I promise, this column is not about backing up your hard drive. Like me, I assume youve been lectured constantly about backup. Most of us dont do it on a regular basis. Even automated backup devices like Mirra dont get much traction among most users, because of the extra cost. If you are a PC user who faithfully backs up your system on an ongoing basis, then youre truly rare—and protected. But you may want to consider reading this, because even if you back up faithfully, a hard drive disaster is still a major nuisance.
Hard drives are probably more reliable than ever before. Theyre also bigger than ever, as we noted in our recent roundup of high-capacity hard drives. So you can just buy a 250GB or larger drive, load it up and never buy another drive ... until the day it crashes.
But youve probably also discovered digital photography or video. Or youve ripped your entire CD collection onto your hard drive. Or youre keeping your checkbook on the system using Quicken, Money or a similar program. One hard drive crash, and its all gone. Sure, there are recovery services that can recover most of your data (the operative word being "most"), but theyre pricey, and there are no guarantees.
The good news is that the motherboard and chipset makers have stepped up to the plate to make our digital lives more secure. Thats right, not the hard drive companies, not the CPU companies, not Microsoft or Apple or any of the numerous Linux distros. The key to the security of your digital life is your motherboard. Of course, I dont mean just any motherboard. Im talking about motherboards that have RAID (redundant array of inexpensive disks) support.
In the old days (five years ago), if you wanted RAID, youd need an expansion card installed in a free PCI slot. Relatively inexpensive IDE RAID cards became available a few years ago, but setup and installation was still non-trivial. Now, most motherboards have some form of RAID support, either through IDE, Serial ATA, or both.
However, forget about RAID 0. Sure, its marginally faster, but its a disaster waiting to happen. If were worried about one drive crashing, lets quadruple the odds of failure by using two drives to hold all our information in a non-redundant manner. RAID 0, as some people have noted, isnt really RAID at all, since its not redundant. RAID 0 is really only useful in certain applications that require high throughput, such as uncompressed video capture or multitrack digital audio recording.