Up until Windows 8, software RAID in Windows was a mess. Windows 7 has arbitrary restrictions on the available RAID levels, and it was impossible to create a Level 5 RAID without Windows Server. Fortunately, it is easy to build a software RAID 5 in Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. We just need a couple of disks, and we will have the extra security of RAID in no time.
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We can create both level 1 and level 5 RAID in Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, depending on the number of hard drives we have at our disposal. We will need two drives for RAID 1 and three or more drives for RAID 5.
However, with software RAID 5 it's impossible to have the operating system on the RAID. We can only use it for storage.
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How to create a software RAID 5 in Windows 10 and 8.1
To create a software RAID 5, we need at least three hard drives of the same capacity, apart from the OS drive. All three disks need to be unformatted.
We can build a RAID with drives of unequal size, but then the smaller disk will dictate the array's total capacity.
Making sure our drives are unformatted
A simple way to check if the drives are unformatted is through the Disk Management Console. We can open it by pressing the Windows key + R, and on the Run window type:
All three drives we will use for the RAID need to be Unallocated.
If any of the drives has a partition, we need to back up any data on it, then right-click and select "Delete Volume."
After that, we won't be needing the Disk Management console anymore; we can close it.
Managing Storage Spaces
We go to the Start Screen (Windows 8.1) or Start Menu (Windows 10) and start typing "storage spaces." The "Search" dialogue will automatically come up, and we select the relevant option.
On the Storage Spaces window, we select the only option, "Create a new pool and storage space."
The system will automatically detect the unformatted drives and select them.
If we want, we can change the name, drive letter, or file system for the storage space. To create a software RAID 5, on resiliency type we select "Parity."
On "Size," we see the size of the storage space. To calculate the array's capacity, we just need to take the smallest disk's capacity and multiply it by the number of drives minus one.
With three 1TB HDDs, it is 1*(3-1) = 2TB array.
If we had three 1TB drives and one 500GB drive for the array, the array's capacity would have been 500*(4-1)=1500GB.
After we click the Create storage space button, our software RAID 5 is ready.
On the "This PC" folder, we will see it as one disk.
How to move our personal folders on the software RAID
The primary reason to create a software RAID 5 is for the added data security. When any of the three disks fails, we will still have access to all the data; nothing will be lost.
So, it makes sense to have our personal folders on the RAID. Documents, Pictures, Music, even the Desktop will be much safer there than on the single Windows disk.
Moving those folders is easy. We just need to go to Local Disk C: -> Users -> (our username) - filod, in the example.
There, we Ctrl+click to select some of our personal folders or select them all with Ctrl+A. Then, we right-click on one of the selected folders and click on "Cut."
Caution! If the hidden folder AppData is visible on your system, do not select that folder. It's not a folder that we can move to the RAID.
After we cut our important folders, we right-click on the software RAID 5 and select "Paste."
Now, whatever we save on the Desktop and in our Documents, Pictures, Music, Videos, etc. folders will be safe on the RAID.
What happens when a drive on the RAID fails
If When one of the drives fails, the rest of the drives give us full access to our data. If, however, a second drive fails before we replaced the first drive, all the files on the RAID will be irretrievably lost.
Strangely, in the case of a disk failure, both Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 take their time to report that something is wrong.
A few minutes after we boot the PC, Windows 8.1 will show the Action Center flag, with a nonchalant "Check Storage Spaces for issues" message.
It wouldn't hurt if it had a bit more urgency.
Windows 10 does it slightly better, by adding an exclamation mark on the notification. It still takes a couple of minutes to show up after boot, though, and some Windows 10 users don't check the Action Center notifications often.
The best warning system is if we had moved the Desktop folder to the RAID. We will know that something is wrong right at boot time.
The array won't appear when Windows boots...
...but it will appear a few seconds later.
Our data is still safe and readily accessible with the rest of the disks working.
In case we get the notification or the message that desktop isn't accessible, we need to go immediately to "Manage Storage Spaces."
There, we will get the warning that a drive is gone, and we have reduced resiliency.
How to rebuild the software RAID 5
The first thing we must do when we have a drive failure is to completely backup all the data in the RAID, preferably on an external hard drive. Remember, if a second drive fails, all the array data is gone for good.
After the backup and after we have bought and installed a replacement drive, at the "Manage Storage Spaces" window we click on "Change settings"...
...and then "Add drives."
The system will recognize the new drive, provided it is unformatted.
After we have added the drive, we remove the one that crashed from the RAID.
That's it. Now the software RAID 5 is healthy again and can withstand a single disk failure.
Is software RAID 5 for you?
HDDs are pretty inexpensive nowadays, even for a couple of Terabytes of capacity. Getting two or three of them to create a RAID array wouldn't make a big dent in our budget.
Will you consider building a Software RAID 5 on Windows 8.1 or Windows 10? Or do you find it wasteful, and prefer an external hard drive or cloud backup? Let us know in the comments below.
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