to create your new RAID setup. This way you can use extra drives you have around or pick up new, cheap ones. They can be any size and you can even mix hard drives that use different types of connections. If you need to order more hard drives, you can get them from Amazon.

This sounds great but keep in mind that you’ll get the best performance and the least amount of problems if you stick to similar types of hard drives. Computers these days using the SATA standard for connecting hard drives usually have many additional ports for extra hard drives. SATA drives have fast transfer speeds which will maximize the performance of your RAID setup.

Installing and Prep for the RAID

Install your hard drives normally to being your RAID setup. Since everything is controlled by Windows itself there’s no need for extra hardware like the old days. When you have your hard drives installed, make sure they show up in the file explorer and are free of any data.

If you are using an old hard drive that already has some data on it you’ll need to decide what to do with it. RAID needs to start with empty drives to work properly so you can’t simply just extend the space of an existing drive. You can backup the data and reload it after you have setup your new Storage Space.

Storage Space and RAID

Binary ImagesWindows has had built in RAID functions for a long time and Windows 10 continues this with Storage Spaces. It isn’t as powerful as some other RAID tools out there but it’s great for the simple home computer.

Use the search box and type is ‘Storage Spaces’ to bring up the option and open the tool. You will be presented with the option to ‘Create a new pool and Storage Space’. Click this to begin and it will take you to a new screen to create a storage pool. A pool is a collection of hard drives that you will be using to create your RAID setup.

On this screen you’ll see all the hard drives that are connected to your computer and available to use in your new Storage Space. Pick the drives that you want to you use and then click ‘Create Pool’ at the bottom.

This screen is where you will set the details of your Storage Space such as the name, resiliency and size. Storage Space uses different terminology but the options you’ll be using are all standard RAID features.

Name: Name your new Storage Space.
Drive Letter: Select the drive letter you want to use.
Resiliency: Resiliency protects against loss of data if one of the hard drives in the RAID setup fails. This is optional but worth considering if you are creating a massive new Storage Space.
None: Your data won’t be protected and if you have one drive fail then all data will be lost.
Two-Way mirror: This option makes two copies of everything you save. You need two hard drives in your pool for this to work. This can chew up space quick but it’s great for keeping data safe.
Three-way mirror: If you want the ultimate in data protection than this option is for you. If you have three hard drives or more in your pool than using this will store three copies of everything. Even if two hard drives fail you’ll still have your data.
Parity: Parity is a different type of data protection that helps save disk space by using parity information instead of full copies. If a single hard drive fails it can reconstruct the missing data using this this parity information.
Size: Here you’ll see the current physical space your combined hard drives have. You can set the Logical Size to be as large as you want which can be larger than the space currently shown. If you think you’ll be adding more drives later you can set a bigger size now and the Storage Space will automatically manage them as they’re installed.

When you’ve set up everything click ‘Create Storage Space’ at the bottom of the screen. You’re all done! You can now use your new Storage Space like any other hard drive…and be a bit more secure in case of hardware failure.