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I am configuring an HTPC that can support up to 4 internal hard drives, as well as RAID levels 0, 1, 5 and 10. My plan is to install Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit.

I have been taught that its best to have a small, fast primary drive for the OS and then a larger secondary drive for data. Though I realize this may be different on an HTPC. I would like to have some redundancy in my data, and I was wondering what would be the best configuration of disks for me.

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I agree with this advice, and it is entirely doable on an HTPC:

I have been taught that its best to have a small, fast primary drive for the OS and then a larger secondary drive for data.

The reason for this is that if the OS becomes corrupted and you need to reinstall, this setup allows reformatting/reinstalling the system drive with no need to touch the data partitions.

But I can't recommend RAID solutions.

  • If you absolutely need the performance, go with hardware RAID-0, keep good backups, and be prepared to restore from backup at the first hardware failure.

  • If you absolutely need the redundancy, a RAID-1 mirroring solution -- preferably software RAID -- is best.

Why? Two words: hardware failure. Hardware RAID is chipset dependent. You cannot take a RAID set from one chipset and plug it into another and access your data. Software RAID is slower, but doesn't depend on a RAID chipset. In the event of a controller failure, you won't have to locate an identical controller chip to get a software RAID set up and running again.

Personally, I use standard partitions on bare drives -- no RAID, no LVM, no Dynamic Disk. I have a spare drive in the server to backup the important stuff, and another offline that gets plugged in and updated once in a while. That protects me from a drive failure. If the motherboard or drive controller fails, these drives will work immediately on any other hardware. I don't need to find matching chipsets, I don't need to configure a new system to use another system's software RAID set or LVM, and a single drive failure has no effect on my ability to access other drives.

Remember, RAID is not a backup. RAID is not a substitute for a backup. RAID-0 is for performance, RAID-1 is for redundancy, RAID-5 is for a little of both. There's another piece of advice that's worth keeping in mind:

There are only 2 kinds of people in the world: those who have experienced catastrophic data loss, and those who will experience catastrophic data loss.

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Home premium does not allow RDP connections to it, so you might want to jump for a higher version of windows (like professional).

You could get an SSD for the C: partition of windows. But you will be forking out 200-300 dollars for a decent one (~80-130GB). IMO it is easier to have a large raid array for C: then to have to worry about where to put stuff (and the eventual hell of when C: becomes cramped with software and junk).

If your going to use raid then use a raid 1, 5 or 10 setup. Raid 0 is begging for your data to go bye bye and raid 5 tends to suffer from slow writes (due to parity calculations). With raid 1 and 10 you will loose half your disk space for redundancy, with raid 5 it is N-1 where N is the number of disks times the capacity per disk.

  • Raid 1 stores an exact copy of the data on both disks
  • Raid 0 stores a portion of the data on the disks (no redundancy)
  • Raid 5 stores a portion of the data on the disks and uses one for parity (ie 1 bit goes to each drive then it stores if their sum is even or odd).
  • Raid 10 is a mixture of 1 and 0. With redundancy on the node (raid 1) and raid 0 spanning the nodes, you need to have multiples of 2 though.

A decent controller with hardware raid will run you upwards of 100-200 dollars. You can use software raid, but it is a PITA in most cases.

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I would only really consider a raid solution if I really wanted a large effective drive size perhaps for a large online media library. Although due to heat and noise considerations I would probably rather keep the library on a server far from my lounge room. For me a large single drive is the way to go.

With respect to a small boot partition and a large data drive scheme then there probably is little real advantage for a pure HTPC (recording TV and playing media files only) as the OS is going to remain relatively stable over a long period without software being installed and uninstalled all the time.

On the other hand if you are going to be using this for more general computing or playing games then a boot drive (or partition) wouldn't be a bad idea. Performance is usually not an issue on a HTPC so I would favor a boot partition rather than an extra drive but if you are a heavy gamer then a fast boot drive my be of benefit.

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